Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Looking for the 21st Century in a School Supply List

Ah, it’s that time of year when kids lament the impending end of summer, when frazzled parents and care providers look for oncoming respite, when camp counselors and sports clinic coaches heave sighs of relief, when retailers of every kind look to capitalize on three simple words:

Back to School

Duty bound to support their local economies, schools dutifully publish, copy, distribute, post, email, mail, broadcast and anyway possible advertise the pinnacle of educational readiness:

The School Supply List

Please pause and bow your head in solemn reverence…Thank you, continue on.

Without the sacred and all-important School Supply List, many a poor soul would be relegated to shame and Trapper-Keeper (do they even make those anymore) want,  left to navigate a cruel world of humiliation and incomprehensible un-preparedness. Woe to he that lacketh supplies! Woe, woe, woe!

…And that’s if the parent buys the wrong brand of binder or paste when a glue stick is obviously required.

So here I sit with the 2009-2010 School Supply List (only slightly modified since the 19th century) for my son’s 7th grade year. (It’s the actual one.)

-1 box of facial tissue (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-1 roll of paper towels (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One ream of white printer paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One small package of graph paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Dry erase markers (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Large Binder (3″ or larger)
-Three pocket folders with brads
-8 subject dividers for Binder
-Five 70-80 page spiral notebooks
-College-ruled loose leaf notebook paper
-Pencil/pen bag or case- unless the Binder has one built in
-Blue/Black ink pens (no gel pens)
-Personal pencil sharpener
-24 count Colored pencils for core classes (these are separate from supplies for electives)
-Colored markers
-Red pen/pencil for checking and editing work
-Highlighters (yellow, green, blue, pink)
-#2 wooden pencils (must have for CSAP practice)
-Metal ruler with both standard and metric measurements
-Glue stick
-Scientific calculator (TI-84 if in Algebra I)
-Highly recommended but not required, 512 MB memory stick

I can only assume by the first item that there will be much weeping either because so many trees will have been sacrificed in the name of paper-based education or because the kids have to surrender the first five items to the homeroom teacher on the first day of school. It could also be that kids should have 8 subject dividers but only 5 spiral notebooks and everyone knows that 5 divides into 8 evenly to represent the 4 quarters he has 7 classes each. I mean, duh!

Happily for us, my son apparently can expect to be very organized with his bag case and pocket folders (with brads! -are they related to chads? Hmm, I wonder…)  Organization is a very important skill, one he hasn’t mastered despite heroic attempts every year to manage and file all that paper he’s using.  As his report cards attest, he hasn’t done well in the neat and organized category when compared to all those compliant, neat-writing types who don’t fill the margins of their papers with doodles and comic illustrations.

It seems a little strange that in all this focus on organization, they’re going to ask kids to write on all that unlined printer paper. Hey, that’s what the ruler is for. So they can practice making their own college ruled paper. Absolutely brilliant!

It’s also nice to see an early emphasis on post-secondary preparation by requiring kids to have college-ruled paper.  

I know we’re facing some economic troubles, but in a school that has computer projectors in each room I have to wonder about the dry erase markers. They’re usually four in a pack times 630+ kids, equals lots of un-archived whiteboard writing kids won’t have access to in order to reflect on their learning. Oh! How could I be so silly *that’s* what the 3″ or larger binder is for -to write all that stuff down. I’m assuming my son will use the paper towels to write on and keep like a scroll if his binder fills up. That will test his organizational skills for sure. I don’t want to undermine the organizational educational process, but I’m going to tell him to use his glue stick to keep his papers together.

Although he’s enrolled in a science class, his scientific calculator appears to be destined only for use in Algebra 1.  While we’re on the subject of subject isolation, that must be why he can’t use his colored pencils in his electives. Band and Guitar must require a unique kind -maybe the colored markers.

When I asked for a 512 MB memory stick, the kid at the electronics megastore looked pitifully at me and took his Captain Morgan one off his key chain and gave it to me. Other than that, the only other ones I’ve been able to find are the  novelty ones the vendors gave away at NECC. I’m not sure what my son is going to do with all that space anyway. I don’t think there’ll be much computer use anyway – he doesn’t have a computer class this year.

Let’s review what’s important…*Lots* of paper products; organizational items like folders, binders, and bags; colored pens, pencils, markers, and highlighters; and wooden pencils for standardized test practice -because everyone knows you can’t practice with anything else but a #2 pencil and loose-leaf paper. Well, I’m hoping he won’t need any foam board since it’s not on the list and our local Tar-Mart and Wal-Get didn’t have an opportunity to stock it.


July 23, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , | 6 Comments

Possibility vs Scarcity Thinking with Ben and Roz Zander

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

I’ve just finished Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This book caps of a trio of books I’ve “read” since January 2009. (Note: I have placed “read” in quotations because I actually listened to two of the books and some of my English-teacher friends would say that doesn’t really count as having read them. That’s their problem, not mine. I’m all the better for my auditory or visual interaction with them anyway and I’ll use read to signify both kinds of interaction here.) The other two books are Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica (listed in reverse order read.)Made To Stick

First of all, Zander’s The Art of Possibility and Robinson’s The Element represent the books I purchased because I watched related videos on TED. TED, by the way, if you have never heard of it is “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” For all you corporate, copyright, intellectual control, 19th-century business model, knowledge-hoarding authoritarians, you might want to notice that the free media on TED directly contributed to the purchase of two additional, possibly three items -the Zanders’ physical book and Robinson’s audio recording, which I may also purchase in hard copy for future reference. Additionally, after listening to the Heaths’ book, I purchased the hard copy…I’m just sayin’.

The ElementI didn’t intend to read the books in the order I did. In fact I didn’t intend to read them at all other than The Element. After watching Robinson’s TED talk and Zander’s TED talk, I had to learn more. Additionally, reading Made To Stick and The Art of Possibility were a result of recurring recommendations by those I follow on Twitter and those whose blogs I read.

…Meanwhile, back to the books themselves. They all have a similar “long line” as Zander calls it, “a theme upon which each [book] is a variation.” That theme is simply to make a difference our own lives and the lives of others. Each author (or groups of authors) present rather compelling and impassioned ways to do this. But each does it in almost the same way; they tell stories -lots of them. In fact stories are one of the six principles in the Heaths’ “SUCCESs” model. Each book speaks to the transformative power of Story. In testament to this, The Zanders have a section at the end of their book called “A Guide to the Stories.” The Heaths include story references from their chapters also in the end section “The Easy Reference Guide.” Robinson focuses often on “epiphany stories,” those stories that “involve some level of revelation, a way of dividing the world into before and after.” For this post, I’ll focus on the Zanders’ The Art of Possibility.

In using stories told from each of their perspectives, Ben and Roz (as they identify themselves in the book) illustrate in concrete ways we can make a difference in our own lives and of others. Of the three books, theirs provides some of the most practical thinking for transformation -well, duh, it is in the title. One of the most compelling thoughts comes early on in the book as they reframe the context of world from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Here are some examples from the book. While note set against each other for a direct comparison, some do flow that way. Some may make immediate sense, while other may necessitate your reading the book.

Scarcity Thinking

Abundance Thinking

A world of measurement: assessments, scales, standards, grading, and comparisons Beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant
Obstacles show up as a scarcity of people, time money, power, love, resources, and inner strength We gain our knowledge by invention
Acceptance and Rejection Action may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word -reproducing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves.
Surviving in a world of scarcity and peril
Responses: alertness to danger, a clever strategic mind, an eye for assessing friend and foe, a knack for judging strength and weakness, the know-how to take possession of resources, a measure of mistrust, and a good dollop of fear
Resisting challenges to our personal viewpoint Resources are likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life
We know each other and things by measuring them, and by comparing and contrasting them A passionate energy to connect, express, and communicate
Children are compared to each other Children contribute meaning and are passionate
Life arranged in hierarchies Taking a long view without being able to predict the outcome
People, ideas, and situations can be fully known and measured When you are oriented toward abundance, you care less about being in control, and you take more risks
Some groups, people bodies, places, and ideas seem better or more powerful than others
Some people, races, and organizations are safer and more desirable than others All are contributors
There are only so many pieces of the pie The pie is enormous, and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again.
A world of struggle Setting the context and letting life unfold
Competitive sports and war metaphors apply to almost any situation A cooperative universe
Conversations chronicle personal trials and triumphs A wiliness to be moved and inspired
Fear, anger, and despair at losing A humane, charitable world
…virtually everybody, whether living in the lap of luxury or in diminished circumstances, wakes up in the morning with the unseen assumption that life is about the struggle to survive and get ahead in a world of limited resources. Unimpeded on a daily basis by the concern for survival, free from the generalized assumption of scarcity, a person stand in the grate space of possibility in a posture of openness, with an unfettered imagination for what can be.
Seek more for ourselves no matter how much we have and treat others as competitors no matter how much they have Lighting a spark in others
Questions of assessment Questions of inquiry
Persuasion Enrollment
What’s best for me What’s best for all of us
Expectations to live up to Possibilities to live into
Reality is fixed No guarantees
Winning and Losing Life appears as variety, pattern, shimmering movement, inviting us in every moment to engage.
Overcoming odds and prevailing
Being acknowledged and included
Competition is the vehicle to success
Exhilaration of coming out on top
Supplies are fixed and limited
The frenzied accumulation of resources by some leaving others without enough


Further in the book the context for these ideas are framed in the illustration of “downward spiral” and “possibility” talk/thinking. The define the downward spiral talk as “a resigned way of talk [thinking] that excludes possibility…[f]ocusing on the abstraction of scarcity…creat[ing] an unassailable story about the limits to what is possible, and tells us compellingly how things are going from bad to worse” (p. 108). They introduce possibility earlier on page 20, but it stands contrast:

“The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word -reproducing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.”

PopTechSee the video on Pop!Tech to hear from Zander himself on the topic -and many others from the book. Zander is one of those teachers we all wish we could have. He walks his talk absolutely graciously. It has some similarities with his TED talk, but this one has a kid! Stay for the end. The 30 minutes is completely worth it.

The above quote from the the book, published in 2000, resonates with me as an educator (and I suspect others also). It’s what we strive for as educators it speaks to our passions and best hopes. It’s often how we define our educational reform efforts.

This is one of those must-read books for educators. It has so much more than a blog post can do justice.

If you’ve read this book or have feedback on the post, I welcome your comments.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments