The Superpower of Naming Things

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My right eye: Can you see the tiny mole?

I have a small bump under my right eyelid. I’ve always had it, but didn’t notice it until a few years ago.  

What is it? Many people have these kinds of tiny bumps on their faces. Sometimes, but not always, they have some color to them. Some people are famous for them. Cindy Crawford’s is iconic (Brolley, n.d.). Did you know that kids can buy these and stick them on their faces? How many movies have teenagers using markers to add them?

My mom called them “beauty marks”. She had many. She was beautiful. She assumed beauty. We recognized it as such. 

The truth about beauty marks” (Brolley, n.d.) explains that they are all technically moles, but the ones on a person’s face are sometimes referred to as “beauty marks.” This incredibly interesting article discusses some historical facts about our beautiful little bumps. Shakespeare had a thing for them, for one. Did you know that beauty marks have been politically active? And, they are not dangerous… just scandalous… if you were to travel back in time to the 18th century, Great Britain. Be careful, Doctor Who!

What struck me, though, is that simply renaming… branding something differently, completely alters your perception of it. “Mole” doesn’t sound nearly as attractive as “beauty mark”. I witnessed this superpower of renaming first hand when I helped my daughter Scarlet re-see her handicap of hearing impairment as a “superpower”. 

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Scarlet shares reasons she would use her superpower to a crowd of 3rd, 4th, & 5th graders.

At the beginning of last year, when Scarlet was beginning first grade, she voiced frustration in the fact that she did not get to experience recess the same way her peers did. When rain was imminent or it was drizzling out, Scarlet was kept inside because it is important that her hearing equipment not get wet. 

Recess is a big deal to an elementary-age kid, and Scarlet liking school and being happy is a big deal to me, so I put my mind to this challenge. The winning idea was to spin Scarlet’s struggle into a positive point of view. Yes, she would have to forgo some fun, but she can do something that no one else can; She may not have the same recess as her peers, but she DOES have a superpower!

The moment I named Scarlet’s hearing impairment a superpower, she became proud of herself and her situation. I previously wrote about a cute story of her telling a dentist “It’s Okay, I Have A Superpower” just before she used it to NOT hear the loud air pump he was about to turn on. The success of this experiment led us to compose a little children’s book, “Scarlet’s Superpower”. 

The experience of publishing our story lead to a school contacting us about sharing our “super message” with its students. Beaver River Central Elementary School in upstate New York was launching a “Literacy Celebration”, and they invited Scarlet and I to help them kick it off. They were attracted to our tale because they were using a superhero theme to celebrate literacy. Their slogan was “I’m a reader, what’s your superpower?” 

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Daddy/Daughter team of presenters; This was so much fun!

In the same way calling a mole a beauty mark readjusts one’s perception of it, this school district was telling its students that readers are super powerful. Here’s a wild fact: Cindy Crawford considered surgically removing her facial mole! Had she done that, who knows whether she would have achieved the stardom she has? The fact is that we don’t always appreciate our greatest gifts. What if Superman wanted to get a little cobweb off of the ceiling, and ended up flying right through the roof! Oh, man! I hope the home owner’s insurance covers that! 

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Look at the faces of students listening to Scarlet!

Kidding aside, viewing reading as a superpower is a beautiful way to inspire youth to develop this ability. The principal at Beaver River Central told her students that it is a power that no one can take from them. What a powerful message!

In preparation for sharing “Scarlet’s Superpower” with the audience at Beaver River Central, I thought it would be neat to act it out in a short play. In this way the audience would have more to experience, it would involve Scarlet, and I could get kids from the school to participate. I wrote the story into a short skit, complete with stage directions. A group of fifth graders worked on practicing it, and I rehearsed it with Scarlet at home. 

You should know that Scarlet has never spoken in front of a group of people this size, let alone acted out a play! She began voicing her concerns the night before the performance. I could have explained to her that it was natural to feel nervous, and then tried to console her. Instead, I told her that what she was feeling was “excitement”. We get excited about all kinds of things, and it isn’t perceived as negative. Why let Scarlet see this wonderful experience through a negative lense? 

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Those moles you are feeling are really beauty marks. 

She did great. We did great. The 5th graders from Beaver River Central did great. Interestingly, the students seemed to be much more excited to meet Scarlet, because they were actually part of her story. Incidentally, I didn’t call the drama that I composed a “play”, either. I labeled it a “Readers’ Theater” because I allowed the students to have their scripts with them. This cuts down on nervous feelings. Renaming things can be super helpful!

Thank you Beaver River Central, for inviting us to be part of your literacy celebration. 

What have you “renamed” in order to infuse superpowers?

Source:

Brolley, B. (n.d.). The truth about beauty marks. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.thelist.com/130854/the-truth-about-beauty-marks/ 

Mountain Biking Text

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A trail Scarlet and I hiked last summer

A person wants to get from point A to point B. Point B is on the other side of a forest. The first time that the person finds his way to point B, it takes a while. He gets scraped up. Some frustration may be involved. There will definitely be corrections in direction. He might use tools like GPS or a compass. Probably, the person will mark his travel. On the way back to point A, he will have an easier time of it.

The next time that the person wants to travel from point A to point B, it will take far less time and work. Plus, the person will not get as beat up, because he will know where the briars and boulders lie, and he will avoid them. He might even cut them back or move them, if he plans to travel this way regularly.

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These boulders are unforgettably huge!

Now that there is a trail to follow, getting from point A to point B is easy, fast, and thoughtless. You know what to expect. You look forward to the natural outcroppings of rocks and groupings of trees that mark your progress along the route.

Technology has developed to the point that mountain bikes are available and in vogue. You get one and begin using it on your favorite trail.Getting from point A to point B evolves into a recreational activity. While you use the trail to get from one place to the other, the journey has become the entertaining part of the trip. You even invest some time in building parts of the trail to make them more fun. A straight path up a hill becomes a switchback with berms. Maybe you search out gnarly terrain to shred instead of racing directly to the end of the trail. 

Eventually, your passion and excitement is communicated to others, and they want to try your trail. It morphs from a singletrail to a wider path.

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You’ll need to move that fallen tree for convenient travel.

Next, people who don’t mountain bike find that your trail is a convenient path from point A to point B, and they begin using it. Now, there are bikers and hikers. The hikers don’t need the entertaining gnarl of the mountain biking trail. They level portions, clear your favorite bunnyhopping logs, and widen the path.

As more and more people use the path for traveling, the importance of getting from point A to point B in less and less time with fewer distractions becomes valuable. It gets leveled, and then paved. It grows wider and marked. Eventually, your entertaining path turns into a rode.


Why does the last word of the previous paragraph look rong? Wait. What is happening hear?! Why are these homophones being spelled incorrectly?

This entire blog is an analogy for learning to read. These supposed misspellings at the end are obstacles for you to mentally bunnyhop over. If you have made it to this point*, you are a masterful reader who uses sounds, spellings, and can identify common letter groupings unconsciously. 

Hopefully, you didn’t “yardsale” when you red (I just did it again! Ha ha) the word “rode”. It is ironic that the past tense verb for mentally travelling through this text would sound the same as the noun for the symbol of the text itself! Daniel T. Willingham rights (Sorry, I can’t help myself! Last time, I promise) about how our mind translates text when we read in “The Reading Mind” (2017). With wildly entertaining (at least for a geek like me) examples and figures, he explains the way we interpret sounds, decode meanings, and relate commonly used letter groupings. Reading this book shows how technical this seemingly simple task is, as well as how natural it becomes once we figure it out. Chapter 3 “Reading At A Glance” was the inspiration for this blog. 

And now to wrap it up. The point** I was trying to make was that the process of reading evolves in each of us, and we get better at it by doing it. As adults, we read many texts that get us from point A (ignorance) to point B (knowledgeable) with the goal of speedily fixing our ignorant situation. This is often necessary and important. It is the goal of teachers to train students to be able to read well, so that they can also easily traverse the distance between point A and B. Given that this skill is refined by much repetition, wouldn’t it behoove the practicing reader to enjoy the process? 

I am composing this blog to challenge adults to model mountain biking through text, so that others see your example and want to try out the trail for themselves. I suggest you find something fun to read, and make it visible, modeling your performance to inspire others. If you are a teacher, show your students. If you are an administrator, spur on your teachers. If you are a parent, show your child how useful reading is. 

There is an adult reading challenge that I threw together for Twitter users that you might enjoy using. I made this in order to inspire a game/social angle for sharing our mature reading habits publicly. Feel free to join me and other grownup readers as we share our mental mountain biking! 

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Include #TeacherReadingChallenge with your tweets.

Source: 

Willingham, D. T. (2017). The reading mind: A cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads.

*Congratulations on successfully finding point B; the place where all of this is explained.

**Point B, throughout the analogy was never a tangible place, but rather reading, itself. 

The Inspiration for “Green-Lights”

It happened a couple of times. The first time was annoying. The second time was downright frustrating.


Do you travel the same way to work every day? My school is only about six miles from my home. There are a couple of ways to get there. While I vary my route from time to time, no matter the path, there will be several intersections with traffic lights.

As I reflect on it, there are a few that I can count on turning red, but those I have devised either turning right or checking email on my phone. Eliminating down time, I don’t feel a hint of pain, waiting for the light to turn. One or two pauses in the hurry to work doesn’t hurt. For the most part, I am usually traveling in the direction that affords most traffic lights to be green, most of the time. 

One morning in the spring of 2019, I was on my way to work, and every single traffic light was turning red right just as I got to it. Was someone messing with me? Although I had plenty of time to get to school without being late, the annoyance of being held up was acute. Having already checked my email (several times), I felt the vacuum of down time; wasted time; robbed time! These lights were stealing my productivity from me. Just the kind of thing to make me see red.

 

It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks later that the same thing happened again! I’ve been driving these roads for nine years, and never had this many red lights to sit through. What was going on? It was like the planets aligned, and they hated me! 

 

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What if your whole life felt like one red light after another?

During one of these red lights, it hit me: This feeling of frustration is what some people feel all of the time! While I generally expect things to go just fine for me, there are people who experience trials and conflict at every single intersection of life. This got me thinking about how ignorant people like me are. I use the word ignorant in the literal, “Not knowing” sense. And, I am the guy coasting down the green-lit road. What if this tiny feeling of frustration that I experienced for only a moment, and then it was over, and I had a great day, was a prolonged, every-single-day, all-day-long feeling?

 

What if I teach students who experience this feeling? Everything they try to do is wrong. Even if it isn’t true, they might feel like they can ONLY make mistakes! What if they come from a household where nothing is ever good enough? What about the families who can’t get a break? Would a child that comes to school from such a family see life differently than one whose family is financially successful? I think so. What about health?


I almost understood my ignorance once before. When I was in college, I ran my own College Pro Painting business, and it was extremely successful. I won a medal, even… “Rookie of the Year”! 

I remember this like it was yesterday: Before winning the medal, during the height of my most successful time of the summer, when I had several crews pumping out high-quality, prosperous production, I was finishing up the evening’s estimates and feeling good about landing several of them. A couple realizations swept over me. 

The first one came from my reflecting on all that I had done. The summer before this one I had risen from a first-time painter to goal-driven, successful foreman on a painting crew. My leadership was so powerful that I pushed my tiny crew of three to shatter our manager’s expectations time and time again; To the point where he practically begged his boss to interview me for a managerial position the next year.

This boss did give me a go. The interview process was severe, but I got hired. Next, I underwent several weekend training sessions that taught me how to run my own business. 

Now, I was driving around an old Dodge cargo van that I had paid for with my own money; money that I had gotten as deposits on painting work that would be completed that summer. This was my first vehicle! Before beginning the marketing season, that spring, I didn’t have more than a couple hundred dollars in my bank account. I was selling clothing at a retail store in the King of Prussia Mall a couple times a week for minimum wage, plus commission that barely covered my travel expenses. 

This was my junior year of college. I was 20 years old. I had been dating a girl whom I whole-heartedly expected to marry for about a year and a half. The week before finals she dumped me. She did NOT say, “It isn’t you; it’s me.” She had been preparing to tour with a drama team during the summer that I would be pioneering this painting business. The leader of that team was very funny, popular, and attractive. “Bye, Matt.” 

traffic-lights-15289837432tbThis devastated me. I don’t remember if it came before or after the breakup, but at some point this girl had said to me, “I’m afraid you won’t be successful.” Where this came from, I don’t have a clue. I had hit the ground running, and HAD already experienced quite a bit of success, booking more work early on than anyone else in the district.

Being dumped made it pretty awkward to borrow my ex’s car to do estimates. I began borrowing a friend’s old jalopy. Uncle Buck’s car had nothing on this rolling, sputtering, brown boat of a car! But, this did not dissuade customers from agreeing to have me and my painting crews paint the outside of their houses! Eventually, I saved up enough in deposits to buy my van. I used deposit money to buy painting equipment and put advertisements for college students looking for summer work in the local newspapers. (They were paper back then!) Deposit money was used to pay for direct mailing that the corporate painting umbrella company College Pro Painting put together and mailed for me. All I had to do was tell the company how many bundles and where to send them, then pay for it. 

I followed College Pro Painting’s training to a T, and added my own passion, coupled with persistent energy. It proved to be a recipe for success. In the afternoon, after classes, I would drive over to my “turf” and go door to door, asking people if they wanted a free estimate for exterior painting or “Would you mind if I placed a lawn sign on your lawn?” My pitch was simple and sincere: “Hi, my name is Matt, and I’m a college student trying to start my own painting business in your town.” This message was incredibly well-received. I was well-received. I was able to place lawn signs on the lawns of houses covered in vinyl siding that sat on main thoroughfares. Also, I was able to conduct and land all kinds of jobs. I hustled. I took any job; none was too small or big or difficult or easy. 

One last thing before I move on from this success-story: Two of the 20 or so people that I hired to work for me during that award-winning summer were college students who had painted the year before. Not only that, but they had worked for a College Pro Painting manager like me, so they knew the ropes. These two proved to be the spine of my business. The one with a little more spunk was made foreman of the crew, and I left his buddy on his crew. This last act was probably one of the best decisions I made that summer. You’d think that splitting them up, and making each a foreman of competing crews might have been more profitable. The camaraderie these two shared helped them absolutely love what they did that summer… That and the totally awesome bonus money that they earned! 

So, I’m sitting in my van in the middle of my successful summer thinking back on my humble beginnings, tragic rejection, and hard work. I’m finally feeling the emotional fruits of all of this success, and I think to myself…

If I can do this, anyone can. Why don’t more people start their own business and experience success the way I did?

Typing this thought makes me cough inside; Like, I feel like I am punching myself in the gut! My only consolation is the next thought came fast:

Wait a minute. NOT everyone CAN do this. 

When I thought this last idea, it was not with hubris. It was a realization that I was lucky. If I had bought this van I sat in with “my own money”, it was only after having been trained in how to acquire that money. Also, the people who entrusted this money to me believed that I would provide the painting that I promised. Would they trust anyone? No. 

Part of my drive that summer was due to proving my ex-girlfriend’s fears wrong. Does everyone have that going for them? Would I wish those painful feelings onto other people? Of course not.

Sure, the area where I ran my painting business was what the business called a “Pioneer Turf”, in that no College Pro Painting manager had worked there before, but College Pro Painting was far from a pioneer business! My customers had the assurance of me working for a company that had successfully trained and operated student-managed painting businesses for over 25 years! 

Lastly, having two guys who already knew how to paint and how the College Pro Painting system worked was gold! While they produced work, I trained other painters. I had them train painters. Success bred success, and everyone was happy to be working on a winning team.

traffic-lights-438806_960_720.jpgI may have had a couple of hiccups along the way, but my van and I had driven through green light after green light, picking up speed as we went.

Years after this college experience I heard the phrase “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps”. It seemed to make sense. Take what you’ve been given and make something of yourself. At the time, that’s what I thought I’d done. I did not understand that other people and situations and unearned personal talents/abilities were like a jetpack lifting me the moment I touched my boots

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Where are the bootstraps?

I’ve done a little research on this phrase. It is more than just a little ironic. It  was used as a put down, suggesting that someone was delusional, for how could you lift yourself from yourself? (Alvarez, 2015) Not only was it an insult, but originally to use the term “Bootstrapping” was to make fun of people who thought that others could be successful from nothing! 

I don’t think that it is classy to make fun of anyone. I will say that I felt a little silly, when I realized my own flawed thinking about personal success. When I sat through one of several red lights on my way to work that fateful morning mentioned at the beginning of this blog, all of this flooded my psyche. If it were even possible to “Lift yourself up by your bootstraps,” some people’s straps snap. Other people don’t even have boots! This got me thinking about a better metaphor: Traffic lights. 

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What have been your experiences with privilege and inequity?

Now that you know where the ideas for “Green Lights” came from, how might it be interpreted? What parallels to teaching and life can you make? Who is sitting at red lights? What can be done to help them? Will it hurt the person driving down the main road with all of the green lights? Is that appropriate? Who is the jaywalker? Who was driving the Ford Crown Vic that had an accident? The elderly person? I challenge you to look for literary easter eggs. What does it mean to you?

Sources:

Alvarez, S. (2015, April 7). Where does the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” actually come from? Retrieved January 5, 2020, from https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/where-does-phrase-pull-yourself-your-bootstraps-actually-come.

The Reading Super Bowl

This blog was originally published under the title “Competition is Classy”. I decided to retitle it “The Reading Super Bowl” as I reblog it because it isn’t actually about the concept of competition being classy. The article is all about a classy competition that motivates students to read.
This past fall I finally read Daniel Pink’s seminal work, “Drive”. This has caused me to rethink the idea of using extrinsic motivations like this competition to impassion attitudes and habits. I’d like to write a blog in the future that explores whether competition is or isn’t classy; or, the classy aspects of it. This one is just about a fun competition The Polite Pirates have been conducting for years. “The Reading Super Bowl”!

The Captain of Class

Every year, on the first day back to school after the winter break, I initiate a competition between two teams in my classroom. The contest is to see who reads more, but the purpose is to make reading a habit and instill an excitement for text consumption. I call it “The Reading Super Bowl”, and it lasts until the actual football game.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 8.56.16 PMThe class is broken up into two equal groups. I’ve done girls versus boys, odd student numbers versus even student numbers, and broken the class up according to desk arrangements; Doesn’t matter how you do it. The NFL teams that are entering the playoffs are listed on the board. Kids get the lunch/recess time to decide on their group’s team. Then the players are passed out. I usually project a few pictures of each team’s jerseys on the wall for kids to model the coloring of their figure…

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Puzzling a Positive Attitude of Acceptance

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This year’s puzzle, “Cats” (2019)

I grew up working on puzzles with my family during the winter holiday breaks. Every year between Christmas and New Years, every member of my family could be found hunched over a temporary card table set up in the middle of the living room. Never-mind Santa Claus; The main source of magic in those days was waking up to find a gigantic portion of the puzzle completed. Sometimes, feelings of gratitude flooded the soul, since a piece that had eluded me was found and locked in place. Other times, I would feel cheated, because a large portion of the puzzle was no longer available for construction. 

The purchaser of puzzles was my mom, and she wasn’t very picky. She brought home pictures that she liked. They were typical interlocking jigsaw puzzles consisting of anywhere between one and two thousand pieces. 

Mom was the best at finding matching pieces. I remember puzzling over a section for a long time, only to have mom visit the project, survey the available pieces, and pick the most random-looking one out of the mix. Not every time, but often, she’d have flawlessly, and seemingly effortlessly found the missing piece!

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Dawning her new fuzzy, pink coat, Scarlet connects pieces that have words on them.

Now, I am teaching my daughter Scarlet how to assemble puzzles. My wife and I have given Scarlet puzzles for years, but this Christmas is the first time that she is really engaged in puzzling through a 750-piecer, independently. I came downstairs yesterday morning to find her hunched over the colorful enigma, piece in hand. As I began explaining that sometimes it isn’t enough to look at the colors of the pieces; “You have to examine the negative space to find a matching piece;” I thought about the ways people interact with one another. 

When Scarlet and I first dumped out the 750 pieces, I instructed her to turn all of the pieces over, so that the glossy, colored sides were facing up. As we did this, we placed any pieces that had straight edges into a separate pile: Those were the edge pieces. We also began forming a few other distinct piles of pieces during the flip over process. Any pieces with blue on them went into a pile separate from the pile of red pieces. 

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Puzzles prepare people for finding commonalities.

Anyone familiar with putting together puzzles knows that you first assemble the border, so that you have a literal frame. This also provides a frame of reference for where to place increasingly connected groups of pieces. Sometimes you have to open up the border to allow large sections of connected pieces to slide into the middle of it. Other times, you can pick up a handful of attached pieces and drop them into their spot. Then there are times when you work on bringing individual pieces into the frame to fill gaps and complete sections, all the while you are hunting relationships between interlocking, individual, man-made masses of color and shape that are meant to be together

Scarlet, Mommy, and I are only about a quarter done assembling our family puzzle, when it hits me: What if people had the same attitude about other humans that a person putting together a puzzle possesses? The whole time you work on a puzzle, you are only thinking, where does this piece in my hand belong? Who does it connect to? What spot in the puzzle is its home? How does it relate to the rest of the puzzle?

The puzzle that we are working on is tricky, in that the pieces seem to be cut right on the cusp of varying colors. I am working on assembling a section full of poinsettias and looking for an adjacent piece. I first try pieces that look similar to those adjacent the vacancy. None of those fit. Next, I examine the opening that the missing piece forms; the negative space. Are there any pieces in the pile of red that possess a similar shape? Eventually, I go ahead and try sticking red pieces into the gap, just in case there is a geometric abnormality that I am not seeing. Perhaps one will work, even though it does not look like it. That’s happened before. No success. I widen my scope of potential pieces to include ones that share the colors of surrounding pieces; greens and browns. When finally I do find the piece, I notice that the cut followed the line of red color, seeming to purposefully fool anyone relying on that. 

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The important thing to understand is that the entire time you are putting together a puzzle, you are being inclusive and accepting.

This story goes to show that while it may be advantageous to categorize puzzle pieces into separate colors, initially, this reliance on related pigments can eventually cause frustration. I would have found my missing piece faster, had I looked at the picture of the puzzle on the box, and included any piece that had red AND leaf colors/designs in my pile of poinsettia pieces. And, really, if you want to get really figurative and technical, poinsettia petals actually are leaves that turn red! 

The important thing to understand is that the entire time you are putting together a puzzle, you are being inclusive and accepting. Every single one of the 750 pieces is a potential fit for any opening. They all belong somewhere. I think it was the experience of this particular puzzle’s play on color that brought this to my attention. Time after time, I found myself needing to open my mind to accept the possibility that pieces I never would have imagined going together actually did! 

A coping strategy for dealing with frustration when assembling puzzles is to step away from working on a difficult relationship, in order to focus on another part of the puzzle. When I am not finding the elusive connecting pieces between poinsettias and chipmunk, after searching for tens of minutes, I must move on to the yellow section of flowers on the other side. Often times, I will eventually stumble across a piece that I recognize belongs to a foreign part of the puzzle. The satisfaction felt when dropping it into its home is immense. 

Each piece has a home; Has a purpose; Has a special function. The piece that you hold in your hand belongs somewhere, even if you aren’t sure where that spot is at the moment. You can put it down, but don’t lose it! It has immense value. They all do!

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One missing piece ruins the whole puzzle! Every single one is important.

The most important dangers of a puzzler include: Do NOT lose even one piece! In fact, if you lose even ONE, you may as well throw the whole thing away. Or, if you are creative and graceful, you could make a substitute piece, but if there are more than one or two missing, it does not matter how creative or full of grace you are, the puzzle will look wholly unfinished; not holy. Never force a piece. If you do this, you could ruin its shape, so that it won’t fit nicely into the relationship it was meant for. Also, if you leave a forced piece in place, it warps the whole puzzle. You might attach a few more pieces to this wrongfully placed piece, but eventually there will be a line of unrelated-ness, like a saltwater tide infringing on brackish water in a bayou. 

IMG_2929Before I leave you to chew on this metaphor, I must mention some of its limitations. First of all, Life has no borders; It has a beginning and an end, but there is no ceiling or floor. Sore as high as you can, and be careful of exploring its depths too far. Understand that experiences, places, and people are all part of your puzzle. Also, it is more like a three-dimensional puzzle. Build out wide on either side to support potential experiences that could attach to your life. Then, watch piece after piece fall into place, grow, and assemble. Finally, but not conclusively, it is ever changing. The piece you hold in your hand may not fit now, but in a few minutes, it could be exactly what you need! Life is like a coral reef; a puzzle of plant, animal, and rock… Living rock

 

Green-Lights: An Analogy Exploring inEquity

A person driving home has to go through the city. While he usually takes the turnpike to avoid traffic, he needs to stop at a store in center-city to make a purchase. On his way to the middle of town this driver is pleasantly surprised to find every single traffic light green. He doesn’t even have to slow down once. This causes him to wonder whether paying the tolls to take the turnpike home everyday are even worth it! 

In the specialty store where the man must make a purchase, there is a very long line at the single open register. He contemplates coming back later, but decides to at least scout out the items under the glass counter. A sales clerk asks the man if he needs some help. While he is there and now getting some personal attention, he might as well find out the specific prices of the items he’s interested in buying! 

“Yes, may I please see these two items up close?” he asks. Upon closer examination, the man makes his final decision to buy his favorite. The sales clerk chooses to ring the man out right then and there. Neither of the two people engaged in this encounter pay any attention to the lengthy line at the other register that has doubled since this sale began.

How lucky I am, the man thinks to himself, as he gets back into his vehicle to continue his trip home. As he coasts through more green lights, he might hear a hint of a remembrance of someone from the store he just left mentioning the irregularity of the traffic lights today. Why ponder good fortune? he dismissively wonders right before noticing an elderly woman stepping onto a crosswalk.

Our driver slams on the breaks, producing a small screech of his tires. Between the sound and his waving, the old woman realizes the driver is intent on letting her cross. She does so very slowly. With each new vehicle forced to stop behind the Good Samaritan, his feeling of importance grows. I made it possible for an elderly individual to have safe passage across this treacherous road, he muses. The feeling of power is heightened when he allows the now long line of traffic to begin moving again. 

Wait! Someone else is getting ready to jump into the road! They are not on a crosswalk, though. Also, they are clearly nimble enough to jog across at a natural break in traffic, the driver assesses. And, the conclusion is to give the jaywalker a warning toot of the horn, while weaving a little to ensure there is plenty of space between the pedestrian and vehicle. With an additional silent internal warning of following the rules and heading patience, our driver dismisses all further thought of the incident. 

imagesHad he sat through a rotation of red lights when allowing the elderly person to cross the road? How could every traffic light still be green? the driver wonders as he continues home. There are dozens of green dots dangling from dark metal branches for miles, ahead. They would look like a gloomy green airplane runway, if it weren’t for the buildings lining each side of the boulevard! 

Luckily, the road is plenty wide enough for our driver to swerve out of the way of a small fender-bender. It doesn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt, our driver notices as he slowly passes. The hit car must have tried making an illegal right on red, when there wasn’t quite enough clearance, our driver concludes. The city can be a treacherous place to travel. Perhaps the turnpike is safer. No one pulls out in front of you speeding along on the turnpike

110927-F-GK203-018.jpgIt isn’t until this lucky driver gets safely home and turns on the news that he remembers seeing some of the faces of people sitting at red-lights on the side streets. Coasting through green-light after green-light, our driver turned from time to time, glancing at the cars waiting for their chance to enter this magical thoroughfare. They looked angry and irritated. Come to find out, the road our driver had traveled had been victim to a traffic light malfunction. As it turned out, his drive home really had been magical; The lights hadn’t changed for over an hour. It just so happened that he turned onto the road that had been broken in his favor right when the lights became stuck on green. His brief stop in the store hadn’t been long enough for him to escape this lucky coincidence! He drove all the way home, before city workers fixed the lights, and travelers on side streets could safely exit their parked prisons!

Some couldn’t escape. There were vehicles that ran out of gas, engines continuing to run in hopes that the light would turn green at any moment. These clogged the narrow side streets as others honked at them, trying to get around. Additional fender-benders occurred. Pedestrians jumped to the steps of buildings as vehicles hopped the curb and drove on sidewalks. 

None of this was reported on the news. A more important story about a business merger had captured the headlines. Our driver will never learn about the fate of the fender-bender he’d passed during his green-light adventure. A Ford Crown Victoria that was driven by a man who grew up delivering giant cubes of ice, cut from a pond in Northern Maine’s freezing cold winter for summer iceboxes, the first refrigerators, had experienced a heart attack. His soon to be widow was driving him to the hospital, because they thought that they couldn’t afford an ambulance. In his childhood, they would have harnessed horses and sleighed across town, snow hiding all traces of road and property boundaries. Now, one desperate right on a red light found them trapped in a lengthy waiting period while police officers interrogate the other driver. Was he drunk? Driving without insurance? A wanted man? Who knows?

Our lucky driver does remember this green-light adventure one more time. There is a day when he ventures into the city for an errand. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, he sees a pedestrian skipping through cars to cross the street. The frustrated driver thinks back to the jaywalker he didn’t allow to pass. Oh, to be free to run around the streets, our temporarily-stuck driver thinks to himself. 

But, how free is he, really?

Appreciating the Past is Classy

Now that I have the Nutcracker read alouds posted in the Willow Lane Read Alouds Youtube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgo7q67pdVRkW2utB6Nnh8Q), I can have students work on this more independently. They can do it from home, and catch up easily if they miss a class. Also, I can differentiate by reading leveled books of the Nutcracker to some kiddos, while others listen to the original.

The Captain of Class

Appreciating the past is classy. That sentence was worded carefully. Being stuck in the past is not classy. In fact being stuck in general is not classy. Glorifying the past is not classy, either; It says, “Those times were far better than today.” With advances in medicine, technology, and transportation, no time in history can compare to modern times.

To appreciate something is to recognize its worth. 

The opposite of “Appreciating the Past” is when a person thinks that things are the way they are because of his or her efforts alone. If you make a scientific breakthrough, that is great, but I guarantee that there were hundreds, if not thousands of scientists and scientific works, not to mention your teachers, parents, and even environmental situation that all lended to you being able to perform your accomplishment.

On the other hand, while age isn’t everything, the older the wine or…

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