So folks didn’t know that NPR’s annual reading of the Declaration of Indepence was just that: a reminder of what our nation is founded upon, what were the reasons for the Revolutionary War, and throwing over a tyrannous ruler.
Here is the first draft of potential discussions, lessons, etc.
Note: Some strong language is used in this video, and may be offensive.
This may be the current medium of choice among young adults, and it’s one I thoroughly endorse in format. However, examining the draw of listening/watching, the speed of discourse, and the power of convincing others of a point of view when packaged visually can be dangerous.
Ask your second students which videos offend them, and why. We’re in the midst of embroiled discussions about gender and race (and zombies) currently, and you may find out some very interesting things. Be prepared to keep an open mind.
Google “Mermaid sightings” and see how many YouTube and other sites pop up. Animal Planet produced a faux-documentary in 2013 about mermaids. It looks authentic, the voiceover serious and documentary-ish, but the CGI is just off enough to provide the right balance of fantasy-immersion and pragmatic reality.
It’s quaint, but I couldn’t help shake the distress that these fake-umentaries could damage instruction and credibility. And that worry has come to light. I still want to believe in the IDEA of mermaids, (I love mermaids and mermaid lore); however, it is dangerous to make a documentary that many might believe is factual. Currently, in our post-truth era, an Orwellian allusion that’s in itself is too precious and misdirecting, our futures depend on getting it right. And I marvel and am horrified by how many believe they are right, credible, honest, and intelligent when they are so very blind.
But I can’t look away, I can’t stop questioning, researching, and thinking.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger.”
My burning question is how do we tackle the rhetoric of conspiracy theories?
Example: my same relative posted about how CNN is fake news, etc. and his followers posted many actual cases of times CNN has made editorial blunders. So that leads me down one rabbit hole after another. His source, Fox, has had more editorial errors and by many standards, lacks journalistic credibility or standards. No one mentioned Fox’s mistakes. So, check off Point #1: Tunnel Vision.
But yet this just happened: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/kent-shooting-victim-says-he-was-told-go-back-to-your-own-country/
I responded back something about the inauguration photos. You know the ones — Obama’s and Trump’s, side by side. And that’s when the legion of lies began officially.
My relative responded back, “Oh, you were there? Cool!”
No. But another relative was.
And what if I wasn’t? What a bizarre argument.
I know its intent: the intent is to make me doubt myself, and not question the thousands of things he believes in but has never seen with his own eyes.
Is this the knowledge argument?
The maddening thing, the thing I shake my fist at the gods and shake my head in disbelief is their arrogance (Point #2: Arrogance and hubris) in redirecting any belief. The lack of conceding any point. So no dialogue is possible.
For every scientific and social construct, they have a rebuttal. (Point #3: Dart-throw but offer no solutions)
I’ve never seen a mermaid. I’m fairly certain they don’t exist. Perhaps they came from the desire of sailors seeing mirages in the water, fearful of women and drowning in the deep, mixing the two together to create a narrative that the siren song defends them from all accountability and responsibility of keeping their own stuff together. It’s always convenient to blame falling off a boat on a fish-woman. Point #4: Blame others. I have never touched a blue whale, either, but unlike mermaids, am pretty sure they exist. There are photographs, scientists, animal lovers, artists, whaling hunts, etc. and whole industries based on whaling throughout history. I did step on a whaling boat in Mystic, Connecticut once. It’s no longer seaworthy or in use, but I didn’t question whether or not it was once used to hunt whales. But by my relative’s logic, since I wasn’t physically at the inauguration (he wasn’t either), my conclusion is invalid. Point #5: Thinking conclusions and evidence are the same things. They’re not. The evidence is the two crowd sizes differed in numbers. That does not mean I think anything. He assumed I did.
But here is where I will leave this, for now, until I need to go to the breach, once more: it is a waste of time to talk to someone on their own echo chamber. Every point made, every piece of evidence, every possible conclusion or theory will be met with some fallacious argumentative rhetoric which to them, sounds pithy and intelligent.
They are croaking toads, and nothing more, belching out lies and fear to seek attention. And that is my ad hominem misstep. I am in the process of trying to not care, not give this oxygen, so if I think of people as nothing more than croaking toads that helps, temporarily. The futility of trying to change anyone’s mind who’s over the age of 25 upsets me. It’s become too dangerous and weird. The enormity of they don’t know what they don’t know is too burdensome at times. But I’m about to go drink coffee and watch the latest episode of Saturday Night Live: laughter and caffeine heals a lot of wounds.
The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.
Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?
Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.
Some close reading/close writing ideas:
Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?
These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.
Throwing this out there: I need a writing group. I need the accountability and presence of other ideas. I am wondering if my lack of writing with any regularity, except for this blog, is a result of no structure, the end of PSWP, and not finding another NWP. Writing Workshop works. It is an exceptional means to help students grow as readers and writers. I’ve tried to sell colleagues on it, and because they haven’t been to the mountaintop and met with gurus of enlightenment like my friends Holly Stein and Kim Norton, they don’t believe me.
So I just have to make sure it fits with my students, and keep proving it, time and again.
Our school is trying to do many things in a hurry to get students at grade level: PLC work is the big focus, and for math and ELA, the district provides rough ‘frameworks’ but at least for the ELA group, they’re never done, or if they are, there is a conflict or confusion between the PLC created Common Formative Assessments and the district created ones. These are not mutually exclusive, but nor does this jive with the spirit of a PLC, and that is to be agile and responsive to student needs in an intentional means. Assessments that might be best for students at one middle school in the district may not be what’s most needed for ours.
Along with the PLC work, the administration wants us to focus on our grading practices, and the discussion is open and collaborative. It has always been my personal policy not to mark things down for being ‘late.’ Convoluted systems and make-up work tangles up the process, so I make it simple: there is a due date, and the assignment will ‘close’ a week afterward. It’s marked zero and missing to affect grades because if it’s not, the student isn’t aware it’s missing. These are middle school kids, remember. Once it’s done, I give it full credit. If it’s an assignment that is rubric based, they have time to redo it for a better grade. Assessments for our PLC and district are scored accordingly, but marked as “no count.”
Recently Ethical ELA posted an article about flexibility and student learning:
The writer used my favorite quote that I use as my tagline, and this–this is a fantastic idea:
What will you do with your one precious life? They reflected on their values, dreamed about what, who, and where they wanted to be, took a career quiz, read biographies, explored opportunities in high school, looked into part-time jobs, explored colleges, searched apartments, created a budget, read about philanthropic options, developed mottos, wrote a speech to synthesize the research in the voice of their future self (see an example below), and created a slideshow with images to support the content (e.g., Slides, A Life as an Artist, also see below). I set up a schedule for three students to be “guest speakers” each Friday through January, February, and March.
I may start off with my ‘ambassador of the table’ and then move to the guest speaker idea.
Before the break, the well-laid plans included a quick version of Greek mythology, then onto Box of Destiny! Ah, well. Add three snow days, a studio teacher workshop for the ELA department, the ‘no immigrants’ protest day, things did not go as planned. Do they ever? So, instead of the full-blown BoD presentations, I asked them to focus on just the story of their character from first-person perspective. Developmentally, this shift is very difficult for some students, and that makes it all the more valuable. Many had their stories done, many had them started, and many couldn’t get out of the starting gate, with all the scaffolds available. We did a modified writing workshop protocol on Friday, and I took the papers home to write feedback for one and all. Between my hand-written and typed feedback in Canvas, I hope to see some growth for the next project.
Life is not linear, that’s for sure. Maybe that’s why whenever I watch a Marzano or other expert they always use a math example, not an ELA or social studies one, because reading, writing, and history are messy indeed. But that’s okay: I know other experts to draw from, including my own knowledge and experience. If you want to come to the mountaintop with me, I’ll take you there.