By the time I got to high school I was pretty disgusted with the quality of education I was receiving–which included five years of Algebra (even though I consistently received “A”s) and a teacher who took roll call with a cheerleader in his lap. By the end of tenth grade I knew I couldn’t face another two years of this ridiculousness. Luckily the state offered a “proficiency exam” which I passed, allowing me to go on to junior college instead of into my junior year of high school. That was in the late 70s to early 80s, I was hoping that in all this time things had improved—sadly, they haven’t.

Today I’d like to introduce you to D.A. Russell, author of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education. Kirkus Reviews calls the book, “An impassioned look at the shortcomings of public education, from the perspective of an inner-city high school teacher.” In it, Russell exposes the systemic failures in today’s educational system and offers a solution geared to put the focus back onto the best interests of the children. Anyone who cares about a child should educate themselves about what is really happening in our schools. (You may win your own copy of Lifting the Curtain by entering the giveaway!)

 
Q. What do you love most about teaching?

Russell: There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child that has given up on him or herself finally discover that they are smart. We have a system that has absolutely eliminated self-motivation in a large minority of our children. Extreme pressure on schools to pass children has done far worse than just generate unneeded IEPs or result in so many cheating scandals on standardized testing. (The Washington Post confirmed cheating scandals in thirty-seven states, and was convinced that there were far more actual incidents than were ever discovered.) The real failure of the system was dumbed-down teaching to make sure everyone passed.

Yet these children really want to pass and have pride in what they accomplish!

My most treasured note from a student, one of many like it expressing pride in learning, came from a Special Ed student who was convinced she was a loser. “I did good (sic) in math this year because you pushed me and told me I could do it. I went from a 57 to a 96 in a matter of three months. Thank you for everything and showing me I am smart and can do math and do it correctly.”

I still remember the day Kayla got her first A on a test. She started crying right in front of the entire class, and asked me if she could call her mom (cell phones were not permitted to be used in school). I let her call, and watched the joy on her face as she smiled through all the tears to say “…Mom, I just got an ‘A’ in math.” That was a Friday afternoon. I went home and was on cloud nine for the whole weekend. One Kayla in a teacher’s life cancels out a whole lot of tough times. I framed that letter on my wall at home – it encourages me every time I glance at it.

 
Q: While writing Lifting the Curtain, you surveyed both students and teachers regarding the state of education. What surprised you most about the students’ responses?

Russell: I was really taken aback by how much our children want to have better and more challenging teaching. In the student survey, the most common comment in the “what is best… or what is worst… or what needs change” section of the questionnaire was from students angry about not learning enough! Some of the responses were amazing to hear:

My teachers think I’m incapable of doing work because I’m in standard. I want a challenge.

The work they give us is stupid is (sic) like they don’t want to challenge us to do something bigger.

The lack of work that is given. Personally I rather (sic) be challenged than given a free pass.

When I followed up with students on this issue, I tried to see what made the difference for them. In almost every case it was a teacher who set expectations far above what the child had ever experienced before, and then that teacher was passionate about working to help the child earn good results. One of the most intriguing (and absolutely spot-on) studies of what makes a great teacher found only two common factors — a passion to teach, and a knack for engaging children.

The only dumb ones (children) are the ones we teach to be dumb. A free ride through high school is not an act of love or kindness!

 

Q: What happened to all the policies that were supposed to improve our educational system like No Child Left Behind?

Russell: I suspect that had I the opportunity to personally know the individuals who authored many of the federal and state education programs of the past 20 years, I would truly admire and respect those who came up with such a wonderful concept as “No Child Left Behind.” That phrase, in four short words, encapsulates everything I believe about teaching. I enthusiastically supported NCLB when it was launched. Even with 20/20 hindsight, based upon what I envisioned then I would still be an enthusiastic supporter of the NCLB concept.

But it turns out that I was wrong. Horribly wrong. The two most destructive unintended consequences were not allowing failure by children, and holding teachers totally accountable for many factors that are totally out of their control.

First of all, we have taken away from children the possibility of failure – mandating their “success” to the point where a rapidly increasing majority of students know they do not have to try in order to graduate from high school. The “system” now forces teachers to find a way to pass them regardless of effort – phony do-overs and extra credit, dumbed-down teaching, “adjusted” grades, and even outright cheating scandals on standardized tests – or the teacher is held accountable for the failure.

Second, the ages-old education partnership of teacher, student, and parents has been eroded to the point where teachers are often held solely responsible for the performance of a student, while the student and a minority of parents often take no co-responsibility. Teachers are expected to motivate and parent today’s children, despite the growing minority of parents who demonstrate no effective interest in their child’s education. Two disturbing results from the student and teacher surveys graphically make this point. First, both students and teachers felt one quarter of all students in urban high schools do not care what grade they get as long as they pass. Second, a third of all parents were seen as not caring how well the child did as long as they passed and graduated.

The unintended results of all these programs are undeniable – a decade of degrading readiness for college: Only 43 percent of test-takers in 2013 met the SAT’s definition of being prepared for college, a statistic that has remained stagnant since 2009.
Policies are only one piece to the puzzle on declining education. To read more about what’s happening in today’s schools please visit the website at http://liftingthecurtain.com/.

Are you ready to see what else is behind the curtain?Enter to win a copy of Lifting the Curtain, The disgrace we call urban high school education. Giveaway is being held on the book’s Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/owx4mz6

About the Author:
D.A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools used as an example in Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent.

Russell has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in his view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world.

Connect with the author at:

Website: http://liftingthecurtain.com/

Blog: http://liftingthecurtainoneducation.wordpress.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LiftingTheCurtainOnEducation

 
Lifting the CurtainTitle: Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lifting-Curtain-disgrace-school-education/dp/0615939171/

You may not think of toads and frogs as desert dwellers but we actually have quite a few! One of them came for visit the other day, taking up temporary residence in our fountain. I wish I could upload the QuickTime video I shot but this blog will only allow the picture. Still…he’s a cutie! He really seemed to enjoy swimming under the falling water :)

visiting toad by rlc

To read more about desert dwelling frogs and toads visit the Arizona Game and Fish page.

 

Our society is fixated on heroes, mostly fictional. These characters provide us with role models of bravery, fortitude, and selfless service. Once in awhile a real hero catches our attention; I’d like to share with you the stories of two. In respect to their privacy I will simply call them the Postal Carrier and the Mathematician—both friends of mine.

The postal carrier was just that, a postal worker. For many years he lived alone in a small house, but his extended family, and his passion, was the theatre. Most evenings and weekends we could hear the hum of his power saw as he built sets for the next play. His artistic talent didn’t end with the sets though; he also acted, directed, and wrote several plays. Eventual he married…and then he became sick.

The postal carrier was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) which affects the motor neurons. Soon, he could no longer work nor could he continue to build sets. He is now in a wheelchair with no use of his arms or legs, and his wife has told me it is just a matter of time. Many of us would just give into depression, but not this guy—he wrote another play!

His newest play focuses greed and what lengths people will go to for money. Will they lie? Will they risk their lives, or kill their friends? I find it fascinating that as this man faces his own passing his thoughts are on the morals of society. What may be his last message to us is to face the greed in our own hearts.

My mathematician friend has also placed his attention on the world around him instead of himself. With stage four cancer there is a small chance he can be cured—he has always been healthy so that is in his favor. So, armed with a chemo drip system and a computer he is working to improve children’s education.

The mathematician is a teacher, and his passion is children. You see, his childhood was less than ideal, in fact, it was a nightmare. Consequently, any policies or people that stand in the way of a child and his/her potential really get his goat. His goal is to reveal the bureaucratic nonsense hindering our children’s education and improve the system so each child has the opportunity to excel. For this man it’s just business as usual—he’s even kept his spunky sense of humor!

A hero isn’t someone who can do super-human feats; it’s a person who can remain “human” in times of intense struggle. Heroes challenge us to live each day the best we can right up until the end. To not give up when our days or lives don’t go as planned, but to meet that disappointment and ask ourselves, “What can I still contribute, what beauty can I still experience, what passion continues to stir inside me?” I guess that’s they mean meant by, “Live each day as if it was your last.”

How will you live you life today? Do you have something wonderful to share with the world that you’ve been holding back? Is there a hero in your life you would like to acknowledge? Just sharing a few of my own ponderings…please share yours. ♥

Baby DoveI’m sure we all have stories about curious children who wander away and sometimes get a bit lost; it happens to creatures of all kinds. Today it was this baby dove’s turn to learn a scary lesson.

I noticed him just outside my office window. At the time, he was chasing after a lizard even larger than himself. (I missed a great photo op as baby dove pecked the lizard on the chin.)

Like most of us who mean well, I dragged the ladder outside to search for the nest—thinking I might put him back. All I found was a sad remnant of a nest in the rain gutter; there was an un-hatched egg still there. Although concerned for the baby, I decided the best thing to do was wait and watch.

Baby Dove 2As the morning went on I noticed the mom was taking good care of Baby Dove. She fed him at regular intervals and let him hide underneath her feathers. About two hours later I happen to catch site of Baby standing up and looking towards the roof. He spread his wings, bent his little legs, and flew up to that old remnant in the rain gutter!

We all have lessons to from life: the right way to build a home, when not to wander away from the nest, the importance of helping others, and when it’s best to root from the sidelines and let them learn to stretch their wings.

GeographyofLoss_cover-349My first experience with the heartfelt writing style of Patti Digh was when I came across her book Life is a Verb, a book challenging the audience to live intentionally. The message sank in, and I made some changes in my life. I also took notice of the beautiful artwork submitted by readers; the book felt like “community” to me. Since then Patti has written several books, the most recent being The Geography of Loss. This time our challenge is to face the many painful experiences of life, explore the markings they’ve left on us, and fully embrace our life. Like most self-help books, this one offers exercises to help move the reader through various emotional states. This book is different though, artwork and topography lead us through this emotional territory.

Each chapter begins with a story or personal essay, followed by three prompts: a journal prompt, a map or image exercise, and a meditation. I appreciate the user-friendliness of this format; being written is such a way that you can choose which order to read the chapters and which exercises feel right for you. The journal prompts and map exercises fit together to bring you deeper into the emotional memory. Personally, I think this is brilliant. Therapists often use art exercises in their work with abused children and other trauma patients. They say that imagery is our first language–the “language of the soul”. Working with imagery bypasses our logical mind, helping to access the deeper areas.

Many of us carry fears or resentments centered on loss—an injury, betrayal, divorce, or loss of a loved one. In some situations we’ve judged ourselves; in others we have trouble forgiving. Often we carry this pain like a wall, hoping it will protect us from further injury—the wall is the injury. It is only by courageously, and fully, exploring our grief that we can be free to embrace and love our life.

If you’ve been carrying Loss or Grief, I encourage you to pick of a copy of The Geography of Loss—available at Amazon or your local bookstore. On a personal note, my artwork is on page 18!

HeartTracks by RLC

HeartTracks by RLC. Image published in The Geography of Loss by Patti Digh

Connect with Patti Digh at http://www.37days.com/home

Sometimes the fruit falls off the tree, and rolls far away from the others–the lone drummer, the enigma…the black sheep. Of course, we don’t eat drums or sheep—at least I don’t—but I digress… point is, my sisters and I are about as different as you can get. In case you’re wondering, I’m the rolling fruit.

In a state of wonder and disgust, I watched them primp for hours with make up and hairspray.

With rolling eyes they watched me pick up injured birds and “will” them back to life.

They pride themselves on holding the same job for three or four decades.

I’ve had thirteen jobs, all in completely different fields.

While they play board games, gossip, and watch sitcoms I talk to my plants, refinish furniture, and enroll in online courses. Meanwhile, my parents still swear we’re related. Apparently I’m not the only one with sister issues; Jazz and Olivia seem to be having a tough time as well. Let me introduce you to the Moon sisters.

The Moon Sisters is Therese Walsh’s new novel. To celebrate, Women On Writing is hosting an Everybody’s Talking about Sisterhood party, and a contest to win a copy of the book. I’ll get to the contest in a minute. First, here is more about Therese’s new novel.

MoonSisters“In The Moon Sisters, her second novel, Therese Walsh wanted to write about one sister’s quest to find will-o’-the-wisp light, which was her mother’s unfulfilled dream. Also called “foolish fires”, these lights are sometimes seen over wetlands and are thought to lead those who follow them to treasure. Despite the promise, they are never captured and sometimes lead to injury or even death for adventurers who follow them. The metaphor of that fire – that some dreams and goals are impossible to reach, and that hope itself may not be innately good – eventually rooted its way into deeper meaning as the Moon sisters tried to come to terms with real-world dreams and hopes, and with each other, in their strange new world.

Olivia and Jazz Moon are polar opposites: one a dreamy synesthete, able to see sounds and smell sights and the other controlling and reality driven. What will happen when they are plunged into 24/7 togetherness and control is not an option? Will they ever be able to see the world through the other’s eyes and confront the things they fear the most? Death. Suicide. The loss of faith and hope. Will they ultimately believe that life is worth living, despite the lack of promise?

The writing of The Moon Sisters was a five year journey and at times author Therese Walsh felt like it was her own “foolish fire”. But remember, some fires are worth the chase!”

Party Time!

Explore “Sisterhood” with all our blogging friends!

There’s no telling what people may decide to share! Visit Women on Writing (http://muffin.womenonwriting.com) for a list of participating blogs and start hopping.

Win a copy of The Moon Sisters!

Leave a comment here by March 15, 2014. One randomly selected semi finalist will be sent on to Women on Writing’s final contest. The winner will be announced March 18, 2014. Tip: You can enter more than once! Simply leave a comment with our other party hosts.

Games!

And while you’re waiting to win your copy of The Moon Sisters, get ready to board the train with Jazz and Olivia by getting your own train-hopper name  http://www.theresewalsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Ng.jpg (mine is Clack-a-lacka Polecat), or take a personality quiz to find out which character you are most like http://www.theresewalsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Personality-Quiz.pdf (I’d get along well with Babka). Of course, don’t forget to check out the author.

See you on the rails!

Connect with the Author

TheresaWalshCatch up with Therese at her website http://www.theresewalsh.com/

Purchase The Moon Sisters at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Sisters-Novel-Therese-Walsh/dp/0307461602/ref=wri

Also by Therese, The Last Will of Moira Leahy Last Will of Moira Leahy bookcover

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Will-Moira-Leahy-Novel/dp/0307461580/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393534252&sr=1-1&

 

03/24/14 update: Thank you for joining in WOW’s book giveaway. Three winners have been chosen; one from WOW’s Rafflecopter contest, one from all the visitors to participating blogs (each blog host entered one visitor’s name), and one blog host.

The winners are
Book giveaway on The Muffin (rafflecopter): Maria M.
Book giveaway from the finalist from each participating blog: Robyn at Words by Webb
Book giveaway for a participating blogger: Vickie S. Miller at Vickie S. Miller Blog
If you didn’t win this time around don’t give up–WOW has lot’s of contest coming up! Just check out the Blog Tours and Events schedule on the right side of the page at The Muffin.

For the practical joker in all of us!

MarthebookcoverI’ve always loved April Fool’s Day and May Day because those were the two day’s of the year when it was socially acceptable to play little jokes designed to make people smile. Author Marthe Jocelyn suggests we put a bit of mirth into our ordinary days with Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight. As part of a double prize, I’m offering a copy of Sneaky Art—let me tell you more about this fun and original book!

Sneaky Art projects are small, artistic creations intended to bring a smile to someone’s day. In her book Jocelyn offers twenty-four sneaky art projects to get us started. Most can be created with items already at home. A few of my favorites are:

  • Cork Critters—Small animals or people created with corks and scraps of fabric and paper. Leave them on the shelf in a washroom, by the sugar at the coffee shop, on a friend’s desk.
  • Stick Pixies—Characters taped to the top of straws or stir-sticks making them easy to tuck into pencil cups, books, or condiment dispensers.
  • Clip-On Flock—Paper birds glued onto clothespins. The book shows the birds clipped onto shopping carts; what a fun way to brighten up the next shopper’s experience!

Each craft in Jocelyn’s book includes a list of materials, complete instructions, a picture of the final result, and suggestions on where to leave your sneaky art.

The premise of Sneaky Art is to leave little works of art in public places and as such there are some basic guidelines to follow. Jocelyn offers clear instructions of what Sneaky Art is not (“Sneaky Art is not mean, defacing, ugly, hurtful, messy, or permanent. Sneaky Art is not graffiti or marking up someone’s property”) and what Sneaky Art is (“Sneaky art is funny clever, thoughtful, subversive, playful, and surprising”). She even suggests going back to the scene of our “sneak” and retrieving our art if it is still there.

To this I add my own suggestion that any art placed outdoors be created with good stewardship in mind. We don’t want to create litter, and we don’t want to endanger any wild life. So, any paints should be non-toxic. Do not use thin threads or fishing line as they can wrap around the feet of birds and small animals causing injury. Do not use colored beads or fake berries as birds may ingest them and get sick (or worse).

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight is intended for ages 8-12 but appeals to sneaky artists of all ages. The projects are inexpensive and easily adaptable for large groups, making it a good resource for teachers, but the true beauty of the book lays in the underlying lessons in conceptualization and material re-purposing. Caution: this book may cause regular ransacking of your recycle bin!

Would you like to win a copy of Sneaky Art? Details on how to win today’s special double giveaway are posted below.

About the Book

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight by Marthe Jocelyn

Synopsis:

For young artists, tricksters, and crafters, here is a hip, friendly how-to manual for creating removable and shareable art projects from easily found materials. The sneaky part is in the installation! Each work of art is custom-created for display in public places — a tiny cork-bottomed boat in a public fountain, a plate of tiny paper cupcakes on your teacher’s desk, a penny left on the ground for a stranger, a funny message left on your mother’s bathroom mirror, and more. This utterly unique guide — part craft book, part art-philosophy — offers a stylish and sweet “made-you-look-twice” spirit of fun meant to put a smile on the faces of strangers and loved ones alike.

Connect with the author:

Marthe Jocelyn’s websites:

http://www.marthejocelyn.com/index.htm

http://sneakyart.com

Twitter:

@scissorhouse

#SneakyArt

Double Giveaway MarthebookcoverRainy Day Artpack

As part of the Sneaky Art virtual book tour through Women On Writing, I am offering a double-prize package consisting of my hardcover, review copy of Sneaky Art and a Rainy Day Art Pack by Marthe Jocelyn.

The Rainy Day Art Pack comes with a body template and a selection of scraps for crafting (decorative paper, pompoms, feathers, yarn, buttons, etc…) Just add glue and scissors! More fun than paper dolls (remember them?) Where will this little character end up? He/she might become part of a collage…or even take part in a Sneaky Art caper!

To Enter The Giveaway:

Leave a Comment: Let us know why this book appeals to you OR share your idea of a good place to leave a sneaky art project. Make sure your email address is either in your profile or included in your comment so I can get in touch with you!

For additional Entries:

Tweet about this giveaway. Come back and leave the url to your tweet. Be sure to use the hashtag #SneakyArt in your tweet! (Each tweet gains an additional entry!)

Follow @scissorhouse on Twitter

Follow @RCchrps (that’s me) on Twitter

Visit this past Friday’s post at Museiddity.com for more chances to win this Double Giveaway!

Contest runs December 13, 2013 through December 21, 2013. One random winner will be chosen from all entries gathered on Museiddity and A Ponderance of Things. One winner will win the prize package consisting of one hardcover copy of the book, Sneaky Art, and one Rainy Day Art Pack. Items to be mailed separately. Winner to be notified by email and the name posted in a blog update.

Good Luck!

Update: Congratulations to Pillows-a-la-mode for winning our Sneaky Art double giveaway. She has been contacted via email.

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