Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I write other things, also

It may come as a surprise to some who read words matter, but I write other things besides caustic op eds. It was somewhat humorous to have those who reacted negatively to my op ed in support of Ward Churchill calling me a “hack”, “elitist”, “ivory tower liberal”, and the best one of all--insinuating that the best place for “people like you”, was a solitary cell at Gitmo!

Actually, for the charge of “elitist”, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate class divisions, particularly along economic lines and privilege.

Growing up in a small Maine town, being fortunate enough to have working-class roots, taught me early on that community mattered. I grew up during a time when neighbors still cared about one another. Growing up on a street where stickball was played in the road and if a ball hit someone’s house, no one threatened a lawsuit. Cars didn’t come screaming past our houses at 40-50 mph (in a 25mph zone) and you didn’t have to dive for the ditch to save your hide while riding your bike along the back roads of town.

Our Main Street had Roberts’ Pharmacy and Kennebec Fruit, where we could visit the old-fashioned soda fountain, or buy penny candy. We had Chuck’s Superette and the Kitty Korner Store, where I used to pick up my papers every afternoon for my afternoon Journal paper route. This was back in the day when the Lewiston Sun Journal still had morning and afternoon editions of its paper. I remember signing up the most new subscriptions for a contest the paper was having and scoring tix to go to the old Boston Garden for a Celtics game.

Recently, I had the good fortune of being able to freelance a feature article and even taking a few pictures of some middle school students, as they gathered local historical artifacts and put them online. This was part of a project of the Maine Historical Society, which has created Maine Memory Network, a website that gives technological access to historical groups all over the state, allowing anyone with an internet connection access to local history.

A middle school teacher who cares about actually teaching and is passionate about the rich historical and cultural heritage of the town where he teaches, had taken a group of gifted and talented seventh and eighth graders and gotten them excited about local history.

The Lisbon Historical Society in Lisbon Falls, the town where I grew up, is now housed in the former elementary school where I first attended kindergarten through third grade. Some forward-thinking members of the town have revived the abandoned structure and turned it into a community center that houses the historical society, local food bank and a Head Start program. While I was there, a former schoolmate who’s overseeing the center told me that some in the town are opposed to this concept. Apparently, they think the investment the town is making in providing community space to their citizens isn’t giving them a return their comfortable with. I guess they think that somehow, they’ll turn it into a money-making venture, charging the citizens of the town a fee for use. Personally, I think that’s the wrong direction for the town to be taking, so I may write an article on that at some point in the next month or two.

If there is one thing that I’m passionate about and informs much of what I write, is the belief that we are all in this life together—if we can just find some way to reach consensus, or find common ground, we could do so much more. Community has a way of building those bridges, bridges that ideology often destroys.


ChefDunn said...

You noted that the students that were the subject in "Taking history from past to the present" were part of the gifted and talented group. I'm curious why teachers wouldn't offer the same opportunity to the "regular" students.

I wasn't very good at school. In retrospect, I think much of it had to do with maturity. I was always the youngest in the class and graduated High School at age 17. I remember vividly always wondering why I had to swallow mundane facts from textbooks. Only after my second visit to college, at age 27, did I find a way to force myself to read and regurgitate from text.

If there are any teachers reading this I urge you to try different methods such as those depicted in Jim's article. Your students will thank you for it.

Jim said...

My mention of Richard Moore's students as "gifted and talented" wasn't an endorsement, or in any way, an indication of any inherent superiority on their part. It was merely an identifier, like "7th and 8th grade track team" would be.

As to why we don't offer the same programs to all the students--I think teachers like Moore give the same effort, whether working with G&T students, or his language arts students who struggle with reading skills.

I think the biggest problem with public education--which is only compounded by inane programs like the president's "No Child Left Behind" boondoggle--is the one-size-fits-all approach to education. Every child is intrinsically unique. Our instruction ought to recognize that and not demand the bland conformity that benefits some, but scars most.

Anonymous said...

As much as everyone always wants to blame teachers, so often, our hands are tied.

Jim's mention of NCLB is just part of it. In Maine, we have the "learning results", other states I'm sure have their own standards.

There is just so much time in the day, plus some day's, the kids just can't focus, we have a short school year; all of these things compound the problem.

I salute teachers like Mr. Moore. There are many others like him that are dedicated, also.


ChefDunn said...

The "one size fits all" approach is exactly what mean. Its awfully hard to focus when you are bored out of your skull. Learning through activity creates purpose, instead of the study "because" approach.

I'm also not sure I buy the statement that the G&T is just a label. While I didn’t have the grades, socially, I have always been a bit of a nerd. Most of my friends in HS were part of that "honors" group and they definitely were able to experience more "alternative" methods such as the project described in your article.

By no means do I question the dedication of the teachers. They are extremely underpaid and talented. I also agree that the teacher’s hands are tied in many of these situations. I simply submit that the rest of us as parents need to help to untie them by being engaged with their student’s individual needs.