Saturday, January 31, 2015

Peaceful Poetry and an @FairfieldU English Department Tradition. Nothing But Pride

"Excuse me sir," the grandfather in the winter jacket said to me before leaving. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure," I replied. "What can I help you with?"

"I just wanted to let you know what a beautiful event this evening was and to share with you how proud I am of my granddaughter who was selected as a 2nd grade winner."

"Well," I responded. "She has a reason to be proud. There were over 1,100 entries this year and only 60 students were selected by Carol Ann Davis, Elizabeth Boquet, and their Poetry For Peace team at Fairfield University - a January tradition I've grown to love and one that truly unites our Jesuit Mission and Fairfield County. This year, too, the writers were published in an anthology with its own ISBN # - they truly are authors, at least in the eyes of the Library of Congress.

Usually, the Poetry For Peace reading is the culmination of a weeklong MLK event, but this year because of weather, the celebration of youthful writers turned into a kickoff. Fifty-five of the sixty students arrived with their families to offer their rhythmic readings for peace.

This is the 8th annual Poetry For Peace event and I am proud, as the CWP-Fairfield Director, to print out certificates, offer Young Adult Literacy Labs scholarships, and award these incredible young minds. This year, too, Scheiffer pens provided an extra gift that was very well received - an original pen so the poets can continue composing.

Dr. Elizabeth Petrino, Chair of the English Department, reflected on the evening best. She said, "This is a moment of the year that I look forward to most. It truly is a demonstration of many minds coming together in celebration of the spirit and wisdom of kids."

As I departed, a pair of proud grandmothers stopped Carol Ann Davis, Elizabeth Boquet and me to state, "You want to know why this was a brilliant occasion for us?" We asked them to share exactly why.  "It's because Fairfield University placed its attention on what matters most - the young people who will be leaders tomorrow."

And with that, I knew the day was an incredible success.

Friday, January 30, 2015

And Then The Sisters Went On A Photo Hunt Of The Way We Used To Be. Still Laughing.

So, this showed up all over Facebook yesterday. Apparently my sisters are perusing old photographs and, one by one, they kept arriving online in social media outlets creating a beeping frenzy on my cellphone, where they arrived as a much welcome distraction from the work that needed to get accomplished.

I said it on Facebook and I will say it here, "My sisters look like someone took Sean and Jacob, Casey's kids, and put them in sheets and grannie panties."

I can't believe how much the two of them resemble my nephews. All photographs, from Santa's lap to Kmart portraitures, my sisters look exactly as Sean and Jacob do now -- but they're the Crandall girls.

The other humorous part of these photos, of course, were the clothes. I'm sure this must have been an Easter occasion and we should be thankful that in those days grandmother-units made clothes for such occasions. I like Mike Newman's comment, however best, "Bryan. You look like you're wearing Pizza Hut tablecloths for pants." Me, personally? I was intrigued by the collarless sport coat. Is this what they call a leisure suit?

The photo above inspires me for a lot of projects  I'm hoping I'll one day be able to pull off, including a recreation of such attire now that we're adults. And I'm noticing here that Casey's left hand is a normal size, unlike the other photos posted yesterday where the hand looks like it grew much faster than the rest of her body.

These pictures cracked me up. In fact, Casey captured the tomfoolery with a mini-montage of us laughing in our offices.

This is family interaction 2015 - three siblings off task behind computer screens having flashbacks of personal history while wondering what our parents were thinking when dressing us as they did.  In short, these are the precious moments that make it all worthwhile.

I love my family!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's Too Bad I Can't Get JibJabs Into the Jpeg I Just Created. I'd Be Really Impish Then

I'm the world's worst audience. Several times as an undergraduate my inner demons had me yell out loud what I was thinking silently in my head, only to be asked by an instructor to chill out a little. In professional development in Kentucky, I knew my clownish ways, so I was always first to sit up front and to give my undivided attention to any presenter. This was so I could be away from Alice and her one liners that always got me giggling out of control, which was totally offensive to whoever was training us. As a teacher, too, I was at my silliest when I had my students do their presentations, simply because my humor is what it is, and when I have time to sit still and silent, my brain goes totally bonkers with jokes.

Well, it's not that bad. I'm self-aware enough to know how inappropriate it is and, from a young age, I learned to be better behaved from funerals. At those times, my sister Casey made me laugh. She would chuckle through the wiggling of her nose, while my eyes teared up, my body would begin to shake, and then I eventually burst out with some awkward noise.

I've learned to cope, though, with the art of multitasking. On several committees, I request to be the recorder because I type fast and it helps me to focus on content being delivered. I feel like I'm contributing productively.

When I'm not given this task, however, I tend to find ways to occupy my spastic brain so that I can listen, control the dork within, and look serious while in the presence of others. I've found success with Photo Booth, because it allows me to be silly without others knowing what I'm doing (pacifying my whacky mind). It looks like I'm in serious production mode and I become a much more active listener. I don't laugh out loud or make bizarre noises, because the comedy occurs on the screen for my eyes alone (and Erica's, who had to sit next to me).

Perhaps I shouldn't confess this, but I am more attentive when I'm playing. If I can't be the instructor or the recorder, I have to find a way to keep my fast mind from getting so fast that I make an error and blurt out something highly inappropriate.

We're back at meeting season again which means I can spend five hours a day hearing information that I'm responsible for and where I must passively sit still. I'm bordering on 43 years old and I've never been able to sit still. Yet, I've found therapy in Photo Booth. Okay. Okay. I admit, too, that when someone's cellphone went off in a blues theme I also sang a blues song about being in yet another meeting. Sitting here in a meeting, I have my laptop taking notes. I am thinking of work to do, and keeping my mind from where it floats. I've got the faculty meeting blues. Oh, the faculty meeting blues. That was wrong, but I was really, really good for most of the time, I swear.

And the funnier way I was able to stay focused came from a series of JibJab videos that I made, but they didn't work in the jpeg mode above. I will cherish those in my own spaces and for another day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Son Of A Butch. One Way To Spend a Fro-Zen Day Is, Well, One For the Record Books

Disclaimer: It was brought to my attention that the memory I have for perms in my home-front are not accurate. Dad actually went to a salon to have his curls put in. There may have been a hair-dying festival in the kitchen of my house, but there was no Salon work done on my dad by my sisters and mom. They say I must have demential. Even so, this is the way I remember it.

Sometime in the early 1980s, amidst Dynasty, Knot's Landing, and Dallas, my mother and sisters went through a phase of perming their hair. Actually, it may have been Lori Nikoloff, our neighbor, who started it, or perhaps it was Stephanie Caroli, my best friend's mom who kvetched with my mom about Days of Our Lives and who lived vicariously through the soap opera

"Sue, your husband still has hair," I imagine Stephanie saying in reference to Big Pete who was lacking with a shag-rug up top. "You can totally make your husband look like Roman Brady. That would be the ultimate fantasy for us Clay, New York women. Butch with a perm. He'd look like Mike Brady, but that would be so hot."

Of course, Stephanie would never talk like that, but this is my post and I'm writing from my imagination.

It is true that in the early 80s, I came home one night from riding my banana seat bike when my sisters and mom were giving each other salon perms, no Ogilve. All I remember is they all had these pink rods in their hair with foam padding and a terrible smell. One by one, they unraveled their heads so they looked like Little Orphan Annie, stuck with a day that was gray and lonely. That is, though, when my father, Butch, came out of nowhere with a request that he, too, wanted to have waves on his head. I'm not sure if it was too much Clam Bar or not (and it was wayyyyy before Karl and Chubby's), but my father decided he wanted to have curly hair, too.

I sat in the kitchen as an impressional, elementary school student thinking, "WTF?" Well, I didn't know those words then, but if I did, that is what I would have thought. My father was allowing my mom and sisters to treat his head as if he was a Barbie Doll?

The house smelled like ammonia. Then, after one evening, my mom, little sister, older sister, and DAD had curly hair. I was the adopted kid with my pin-straight bowl cut. Somehow, between Eight is Enough, Punky Brewster, and Quincy, I ended up in a house of curly q's - a short-lived, yet memorable moment in Crandall family history.

Fast forward. It is now 2015 and Chitunga came downstairs last night with a hair kit for relaxing his curls and making his waves more manageable. We were slurping soup when he handed me the box and I read the directions. "Dude, this is a layered process. These chemicals need 30 minutes to work and you're going to need to shampoo twice when you're done. You also will need to rinse in the sink."

All bravado, he responded, "Nah. I got this. I will do it in the bathroom sink." I was like, "Okay, but I think you're going to make my house smell like a Dupont chemical plant." I went to the couch to read a book, while he messed around with his head in the bathroom and a pair of yellow gloves meant to wash dishes. He came out a few minutes later looking like a 90 year old man with vast sea-foam in his hair. He acknowledge, "I must wait 30 minutes."

He tried, and was successful for about 20, when the substances began to burn his head. Then he screamed, "Hey, can you wash this out? It's burning the #$@# out of my scalp." I channeled my father's perm-event from my childhood and told Chitunga to kneel on a chair over the sink. I then sprayed the hell out of his Kool-Whipped head, getting rid of the mayonnaise he applied.

It wasn't perm night at 5388 Amalfi Drive. Nope, this was Hairspray, 2015, in Stratford, Connecticut.

After Chitunga was rinsed, he ran into the bathroom to apply formula A followed by conditioner B, and I went back to reading. I was thinking to myself, "Seriously? Did this just happen? Did I just wash Luster's S-Curl Comb Thru Texturizer, Extra Strength out of this kid's hair as it was burning his scalp and eyes?"

I did.

And I realized I spent the evening of my Snow-Day, completely Fro-zen. In his 'fro' I found a 21st century ZEN from the everything, I guess. It all is evolving at exactly the right time (Abu and Lossine, where were you on this one? This is your territory. This was out of my league).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Warning! Humorous Cuss Words In This Post, But Brilliant Explanation of Juno The Blizzard, 2015

I'm writing this post the night before the actual blizzard hits. I'm curled on the couch under a blanket after the University let everyone go at 2 p.m., the gym closed at 4 p.m., I contacted all my graduate students about cancelled evening classes, and I cooked a kielbasa, hot sausage, pepper, tomato and Indian spice medley. I then settled down to watch Syracuse basketball and began to listen to the howling winds.

Meanwhile, Chitunga studied upstairs, sending me texts that read, "Can you keep it quiet down there? I am trying to study."

I tend to scream at the television, especially when Syracuse is in a rhythm and actually playing like a NCAA tournament team (we'll see if it lasts during the second half).

It looks like NYC has downplayed their predictions to 12 inches, but we're still in the pink with 12-24 inches. At 8 p.m., no snow is falling, but it is eerily quiet on the streets. The normal hum of traffic died before 5 p.m. as everyone seemed to heed the warnings and call it an early day.

Personally, I am thinking this is smart, as it keeps the roads clear for what is inevitably to come. So much is cancelled, including many of our MLK celebrations planned for this week - a bummer, indeed. They will be rescheduled, I am sure.

And when I awake, I imagine I will spend much of the morning cleaning the driveway and pushing the bulk where it will fit.

Deep down inside, I hope it is what they predicted. There needs to be a reason why all the bread loaves at Stop-n-Shop disappeared in the anarchy. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

And As I Pulled My Hair Out, I Also Pulled Out This Little Guy To Laugh With Me. Dossier Time. Ugh.

Over the weekend, I faced the inevitable. That is, on February 1st my dossier is once again due to the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions. In order to organize my portfolio, it has been my custom to lock myself in my office - well, the entire first floor of Canisius Hall - to sort, label, file, and make sense of all the work that was accomplished since the last February rendition.

From the time I left home on Sunday morning and reached the office, a snow possibility turned into a blizzard watch. By the time I left the office at 4, it was a warning and the Mayor of NYC was doing a speech about the epic amount of snow that might arrive.

Before I packed up to leave, however, I realized I left one of my piles in the hallway. Funny, last year when my materials were returned to me, I placed them under the laughing dog my nephews bought me for Christmas in 2013. I decided it was a good time to drop the little guy to the floor so he could laugh with me.

I teach tonight and tomorrow night and the emails are already coming in wondering whether or not classes will be held. It's always up to the University, of course. In the meantime, I'm sort of laughing at the event and the snowplowing ahead. My driveway is a mountain from hell and it is walled on both sides so there's not much room to throw the bulk of white stuff. My goal was to be 'outta here' before another storm came, but The Great Whatever is buttering its celestial popcorn so the entertainment can continue from above.

There's nothing funny about a severe storm, but there's much to celebrate with Nordic perseverance. So, here's to the next couple of days. Monday...as always, I welcome you to kick of the week.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Funny How I Spent My Saturday Snow Day - Writing a Letter To Our Federal Government In Opposition of Their Proposal

Yesterday, I participated in the democracy that I've grown to love. Whether or not the powers that be ever read or listen to the voices of individuals like me is unknown. Cynics say there are larger mechanisms making decisions with or without input from the larger citizenry. The latest proposal from national leaders, however, is to tie notions of quality in teacher preparation to how students perform on national tests. If we don't laugh, we just might start to cry. These are my thoughts that I shared yesterday morning:

Dear National Leaders,

Although I am a strong proponent of high expectations and teacher excellence, I'm extremely concerned about ED-2014-OPE-0057. For the last 20 years I've been an urban school educator in three states. Currently, I oversee 600 educators through the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield (part of the National Writing Project) where I actively seek and implement grants to support K-12 teachers. Training the best teachers for America's schools is what the work is all about.

In the last decade, however, there's been a tremendous move to blame teachers for the pangs within our democracy. Politicians and ill-informed reformists have found ways to make money on educational gaps and, to be frank, it is sickening. Research shows that the vast divides in our schools arrive from economic disparities. The field knows what works in America's classrooms, but financial resources to get there remain scarce. Those kids who have the least deserve educators who have the most to offer, but our government has not been putting the funding where their mouths are.

In the last ten years I've watched teachers give more and more while given less and less, especially in the poorest schools. Funding has dwindled and most infrastructures for supporting teachers have disappeared (funding for professional development, for example, is down 75%). It is as if teachers have had their mouths covered with duct tape, their hands bound behind their backs, and their legs chopped at the knee. At the same time, the nation has demanded they swim across the Atlantic Ocean in record time. If they don't achieve this, they'll be labeled as failures. Expectations have been ridiculous and teacher morale is at an all time low. The short-sighted assessments used in relation to Common Core State Standards and the top-down dictations from the Department of Education are destroying teaching as a profession. The objectives are great, but the support to reach them has been pathetic. Effective and passionate teachers are now saying, "It's too much."

Schools of education have always been tasked with doing their best to train the next generation of teachers and to prepare professionals for the realities of K-12 schools.

ED-2014-OPE-0057 and its desire to rate schools of education on the test scores of young people in k-12 schools is worrisome. Quality will be equated to where Schools of Education send their graduate students. Those who push professionals into highest performing school districts will be rewarded because it is already known affluent districts surpass impoverished ones. Any graduate school that desires to work with struggling, impoverished schools will be punished. ED-2014-OPE-0057 will have the opposite effect for what it aims to achieve. Rather than closing gaps, it will discourage professionals from wanting to work in areas where there are high needs.

At this time, I see no value in ED-2014-OPE-0057 and I believe research in literacy and school reform backs my skepticism. The proposal will cause tremendous damage for the following reasons:

1. The cost will be large. Investments in teachers, school resources, and student support would dwindle as funding continues to move towards more tests and assessments and out of the hands of administrators and teachers.

2. School performance by students is partially the result from the teachers who work with them. Larger influences: poverty, food, shelter, media, etc. impact how students 'do school' and whether or not they will be successful. If national leaders really wish to make a difference in the lives of young people, they need to focus on closing economic gaps first. They need better policies to fight poverty (they also need to spend more time in our nation's schools).

3. Measurements for quality as defined by this proposal are inane. Should a dentist or doctor be fired/judged/evaluated/ assessed by the number of cavities or illnesses their patients have? I don't think so. This proposal punishes those who serve in the neediest communities. It discourages work in high-needs areas because it places the blame on teachers for America's ills, rather than provides resources for teachers and schools of education to help alleviate them.

4. Teaching is a human act. It is a career that transcends economies, business models, and quantitative measurements. Teaching requires building relationships, sharing knowledge, establishing trust, investing in neighborhoods, and loving the potential futures of all youth. This proposal, however, views teaching numerically. Such robotic indicators will only continue to diminish the soul work necessary to reach diverse student populations in our heterogeneous society.

I am shaking my head in disbelief that this proposal is even being considered. I am thinking about kids. I am thinking about teachers. I am thinking about my career for the last twenty years and I'm saddened by our national leaders. ED-2014-OPE-0057 should not be passed. It is terrible.

Friday, January 23, 2015

This One is For Kirsten (and Justin Higgs) And My Mother Who Said I was Tone Deaf

I was on mile four at the gym keeping a faster pace as I get ready for the Run For Refugees in New Haven and continue to push myself to keep in shape (well, Bryan Ripley Crandall shape). That is when the song "Evergreen" came on my iPad and I burst out laughing.

Why? Well, it's not that Justin Higgs - a student of mine in Louisville, Kentucky - was totally afraid of her. He hated her. He despised her. She creeped him out.

It was because in high school, when malls were really cool, even Shoppingtown, they opened this karaoke sound studio where people could record their voices. Kirsten, a lifelong friend, convinced me to go with her so she could record a few songs - she had a great voice. She also thought I should give the studio a try.

Um, I tried to sing when my mom played the piano. She'd wince whenever she tried to get me to harmonize, because I can't sing and am somewhat tone death.

"Sure, Kirsten. I'll give it a try."

And thumbing through the playbook, I recognize Barbara Streisand's name and, for some reason, decided to sing a song I've never heard before - Evergreen. I don't think I ever listened to myself sing before other than the fun tapes Peter Boy and I used to make in my father's garage (mamma say never never now now now now mamma say never now now now).

The ladies who ran the recording studio kept trying to coach me as I attempted to sing the song. They kept laughing as they tried to help me with my range (which is minimal). Meanwhile, Kirsten recorded an entire album without any trouble in another room.

I finished my debut and paid the ladies (who were still laughing), before Kirsten and I ran to her car to play the cassette tapes in her car. We listened to hers first and she was wonderful. She said, "Now, let's listen to yours."

I think we both pissed our pants. In fact, even while I was singing, I was cracking up.

I have no idea what happened to that tape, but if I ever hear it again I might keel over with hysterics (I'm midlife now, after all). And all of that was triggered while running at the gym simply because the song played out of nowhere.
You and I will make each night a first 
Every day a beginning 
Spirits rise and their dance is unrehearsed 
They warm and excite us' 
Cause we have the brightest love

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It Takes More Than A Single Feather To Help An Eagle To Fly. A Community of Feathers Matter

"A single feather can only do so much. A team of feathers, however, can help the bird fly higher than they ever thought possible"
Yesterday, I created this meme after fielding a few phone calls from a young man I've been working with from afar, who dropped out of high school to pursue his music career and whose personal choices have been frowned upon at home and he found himself ousted from the nest. He found another nest, but that didn't work out either and he called me seeking help. He needed advice and somewhere to go to rest his mind and to begin concentrating on how he can get himself on the right path.

I reached out to friends of Chitunga who know the agencies to help kids in a crisis and within an hour I had a list of options the kid could choose from - there are many organizations and individuals looking out for the wellbeing of children in every state. Social workers get little credit for the huge work they do, but they are a reliable source and their connections build highways for which a young man or woman can travel.

I had to laugh, though. When I called the kid to say "here's what I got for you," he responded, "It's okay now. I went home. I heard what you said earlier when I called and I know what I need to do now."

Of course, I got the brunt of his angst. On the phone earlier in the day I seriously thought the kid hit rock bottom. I simply asked a series of questions like, "What would your mother tell me if she made this call? Or your brother?" This angered him and he vented as if I was the sources of his frustration and anger. It was fire. But, I think that is what he needed to do in order to rationalize his predicament.

I made the meme above, though, to send to Chitunga for helping me out. He had connections and resources, locally, that were quickly fielded together to help another bird to land safely in an environment that can best guide his path.

We live in a complicated world and I think it is extremely complicated for our youth. If you're a kid who migrated to this nation from a war-torn country, though, I think there's a battle of living by home culture rules and the mythology created by media that makes the U.S. seem like one easy, giant party meant for a MTV reality show. They buy into the products sold to them and they really think it is much easier than it actually is.

And the laughter continues because such an exercise completely distracted me from my to-do list today. Still, what was done was much, much more important.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This Year, 2015, My Graduate Students and I Are Asking Ourselves About Being Human: Why Are We Here?

We began with a white board last night. Actually, every student was given a word: suffering, empathy, integrity, focus, sense of humor, self-esteem, self-awareness, and Ubuntu. Then they were given the word,
HUMAN,
and asked to apply their thinking about the individual word and what they thought it had to do with being human. Of course, eventually the students came to the question of, "Why are any of us here?" which was my goal of asking such questions.

After all, we're reading We Were Here by Matt de la Peña and that is the question the young teenagers in this novel are also asking themselves, 
despite their suffering, their humanity, their sense of humor, and their need to feel alive.

This is what we'll explore this year in my Developmental Reading course as we consider 
theories of literature, ways of reading in secondary schools, best practices for teaching 
students to be active readers who are engaged in the texts they choose and other areas 
to avoid what Gallagher calls Readicide

I'm looking forward to exploring a new texts with another crop of students and to tie the 
Literacy4Life tools within the course (especially in its relation of asking enduring questions 
through the Jesuit University Humanitarian Network). 

And we shall see. Maybe at the end of the semester I will have a better idea of why such 
questions matter and why reading is so important.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

One of those moments...a back to school conversation where everything made perfect sense.

The goal since last week was to make a trip to IKEA in New Haven to get a small shelving unit for Chitunga's books that he purchased for his first semester as a full-time college student. His classes begin in less than a week and I promised him we'd suit up a mini-office area in his room.

He's known since day one that the twins taught me the three ways to be successful in America: education, education, and education. I realize, too, that education has been my mother and father. And so it must be his.

We then pulled into a Targets to get baskets for the shelving unit (to store his goods) and we stopped in the parking lot for another of the deep conversations we've had over the last few months. The dialogue usually balances between what support he needs and what expectations I have. It's a security issue, one of trust, honesty, and communication - the areas we've worked on since day one. As normal, the layers of talk were thick and I told him, "We got to get this out before we go into the store."

As we talked, I told him, "We might want to stop for a second and reflect that we're discussing this on Martin Luther King day. Here he is a Zambian/Congolese kid who survived a tough school district. He's met my cousin who does his work in S. Africa, my family, and all the young men who joined forces with me when I was in Syracuse. We've had numerous conversations about the military, Ferguson, an American dream, hard work, making money, global responsibility, and ethics. After we talked, we shook hands and briefly hugged before looking into the distance to see a giant American flag. I said, "That means something."

Of course, then we ran into a mini-globe and I said, "You need this for your desk, too." No, the water is not blue, but black and that is a part of the appeal. I told him, "As long as your under my care, you cannot forget global history and the darkness that comes from violence, conflict, and the unwillingness to get along. In my house, you think globally and act locally. You keep that flag close to your heart, and you make education a priority."

It seemed like a great way to spend yesterday after I left my office. It was my nod to Martin Luther King and commitment to seeing another kid succeed.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Remembering My First Year At Brown, When Bonnie Shared MLK's Wisdom With 5-Year Olds

In 1998, Bonnie Cecil asked my seniors to come downstairs to her kindergarten room to watch a video featuring Martin Luther King and to have the older kids help the younger ones write their own "I Have A Dream" speeches. As we walked downstairs that first year, I wondered how King's wisdom would go over on such young minds, but I quickly I learned of his message's power. The young kids sat glued to the black and white screen and opened their minds, hearts, and souls to what they were hearing from a legendary speaker and sage.

In return, the seniors pulled out thick lined paper that hosted room for kindergarten drawings and guided the kids to write visions for their own hopes for the future The yearly tradition of this day became something I looked forward to every year.
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. (MLK, August 28, 1963)
I was born 9 years after MLK's "I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH" and now, 51 years later, his wisdom n still resonates. In retrospect of the vast majority of schools I work in, too, I'm wondering where national leaders are in relation to King's contributions and historical legacy. It seems there's a lot of talk out of both corners of the mouths of this country.  The schools named after Martin Luther King, after all, continue to lag behind more affluent and resourced suburban schools. With the continued drop out rates, the new movement of corporate chartering of urban schools, and the willingness to invest LESS in public schools, as well, makes me wonder if our politicians need to reread Martin Luther King's contributions or be called for their hypocrisy.

It's Monday. Martin Luther King Day, and I'm remembering the eyes of Bonnie's kindergarteners - the diverse medley of human beings that was the Brown School  - and recalling the dreams that matter most.

Dreams of children should always be a priority for the United States. The dreams of children. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

And The Great Whatever Gets a Kick Out of Watching Me Work From Above (Eating Popcorn)


I am going to have to face it. Eric Spina at Syracuse University once told me, "Getting a doctorate and taking a faculty job is a lifestyle choice. The pace is what it is and it never lets up."

Looking at my January calendar yesterday I realized the yearly dossier is coming quickly. That means I have to update my CV and cover letter to scribe all that's been accomplished in the last 365 days. I welcome the yearly tradition to reflect, but because I am always doing reports for NWP and grants, I feel like I keep saying the same things over and over again (and that is why I am advising myself to cut and paste).

And, as always, I'm thankful for college basketball as background noise as I look in the January mirror of the 365 days that have just been - even when my teams seems to tank at the glass yesterday.

I often tell my colleague, Ryan, I don't mind working and doing as I do, but having to stop everything to tell everyone what I'm doing is the place in the year that drives me the most nuts. I get it, though. Higher Education is a competitive environment and colleagues want to be sure their colleagues are holding their own. That is what the peer-review process is all about and, because February 1st is rolling upon me quickly, it's time for me to once again submit my materials.

Fortunate for me, Syracuse University's Future Professorial Program (FPP) conditioned to be in this habit. Like Pavlov's dogs, I salivate when the bell is ringing and that's what they do in my department after the holidays.

And so, drool is dripping from the corners of my mouth in the academic slop that has become my life.  I feel like Lossine's pillow after a night of sleep.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

In The World of Global Conflict, There's Little Room For a Sense of Humor. Just A Lot To Think About

Chitunga, Pam and I went to opening night of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. I've been intrigued by the trailer of the film and was sold during an interview with Cooper and his conversation about the real Chris Kyle who had four tours in the middle east and heroically accomplished what he set out to do as a Texan standing for the democracy he believed in.

The theater was sold out and, as Pam remarked, "I've never left a theater of this many people in such silence. The quiet is eerie."

Actually, the peace was respect for Kyle's narrative and how it impacts the way we look at American privileges in our own lives. I thought, "Hollywood is great at taking 10 yeas of life and condensing it into a 2.5 hour movie, but the Seal's real journey was likely to be more intense, difficult, burdening, and stressed." Still, Cooper played the role brilliantly and it is a movie that I rate near the top I've ever seen - even if I did remark that I'm not sure I like to see such epic stories in pompous, cinematic form. I'm not even sure the book can capture the meaning behind this man's life.  Yes, Cooper should win awards for his acting, but the real accolades need to go to the hero who actually lived that life, Chris Kyle. The awards should go those who served in the military and who do not have movies made after the contributions they've made.

Kyle, two years younger than me and Casey's age, was directed to keep 'an eye' on the streets of Iraq to keep the Marines safe as they carried out their mission. The insurgents referred to him as the 'Devil of Ramadi' as he successfully had 160 confirmed kills as he took out men, women and children intent on blowing up and destroying American soldiers. It is a responsibility most of us would never be able to handle, especially when the young were used in the plots to foil Western missions.

Intense. That's what it really was. Intense. And the ending, although tragically sad, was handled with poise and ease. The montage, I felt, was the film's greatest attribute.

Of course, the film also makes you wonder whether the Iraqi efforts were worth the time and money, especially when considering PTSD and the wounds many soldiers returned with. It's a conflict without the glory of WWI and WWII and with less definitive territories and strategy.

We were up late afterwards talking about the film and thinking about Kyle's life. It's definitely a movie to see, but more importantly it is a movie to discuss with others and to inspire more inquiry about the purposes of conflict, hatred, and military actions.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Well, Crap. Beyond Grants, Proposals, Workshops, and Conferencing, This JPEG Wins The Day

Isn't she a beauty? Yes. I am a scattelogical learner who, in 1999, Justin Leonard coined the phrase. What is it? Well, there are a few individuals who learn best by totally inappropriate potty humor. That is, adolescent jokes trump the day and total engagement comes from the silliness of middle school fart jokes, poop jokes, and other boyish idiocy.

And this was sent to me. While I am looking for a new house and the possibility of investing in furniture that is 100% Bryan, I get this toilet.

I instantly emailed Lossine and said, 'Dude, I've got your royal throne for when you move to Connecticut."

Chitunga was not as amused.

Even so, I am determined that this will eventually be a commode-ity in my future home.

Talk about hot sh#$. Nice design, though. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Extra! Extra! If You Cracked an Egg On My Face It Would Surely Become Fried! I'm Cooked, Too

Yesterday, I did the third part of yearlong professional development in West Haven Public Schools and highlighted the ways that students can inform and explain via the newspaper genre. It seemed rather timely that CWP-Fairfield did the Literacy4Life event, as the leftover newspapers were perfect models to first get 5th graders comparing and contrasting for information (a state wide assessment for them this year), but also for modeling real-world writing and finding their voice of an article that they'd want to write should they create a 5th grade chronicle.

I did the workshop twice, and each time I said to teachers, "Man, this is like a Sunday morning Starbucks in here!" Everyone was totally engaged with the Stagazine. 

The young people worked on creating original headlines from a free-write we did, and sold me stories about their worlds from their creative catch-phrases.

After, I had the fortune of working with 60 fifth and sixth grade teachers on additional ways to expand the ways the students write to inform and explain. We did an Op-Ed activity - one that was similar to the one I did with teachers in the summer invitational (that resulted in the CT Mirror publications: Special Report: Education, Diversity and Change in Fairfield County).

I had to laugh, though. As teachers flocked into the auditorium, they did as middle school kids do. They found seats as far away from the presenter as they could, scattering themselves everywhere out of shouting distance. They say that teachers are the worst students, and I always laugh when they do this (knowing that my colleagues and I also did the same - who wants more PD, especially at the end of a day?).

I was thankful, though, that an administrator pulled authority and everyone moved front and center - sort of - so I didn't need to use a microphone.

Teachers today have so much on their plate and I don't blame them one bit. Whenever I do the Op-Ed activity (with political cartoons on education) the emotions grow strong. It is interesting to connect such emotions (and humor) with the horrific killings of illustrators in France, too - murdered because they express themselves in whimsical ways. It fascinates me that such memes can communicate so much (and challenge viewers culturally, politically, and historically).

I guess I can say that those that work in American schools right now are lying under a pile of rocks. I imagine I'd be frustrated, too, if some University fellow came into my school to ask, "Have you thought about this? What if you had students do things this way? Why not have them write for reasons beyond state assessments?"

That's the Catch-22. Teachers are under the assessment guns. Even so, I think the day turned around and was successful for these individuals. If I inspired 2 or 3 to think about their practice in a couple of new ways, then I can say that yesterday was a good day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Not That Urination Is Meant To Be A Sign From The Great Whatever, But Sometimes I Really Wonder.

Bryan - oh no! To pee or not to pee- that is the question- Now you see-There is always a line ahead of me.  
Yesterday, my older sister was going through her drawer at work and she found this poem - one written by my poetic inspiration, Grannie Annie. I don't remember these lines, but Cynde has been using it from time to time in her job of testing bus drivers for drugs and alcohol. I guess she pulls it out to read when someone is having difficulty.

She sent it to me in a text yesterday and I had to laugh. That was Grannie Annie, always composing verse from whatever she was witnessing around her. I imagine I had to use the loo and someone was already in her single bathroom and I was growing antsy. Always quick to script a poem about everything, I suppose she penned these words.

Fast forward. Yesterday I looked at a spectacular piece of property that was everything I wanted and then some. The trouble? Well, it only had one bathroom and I'm not ready to move to a world of the single toilet again. It's too much. That, and it is on the second floor which makes my first floor habits a little tricky.

Then Cynde noted that this little poem may be a sign from the Great Whatever that Grandma is thinking about me and my housing situation. The real estate agent discussed with me the ways to add a first-floor bathroom inexpensively and how it will help the value of the home that is truly a great price for Connecticut.

So, I'm cracking up on a Wednesday morning before I head off for a day of teaching 5th graders (my favorite grade) and working with K-8 teaches on teaching informative/explanatory writing. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Two Weeks Into the New Year and I'm Already Craving A Buddhist Sanctuary And Sanity In the Chaos

I did take a week off, I swear I did. I did. I did. I did.

And then I returned to January: 1,100 kids for Literacy4Life event, the MLK Essay contest, the Youth Leadership Academy, NCTE proposals, grant applications, a new semester, professional development to lead in schools, the LRNG grant and ordering items, the Assignments Matters event, chapters to finish editing, and the good ol' February 1st dossier.

Kill me. I'm trying to stay sane, really I am.

Actually, when I drove home yesterday I decided that the first thing I need to do is head back out to the gym. It's too wet to run and exercise keeps me focused and sane. That was successful and I was able to return for another three hours of productivity.

But, before I went to sleep I began thinking about enlightenment, the passion I have for the Siddhartha story, the goal of finding true peace while living on earth, the art of meditation, and true bliss 24/7 and 365 days a year and I grew bummed. I'm far from such happiness and like the cartoon above I'm wondering, "Are we there yet?"

Since the new year, several of my favorite minds have written that they're tired of the rat race and looking for a more sane, calmer existence. Some are choosing to go off the grid and away from social media. Others are prioritizing their families over their academic life. I simply want to have mental relaxation from time to time. The academic life is all encompassing and, sadly, I believe that the vast majority of the work and stress is sucked up in a vacuum of total uselessness, ego, and other esoteric shenanigans. That work I despise.

But working with kids and teachers, being out in schools, helping someone move towards their next goal, and offering advice and insight I love. For several years I had that bliss in Kentucky. But times change, ideas shift, and one must move on.

I guess I'm still taking a trip towards nirvana and wondering if I'll ever get there. Most likely, this won't occur until there is eternal sleep which, now that I think about it, seems to be the stress-free utopia so many of us seek. Ah, but not yet. There's too much work to be done.

Monday, January 12, 2015

And Then There's the Moment When You Pull Out A Photo Album When You Were 19 and Think, Uh - Oh

This is the new reality of Crandall in 2015. With a 19-year old in my house and suddenly having to think like an authority over a 19 year-old in my house, I couldn't help to remember that when I was 19 years old, I moved to London on an exchange for a semester.

Trust me. We look highly innocent here, but we weren't. I like to think that times were more innocent in 1992, but when we first arrived to London we had to circle the city for hours because the Irish Republican Army had bombed a part of the city where we were supposed to live. Yes, things were political back then, too.

But that wasn't on our mind. We were in a new country to study the culture, to read good books and to hopefully find a pint or two we enjoyed (as we were of legal age to drink).

Note: My Wigmore Place crew introduced me to more experiences in six months than I've had in my entire life. Actually, these were my roommates - the others on our trip offered even more tomfoolery and when I put it in perspective to having Chitunga - age 19 - in my house now, I am a little overwhelmed.

My trip to London as a sophomore in college was the single most, life-changing experience of my life. In one semester, I grew more comfortable in my own being, met Carol Boyce Davies and Beryl Gilroy who changed my global and cultural perspective, and learn to be intellectually and emotionally independent. I fell in love with one girl, then another girl, and then a third and fourth.
Actually, I learned from this trip to simply fall in love with life.

And that was 22 years ago. I think about this one semester and can honestly attest that it pushed me onto the path that I'm on today. In 1992, I began to learn more that the world was much larger than my Clay, New York upbringing. While I was studying in England, civil wars were occurring in Africa - wars that eventually uprooted the families of so many of the young people I've worked with over the last 7 years (including Chitunga, who was born out of the aftermath of the Congolese conflicts). It is interesting to me to note that while learning about colonialism and post colonialism as an academic exercise, real lives of African youth were actually being created. The seed planted at that time is now the series of trees that stand in the forest of everything I do.

Yes, 19. So innocent. Yet, I was focused then (and a bit of the uptight, do-gooder who tried to real sanity into the insane). Still, I definitely was a part of it all and I guess I should say, "I'm so lucky things didn't turn out worse."

In the meantime, that's not the way it's going to be in my house (I write, while cracking up. Ugh).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sometimes It's a Simple Dinner That Makes Me Crack-Up. Well, Check My Cultural Tendencies a Bit, and....

For several years now I've looked up to my cousin, Mark, as an inspirational role model who navigates the globe to make a tremendous difference. Since we were longer-haired hippies in our more youthful days, he's impressed me with his work ethic, drive, networking skills, and vision to provide youth programming in southern Africa, Zimbabwe, and Canada. I've often wondered how he does it all and, to be honest, I still haven't a clue.

Even so, I continue to learn from him and value his friendship and mentoring.

Last night, I took him to dinner at a nice Italian eatery in Milford (it's the least I could do given all the hosting kindness he's offered me on visits in Amagansett). We waited for Chitunga to get back from work and then we ventured out for some grub. The meal was delicious and definitely worth the event of the evening, uniting conversations about growing up, Africa, what it means to be an American, and the work still needing to be done.

Interestingly, as I paid for the meal (an act to celebrate Crandall-hood into the 21st century) I couldn't help but thinking about such ritual in relation to the economics of the line of work each of us do. In one swipe of a credit card (wh'tsh) a meal was consumed - delicious, expensive, and digested. Yet, when thinking about global poverty, the advocacy we do, and the reality of trying to make it as a new American, the cost of such a meal put me in a bit of a tizzy. Three men eating fancy foods = $$$. I laughed when, later on, Chitunga confessed to me, "The food was good, but it seemed like it was only an appetizer. Where was the rest?"

Yes, proportions at restaurants that are more expensive tend not to be as generous (he writes, watching a portion of his paycheck disappear in the name of family, love, appreciation, and brotherhood).

In the end, it's all good. All good. The fact that the three of us could bond over grub and conversation was worth the investment of the meal. As I noted to both, "these are the events that matter the most in the vast universe. It's a tribute to staying focused on what we're all here to do."

And my pan-seared Mahi Mahi was outstanding. I admit that I refused to look at the price - I just pulled out my credit card.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

When It Comes Full Circle in Four Years and You Realize, "Wow, That Went Quick" - WUSAH!

Four years ago, I moved to Connecticut in hopes of building the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield site and to be a little closer to my cousin in Amagansett and his Hoops4Hope organization. My first year at Fairfield, I had freshmen, including Steven Johnston, in my English course. At the time, Steven wanted to play on the Stags basketball team and was given a position as watery. In that first year, I talked and mentored Steve to stay with it and by his junior year he was on the team.

Now, Steven is a senior and starts on the Stags team. He lived with integrity and proved everyone wrong with perseverance and hard work. When he was a freshman, he often visited my office and I told him about my cousin's work in Africa and his dedication for Hoops4Hope.

Yesterday, Mark was able to interview him during the halftime show at the Fairfield University Stags School game hosted on campus. It was the first of its kind and CWP-Fairfield, Fairfield Athletics and Stop&Shop Groceries brought 1,100 kids to campus to watch the lady Stags beat the St. Peter's Peacocks. We were proud supporters of Literacy4Life and proponents of reading, writing, thinking and athletics.

Witnessing Mark and Steven on the court at half time helped me to see that "if you build it, it will come." It was a proud moment, indeed.

Here's to the success of yesterday (and the recovery of today).

Friday, January 9, 2015

The funny part is how logical it was to be a priority. What's right is right. And I am thankful for any support.

Yesterday, I received six bags full of clothes suitable for athletic teenagers: sweatshirts, jeans, t-shirts, running pants, shorts, bathing suits, dress shirts, etc. I was told, "Bryan, we were cleaning out our son's closets at home and we realized how much they have and how some of it has never been worn. Would you like to look through them to see if any of the clothes would be suitable for the young people you work with?"

And that's what I did. Six bags didn't seem like a lot until I sorted it out and turned my bed into a garage sale. I sorted by size and make, so that it would be easier to distribute the goods in Bridgeport and New Haven. She was correct. Most of the clothing was brand new and had never been worn. I am thinking that another rendition of Christmas will be coming to several later this month.

I know, too, that I have a closet full of clothing. I also have a cabinet of running shoes and it's hard for me to get rid of any of them. I always think of them as a style I liked at a certain time in my life. But when I think about global realities, I'm uncomfortable with all I have. Shoot. I probably have a tie for every day of the year, too. It's American, I know.

The work I do in schools, however, helps me to see that my excess is not the cultural norm and that many kids - more specifically, relocated and immigrant kids - would totally appreciate donated clothes, especially that is new. This, I am glad to say, I can do. I can do it with pride, as well.

Yes, I was focused last night as I sorted and categorized, but I also had to laugh a little at how I quickly stop everything on my agenda to do such a task. I'm unsure where such work comes from, other than the lives of several refugee youth changed my worldview forever.

So, today - it's Ubuntu. Ubuntu at the same time I'm cracking up.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Thursday Morning Metaphor: Beep Beep. You're On the Edge of a Cliff and You Have To Think Fast. Zoom.

Meep Meep.

Chitunga presented a metaphor a few nights ago that I've been thinking about ever since. He was discussing the dilemma a parent would face if they had two kids, both who were falling off a cliff - hanging on the edge - and what the parent would choose to do, should both kids be grasping for their lives.

I am picturing Casey, Cynde, and me hanging on a cliff by our fingernails. Butch and Sue come running to our rescue and work frantically to capture us from falling, knowing that gravity will do what it does. Sustaining our bodies on the edge for too long would be unlikely. Which of the three kids would they grab?

His analogy, as I heard it, was that he wondered who would reach for him.

As I thought about this conversation - and the depth of the dialogue that it was embedded in - I kept thinking about this cliff dilemma. In fact, it was on my mind all day yesterday and I couldn't help but think about what he was wondering by suggesting the story as a possibility.

I stewed on this for a day and realized, given my home situation and current living conditions, that I would indeed rescue him if he was hanging by his fingernails on a cliff.

Of course, I had to also tell him the truth. "In every scenario I imagine for myself, I keep seeing the same thing. Crandall has never been a hero. He's much more comfortable being a fool and living a life of silliness and impossible ridiculousness."

So, when I returned last night I told him that I would, INDEED, attempt to save him if he was hanging from a cliff by his fingernails. He can count on me for that. I'm in. That's a no-brainer. What I wanted him to know, however, is that my attempt to be brave, heroic, and grandiose has the likelihood that when I grabbed onto his wrist and pulled him up, more than likely I would falter in my quest to save him and inevitably catapult to my doom, as well. "Ahhhhhhhhh. Shit. Crandall, You stupid idiot. You lost your footing. Ahhhhhhhhhhh." SPLAT.

My point.

I'm not a savior. I want to be in my mind and soul, but I know myself enough to realize that my roads to good intentions are paved with all types of H-E-double hockey sticks. The gesture of a good deed, I kidded with him, would more than likely end up in my demise. This is, after all, what happens if a Woody Allen fool like myself tries to be bravado and over the top miraculous. The attempt would look great, but the reality would be something meant for Saturday Night Live.

But I would try. I am always trying.

Meep. Meep.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's the Trailer Joke. The Trailer Joke Gets Me Every Time, @kwamealexander. Worthy of Today's Laugh


I knew when Kwame Alexander posted his extended book trailer for The Crossover on his Facebook page that I needed to repost it here, too. His back and forth rationalizing for his successful poetic novel cracks me up, as does the roosters in his office and what looks like a frog perched behind him at his desk (ribbit ribbit).

Seriously, a tremendous part of Alexander's textual charm is that he exhibits similar personality in all that he does. His creativity drips from his enormous shoes in every step that he takes - is that the same strut as the acoustic rooster?

This extended trailer cracks me up, but also humbles the work that many of us in Connecticut have been doing throughout the last year. The teachers at Hill Central Academy, especially, as well as Kathy Silver's students at Bassick and the young people of Ubuntu Academy all have representation in his clip. In some ways, he's captured the essence of his texts and how powerful they've been in the classrooms of Nutmeg educators.

And here's to the year ahead and hoping the paths will continue to cross in amazing ways.

Cockledoodle doo! As KA writes in The Crossover,
Basketball Rule #5 
When
you stop
playing
your game youve already lost.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Seems To Me That Syracuse Might Be in For a Few Winter Jokes Given Accumulation Predictions

Q. What do you get when you cross a shark with a snowman? A. FROSTBITE!

Q.  What do Snowmen have for Breakfast?
A.  Snowflakes

Q.  How does a Snowman get to work?
A.  By icicle

Q.  How can you tell a Snowman from a Snow Woman?
A.  Snowballs

OK - maybe not so little kid-funny… but good for the teens.  Yucca Yucca Yucca

Q.  What do snowmen wear on their heads?
A.  Icecaps

Q.  What do snowmen eat for lunch?
A.  Ice Bergers

Q. Where does a snowman keep his money?
A.  In a snow bank.
Q: What sort of cakes do snowmen like best?
 A: Ones with thick icing
Q. What do Snowmen call their offspring? 
A. Chill-dren.
Q.  What kind of math do Snowy Owls like? A. Owlgebra. 
Q.  How do you know if there's a snowman in your bed? A.  You wake up wet!

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Didn't Laugh, Necessarily, But I Did Think About Why I Almost Did - Some Things Catch My Attention

How does Crandall spend the last day of his vacation? Somehow he gets coerced into going to a mall. Yes, a mall. The very location on this planet that he detests most (due to his years of working in one while putting himself through college).

The perfume smell. The expensive everything. The crowds. The teenagers trying to be cooler than they actually are.

But then we noticed a woman coming out of Victoria's Secrets with multiple bags, fully addressed in a total Burka. I caught it in the corner of my eye before asking, "Hey, did you see the woman leaving the store just now?"

I then said, "I'm not sure why this catches my attention, but part of me has a slight smile on my face. Yes, while in the mall."

Sure enough, post-holiday sales hosted a wide-variety of dollar-saving individuals and this woman's bags caught my attention. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to call it irony, because I recognize the traditions (both Burka and lingerie) are cultural phenomenon that are historically and socially situated.

I believe it was the very fact that I never thought about what is under all that clothing (probably because it is extremely successful at hindering the imagination). Then I just laughed at my over-thinking, analytical mind as it tried to narrate meaning from the physical meme that presented itself.
I suppose my reaction is parallel to that of any pre-pubescent boy who sees any woman coming out of such a store (ha ha. Underwear. Bras. Panties. ha ha).

Then I remembered Jacob's comment last year at Burlington Coat factory. He was looking at bras and he said, "Whenever I see them I want to play the banjo." I asked, "Banjo?" He said in his four year old voice, "Yes," and pantomimed playing the drums. I then asked, "Do you mean Congas?" in which he replied, "Yes, those."

And with that, I welcome back-to-work Monday to all of us educators returning to our routines.