“valley of the world…” ~ Steinbeck

 February 22, 2015.

I have just returned from attending an education conference in the South Bay, specifically San Jose. I presented strategies on creating space for learners to figure out what is thinking before they can do anything else, especially writing, and writing about reading, and how the mere act of writing leads to thinking. In the digital pollution of trends and hypes, I am so grateful for such a wonderful turnout of dedicated, passionate educators who trusted that I had something valuable to share. I am creating—or rather Vusi will be—a separate website for all that (of course I will reference what’s posted there here too, but only occasionally since this space is not an “education blog” per se, although it can and shall be whatever I want, whenever).

In some ways it was a very disappointing conference because I came across “educator celebrities” and there is no alternative voice challenging their “wisdom”, or rather, engaging (yes, that is a better word) engaging with their conclusions. The greatest educators question, especially themselves. I am not sure when educators began vying for stardom. It’s sad given this is a profession of service and this state, like many others, and essentially our country, really needs critical thinkers right now to ask better questions even if there are no easy answers. That being said I also happened to meet some phenomenal educators in attendance for whom teaching is indeed a calling, not just a job. There were also authors present, authors whose works were new to me so it was nice to hear them speak. Of all of them, I really enjoyed listening to author Cristina Garcia. Later I asked her where I could find her essay on exile and she said she wasn’t sure it was published. She was generous enough to offer mailing me a copy. I saved her the hassle and ran around the hotel lobby looking for a copying machine and copied it. I will definitely be writing about exile on a later date and sharing an excerpt from her essay.

There is too much to say about all that on a Sunday evening, especially a Sunday evening where it is raining so hard that the rain drops are diving pellets, a welcome-kind of rain. I can almost hear the earth exhale upon being nourished.

Another two very full weeks ahead. It’s finally beginning to feel like a new year.

On my drive back, I pulled over on Pacheco Pass near the garlic smelling town of Gilroy because I couldn’t resist staring at these hills a little longer. Immediately I was reminded of Steinbeck’s letter (I have shared this exact quote before even but today I felt it, really felt the words rest inside of me), although he was not speaking of this specific location:

“I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.” Steinbeck’s letter to George Albee, Salinas, 1933

 

Today, for the first time since I have been in California, I had a moment, a tiny moment, where I could see “valley of the world” as I drove by. I wanted to hold on to that moment so I took these photos.

-a.q.s.

 

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10 reasons why I would rather teach writing to 10-year-olds than adults

For the past seven months I have been working with a group of 10-year-olds. More specifically, working on their writing skills. Other than teaching distinctions between various homophones and homographs (their, there, they’re; fair, fair, fair) I have not emphasized “correct” spelling. I know from many experiences, personal and in the field of education, that spelling comes with practice and reading, lots and lots of reading. The only real challenge I have encountered is teaching complete sentences versus fragments. This is quite difficult to get across because when they read fiction they come across fragments upon fragments authors write for “voice” or within dialogue or to serve other literary and figurative purposes. To this end, I decided why conclude that these young writers “wouldn’t—couldn’t—get” author’s craft nuances and instead to teach writing like in any traditional creative writing program for adults.

Also, I have never worked with such a young age group. Before law, I taught middle and high school. There would always be a handful of students in that age group who didn’t hate writing but most of them preferred to plagiarize or figure out a way to still pass the class without turning in any writing related assignments.  The spelling was atrocious and the content dry. I have also taught students in community colleges and those trying to get their G.E.D. diploma and it felt that the students’ relationship to writing got worse as they grew up. There were always a few each year who ‘liked’ writing but only if it was creative writing; any responses to literature or short essays were drier than empty tin cans. They  had been taught that writing was for writers/creatives and if you weren’t aspiring to be a song-writer or an author then there was no use for writing except to pass the class as a requirement.

This opportunity feels like the grandest opportunity: a window into the future, or the missing link from the future.   I have even considered a P.h.D around this topic: what happens when adults get out of the way?! Whatever else they may have learned from me, I can assure you I have never been more inspired. This Sunday I felt like sharing what I have learned from them. Anything in quotes is a direct quote by several 10-year-olds.

Here are 10 reasons why I would rather teach writing to 10-year-olds than adults:

1. You don’t have to convince them that they are creative. They are only certain about one thing: they have many ideas, thoughts, questions, and experiences. They are 10 and they know this with conviction!

2. You don’t have to convince them about “good writing.” They know that sharing a piece of writing must meet certain standards. The two most important rules that they came up with: “make it not boring” and “don’t just talk about yourself.”  They intuitively  know that “some pieces of writing are just for yourself and that is okay not to share. Your writing still matters because it is yours.”

3. You don’t have to hear about social media. They don’t care about social media. Don’t confuse this with their lack of knowledge about Twitter, Fakebook, Instagram, Vine etc. Most of them do have digital devices and some even have accounts! They just use them like text-messaging tools to share “selfies” and fart jokes or about what they are reading, no different than adults I suppose. However, an important distinction is, they don’t seek them as a source for inspiration for anything and they are definitely not as plugged in as the “millennials”. In another 10 years these children will be 20 and already have a very different take on technology.  Most of them can’t understand the adult obsession, they would rather play and hang-out in real time. They do have tablets for reading but equally prefer books. Most of them see tablets as game boards. “They are not a book! That’s just silly!” So, naturally, they don’t care to share their writing beyond their immediate audience or to know if anyone else likes it. That being said, they are very driven to improve their writing because “no one likes cliches because that’s boring and tiring”.

4. You don’t have to sell them the reasons for editing and revising. They like editing and revising. They know that when we are eager to write our initial thoughts or creative stories we sometimes overlook silly mistakes. It’s “fun to make it better because you grow each time you fix a mistake.” They know they are not perfect because no one is. They are focused solely on their own work but in a different way than most self-absorbed adults: they want to improve for the sake of improving and having their thoughts be more accessible.

5. They think writing is cool because you get to share stories, make up stories, use figurative language like “play-doh”.  “Most author’s craft is really just play-doh: why would you make something that somebody else is making? Unless it was really really cool. You can’t make mistakes with play-doh.” Their use of figurative language is mind-blowing. “It’s easy when you write from the heart and push yourself to find new ways of saying how you feel.”

7. They are not afraid to explore. Even the shy ones. They don’t need permission to cry or think they need self-help for crying. Some of them have burst into tears during their writing. “I didn’t even know there was that feeling in me!” Some of them don’t cry until they share their writing out loud. They love humor too and enjoy making up stories about one another and writing in third person. They are not interested in my “approval”. They help each other and are willing to receive and reject help. They emulate one another and authors and then grow out of it. They don’t want to be the best, they want the writing to be the best for that moment.

8. They don’t need a reason to break rules. “I wanted to try something new” suffices. “I didn’t have more to say” for a shorter writer’s notebook entry is an okay response. The five-paragraph essay doesn’t have to be boring if you care about what you are writing. “Don’t you want to convince someone of something when you sit down to write?”

 

 

On that note, I thought I was going to have 10 reasons, but 8 good ones are better than 2 extra useless ones.  “It’s okay to start with one thing in mind and then end up with another. That’s why it’s called a journey, right?”

I wish I could take credit for all of it. I am just a facilitator and here and now share my own writings and feelings with them. It’s all been an organic unfolding, truly an orchestration beyond my teaching abilities. That being said, Peter Elbow is a big influence and I incorporate a lot of his methodologies and philosophies.

On a personal note, these youngsters have really convinced me to write a young-adult or children’s book.

As they would say: why not? 🙂

“Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking. Meaning is not what you start out with but what you end up with.” – Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers.


Still Sundays

August 21, 2011.

Normal is another world phenomenon; Helping the exceptions stand out for all of us in ANY form is art; From the memory box: desert sky and Wilma Rudolph. The foremost task of education.

Stillness is a flower that doesn’t always have a fragrance. Or perhaps the perfume is sans alcohol so one has to be really sober to take it all in.  Similar to a real yoga practice, what comes forth is not always bliss but gunk. But if you allow some space and don’t hold on, the gunk slides away, and real bliss doesn’t always feel like happiness but it surely feels like freedom.

Today’s Sunday is some shy rapture. It’s raining everywhere it seems, including here in New York City. Flush away all that is gone.

It feels humid inside my place although I can sense there is a breeze outside by the way the curtains are flying away from the windows.

I bought a basil plant that doesn’t seem to like me very much. I am not offended, I am just curious. People talk to plants to help them grow. What do plants want to hear? Plants, pets: we project our feelings onto them without listening to them.

Plants don’t need us as much as we need them, although scientifically speaking there is a co-dependence. They too need our exhales but we don’t know how to expire.

I knew a woman who treated her dog with more attention than her young son. No the son didn’t take guns to school but neither did he care for much else as he grew up, including her. Now she has an even trendier doggie, bow-tie and all. Literally. The son is tall and wishes he could untie himself from indifference.

Animals take better care of their children than humans. We take better care of our pets than our children. Children ask questions—can’t put a muzzle on the silent questions that bark persistently.

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We don’t have real opinions anymore but, in the words of James Allen from a different context, merely “sensational fluctuations.” “I hate this restaurant!”…“I love that group!”…“I love this art!”…“I love that school!”…“I love that book!”…“I too like that author!”… “How lovely!”… “How nice!”… “Lovely!”… “Lovely!”… “I love this…”…

Am I repeating myself? I apologize.

When I was re-reading James Allen this week, I mis-read fluctuations as flatulence. I giggled then. Today’s Stillness illuminates that word works too.

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