Category Archives: Uncategorized

A reflection on why I write with a fountain pen

I start most days writing in ink. I ultimately spend more time on digital spaces but this process of marking a page with a line of ink can only be called spiritual. It’s like riding a horse. There’s muscle memory involved; it’s an integrated process between thought and action. Most of the memoir and novel I’m writing were originally penned in ink on a notebook.
Technology defines us. But I do fear at times both the dystopia of The Terminator, in which rogue computers try to take men over by warlike means, and The Matrix, where the takeover is interior.

Last night in the bookstore, I read the first pages of many memoirs – sensational memoirs, “I was thrown in prison,” “I succumbed to porn addiction,” “in my Southern childhood, we suffered degradation so humiliating, I’ve never been able to be around decent people and feel normal since,” “I murdered someone at age 19 and now I found recovery.”

That last one seemed themost promising but it made me wonder where “I had six kids and my husband had no job and now I was running away across the country in a Suburban trying to find the meaning of life” fits. Does it fit?

It seemed to me these published memoirs were the type of thing which technology has inculcated, in which sensationalism and weirdness is required at all times.

My favorite memoir of all time is my dad’s, which is bound, but was self-published, not because it’s the best necessarily but because it’s the most about me. And that’s also why I love writing in ink on paper: it may not be as good as other writing, but it is really mine and I treasure it.

Great writing should let us connect with the writer deeply. But writing in pen and ink is a shortcut to writing “great writing” for myself: I don’t need to work on becoming connected. There’s a line going straight from my heart and onto the page.

Admonition: Time is passing in school and in life

At times have I seen the students lose focus, and start to whisper and look at each other, glance under the books into the desks. Instruction grinds down to a crawl.  The teacher has to do something at these moments.  “Now students,” I might say, “I know, it seems like you have time to play in class, but at 3:00 you will be leaving for the day.  Time is passing faster than you know, we have to get through the curriculum of this year before June, and as Benjamin Franklin said, “Time which is lost is never found again.”

They look at me questioningly.  Unbelieving. Time is infinite when you’re nine years old.

“Yes it’s true,” I tell them.  “When you’re young, it seems like Saturday will never come, but it will.  Even years go by. Where you are now, a child, I once was, and where I am today, a grandparent, you some day will be.”

They look pensive. They are considering whether this might be true. Turning into someone my age is not something they think is really possible.  But it might be true.  It clearly happened to me. They stop looking in the desks.

“Okay,” I say, because I’ve got them back.  “Pick up those pencils, and write this down,” I put the instruction on the board, return to asking questions, moving on.  In the afternoon, we will do independent work, stations, singing, dancing, etc., but the ability to listen attentively to instruction is to me a non-negotiable for a capable student.

What I have done I call admonition, direct instruction in personal character.  It’s difficult to do.  It has to be motivated by a sincere concern for student welfare.  And you have to put yourself in there too, be honest about what you wish you had done, back when you were nine.  It’s a way of remembering yourself.  You were like them, years ago.  Don’t you wish someone had explained some things back then?  If so, tell the students today.

Toward a School Culture of Instruction Instead of Just Innovation

I was minding my own business reading grad school materials when a sentence jumped out at me and my head almost split open:

“It is clear from the writings of (researcher name and researcher name) that (grade level) students are not getting enough time in (skill, subject matter) and it is affecting the quality of what they can (do in skill in subject matter.)  ”

This is what I’ve heard innumerable times over the years, from administrators, from text books, from professors, through articles from researchers.  “Spend more time on X!” they say again and again.”  But Mr. or Mrs. Administrator, Mr. Superintendent, Mrs. Board Member, we only get five and a half hours of instructional time each day.

This problem of the limited school day was addressed in the early 2000’s by teachers being told to assign more and more homework, until some parents were overseeing three to four hours in a single night and parent rebellion was in the air.   Homework, then, was not the answer.  We’re still human beings with only 24 hours a day.

How can we make the day more efficient?  The economy of scale in factory production, where producing more widgets is more efficient an cheaper, is mimicked in schools by the economy of repetition of various instructional components in the classroom.  Repetition of any known effective routine or practice  saves time.  There’s a reason why we schedule the day.  There’s a reason why lunch is always at the same time.  Can you imagine the chaos that would result if we switched the lunch time every day?

By the same token, time is lost when we switch curriculums and teachers have to sort through them all over again and “find out what works.”

Why can’t we develop a culture of instruction, based on what teachers have seen in the past, and using what works for us, to make the school day more efficient? Then we would only have to search out new practices and curriculum for actual student needs in our own schools.   Not everything we do is a failure, some of it is already quite good!  If we are allowed to repeat our past successes it will be and accrued gain. Yet every year teachers are told to abandon successes of the past in pursuit of something that might be better — might — while time is lost in transition and translation.

Certainly we need professional development.  Teachers should be learning and improving their game all through their careers.  Textbooks should be updated and when technology changes we have to innovate and evolve.  But  we should be building on what we know, not replacing it wholesale.  Forcing massive adoptions of new and often untested practices and curriculum on teachers who already know what they want to do and how to do it is courting … well not disaster, but slow academic progress.

And researchers who make the impossible demand that we “just need to spend more time on (insert academic subject here)” without metaphorically goring any other subject’s ox are unrealistic.

If we can do that, we’ll next be ready to fit a camel through the eye of a needle.

Favorite Blog Posts of August

Favorite Blog Posts of August

My very favorite:  This post by @RewardingEdu about how you can combine whole-class book studies with independent reading so that your students can develop both comprehension skills with your support and analysis of their own reading on their own level.

Education News and the Hurricane:  posts from teachers in Houston, where I live: 

Woman spots two alligators in back yard due to Houston floods via @sarahtaylorbran

@Colliding with Science’s post about school being closed for a week due to flooding and feeling sad to miss the kids … this was before the flooding got really ugly.

Arts and Literature

The words writers say most often says something about their writing’s theme – check out John Updike.  Honestly I’m not surprised … this is from @guardian

Education Theory:

Will the Common Core work as described?  Problems with the Common Core’s literacy objectives.  This was shared by @LHudson – thank you for this very concerning article.

Do Teachers Have to Be Readers?  A painful but serious question – and you all know the answer.  By @MrZackG.

Can you make homework effective even in primary grades?  Well – As one colleague said to me, whether homework is effective or not depends on what homework you’re assigning.  And in this blog post, what you’re willing to do after hours to back up your students.  From @MrZackG again.

Classical Education: 

Thanks to @CanaAcademy for this reflection on various Classical Education programs and their contexts, linking Rev. Martin Luther King’s writings with classical sources and showing how Classical Education is for all, not just the “privileged.”

Finally, do you think the SAT and the ACT are good or bad?  Whatever you believe, now there’s a new test for students from classical schools.  A classical test for college entrance:   from @FirstThings.

The Link Between Boredom and Creativity

This article actually got started back in May with a TrueEnds blog post about The Middle-School Aged C.S. Lewis’ Daily Schedule which states that Lewis spent not less than two hours per day walking in the park just thinking.  This aligned with some things I had heard recently, about the Bronte sisters walking around on the moor and Tennessee Williams walking around New Orleans.  Walking around and thinking was part of creating artwork.

But walking could be seen as a greater sign of having a lot of free time on one’s hands … in short, what we call boredom.

I began to see articles about the phenomenon of boredom driving creativity or achievement.  This seems like a subject for extended study, but I keep losing track of the articles I read and not being able to remember the right keywords to retrieve them.  So, I decided to start a log of all such “Bordom drives creativity” articles and post them here.

And before I posted them, I reasoned, I’d better re-read them, because I needed to make sure they were interesting and did not repeat each other.

(reading all the articles … )

It was about the time that I got to Mark McGinness’ article that I began to think about turning off the internet for most of the day and just having it on from, say, 5 to 7 p.m. Of course, planning such a serious offensive against the teenagers in the house when I have just managed to get them to turn in cell phones at 10:30 at night is daunting.  But after reading the articles I’m convinced:  there is a point at which unrestricted technology becomes … the enemy of all that is creative, and that’s not all.

More on this topic later.  Below I have listed the articles and blogs.


Bored and Brilliant website


Offers a set of tech-free challenges.  Day one challenge:  take a ride or drive and put that cell phone away.  For the whole drive.

You’re at your most creative when you’re bored via  @CatMoreWrites


Tolkien, Garcia-Marquez, and C.S. Lewis began great works while bored … a reflection on the creative life and the need for boredom.
The Scientific Link between Boredom and Creativity  via @JordanRosenfeld A blogger and freelance writer talks about the costs of smartphone addiction for the worker in the creative fields.
Creative Benefits of Boredom via @HarvardBiz Reflection on how boredom at sales meetings drove salesmen to late night dinners full of solutions for problems … and then goes over two research studies which show that stone-cold boredom improves both convergent and divergent problem solving skills.
 Boredom Stimulates Creativity via @YourStoryCo Goes over the same research as Harvard Business review, but then talks about specific creatives and their lives:  Maya Angelou worked as a street car conductor, Charles Bukowski at “soul-suckingly” boring  jobs, before breaking out as artists.
 How Kids Can Benefit from Boredom via @ConversationUS and @tbelton1 Links current problems with child creativity to earlier concerns about the effects of television watching.  Gives recommendations on how to parent once you’ve taken away the digital devices and kids say, once again “I’m bored.”
 Why Boredom is good for your creativity via @99u and @MarkMcGuinness Gives specific steps to unplug from the grid and create creativity with “put your butt in the chair” seriousness.
 A link between boredom and creativity via digital humanities blog Blog post talks how reading allows us to maintain our “dense cultural heritage,” and the difference between writing digitally and writing on paper, types of creative output.
7 creative writers who had boring day jobs via @CreativeLive Seven well-known writers who seem to have benefitted from boring day jobs.
 Back to walking for thinking inspiration:  A passage from Agatha Christie’s “Taken at the flood,” (1948) in which a character, perplexed, seeks inspiration to solve her money and personal problems:

“She wanted to get out of Warmsly Vale, up onto the hills and open spaces.  Setting out at a brisk pace she soon felt better.  She would go for a good tramp of six or seven miles–and really think things out.  Always, all her life, she had been a resolute clear headed person … ” … pg. 93.


What the Bronte Sisters Read Part II


Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte’s literary gift was born of family tragedy, a unique home schooling situation … and perhaps of boredom as well.

Thanks to Claire Harmon again for her biography: Charlotte Bronte, A fiery heart.


When I wrote about the Bronte’s library, last month I did not include notes about their periodical reading.  It would seem that the Bronte’s were not reading just books (and among books, they did not read just cannonized or classic works) they were reading three different newspapers a week.  And they were deeply involved in politics.

The papers were the Leeds Intelligencer, a conservative paper, the Leeds Mercury, a “liberal” paper(though they didn’t call it that, the liberals were, back then and there, called Whigs)  and they were also able to borrow a paper called the John Bull, which Charlotte Bronte herself called “High Tory, very violent.”

The Brontes also read a magazine called Blackwoods, which according to Ms. Harmon, “exactly suited the Bronte sisters tastes … conservative and satiric, mandarin and yet … deeply romantic.”

I can’t help but feel that these periodicals represented the best approximation of the world wide web in the Bronte’s day … and yet, they were different, because they were written and there was no sound or video.

I have yet to give up my malaise about the war that goes on between the image and the decoded word.  In graduate school, we learned that an image can be processed and identified 60,000 times faster than a word can.  Recognition is that quick.  But … how long does it stay?

Part of the reason the Brontes remain is because their art was in words, that pre-eminent medium.  But there were other factors too: The power of boredom, also noted in the modern self help book “From Bad Grades to a Great Life” by Dr. Charles Fay is suggested as a reason why the sisters creativity developed the way it did.

As Harman writes,  “It was clear to [school friend] Mary that Charlotte’s upbringing had been odd and unhealthy, and that the make-believe powers that were so highly developed in her were the result of having insufficient other interests or stimulus. ”

Boredom.  The very opposite of the cell phone, which puts the world on your doorstep.  I will have to reflect on this further and gather more notes from other authors.

Why viewing video and listening to recordings CANNOT replace reading

Never give up on teaching and learning reading!

Last spring I had a conversation on Twitter with a school administrator who told me that his struggling readers had their deficits totally made up for by technology. They had stopped struggling to teach reading because actually, it wasn’t necessary. I was quite skeptical. How could a child who can’t read well keep up in high school using only technology? After investigation, I figured out that what they were doing was using a computer that read text and spoke it aloud to the student. Angered by the decision to shortchange these young people by misinforming them that having a computer read to you is an appropriate replacement for knowing how to read, I began writing a list of why reading skills can never be replaced by technology:

1. Competent reading is a much faster way of getting information than viewing video or listening to audio. As we go on through school, speed of information gathering becomes more and more important.

2. Reading allows scanning to find information, which is almost impossible with sound or video.

3. Reading material is cheap, quick and easy to produce, like this blog. Words require minimal storage space compared with audio and video.

4. Because it is easy to produce and archive, reading is available on a diversity of topics which video and sound do not cover.

5. Because of these factors, a competent reader has huge advantages over a weak reader in the speed, location, expense, production, and range of information they can find about every topic in the world.

So there it is: As they said on TV when I was a kid, Reading is Fundamental. Don’t give up on students learning to read. And don’t ever say that reading can be replaced by technology.

Favorite Blog Posts of July

Culture and Letters

@Longreads   published this long and somewhat two-sided reflection by Hampton Sides on coming to a belief in truth within the era of “Fake News.”  Including the idea that the internet is like a locomotive in a pastoral garden.


Research shows how early readers learn more from Fantasy stories than from non-fiction.  via @GraniteClassical.   I might have included this under Classical Education, but it’s mainline research done in a public school.

Home school parents are leading the way in a potential education-method revolution: mobile learning. From @VarkeyFdn.

Teacherblog:  Why are we lying to our students?  In terms of Santa Claus and other things.  It’s a case of epistemology, I would say, not of whether teachers are wanting to do the right thing …   via @JasperFoxSR .

Value-added rethink via @matt_barnum: challenging value added methodolgy, and also challenging the very idea that higher test scores [mean] improved life.

Talented Teachers who might have too much time on their hands, or at least more than I do?  Try this:  “It’s all about that place, place value” – terrific remake of “All About the Bass” by a math teacher who likes to beatbox: Elementary math teachers take note.  Via @Bookmaster84.

@RewardingEdu gives his Ten Ps of Positive Classroom Management in UKEdMag just in time to get us ready to prepare for the coming year.

A thoughtful blog reflection on reading the classics vs. reading for the heart, and a call to child-centered education.   via @NowakRo

Classical Education

Want to read more about #classicaleducation but don’t know where to start? Thanks to @flsplano for providing this list.   And here’s a similar list from consortium for Classical Lutheran Education. Via @ClassicalLuthEd. Now that it’s time to make a classroom management plan, this unusual suggestion via @circeins. The classroom catechism: Could it be a new classical education tradition?

Alright, so it’s a little short on the classical angle.  I started a Google news alert on “classical education” so … hopefully … I will have a better selection next month.

Thanks for reading!

Guest Post: Why Most Fantasy Novels Have The Same Setting

katniss fan art
The character of Katniss has inspired a wide range of fan art such as this drawing by yulss

by @thesk3tchbook, my daughter


It is curious to me that today many young adult novels take place in a rural world where people live in villages and hunt to find food and live in a state of lawlessness. It is very much unlike our current state of existence in which our daily lives involve forcing ourselves to get up in the morning to go to work and navigating various enclaves of the internet for both social and business purposes, and where much of our entertainment is from a screen. The rural poverty-stricken village of centuries ago becomes attractive as a scene for a story, first of all because it is exotic.

Characters in this kind of universe deal with severe hunger, disease, perhaps raids from invaders; and there is a lack of structure, predictability, or a middle class in this lawless storied environment.

Why do young readers romanticize such a place so much?  It seems a lot of people don’t realize how much happier they are in the modern world than they would be in such a crude setting. Or are they happier?

Decidedly one thing that distinguishes the rural world from the modern is the context in which skills are exemplified. It is much more interesting to highlight a character’s attributes through an exotic or centuries-old environment than today’s. For instance, let’s say the author wants to point out how intelligent a character is. Which is more interesting to read? “Thomas was known for his clever disposition all throughout the village due to his expertise in creating and placing hunting snares to maximize on prey,” or “Thomas got a perfect score on the SAT so his fellow students knew he was smart”? Let’s say the author wants to highlight a character’s beauty. The average reader would much rather read “She was indeed pretty; rumor had it that she had been pursued by many knights due to her astounding beauty” than “her beauty was undeniable; her selfie on instagram received an astounding five hundred likes!”. A rural old fashioned scene is just more interesting. In fact, we might even go as far as to want to live there instead of our own world due to the excitement.

Many popular novels in this type of setting center around a character we wish we could be: in the hit novel and movie series The Hunger Games, female heroine Katniss is a pretty and strong girl with a brave spirit and two handsome boys in love with her, and despite her humble background she rises to be an icon for rebellion against oppression in the book due to her generous and self-sacrificing nature. Is this book so popular due to its wish-fulfilling nature?  Most likely.

Modern youths (and probably youths in the past as well) are likely bored with modern life: after all, where is the excitement, the exhilaration, the passion that is so prevalent in these books with rural and fantastical settings? Ultimately escapism is the goal of everyone, not just novel readers. You see this frequently in video games as well.  We like these kinds of settings and storylines, I suppose, because we get to experience the excitement and wildness up close but the pain and suffering of any character is only imaginary.

So why are poverty stricken villages from the medieval times so popular in stories? It’s simple; they’re more interesting to write and more interesting to read. People don’t want to read what they already know and experieenc; they want to read what they know they want to experience. Besides, it’s much, much easier to watch excitedly from the sidelines than to experience it yourself.

Favorite Blog Posts of the Last Five Weeks

Many of which are from June …

Culture and Letters

Torching the Modern Day Library of Alexandria — from the Atlantic — in which it is explained that the Google Books Project,  which I might term “One World Library,” (not to be confused with Bernie Sander’s One World Netflix Password) failed due to … concerns with monopoly on the sale of out-of-print books.  Via  @philosophybites.

An article in Salon  asks “Is the Atlantic Making us Stupid?”  In case that title is too vague for you (clickbait?) the article accuses the Atlantic Monthly for publishing revisionist feminist dogma, and using women writers to do it.


I’ve been wondering what’s the deal with being a “google certified educator.”  But I never thought the googlian goal with this educator certification might be that which is suggested by the @nytimes … which is to get their products into the classroom by any means necessary and control the philosophy of education to a degree that reminds one of John Dewey …How Google took over the classroom.  Guess I was naive.

Accountability testing for charter schools may be taking the focus off of parent participation and educational innovation.  Via @matt_barnum.  Has the charter school movement gone awry?

Students’ test scores tell us more about the community they live in than what they know — from WTOP — this has been known to the teaching profession and university schools of education for some time (at least 50 years)  but apparently it’s now seeping into the news.  On the fringes like WTOP.  Via @thegrade.


From @RewardingEdu … A how-to article on how to participate in twitter education chats, grow your #pln, and meet interesting people.  Via @Edutopia.  Fear no more:  you don’t have to answer every question.

A plan for creating an editable schoolroom timeline … with notes on setup and downloadable forms … linked by @DoodleMom

When you don’t want to get the box of unifix cubes out, or, more likely, you don’t have the right type of counters — The power of digital manipulatives — this from .  And he has the link to the product, from

More on the positive effects of music study: How music in school and at home can help kids who struggle in language development — from @GCTutorials.     

Classical Education

A reflection on the true, the good, and the beautiful, asking classical educators: is success in imparting the true and the good really enough?  Isn’t the beautiful required too? Via @dimitrios111               from  @circeins (Circe Institute).

An interview with David Hicks, author of Norms and Nobility (1981) on the direction classical education should go.  This takes us back to the individual student’s needs and development vs. the desire of the World to create “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.  (T.S. Eliot)” Via  @GCTutorials  and also from @circeins

St Benedict Catholic School in Natick MA is thriving, and things are going well for classical schools in the nation today .. . Catholic Classical Education on the Rise.  From @firstthingsmag.

Almost but not quite off topic … Hobby Lobby has been fined for being in possession of stolen antiquities, which they were, apparently, planning to sell in that front part of the store where the décor items are offered.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!