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With a Song in my Heart

As a junior high school student I began to have a special interest in singing. I was encouraged by my music teacher and then in high school I participated in as many singing groups as I could. One of the groups was our high school select choir which sang some spectacularly wonderful and challenging music. There was such a sense of dedication, commitment, and solidarity in this group achieved in part by our choral director. Somehow he made all of us respond to music which was new and unfamiliar, we might not have started out with an interest in the music but as we continued working on it our understanding grew, our love of the music grew. What was it that he/we did? It wasn’t just that we practiced and practiced there was something we found in the music that touched new and deep places in us. How else could we have pulled off performing so much difficult and beautiful music?

Seventh Grade

One day I was sitting innocently in my 7th grade English classroom, doing my work, when a woman came into the room, dressed in such a manner that I was forced to deduce that she was clinically insane. She wore a wide green hat that resembled a pancake, a short white cape and voluminous dark green trousers. Tights and black sneakers finished off her ensemble. So here I am wondering what would possess this older woman to dress up in such a ridiculous costume, when all of a sudden she announces that she’s advertising a student show with the local community theatre. I had no idea what she was talking about, and yet I auditioned for the bloody thing and for some reason, despite the fact that: A) It was my first play EVER. B) Not only that, but it was SHAKESPEARE. C) All the other girls were better than me. D) Nearly all the other kids at auditions were HIGH SCHOOLERS (eeeeeeep!!!) E) How on Earth am I going to memorize this speech?!?! I GOT THE LEAD. But I am alive and well today and survived to tell the tale of the Theatre Epiphany. But now that I think

The Common Sense of my Grandmother

I have found myself thinking lately of the house my grandparents lived in when I was young, She always said it was a happy house…..as though it was the house itself that created the happiness, but the truth of it is……It was my grandmother. Today I wanted to share some of the wisdom I have gained from her stories, and the house she built. Of course wisdom would be too fancy a word for my grandmother…. “Common sense” is what she would have called it. So here it is…..The six common senses……..The house my grandma built… When out in the world………. During my grandmother’s childhood she suffered a great deal of accidents, but one story stands out now. She was eight or nine, and playing some sort of game with her sister and some other kids when her sister accidentally dropped a heavy metal sprinkler from a second story on to her head, cracking it open. In the ensuing panic she was swept up by her grandmother and rushed to the local pharmacy, which is where emergencies such as these were handled in those days. The pharmacist decided she needed stitches. With no pain killer, he began sewing her up

My Learning Experiences

My high school years were a time when I had many learning experiences. Most of my learning experiences took place outside of school. One day me and my friends all went to my friend’s house for his birthday party to have a good time and celebrate his birthday. There is a park next to his house and we decided to go down to it to play basketball and just hangout. His dad trusted him enough to let him take his truck down to the park. At the time we were only 15. I hopped in the back of the truck with two other friends while my host and another friend rode in the cab. My host decided to have a joyride down a dirt road. I admit it was fun at first. We were traveling moderately safely and slow, drifting around in the dirt. But, after one turn, when we started to move faster, he lost control. We crashed head on into a tree. Me and my two friends in the back were slammed against the hard metal toolbox we were leaning on. The driver was slammed into the steering wheel. The rider sitting in the passengers’ side of the

Learning Through Chewing

I was running late, once again, to a group therapy session in a tall glass office building near Georgetown in the District of Columbia, and, once again, I hadn’t eaten beforehand. I hopped off my bike, locked it up and hurried through the tall glass doors and up the elevator. I punched in the door code and walked through the empty lobby, knocking on the closed door at the end of the hall. Everyone else was already in conversation as I slipped into my seat, listening closely for clues to what they had been talking about. As I did I pulled out a container of leftovers and started chowing down. There were seven of us in the room, including the therapist, ranging vastly in ages between mid-twenties to over sixty. All of us were there because we were struggling with intimacy issues, and every week we’d sit in a circle, on my therapist’s soft ash colored couches, and talk about our lives and relationships. I started group therapy two years ago because I never knew where I stood with the people closest to me in my life. Over the course of two years, in these weekly sessions, I’d gotten a

Literacy is Powerful

My name is Milton Whitley. I am 57 years old and until five years ago, could barely read or write. School was especially hard for me. The teacher used to spank me with a big stick when I didn’t know something. It put fear in my heart and made it hard for me to learn. People called me retarded. I believed I was retarded. I dropped out of school when I was 14. Didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t read or write. For a long time, I worked in a sign shop installing signs. But, when I hung these signs I didn’t even know what they were saying. If one letter was off, if it was spelled wrong, I didn’t even know. Not knowing how to read or write made everything difficult. It made me boil with anger inside. I was using drugs. I got with people just like me; used drugs; no education. I didn’t care about education. All I knew were slang words. Street language. One time, I was given a form to fill out at a doctor’s office. I couldn’t read a word. I sat in my chair staring at the paper for a long

The Three Most Important Questions in Education

It’s graduation season again – yet nobody seems to be celebrating. On college campuses, graduates are entering an economy in which the stable career paths of yesteryear are disappearing – and the specialized job opportunities of tomorrow have yet to appear. And in communities across the country, parents and young people are left wondering what exactly those past four years of high school were in service of – and how much, if any, truly transformational learning occurred. Something’s gotta give. The Industrial-Age model of schooling, which benefited 20th-century generations by serving as a legitimate ticket to the middle class, has clearly run its course. In its place, we need a model for a new age – the Democratic Age. And we need strategies for ensuring that young people learn how to be successful in the 21st-century world of work, life, and our democratic society. We can get there, but to do so we need to start asking – and answering – the three most essential questions in education reform:   1. How do people learn best? Over the past several years, a slew of research from a range of fields has helped illuminate a much deeper understanding of what powerful

The Dress Code at My Kids’ School Changed My Own Wardrobe–and Got Me Thinking

When my kids started attending a school with a dress code, I didn’t expect my own clothes to change as well. The dress code at the kids’ new school read simply: “No clothes with words or cartoons on them.” I thought I knew why—something about avoiding unnecessary distractions in the classroom. Fair enough, I thought to myself: I want a classroom where my kids can learn. So I got right to work. Out went all the camp shirts with the names of the camps on them, out went the matching Purple Cow ice cream store t-shirts, and good-bye to Hello Kitty imploring us to bike more often. Out went my son’s cheesy Star Wars shirt that I despised and the one with the cartoon of a motorcycle with wings on it that I had always thought was kind of cute. I was left with stripes and solids. My kids didn’t seem to notice. When I dropped them off at school the next day I scanned the other kids’ clothes. I felt curiously refreshed being in a room without words or cartoons on clothes—something you wouldn’t have noticed unless it was pointed out to you, but once you did, it felt

A Small Comment, a Huge Assumption

Most every teenage girl starts off as a babysitter before getting a real job. As long as the kids are safe and happy, everything is fine. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s just as easy to mess things up…. As I shuffled out of the neighbors’ house, the mother casually asked me, “So, do you think you will be available next Saturday night too?” Yup, I said. Though unbeknown to me at the time, this small inconclusive comment apparently meant final word. No phone call, no knock at the door would come within the next week, so obviously my thought was that I just wasn’t needed to babysit anymore, since I hadn’t been further notified. But I guess that wasn’t so obvious to the parents of the kids I babysat. Flash-forward, next Saturday night. Now, at this time, I was just coming home from a softball tournament. It was around 6 o’clock, precisely the time I had babysat last Saturday. As I pulled into my cul-de-sac, I saw a little red car speeding out, opposite direction I was going. Just as my car and the other car reached the point of parallelism, the car stopped abruptly. I turned my head…and there

“You will hustle to your position every time”

“On the field!” It’s been twenty-five years, and I can still hear the growling voice of Coach Burkhead yelling at my teammates and me. “Off the field!” It was supposed to be a normal baseball practice with my Police Boys Club #8 team in Northwest DC. But Coach Burkhead spotted one of my teammates walking off the field in between innings of our previous game. Now, we all were paying for it. “On the field!” For the rest of the practice, Coach Burkhead had us sprint from the bench to our positions on the field, and then back again. Dozens — and dozens — and dozens of times. “Welcome to the real world, gentlemen,” he said at the end of practice. “You will hustle to your position every time.” Today, such behavior from a coach might prompt threats of a lawsuit from outraged parents. Back in the mid-1980s it was what you came to expect from Coach Burkhead. He was an institution within Police Boys Club #8. A gruff, thickly-built cop, he intimidated younger kids who had yet to have him as a coach and inspired devotion among older players who had survived a year or two on his team.

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