Saturday, June 30, 2007

More Curriculum...and other stuff

This class is mind-blowing.

Seriously. My mind is blown apart.

The articles and ideas that we discuss just come through as true to me; ideas that make education into a mutual journey, that make it relational, that make it a search for truth, that give such dignity to the student.

An amazing quote that I came across today will explain some what I mean.

"The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between."
- Diane Ackerman

So as an educator, my job is not as some conduit of knowledge, pouring the things I know out like water into the gaping mouths of open, unblinking vessels. The vessels being the students. Instead, I am challenging my students to take risk, to become aware of the beauty that is around them, to challenge them to move in it and through it and become part of it.

This weekend I am up in Traverse City. One of my TFA friends comes up here every summer. I currently sit, watching the wind whip small whitecaps across Elk Lake, feeling the old dry sun warm my face and move the wind's crispness off of my arms, listening to the trees dance some ancient chant and call as they shake shake shake.


I currently sit
watching the wind whip
small whitecaps across Elk Lake, feeling the old
dry sun warm my face and move
the wind's crispness off of my arms,
to the trees dance
some ancient chant
and call as they shake

Monday, June 25, 2007

Curriculum Class

I am currently enrolled in, and have now completed my second day of a course at Calvin College titled (why do I want to say entitled? does that even mean anything?) EDUC 580 - Curriculum Theory & Development. I have posted the course description for your perusal.
  • Participate in a study of theories and development of curricula for pre-school through grade 12 students in all content areas. In this course, you will become more aware of theories that inform curricula choices and contextual curricular issues, with special consideration of the more practical side of implementing curricular change. Discussions will be grounded in the integration of faith and learning including issues of social justice. (3 sem. hrs.)

So a couple of things jump out, which actual course experience has borne out as well; "Discussions will be grounded in the integration of faith and learning including issues of social justice."

!! Well. The integration of faith and learning bit is not quite up Teach For America's metaphorical alley, but issues of social justice? Come on! Can I guy get an Amen? (Amen. Thanks you in the back).

Furthermore, let's look at "with special consideration of the more practical side of implementing curricular change." Wow. That sounds suspiciously like "The education system is all #$%& up so reform is necessary, but we need to figure out what reforms would be good and how to get them going."

And sure enough, both of these things have formed a vital component to the class so far. It has been amazing! Who would have thought that I would ever write that about an Education course?!

I think the most influential aspect so far has been the reading of One Kid at a Time, by Eliot Levine. This book describes the development, operation and results of a new school model in Providence, RI organized by The Big Picture Company. This organization is starting schools across the country with a truly innovative educational approach that is all based on experiential, interest-based learning. You should check it out.

Wedding #2

Last night I got back from my second wedding of the summer, having now upped my Wedding Index to a pretty strong 9 points.

For those of you scoring at home, the Wedding Index expresses your value to your friend circle as a whole, as well as giving a small commentary on the ages of your friends. For the Wedding Index you get points for various roles as follows:
3 points - maid of honor or best man
2 points - brides maid or groomsman
1 point - usher, flower arranger, photographer, singer, scripture reader etc (these must be for a friends wedding, NOT as a profession)

The value of being the bride or the groom is yet to be determined. On the one hand you could argue that its value should be higher than 3 because as a bride or groom you permit everyone else to score points at all. On the other hand, you are out of the game and so maybe you don't score points. I am not sure yet. I need input.

Anyway, the wedding went really well. I liked the locations for the wedding and the reception, which were both nature/outdoors themed. And before you go "What? That sounds hideous" I will explain that this theme just means that the wedding itself was outside, including lots of outdoor pictures, and then the reception was at this nature center auditorium. See, not so ugly right?

The wedding ceremony was conducted by my pastor (and the bride and groom's pastor more importantly) from Purdue. I thought he did a great job, making a very good explanation of the sanctity of marriage from a Biblical perspective, and tying in many of the great anecdotes you would want to hear from a college pastor who knows the participants intimately.

Wedding #1 was similarly officiated by a college pastor of the bride and groom, to good results. I feel like having there be a strong connection between the couple to be wed and the pastor makes for a more significant wedding ceremony for the couple (all though I do not know this from personal experience) and from the guest's pov as well. Maybe I'll do that for my wedding.

Or, there is the other option. My buddy Nick and were talking about how ridiculous the planning has been for Wedding #2 and the idea of a destination wedding was broached. I feel like this is an awesome option for a couple of reasons:
  1. It seems like the bride and groom don't even get to enjoy their party that much! I mean you are getting married! I want to party! I want to dance like a maniac with my wife and family and all my friends. It's going to be epic! I don't want to be running out of there to go get it on with my wife (although that will be nice I'm sure), or feel like I can't really enjoy myself because I have this way uncomfortable formal wear on. I feel like the party aspect is increased by about a factor of 1000 if you do a destination wedding followed by a reception afterward.
  2. While the wedding ceremony is beautiful, and I love seeing my friends look into each others eyes and say the words and smooch, I mean come on. Most people are in it for the party! Go back to number 1. Think about the weddings you have been to. Wouldn't they have been way more fun if everyone was dressed just a little more casually and the bride and groom were getting down until the wee hours of the night? Exactly.
  3. Destinations are cool. That's why it is called a destination. It's where you want to go! So you know that you and your immediate family would have a smashing time in Hawaii or Italy or wherever. And just try and tell me that you would not become hopelessly romantic if you were getting married by the sea in Italy. I'm falling in love just thinking about it.
  4. Cost. Weddings are EXPENSIVE. By having a destination wedding you are diverting huge amounts of capital into a much tangible payout. Instead of bouquets, you have tropical plants. Instead of a huge cake, you have dinner by the sea. Instead of a reception you have...a party. Okay that's pretty much the same thing. But all the other things are good!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer Reading

If you are looking for some books to occupy your summer, here are two different lists that I found interesting.

  1. Faculty of University of Texas summer reading list - This is pretty self explanatory. I like having lists like these because I never know what current novels are crap and what might be interesting.
  2. This course by Orson Scott Card made use of different genres of current american literature, with the intent being to give a true accounting of what american literature actually is, without all of the fluffy 'I want to sound super smart' junk.
  3. For what ever reason, one of the books I want to read this summer is called On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, which as far as I can tell, is *the* novel from the Beat Generation. And while I was at it, I looked up some Chuck Klosterman stuff, and this guy called Tom Wolfe. I guess the theme for this list is "Hippie drug culture", which I cannot explain my interest in, but let all be comforted that I do not plan on partaking in LSD any time soon.

Locations & Musings

I am not one that usually spends a lot of time thinking about what could be, but I recently have thought quite a bit about the affect that location has played in my current position in TFA, my career trajectory, interests, friends, etc.

Right now I wonder if I would be teaching if I had not joined the co-op program at Purdue (and you can see right away the futility of this line of thinking, and yet, I am currently deep in it). I think that co-op and its unique mix of meaningful work experiences combined with inane absurdities and general drudgery is at least 50% responsible for motivating me to apply to Teach for America in the first place. If I didn't know that corporate engineering was lame, would I now be working at some engineering firm in Seattle, WA or Greenville, SC? Would the added responsibility and work-load of a full-time position make it actually enjoyable? I don't know, but it is interesting to think about.

Another affect of the co-op program was to move me every 3 to 4 months from one place to another (that's usually what moving does). I went from school to work, from work to school, and only my first year (fall '01) and fifth year (fall '05) did I complete a normal academic school year. My friends became concentrated in the co-op program. There were about 4 guys who rotated together, took ME classes together, did the house stuff together. Later on I took more advantage of enjoying the church community of which I was a part, but how did these relationships get stunted by leaving? Would I have different friends? Would I be married (good question since so many of my college friends are checking that box this summer or last)? Again, I don't know, but it is interesting to think about.

For a moment. And then I look up and around at this summer that is here and now, and the realities of the friendships that currently exist, of the work that I am currently doing, of the summer school that is starting in 3 weeks, and I am moving again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Activity Update

What follows is a non-chronological list of activities performed by me or people who look remarkably similar to me in dim lighting.
  • Making use of the driving range to discover that swinging a wood as hard as you can usually yields approximately 19 feet of forward progress while hitting irons in repeatable rhythmic motions churns balls into the 220s on the fly.
  • Sprinting full speed into the shallows at Muskegon to bid (that means 'to dive head first') for the discs thrown by Hunt or Miller. Realizing that jumping from the shore drastically increases your likelihood of hitting bottom.
  • Crawling on the floor and under coffee tables.
  • Discovering that spider webs usually congregate in the northeast corner of coffee tables. By usually, I mean on this one, unconfirmed occasion.
  • Watched "Prairie Home Companion". Discovered that woman was created first, she had 3 boobs, decided that was excessive and cut the middle one off, asked "What should be done with this useless boob?" and decided to make man. Ha!
  • Went climbing. Loved that guy who had no volume control AS HE SHOUTED THAT WE WERE DOING A GREAT JOB!
  • Went running. Running in Michigan in the summer is great. There is a breeze and there are trees and it is beautiful. I remember running in Houston. It was loud and humid and miserable.
  • Scrabble. I played. I lost. I made up words.
  • Cribbage. I played. I won. I did not make up any words.
  • Cooking! Pasta salad, pizza, enchiladas, brownies (out of a box), Kool-aid (does that even count?), egg sandwiches, brats and dogs on the grill. Mmm summer foods.
  • Ice cream eating has almost become a daily event. I have hit East Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Forest Hill Foods, Meijer...
  • I read "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls". Very...interesting. Yep. Interesting. Don't judge.
  • Threw the disc again and again and again.
  • Threw a bachelor party. DJ Haywood spun some mad hits including the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye and Christmas songs. Believe me, you wish you were there.
I have one more week of the true summer experience. I am proud to say I have proven my meddle as a summer experiencer because I have not been bored, nor complained about not having enough to do, but instead been gleeful occupied for approximately 95% of these past 3 weeks. While my "I have all day to goof off and enjoy myself" ends next monday when my Curriculum Development class starts, after a week of 7 hours of class per day, I drop back to 3 hours per day and hope that 8 hours of play time will be sufficient. I would not want to get too used to this schedule, right?

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Not much is going on in Michigan these days.

But really, that's just the affects of having the semblance of a routine and no extraordinary things breaking it. I have actually been busy, living this summer for play.

I am no playing basketball and ultimate regularly (2 to 3 times a week). Last night was my first night back at ultimate since final semester at Purdue. I was nervous (I always get nervous before unknown competitions), but ended playing pretty well. Since it was pick up and not a club team, summer league or college team, the offense was pretty selfish, and defense was one dimensional, but it was still fun. I played third handler which is definitely not a typical position for me. I handled at sectionals during my last year at Purdue, but that was only because no one else was there who could do it. And with our offensive stack moving all over the place, I took it upon myself to be the anchor for lining up and setting up our O. As a result, I did not have any huge catches for scores, but I did throw some hucks. Granted they were in general pretty floaty, but for the first time back, very solid.

I also got a climbing membership for the month that I am back. Apparently, Houston has pampered me in this regard, because the Texas Rock Gym is *significantly* better than Higher Ground. Really, higher ground has a much cooler location, but the location's limitations dictate a three room layout, each room being the size of my living room. Its tiny. The size makes me very self-conscious if I am there late in the evening, when it is busy. Because of the nature of the climbing sport, there usually are large numbers of really experienced climbers and not that many newbies. So while there is not any judging going on (I have never heard "man you suck!" or anything akin), I am watching what other people are doing, and they are watching me and everyone (I assume) is mentally grading themselves in respect to everyone else. Maybe this doesn't happen, but I imagine it happens.

Speaking of imagining things into reality, I started reading this book called "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls". My aunt lent me the book last summer after she found out I would be teaching middle school. Accompanying the book was some disclaimer about how crazy adolescent girls are. Well, I decided to start reading the book, finally. One of the things that really struck me, and explains a lot of the behavior I noticed over the past year, is that adolescents (specifically girls, but probably boys as well) are developmentally just beginning to be able to think critically/abstractly. As a result, they generate countless faulty syllogisms that originate from "I feel so therefore its true" or from "Here's one example so it must be true".

Let me give you an example. Students in my class say to me things like "You never call on me for ______". This is a case of the first faulty syllogism. The student has one example, or maybe even a couple examples of me calling on other students instead of him/her. They *feel* like I am purposely ignoring them. Since the feel it, it must be true. I *am* ignoring them. This state of disregard on my part then necessarily stretches infinitely backward and forward in time. I have *never* called on them and I *never* will. Which really, if you think about that feeling, is pretty serious, albeit completely based on falsehood.

Students in my class also say things like "Other math classes don't get homework every day! Why do we?" This is the second faulty syllogism. The student usually has one friend who doesn't have homework. They then extrapolate that to everyone. For a more concrete example of this mistake think: "That famous actor bought his 16 year old daughter a brand new Mercedes CLK for her birthday. Therefore ALL parents buy brand new Mercedes for their children's' 16th birthday. Therefore I should get a brand new Mercedes for my 16th birthday."

Ahhh, youth.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cell Phone Hell

This past month I have existed in a state of cell phone hell.

Anyone who has tried to get a hold of me probably has experienced some side-effects of my purgatory; dropped calls, disconnected phone line, fuzziness. I was basically a living, breathing cell phone commercial.

Here's how it all played out.

For the past two years I subscribed to At&t wireless. I was very satisfied with their service. My phone was great, the rates were extremely reasonable (I got a discount by purchasing the plan through a previous intern employer), the online website was easy to navigate, and the coverage was consistent.

The problem that eventually developed was the time that I had to talk changed; I needed to go to bed by 10 so that I did not scream unconditionally at my students and average 3 aneurysms a day. If I was going to bed by 10, that meant I was talking to people from like 8 until 9:30. If I wanted to talk to anybody. Which I did. Because I like people.

So I'm sure you see where this is going. Huge cell phone bills resulted. In March my bill was $180 or so. That was a painful bill, so I resolved to monitor my usage and buckle down and some more cliches about paying attention to stuff and meaning business. I went over in April.

My bill was like $150.

The system was broken. I started researching cell phone companies. My roommate had Verizon. I checked it out. I liked the motorola Q, especially because I wanted to get a smartphone this time around, but the per month fees were really high (he was paying 90 a month or some such nonsense). I just could not justify the jumped from 40 to 90 plus tax.

Then I saw sprint had 7 to 7. It had the Q. It was inexpensive. It was oh so seductive. I overlooked the fact that ever single person said that "Sprint drops calls left and right" and "their coverage sucks". And it dropped calls left and right. It had shoddy coverage. I hated my life. But the final straw was when they made me put a 250$ security deposit down AND would not let me pay with a credit card. I mean, come on. Join the 21st century. I want to pay online. Your service already sucks and inconveniences me to the point I have to go to my car in the parking lot just to carry a normal conversation but then I have to write checks every month?

I started looking at cell phone service again.

Then I found a Motorola Q on It was 50$. It was Verizon. Bam. I ordered it. And they proceeded to botch my order in ways that I did not even know were possible. My phone would not activate when it arrived. Then the port did not work. Then the port did work, but Verizon did not have any record of my request for service.

I talked with at least 20 different help desk people, spent 4 hours on the phone and eventually spent 2 hours in bestbuy before the Verizon people got my stuff working again.

I love text messaging.