A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dog walks through history

Dog walks through history

During our stay at Camp Hill Bed and Breakfast in Harper's Ferry, before breakfast, Mabel and I walked a variety of loops that began and ended at the Carriage House. On Friday morning, we traveled one block down McDowell Street, turned right along Fillmore Street.

The Carriage House at Camp Hill is a pet friendly, family friendly destination.

Loop 1: Storer College

Tony Catanese, proprietor of Camp Hill Bed and Breakfast Inn,  had suggested that I look for  a field with a canon. Behind Camp Hill, on the corner of Fillmore and Jackson, Mabel posed behind this Civil War era canon.

Across the street from the canon, Mabel and I explored  the grounds of  Storer College, site of the first open meeting of the Niagara Movement on American soil, organized by W.E.B. Dubois.

Pithy  historical displays along the path presented  the ironic history of separate but unequal schools in a segregated society which used rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence as the basis for armed struggle. Mabel and I stopped at all of the historical displays.

Mabel and I paused to watch the ongoing painting and restoration of the old Storer College facilities, which has been repurposed as the Mather Training Center for the National Park Service.

Debates over funding and the role of higher education in our society that played out at Storer College paralleled current debates playing out over the future of higher education playing out at the University of Virginia .

While educational funding was easier to secure for  programs that produced "hands" at Storer College, such as industrial arts,  funding for programs that benefited "minds," such as chemistry,  was generally unavailable.

In today's ongoing debate at the University of Virginia over the ouster  of President Sullivan by the Board of Regents, President Sullivan's defense of the unprofitable classics department played a role in her ouster.

Did W.E.B. Dubois's insistence on providing a Liberal Education over more marketable programs eventually lead to future funding problems at Storer College?

Tony had shown me a Civil War picture of Union Soldiers lining up in parade formation on a field which is now part of the Mather Training Center for the National Park Service. That field became  Storer College's football field.

An uneven playing field!

Hikers are welcome on this friendly stopping place along the Appalachian Trail located at the corner of Jackson and Washington Streets.

After making a deposit in trashcans at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Mabel and I paused in front of this sign.

Back on the porch, Mabel felt like a queen. In a few minutes, the Catanese family would be delivering the bacon. It's a dog's life!

Loop 2: Washington Street

Early Saturday morning,  Mabel and I stopped in front of this stone arch a few blocks down from Camp Hill on Washington Street.

A red Chevy Truck was parked in the driveway.

Mabel is partial to Chevy trucks.

Cooled by thunderstorms the evening before, it was a pleasantly cool morning, so we continued the rest of the way  down Washington Street.

Mabel was a good sport as she  posed often for photo opportunities.

We found this cut-through and made our way down to Potomac Street.

The smells wafting from Hannah's Train Depot on Potomac Street, which specializes in barbecue, were unforgettable. Here's another reason to come back to Harper's Ferry.

After descending the stairway connecting Washington Street to Potomac Street, Mabel posed by the memorial of Private Luke Quinn, the only  Marine to perish during John Brown's raid.

On Friday night, during his Ghost Tour of Harper's Ferry, Rick Garland, a living historian, evoked  a side of Harper's Ferry generally missing  from the history books. Garland reflected on  historical and social factors which defined Harper's Ferry's role in American History before John Brown's Raid on the National Armory during the Civil War. He described how, during the French Revolution, after French suppliers stopped supplying weaponry to America,  George and his younger brother Charles Washington campaigned on behalf of Harper's Ferry as the site for a southern gun factory and hub of transportation and commerce. The National Park Service describes the role of George Washington  in its teacher's packet. During its heyday, according to Garland, Harper's Ferry was defined by 3 W's: Weapons, Whiskey, and Women. Saloons  played a pivotal, but often unacknowledged role in the historic events which unfolded along Potomac Street.

Mabel and I paused  in front o f the site of Dr. Brown's cave, the significance of which was described on Friday night by Rick Garland of "O' Be Joyfull Historical Tours & Entertainment." For a  virtually verbatim description of the story about Dr. Brown that Garland shared with his audience, check out  "Musings of a Ghost Adventurer by " Melissa Telesha  at

 My camera lost power at Hog Alley.

During the Ghost Tour, Rick Garland described how drunken townspeople cheered the slow and agonizing death of Dangerfield Newby. Newby was stabbed repeatedly,  dismembered  alive, then dragged to Hog Alley, where his body was fed to  wild hogs in retribution for his role in John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry before a cheering mob. Odd occurrences at Hog Alley have been attributed to  Newby's ghost which is said to haunt the place of his horrific death. Garland described a belief that ghosts draw energy from the surrounding environment, and that ghosts drain batteries.

Back at the Carriage House at Camp Hill, Tony would soon be delivering his signature omelets. Mabel would be getting her share.

Mabel and I enjoyed our dog walks through history. I was reminded of something Roger Slakey, one of my favorite professors at Georgetown University once shared with his class: "It's one thing to experience the Shenandoah by car and quite another to experience the Shenandoah on foot."  Mabel would agree.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Camp Hill, Harper's Ferry

To celebrate my graduation from Marymount University's Professional Development School (PDS) program, my family went to Harper's Ferry for a three day, two night vacation. Karen, my wife,  selected Camp Hill, a bed and breakfast inn located in the historic district on the corner of McDowell and Washington Streets.

Tony and Cheri Catanese, the proprietors, won awards after their  historical renovation at Camp Hill. A former teacher from Prince Georges County, Tony knows carpentry, and his handiwork is everywhere.

At the  pet-friendly Carriage Hill Suite at Camp Hill, the Catanese family rolled out the welcome mat for Mabel. A vacation without Mabel would have felt incomplete. The hospitality provided by the Catanese family went far  beyond expectations!

On Friday morning, we enjoyed blueberries  jam-packed inside mounds of pancake stacks! Mabel's ears perked up  after her nose caught a whiff of bacon.

As part of breakfast, Cheri Catanese artfully  prepared freshly cut fruit. A tasty surprise awaited  at the  bottom of our fruit cups. Yummy!

On Saturday, Tony Catanese's hearty, cheddar cheese-smothered Southwestern style  omelet provided a hearty start for a day of final exploration of the town  and our under an hour an one half drive home (about 70 miles).  Cheri's homemade  raspberry jam was delightful. On a calorie budget, I decided I would skip lunch! Mabel licked her chops.

The loft provided room for childhood adventure.

A luxurious attention to small details provided a decidedly upscale feel.

The Carriage House is generously furnished with a refrigerator stocked with creamer and coffee grounds. On Friday night, we refrigerated Joe's leftover pizza from Mena's, a restaurant located a few blocks away on Washington Street. Tony approved of Mena's authentic  Italian cooking. Joe had been begging for Pizza Hut, but Karen and I wanted to enjoy local fare, so we had asked for Tony's recommendation and we were not disappointed. We packed Joe's leftovers and he enjoyed Mena's pizza a second time for lunch.

Another striking feature of Camp Hill was the colorful garden.

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Frogs croaked around the fish pond. Kersplash!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


When the Principals met with me and my fellow cohorts in May, they stressed two things. First, they stressed that they were not looking for perfection, they wanted us to be "authentic" in how we presented ourselves. Second, they emphasized the importance of finding the right fit both for me and for my prospective school.

When I look for a school, I am looking for a school that will allow me the time and resources to make adjustments, because despite my experience, I will not achieve perfection coming out of the gate. Every thing I do now is geared toward doing whatever I can do to prepare myself for whatever comes.

Many of the lifestyle adjustments I am making this summer are a result of my desire to become a more effective teacher. Teaching requires a superhuman amount of energy. Even seemingly "unimportant matters" like a teacher's health matter greatly, as I have learned. Now, I have learned, there is some real urgency in setting and making progress towards my health goals: I have just been diagnosed with diabetes.

Now that I'm "being real," which is something I will always be on this site, I can confess that, during the last part of my practicum, I  sometimes operated on zero sleep -- in fact, at a critical time, I spent a period of over 48 hours without sleep to meet deadlines. Obviously, a lack of sleep sometimes affected my thinking and how others perceived me.

This summer, I am taking the opportunity to work on taking care of matters, such as health and appearance, which have never been my highest priorities. On Monday, since I am starting a new fitness program, I met with Dr. Prinz to take a physical. Today, I got the results of my blood test: My blood sugar level of 137 is technically diabetes. My goal is that, through diet and exercise, I can reverse that and bring it down to 126. On a secondary test for a particular hemoglobin, my 8.7 was higher than 6, which is considered optimal, which indicates that my blood sugar level has been high for a period of three months. Dr. Prinz said I needed to lose 20 pounds. Hearkening back to something I heard Tony Robbins once say, I am reframing the results of my blood test as "just a result," or more interestingly, as a "really cool science experiment."

On Monday, I also made my annual visit to Dr. Gofreed. A few years ago, I was referred to Dr. Gofreed by Dr. Prinz, and she presented the medical case for using a bi-pap machine to control my severe sleep apnea, a problem that added difficulty to my first two years of teaching. Imagine trying to teach a lesson with a brain that has been deprived of oxygen every night!

After my bean soup is ready, it's off too the gym I go!

Elliot W. Eisner's views on education

My dear friend and mentor, Susan, who will be teaching her course on cartooning and tessellation at Institute For the Arts, as she does each summer, recommended that I read The Kinds of Schools We Need: Personal Essays, by Elliott W. Eisner. The fine arts, many would argue, has been herded through the slaughterhouse of accountability by non-professionals, and fearful educational leaders have reconfigured art assessments in utilitarian, non-developmentally appropriate ways, just like the SOL tests.

Just as I peeled the meat off the bones of Van de Walle's classic on math last summer, a skill I learned from classical scholars at Georgetown University, this summer I have been methodically picking apart Eisner and ruminating on his thoughts on education in the same deliberate manner. I will begin regularly sharing my new understandings of Eisner's recommendations as I complete my first reading of these classic essays.

The new buzz word in assessment is "rigor." This past year, students were assessed in the newly reconfigured format with heightened rigor. Don't be surprised if calls for closing "failing schools" heats up to fever pitch during the fall, as large percentages of students are unable to meet the more rigorous academic standards, and politicians make increasingly rancorous calls for educators' heads. The slaughterhouse mindset is exactly what is not needed in our schools, which are tasked with making learning opportunities accessible to all, and tailoring curriculum to a full spectrum of learning styles, interests, abilities, and developmental needs. If you want to see rigor, spend a day in Susan's art class at IFTA this summer, which is run according to the highest professional standards, and promotes the kind of high level thinking and buzz that too often is absent from schools. Susan would argue that spacial thinking and mathematics transfers to developing better math and science students. Unfortunately, Susan's way of thinking is in the minority.

I still "owe" Max Weismann the courtesy of reading the selections on education Max sent me last summer, a commitment that I made before getting accepted into Marymount's PDS program, a commitment which swallowed up an entire year of my time. Interestingly, Eisner was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I am quite sure Max Weismann, co-founder of The Center for Great Ideas along with Mortimer Adler, knows Eisner personally and would be familiar with his thoughts on education. I am curious to learn Max's views on Eisner, and hope he would share his thinking with me, unless I have somehow offended him and he as written me off as a shabby, shallow thinker, or someone with bad manners, or a "loose cannon, which is possible, because I have sometimes been "guilty as charged." As loose as my thinking often is, a freedom I revel in, I respect the great ideas and the level of rigorous thinking that Max advocates, and want students to want to be exposed to the great ideas, and want to teach the disciplines and habits of learning so that students can learn how to access them.

Eisner's thinking matches Van de Walle's emphasis on multiple representations of thinking in mathematics and authentic experiences, but Eisner expands the conversation to a well-constructed, comprehensive defense of the arts, which many including Eisner feel have been relegated to second-class status in our schools. The Kinds of Schools We Need also dovetails with Marzano's emphasis on non-linguistic representations, but Eisner makes a convincing argument that students need to be shown how to access multiple literacies. I am particularly curious about eliciting Max's classicist response to Eisner's case for multiple literacies, and the kinds of thinking different kinds of experiences engender.

Judging from the large percentage of disengaged learning behaviors I witnessed while doing my student teaching in a local high school, the one-size-fits-all model is utterly failing a large percentage of students, possibly the same 30% figure originally seen in Nation at Risk. To be fair, at the local high school, I also observed some  assessment philosophies that generated the multi-representational thinking that Eisner argues is urgently needed, as in this "Wordle" description of Tom Buchanan, during a unit on the Great Gatsby:

When I submitted my cover letter to the major school district recently, I described my two major goals as a teacher: to inspire students to want to learn and to show students how to learn the disciplines and habits of learning. My teaching philosophy is rooted in the tradition of Cardinal Newman, who championed the idea of a liberal education described in The Idea of a University, which I feel Max would support.

Over the summer, I am laying the groundwork and constructing components consistent with my developing philosophy of education. Considering the effects of pacing guides, which can have a chilling effect on creative teaching practices, I need to prepare my kits in advance of knowing exactly what I will be teaching. Thus, I will use what I learned from Dr. Ball in constructing balanced literacy components, and use what I learned from Dr. Rajdev to construct balanced math components, and use what I learned from Professor Eacho on applied behavior and curriculum-based assessment, use what I learned from Dr. Melideo about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and use what I learned from Dr. Thompson about how to properly do academic research. Professional development is a never-ending, costly process that involves a preparation of both mind and body, a cultivation of a teacher's personae, and continued practice with best instructional practices.

Since summer is a time for renewal, in a later post, I will share my thoughts on purchasing professional clothing from The Men's Warehouse at Springfield Mall, just as I will share my experiences with my diet and exercise. I will continue to share authentic experiences, such as experiences with contractors, mechanics, parts houses, construction projects, sports, etc., because my reflections fall under the purview of describing life as a non-conformist educator. Later, I also hope to post writings on family history, which contain the seeds for future stories or even movie scripts. Poetic License is my intellectual playground. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

FitLinxx Introduction

On Tuesday night, I met with Julie, a FitLinxx trainer at the Audrey Moore Recreation Center, to get started on a strength program.  When I purchased my 3 month Rec Center pass, one of the main selling points was that I would be able to meet with an instructor and set up some workouts through the Fitlinxx system. Julie set me up with a circuit of 13 Cybex machines, for which ranges of motion and body position settings were custom tailored to my body, and for which my workout progress is being tracked:

  1. Leg Press
  2. Leg Extension
  3. Seated Leg Curl
  4. Hip Abduction
  5. Hip Abduction
  6. Pulldown
  7. Chest Press
  8. Seated Row
  9. Lateral Raise
  10. Arm Curl
  11. Tricep Extension
  12. Ab Crunch
  13. Torso Rotation 

I will be posting the progress on Fitlinxx to my blog as I try to lose 15-20 pounds over the course of the summer, using a combination of cardio, and core strength and flexibility activities. One thing I really like about Fitlinxx is how a visual bar graph is provided for the full range of motion, and I am programmed for 2 seconds on the lift, and 3 seconds on the lowering, which helps me maintain proper technique.

On Monday, I took a physical and on Wednesday Dr. Prinz will go over the results of my blood work. Hopefully, no diabetes! Getting in shape and eating right have become priorities, largely because being a teacher takes a great deal of energy, and my energy has often taken a dive around 2pm-3pm every day. When starting a fitness program, it makes sense to consult with your doctor.

My starting weight, after 3 weeks, where I have primarily done 30 minutes per night of cardio training, is 175, which represents a loss of only 5 pounds. My blood pressure was 130 over 90 and 135 over 85 two different parts of the day. This is my baseline.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chad Dukes's Comparison of the Yankees to the Borg

Podcast from LaVar and Dukes: Chad's hilarious comparison of the Yankees to the Borg ...

Today, on 106.7 the Fan Sports Talk Radio, LaVar Arrington and Chad Dukes were discussing the sweep of the Washington Nationals by the New York Yankees which occurred this past weekend. The discussion question was whether the three game sweep of the Washington Nationals by the New York Yankees was a good or a bad thing.

In a culture which celebrates winning, high test scores, etc., we often forget that how people respond to losses or wins is what determines their long-term success or failure. Chad observed how the beat-down delivered by the Yankees to the Nationals this weekend was analogous to the near death-blow delivered by the Borg to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. As Chad explained, hilariously, a young team on the rise like the Nationals can learn a great deal from an encounter with a superior foe that they will probably face again if they ever go deep in the playoffs.

As certain callers noted, the more patient Yankee hitters went deep into the count, fouling off pitches, staying alive, forcing Edwin Jackson to run up his pitch count. The Nationals hitters, on the other hand, often swung at the first pitch, which often resulted in outs, but just as importantly, the impatience of Nationals hitters at the plate allowed the Yankee pitchers to get out of innings with a minimum of pitches.

My 14 year old son Joe will play a great deal of baseball this summer. Coach Molnar observed that Joe can become a really good baseball player, but he needs to become a student of the game. As I find ways to make the game even more appealing to him, these are some of the kinds of experiences I will share with him.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's day haiku

With an eye of love
You make large faults disappear.
Victories you cheer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Link to SlimeKids

Link to SlimeKids
This link came through because of my PortaPortal, which I have not updated in quite some time and hope to revisit when I get the chance. The site appears to be very well laid out, and I will be exploring it as I get time.

One of my major literacy goals is to engage in conversations, which is the ultimate purpose of social media, which expands the conversation internationally. Conversation is the why of literacy. What excites me is the possibility of generating responses, which is something that every teacher, writer, or performer is seeking. I want people to contact me.

Professor Ayers taught me about conversations that span time and space in my Freshman English class at Georgetown University in the fall of 1981. We analyzed allusions, images, and concepts shared between Dante and T. S. Eliot, and I came to see works, not in isolation, but as part of a grand conversation where even the dead or dying could participate, such as Boethius who found a future audience in Dante in his Consolation of Philosophy. What students need to learn is not so much how to read, but why to read, not so much how to write, but why to write. If they know why, students will learn how. That's why my mom taught herself how to read behind the barbed wire from within an internment camp, why Darwin's Origin of the Species became a just-right book.

Disengaged learners often do not understand the why, which is where all the power in learning resides. As I once heard Les Brown say on one of his magical motivational tapes, "if you have a strong enough why, you can achieve almost anything." That was the message of Paul McKellips yesterday, who explained to rising 8th graders along the Rt. 1 corridor about the importance of having a dream and having a plan. It is the message of Napoleon Hill, who I cannot wait to encounter, even in ghost form on a DVD, and the invitation I received to get some personal coaching from Nightingale-Conant, which is an opportunity that I find incredibly exciting. Conversations are fun!

My grandfather swam to shore across the shark-infested waters of San Francisco Bay at an age when so many of our high school students today can be seen sleep-walking through classes unmotivated, and unprepared. Owning nothing but the clothes on his back, Yunosuke Tsuchitani landed in America with a purpose, with a belief that anything was possible, which helps explain his "rags-to-riches" story. He rose to became known as "The Straw Flower King," which enabled him to amass a fleet of ocean going yachts, which were later burned by a mob after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Although my grandfather did not live to see his grandchildren become doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, writers, etc., although all his possessions were burned, ultimately his wish came true, because his vision was generational. When Paul McKellips described a dream as a destination, which could not be observed for 99% of the time, I did not consider the possibility that a destination could be achieved even in death, which was the point of Boethius, who was facing execution.

When I teach students the art of writing letters, I plan to follow the example of Ron Clark, who describes the power of authentic letter writing in The Essential 55, which is one of the several books I am currently reading. Clark's students were able to get a response from a sitting U.S. President. By expanding the conversation, great things are possible. That is why I blog.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Paul McKellips: Speaker at a Middle School

Today, I had the unexpected opportunity to observe Mr. Paul McKellips deliver a life-changing message to a lecture room full of rising 8th grade middle school students along the Rt. 1 corridor of Alexandria. Before Mr. McKellips rose to speak, students appeared to respect neither the man, nor the opportunity to learn valuable information from somebody who possesses great wisdom, from somebody who went from stocking windows at Lowe's at the Rt. 1 in Alexandria to being tasked by General Petraeus to train Afghani soldiers and authoring a few novels in a period of less than a year. When Mr. McPhillips began, he offered, "You may disregard my message, but you do so at your own peril." McKellips used accessible metaphors such as a Slurpee, a GPS, and other familiar things, to communicate a simple but powerful message about the formula for success: if you can dream it, you can achieve it if you are willing to pay the price. He compared the process of achieving dreams to getting a Slurpee, which anybody can buy if they have enough money; he used the GPS device as a metaphor for the ability to arrive at a final destination, where the ability to see the result or progress towards the destination is unclear for 99% of the time.

He shared his life's story with the students, which could have been scripted, just like a Nightingale-Conant production. Having immersed my auditory cortex in success formula recordings from Nightingale-Conant in setting goals and developing master action plans for over twenty years -- a new Nightingale-Conant Napoleon Hill DVD recently arrived in the mail -- I am very familiar with the success formula that Mr. McKellips explained in such an understandable and powerful fashion. Mr. McKellips reminded me of the awesome power of the success formula, which I reflect on daily in an effort to renew and reflect on my commitment to my dreams and aspirations. Today's encounter, while unexpectedly being asked to cover a 6th period class, changed how I approached my rest of the day teaching a class room full of middle school students, who happen to be second language learners, who have already taken their SOL tests, having been left with work sheets, who, like the students in the lecture room, appeared to neither care about nor respect the possibility of learning anything from me. After my encounter with greatness, today I raised my expectations with what I could do with a classroom full of students, who at first appeared to be unresponsive. Although certain aspects of classroom management while substitute teaching today felt like fingernails against a chalkboard, I was able to get past the imperfection and teach students who may have not realized at first that, as a teacher, I had something valuable to offer them.