Never Forget

Holocaust PosterMy students will be collaborating with Mr. Murphy’s students on a project involving the Holocaust. His 8th graders, who are studying the Holocaust in literature such as the play based upon The Diary of Anne Frank, will chronicle the family histories of my students, whom Mr. Murphy’s students will interview. I teach at a private Jewish high school, and many of our students are the family members of Holocaust survivors. Students on both sides of the project are excited. I think Mr. Murphy, our students, and I all know that this could potentially be a big, life-affirming, amazing project.

Mr. Murphy posted our e-mails back and forth on his blog. I will lay credit for coming up with the idea squarely at his feet. All I did, as you can see if you read the blog, was offer to help in a small way. It was his idea to make our classrooms “flat” and reach out across the country to enable our students to exchange real stories, making history come alive. In the apt words of Mr. Murphy’s student: “We should make a book out of whatever we get. That way we have a history book that’s about the stories, and not just history.”

It could be delusions of grandeur, but I thought, yes! It could be a book! I am excited about this project. This couldn’t happen without current educational technology, namely blogs and wikis. I wouldn’t have ever cyber-met Mr. Murphy if not for his blog, and our students could never have collaborated on such a project. You’ll indulge me perhaps if I throw up a little appropriate (but somewhat nostalgic) tune that sums up how I feel:

Download link

[tags]Holocaust, flat classroom, blogs, wikis, education, collaboration[/tags]

Civil Disobedience

For seven of the ten years I have taught, I have taught American Literature. I feel a close kinship with the subject, and I can almost plan for that class in my sleep now. I change up things a little bit each year because each class is different, but some constants remain. I have to admit that I have this “thing” about where I should be in terms of chronology. To be teaching Romanticism right now makes me nervous because my internal American literature clock tells me I should be moving into the twentieth century at this point.

So why am I pushing related readings into my curriculum, knowing it will stretch Romanticism even longer? I decided that instead of “covering” literature, I would just make sure that the trip was interesting and enjoyable. So I taught a piece of literature I had longed to teach for some time — Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” We had just read our textbook’s excerpt from Civil Disobedience. I mentioned what we were studying to one of our history teachers, and she sent me a Gandhi bio and some quotes. So we spend perhaps a week reading the words of King and Gandhi on top of the time we had already spent reading Thoreau. I decided we could make this into a good paper, but I felt like my students might need some help to formulate an outline for this paper.

First of all, I decided students would most easily be able to write either a compare/contrast paper or a cause/effect paper. Because we had already written compare/contrasts and students needed more practice with cause/effect, I chose that angle. Next, I assigned students to study Thoreau’s essay and King’s letter for similar strands or “concepts and ideas” for homework.

When students came to class the next day, they were ready to work with partners. Using my clock buddy system, I had students pair off and compare their findings from their homework. Students were given a chart where they could record quotations from Thoreau, King, and Gandhi. I didn’t reproduce it here because it is very simple to make. Essentially, the chart has four columns and several rows. The row along the top of the four columns reads: “Concept/Idea,” “Thoreau,” “King,” “Gandhi.” After students had quotes for three concepts, we came together as a class and shared our findings.

My students found quotes from each author on the topic of unjust laws, civil disobedience, nonviolent social protest, etc. Students added the ideas from other students to their charts. I asked that students create a thesis statement centered around the idea that Thoreau’s ideas influenced civil disobedience as practiced by Gandhi and King, using quotes as evidence.

We are still in the midst of writing the essays, but I think the connections students made to Thoreau were much deeper as a result of examining his influence than they would have been if I had simply breezed through Transcendentalism on the way to Realism.

[tags]Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi[/tags]

Down Time

I want to apologize for the down time on this site. About midnight last night, I began uploading a newer version of WordPress via FTP to my site so that I could upgrade. Right in the middle of this process, my host, Bluehost, crapped out in a spectacular fashion. I was tired and went to bed, figuring there was little I could do about it until Bluehost fixed things on their end. Now that they have, I have finished my upgrade and am now running WordPress 2.1 on this blog. The reason none of my other blogs were affected is that I was not in the middle of uploading files to those blogs. I think that because my upgrade was only about half done, it “broke” my blog for a while.

On that note, I have to say that up until a few months ago, I loved Bluehost and would have recommended them to anyone who wanted to run a website. In the last few months, however, incidents like last nights’ have been fairly frequent. Steve’s crime blogs were hosed right as a major story was breaking. He’s way too ADD to fix something like that without my help, and I was out of town, so to the best of my knowledge, they’re still broken. It takes a few margaritas before I am willing to tackle his sites when they break. So for now, he’s blogging at Blogger’s Blogspot domain. Bluehost wasn’t very helpful when he contacted customer support. In the past they have been extremely helpful, but this time, Steve was basically told the problem was his fault. A few days later all of us Bluehost sites received an e-mail saying otherwise (and deeply apologetic). So lately, I can’t say I’m very happy with Bluehost, but I’m not willing to jump ship entirely. My hope is that their current troubles are so many bumps in the road and will be fixed soon.

[tags]Bluehost, Blogger, WordPress 2.1, WordPress[/tags]

Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 4

Before I forget I have to set down my thoughts on visiting Sun Studio. Wow. Ellie was right. Best part of the trip. To be in the room and see the equipment so many famous songs were recorded with was nearly spiritual. Johnny Cash used the same mic that our tour guide showed us, and he guide even let us touch it. Why couldn’t I touch the mic like the kids did? Too much reverence I guess.

The outside of Sun Studio:

Sun Studio

Our tour guide in Sun Studio. In this room, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded hit songs:

Sun Studio

Microphone used by artists who recorded at Sun from 1952 to about 1960, including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and presumably Elvis, though the guide didn’t mention him by name:

Sun Studio's Mic

I wish the weather had cooperated so we might have been able to sit next to the river. I wanted to connect with Jeff Buckley [before Buckley fans get too excited, yes, I realize that he drowned in the Wolf River, not the Mississippi, but he was in Memphis] I guess. I suppose there is next time. I want to come here with Steve.

Looking toward the river at night from the top of the Peabody Hotel:

Peabody Lookout

I really enjoyed Graceland, too, but again, our tight schedule didn’t allow us to really enjoy our trip through a museum — I guess you could call Graceland a museum.

Some of our students waiting to enter Graceland:


Elvis’s grave:

Elvis's Grave
I ate fries alone at the Pig on Beale. I was the only customer for a while, so I chatted with the waitress. She was really nice. We talked about what we (the students) had seen and done. Very friendly.

The Pig on Beale:

The Pig on Beale

Billy was right. Memphis does get under your skin. I think it’s the river, the blues, and the lights.

How do I begin to describe seeing the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot? So many times I’ve seen it in photographs and film. The Civil Rights Museum was interesting. I was especially moved by the Rosa Parks bus exhibit.

View of balcony where Dr. King was assassinated:

King Assassination Site

Memorial plaque:

King Plaque

As far as our discussion with Jacqueline Smith, I found her ideas interesting. She was nice to talk with us. I found it intriguing to learn she was an opera singer. She mentioned that Carmen was what made her want to sing and that she tried out for the Met. Considering she’s been protesting the museum for 19 years, I doubt Steve knows her. He might have heard of her protest.

Protester Jacqueline Smith:

Jacqueline Smith

Best day of the trip. I hope the kids learned as much as I did.

[tags]Elvis, Sun Studio, Jacqueline Smith, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights Museum, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee[/tags]

Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 3

After Midnight.

At night we went to the Rum Boogie Café — a blues bar at 3rd and Beale. It was great to hear live music again. I really wanted to dance, and I wished Steve were here to dance with. It was fun to watch the kids dance.

The Rum Boogie Café (sorry for the poor quality):

Rum Boogie Cafe

Inside Rum Boogie:

Inside Rum Boogie

Serendipity once again — I turned on PBS and Kelly Richey — a phenomenal woman guitarist is on. She could hold her own with any man and proves women can rock. Too many female artists aren’t doing what she’s doing. They sing pop tripe or go too heavy metal glam. Kelly Richey is blues rock. Never heard of her before. Now I’ll look her up online when I get home. This program is at the Master Musicians Festival. Her group is the Kelly Richey Band. Why haven’t I heard of her? [Note: check out Kelly Richey at her MySpace page, too; you can listen to a few tunes there.]

Tomorrow we go to Graceland, which is what I was really looking forward to. I wish I had a real day off between this trip and school.

[tags]Beale Street, Rum Boogie Café, Kelly Richey[/tags]

Junior Journey Video

The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. I asked if the seniors might share the video they created to document their trip last year. They went to the same places and met with the same people on their trip as our current juniors did. Here is their video:

[tags]Memphis, Tennessee, Tupelo, Mississippi, Montgomery, Birmingham, Alabama, Civil Rights, Rock and Roll, Elvis[/tags]

Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 2 (Part 2)

5:30 P.M.: Preparing for Shabbat

We passed through Tupelo to see Elvis’s birthplace. I was struck by how small it was — much smaller than I imagined it would be.

Elvis’s birthplace:

Elvis's Birthplace

When we arrived in Memphis, I was struck by how dilapidated many of the buildings we passed were. Of course, I suppose we drove through some rough parts of town, and the same could be said of much of Atlanta. We saw some very nice areas, too. Downtown was probably nicer than Atlanta’s. Beale Street was electric. The first glimpse of the Mississippi was breathtaking. I saw the bridge spanning the river to Arkansas. The Mississippi is so many things — a symbol of the frontier, the West; an artery pumping the lifeblood of our nation. Tennessee is a place of magic and meaning for me. I met my husband in Tennessee. Memphis reminded me of Nashville.

Prince Albert TobaccoI wish I’d had more time in the Rock and Soul Museum. In the first area a table stood on a replica of a sharecropper porch. An empty can of Prince Albert Tobacco was displayed on the table. It made me think of Pa Pa [my great-grandfather, Herman Cunningham, whom I called Pa Pa, smoked Prince Albert Tobacco in his pipe; his farm was littered with discarded Prince Albert Tobacco cans]. I had this urge to touch the can, but I restrained myself. I would have liked to have spent more time there listening to music [the Rock and Soul Museum gives visitors mp3 players to listen to music and learn about the exhibits].

Tennessee. Sometimes when I come here I can feel the soil is still in my blood, even though I’ve never lived here myself [many of my ancestors were from Tennessee].

Lunch at Rendezvous was amazing. Those ribs are so good. The dry rub on the ribs was delicious. I also really enjoyed being with Sarah, Paul, Ellie [my colleagues], and Billy [our tour guide].

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Beale Street. I wanted to be here with Steve.

[tags]Memphis, Tennessee, Beale Street, Rendezvous Ribs, field trip, Elvis, Tupelo, Mississippi, Prince Albert Tobacco, Rock and Soul Museum[/tags]

Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 2 (Part 1)

“Pick up your pen and be a catalyst for change.” These words end The Freedom Writer Diary. If I ever do anything close to what Erin Gruwell accomplished with her students, I will call myself successful. Am I doing what I should? Is education really a war? Teachers like Erin Gruwell were at the front and fighting bravely. Other teachers on the front don’t fight at all. And if education is a war, I am in some cushy office on the homefront.

I don’t want to leave Weber. I think I’m doing good things there. I am happy. But all kids need good teachers, and too many of my peers are not willing to be like Erin Gruwell. In fact, I’m not. I have a family I already feel I don’t put first often enough. I could not take on an extra job like Gruwell did.

Maybe my blog is helping me in some way to pick up my pen and pass on my message. I think maybe I do help others. Maybe more than I realize. I do know the power of having a voice and an audience for my voice. I wonder if any of the Freedom Writers blog? They should.

In spite of how much I loved and was inspired by The Freedom Writer’s Diary, I was bothered by two things. First, Erin Gruwell left the classroom. In my opinion, she personified the famous poem’s message in that she burned the candle at both ends. There is no way she could have kept going the way she was. She would have died or burned out. Perhaps establishing her foundation and teaching college was what she needed to do to preserve her sanity. I shouldn’t judge. But it bothers me she left. I suppose it is true she can spread her message more quickly through educating future teachers. Why, then, does it still bother me she left? The second thing that bothers me are the proofreading errors. There were a few. I realize these are journals, but it bothers me to see that proofreading errors made it into print. This is my guess because of the types of errors I noticed. For example, “then” for “than.” I want to focus on the book’s message and turn off that English teacher. I can’t.

Part 2 of Day 2 will appear tomorrow.

[tags]Erin Gruwell, Freedom Writers, Freedom Writers Diary[/tags]

Civil Rights and Rock and Roll Journey, Day 1

I am back from trip, and I’m tired. I chaperoned a trip to Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee. The trip centered around two important revolutions in our history, both orchestrated by African-Americans — the Civil Rights Movement and Blues and Rock and Roll music. I wanted to share some of my journal with you. This is part of my journal from Day 1:

I think it is strange sometimes how serendipity can lead to life transformation. I hadn’t heard of Erin Gruwell two weeks ago. Then I saw Freedom Writers. Tonight I’ll finish their [the Freedom Writers] book. I am impressed by how relevant their stories are to the lessons and history I’m learning about today. Seeing the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) was probably the most moving experience for me because I know what they have done [moreso than the students]. I admire Morris Dees for his courage. I never thought of the SPLC as a physical place before. It seemed like more of an ideal. But it’s real and made of reinforced steel to protect its workers from the people who want to kill those workers for what they do.

Billy [Billy Planer, who runs Etgar 36, a touring company for Jewish teens] asked us this morning if knowing that Rosa Parks’s famous protest was “set up” somehow diminished its value. I think that the fact that Parks knew what she was doing and that it would result in arrest — knew that she would become the poster child for Civil Rights — makes her more courageous. If I were asked to do such a thing, could I stand up (or rather, sit down) and do it? Is that not braver than acting on impulse because one feels tired? I think she showed true courage in facing arrest in order to help her community and society become a better place [note: we had visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery].

I enjoyed hearing Colonel Stone Johnson speak (read more). He is so sincere in his love for people and God. His message of tolerance is not new, but hearing from an ordinary man — not a King or Abernathy or John Lewis — a real character, a storyteller — brought the struggles in Birmingham alive. If I had walked in that park and looked at those statues without his guidance, I doubt I would have thought as much about them. I will, I hope, always remember the four pillars representing those four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. They were placed in front of a statue of three kneeling pastors. Looking over the statues, I could see the church across the street. I touched one of those pillars and felt like I was really patting the head of one of those little girls. [Note: Colonel Stone Johnson was our tour guide through Kelly Ingram Park. You can see some of the statues here.]

[tags]field trip, education, Birmingham, Alabama, Civil Rights Movement, Colonel Stone Johnson, 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Rosa Parks, Southern Poverty Law Center[/tags]