Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so"

It's Easter and the fourth day of our five day spring break. That's a bummer. And now we have two solid months left of school without a single day's break. I'd better get a good rest now while I can. Though how can that be, considering it is spring and considering this is New Orleans? Today, for example, there are four Easter parades -- old uptown money, old downtown money, new downtown money, and the queens of Bourbon and St Ann. That last is where the best hats will be, I'm guessing. Tonight the great poet Yousef Komunyakaa is giving a reading at a bar in the quarter. He's from Bogalusa, and grew up when the Ku Klux Klan was spray-painting hate slogans on the highways there. I remember being scared of Bogalusa. Now he's a professor at Princeton and a famous poet. Talk about rising above.
On Wednesday, the day before the holiday, my first period writing class wrote two sonnets in one hour, in iambic pentameter. I just decided on the spur of the moment that they ought to know what a sonnet is. I wrote the numbers 1-14 in a vertical row on the board and told them, in the language I understand, what iambic pentameter is: da DUH da DUH da DUH da DUH da DUH. And that each line had to have that rhythm and I told them about the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme as a possible way to do it and I told them that the last two lines, the couplet, had to convey some kind of big picture or understanding or something, something bigger to bring the first 12 lines home. Something profound.
That whole explanation took about one minute, because it was Greek to them. They didn't understand until we began writing.
I suggested we try a love sonnet. I read one of Shakespeare's to them (I tell them, every time I read something to them, that they do not have to understand every word, just that they should relax and get what they can from it). Then someone who is grappling with love issues (who's not?) came up with an idea, and another kid came up with a first line, and we took it from there. Five of us were involved directly, and the other three stayed aware peripherally. One girl, PB, who never talks (sometimes I've thought she was deaf because she didn't even look at people who were talking), loved what we were doing and so I asked her if she wanted to take the chalk and she did and she ran the show. Sometimes we'd come up with a good line and then think of words that would rhyme with the end word of the line and write it at the end of the line where it would go, and we'd fill in the line based on the rhyming word we'd picked. It was so cool. I've honestly never had much luck with group work, either for myself as a writer or myself as a teacher. But this one was so spontaneous, I guess that's why it worked. It was natural. In fact, I didn't give anyone any orders, they just scooted their chairs in a semi-circle in front of the chalkboard and wrote a poem together. And when a line didn't fit the rhythm, for example, it ceased having to be me reminding them; the other writers did that once they caught on.
We hammered one out and then went back and did a little revising, but only a little. I'd like to see us revise it again and again, like real writers do. But it was too soon for too much of that. They needed a chance to revel in themselves. They loved what they wrote and they deserved to be left alone for a while, just to love it. Here it is:

Love Sonnet

Love is a word that always comes and goes
People say that love's a powerful thing
Love is like a show, no one really knows
Love just makes you wanna laugh and sing
It also brings an awful lot of pain
Love sometimes makes your heart sadly cry
Sometimes love makes you go insane
Love just sometimes makes people ask why
If you find someone that really cares
A person who is constantly on your mind
Someone that you will never want to share
That person you thought you will never ever find
Love will completely take over your heart
It will bring your life to a whole new start.

It's a beautiful first draft (which I equate with "opportunity") and could lend itself to some great practice at revising, and could open the door for a lot of lessons. I did bring up that I thought the first two lines both sounded like first lines and we toyed with that, but by the time we got to the end of the sonnet, it wasn't so glaring an issue. But again, it was too soon for a lot of that. The looks on their faces told me they believed they'd done something fine. Most of the kids copied the poem into their notebooks. Several kids from other classes copied it down too. All day I could see people reading it.
So then I suggested we write another one, a life sonnet. Here's that one:

Life Sonnet

Life carries a box of ups and downs
One minute you feel like the world's made of gold
The next minute you feel like no one's around
Life sometimes feels like you're left out in the cold
Life brings you through a lot of changes
Sometimes life is like Spring, full of flowers
Life is like a memo book, full of arrangements
Or sometimes feels wet like a rain shower
Life will not go on forever
But while you're here you can make it last
If only people will pull together
Do not bring up old grudges from the past
Life is like a game you must play to win
But like every game it has to have an end.

And then the bell rang.

Shoot, it might be fun just to bring in all the poetic forms I can find out about and show the kids the parameters and let them choose topics and just write and write and write. And I could slip in little lessons (which they'd want because it's their writing to which they'll apply the lessons) like parallelilsm, metaphor, simile, rhythm, repitition, rhyme, word choices, etcetera to the nth degree. Damn, I think I'm figuring out a way to "teach" poetry here, and maybe even how to construct an entire year's lessons! And I'm using writing to figure out a way to teach poetry, and that way is through writing. There's something of a revelation in that, I think.
Speaking of revelations, I had one this week. The children come into our classes, I hate to say this because I don't want to dwell on the irremediable past, but with very little education. What I realized this week is that it's the best place in the world for a teacher who loves to teach. Because the children have so little education and need so much, I can choose whatever I think it would most behoove them to know.
With that in mind, I have decided to teach Hamlet to my American literature students. It doesn't matter that Shakespeare's not in our textbook. They don't know Hamlet and they want to know Hamlet, and I'm going to help them read it. I think they understand what I mean about relaxing and getting what they can from written texts. They'll need to be able to. Hamlet's going to be the hardest thing they've ever read. But the thing is, Hamlet is so important, as we all know, though we mostly don't exactly know why that's so or how to say what we intuitively know about its significance. (I won't carry on about Shakespeare just now, though, as usual, I have a lot to say about that too.) It's not fair that these kids aren't given the chance to read these difficult but hugely important texts. Not giving this to them is yet another little way in which the system is keeping them on the outside. Being naysayers, forever mindlessly repeating that they can't or they're woefully under-prepared or they won't read or they don't come to school or they're clowns or they just don't care is the way we excuse ourselves from getting down with their education.
I feel a rant coming on.
I just decided that if school cannot provide me with a set of Hamlet that I'll find them or buy them myself. Or maybe we could start a Shakespeare club and have a fund raiser and buy books with that!
You may laugh, but I know what I know: children love Shakespeare.
Excuse me, but there's a parade I have to attend. Happy Easter!

Melanie Plesh

Saturday, March 19, 2005

LEAP week

Today is Friday. We've been testing all week. I personally proctored three tests over five days -- the English, the Math, and the Science. Social Studies for my group (11th and 12th graders who have never passed the LEAP) is this coming Monday.
Days one and two were the English. In the section where students have to analyze a poem and answer questions about it I noticed (because I was dutifully monitoring) that one of the poems was Langston Hughes's, "What Happens to a Dream Deferred," from "Harlem." I had that poem on my board (it's not in our text, I just love it so I put it up) for at least a month last semester. The kids who came to class (that's the key, that they came to class) know what the word "defer" means, believe me, and they understand the poem. I guess we referred to it almost every day. We used the word "defer" often in regard to the American dream. It played a big part in the final exam, because Barack Obama, whose speech we read the second day of the semester and again at the end of the semester, spoke so eloquently about hope and that in America dreams and the unexpected could come true, and I asked my students to make a connection between Hughes's poem and Obama's idealism. I also asked my students to take lost and broken dreams from the other literature we read (like from a Zora Neale Hurston story called "John Redding Goes to Sea"), and say whether the deferred dreams shriveled or melted or became cloying or festered with pus or exploded, like Hughes describes what comes of the loss of a dream. Or did they manifest as something else.
Days three and four of the LEAP were math. That's about all I can say about that. Except that I do have an intellectual desire to study math because I consider myself stupid about it and I don't believe in stupidity. I believe I must be capable of learning it. In fact (talk about a tangent) perhaps it would be a great thing for me to attempt to study math to the point of calculus, just to prove to myself that people really can learn, even old dogs like me, even children who are not reared in situations where education is a priority.
Today was the science part. The children, the looks on their faces as they read the questions, they hurt my heart. They were lost. I didn't read the test (because I wasn't supposed to), but I could see in their expressions that it was hard. I reminded and reminded them that they know more than they realize they know, but even I know it wasn't enough.
The problem is not the test, and it isn't just one or two other things. It's a lot of things. The kids say the teachers don't show up, don't teach, don't know their subjects. The teachers say the kids don't show up, don't have an interest, don't do homework, don't study, can't read, that their homelives are prohibitive. It's all true. Everybody has to take responsibility. I think perhaps the thing that is called for is a take no prisoners administration. Everybody has to be held to the fire. Everybody has to get real. The kids have to go to class and when they're there not hinder the process in the classroom, and the teachers have to give what all kids deserve. And anyone not toeing the line has to be dealt with. Hard.
During this testing period today a boy came to the door behind me and hit it and it sounded like a gunshot. I jumped out of my skin. I happened at the moment to be reading the following passage in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov:

"Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals; they are sinless, and you, you with your grandeur, fester the earth by your apprearance on it, and leave your festering trace behind you -- alas, almost every one of us does! Love children especially, for they, too, are sinless, like angels, and live to bring us to tenderness and the purification of our hearts and as a sort of example for us. Woe to him who offends a child...One may stand perplexed before some thought, especially seeing men's sin, asking oneself: "Shall I take it by force, or by humble love?" Always resolve to take it by humble love. If you so resolve once and for all, you will be able to overcome the whole world. A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it. Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute, that your image be ever gracious. See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child, because you did not nurture in yourself a heedful, active love. Brothers, love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time. Anyone, even a wicked man, can love by chance. My young brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it seems senseless, yet it is right, for all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world."

We were supposed to have afternoon classes all week, but that, for the most part, didn't materialize. It was a poor schedule, and not because of what our school dictated. It's something systemic. However, even though the afternoons as times for formal education were a waste, today was wonderful in my two afternoon classes. People who would have otherwise wandered in the halls came into my room because I brought my OutKast cd and they could hear it and it drew them. The girls started line dancing and they taught me and we danced for an hour and had a fabulous time. Mr Douglass, who also writes poetry (unbeknownst to everyone until recently), was in the room, talking with a few people who weren't dancing. The bell rang and last period came in. For some reason the few in our class drew a small crowd of rappers and we spent the hour taking turns. Someone asked me to try, which I'm ashamed to say I didn't do because I was too shy and embarrassed, but he said I should be good at it because I have a good vocabulary. I'm going to work on that. One of the girls from my LEAP group was in there, someone I'd seen in the halls all year but had never known until this week. I told her our group has become tight and without saying so, I could see that she agreed.
Today was so much fun.
And I now have two new unknowns to look into -- rapping and math. One, because I have a good vocabulary, and two, because I'm not stupid.

Melanie

Sunday, March 13, 2005

conferencing with students about their essays

I really love how this essay writing business in our classroom is going. These last two essays we've done have taken a week each. On the surface it seems like way too much time to spend on one little 400-500 word essay. It seems it could easily be done in two or three class periods. And that's how I usually forced it to be. But I really like the leisurliness of the whole week on one piece of writing. It gives the students time to get underneath their everyday surface concerns, maybe time to recognize that their experiences fit into a big picture. It gives them a chance to let ideas form in the sub-conscious (or wherever that occurs), sometimes while they're doing other things, like reading the paper or flipping through a magazine or, and I saw a lot of this, a few people sitting in a group flipping through the magazines talking about stuff they see. And it gives me time to help them. Later I can cut it down to three days, say, then two, and then try to do it in one, but for now, in my position as a teacher and writer, I don't think any of this is a waste of time. In my opinion, when I present an essay idea on Monday and they have space and time for a week to get it the way they want it, they're acting like real student writers and I'm like their private tutor/mentor. Sometimes the good questions they might have don't come up until the Thursday of the week. But it's so cool that the questions come up! Also, all of this time gives me a chance to confer with students as many times as we like. I'd say that in the case of most of the students, by the time Friday comes we've conferred about three times and they've written as many drafts as it takes to get their essays right, even though I'd only required two.
Eventually, they will not need me so much.
The conferencing itself: in the case of these particular students, all that time and conferencing gives me a chance to help them with standard English (which they really are not fighting, contrary to what I thought would happen). Upon first looking at some of their essays, I am sometimes shocked and feel that their cases are hopeless. The writing, literally, seems like complete nonsense. But I've learned that their writing is not nonsense and that they're not hopeless. There's just a disconnect or a vagueness between the words in their heads and how to make something visual out of them. When I confer with a student I read her work aloud and when I hit a word that is crazy wrong (like writing open for ocean) I stop, point at it, and ask her what the heck that means. At first she may not understand because in her mind she's thinking ocean and it takes her a moment to realize what she'd written. Sometimes I ask the student to look at my mouth while I speak the word and usually she'll get closer to the spelling. And then I spell it for her and write it on the draft. After one or two of these sessions with students they seem to become more careful. It also gives me a chance to point out a lot of little things, like incorrect spellings of their/there/they're (which usually includes a little lesson on the difference). It also gives me a chance to point out subtleties, like word choices, and to teach the smaller things, like that punctuation goes inside the quotation marks and when to underline titles and when to use "who" and when to use "that." It's like every time I sit with a student I am tutoring her privately on the particular problems she has rather than "teach" it to the whole class. Yes, there is some time that appears wasted. However, I'm thinking that it's better for a student to sit and chat with someone in the class for 10 minutes while waiting to talk with me about the paper, and then getting private tutoring, than it is to be "on task" for a run-on/fragment lesson that some of them don't even need. I think in the end, a lot more takes place toward bettering their writing and their literacy when we spend the time. I guess you'd call that quality time. And I know that if they sit with me and hear over and over again that "are" and "or" have different meanings, that they'll eventually remember without my help.
And here's the gravy: they like what we're doing. And I may be wrong, but I don't think that they'd say anymore that they hate writing.
This week I'll bring the folder with all their drafts and pick a few good examples of what happened in the process. I also have some questions.
That's about it. Last Friday we lost two teachers. Tomorrow (Monday) we begin LEAP. Oh, and I had a revelation about that, too. I think the test is a perfectly sound test. It's not hard, for sure, (objectively speaking), and, best of all, it asks them to think. But here's what I found out. I've been, for the last two weeks, giving private LEAP tutoring to all of my students who still need to take the English part (they come to class on time rather than circle the halls, and so I tutor them then). I gave them a sample of the research section. They all missed this one question which gave a particular source sheet (an index page from a travel advice book) and asked which chapter you'd go to if you were looking for an inexpensive way to travel. The answer was a chapter that included bargain fares and cheap accommodations. There was no other answer that was close. The thing is, the students didn't know what "inexpensive" means, though they could figure it out when I pushed them, and they didn't connect it to "cheap" or "bargain." What this tells me (for the thousandth time) is that teaching the test is stupid. If we spent our time teaching prefixes and suffixes, and forcing them (how does one do that?) to read, and if we encouraged them to think, they'd have no trouble with such a question. Or the test.
Anyhoo.
The weather is spectacular.

Melanie

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

it was a great day

First period moved me today. I wish I could have recorded it in every way. There were eleven children strewn around the room, most of them using two desks, so intensely into their writing that when a popular clown came in they didn't even lift their heads. I even felt a little bit sorry for the clown. They were serious. It was a beautiful thing. We started this essay, that one based on some inspiration we got from National Geographic, on Monday. One of the students, MR, wasn't there on Monday. Then yesterday he didn't do a thing on the essay. He read the paper, talked his jive, played cd's. I said to him that he was two days behind and shouldn't he get on with the writing? He said, "You know I'm gonna do it Ms Plesh." And I did. And he did. Today he spent the first half of class reading the sports page and I totally left him alone. But when he got down with the essay the boy was absolutely inspired and engrossed. We all have our ways, our processes, child writers as much as adult writers. We respect adults' ways. Why can't we let children have their ways too? I would have been spoken to probably for letting MR read the paper and play cd's. But had I not done that, he would not have done what he did. I'm sure of that. He has his ways and they're valid. As valid as mine.
I wish I had words to say how profound the energy (it wasn't silent) was in that room today. It's like I always suspect, all children need is an invitation to be thinkers and they will think. And I'll just say straight up, I take those children seriously. I mean it when I say they have as much ability as I do to have a profound thought.
Oh yeah, that's why I named this blog what I did.
And then there was second period. That's English III. We've spent the last several weeks reading the literature of the people who lived in this country before the American Revolution, then the speeches during the Revolution, and today, the Declaration of Independence. We got halfway through the first page. The discussion was riveting and broad, and intelligent and interesting. I'm not kidding, when the bell rang kids said "damn!" and stayed. They loved it. They said it out loud. Kids who never talk talked. Somebody thanked me! What got me was how respectful they were of each other's ideas and of each other's right to have the floor. (I took notes on the board thinking about the essay tomorrow.)
There's a girl in that class, DC, who is a natural teacher, and I told her so today. I told her to educate herself and go to school and become a teacher because she has the gift. It makes tears come to my eyes just writing those words. She took over the handling of the discussion and people listened to her. She admonished people if they talked over someone and they apologized to her. She was amazing! She's what the world needs.
Tomorrow we're reading Martin Luther King, Jr's, speech from jail, and an excerpt from Frederick Douglass's story.
I feel so privileged to do what I do.
After school I went to a softball game. It was an exciting game. A lot of passion. It was played at a corner baseball field near Douglass. There were no stands. The audience just stood around the edges. I was ashamed of New Orleans for that. Men stood around drinking beer and smoking. Kids were vile with each other. The language was foul. I'm no prude, but I was really uncomfortable there, and I was embarrassed for the human race that there is so little respect for children, and so little respect for their teachers. I don't think I'll be going to another softball game.
But it didn't ruin my day. In fact, in honor of the day I'm going to order a pizza from Bywater Barbecue and have it delivered and give the deliverer, who is usually on a bicycle, an exorbitant tip. Bon Apetit! (and thank you to the Universe)

Melanie

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

fish have eyelids

I remembered to bring home the essay topics but forgot to bring home some of my students' writings. I think that would be a good thing to do this weekend, when I have a handful of them.
Yesterday I started a new essay with the writing class. I gave them copies of National Geographic and asked them to flip through the magazines, read captions, read articles, etc., and leave their minds open to let some idea about the world come to them about which they could write. I get vaguer and vaguer it seems, but really, my desire is to give them a chance to be thinkers, to look at pictures of places and people and things they have no idea about and think about them and think about what things mean. Also, I asked them to try to bring their lives into the more global arena. I wrote down things I was hearing around the room while they looked at the magazines. One girl said, "I didn't know fish winked." I thought that would be a great beginning for an essay about the things we don't know. (I didn't know fish winked either. They do it to regulate the light that comes into their eyes.) Someone else saw photographs of starving people in Africa and is writing an essay about how ashamed she is when she throws away food. She tried including quotations from the article she read. They seemed just simply tacked in until we had a conference about it today and she explained what she had in mind. I gave her a few little pointers. Little pointers. I didn't give her much, though I wanted to. She revised the essay so far and absolutely nailed it. It also made me realize that she's asking me to teach her how to include quotations in a piece of writing. Which makes me realize I owe it to them to let them do a research project.

Here's the list I keep on my board. It began as a conversation about the things we humans, and all living things, are consumed with: procreation and survival. Then I started writing things into the list that came up in class. A couple of the topics came from people who said that something would be a good thing to write about, like what can we depend on? Now, students turn to the list for ideas which, ironically, were theirs in the first place. Life be good.

Topics for poems, stories, essays, plays, songs, raps, etc.: the street, one-eyed kittens, procreation, sex, mysteries, problems, change, the unknown, death, rhythm in the brain, the human condition, El Dorado, if I were king, fountain of youth, Utopia, religion (God, myth, etc.), beauty, goodness, love, family, how we are influenced, if it's true it's true for me, are we our brother's keeper?, chillin', trippin', what can we depend on?, after death we're remembered for a while and then what?

(I guess that depends on what our baby daddy momma sister baby baby remembers to pass along about us.)

Melanie

Monday, March 07, 2005

essaying

I notice that in the syndicated comic strip "For Better or Worse," the little family of Michael and Deanna and their two little children shows mostly the negative. All it seems we ever see of them is their stress and distress. I fear that my blog too often follows that same theme of stress and distress. The stress and distress is a given that I don't have to write so much about anymore.
Instead, I want to focus on the joys. And there are joys. And there are successes. Big successes. And interestingly, the successes are many in first period, that rough class that has caused such grief, the class I used to dread. What I've found out is that what I have is a room full of stories and the thing is, I just have to treat them like people with stories, and writers who want to tell their stories, and not subjugate them. They have responded to this.
Maybe it would be nice to feature one class a week in the blog. I could write every day for the week about the progress they make.
Last week, for example, here's how it went. I began the week with a plan to have a finished polished essay by Friday. We started out Monday by adding to the running list of possible topics for writing that I keep on the board (I'll try to remember to copy the list and type it in tomorrow). I read a few things from the newspaper, short articles that depicted the variety in our interesting human race (I'll try to remember to bring them for tomorrow, too) and then I read a Debarry essay from the Times-Picayune aloud. That guy's good. The essay was about how he was standing in line at a drug store and saw a teenage girl buying a pregnancy test, and what that made him think of. I gave a little talk about how the essay is their chance to express their thoughts and that it can begin anywhere. I told them that I want them to take the experiences in their lives and put them in the bigger picture of the entire human race. I told them that their human experiences are mutual and global. Something like that.
It's always hard for them to get started, just like it is for the rest of the real writers in the world. They had to talk a little and walk around, play the radio, sharpen their pencils, talk a little more, etc., all those things we do while our sub-conscious is working on the problem. By the end of that first day most of them had an idea what they'd like to write about. For the rest of the week we just continued working on these essays. I required that the essay be at least 400 words, but that's about it for requirements, and I only do that because I think they really do need some idea about what's expected length-wise. Also, it helps them decide upon a subject and thesis because the subject and thesis have to be broad enough to write 400 words about, and not bs words.
As the week went on and they progressed with their essays they came to me for conferencing whenever they needed to. They use me a lot in this way. I believe the key to helping students with their progress as essayists is for me to read their essays as a reader and not as a teacher. And I tell them so. That way I can stop and respond as a reader, like to say something's interesting or I hope you're going to pursue that line of thinking, etc. Then I can be a teacher and help them figure out how they can remedy their problems.
By the end of the week, half the people had written three drafts, though I only required two. They wanted their work to be right, not because of me, not because of a grade, but because they want to be writers.
More tomorrow.

Melanie


Sunday, March 06, 2005

gratitude

I know I've been spotty about writing here these last couple of months. I'm curious about why that is, but I don't feel like thinking about that right now. Instead, I was writing in my journal yesterday and what I wrote is what I want to include here.
Saturday. A baby daddy momma sister baby is a cousin. Even though it's five words instead of one, we know exactly who we're talking about. "Cousin" is vague. Baby daddy momma sister baby cuts straight to how exactly the person in question is related. And there's such a comfortable rhythm to it. I love the way the stream of words swells and rises at "sister," then descends. I find it charming. I don't want to change it. I even told MR Thursday that his piece about the streets had grammatical inconsistencies, but that he should not change a word. It's such a fine piece of writing. Gripping. Real. Correcting the "grammar" (whatever that is) would wash it out and ruin it. I understand and agree with the argument for learning everybodyelsespeak, and I'm teaching it. But I don't want them to lose the power of this language they have.
I know I said this at the end of October, but this time I really feel like I have turned a corner and that everything is going to be alright. And I'm finding myself more and more charmed by these minds they have. I'm charmed by their manner of dress and the way they rough-house with each other and their hair styles and that WR stepped into the hall last week to fart rather than farting in class. I'm charmed by the way LG lets me know how much she values what she's learning about her writing by revising every single thing she writes until it is error free, and how she comes around me without seeming to. I love that MR has discovered that he can write and that he has the voice for a story only he can tell. I love his willingness to face up to what is going on around and in his world. I love that EL always wants to read to me privately the things she writes, and that she wants to read to me, not have me read it to myself. I love how generous these people are with their hearts, even when they're trying to push me away. I love that they keep coming to school, that they still have some kind of hope, that they maybe even believe that they're not the throw away in our society. The fact that they still have that semblance of hope, even if it's naive of them, gives me hope. Their spirits aren't dead.

Melanie

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

leaping out

I just got home from our monthly half-day faculty meeting/inservice. Today it was about the LEAP test, which occurs not next week but the week after. Such hopes are hung on this test. Our school is one level away from being in trouble, which could mean being taken over by the state. I understand that this may involve teachers all having to reapply at the school. At Capdau, I think only one of the teachers who had been there before the takeover returned. I have mixed feelings. I don't know that the state is going to know better how to fix us. Maybe it would be good for the attention to be drawn toward us so some of the muckety mucks in high positions could come to our school and find out for real what we're about. Everybody has an opinion about how to fix the school but I don't think any of them get it. I think what we need is a chance for people who are working with the kids, working at the school, to sit together for a whole day or even two, a retreat, to talk about what's really going on. Programs aren't going to fix us. Security guards aren't going to fix us. We need to get together and talk seriously and like compassionate human beings about things.
Such as what? Our school serves the area inside the infamous seven square mile area in which an inordinate majority of the violent acts in the city occur. That's one thing. These children live with gunfire in their lives. For a long time I've believed, but couldn't explain why, our society allows there to be a poor class. Yesterday in the paper, someone said that she understands why. She believes that it's because for the rich to function there has to be a pool of people who are uneducated and willing to work for 5.50 an hour at the grunt jobs, and so our society allows them to stay down. That's not to say, of course, that there isn't the possibility for them to rise out of that. People do. But to say it's hard is a huge understatement. It's assumed that these kids are not smart enough. It's not true, but what on the surface looks like stupidity is rewarded. Also, these kids have been segregated and what they're surrounded with is the same old stuff that is perpetuated generation after generation.
Tomorrow I want to write about my writing classes.

Melanie