Monday, December 29, 2008

Inaugural Poet

I returned recently from a conference in Washington, D.C. and while at the time the inaugural was well over a month away - you could sense the excitement in the air. People were upbeat and optimistic, inaugural specials were being adverstised, change was in the air. Colleagues and I debated whether we would want to be present at the inaugural - standing in the cold with crowds of people around us, not really able to see or hear much but being able to say that we were there. I put in for the "lottery" that our local senator held for inaugural tickets - and alas I have not won. Like many, I will be watching from afar.

As the inaugural program has been announced, much conversation has arisen about the selection of various personalities who will be there. As a social studies teacher, a writer and someone who appreciates words I am most excited to read that Elizabeth Alexander has been selected as the inaugural poet.

Many times over the course of the primary and the election, I have used Wordle and clouds to focus on the word choice that our presidential candidates used. Alexander has captured the beauty of those words and the words of the president-elect in the website announcement of her selection:

"Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.

President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward...

This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in..."

Alexander's poems are thought provoking and powerful. They create images and make the reader think. Among my favorites are the ones written about the Amistad uprising - the various perspectives and her voice in the Southern Atlantic Quarterly article in which she describes the process through which she came to write the poems. Other poems are here - digest them slowly and one at a time, they are best taken in that way to capture the full flavor of her language.

And once you have done that - share them with your students. Encourage them to find the words that describe how they felt on election day - whether they supported the president-elect or not. Help them see how concise and vivid language can pack a punch. And most importantly - after the speeches and swearing in - listen to the poem that Elizabeth Alexander is writing. I am pretty sure it will be amazing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Make a Difference!

Times are tough - the economy is a bit scary and everyone just seems a bit down. I know how incredibly fortunate I am in many, many ways and so it is only right to share that good fortune.

Last night, I read about the work of two incredible bloggers and what they are doing this holiday to "pay it forward." Over at the Fischbowl, Karl Fisch talks about a great way to support Kiva, which provides loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. He is making his contribution but also purchasing two gift certificates for people to contribute as well. His hope is that the people he gives it to will "pay it forward" and do the same. But more importanty, since so many people read his blog and have seen his "Shift Happens" video - he has a chance through his PLN to make a real impact here. I am joining Team Shift Happens!

Laura started her "25 Days to Make A Difference" campaign again this year and little sister Nina is joining in!! Laura and Nina aren't going to be donating money on behalf of the winner this year - instead they will be doing service work and fundraising. This is a powerful statement about our students - and one that I hope many teachers will join her in promoting. Please consider having your classrooms join her here and spread the word!!

Laura and Nina aren't going to be making monetary donations this year - but I am going to on their behalf. Around this time of the year, it takes a little bit to motivate me to exercise as much as I should so for each day between December 1 and December 25 that I exercise at least 20 minutes a day, I will put $5 in a jar. On December 25th, Laura and Nina can tell me where they want that money to go on their behalf for inspiring me. I'll keep you posted weekly on how I do!! (And I promise I won't let you down!)

So what do you say readers - ready to pay it forward?

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds!