Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Couple Days Off

I have just returned from a few days on a lake in Maine with my lovely wife. We had a window of opportunity and cause to celebrate (my wife will be back where she belongs—in a classroom—come the fall), so we hopped in the car and headed north for some r & r.

We stayed in a cabin that my grandfather (a general contractor) built back in the fifties. It’s quiet, and this weekend it was clear and perfect

It is also completely without wi-fi, so I’ve been unplugged for several days (our phones are not smart, not even a little bit wise). But with the time to sit and read and reflect cut off from the torrent of information, I’ve found some renewed focus about a few things. I learned some stuff on my summer vacation.

Well, in some cases I've simply confirmed old knowledge. Devil Dogs are awful, but I love them anyway. They seem to made of chocolate tinged cardboard and fluff, but they taste like summer and home and outdoors to me. Also, with all due respect to my friends in the pilgrim state, all residents of Massachusetts should have their cars confiscated and they should never be allowed to drive ever again.

What I’ve learned is that while I can go a while without being able to check the blogs and the news and e-mail (I worry about the Nigerian prince), I have a powerful need to be able to look stuff up. It reminds me that we live in such a miraculous time, a time in which we have access to mountains of information—it’s almost like being smart. At the very least, the internet has changed what it means to be smart—but the inequity of access means the internet is also one more amplifier of the gap between the haves and have-nots. I need to find ways to address all of that in my classroom.

We read a bunch while we were up north. I read a bio of Edwin Drake, Our Children, The Cage-Busting Teacher, and The Warmth of Other Suns (and re-read Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire). Each read alone has a lot of interesting things to say; read together, they struck a few extra sparks in my brain. I’ll get back to you with some of it in this space. I’m glad to learn that I can still read entire books.

I've relearned something I learned earlier this summer-- when you are in the ongoing stream of news and reaction and dissection and re-reaction, you lose sight of just how quickly it moves (Chris Christie wants to punch who??). Earlier this summer I absolutely depended on Mercedes Schneider to report on the ESEA rewrite amendments, because I had a new round of rehearsals, a dying refrigerator, and some family business to attend to. In other words, I was having trouble keeping up because I was dealing with the exact sort of everyday stuff that ordinary people deal with. Sometimes it takes all of peoples' time and attention just to live their lives-- we can't be shocked, surprised, or upset that people busy with life didn't take a few hours to read up on the latest eruption in the education policy world (or dozens of hours over the last month to understand the context). This is one of the advantages that the thinky tank guys and the lobbyists and the policy wonks have-- their everyday life IS keeping up with this stuff. For people who have actual lives, it's more of a challenge. Having a network-- and being part of a network-- is critical to the mission of defending public education.

Likewise, I've learned that it can be worth it to take your head out of the unending high-speed swirly that is the education debate to stop and clear your brain a bit and remember what we care about, why we care about it, and what we want to do about it. It's easy to get caught up in the one-damn-thing-after-another of it all.

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up and never surrender. But run too fast, too hard, too much of the time, and you not only run the risk of not finishing, but you lose track of where the finish line even is.

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