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Showing posts from 2017

Literature After Las Vegas

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I try to start each class with a quote. I hang a new one up on the board each morning when I arrive at school. They come from books that have entertained me with page-turning plots and enlightened me with revelations about the human condition, books that have cheered me up, challenged my beliefs, and captured my imagination. Today the quote was from Abraham Verghese’s brilliant novel Cutting for Stone. “We are all fixing what is broken,” it reads. “It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”

When I read it to my first period class, a room filled with bright and curious ninth graders, I could not make it through the short quote without my voice breaking. I had to stop and regroup so that I did not simply start bawling right there in front of my students.

When I picked out that quote in June, in preparation for this school year, I saw it as uplifting and positive. I read it as words of hope and progress. We are all actively fixing what is brok…

I Would Take A Knee

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I would take a knee. Absolutely and without any question. I want everyone to know that.

First of all, taking a knee is a gesture of respect even while it is a gesture of protest. Taking a knee is what young athletes are taught to do when their coaches speak, as well as when one of their peers is injured on the field of play. They do so out of respect. Kneeling is what people do when they pray, when the circumstances of life demand deep reflection and faith. The circumstances of our world demand both. Eric Reid, the San Francisco 49er who first took a knee beside Kaepernick in 2016 has explained, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking,” he continues, “our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” The senseless slaughter of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers is a tragedy. Those taking a knee are simply trying to mark that, to draw attention to it, and to encourage all of us to raise our voices in defense of the…

The Story

Several people have asked me about the trip my family took last winter to Vermont, the trip where my wife got the flu, our car couldn't make it the final two miles to our house so we walked through the  freezing rain in the dark, and I broke my wrist trying to snowboard. It is a good story.

So, if you are looking for a laugh and a little perspective on this Monday morning, give it a read.
It has become an annual tradition for my seniors to end their year by writing and delivering ten-minute commencement speeches. Each year, I write one as well. Here is my speech for 2017.
Most commencement speeches focus on what the speaker has done. It is from the things we do that we gain valuable life lessons, and it is these lessons that are sometimes worth sharing.
I contemplated talking to you about wiping out and breaking my wrist this winter trying to learn how to snowboard as a forty-year-old. I could emphasize the importance of taking risks, I thought, or bouncing back from failures, or how that whole experience only solidified my desire to try new and challenging things. If you never get broken your aren’t risking enough - that sort of thing.
I thought about explaining how my wife and I bought a house in Vermont in October; I could emphasize important lessons about not listening to the advice of those who tell you your dreams are impractical, about how we just took a deep bre…

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My face has been known to intimidate my students.  It has made my sons cry on more than one occasion.
“What is the matter?” people ask on days I am feeling just fine, good even.  
Between my eyebrows, there is a furrow which at first glance may suggest deep thought, or mild aggression, or possibly boiling rage.  I have to concentrate to relax it away, and change the message of my face from “tread carefully” to “why, hello there.”  
I don’t smile nearly enough - not at my boys, or my wife, or my parents, and certainly not at strangers or casual acquaintances.  If my face is a book, I am not sure it is one people would be excited to read.  
The book of my face does an admirable job of telling the story during the big moments of life.  When my story is one of exceptional joy, my face will show you that in a moment’s glance - crooked teeth, eyes alight with happiness.  When I am angry or feel I have been wronged, there will be no hiding it.  I lock eyes with my adversary, and bystanders dive …

On the Eve of the Inauguration

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As both a father and teacher, I feel like a Depression era farmer on the eve of the Dust Bowl.  The farmer has done everything to ensure his crops will grow.  For years he has worked the soil to make it as fertile as he can, but a hard world has overpowered his good intentions.  Day after day he watches helplessly as all he has tried to build blows away with the grains of dirt howling across the flaking paint of his front porch.  He wants control, but he has none.  He wants to heal the earth he has tended so carefully, but he can't.  All he can do is hope.
Tomorrow Donald Trump becomes the next President of The United States.  As a teacher and father I find that deeply troubling.  For twenty years, I have tried to use literature to teach students the importance of this country’s core beliefs.  Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson despite the racist forces of society working against him.  Toni Bambara’s “The Lesson” in which a girl living in poverty stands before FAO Schwartz wonder…