Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"This I Believe" Meme: The Search for Truth

'There is no wisdom save in truth. Truth is everlasting, but our ideas about truth are changeable. Only a little of the first fruits of wisdom, only a few fragments of the boundless heights, breadths and depths of truth, have I been able to gather." -Martin Luther

Lisa Parisi has tagged me for the "This I Believe" Meme. Started by Barry Bachenheimer, this exercise is based on the National Public Radio "This I Believe" segment, where individuals share essays they have written that explain their life philosophies. In the present variation, participants are invited to examine their personal philosophy of education, then post their musings in a blog.

As Lisa remarked, this is not an easy task, nor one to be taken lightly. I decided to focus on the concept of "truth":

I believe that truth is not immutable, but capable of infinite variations.

I believe that the search for truth is a life journey, but one that begins at a young age, whether or not the nature of the journey is immediately apparent.

I believe that the purpose of education is two-fold: to supply the foundation objective truths which will help provide structure and stability for our students; and to foster the critical habits of thought and reflection which will enable them to continue their journey towards subjective truths long after they leave our tutelage.

This I believe.

I tag:

"Say not, I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth." -Kahlil Gibran

"naked truth" by B. Charles Johnson

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Name Game

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." -William Shakespeare

One of the quandaries facing a beginning blogger is how much personal information to reveal. Striking a balance between safeguarding privacy and establishing an online presence requires making a series of choices: avatar or photo; screen name or real life name; vague or specific locations for home and career.

In my own case, I've moved from an avatar

to a photo

My name has expanded from "diane" to "dmcordell" and "Diane Cordell." Although I usually list my location as "upstate New York," I occasionally mention my home town or the school district where I teach. I'm most protective of family members, and use their images sparingly.

Many of my online friends are experiencing a similar evolution, especially on Twitter. With familiarity and trust comes the desire to reveal a true image, mimicking the revelation of personality, philosophy, and character.

And as bloggers establish a presence, they increasingly desire to claim their Voice. Online, as in Real Life, reputations are important.

Because of the content of their postings, some bloggers choose anonymity. A school employee like Taylor the Teacher could well lose her job over a posting like "No Blogs Allowed!" Comments like "District installed new Internet filter today because the other one was too much like we lived in a democracy" and "Apparently kids aren’t allowed to see advertisements, either. This is okay since nobody sees ads in real life America. Unless, of course, they are military ads plastered all over the school. Heil!" are not encouraged in the public school arena.

In her own words
"The Annoyed Librarian is possibly the most successful, respected, and desirable librarian of her generation. She has no other interest than to bring her wit and wisdom to the huddled librarian masses yearning to breathe free. The Annoyed Librarian is a free spirit and you are lucky to have her."
By being No One, she (or could it be he?) is Everyone.

Today, a student blogger stepped out of the shadows. Welcome, Kaelie! It's fitting that you drop the "Curbxstomp" persona as you thank Taylor the Teacher for being your real life mentor. Perhaps some day soon she will be able to join you in the sunlight.

"A name is the blueprint of the thing we call character. You ask, What's in a name? I answer, Just about everything you do." -Morris Mandel

"HELLO, my name is..." by thost

Fly on Your Heavy Feet

I've never had a guest blogger before, but I felt that this lyrical comment from a very gifted writer - my daughter - deserved to stand alone. [She doesn't have her own blog yet, but I'm trying to remedy that!]

Why would I want to ride my bike?

Most everyone I know had a bicycle at some point in their childhood. Your bike summed up freedom and adventure. Once you had learned to ride it- an accomplishment in and of itself- it was you and you alone who made it move, and you who chose where to go. On your bike, (individualized, most times, with a name, or a basket or streamers or horn or bell or plastic bits on the spokes to click or refract the sunshine), the wide world was even more open to exploration, in a mob or by yourself, with purpose or just fancy free. Being a child of the 80s- and a something of a grup - even now, when I throw a pack on my back and set off on some errand, I can’t help but think of the Goonies, racing away on their bikes to find the Rich Stuff. While we never found quite that much glory (not that we didn’t look), we did discover all sorts of nature’s treasures in odd nooks and wayside puddles; found ruins of the past that made us curious about our world; rode smack into unexpected moments, and love for our community. Chasing the silent magic of hot air balloons overhead. Bones in the gravel, abandoned houses, buying a May basket at the mom and pop down the road, reading in the park. Independence grew from the ground, sparked in the friction of your whirling wheels against the pavement, transferred up from your pedaling feet to your child heart- anything you wished to do, you could do. The simple self-sufficiency of riding to the store with loose change from the sidewalk to get yourself some candy, picking dandelions from cracks in the pavement, returning home sunburnt for dinner.

And someone, probably, and probably someone you loved, gave you that bike, and taught you to ride, releasing this taste of freedom in you, and allowing you to chase it. And, probably, that’s the someone who you returned home to, in the gloaming.

And the feeling of riding your bike. The melding of machines, your body and your bike working in harmony to go go go. Fast or slow, forgetting that you’re riding at all and you feel like you’re floating, or remembering and doing cool jumps, graceful swoops. The burning in your legs up the hill, the exhilaration of coasting down, your lungs filled with rushing wind and your skin tingling with the sensation of soaring. Alert and dreaming, in sunny skies or gray, racing by the houses and trees or stopping to search out a singing bird in the branches. Your back hot and sweaty with lunch in a pack on your back, and a good book, looking for a sunny spot to think, or on your way to work, or to name the wildflowers to yourself, or to see a friend, smelling the clean breeze and the spicy weeds and the sweet lake water, hearing the insects buzz as the sun blazed down, feeling the wind of cars rushing past, dinosaur growls from their fossil fueled engines.

Last spring my (now) husband bought me a bike.

I began taking little rides in the morning, getting up early to birdsong, finding the flowering trees of the neighborhood, seeing deer in the park, buying groceries for dinner. I picked up a free bike trail map. On the weekends I’d plan little adventures, everything I needed in a snail shell on my back: book, phone, scraps of paper and pen, lunch and my camera. Keep your overhead low, as Kerouac said. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tire marks. Spring, Summer, Autumn, I rode every extremity of the trail, which spans seven towns. Three I’ve lived in, one I work in, one I was married in, one I hike in, and all I got to know better.

It’s a funny thing, to find yourself living in the same town that you were born and raised in. Everywhere you go your memories wave at you. And sometimes you’ve grown so accustomed to what surrounds you that you’ve become blind to its delights. On my bike, I made friends with home.

Saturday mornings I had a little routine around town. Farmer’s market, starting first with the coffee man, who’d hand me a little cup black and sell me another sack of coffee, so good that I went through it in exactly one week. Then veggies galore by the season, and maybe a sunflower from the flower lady, who provided the bouquets for our wedding, and wildflowers at the tables. Then the bookstore, the library; maybe a museum exhibit, peach champagne from the new wine store, grocery shopping, a yard sale around the corner. I’d run into people, meet people, come across little shops tucked onto streets I’d never been down. Read the historical markers that blur from the car. Asked a farmer how to prepare a beet, discussed violence in the schools at the thrift store, heard about a good book I’d like.

I began to search out local events, find places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to try. I started thinking of the local spots and people as friends, no need for reciprocation. I saw garbage on the trails and grew my own sense of conservationism, weaned myself off plastic bags and unnecessary waste. I grew some pride in my community. I learned that I had stamina. Off my bike, I started hiking with my sister (in law) and loved it; we’ve joined a mountain club and are off on all sorts of adventures now! Assumptions about my own limitations fell off, not to make too cute an analogy, like training wheels. I lost a little shyness, and I learned to love feeling like a creature, dirty and sweaty and wheeling my way down an old canal towline, taking lots of pictures, looking up the history online when I returned home, checking out books from the library about our little patch of world.

When Husband wasn’t working we’d sometimes take bike rides together. We’d explore dirt paths, and find new launch sites to try in our canoe, and fly his toy helicopter, or swim in the public pool. Last autumn we rode our bikes to the little airport to see the hot air balloons going up. Down a big hill, in twilight, suddenly there was a strawberry floating by overhead.

Last summer I often rode my bike to some quiet spot, to think, and work on wedding planning- or, better, to not think or wedding plan at all. On a solo journey to a new avenue of the bike trail that Husband had told me about, I suddenly recognized where I was: riding past the backyard of the house I’d grown up in. The past and present seemed to hum in alignment- here I was, on my bike, and twenty years ago here I was, on my bike. The intervening years flashed by, I saw all sorts of interweavings and funny coincidi, which brought me to the conclusion that, simply, in a nutshell, being grown up is the bee’s knees. And life’s been very good to me.

A few weekends ago Husband and I rode our bikes down that path together, to a big park that is my favorite destination, a beautiful place with a fascinating history. We sat on the benches and shared a sandwich and I mentioned to him that there was a cleanup of the bike trail scheduled, and asked if he’d volunteer with me. Afterwards we went and visited the letterbox hidden in the park. I updated my last entry- which I’d made one week before our wedding.

This weekend, in honor of Earth Day, me and Husband got up bright and early and registered to help with the trail cleanup. It just so happened that we were assigned to that park- and began our work at the benches we’d been sitting on when I mentioned the idea. 6 hours and 16 bags of leaves latter, we’d grown blisters, sunburns, new friends, new plans, and came home feeling good and filthy dirty. I’m pretty sure that I have the best husband in the world.

All this and more came from the bike my husband bought me, that my parents taught me to ride way back.

Why would I want to ride my bike? Hop on one and you’ll know!!

“…Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.”

-Mary Oliver, ‘Such Singing in the Wild Branches’, from Owl and Other Fantasies

Photo of Bike and guest posting by Daughter of Diane

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why would you want to do this?

During a training in Tennessee, one of the participants asked Teryl Magee to inquire of her Twitter network, "Why would you want to do this?"

The question intrigued me, but I decided to expand it a bit. Therefore, I'm making this a do-it-yourself posting: you get to choose both the answer and the question.

So fill in the blank, "Why would you want to ______________________ ?" then provide an answer. Any topic is fair game, from teaching to skydiving, becoming a mother to becoming a clown.

Ready, set, go...

"y oh why?" by debaird

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Both Sides Now

"I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow,
It's cloud illusions I recall,
I really don't know clouds, at all."
-Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

Cathy Nelson started it. Clay Burell took it a step further by creating a meme. So Cathy went back a second time to fine-tune her creation.

All of this action centered on TweetClouds, a site which makes a word cloud from your public Twitter stream.

Since Twitter is a social networking tool, it doesn't surprise me that @ updates to friends occur most frequently. These are my friends, colleagues, support system, co-learners.

When we speak, I use words like "new," "time," "school," "know," "love." In the alphabetical arrangement of results, bits of unexpected insight appear:

There is sadness: "left-library-life" and humor: "old-ones-online."

But most of all, there is "friends-fun."

"You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds." -Henry David Thoreau


Sunday, April 20, 2008

I'm Nobody! Who are You?

I'm nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!

They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!
-Emily Dickinson

There has been some discussion lately about the "exploitation" of Twitter by people who are interested in self-aggrandizement rather than connection and collaboration.

In my wildest dreams (well, maybe in just a few of the more delusional ones), I don't anticipate becoming a sought-after lecturer, consultant, or best-selling author.

Twitter is my place to meet new friends, converse with virtual colleagues, share resources, and offer encouragement, sympathy, or congratulations, as needed.

There may well be those who are only concerned with self-promotion. If so, their agenda becomes apparent relatively quickly. My rule is to only follow people who follow me back. I'm in Twitter for conversation, not hero-worship.

Like many tools, Twitter has a variety of uses. It works for me, but then, I'm Nobody! Who are You?

"Andrew likes 'Diary of a Nobody' by George Grossmith" by Ross_Angus

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saint Expeditus: He's fo' close scrapes

"Well, St. Espedee [Expeditus] works very quickly. His light is a red light on a Wednesday. He's fo' close scrapes -- he's fo' quick money." -New Orleans, LA. Informant

April 19 is the feast day of Saint Expeditus, patron of emergencies and solutions, guardian of programmers and hackers, staunch opponent of procrastination. Reputedly a fourth-century Roman martyr, Expeditus has evolved into a cult figure and voodoo saint, with strong followings in
RĂ©union, Chile, and New Orleans.

Procrastination is a subtle siren, singing of drudgery deferred and duties delayed. It is a democratic habit, and encompasses all ages and walks of life. The teacher is just as likely to put off unwanted paperwork as the student.

There are a number of websites that offer practical advice on how to simply, streamline and prioritize your life. Study Hacks labels itself an "academic productivity blog." Primarily aimed at college students, its posts on achieving success while reducing stress are applicable to learners at all levels. Zen Habits promotes a simple lifestyle, presumably unfettered by the guilt that procrastination can bring. Lifehack focuses on "hacks, tips and tricks that get things done quickly by automating, increase productivity and organizing."

The end result of procrastination is usually panic and a flurry of activity. This prayer to Saint Expeditus might come in handy when those pesky deadlines finally catch up with you:

"Invoke in the urgent business"

My Expeditus Saint of the just and urgent causes intercedes close to for me Ours Mr. Jesus Cristo, help me in this hour of affliction and despair. Intercede close to for me ours Mr. Jesus Cristo! My Expeditus Saint You that are a warring Saint, You that you are the Saint of the afflicted ones, You that you are the Saint of the desperate ones. You that are the Saint of the urgent causes, Protect me, Help me, Give me you force, courage and serenity. Assist to my request. To " do the request ". My Expeditus Saint! Help me to overcome these difficult hours, protejei-me of everybody that can harm me, protect my family, assist to my request with urgency. Return me the peace and the peace. My Expeditus Saint! I will be thankful for the rest of my life and I will take its name the whole ones that have faith. A lot of thank you.

If you don't read this blog until after April 19, don't worry because "You can celebrate St. Expy Day whenever you get around to it!"

"I think that wherever your journey takes you, there are new gods waiting there, with divine patience -- and laughter." -Susan M. Watkins

Thursday, April 17, 2008


"Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems." -Rainer Maria Rilke

“A picture is a poem without words." Horace

*View individual photos or as slideshow here

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Sum and Total

"Character is the sum and total of a person's choices." -P. B. Fitzwater

In early April, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the release of a new publication, Partnerships in Character Education State Pilot Projects, 1995-2001- Lessons Learned.

This government report summarizes programs conducted in 45 states and the District of Columbia to implement specific goals by integrating character education into the entire curriculum, creating a positive school climate and involving families and communities in building student character.

One important conclusion drawn from the study is that
"While character development remains primarily a family responsibility, results of the Pilot Project indicate that schools and individual classrooms have direct and significant influence; that the entire community must be involved; and that it is truly a shared responsibility among students, parents, teachers and the community at large."

The report's State Roll Call lists participants and describes what each of the 46 grantees was able to accomplish.
  • Alaska "developed a course curriculum at the University of Alaska, which delivered credited courses for teachers and other training for parents and members of the community."
  • Colorado "focused on 10 elementary schools and results taught the grantees six important lessons that were shared with school districts statewide."
  • Connecticut made the decision "to dissolve the statewide initiative and support local site development. Successful strategies under the grant were those that were aligned with curricula and did not focus solely on monetary rewards or posters and banners with character education themes."
  • Montana decided to test a character education model in five school districts with high populations of American Indian students. "A significant initial challenge—the need to create new materials that fit local values—resulted in a great benefit because it garnered broad local support for the effort."
"Partnerships in Character Education" presents valuable data and offers recommendations for effective programs that will foster "caring, civic virtue and citizenship, justice, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness."

We expect our students to mature into citizens who "will live and work together as families, friends, neighbors, communities and nations." By embedding character education into the curriculum, we can model and reinforce these positive personal attributes.

"A man's character is his guardian divinity."Heraclitus

"no title yet" by Uqbar

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm Afraid Not

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." -C. S. Lewis

Clay Burell pointed me to a video made by his guest blogger, Bill Farren, entitled I'm Afraid Not.

I shared this masterful little clip with my high school Current Events class, then asked them to comment on what they thought it meant.

What is the point of view of this video?
  • "The point of view is that of a patriotic person."
  • "To show us how the government protects us."
  • "I think this video was meant to inform people what our government is really up to. I think this person is anti-government in this video because he is using harsh war footage to show the real evils."
  • "They probably felt that nuclear warfare is wrong and shouldn't be used."
  • "This person seems to be against the government. He has a negative view on our government's choices and actions."
  • "I got the idea that the person who did this is definitely liberal and does not like the way things are going."

How does the "fear factor" apply to your life?
  • "I am not scared of any of this - it isn't happening in my yard, so I'm not too worried about it."
  • "I ain't afraid of getting attacked, I've got plenty of guns to protect myself and family."
  • "It applies to me because I've been on an airplane before and they check everything. Also, you can't go to a large public area without someone checking everything, so it is a big factor."
  • "When I went to the Great Escape [a local amusement park] I wasn't allowed to bring in food."
  • "The fear factor does not really affect my life. Extra security at concerts and in airports are a necessary precaution."
  • "The fear factor - security is tight and getting worse."

How much freedom are you willing to give up to feel safe/secure?
  • "I'm willing to give up a little freedom."
  • "I don't think were giving up any freedom, we're just being cautious about the freedoms we're given."
  • "I would not give up any freedom to be safe. Being safe is not worth not being free."
  • "I don't think that I would give up that much because it's the USA and we are supposed to have a lot of freedom."
  • "I feel that extra security is a good precaution."
  • "I think the regulations are good. I would rather feel safe than not."

Is this an effective video?
  • "I would say yes, this is an effective video."
  • "It is effective because it shows what the government is really up to."
  • "I think the clip was effective, it demonstrates the harshness of war well."
  • "This guy seems to have put his point across very well."
  • "I think he got his point across. It is very good, it makes you think."

What do you think the title
I'm Afraid Not means?
  • "I would say that this title means we aren't scared here in the United States."
  • "I think the title means I'm not afraid of what the government may do."
  • "I think the title means that they are not afraid of war and maybe they feel safe in this country."
  • "This title seems to mean that this guy is aware of terrorism issues and is not worried."
  • "I think he is afraid."

I won't critique their comments, except to note that in their responses, some of the students (6 high school boys) transposed the words in the title, changing it to "I'm Not Afraid."

What is your reaction to I'm Afraid Not? Would your students agree or disagree with mine?

"Fear" by Kables

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring Cleaning

"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean." -Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Spring made its presence felt today in upstate New York, and we scurried to take advantage of the sunny skies and (relatively) warm temperatures.

Since next week is Spring Break in our part of the country, I'll have some long-anticipated free time. I need to do some cleaning.

There are always those mundane domestic chores to complete. Although I'm not particularly good at housekeeping, the idea of a more organized environment is very appealing, and I can't wait to fling open windows to air out rooms and linen.

I also need to rejuvenate my body, with outdoor rambles and lighter, simpler meals.

Can't neglect my mind: Kim Cofino shared her vacation reading list; here's mine
A rather ambitious program, I know, but entirely doable, if I "neglect" Twitter and Google Reader for a while.

Which brings me to my next cleaning task. I've been favoriting Tweets that mention potentially useful resources, emailing myself key posts from GReader, and signing up for new tools to try out (Aviary, Diigo, and Gimp, to name a few). Sorting through this cyber cache might be too large a project to take on right now, but perhaps I can begin advance planning for the much longer summer vacation.

There are postings to write and school units to plan.

Perhaps most importantly, there are people to connect with, in person and online.

It's quite a bit to tackle in a single week. There are no penalties if I don't get to everything. But there are definite rewards for cleaning and stretching and growing however and wherever this occurs.

"Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring. If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature --if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep, if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you --know that the morning and spring of your life are past. Thus may you feel your pulse."
-Henry David Thoreau

“light sweeping” by Shnnn

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Meme: High School Daze to Praise

Cover Art "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli

I've been tagged by Cathy Nelson with a literature-themed meme begun by Paul C. at quoteflections. The rules are:

- Select and briefly review one teen novel, classic or modern, which is a sure antidote to the daze of high school.

-Title your post Meme: High School Daze to Praise

-Include an image with your post.

-Tag four blogger colleagues.

A middle school teacher with whom I collaborated last year used Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, to inspire classroom conversations about peer pressure and individuality.

Narrator Leo Borlock describes Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader in his Arizona high school: "She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl."

Stargirl moves from being an outsider to becoming wildly popular, but in the process, she must sacrifice personal integrity for conformity. By the end of the story, both Leo and Stargirl have learned painful lessons about the nature of growth and change.

I tag:

Saturday, April 5, 2008


"If something bad can happen to even one child it shouldn’t be done"paraphrased comment from meeting of a variety of DECS and AEU (Australian Education Union) representatives, Al Upton, and his Principal

In order to protect their beloved daughter, the King and Queen in "Sleeping Beauty" took the extraordinary step of banning spindles from their kingdom. Never having seen or handled such a tool, the young woman had no idea of either its utility or danger.

"The years went by, the little Princess grew and became the most beautiful girl in the whole kingdom. Her mother was always very careful to keep her away from spindles, but the Princess, on her sixteenth birthday, as she wandered through the castle, came into a room where an old servant was spinning.

"What are you doing?" she asked the servant.

"I'm spinning. Haven't you seen a spindle before?"

"No. Let me see it!" The servant handed the girl the spindle ... and she pricked herself with it and. with a sigh, dropped to the floor." - Charles Perault, La Belle au Bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood)

Sleep, ignorance, inexperience are no substitute for vigilance, knowledge, guided practice. Graham Wegner wonders about the nature of risks:

If one child could slip and possibly fall with injurious consequences, then there is risk. But the benefits of the playground far outweigh the negatives - the learning, the gaining of skills, the creation of games and the friendship of playing with your mates. And we are careful with the playground environment - no sharp edges, designs that cater for a variety of skill levels, soft fall on the ground, rules for safe play, teacher supervision - so that the risks are managed and lead to beneficial learning of physical skills.

Why would we treat the risks regarding, say, the use of blogs in the classroom any differently? Why do risks associated with technology seem to be so threatening that shutting down and banning is seen as the appropriate way to deal with it? And are those responsible for recommending or enforcing these methods really in touch with real or perceived risks?

Although both Al Upton and his Australian colleague, Sue Waters, stress that "They [Upton and his principal] are after constructive helpful comments and thoughts; and a balanced discussion of the issues," comments from the meeting seem to indicate that the miniLegends blog would have to be stripped of all interactive components to pass muster.

"Their key concerns are to make sure everyone is protected against all risks." Is such a thing possible?

The hedge of thorns that protected the sleeping princess will not spring up to shelter our students. The spindles in their world may not be as dangerous as the measures taken to ban them.

If schools are not allowed to teach children Internet safety and digital citizenship, how and when will they learn?

"Sharp Thorns" by katmere
"Familie mit Frau am Spinnrad" by Hermann Sondermann
"The Sleeping Beauty" by Sir Edward Burne-Jones