Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fall Quarter Reflections

If you hear someone knocking, it's me. I'm knocking on wood to stay on the safe side of superstition. "Tap, tap."
The first quarter of the school year ended, and I have nothing to complain about. "Tap, tap, tap."

My students this year, for the most part, are all great kids. They come to class prepared to work, participate in discussions, do their projects, and have no real behavior problems. Some of them are even pretty talented. This all makes for a great learning environment. Unfortunately, a quiet classroom full of kids studying the proportions of the human face, and working on their drawing assignments, like they are this week, is just not that darned exciting. And it's not why people read my blog.

Mostly people respond to the stories of struggle, hardship, and violence; the stories that affirm the reputation of the urban high school as a "blackboard jungle".
So far this year my classes at Max Hayes do not even come close to that stereo-type. We are not participants or victims of the oft imagined black hole of ignorance, draining tax-payers dollars.

In my classes we have been practicing skills and learning new techniques, we critique our work, we discuss art as communication, and artists as collaborators. A student who writes poetry is working with a student in the machine shop to create a sculpture of lucite panels, engraved with passages from her poems about adolescent pain and desperation. Several of my students, who are also welders, are fabricating steel towers of geometric forms, and my students who are studying the building trades are sanding down old school chairs and stools to recycle as decorative furniture, and building display cases for Mexican "day of the dead" or "dia de los muertos" dioramas.

Yes, the school building remains shabby, and the heaters are only functioning sporadically. A few mornings this week several of the kids donned the crocheted wool afghans that I keep in the classroom for the days when the wind blows through the gaps in the windows and the temperature hovers around 50 degrees indoors. Nothing much has changed over the past few years in that regard.

As for my thoughts on our new superintendent: He seems to be making an effort to connect with the community, and he also seems to be paying attention to their concerns, as "Customer Service" has been a recurring theme for all employee directives so far this year. Continuing to listen seriously to the students, parents, and teachers, those on the front lines of public education, will certainly bring to light the real issues and perhaps even elicit new solutions to the myriad problems faced by our troubled schools. For too long the agenda has been controlled by the politicians, the pundits, and the PhD's of academia, whose connections to the classroom were tenuous, at best. I hope this grassroots approach to problem solving continues, since the status quo approach of having the community's needs presumed by the administrative hierarchy has failed miserably.

Perhaps the superintendent should start a blog, then he could really get some helpful feed back from the citizens of Cleveland.

Monday, October 16, 2006

And when
I am
in the street
the people
I am

James E. Magner Jr.
Only the Shadow of the Great Fool. 1996
"You haven't posted anything for soooo long!"

"I'm sorry, I know it's been a few months, but I've been distracted. My personal life is in...a period of...ummm...upheaval. Forgive me. There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel now, so keep checking in. I will be back to sharing my thoughts again soon."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right."

Mahatma Gandhi, 1931

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Comments on Brewed Fresh Daily

Please take a look at the discussion going on at Brewed Fresh Daily. George linked to my last post, prompting quite an interesting conversation.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Who Profits from Failing Schools? (part 1)

Recently I was asked the question, "What are you passionate about?"

My immediate reaction was, "Huh?"
The question was clarified, "What gets you going, gets your blood boiling, motivates you to take action?"

"Gee...That could be a number of things, but I guess the common denominator would be injustice. You know, when somebody is getting screwed...bullied, conned, neglected or abused. Anytime the powerful take advantage of the less powerful; those things incite my passion."

For a long time I have been disturbed by the glaring failures of the city schools, and the subsequent effects on the economy. I have been doing a lot of research lately, and want to share some interesting statistics with you.

Budget Priorities: Education vs. Incarceration

• First year that the 50 states combined spent more on building prisons than colleges: 1995
• Number of state universities built in California, 1984-1994: 1
• Number of prisons built in California, 1984-1994: 21
• Increase in corrections spending in New York between 1984 and 1994: $761 million
• Decrease in spending on state colleges and universities in New York between 1984 and 1994: $615 million
• Average percent increase in state spending on higher education, 1985-2000: 29%
• Average percent increase in state spending on corrections, 1985-2000: 175%
• Number of African-American men in prison or jail, 2000: 602,900
• Number of African-American men in higher education, 2000: 603,032
• Increase in African-American male prison population, 1980-2000: 460,000
• Increase in African-American male higher education population, 1980-2000: 139,293

This page is an excerpt from The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry (2003) by Peter Wagner, published by the Western Prison Project and the Prison Policy Initiative. Footnotes for all facts are available in the print version available for online order.
Prison Policy Initiative, PO Box 127, Northampton MA 01061
(413) 527-1333

The following statistics are taken from The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) report Cellblocks or Classrooms? The report, released locally by Policy Matters Ohio, found that Ohio’s corrections budget skyrocketed between 1985 and 2000, while increases in higher education spending lagged. Other Ohio findings include:

From 1985 to 2000, Ohio increased spending on corrections at five times the rate that it increased spending on higher education. Higher education spending increased by 38% or $670 million while corrections spending skyrocketed by 211% or $1.026 billion. While Ohio spending on higher education ($2.432 billion) exceeded what was spent on corrections ($1.1512 billion) in 2000, over the last 15 years, spending on prisons grew at 5.5 times the rate of higher education.

In 2000, JPI estimates there were more African American men in Ohio’s prison system (23,200) than there were in Ohio’s colleges (20,074). This does not include most of the large numbers of African American male individuals incarcerated in jails in Ohio.

Between 1980 and 2000, African American men were added to Ohio’s prison system at 38 times the rate they were added to Ohio’s colleges.

Between 1992 and 2001 in Ohio, tuition increased by 32% at public four-year institutions (from $3,845 to $5,058) and by 26% at private four-year institutions (from $12,667 to $15,915). During these years, state spending on aid per student increased 62% (from $257 to $415). New students starting next week at Ohio State University will pay 19% more than new students paid last fall.

Ohio has the 10th highest university tuition in the country and is ranked 39th in the nation in the percentage of the population with a Bachelor’s degree (17%). Ohio ranks 40th nationally in public investment per full-time student.

The annual cost of incarcerating one person in an Ohio prison is $22,044. For the cost of incarcerating one person in Ohio, the state could pay the annual tuition of four students at a public university.

In 1996, Ohio had the 7th highest rate of non-violent drug admissions in the country. Drug offenses were responsible for 40% of admissions of African Americans to prison and 19% of white admissions.
From 1986-1996, the percentage of African Americans in prison for drug offenses increased by a staggering 213%; for whites, it increased by 23%.

A bachelor’s degree became more essential to economic well-being during the 1980s and 1990s in Ohio. Workers with only a high school diploma saw their wages drop by 13.9% in Ohio between 1979 and 2000. Even workers with 1-3 years beyond high school experienced an 8.7 % wage decline during this period. Only workers with a bachelor’s degree or more experienced wage growth between 1979 and 2000.

What the hell is going on? Why aren't more people outraged? Why aren't more of our politicians working on the remedy?

One thing I have learned from my life experience is this:
Anytime things don't make sense, ask this question: Who is profiting?
Isn't it time we started asking that question in Ohio? Why doesn't Ohio fix school funding? Who stands to profit from failing urban school districts?
Follow the money.

Experiential Learning

"There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

-- Will Rogers

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Suburban Paradox

I cannot count how many times I've breathed a sigh of relief when I turn onto Forest Hills boulevard and drive under the graceful stone arch of the pedestrian bridge linking the two properties where a century ago the worlds fist billionaire, John D Rockefeller, raised his family. After an exhausting day in a world where raging hormones combine with poverty, crime, ignorance, and filth; it is the archway that welcomes me home, back to the green peaceful suburb on top of the hill.

You can often find me wandering the leafy streets with my dog, Max.
A case study in paradox, Max is a timid Doberman who hides behind me when approached by strange dogs, and neighbors, even children. He is a large, muscular, elegant beast, with champion bloodlines. Rather than a guard dog snarl, he shows his teeth in and a goofy fido-grin, trips over his own feet when he plays, and prefers sleeping on the couch to going for walks.

Last week I dragged the reluctant Max from his hiding place under the dining room table, where he sought refuge upon recognizing the sound made by the leash as I lifted it off the hook by the back door. He trotted alongside me, stopping occasionally to sniff a tree trunk or mark a shrub. We strolled along the sidewalk, my thoughts drifting from my family, to my work, my future, the next project, the beautiful gardens, the lovely homes. It was Sunday morning, and the neighborhood was serene, so quiet that it hardly seemed like a city. The only sounds were occasional chirps and twitters that punctuated the cicadas buzz-whirr dronings, like little engines, from the tops of the eighty foot oak trees.

Without warning, we were startled by a terrible racket coming from screaming feathered throats, as three birds, beaks over tails, came tumbling out of the sky landing in a furious heap on the treelawn in front of us. Three birds fell to the ground...Only two arose. Left behind was the tiny brown body of a female English sparrow, her frenzied mate continuing his attack upon the blackbird who had been raiding their nest.
Max sniffed at the lifeless bird. My composure shaken, I yanked the leash hard, pulling him away.

The peace of my idyllic morning had been shattered by the harsh Darwinian reality of nature.

As we continued, the tumultuous event replayed itself repeatedly in my head. I couldn't help but relate the murderous scene to headlines I've read recently; home invasions, young mother's and children attacked and killed. How often we forget the cruelty of nature when we envision the world without man.

Several blocks later my thoughts were disrupted once again.
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
A shrill woman's voice shouted over a small child's steady cries.

I stood in front of the neat, white colonial with blue shutters, and listened. The voices were coming from an upstairs bedroom window left open to let in the cool morning air.

The yelling and crying continued for a couple of minutes. The same phrase repeated again and again, followed each time by a slap. Then it was silent.
Transfixed, I continued to stare at the house.
What should I do? I didn't see anything. I don't know who was involved. The woman's voice sounded foreign, but I couldn't be sure. Was she a parent or a babysitter? Was the child being slapped or was something else being hit? I couldn't tell.
After another minute or so I continued along the sidewalk, making a mental note of the address.

How deceiving the pretty facade of the suburb. The veil of calm and orderliness provided by affluence is a thin disguise to the troubled lives of the people who live behind the ivy covered walls, leaded glass windows, and manicured lawns.

That morning's events made recall a letter that was sent to me a few weeks ago by a thoughtful young friend. He included this essay written a few years ago by George Carlin.

Paradox of Time

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete. Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent. Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

George Carlin

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"This is the true joy in life--the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

George Bernard Shaw

Friday, June 23, 2006

(Part 6) Self Directed Learning: Reflection

Experiential learning is, by far, the most effective method, though under-utilized within the walls of academia.
To explain why I believe educators shy away from it in favor of lectures and worksheets. I will take a psycho-analytical approach:

Many people who choose teaching as a career do so because they are very comfortable with a highly structured environment; the schedules, the bells, and the rules. Experiential learning, especially when self-directed, asks teachers to step outside of a comfort zone and into a situation where they are not always in control of the outcome. That can be very scary for some folks.

I am not a person with control issues, in fact I have a sign in my office with a quote by poet Wistawa Szymborska that says:
"I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order."

I try to give my students as many experiential learning experiences as I can, but I am not always successful with a self-directed approach. Although I am comfortable relinquishing control of an outcome, quite often my students find self-direction very confusing. They like recipes, they like specifics, they like to be told exactly what to do.
It is easier for them.
Creativity requires thinking, it requires work.

My ambitious students will take a self-directed assignment and fly with it. My lazy students will more than likely give up and fail. It is extremely hard for those kids who were never expected to think for themselves, to be expected to make their own decisions.

It is up to me to open the door and give them permission to explore. Some of them will eventually find the courage to step outside, others may need a push, but sadly there will always be those who will flat-out refuse, never leaving an environment that tells them what to think and how to live.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

(Part 5 ) Meet Strangers, Learn Something: Day 2

The Big Green Bus

Tuesday morning I set out early to begin my second day of meeting strangers and learning something.
A brief stop at Max Hayes to rummage through my store room turned up the old box I was looking for. It contained a badgemaker that I wanted to lend to Martha and Evelyn so they could make the lead poisoning awareness buttons that we discussed the day before.

Hopping back in my little Toyota, I made my way to Talkies, a coffee shop near the Westside Market. I bought an orange juice and a bagel, then found a comfortable seat next to the front window and began to write. Another fellow was hunched over a newspaper in the corner of the room, but his body language did not invite conversation. So I finished my letter in silence, and decided that if I was going to actually meet anyone, I needed to find a busier location.

As I began packing up, a big green school bus pulled up in front of the building. Besides the greenness of the vehicle, something else about the bus caught my eye.
Bunk beds in the windows. A bunch of college-aged kids were getting out and gathering in front of the Great Lakes Brewery. On the side of the bus were the words "Change The World".
Well, if this wasn't a "meet strangers, learn something" opportunity delivered right to me, I didn't know one.
So I walked up to the group, introduced myself, and asked,
"So what is your mission?"
One of the young women said,
"We are from Dartmouth College, the bus has been converted to run on vegetable oil, and we are traveling around the country to increase awareness of bio-fuels."
They had stopped in Cleveland to check out the Great Lakes Brewery delivery truck which also has been converted to run on vegetable oil.

Click here to read more about the Big Green Bus tour, and here to read about the Great Lakes Brewery's dedication to sustainability.


It was about 10:00 when I got back in the Celica and headed toward North Collinwood. I had wanted to do a little wandering around the neighborhood, since I am considering the East 185th Street area as a possible location to pilot the Legacy Arts Incubator project.
The neighborhood, also known as "Old World Plaza" is home to an eclectic group of businesses, ranging from sausage shops to biker bars, interspersed with thrift stores, bakeries, and ethnic social clubs.
I walked a few blocks up the street and came across a little import shop with a faded hand painted sign above the door that read 'Patrias'. Another sign written in magic marker on copy paper said "Fresh bread today".
I couldn't resist.
Inside several elderly ladies were conversing in Croatian with the woman behind the counter. I amused myself looking at wine, candy, gifts, baked goods, and deli items, until the little group left. A poppyseed kuchen caught my eye, one of the favorite desserts from my childhood, and I took it to the register. The woman behind the counter was friendly, and asked if I was from the neighborhood. I said no, but I was considering starting a non-profit Arts Incubator on the street. She said, "Oh that's just what this neighborhood needs" and being listing al the people I should be talking to.
"You know," she said "there are an awful lot of empty store fronts to choose from."
"There is one building I am interested in," I replied "The old Europa Travel Agency."
"I own it!" she exclaimed.
We made arrangements to look at it together next week.
Now that is what I call serendipity.


I headed back down the block to the Arabica Coffee house, set up my laptop in the back corner and began to work. After about an hour, I decided to take a lunch break and ordered iced tea and a chicken salad sandwich. While I was eating a tall man walked in from the street, smiled and waved at me. He walked up to my table and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. I had met David Lynch when he was running for mayor of Cleveland last summer. He had some ideas about the school system that I had taken issue with, and he took the time to listen. Now he is a Republican and I am a lifelong Democrat, but damn...he listened to me. I was impressed.
Now David Lynch cannot qualify as a stranger, but I wanted to include him in my story, since running into him proved to be one more happy coincidence in a series of coincidences that day.
David is now running for state senate, and was meeting with a hopeful supporter at a table across the room, but he stopped by and sat down with me for a few moments before he had to leave for his next meeting. I told him about my proposal, and his face lit right up.
"There is somebody I want you to meet" he said, and took out his pen and wrote down a woman's name and phone number.
"Call her."

Allyson and Becci

David said goodbye, but not before inviting me to a meeting of campaign supporters Sunday evening.
He certainly is relentless.

I picked the phone number up off the table, and tapped the numbers out on my cellphone. The woman who answered was named Allyson. She and another woman, Becci, were buying the old Fitzgerald building a few blocks north on E. 185th and turning it into an arts incubator.
I explained my project, with a little bit of trepidation. These woman are going to see me as their competition, I thought.
I could not have been more wrong.
She invited me to meet with them that evening at the Arabica (of course).

The two women waved at me when I walked in the door at 7:30.
Both of them were about my age, and we all happened to be the mothers of 14 year old boys. Allyson is a legal secretary, and Becci is a metallurgist.
Allyson and Becci totally understood what I was doing, as well as the Open Source economic development model and the concept of cluster creation to drive business success. They invited me to come out and look at the building and consider using the space for some of the initial CLAI pilot workshops. We made an appointment for Tuesday.

Days like this make me wonder if there are truly any real coincidences.

(Part 4) Talk to Strangers, Learn Something: Day 1

"Go out into the community, talk to strangers, meet new people, learn something, keep a record of your activities, and report back on Friday."

When we received our "mission" this Monday, I listened to my classmates discuss with one another what approaches they would take to complete the assignment, and their perceptions of what the professors' intention was.
Some people in the class were focusing on the quantity of people who they could introduce themselves to. I, on the other hand, was transfixed on the phrase "learn something".

Here is my list of the people I met, and what I learned from each of them:


I met Phillip standing on the deck of the Inner Circle, a night club built inside the hulking old abandoned factory in East Cleveland that used to house the legendary Hough Bakery Company. The building is currently owned by LaMont Williams of "Hot Sauce Williams" fame, who uses just a small portion of it to produce and bottle his sauces, and another part of the space for the night club. Thousands and thousands of square feet remain vacant. Phillip was there with a group of people from REAL NEO to look at the site and investigate the possibilities of starting a small business and technology incubator. We trudged through old offices, climbed up dark staircases and picked our way through cavernous storage areas filled with the debris of defunct businesses.
Phillip is a big man with a kind face, and long red hair, pulled back into a pony tail. He looks to be in his thirties, although I am not always the best at guessing a persons age. I asked him if I could interview him for this assignment, and he was happy to stay and chat for a while.
He began by telling me that he was an Army brat, and when he was just 3 years old, had witnessed the assassination of his father, who was working on a classified data encryption project at General Electric.
At the G.E. company picnic, an unknown man called out his fathers name. When Phillips's dad stepped toward him, the stranger pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he disappeared.
We talked about the effect his fathers death had on the choices he made growing up, his work with computers, and his vision of what a potential tech business incubator would look like at this site. Not surprisingly, he had some very real concerns with crime, safety, and security.


I met Evelyn waiting for my friend Martha on the patio of the Arabica coffee house in University Circle. She had a gentle, waif-like beauty with her pale skin, large eyes, dark hair and tiny frame, that reminded me of the actress Winona Ryder.
We were there to talk about strategies that would increase the public's awareness of the lead hazard, how many people have been poisoned by lead, and how many children continue to get lead poisoned.
The statistics were staggering:
Lead remains a top environmental health hazard for US children. More than one in 25 American children have blood lead levels high enough to lower IQ or cause learning disabilities, violent behavior, attention-deficit disorder or hyperactivity.
Young children are at the highest risk for lead poisoning. Children absorb 40-50 percent of the lead that gets into their mouths. Adults only absorb 10 percent. Even small amounts of lead can produce high concentrations in the blood of young children because their bodies are small. Since children's brains are still developing, the effect of lead poisoning can be especially damaging.
We talked about setting up a table at the Ingenuity Festival in July, and creating a design to put on a button that would create public curiosity about the lead crisis.
Evelyn is an art historian who works at Case Western Reserve University, and is the mother of Claus, a busy, happy, little toddler.


Over the past couple of weeks since the school year ended, I have completed the first draft of a white paper for a new project called The Cleveland Legacy Arts Incubator. In brief summary, it is an urban neighborhood revitalization model, easily replicated, that will teach the legacy arts (ethnic artisan trades, crafts, and cooking) in combination with courses in starting a cottage industry, provide co-op retail space, sponsor master craftsmen from overseas for artist residencies, and create an exhibition gallery for fine artisan tradecrafts.
Monday evening I met with Abby Meir of COSE Art at the Cedar Fairmount Starbucks in Cleveland Heights to review the initiative and discuss possible collaboration and strategic next steps. She called me just as I walked into the shop, to tell me she was running a little late, and had just stepped off the rapid. I took a seat by the front window, and it wasn't long before I could see a little gal with a head full of dark bouncy curls hurrying up the hill. She came in the door with a big smile and an apology. I couldn't help but like her immediately.
We talked for more than an hour, and she gave me some very good pointers, as well as list of names of people who I should connect with.

The fist day of my 48 hour mission to "talk to strangers" came to a close, and as I reflected upon my experiences, I had to smile; each conversation had left me richer.

I'm Back (Part 3)

This afternoon, I am once again at the East 185th Street Arabica in Cleveland's North Collinwood neighborhood, sitting with a cup of ice tea and typing away on my lap-top.
I am working on my class assignment which I will be posting later today, but I needed to share the thought I just had with all of you.
Two weeks ago, I would have scoffed, if someone would have suggested I partake in such overt geekiness. I am more inclined to make fun of the solitary techi, light from the flat screen reflecting off his glasses, fingers pecking away at the keyboard.
Now here I am. There is something to be said for this public, yet semi-anonymous, space that is so conducive to getting work done.
In my student days I would escape my distractions by going to the library to study. This is like a much cooler library with soft music, caffeine, food, and instead of a shushing librarian, really pleasant staff.

I am now officially geeked.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I'm Back (Part 2)

I arrived at Civilization about half an hour early, as I had a letter to write and desperately needed that neurological kick-in-the-ass provided by a large serving of caffeine, straight up. My fix was handed to me in an awkwardly shaped, heavy, coffee cup, more suitable for spooning soup than sipping anything. A wobbly table provided the catalyst for catastrophe, dumping half the cup on my stenographers' notepad. Remembering that my blessings far outweigh my misfortunes, I sopped up the mess with a brown paper napkin, and keeping my smile, asked the girl behind the counter for a to-go cup.

A few minutes later, several members of my class arrived. We all kept an eye on the door, looking for a woman with toe-head blonde hair who matched the photograph we were given on Monday.

She bounded in with a grin, scanning the room for faces who were, in turn, looking for her. My vibrating back pocket kept me from immediately joining the group, but I was able to cut the conversation short, and soon the five of us were involved in a lively discussion about experiential learning, assessment, and our reflections on the assignment to date, which lasted more than an hour and a half.

With smug satisfaction, I listened to Professor Nagy explain John Dewey's philosophy that "all genuine education comes through experience". Deweys' thinking parallels my own teaching methods, which I believe are the antidote to the numbness inflicted upon young minds by lecture overload. It was so good to see a professional development course based upon real life experience and common sense as opposed to traditional pedagogy.
(Sorry 'bout that, friends, I'm starting to slip into edu-speak. Let me take a moment and slap myself....oww!....I'm better now.)

The field experience portion of the class was technically to have taken only two days, but I think I will extend my "talk to strangers" time frame through this evening. You see, I plan on attending the North East Ohio Blogger Meet-up at the Town Fryer, and I know from experience that we can be a pretty strange crowd. So if you are reading this on Wednesday afternoon...introduce yourself tonight at the Fryer, and I will be blogging about you tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm Back!

My dear readers,

Thank you for your patience, and your concern.
I have been flying under the radar for more than a few months, attending to personal issues. Your emails have been heartening; it is good to be missed.

This week I was goaded into writing once again from a very unexpected source.
Here's the story:

Teachers in Ohio are required to take graduate courses in education in order to maintain our license. My license expires in 2007 and I needed six semester hours, so I signed up for a couple of classes at Notre Dame College.

My first class, "Self Directed Learning", was scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM yesterday and last until 4:30, continuing all week. I have taken these all day intensive classes before, and they have been just as exciting as they sound. I walked into the classroom armed with a magazine, prepared to be bored. I waited with about ten other teachers for the professor.

The door opened and the theme to "Mission Impossible filled the room.
A young woman, who was not the professor, wearing a trench coat, dark wig, sunglasses, and carrying a briefcase, entered. She opened the briefcase and took out a tape recorder...Silence.

Damn! Malfunction.
Barely flustered, she took out a letter from the professor and read it out loud. It was our class assignment, which I will summarize (roughly):
Go out into the community, talk to strangers, meet new people, learn something, keep a record of your activities, and report back on Friday. If we wanted to meet the professor, she would be at Civilization in Tremont on Wednesday between 10:00 and 12:00. Friday we will present our experiences to the class in any creative fashion of our own choice.
We then were free to go.

So many choices. So much freedom. Where should I start?
When I have a quandary I call my friends.
Martha is always busy with one community project or another, and her cause du jour is lead abatement. She would be meeting with a young woman in the afternoon to discuss setting up a lead poisoning information table at the Ingenuity Festival, but I could catch up with her before that at the old Hough Bakery Building in East Cleveland where a group of civic entrepreneurs would be gathering to look at the space, in the hopes of cleaning it up and launching a small business incubator. There would certainly be some new people I could talk to at this meeting.

One of the members of the group was my friend, Brewed Fresh Daily's George Nemeth. When I explained the class assignment to him, he responded,
"Blog about it."

Of course!
I am a consumate multi-tasker, always looking for a new way to kill several birds with one stone.
If I took George's suggestion, I could return to the blogosphere, have a unique format for my class presentation, and log my learning experience all simultaneously. Taking the idea one step further, if I did my work at a coffee house with wifi, who knows what new people (or old ones)I will run into, and what serendipitous adventures will be launched.

So this morning I am sitting and typing at the Arabica on East 185th in North Collinwood, and have already met several fascinating people who I will be including in a post later this week, when I will write about all my new acquaintances.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another Case of Injustice in Ohio

I just received an email that brought my attention to a 1988 murder case from Geauga County which captured my attention years ago. The crime scene was familiar territory. I grew up there. It was a part of my old stomping grounds.

Back in 2003 Scene Magazine published an article about the case that made me pause. The justice system was out of whack. Small town politicians were playing politics with people's lives. Evidence was hidden, lies were told, vanity trumped justice, and as a result two innocent men, Bob Gondor and Randy Resh, have spent 16 years of their lives in prison for a crime they had absolutely nothing to do with.

Wednesday January 25th the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio has agreed to hear oral arguments for the case.

We are told repeatedly to "believe in the system". We are told "The system works."
Who is telling us this? The folks who are running "the system".

Please go to the website. Read about this travesty of justice. Offer your support.
Then take a few minutes, and read about the other cases of innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted. It is scary. It is disturbing. It is happening. It is wrong.
The justice system doesn't work all the time, sometimes it breaks down, and when that happens it can't be ignored, it needs to be fixed.

I realize this is not consistent with the usual education topics I write about, but I decided, today this will be an exeception.

Can bloggers make a difference in the lives of these two men?
I have no idea.
All I can do is put the information out here and see where it goes.

I know we have an amazing network in North East Ohio. Bloggers here support each other, read each other, link to each other, and are widely read. We are just beginning to understand how to work our network. We are learning to how wield the power of information and instant communication. We are learning how the ripple of one stone cast into the pool can be amplified and ultimately effect change.
Can we help change the fate of these two innocent men? I guess we will see.

Hard Lessons on Life and Love

"I complained that the road was long until I met a man that had no shoes. I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

Arabic Proverb

Funny how trivial the daily nonsense in one's life becomes when you are called upon to help a friend whose life is truly turned upside-down. The bad hair day, the late delivery, the grating co-worker, and the traffic ticket would be most welcomed by the patient with a terminal diagnosis, the family evicted from their home, the single parent who loses a job, and the child whose father has been sentenced to prison.

This past month I have been busy learning about the things in life that matter the most as I tried to help a friend whose life was unraveling. Because I only write about my life and my thoughts, I shall not share the specifics.

What I will share is this:

You know all that stuff they say about love, all that feel good froth from greeting cards and love songs and self help books, about love conquering all, and love is all you need?
This month I discovered something rather amazing, even in my own little sphere of cynicism.
Damn it, they are right.

And that is all I can say about it.

"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love."

Thornton Wilder

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited."

Sylvia Plath