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.



Blogger Laura said...

Math is one of the most beautiful and complete comprehensions I have ever felt. I assure you that if you are willing to put in the effort, you will see the beauty in the logic, as well. Sometimes, many times, things do not have just one answer... these things are for the arts to describe. But there is a certain aesthetic in those things that have one final answer, something that can be pinned down and riddled out and solved. The beauty of human logic is that it can solve both of these types of puzzles, and anyone deprives himself of an entire half of every problem that exists is keeping his brain from developing to its full potential, and in this neglecting a part of their own humanity.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

"I do have an intellectual desire to study math ...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"

In my experience (as an electrical engineer and software developer and business owner) algebra I (or possibly II) is extremely valuable and applicable to everyday life (from figuring out if you can afford that new OutKast CD to figuring your taxes).

I encourage you to learn at least that much, just for the challenge :-)

However, I think anything beyond Trigonometry (e.g., Calculus) is not terribly productive. Learning the CONCEPTS of calculus might be valuable. The actual calculation is seldom used.

You'd be better served by spending time APPLYING Algebra to real world problems. Something rarely, if ever done in math class. (OK, Mrs. Terrebonne did a lot of that, but only she's unusual).

8:53 PM  

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