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Schools should be in the “business” of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child’s academic, athletic, artistic, social, and emotional skills and desires are free to flourish and thrive.

We should prepare our children to be thoughtful, caring, resilient, and responsible leaders and learners who can make meaningful and lasting contributions to our challenging and vibrant world. They need to learn how to make courageous and quality choices as they communicate and collaborate with others.

Powerful and privileged reformers like David Coleman deny the importance of thoughts and feelings because they often operate in isolation and are incapable or unwilling to consult and collaborate with others.

Reformers may hold powerful positions, but those reformers who are unable to empathize and connect with other people have a limited ability to effectively direct education reform efforts as they are more Common Core cheerleaders than education leaders.

During the summer of 2001 French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were in New York City documenting the daily activities of Engine 7 Ladder 1. This footage was intended to be part of a documentary that profiled the “coming of age” of a rookie fire fighter assigned to the firehouse that was located just blocks away from The World Trade Center.

As chance would have it, the Naudet brothers were riding along with the firemen on September 11th and their soon to become 9/11 documentary would provide a first-hand account of events that day including the only footage from inside the World Trade Center.

This compelling documentary honors the victims of 9/11 and pays tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of the first responders. While the film may bring back painful memories it is an important primary source that vividly captures the powerful emotions, images, and audio of that day.

I first showed the Naudet brothers 9/11 documentary in class back in 2002. My 7th and 8th grade students also listened to the Five For Fighting song, “Superman” and also watched the 9/11 Concert for New York City performance…

Only a man in a funny red sheet

Looking for special things inside of me…

It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be me.

That year I encouraged my students to write poems or letters to Engine 7 Ladder 1 which were personally delivered to the firehouse on Duane Street. Here are excerpts from several student letters…

Three weeks ago my class and I watched the documentary 9/11. I had not seen the movie until then. Right then I found out that life was not going to be easy. You taught me never to give up. That may sound ordinary but it impacted my life immensely. My family noticed my change and wondered what had driven me to be more compassionate and loving. I started to spend more time with my mom and helping her.

Seeing and reading about your conduct and character has made me rethink my values. I now try to treat people with kindness and respect. Things that used to be important to me, like family and friends, are now even more important to me. I have come to realize how fortunate I am.

After seeing 9/11 I realized how lucky I was not to lose any of my family members. I’m sorry for your losses. I can’t imagine how you felt being inside the Towers, but I really appreciate all of the things you do. I don’t think I would ever have been able to do what you did that day. You have shown us all what a true hero is. A hero isn’t Superman. A hero is you.

Your movie 9/11 made me realize that firefighters do a lot for our world. I started to care more about the world and everything going on around me. I felt more secure about stepping out into the world after seeing your movie. Those are my thoughts and regards about the September 11th tragedy. I want to thank you for not running away from this tragedy. You were a great way of showing us kids that we should care about others.

The lessons that you had taught me is not to be mean or cruel to people that are different. Another lesson that you taught me is not to think of yourself, but think of other people. That is what makes you a hero to me. You guys also taught me that no matter how frustrated you are, that doesn’t mean you go out and kill people like what the terrorist did.

Back in 2002 I also introduced a 3D Memorial Project to my middle school classes. Students were required to research a significant historic event or an individual no longer living that served as a positive role model and made a difference in the lives of others. They were also challenged to select a dedication or tribute song that is played during the class presentation of their Memorial Project. Over the years numerous students have chosen to create projects for 9/11 and you can view photos of these 3D projects here.

In 2011 I introduced a media project for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Students were challenged to create an original tribute video blending music with the powerful images and words from that day.

The finished project was to be guided and informed by the education goals of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum which include…

Provide opportunities for the public to make meaningful and purposeful connections between the history of 9/11 and their own lives…Suggest ways to honor the memory of those killed and extend involvement with the legacy of 9/11 through acts of civic/community involvement and volunteerism.

You can find additional details, directions and resources for this project here and I also created a sample project to guide and motivate my students.

Considering the above lessons of 9/11 perhaps ed reformers would pause their plans for a moment and consider how different our children’s education would be moving forward if the specious claim in Appendix A of the Common Core

There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest.

were to be removed and replaced with John F. Kennedy’s statement…

The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.

Life is not standardized and neither are children. The most important lessons in life will not be found in close readings or learned from taking tests as they are much closer to the heart.

The blacksmith and the artist

Reflect it in their art

They forge their creativity

Closer to the heart

Closer to the heart

Follow Your Heart

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Excerpts from Jim Carrey’s 2014 Commencement Speech at M.U.

“Fear is going to be a player in life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all it will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions that we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. 

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the Universe for it.

I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. 

Instead he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

That peace that we are after lies somewhere beyond personality. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors today, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

Don’t Stop Believin’

An arts education helps build academic skills and increase academic performance, while also providing alternative opportunities to reward the skills of children who learn differently. ~ Gavin Newsom

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There is a dramatic “shift” underway with respect to longstanding beliefs in our nation regarding the role and purpose of a public education.

During the BC ( Before Core / Before Coleman) era of public education, parents and teachers believed in the power of individual curiosity and creativity to unleash each child’s unique gifts and abilities.

In the BC era of public education many learning activities were vigorous rather than rigorous, they were passion driven rather than data driven, and they focused on the diverse needs of the students rather than the standardized “needs” of the test.

The Common Core discourages and dispirits many of our students as a belief in the ability of all learners to succeed has been replaced with a belief in the ability of the Common Core standards to “ensure” that every student graduates from high school “ready” for college and careers.

An education system that had previously honored the individual, and endeavored to fulfill the academic, artistic, athletic, and vocational desires along with the social and emotional needs of every student, is being replaced with a standardized system of learning that strives to fulfill the desires of employers and the demands of the learning standards.

Thankfully, growing numbers of parents, teachers, school leaders and defenders of public education are speaking out and teaching out in support of a properly funded public education system that raises up every child and helps each student to discover his or her purpose and passion.

Despite the “sky is falling” rhetoric of education reformers our students will be ready for adulthood and employment as long as we “Don’t Stop Believin” in our public schools and the special talents and abilities of every child.

Rock and Roll High School

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“The reasons for this project are many, obviously…But as I looked into it, I saw one word recur in discussions of the dropout epidemic: ‘Engagement.’ 

At-risk students are very often the students who do not feel engaged in school. Put another way, they are not seeing how the classroom relates to their lives.”

~ Steve Van Zandt , “Steve Van Zandt, Grammy Museum team to put rock in the classroom 4/26/13 Rock And Roll: An American Story !

I wandered lonely as a Cloud

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I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

~ William Wordsworth
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (1804)

Giant Crumpled Paper Drops From The Sky, Lands On Hill In New Zealand

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Good artworks catch your heart and then make you think. You ask a lot of questions. A good artwork gives you alternative ways to observe the world you live in. ~ Hung Liu

“You are standing in a park in New Zealand. You look up at the top of a hill, and there, balanced on the ground, looking like it might catch a breeze and blow away, is a gigantic, rumpled piece of paper…

As you approach, you realize it is made of metal. It’s a sculpture, made of welded and painted steel that looks like a two dimensional cartoon drawing of a three dimensional piece of paper … that is three dimensional if you get close, but looks two dimensional if you stay at the bottom of the hill…”

Giant Crumpled Paper Drops From The Sky, Lands On Hill In New Zealand

Neil Dawson, “Horizons” at Gibbs Farm

Schooling should help children DISCOVER their own unique talents, not “standardize” them.

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Grading teachers based on when their students acquire and master a specific set of skills, is like grading parents based on when their children learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike.

While, most people can learn to ride a bicycle, not everyone has the innate ability, determination, and desire to become a BMX racer.

When it comes to acquiring new skills, the level of proficiency a student achieves and the speed at which that occurs, depends on a variety of factors including; type of instruction, how often they independently practice and use the skill, parental involvement, student engagement, and most importantly, cognitive ability and disability.

The Common Core State Standards are specific “goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level.”

Every student is expected to meet these standards or “targets” on schedule, and regardless of each student’s cognitive ability or disability.

All high school students will not be able to pass a Calculus class, just as not every student will be reading on grade level at the end of each school year. Testing students repeatedly does not improve their skills or change their abilities and disabilities.

A Standardized test score does not explain why a student performed at a particular skill level and cannot predict how they will perform in the future, or even when they will acquire and master a particular skill.

The rate of speed at which each student acquires new skills will most certainly change from year to year and it is speculative at best to determine the “college readiness” of an elementary student based on a data point.

There are many factors that impact student achievement from year to year, and a standardized test score cannot predict which child will be bullied, experience divorce, a death in the family, experience depression, unemployment, become homeless, develop an eating disorder, abuse drugs, join a gang, run away from home etc.

Despite it’s constructivist “promise”, the standardized testing regime of the Common Core forces teachers and students to focus on a predetermined and narrow set of measurable skills.

Unfortunately, the Common Core is more concerned with telling students what “college readiness” skills they have yet to master at each grade level, rather than helping every student to discover his or her own unique talents and unleashing the athletic, artistic, musical, creative, emotional, inventive, social, scientific, and vocational skills they do possess.

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