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Thursday
Mar192015

The power of a handwritten thank you 

While I have never made a secret of the fact that I do NOT miss classroom teaching, preferring to work with adults, it is fun to get back in the classroom now and again.

Last month I read Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk to second grade students at Edward Neill Elementary School. As both a librarian and a writer, I deeply identify with Sam and was happy to share the book with a class of very interested and engaged kids. The cards in the photo above (and more) came in the interschool mail last week.

While the reward of doing these sorts of things is actually in the doing - it's just plain fun - I was pleased to see the handwritten cards as well. Written thank yous are sort of a big deal in my family. (I am not saying you'll never get another gift if one does not send thanks for the previous gift, but I wouldn't take a chance with a couple relatives.) Anyway, my children and now grandchildren seem to be thank you card writers, and I am pleased.

My job is to promote and help people use digital tools. I, personally, would rather send an email or text than a letter or make a phone call. And yet, I also understand the power of seeing a handwritten message, of hearing a human voice, of having a face-to-face conversation.

Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, but I still like people better than things. And handwritten notes.

Wednesday
Mar182015

A shared love of mythology

On hearing my nearly five year old grandson was getting interested in Greek mythology, I stopped at Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of my all time favorite version of the myths - the one you see above.

As I remember, I bought copies for both my own children. The pictures are wonderful if a little silly at times - the Kraken that tries to eat Andromeda looks like a giant earthworm with human teeth, but the text is a straight forward retelling of the most popular Greek myths.

Yeah, Bullfinch and Hamilton might be more comprehensive. But for my money, the D'Aulaires got it right in a very memorable way. Oh, that and the original Clash of the Titans movie.

Fun to share a beloved book with another generation.

 

Tuesday
Mar172015

Where is St. Patrick to drive the textbooks from the schools?

From Bill Bigelow's The Real Irish-American Story Not Taught in Schools, Zinn Education Project

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Yet there is no shortage of material that can bring these dramatic events to life in the classroom. In my own high school social studies classes, I begin with Sinead O’Connor’s haunting rendition of “Skibbereen,” which includes the verse:

… Oh it’s well I do remember, that bleak
December day,
The landlord and the sheriff came, to drive
Us all away
They set my roof on fire, with their cursed
English spleen
And that’s another reason why I left old
Skibbereen.

By contrast, Holt McDougal’s U.S. history textbook The Americans, devotes a flat two sentences to “The Great Potato Famine.” Prentice Hall’s America: Pathways to the Present fails to offer a single quote from the time. The text calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake. And in an awful single paragraph, Houghton Mifflin’s The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People blames the “ravages of famine” simply on “a blight,” and the only contemporaneous quote comes, inappropriately, from a landlord, who describes the surviving tenants as “famished and ghastly skeletons.” Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.

These timid slivers of knowledge not only deprive students of rich lessons in Irish-American history, they exemplify much of what is wrong with today’s curricular reliance on corporate-produced textbooks.

Many teachers I know complain about the de-professionalization of teaching and fear that technology's algorithms will replace human decision-making.

Personally, I can think of nothing less professional than allowing a textbook to drive the curriculum and nothing more enabling than putting kids in touch with interesting, relevant, and media-delivered materials with technology, chosen by the teacher.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!