Auld Lang Syne

Friday, October 5, 2012

STEM: and I don't mean science, math, engineering, & technology

There is a good deal of flap these days about how children learn, what they ought to be offered in school, and the resultant "results" we might see in the areas of test scores on the short term and quality of life (employment-driven in large part).

As a school board member, I deal with these ideas and willingly engage in the pursuit of better school environment, culture, experience for our students. It has been said, put forth, that we must concentrate our students' school curriculum on STEM subjects. Allegedly, we must do this to increase their post-educational chances in a competitive work world. What will be the "jobs" they might find with or without a focus on STEM? Are we preparing these students for the future where jobs they might land are not at all the jobs of this era, and perhaps jobs that do not even exist right now? For the record, this is an old saw. My parents chattered on about this when I was in school. My grandparents too. Take typing, take cooking, take public speaking. Take chemistry or mathematics. Take psychology because there are more unbalanced people in the world and that number is growing because of the evils of rock and roll.

I heard it all, argued endlessly with my father over the idea that learning to learn and being curious were more important than algebra. (Seriously it IS more important) We went back and forth constantly over how grades came about and fought about whether or not they were important markers for progress and success. It was a battle in which neither of us could declare solid victory. But what I learned from all of it was this:

Be a learner and be interested (curious); apply what you think, what you take to be valid for you based on observation and experience; make a difference for yourself and others with your ideas; be open to the world and all the things in it; be self-assured in the areas of your own accomplishment but don't be arrogant about anything.

I can happily report that these "learnings" have stood me in good stead so far. But here I am, done with child-raising and fussing over my own children's educational lives, and involved yet again with the whole, never-ending questions and attitudes. Nothing much has changed other than the current sagging state of economics (not a change exactly but a resurgence of an old problem) and burgeoning world population. Subject matter discussions still rage on with the same divide in place. What students ought to learn/study vs HOW students might learn/study. We are clearly still in the ditch here. Add to that a trend toward privatization of education in the looming and oh so real incarnation of charter schools, for-profit charter schools. It is all so confusing for people. What to do that will do the best for children, for the future of our country in a competitive world culture.

I propose the same, but refined argument I posed to my father over fifty years ago. STEM: Search, Think, Evaluate, Merge (merging method with subject matter so that a student can command and expand). I am saying that we need to focus our attention and efforts on improving, not demolishing. Why put vast cash into making new what simply needs to be reconstructed with different (more reasonable) goals in mind? We are still using the 1893 model. Want to drive around in THAT vehicle? I think not. But we are doing just that: teaching (attempting to teach) using the model that one ought to teach all students the same material in the same way. No wonder a visual learner cannot "see" the material being spoken "to" (read: AT) him or her? No wonder the hands-on, kinesthetic, learner can't get a "feel" for the material appearing on the power point in the front of the room. In 2002 I took a basic computer class (required by my university) in which we never touched a computer. Really? you ask. REALLY. Imagine taking a film class with no film viewing whatsoever. Or how about a machine tooling class with nary machine or a tool in the room. No wonder the audio learner cannot function in a class where everyone is totally quiet and no discussions ensue. No wonder we are failing our students.

I believe we need to look at not just subject matter (yes, we can still have algebra and physics) but at how students learn and how to put in place an empowerment of the learners, all of the learners, not just the "brightest" or the "struggling." We need to reevaluate how we teach and how we evaluate. We need to stop "talking about" and start doing. We need STEM (see above re-defining of the term).

[ giving you some time to let this sink into your mind..... tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.... ]

OK, you have your position on this topic clear now? Let's discuss. Oh, and I'm waiting for someone to bring up the hidden topic here:  Is our learning so utilitarian that we only care about the jobs it will bring? How can that work when the jobs on the horizon may be jobs that don't exist now?

I ask you: what about learning to KNOW? Is knowledge a luxury we just cannot afford?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Aubade, or breaking up is hard to do

I enjoy writing and reading aubades. For purposes of instruction (for those of you who may have read these and not known what the form is) an aubade is typically a morning poem or, more specifically, a poem of parting lovers. It is usually reflective of the speaker's feelings of loss or dejection. It also somewhat celebrates the lovers' connections to one another. It can be licit or illicit love that is discussed, celebrated, mourned.

I have an affinity for the poems of morning (odd since I don't really "do" morning) and these love poems are right up my alley.

Aubades are usually somewhat short ( a few stanzas or a couple of stanzas in some cases) as if to mirror the brief moment of departure. Let me recommend a few excellent ones:

Late Aubade by Richard Wilbur
Aubade by Philip Larkin
Shadows by Judi Van Gorder
Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm by Carl Philips

But I want to turn attention to an excellent and somewhat unusual aubade by Richard Wilbur, For C. which was published in his 2000 collection, Mayflies (Harcourt)

For C. (From Mayflies, Harcourt 2000)

This poem, comprised of 5 6-line stanzas, each of which is a quatrain and a rhymed couplet, is at its soul an aubade. It begins in the third person singular (she/he) describing a departure of lovers. She leaves him standing at a window and departs in a taxi. At face value, nothing too sorrowful is happening here, until the reader gets to the final line of the stanza, the final phrase of the stanza: forever west. Now the reader is set up for what is to come as Wilbur unfolds the laundry of the poem, the hard luck and hard decisions. Of course Wilbur isn’t going to let us off hte hook for five lines before setting forth his message. A close reading of the poem shows in the first line that there is some conflict. His use of the word clash to describe the closing of the elevator and then the word sinking in the next line both prepare us and hint at the fact that there is trouble or discord or at the least unhappiness brewing.

In stanza two, the poet moves to a bit of a somewhat general commentary on what happens when people part, but not without getting personal. He refers to saying goodbye as being on such a grand scale and yet there is the pinpoint intimacy of lovers who had only the duration of a dance. This stanza is luscious in that it is evocative and plaintive, suggesting the lovers who for whatever reasons are doomed to this one dance, would like more. Again, Wilbur chooses his words carefully to get to a somber tone. Using the word darkling is an interesting choice. In using this, he presages a tenebrific life for the lovers who must leave the one dance with knowledge of a life forgone (doomed not to be). The reader feels what they feel, sympathizing a bit with their plight even if not agreeing with the illicit nature of their desires for one another.

The next stanza is purposefully enjambed to connect the lovers to the universe, which Wilbur does with great skill in the detail of the Perseids and their flash, and more specifically in their crumble. The poet moves quickly from the light of the Perseids to the darksome fate of the lovers whose being together unravels as they know it must. This burn and crash symbolism is not an overt judgement on the lovers, but an observation of their plight, in true aubade style.

Next there is a movement to a departure dock, and readers are weighted with specifics of farewelling, i.e. grief and baggage. In using this imagery, Wilbur embodies the sorrow, the heaviness of heart that is the aubade at its foundation. He ends the stanza with the crux of the poem: what they must leave behind is a difficult love, one that flashed bright as the Perseids. (The amorous rough and tumble of their wake) I am reminded of  Wilbur’s The Writer, in which the speaker of the poem (father) wishes his daughter a lucky passage, then later wishes it harder. Life and love are hard passages. Wilbur knows this and we do too.

Wilbur shifts in stanza four to the deeply personal we. There is a shift here too in he tone of the poem. The speaker of the poem is off on a comparison between the doomed lovers and his own relationship. The poet does this in a seemingly mocking tone, stating that he and his beloved cannot share in bittersweetness, regret, in large despair. He then takes it to the grounded state of his own love: of constant spirits. They are the entrusted ones for long love, pure and righteous love. He praises the mundane but steady commitment of enduring and decorous and accepted love, then ups the ante by purporting that this staid and tame romance is an art, and is sostenuto, lasting long beyond the regular measure.

The beauty of an aubade, certainly what is accomplished in this one, is that a poet can explore not only his/her own views of love, the personal, but also can foray into the opposites, the perhaps unlucky passages of others’ loves. What this aubade does that some (many) do not do is to combine the two looks. It also accomplishes a movement from the universal (unnamed lovers in various circumstances) to the personal. Most poems dare not go there. Wilbur not only dares, but invites.