Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Revisit... the dream machine

Salon_Ed. Agenda
March 29, 2009
2-4 p.m.
River Rouge High School
1460 Coolidge Hwy
River Rouge, MI 48218
(313) 297-9615
Collette’s cell: 313-522-5726

1. Review goals and purpose of Salon_Ed.
2. Overview of ReelWC ( Wayne County’s chapter of Michigan Film Initiative)
3. CISV (Children’s International Summer Village) proposal for IPP summer program in 2010
4. Michigan 826 (Michigan’s version of Dave Eggers writing program Valencia 826)
5. Red River Project Rick Manor’s proposal/vision for bringing the arts to River Rouge
6. Plan date for business meeting. Set agenda for a May Salon_Ed.
7. Dinner to follow

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jamar is Dead

Thank you for being here. I don't know where else to go with this.

Nineteen year old Jamar Taylor is dead. He died last night of a single gunshot to his head. Don't bother looking for it in the paper, it isn't there. Today, I was called to the Livonia Skills Center (job training center for handicapped students), where he attended, to assist in the crisis intervention. Almost immediately, I found that I was the one who wound up working with a group of 8 young adults who were his closest friends. These were students from Inkster, Westland, Livonia, and other northwest suburbs, all with some form of handicapping condition, and the finest human beings I have met in a long time. I have never felt more effective as a psychologist than I did today, as we explored the aspects of grief, self-soothing, finding support and comfort, remebering Jamar, and addressing the issues of regrieving their many life losses (of which there were very very many). I discovered that these were people who had lives I could never imagine, and I thought I had seen it all. Only half of them were living with their families of origin and had someone they lived with from whom they could seek comfort. But, and this was a huge but, they were there for each other. Their support and love was absent of sophistication and self-interest. It was open and honest and concrete, and the insight about the realities of life was astounding. They found this support in the context of school. That is something very right about schools.

I spent the day listening to these children, the victims of poverty and racism, and heard first hand what it feels like. They told me that because it happened in Inkster, the shooter will never be arrested because the police will give up within a week. The police don't care, and can't protect anyone. The students also know that they, themselves can find out who did it, and they want to get revenge. They explained that in their community, taking the law into your own hands is much more effective than waiting for police to prevail. The police will never find out who did it, even though everyone in the community knows. The code of silence is too strong. It is because of fear. If someone tells, then they, too will be shot. No one will protect the person who tells. "It is OK to go to jail if you get revenge because your future isn't worth shit anyway".

On my way home, I realized that I am probably naively fearless, because I have never known fear in my home or community. I have never been an innocent victim. Today, I crashed into a world I intellectually knew about, but never fully appreciated. I'm struggling tonight. I know I am richer for this experience, but needing a lot more.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

So Who is the Smartest in the Room?

Everyone knows the setting and how my/our students get to us at the day treatment facility, IEPT etc. Most young folks who end up with us have some kind of back story and it is often horrific. A Dickens story of neglect, abuse coupled with some learning issues and typically some really negative school experiences. No magic fairy tales here.
I must be the sorceress turn the key, welcome the student back into the fold of learners. I need to conjure some born again event to seduce them away from their anxiety and fears.
I have a bag of tricks that I use in efforts to access the “shut down” student. If they have “quit” the system I must first figure how to get them back on board.
Recently I got a new student. She at 10 is so much herself. She wears animal prints and wears her hair like a curtain that she peeks from behind. She is lovely, but ever more so as she is the only girl in a testosterone filled habitat.
Oppositional or defiant are words that have been used to describe her school behavior. When she first showed up in my class she refused to write even a sentence or glance at a book. Of course if she wins she loses. So I must win. “Pick any book you want for your chapter book.” I said. She found nothing to her liking. In frustration (yes mine) I tossed her some fairy tale about a princess who was cursed with obedience. At first she balked but came to love the book. Feat accomplished! Until of course I asked her to move on to our next activity. Tears and temper followed. So we struck a deal, 20 minutes of class work and she earns 8 minutes of her book. And through some enchantment is eased into learning. Or perhaps the obeying character if her book inspires her to obey.
I call her to my desk for a side bar, so I can check more books out from the library. “What do you like?” I inquire. In a whispery, embarrassed voice she tells me “I am a computer geek” She is already in a dynamic vibrant learning environment where she has been working on learning Japanese. She can say, “Mustache” She has somehow gleaned information about the catacombs of Paris. She is the new self made man, learning what stirs her, traveling to what beckons her. This is what she hides behind the silken sheen of her hair.
Today I asked each child to write on their purpose. At first she refused then pleaded with me not to have her read it aloud or tell anyone what her purpose is. I acquiesced. She trusted me with her aspirations of purpose. I looked at her heavy penciled script. ” My purpose is to let people know that everyone is different” That is her purpose.
Me, what can I ever do for this dearest of souls if I ask her to check herself and her skills and her story at the school door.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Margaret Among Us

I have never, in all my many years in my career, ever felt so alive, so energized, or so creative. I can't sleep because I am thinking and dreaming. I gulp my food at the pace of my thoughts (not good for digestion).

Remember when we were in college? Is there any one of us who didn't dream of starting our own schools, or changing the ways of reaching kids? We entered the job market, and most of us hit the brick wall at full tilt. As burned out and ineffective as many of us have felt, that dream inside of us never died. And now, at the seemingly end of my career, it is coming to life. I could lament about the timing, but there is no time for that. Better late than never.

I am already feeling the impact of this group in my job. I am consulting with teachers differently, working with kids differently, seeing new projects, and loving it more than ever. Thank you all for your energy. I can't wait for the next meeting.

I have always loved the Margaret Mead quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." How true.

If you like Margaret Mead, here are some more pertinent quotes. I think she is with us in spirit:

"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else."

"Thanks to television, for the very first time, the young are seeing history being made before it is censored by their elders."

"I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings."

"I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had."

"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."

"Instead of being presented with stereotypes of age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome, and some are delightful."

"Instead of needing lots of children, we need high-quality children."

"It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age."

"It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good."

"Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation."

"One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night."

"We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet."

"The city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again."

Monday, March 9, 2009

We've come so far...or have we?

Every so often I have the rare opportunity to pick up my son from pre-school. I'm greeted by teachers with huge smiles, they all say hello-how's your day. The kids are running around laughing, every so often crying (over a much wanted toy). As we leave, Rowan's teacher comes over with some pictures he drew and gives him a hug, she tells him she'll see him on Friday. The other day I got a phone call that he wasn't feeling very well, and that most of all he wanted to talk to me. So I quickly left and went to get him. It wasn't an emergency, but the teachers knew something was wrong-they are close enough to him to pick up a very small difference in his mood...loving enough to call and tell me.

In High School I hear teachers telling kids to pull up their pants, get off their phones, go to the office.
Where's your homework? They are sick of telling the same kids to put their coats away, irritated that there are more "low" kids in their classes. Kids fighting, girls crying, big circles of boys around the ones who are fighting. Do they know that one kid's mom abandoned him when he was 6 weeks old? Do they know that her dad is an alcoholic? No...that's the counselor's job to find that out. How could they with 130 kids? They barely have time to get to know one.

I think that we are the problem. I don't care how many kids I have, or what I have to teach...I won't ever forget that I have a human being sitting in front of me.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Is it Collusion or Collegiality?

Coroline is a book about a feisty young girl whose family is dismissive and unappreciative of her. They have become immune to her needs and demands. She longs for acknowledgement and validation. She craves a family that regards her, embraces her essence. Through a magic portal door she is mystically transported to a parallel universe. She has her own parents, but not exactly. They are seemingly warm and charming. They are the parents she has dreamed. All is well. All is mostly the same, just slightly askew. Coroline is ecstatic until it becomes apparent that she may have her fantasy family but only by becoming their Steppford child, by allowing her parallel parents to co-opt her power.
A teacher friend entered the rabbit hole of a parallel universe recently when she attempted to take her young class on a field trip to see the movie Coroline.Having read this fantasy book to her students, squeezing each chapter between the delineated curriculums. She had prepared her mental legal brief in the event that her lesson plans or judgment be questioned. She had created the rationale for her deviating from the proscribed text etc. She could quote how this curricular choice supported each child’s individual goals and moved them in the direction of AYP (government jargon for Adequate Yearly Progress) In other words this master teacher had done her homework
She also knew the promotional blitz for the movie had peaked her student’s interest. She had selected this text not only as it affirmed strong female voice, but the fact it was coming out as a movie had primed student’s interest. The best thing of all though is that it could connect the students to the big idea that movies came from print. First it was an idea, then a book now it is a contemporary fairy tale on celluloid. Writing and reading are now magic somehow.
Being a master teacher and a wise woman, she understood the interior lives of children. She knew that all children have orphan moments, where in a fit of anger they wish there parents away and like Alice dream another world. What really draws us in to reading, to the story is our ability to revisit and redefine our own universe.
The students in this class had been placed there by an IEPT (further jargon for Individual Educational Planning Team) All of these students had been certified Severely Emotionally Impaired. This teacher knew the students to be akin to the immigrants’ welcomed by stanza chiseled on the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired; your poor… these young souls had been battered to the core. They had learning issues, attention issues, stressed families and back stories that could keep Dr. Phil and Montel in business forever. Fragile wee things that had lost their power and had no voice. Behaviors were their primary repertoire of communication. They would bolt from school, toss furniture; spew profanities in effort to communicate their despair and sorrow. They had ceased to dream and dared not hope.
This “special” school sits in a parched field, in a neighborhood that if it is not a slum it is a ghetto of poverty. They arrive here when the local district exhausts it’s intervention. Or as a stepping stone back to the local school from the hospital. And the litany can go on.
But my friend, she is a master teacher. She has peeked behind their spinning eyes. They do not dream and have ceased to hope.
She knows that each screech or bristly behavior is a reaction to living in their own askew world.
The Coroline story brushes past the students mask. Coroline’s bold nature emboldens them to dream again. Perhaps it is the littlest of dreams; perhaps we can run away from school for an afternoon and see a movie. The book has sparked their spirit to life.
Master teacher writes a proposal for money …CBI (surely the Community Based Instruction money can finance the trip.)
Master teacher follows the proper protocol, jumps through the hoops and submits her request to the principal’s mailbox. It sits dormant, no reply. Days pass. The bright eyes have begun to glaze over with dashed hopes, perhaps again I risked to dream.
Do not go to sleep. She wants them awake to books, awake to this spunky heroine. As a master teacher she thinks, I will channel their angst; I will uphold the curriculum as well. We shall practice letter writing. So each of the little people laboriously in scratchy print writes a letter to the principal. “Dear principal, can we pleeze go see Coroline?”, the letters voice reminiscent of the letters they wrote a few months earlier to Santa.
Excitedly they leave them in the principal s mailbox. Now master teacher has captivated the principal’s attention.
She is called to the office and the principal scolds master teacher for putting the students in the middle. The principal fails to hear the letters as the children’s dreamy aspirations, but she seems to perceive the letters as a chastisement to her ennui in responding.
Master teacher has not followed protocol. Has she gotten team approval? Is the book part of our basal curriculum? The hoops are now rings of fire. Now master teacher must jump higher and more fiercely. She may exhaust herself and cease to dream. Or perhaps she can get button eyes. Blind herself, quell herself, so she will be held in regard…
So how does this story end?
Coroline is not a malleable being. Roger Ebert says “Coroline is unpleasant and suggest she deserved to be sent down the tunnel.” So it is with the master teacher, perhaps she deserves this rabbit hole. Perhaps she should ask for less. She has the same conundrum as her child heroine. Coroline will be allowed to remain and receive the affections of her parallel family if she gives up her eyes and replaces them with buttons. But alas she must collude in her own blindness to remain… whatever… whatever shall one do?

The Process

March 8, 2009

So a quiet week it seems. Yet some new thoughts percolating out there, more of a to do list for this concept, to strengthen the structure. So the ideas of the week are:
1. To create or build something along the lines of Teach America or build on Teach America so that it attends to creative life skills as well as academic skills.
2. Made a connection to the Movie Initiative and a meeting is in the works between Rouge/Salon_Ed and Michigan’s Movie Initiative
3. Changed the domain of Salon_Ed to a .org so that it is more user friendly and accessible
4. Developed an agenda for meeting of March 29th. Focus will be visions that are in the works that can be brought to Rouge by 2010.
5. Took a field trip to Rouge and networked in the community.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Feb. 15th Meeting Minutes

These question were posed on a graphic to the group. The responses were recorded by Kathy LaCombe.



I. What is right with schools/learning?

Many dedicated people

Forced socialization can make for more balanced and critical thinkers if encouraged


A common ground to start conversations

It’s your chance to socialize

Provides basic math/writing skills to function in work settings

Allows social interactions with others – develop thought/belief patterns

They are free to all

They provide the best we have for the masses, so far.

Kids’ attitudes – treat them like adults

Teacher empathy (like teachers driving students to school)

We recognize there is more than one way to learn – that memorizing facts is not learning

Has standards

Has committed educators

It is available, teachers want to teach, socialization skills

It is the cultural norm

Structure & discipline

Embracing the new technology

Everyone in America believes that a quality education is the key to end poverty &

economic disparity.

Heavy emphasis on the quality of teachers and continuous professional development

Current trends support:

Differentiated learning (to a point)

Common (for some) assessment

Learning interventions (sometimes)

Use of technology (limited)

There is:

Teaching of reading (K-3)




Teaching of all subgroups

Depending on your perspective:

Compulsory Standardized education creates a society of people that are raised to

sit down, be quiet, jump through the hoops, and receive their meager


Math education makes people that builds tools and weapons but not happy lives.

II. What is wrong/broken?

Relies too much on tradition and not enough on the skills for tomorrow.

Too much standardization

Teaches that authority is not to be questioned

Alienating – tedious – boring….fosters anti-intellectualism and dampens students’

passion for learning

Not embracing the new technology

People trail/paper trail

The more enthusiastic young teachers are laid off, often causing them to quit teaching as

a career.

We teach to improve test scores, not love of learning

Depending on your perspective:

Compulsory Standardized education creates a society of people that are raised to

sit down, be quiet, jump through the hoops, and receive their meager


Math education makes people that builds tools and weapons but not happy lives.

A disconnect with the difference between information and knowledge.

Computers take you to your immediate answers – yet, all of the serendipitous discoveries

that come with “looking up something” have all been replaced by instant


I don’t know what’s wrong, but I have a good idea how to fix it – State of Arizona prison


Teaching kids as a group.

Public education is not equal (scholastically, library, special support to the needy)

Too many standards

Superficial teaching – we need to teach deeply and be quite focused.

Lack of “real” input from students

Big gaps between what is taught in school and what is needed in life, particularly for

careers and meaningful work.

Teachers are too brash in decisions

I can literally go to any class at anytime and pull out a kid

Kids are homeless; see school as haven

Schools are top down

Kids have more enthusiasm than teachers – kids are ready for change; teachers are not

Arrogant administration

Education starts at home but kids are practically homeless

Too much politics to support how great school is, how great sports are, and who is


Not enough time spent on how to be kind or supportive of each other

Education is stuck because it was built on post agricultural/industrial principles. These

principles are obsolete. The cheese has been moved and educators stayed behind,

much like dinosaurs.

What are you going to do to contribute to the world?

Schools are deficit focused

One size fits all thinking. The stress of being college bound is not realistic for all. Need

Programs to route those interested in alternate career choices – tech, trades, etc.

Improve writing skills and basics of education

Too quick to “throw away” problem students

Money tied to standard test scores

What skills are taught to earn a living?

Racism and poverty are still victims of unequal funding, programs, materials, etc. – the

poor are kept disadvantaged in the school systems they attend

I’m sick of budgets being the cause of “spinning” what is good for kids, rather than “what

is good for kids” creating budgets

What happens to cause teacher burn-out?

Too much testing

Not enough use of data

Funding doesn’t support technology

Need for some smaller class size

Support staff issues

U.S. education ignores what goes on educationally around the world in terms of success

There is no flow….

Kids should push the curriculum

Structure and discipline

Not embracing the new technology

Lack of creative curriculums – art, music, film

Scores are up at the end of tutoring, but go back down

Basketball is more respected than classroom

III. What do you personally feel passionate about re: learning?

My passion is getting others passionate.

My passion is food.

Learning doesn’t end at 3:00

People should be able to read and write coming out of school

School needs to be flexible to accommodate different learners

Creating programs that provide skill training to earn a living

Once students have mastered basic skills, they should be allowed to follow what interests


Meeting the needs of all learners in their diverse learning styles and personal needs.


“Outside of the class” education

Students asking questions – start small and relative

Policy/design needs

Best practice

A voice

Critical thinking skills need to be developed through greater emphasis on logic, history,

political science and economics

Questioning and understanding what motivates other people teaches a lot about why the

world is the way it is

Learning must be adjusted to embrace new, emerging technologies

Learning must connect us with the world

Every student needs a caring adult

I would like to relearn how to tell a story so that audiences understand and want to see

my story through fine arts.

When a child learns, it is like:

Igniting the flame

Feeding the fire

Watching it burn

Enjoying the glow

Better listening habits

Mathematics – how they are applicable in today’s hi-tech world

How to move towards a focus on assets instead of deficits. There needs to be a common

context for shared learning and developing talent & capacity in our youth

High School is not the end of learning

8th grade is the old 12th grade

IV. In this culture of change, what action do you think should be taken regarding learning?

Ask kids the right questions

Not start school until later in the day – 10 AM to 12 Noon

Run school year round.

Run high school like college and let students pick classes & times

Embrace 21st century learning systems

We must learn from other countries and each other

Post-secondary education for all

Who takes ownership of the future?

Needed alternatives to current practices: The year, day, hour, lesson relevancy, guidance

& counseling, teacher training

Investigate the European Model

In 12 grade….intense introduction to the world of work & lifelong learning

A cultural shift is needed….people need to take more personal responsibility for their

learning. Schools can provide a framework and starting point, but currently are a

lot of busy work that doesn’t encourage following passion.

Media: seemless connections

It starts at home, however, the environment and the method, I believe need to be


Focus = interest (meditation [David Lynch Foundation])

Relevant issues – history (in context), etc.

Strong alliances with community colleges for post high school training

Think about their thinking

Being future focused

Higher order thinking skills – analyze, synthesize, apply

Identify non-negotiable standards

Teach these standards deeply/project based

Explore the creative side of education

Focus on strength focused education

More personalization in curriculum implementation

Make education more meaningful for kids

Increase cultural competence – understanding cultures here and abroad. Teach how to learn about cultures.

Get global

Homes – starts there

Respected value all choices

Stop worrying about standardized test scores and focus on honestly learning how to use

the knowledge, not just regurgitate it.

Give graduating students the skills they need to earn a living

A more European type of education system in high school


Umbrella community with best practices

We need to show students immediate relevance that what we teach increases their earning


We need co-op, internships, career day and out of school relevant experiences.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Incrementally Towards The Vision

Ultimately this blog will be a forum for the discourse and reseeding of learning/education but for now I shall just archive the evolution of this process.
This past week:
1. Contacted Michigan 826 (Ann Arbors version of Dave Eggers drop in writing program to solicit their input I of the possibility of starting a Rouge 826)
2. Developed promotional plan with coworker to promote Salon-Ed. at the Michigan Reading associations’ state convention.
3. Planned possible informational/promotional event with Jarred as the official kick off to Salon-Ed.
4. Made connection to the leadership of Wayne Counties director of the Michigan Film Initiative.
5. Had retreat weekend with teacher friends. (the YA Ya’s) When we spoke of our students and reminisced about our beginnings, we were animated. When we spoke of systems we immediately began to fanaticize about retirement