Random (Possibly Related) Thoughts

Thought One

I just read a column by Nick Kristof about John Wood, the founder of Room To Read. Back in the late 90s I designed the logo for Room To Read. My dear friends Chris and Martina are friends of John’s and asked me if I would be interested in doing a little pro-bono work for a startup focused on literacy. At first the little startup was called Books for Nepal, and the logo was just a type based thing. When things got going and Books for Nepal expanded, first to Vietnam, John decided to rename the operation Room To Read and asked if I would redo the logo. I did. A few years ago I nearly fainted when Anna was watching Oprah and she was interviewing John. One of the images they flashed on the screen was a book which had been published by the Room To Read publishing group. On the book was my little logo.

Thought Two

I woke up a couple of times last night, and each time I caught myself in the middle of a dream about the words “why” and “what.” I have been wrestling with how to better engage the students in my classes in meaningful endeavor towards life-changing insight. (Not the easiest thing when you are teaching fundamentals of math.) I realized the other day that these students, many of whom struggle with learning disabilities, are preoccupied with “what” (as in “what’s the answer?”) when I want to lead them to engage with “why?” I came to this realization when I was sitting in a restaurant the other day with Anna. We were eating Mexican food and at a table near ours was a little girl having dinner with her dad. She was engaged in a long conversation about what had happened during her day at school, and the conversation was peppered with “why” questions, almost equally distributed between the girl and her father. Children who benefit from school the most are those who come with a healthy and vibrant curiosity about everything. From the conversation I observed (and from my memory of my children’s early lives) I came to the conclusion that curiosity is a cultivated habit. How then, I wonder, can I plant the seeds and cultivate this curiosity in my students, while honoring the Department of Education’s demand that these children are to be driven towards a single goal: the ability to choose the correct answer from an array of four options on a standardized test? This preoccupation with standardized testing seems to be an antidote to curiosity, driving children and teachers everywhere to be myopically focused on finding the right answer to “what” to the exclusion of “why.”

Thought Three

When I was thinking about John Woods (see above) it dawned on me that he is to philanthropy what Steve Jobs was to technology. Woods initially tripped over an issue and its solution while trekking through Nepal. He could have devoted his life to working through existing channels to address the problem of literacy, instead he took off on his own and revolutionized the process of dealing with an obvious problem that much bigger, well funded institutions have failed to effectively address for decades. In just a few years he had transformed the lives of thousands of children. He was driven by imagination. Like Jobs, Woods can see beyond the limitations of current reality. He isn’t preoccupied with what “can’t” be done, he is focused on what he needs to do. That’s the kind of leadership and vision required for our national system of public education. We need to stop trying to solve the wrong problems. We’re fighting the wrong battles and spending our resources on fixing the wrong things.

Implicit in Kristof’s column(s) is the idea that the value of spending more of our resources on education today, is that we won’t be spending so much of our treasure later on things like military, security, and jails. Jobs didn’t spend his time trying to build a computer to incrementally improve on what he and Wozniak had done with the Apple II or what IBM was doing with the PC — he was trying to fundamentally change the our conceptual model of a computer (“a bicycle for our mind”). Woods is trying to change the world by bringing more people into the conversation about all things by building literacy, one child at a time.

We need the same kind of visionary to guide the conversation about education. Right now I see a lot of really smart people trying to solve the problem that isn’t the most pressing issue. Disruptive institutions like Teach For America are trying to address educational inequity by focusing on teachers. Charter schools are trying to address the problem through a variety of strategies, but share a focus on teachers and improving student’s scores on standardized tests. These are well intentioned efforts, but they aren’t likely to be transformative in the long run because they don’t challenge the existing paradigm of K-12 education. There are some prophets in this wilderness but they don’t seem to be gaining much traction, most likely because the entrenched interests in the world of education are so powerful. We need a Woods or a Jobs to emerge and confront this issue with imagination and creativity.

Sunday November 6, 2011 — Mark — Education living

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The Heartbreak of Violation

I went to get onto my trusty bicycle this morning for a quick trip to the hardware store. As I unlocked and helmeted I noticed that the headlight that was on my bike was missing. Racking my memory, I recalled using the light on my way to work on Friday, and my bike is locked in a cage at school during the day, so the light was definitely on the bike when I locked it up in our garage on Friday evening.

I had been warned at the bike shop when I was given the light that it wasn’t completely secured to the bicycle. It was held on with just a strip of velcro and a rubber loop. I should take it off the bike, Chris said, when I parked it somewhere that wasn’t secure. I assumed that parking in a secure garage with the other residents of my condominium was “secure.” This morning, though, the light was gone.

The value of the light is not significant, I suppose. But it was a gift, given to me by the owner of the shop who sold me the bicycle. (Aforementioned Chris of Cycle Sports on Grand Avenue.) What really hurt is that the light was taken by someone who lives in my building, possibly another bicyclist. My sense of security was violated by someone with whom I may have a passing acquaintance, someone with whom I may share an occasional elevator ride or a brief conversation in the lobby or on the sidewalk. The bonds of trust that are naturally present in a small community were violated over the value of a small, relatively inexpensive object.

What’s heartbreaking is not the loss of the headlight on my bike. What breaks my heart is the sense that someone who lives in my small community has violated my trust and taken something of mine. There’s something in the symbolism of the theft of a light that makes me even sadder.

Sunday October 30, 2011 — Mark — community bikes


Steve Jobs

A few years before we moved back to Oakland from the Midwest we lived in Palo Alto. The first house we lived in was just a few blocks from Steve Jobs’ lovely brick house. One spring the garden on the west side of his property was planted with California poppies. It was a stunning sight to walk by and see the yard in full bloom. There was something magical about the house, too. So modest. So fitting for a man who’s iconic outfit was a mock turtleneck and jeans. The place looked comfortable.

I met Steve one time. I was walking home from a shopping trip to the Apple Store on University Avenue and ran into him on the sidewalk on Waverly Street. I was toting my Apple store purchase in one of their small drawstring shopping bags. He noticed it and smiled. I was nearly struck dumb. “I love what you’ve done,” I stammered. “Thanks,” he said and continued towards downtown with his daughter. I walked home and thought about all the clever things I could have said on the occasion of meeting one of my heroes. It was a fleeting moment, but I have thought about that encounter often in the years since.

Here was the guy who made something called the iPod. A guy who made gadgets and tools with soul. He was, even then, years before the iPhone and the iPad, the most visionary of technology CEOs. And what was he doing on that beautiful summer evening? Walking downtown with his daughter. They were heading in the direction of the Apple store, but they could have been walking downtown to get an ice cream cone. She was holding his hand and they were walking and talking. The lasting impression of that moment is the image of a dad taking a walk with his daughter.

The man with the turtleneck and blue jeans. Comfortable. Like the John Mayer song. A dad. A husband. A person who clearly knew love.

I don’t imagine there is another CEO for whom I would shed a tear on the news of his death.

Wednesday October 5, 2011 — Mark — living


Dirty Car?

If your car is dirty, consider taking advantage of the Edna Brewer Middle School car wash on Saturday. Drive to the corner of Beaumont and 38th Street to access the services of our 6th graders.

Calling All Dirty Cars!

Please be sure to come out and support the 6th grade car wash this Saturday, October 1, from 9:30-12:30 on the upper field. All proceeds benefit the Edna Brewer PTSA and school programs.

See you there?

Thursday September 29, 2011 — Mark —


RFK On Who We Are

Bobby Kennedy may have been even more of an idealist than his brother John. (And when I use the word “idealist” I mean it as a high compliment.) In a campaign speech in Lawrence, Kansas, (a few months before he was assassinated) he called on Americans to live by the ideals which define us.

I run for the presidency because I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity, but they cannot, for the mines are closed and their jobs are gone and no one – neither industry, nor labor, nor government – has cared enough to help.

I think we here in this country, with the unselfish spirit that exists in the United States of America, I think we can do better here also.

I have seen the people of the black ghetto, listening to ever greater promises of equality and of justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddled in the same filthy rooms – without heat – warding off the cold and warding off the rats.

If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.

And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. JFK Library: Robert Kennedy Speeches

President Obama is grappling with this dichotomy today. Political power is concentrated in the hands of those who are obsessed with the GNP and materialism, and their influence seems to have caused the president to lose sight of the ideals we hoped would drive his presidency. The hope and change he promised seemed rooted in the idealism that Robert Kennedy expressed in Lawrence over 40 years ago. I remain hopeful that Obama can recapture the vision and inspiration that seemed so present in his campaign.

Saturday September 3, 2011 — Mark — culture community


Marx was right

I’m back in Oakland after a 6 week exile in Los Angeles. During my time away I watched as the US congress failed to take decisive action to restore balance to our economy. It’s good to be back, but the reality of our government’s failure to act in the interest of all it’s citizens is brought into relief by what I encountered when I got home. The school where I work will have fewer employees this coming year. Those who lost their jobs are victims of government policies that ignore the value of American workers. Our congress is currently obsessed with serving the interests of the super rich, refusing to raise taxes on multimillionaires so that people who work to educate our children can keep their jobs.

Capitalism works as long as there’s a balance between the interests of capital and labor. The dire situation in our schools is a canary in the coal mine for a nascent economic disaster. Economist Nouriel Roubini reminds us about what Karl Marx observed in the epic “Das Kapital”:

“Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself,” said Mr. Roubini, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We thought markets worked. They’re not working.”

What kept capitalism alive for so long in America, and what will eventually save us from a complete revolutionary disruption, is high taxes on capital gains. The self centered and greedy argue that there should be no such taxes because they are an obstacle to wealth creation and an unfair redistribution of wealth. They are unwilling to acknowledge that capitalism depends on a redistribution of wealth through the exploitation of labor. Taxes merely serve as a balancing factor, preserving the value of labor so that the mass of society (laborers) continue to have some effective purchasing power and remain viable.

Warren Buffet argues in favor of higher taxes in his August 15 New York Times editorial, Stop Coddling the Super Rich. He may not be channeling Karl Marx, but his point, that Congress should attach higher taxes to money made in capitalist endeavor, acknowledges what Marx posited about capitalism. Buffet, I assume, hopes to continue to make good money through his investments. But he knows he won’t be able to if our economy crumbles.

Buffet observes:

I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation. — NY Times, August 15, 2011

Economies require balance between capital and labor. Buffet recognizes that our economy will collapse if we don’t use taxes to bring capital and labor back into balance. Franklin Roosevelt figured this out, too. His Works Progress Administration increased the power (and value) of the American worker by making the government a big purchaser of labor. By redistributing wealth through the WPA, FDR was balancing our economy to the benefit of both capital and labor. Not every capitalist is as smart as Warren Buffet. Many of them are blinded by their greed and don’t see the risk of continuing to push for lower capital gains taxes.

Some members of congress are not smart enough to see the risks, either. By stubbornly and ignorantly refusing to raise Buffet’s taxes they are risking the viability of our whole economic system. These bureaucrats are responding to the basest aspect of human nature: greed. But government shouldn’t exist to preserve the imbalance of our economic system. It should exist to create balance.

Monday August 15, 2011 — Mark — culture

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New Rickey's Customer Parking

The fine young blogger, Gene at Our Oakland, took the time to hunt down the sign I photographed last year and mis-identified as a sign for “New Ricky’s.” Gene’s efforts paid off big time: he not only figured out that I mis-read the sign (it says “New Lucky’s) he found a couple of artifacts from New Lucky’s.

Thursday May 26, 2011 — Mark — art culture



Mahatma Gandhi on teaching:

A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them. He who learns nothing from his disciples is, in my opinion, worthless. Whenever I talk with someone I learn from him. I take from him more than I give him. In this way, a true teacher regards himself as a student of his students. If you will teach your pupils with this attitude, you will benefit much from them. (from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-gand.htm)

And from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.

It seems to me that much of the conflict in the argument on education reform is focused on the validity of evaluating teachers based on their ability to prepare students for high stakes testing. Certainly it’s important to have an objective measure of what makes a good teacher. But where is the student voice in this conversation? If we take Gandhi’s and Emerson’s advice, we need to look to our students to guide this discussion. As far as I can tell, neither advocates nor foes of “No Child Left Behind” (which should be labeled “no child gets ahead” — can you tell I’m a foe?) are talking to students about what they believe is important in education.

Gandhi also said:

The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.

Children intuitively know what Gandhi is saying. They want an education that is relevant to their growth and development as human beings. The distorted paradigm that Gandhi observes about education reveals our deep disconnect with the idea of vocation. (Vocation, in the sense of the Latin vocatio: a calling to a given way of life.) Education should be a response to this vocational calling, not to some pre-fabricated notion of what serves corporate interests. Children need to have a voice in shaping education because it must be responsive to their vocational discernment. How can we know what and how to teach our children if we don’t to listen to them?

Friday May 13, 2011 — Mark — Education


On my way home from DC

I haven’t written here in a while. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because so much of my writing time is devoted to writing other things. I’m on a plane now, on my way home from the Teach For America 20th Anniversary Summit. (It’s a long trip to Washington DC for a one day event, but in this case it was well worth the time and trouble.) Since I’m officially on my way “back to Oakland” at the moment, and since I have 3.5 hours left on my flight, I figured I’d jot down some thoughts on my current state of mind.

When I started teaching in the fall I was a little naive. Armed with my optimism and a freshly minted intern teaching credential, I hoped to walk into a classroom and change the lives of the children entrusted to my care. While I’ve seen some thrilling successes, there are still obstacles to be overcome. Most of my students have made gains in reading and writing, but there is still a big gap to close.

At the TFA Summit on Saturday we were treated to some incredibly inspiring presentations. NYC Schools chancellor Joel Klein spoke passionately about the need for meaningful change. Incoming LAUSD superintendent John Deasy was funny and smart. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not the most gifted speaker, but he had a powerful message. What these speakers (and others) shared was a passionate commitment to the idea that what goes on in a classroom needs to centered around the single driving ideal—student achievement. And the first question we (not just professional educators, but every person in this country) should be asking ourselves every day is “what am I doing to contribute to that cause?” Our survival as a democracy depends on each of us becoming preoccupied with that question.

In my classroom at Edna Brewer I work with kids who are struggling readers. They’re bright, energetic kids with lots of talents. One is an incredible artist. Another is a talented athlete. Some are funny. I enjoy playing chess with a couple of them at lunchtime. We’ve become friends. But even as I grow to love these children, I see how they continue to struggle to thrive inside a school that is asking them to conform to a relatively inflexible timeline for reaching a somewhat abstract goal. It’s not that I don’t have high expectations for these children—I do. (And they’re living up to those expectations.) At the root of my anguish is the fact that our school system doesn’t credit them for the incredible qualities and skills they already posses. Nor is it asking them to exercise those skills everyday. We ask them to do math, science, English and science. What about art, philosophy, drama, and music?

While I was in Washington at the summit I attended a panel discussion featuring four district superintendents: Cami Anderson of District 79 in New York; John Deasy of LAUSD; John Covington of Kansas City; and Ray Spain from North Carolina. The panel was moderated by my favorite conservative, David Brooks. During the conversation, Superintendent Covington talked about a program Kansas City is piloting at a couple of elementary schools next year. Students will work through curriculum at their own pace. No grade levels—every student is learning while following an individualized plan. Students and teachers are held accountable to standards, but students are able to work to master those standards at a pace and in an order that makes sense for them. The instruction is more flexible, and requires a high degree of creativity on the part of the teacher. Students may work independently or in pairs or groups. Instead of the factory model that we have today, students enjoy a school environment that is customized to their unique needs and abilities. And, unlike today’s system, which was designed to deliver industrial and corporate workers at the end of 12th grade, the students who graduate from these schools will have the opportunity to climb the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy and become creative, analytical, and synthetic thinkers. These are the kids of skills that are needed in tomorrow’s workplace.

As President Obama said in his State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, this is a pressing issue for us. We need to raise a generation of “nation builders” to navigate through the massive paradigm shifts that are presently disrupting our society. We can’t do that with an education system designed in the 19th century. We need an educational system that speaks to children about the serious issues that are tearing at the fabric of our culture. In his recent book “The Empire of Illusion,” former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges speaks of a “cult of victimhood,” and laments the “undiluted narcissism of a society in precipitous decline.” We need a system of education that gives these children a fighting chance at dealing with these issues. Not only does the delivery system need a overhaul, we may need to consider revising the canon. While ancient academics, poets, artists, and philosophers may have grappled with these issues in their day, and while the ancient canon still has meaning, we also need to heed the voices of today’s elite thinkers if we hope to teach our children how to navigate our new world order.

During the past few months I’ve been working to change the trajectory of the lives of my students. And maybe I’m making some progress. But I have let them down in one big way. I haven’t shaped their experiences around the ideal that they will one day need to solve the problems facing this country. Problems that we are as yet unprepared to solve. I know the full weight of that responsibility won’t fall on their shoulders alone. But it is irresponsible not to do all I can to help them develop a vision and a voice for being part of the conversation. That starts tomorrow. We’re starting a dialogue about what it means to become an agent of change. My kids may not read at the same level as some of their peers, but they have the capacity for wise and creative thought. Tomorrow we start exercising that vision and those voices.

Monday February 14, 2011 — Mark — Education culture

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Speaking Truth to Power

In my previous entry I noted the DonorsChoose project I set up for my Speaking Truth to Power unit. I’ve already received several generous donations. When I got up this morning to get ready for school I opened my in-box and found a message that I had received a new donation. The name of the donor caught my eye — Libby Schaaf. Here’s the note she left on the Donor’s Choose website along with her donation:

“I gave to this project because I am running for Oakland City Council and need to speak truth to power every day. The future of Oakland depends on dedicated teachers and inspired students — clearly this project involves both!”

Needless to say, this is a gratifying comment and it is an incredible model for a candidate for office. Just think of what we could accomplish if, instead of spending over a hundred million of her own dollars on campaign advertising, Meg Whitman were to follow Libby Schaaf’s lead and make donations to teachers and classrooms through Donor’s Choose.

Ms. Schaaf (a fellow graduate of Skyline High in Oakland, and a former volunteer at Children’s Fairyland and in Joaquin Miller Park) is a candidate that deserves your support. If you vote in Oakland’s District 4, I hope you’ll consider casting your vote for Libby!

Thursday October 7, 2010 — Mark — Education community


Time Flies

The month of September flew by. Woah! A lot has happened since I last wrote. I’ve found a few students who are enrolled in my reading/writing course. I’ve conducted a couple of IEP meetings. I’m fully engaged in the work of a case manager. Some things are easier than I expected (getting up at 5:45 every day turns out to be pretty manageable — if I get to bed before midnight) and others are tougher (it’s not as easy to figure out why some kids can read at grade level and others can’t as it was this summer in Los Angeles). It’s fun being one of a team of teachers who are attacking the problem of teaching 700+ kids to be to be the best kids they can be. It’s not so fun dealing with a bureaucracy that can’t assign an email address and employee ID to a new employee before said employee begins his job. (I can sign up instantly for an email address which gives me access to an entire ecosystem of online tools if I go to Google, but it takes two weeks to get an OUSD email address.)

Edna Brewer is a great school. I love these students. This late life career change is making me pretty happy. I love the look of the school — the older building is really smart looking — red lockers and black and white checkerboard flooring. It’s tended by the best custodian in the OUSD, Melvin Mumphrey and his staff.

I’ve set a pretty aggressive trio of goals for the kids in my class. In addition to making two grade levels of reading growth and 80 percent mastery of the high priority English Language Arts standards, I’m pushing them to engage in a project called “Speak Truth to Power.” It’s a public speaking project that raises the bar for their ability to use the vocabulary of power. Each student will choose a topic and develop a presentation (it may include art, video, music, or other media) that he or she will deliver orally to the class, parents, teachers, and administrators. To enrich the project I’ve set up a DonorsChoose.org page with grant proposal asking for video cameras we can use to create a video component for the presentations. (If you feel so inclined, I’d love it if you’d be willing to make a small contribution or pass the link on to your friends. Huge thanks to my cousin Linda, to Gene at Our Oakland and to my parents, Kathleen and Dave for their early support!)

Because of confidentiality I can’t say too much about my particular students. But I can say that they’re an inspiring bunch of young people, and they’ve completely captured my heart. Nothing will make me happier than to see these kids accomplish these goals. A couple of them are really struggling. It’s a really challenging situation, but there are occasional spurts of progress and I am really optimistic. So far my biggest thrill came on a day when we attacked the goal of learning about figurative language. I read them the poem “Casey at the Bat.” I gave them a choice about how they’d complete an exit ticket for the day. They could answer questions about the terminology and concepts of figurative language or they could write a poem. Two of my 6th graders — the ones who tend to struggle most with reading — decided to collaborate on a poem. Here’s what they came up with:

Save Our Environment

The planet is so sweet and round.
Gas burning by the minute; 
Our sweet planet is dying.
Oh planet, oh planet;
We’re so sad our planet is dying.
What should we do to save our environment?

I think it’s a great poem.

Monday October 4, 2010 — Mark —


School's In

There have been many days of preparation and anticipation for my first day of school here in Oakland. I spent most of last week at Edna Brewer Middle School — getting my room ready, meeting students and parents at registration, learning about Restorative Practice, trying to crack the impenetrable shell of the OUSD data systems to find the names of my students, and meeting other teachers. I spent all of July in Los Angeles learning what it means to write lesson plans and teach kids how to read more fluently and with greater comprehension, and to write with style and clarity. I have been interacting with two very different institutions — Teach For America and the Oakland Unified School District. One is a big, slow moving, well intentioned, and deeply bureaucratic battleship of an institution and the other is Teach For America.

I’ve met wonderful people who care about children, who want to bring real creativity to bear on the problem of educational inequity and social injustice. These people work for OUSD, for the Los Angeles Unified School District, for Teach For America, and for Loyola Marymount University. At the risk of overlooking dozens of people who helped me reach this day, I will name a few who have been extremely helpful in giving me the confidence to do this work. Richard Pelayo, my advisor at TFA Summer Institute; Rachel Torrey, our Curriculum Specialist and cheerleader; Jake Jabbour, my teaching partner at View Park Prep Middle School in LA; Sam Pasarow, the principal at Edna Brewer who gave me a job; Billy Lieberknecht, my TFA program director (and predecessor at Edna Brewer); Meg Stewart, a rockstar teacher and mentor; and, of course, Anna, my mother, my Aunt Chris, the three rockstar teachers in my family who have offered advice, love, and support.

The time is short, the need is great, and I have to get on my bike now and get to work. Wish me well.

Monday August 30, 2010 — Mark — Education

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The Wedding

Happy Couple

Meet Zina, our new daughter! She and Justin joined themselves with a kiss on August 7 in Joaquin Miller park. The weather was fantastic, the gathered community was supportive, and the love flowed freely. I still think about that day each morning when I wake up and catch myself giggling with happiness whenever Zina calls me “dad.”

The day started with a flurry of activity as family and friends shuttled dishes, food, decorations and selves up to the park to prepare for the celebration. Zina’s family had prepared several large trays of roasted lamb, and biryani. Anna, Sonja, Janice, Sarah, Pam, Carrie, Zina, Justin, and I had spent the previous day arranging flowers, preparing salads, making hummus and pesto. All the goodies were shipped to the park and then a little before noon Justin, Nate, and I dressed at my folks. J & N drove up to the park in one car and I picked up Zina and her sisters and we drove up to meet them.

There were goats grazing on the hillside near the cascades where the ceremony was to take place. The crowd had gathered at the bottom of the hill. Zina’s cousin Zina and our niece Kjerstin flung rose petals on the stairs flanking the gurgling cascade as Justin and Zina walked to meet each other to the strains of Al Greene’s Let’s Live Together.

The ceremony was short and sweet, punctuated by words of wisdom from Buckminster Fuller, Albert Einstein, James Joyce, the Song of Solomon, Chuck Palahniuk, and Shel Silverstein. The reception continued until dusk. It was a great day.

Thanks to cousin Larry Hogle and my buddy Casey Daley for the photos on this page.

growing familyAfter the ceremonyTwo generationsdancingtenderProud brother

Saturday August 21, 2010 — Mark — living community

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Teach For America: Institute Week 1

The Powerhouse Theatre

This has been a pretty intense week. We’re up very early every day, we eat a little breakfast, sip some coffee and then board busses to our school sites. I’ve been teamed with Fiona, Katie, and Jake — three incredibly bright and passionate young people who are helping me adapt to the rigor of being a teacher. It’s been really exciting. Our advisor (CMA in TFA acronym jargon), Richard, and our Curriculum Specialist (CS), Rachel, are driving us hard towards our goal: to leave Institute with a comfortable grasp of what it takes to be an excellent classroom leader. If I can learn and internalize half of the strategies they’re teaching we’ll be well prepared.

I took the day off yesterday to give the lessons of last week a chance to stew, and hopped on the Big Blue Bus with Katie (one of my collab team members) and headed over to Santa Monica for some relaxation. Wow — Santa Monica has changed. The once humble downtown and pier have turned into a commercial mecca. I spent a little time on the bluffs overlooking the beach and then decided to walk back to the Loyola Marymount Campus. I realized I would be close to the space where Anna and I and a whole crowd of friends from ACT started a theatre company in the early 1980s, so I plugged the location into the Google Maps app on my phone and decided to set my route so I could walk past the Powerhouse Theatre. That’s the original site of the Pacific Theatre Ensemble (PTE), which has now been renamed Pacific Resident Theatre.

It was fun to see the old theatre — the lot surrounding the building has shrunk since we were in residence there, but the façade was immediately recognizable. We put on a west coast premiere of James McClure’s Thanksgiving and a production of Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Happy End in this space in 1985. The theatre company has become a respected co-operative and fixture in the LA theatre landscape. While I take no credit for what it’s become, I am proud that it still thriving 25 years after we first germinated the seed.

My walk back to campus also took me past a great little coffee place, Groundwork Coffee on Rose in Venice. They serve an array of blends each day and the place is refreshingly earthy and unpretentious. I sat outside and sipped a cup of their Venice blend before continuing my trek. I hit the Whole Foods at Rose and Lincoln to pick up a few avocados and some nuts to snack on in my dorm room, then headed down Lincoln towards the campus. I got to the section of the road just south of Marina Del Rey, where Lincoln crosses Ballona Creek, and realized there were no sidewalks for the next mile of roadway. COME ON LOS ANGELESGET WITH THE PROGRAM! So I waited for the Big Blue Bus to spend 75 cents and cut my walk short.

It’s been a great week. Take a peek at the pictures of my new compadres and keep us in your thoughts. We have four more weeks to go.

Fiona (Katie in foreground)Katie and FionaJake catching some ZZZsDecorating our classroomJake and FionaWe're learning about planning lessons

Sunday July 4, 2010 — Mark — Education coffee

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