teaching and learning

Saturday, August 6, 2011

By Necessity

Sitting alone in a hotel suite, spread out on top of a hard bed with torn notebook papers covering the comforter and the sun setting outside of Sioux Falls and feeling inspired, charged.

Haven't eating anything but trail mix and ground cherries from the downtown farmer's market so perhaps that has something to do with the way the world looks right now, vibrating and soft around the edges. Television news passes in and out of my auditory periphery; ambitious men and women preaching for power, games and gossip and the falling price of corn. I need to do laundry, eat a meal, shower ... will probably go for a run before any of that. Cut the chords with my own momentum. Maybe grab the butternut squash someone planted along Skunk River, catch a few innings of Little League where the trail wraps around a playground and park, collect smiles and wild sunflowers.

Shoes, shorts, shirt ... paper and pen.

I am alive, for this I will celebrate. Me, you, us. Avocados, river stones, wild-flowers, grape juice, wolves and stars ... beginning with I and ending with love. Let the wind whistle between pauses and dust collect after every thought in the hopes that a mountain may one day rise out of those dear spurs, burps and flashes.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. ...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eyes Wide Shut

Wanted to share ...

A student in my AP English class printed this exchange out and brought it to me today. These emails were sent between the two of us last summer, prior to our first meeting in August. At the end of last year, I gave the AP students several assignments to complete over the summer, one of which was a choice of two out of three recommended books to read and write a comparison paper on. As this is now the final week of classes for seniors, this student thought it would be funny to remind me of our first interaction.

First, this is the email that he sent to me in June ...

Hi Mr. Doyle,
This is Cole Montgomery from your new English Literature class. I started reading The Kite Runner, and it seems to have been written by a negative person. I haven't even started chapter 4, and I have read several instances that are cruel. One instance in perticular is a thought from the author in the story, where he says he wishes that all the orphans died with their parents (pg 18, 1st paragraph). I can understand that this is a true story and some things will be the raw truth, but this just appears to cross an imaginary line that people shouldn't cross on how far to go in a story. I apologize for disrespecting your homework to us but I would like to read another book instead.

He sent another email the following day before I had a chance to respond to the first ...

This is Cole Montgomery again.
I apologize about the last email. I figured I could let it go and I continued reading the story. I reached page 75 the last paragraph and realized something. The last comment I said about crossing the line that shouldn't be crossed was wrong; this is the part that it is applied to. It is sick, disturbing, and a little too graphic for me. My own mother agreed to that. I don't care if this is a true story; it is getting more mature than I am ready for or ever will be ready for. Therefore, I refuse to continue the book until an explaination is given as to why high school students are reading a highly mature book as explicit as this one. If I read further, will I encounter more explicit content? Are the other book choices given to us going to be the same way? I apologize if I sound mean but I just want some answers.

That weekend, when I had time to reply without being rushed, this is what I wrote back to him ...


First, thank you for taking the time to write with your concerns and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. It's been a busy week and I wanted to make certain that I paid adequate attention in responding. You are not disrespecting the assignment by voicing your opinion, and I commend you for expressing your views so readily. While I don't want to seem at all to contest your evaluation of the text, I would like to do my best to justify the assignment and why I selected that particular book.

In an AP course, we will be dealing with books that I would consider to be at a higher level than most you have read previously in your other English classes. This includes content that may be considered more mature than texts previously read under the auspices that the students enrolled in the class would be more suited to dealing with such topics with an open, yet naturally critical, mind.

While for some the issues and themes presented in this novel may be seen as controversial, it comes down to the fact that these are real life issues and themes which do exist in the world, if not directly in our own personal lives. The Kite Runner puts a human face to the recent events in Afghanistan that we would not always see in the news. It opens a reader's eyes to another experience, another culture, even another way of thinking. And if these critical themes and issues are not deemed safe to be explored or acknowledged in the abstract literary form, what implications can this have for how these same issues are dealt with in reality? Unfortunately war, rape, violence, and cowardice all exist in the world just as they do in this novel. Please do not feel that the author is encouraging or applauding such negative behavior by bringing attention to it; his intent is just the opposite, in fact.

Personally, I believe that this novel's strengths surpass its potential flaws and feel that such content will necessarily elicit strong reactions from readers (as is evident in your contacting me so quickly) and that this is a good thing. You do not have to agree with any suppositions made in any text we read. In fact, it is often true that readers do oppose one or more of the themes presented in most examples of advanced literature. Critical evaluation and such visceral responses as yours will no doubt encourage a very thoughtful and engaged thesis in your paper and I look forward to reading it. However, there is something to be said for finishing a story or delving deeper prior to passing final judgment. In the author's own words, "The overall message of the novel is tolerance, love, friendship and forgiveness. It denounces bigotry, it denounces violence, and hatred and discrimination." I think that if you continue on with the book through to its end that you will see this clearly.

In retrospect, I should have provided a disclaimer along with the summer reading packet that these texts cover some sensitive issues. If you decide to not continue on with the book, that is your choice and I have no problem whatsoever with you selecting two of the other three books to read and compare instead. I think you will find them less polemic. Just let me know what you decide and feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or concerns. I look forward to having such a critical mind as yours in class this coming year. It is so often that we see students apathetic towards their own education that it is refreshing to know those with strong opinions and voices are there as well.

I hope you are enjoying your break,

Daniel Doyle

He never responded and about two months later (the week before classes started for this school year) I received his completed paper, a comparison of Angela's Ashes and The Kite Runner with these comments ...

Here is my required work for AP Literature.
I will turn in the rest the first day of school.
Have a nice day.
Cole Montgomery

His paper was very articulate and expressed his initial apprehension but eventual appreciation for the books as works of literature but also respect for the stories that were told and their messages of compassion and understanding.


Monday, May 4, 2009


Your presentations must be a minimum of 10 minutes and no more than 15 minutes.

Hand raise.

"If our presentations are less than 15 minutes do we get penalized?"

Next question. Hand raise.

"So, if our presentation is 12 or 13 minutes we good?"

Moving on ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

wide awake and dreaming ...

it's always a trip to look at yourself through the lens of another's camera or in the mirror of someone else's eyes and note the impressions we make, at times fleeting and others lasting, upon the surface of their self.

got two messages today, one via email and another via facebook (ironically, it was from a 60+ y/o on facebook and a peer, at least similar in years, through email). both of these are people that i have had relatively few and limited interactions with yet what they had to say today in two totally unrelated exchanges struck a chord with me that is vibrating into the afternoon. maybe it'll incite me to play ...

the elder is a relative of a relative of a relative ... so not, as far as we classify it, a direct relation to me but by marriage only, and then marriage again. i've met this person at a few family gatherings and our conversation has been limited to small talk from what i recall. she was simply asking how i was doing and what life in the south is like (as if i can comprehend it, let alone explain it). i replied, we exchanged a few messages throughout the day (apparently she spends a lot of time in front of a computer at her current job and uses much of it to track her younger family members' comings and goings and doings and other things on facebook)and a couple correspondences later she wrote;

"Since you will be in the south for a bit, I do think it's time to begin your novel. You have an incredible gift for words and you have an inner feeling for people that draws others who are open to you, and you to them. I don't care if you write fiction or non fiction, humor, self help, sadness, tragedy, etc. but start writing! Write about the people who you met in life or the students that you teach. Write about anything but just begin to write. These gifts we are given are meant to be shared and I hope to see you share your insights and deep love for people with the world. I believe in you and I know you can make the NY Times Best Sellers list." ... she also mentioned that she would be the first in line at a Water Street Books signing. made me laugh, but also made me pause ... and think.

especially since earlier the same day i received a similar, in a way, email from another acquaintance whom i have had very limited interaction with. now, i'm a huge fan of fate and the implications that apparently chance occurances have on our lives if we choose to pursue their complicated webs of possibilities, and i met this girl on a rainy night in williamstown while i was working a shift for somebody else at the gym front desk. i was a senior (finally). she was visiting town on a tour of the berkshires with her elderly mother, from texas, and since it wasn't pleasant weather to be walking outside she decided to come work out ... she was beautiful, of course i let her in without williams id. we spoke briefly, went out that night to a bar with a few of my friends and kept in touch such that she came back the following weekend (she had graduated a few years earlier and was now working in hartford, ct). we spent the night together, but around 4:00 am she suddenly grew self-conscious about waking up in a college dorm room (though my room was pretty incredible and not at all typical, unlike the tapestry-hanging, black-light days of an underclassman) and decided to leave (did i say she graduated a few years earlier ... more like ten). we've had limited contact in the three years since ... just the occasional text message. she emailed out of the blue last week to say she'll be in texas for a while and was wondering how far away from austin i lived if i wanted to visit. i wrote back (too far and poor timing)and mentioned that i was still teaching though getting tired of the hamster-wheel of bureaucratic incompetency in public education, particularly low-income/high-need schools. she replied ...

"it saddens me to even detect a spec of cynicism from you as I know your heart to be so passionate and driven to improve the lives of everyone you touch in a positive and educational way. Dan, knowing you has impacted my life in many positive ways...rea ipsa loquitor... and, we haven’t even begun to unravel the yarn of intricacies of one another yet. you simply exude love of everyone and everything. i would go on but have limited time. so, just know that I think very highly of you, care very much about you and know how much it means to you (or, I think it does) to be a leader by example for any and everyone you interact with in this world in hopes of influencing the minds, bodies and souls in a way that promotes positivity, energy, questioning/pondering life, choices, education, etc ... I’m just babbling here (sorry)!"

i need to emphasize at this point that all our relationship consists of is that first night at the bar and the second evening a week later when she visited, both several years ago, then roughly one or two texts per year since.

ariadne's thread is long and might lead me back to the same place where i started, but i'm sure i wouldn't be the same person upon arriving there. i think, what i fear the most, is that i am seemingly no longer free (via responsibility) to pursue those threads ... and that ipso facto (to piggy-back upon the latin maxim usage), i fear the comfort that disregarding loose ends, or sitting on a particular terminus, might imply.

that aside, my mirror on the (facebook) wall and my message in a bottle (of google goodness) made me a little happier and a little sadder today.

here's to promotions, new beginnings, old dreams, turning corners, turning back the hands of time and turning 27 (like all birthdays, a sweet juice with a bitter after-taste).


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


"all mphs students caught at second street park, you will be arrested, courtesy of the moss point police department. starting today, if you are a mphs student you are not allowed to go to the second street park."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nobody is perfect ...

but everyone is beautiful.

Monday, March 9, 2009

false alarm

sat through another counselor (talent search) talking about all black scholarship this or that today. she comes at least once per week to take 5-10 minutes out of my classes to talk to the seniors about scholarship opportunities. the vast majority of them are offered to african-americans only. anywhere from 5-10 students in each class i teach happens to be white. i almost hate to do this, but put yourself in their shoes for a minute. they are just as, if not more, poor and marginalized than any of the blacks in our classrooms, have just as few opportunities and are just as disadvantaged ... some perhaps more so ... does nobody black see this as direct and blatant racial discrimination? it is the responsibility of the majority, black or white, to be sensitive to such discrimination. ignorance is not an excuse. why can't tougaloo, etc offer their scholarships to anyone who applies, with essays more like "explain how being a minority has affected your life" rather than "tell me what being black means to you". anyone can answer the former, not the latter.

also today our school's fire alarm went off three times throughout the day. the first time it went off, my students looked at me and i quickly got them up, in a line and heading down the hall towards the nearest exit. after about half were out of my room, the alarm stopped, so we turned around and went back. not a single classroom besides mine even attempted to evacuate. only 2-3 other teachers even looked into the hall to see what was happening. most just ignored it. that's what i did for the second two that afternoon. not once was any announcement made or email sent explaining or directing how to react. let alone apologizing for disrupting our classes ... yet we get chastised if an administrator happens to walk by our room a minute before the bell rings and our students aren't engaged in "valuable instructional time". am i the only one getting mixed signals? i think any educator or social scientest can explain the importance of consistency in education/training ... or fireman (or anyone with common sense) would emphasize the importance of fire safety recognition in children.

this happens at least once per month. which explains why most teachers and students ignore them completely (as difficult as that may be as they bellow through the rooms and halls like angry air horns).

stop. drop. keep rolling.