stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘great books’ Category

a thousand paths to happiness…including one little book

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, freedom, great books, institutions, justice, teacher education on June 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

“There are thousands of paths that lead to happiness, but you have accepted only one. You have not considered other paths because you think that yours is the only one that leads to happiness. You have followed this path with all your might, and so the other paths, the thousands of others, have remained closed to you.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, you are here: Discovering the magic of the present moment, is such a delightful treat to read and consider and I am enjoying myself immensely each day when I settle in and drink another paragraph of wisdom.

A thousand paths to happiness has me really thinking though, and I couldn’t resist jumping on the computer and pounding out a few lines (one thing that often makes me happy) about this notion and what it might mean to me – at least in this moment.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then all of those thousands of paths should be encouraged and valued and celebrated and shared. In other words, diversity wins again, and not only should we encourage and celebrate diversity, but we should do everything possible to prevent any kind of restrictive ideas that limit possibilities and promote standardization of human beings and life in any way.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then why aren’t we actively teaching children and youth to seek happiness, or better yet to “be free to experience the happiness that just comes to us without our having to seek it” (Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 75). This could move us a long way beyond the false promise of a “good job” so well-advertised throughout every level of education.

If school isn’t about promoting thousands of paths toward happiness, then what is it and why would we want to do something other than teach toward happiness?

Some readers are blowing me off now, huffing and puffing at their screen because they think it’s all fluff to teach happiness – so without going into excessive detail here, I’ll add that working with passion and engaging in intellectual journeys around academic content or in a workplace can be a path to happiness. Don’t worry reader – we’re not going to end up with a society of non- “workers” because everyone is sitting lotus-style in a forest seeking happiness. We might, however, end up with lots of people who refuse to sell their soul and time/life to corporations doing meaningless “work.” Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Has anyone out there ever read a school vision statement that included the words “happy” or “happiness”? I’d love to hear if you have.

And this ‘thousands of paths’ has me thinking of other things regarding “diversity” – we humans are all just different and somehow we keep trying to shove us all into the same-sized box. Just like ecological diversity is imperative to the survival of earth, human diversity is also imperative to the (healthy) survival of the species. While this is not only about the “size” of us humans (it’s also about our lifestyles, family and community structures, livelihoods, homes, interactions, relationships, physical looks, tastes, etc. etc.), diversity in size and shape should also be a consideration. I’m stuck on this a bit because of the recent onslaught of the “Obesity Epidemic” across the country and the fetish we seem to currently have around body measurements, plastic surgery, and the persistent metaphorical and literal chiseling away at natural diversity among bodies.

Just one example –

Body Mass Index (BMI)  and the push for schools to include children’s BMI on report cards even though CDC reports there is no evidence that such actions would change anything about childhood health and/or obesity.

Folks have – and will continue – to debate me that “there is a real obesity epidemic – parents need to know their children’s BMI and what those numbers mean and get control over what their children are eating.” Okay – and what role has school and Corporate America played in this heavy-ing of America’s children? Do we slap some numbers onto a child’s report card and insist that parents do something to change those numbers when kids are at school 7-8 hours a day and have to complete 2 hours of homework between 4pm and the 8pm bedtime? I might be exaggerating a bit in some contexts, and underestimating in others – but this is yet another way to tell parents how they are the individuals to blame for a societal problem that is only exacerbated in schools: over-processed foods are served for breakfast and lunch in cafeterias and recess is non-existent for most children above the age 8 and limited to only 10 minutes for children up to 8 in public schools.

Hmmmmm….schools work harder and harder to get kids to sit still and be quiet for 7 hours at a time preparing for tests and covering standards while only breaking to eat over-processed foods that are high in fat and sodium, then expect the kids to sit at home for 2 more hours at night to do homework and schools are going to “report” children’s BMI to parents so the parents can fix it?

I’m against the use of numbers for nearly everything and BMI is included – I always believe a holistic perspective on a person’s health and lifestyle is much more important than a single number that may be used to determine categories that label and blame and shame people. But let’s pretend for a moment that I accept BMI as some good indicator of a child’s health (even though CDC might argue against that). Perhaps we might allow schools to include the BMI on the report card and demand they also include a specific plan the school will take to ensure the child has access to healthy foods and sufficient exercise and physical play during the day. In other words – the BMI becomes a reflection of the way an institution operates rather than good or poor parenting.

So back to a thousand paths to happiness…

Maybe if we taught children to feel happiness, to see the infinite possibilities for happiness, to see happiness in unexpected places, and to cultivate happiness through mindful practice (including mindful practices of eating), we might find ourselves educating the most diverse, happy, healthy children on earth. What if school’s purpose was to cultivate happiness, peacefulness, contentedness, connectedness? Of course some private schools and home schoolers have been doing this for a long time, but what if public schools put these purposes first and foremost in their work? The possibilities make me smile – and happy.


Teaching the Age of Neoslavery – or slavery after “emancipation”

In anti-bias teaching, critical literacy, government, great books, institutions, justice, politics, prison, racism, social class, teacher education resources, Teaching Work on June 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Something every educator should know about and read…

Bettye Stroud offers a glimpse into life as a slave family FIVE YEARS AFTER emancipation in her fabulous book, The Leaving. A family finds themselves in “debt” to their “former” owners who also own the only store the family is allowed to shop at – seeing no way to work off their debt, ever, the family plans an escape and a brave young girl decides to take charge of her possible future and becomes an important part of the escape plan.

In addition to the brief reference to the debt owed by the slave family (one way millions of slaves were held captive post-emancipation), there is also a brief mention of the “convicts” who also came to work on the farm. “Convict Leasing” became a systemic way of doing at least two things: 1) criminalizing any act of being black so that arrests could be made at will (leaving a White employer without his written permission, for example), charging fines that were unable to be paid by the “criminal,” and allowing a nearby business owner to pay the “fine” ($14.00 perhaps) and “lease” the “convict” as a forced worker on his farm/mill/mine for up to many years or until brutal death; and 2) generate tremendous revenue (millions of dollars – an enormous amount of money in 1868-1930) for county law enforcement that allowed the building of offices, hiring of law enforcement workers, etc. Essentially, the creation of the criminal justice system as we know it today.

Douglas A. Blackmon wrote a Pulitzer Prize winner, Slavery by Another Name, that should be required reading by any educator who teaches slavery, the civil war, emancipation, reconstruction, criminal justice, economics, labor histories, African American history, or civil rights. Perhaps every educator should read it;)

Struggling with Struggling Readers? New Book: The Reading Turn-Around

In anti-bias teaching, critical literacy, great books, justice, professional development resources, teacher education resources, teaching reading on October 23, 2009 at 11:52 am

Finally…these things take so long…

but the book I wrote with Lane Clarke and Grace Enriquez is finally in print:

The Reading Turn-Around: A Five Part Framework for Differentiated Instruction (Teachers College Press)

and you can even pre-order at Amazon for a great price!

And here’s what some really smart folks are saying about it:)

“This is a masterwork that is simultaneously practical and groundbreaking…The model these authors use to familiarize teachers with the essential elements of reading practice is clear and beautifully illustrated with stories of children you’ll swear you know.”
—From the Foreword by Ellin Oliver Keene, national staff developer, co-author of Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction

“This deeply intelligent and compassionate book provides teachers with detailed classroom scenarios and dozens of teaching tools for engaging all readers. The authors demonstrate how to help all students become motivated and powerful meaning-makers of a wide variety of texts.”
Katherine Bomer, Literacy Consultant, K-12, author of For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action

“Unlike the plethora of books that claim to provide teachers with powerful teaching strategies to help children who struggle with reading, The Reading Turn-Around actually accomplishes this. The book is full of detailed case studies of students that teachers will recognize and strategies that teachers can use. There is no other book like it in the field.”
Catherine Compton-Lilly, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Reading: The ongoing national focus

In great books, professional development resources, teacher education resources, teaching reading on August 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm
Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared...

Would any of you literacy people out there ever think you would find an article that references Diane Ravitch, Lucy Calkins, Catherine Snow, Elizabeth Moje, and Nancie Atwell all agreeing on something??? Well, okay, Diane Ravitch didn’t admit to agreeing, but in her steadfast clinging to Moby Dick she also didn’t completely disagree, did she? choice (lower case ‘c’) seems to be a common intersection…

Here it is in today’s NY Times – The Future of Reading: A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

Imagine a FRONT PAGE article in the New York Times on Reading Workshop, self-selected reading, and schools setting aside 40 minutes a day for students to read!!! I shook my head and did several double-takes before convincing myself it was real. And all kinds of literacy folks are cited agreeing that student choice, time for self-selected reading, and empowering children to be in control of their reading WORKS in more ways than one. (I won’t debate the definition of working here, but you all know we all have our own ideas of what “works” actually means)

This is the 4th article in a series on teaching/learning reading (The Future of Reading) in the Times, including:

Literacy Debate: Online R U Really Reading?

Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers

In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

**And please don’t over-analyze my use of Beauty and the Beast…the song just came rushing into my mind as I read the article. Don’t ask me why – I have no idea and I refuse to psychoanalyze it or anything else. Seriously, I didn’t have any person or people in mind as “Beauty” or “Beast” so don’t “read” anything onto it – just thought it was a funny intro to the article:)

I just loooovvve Barbara O’Connor

In families, fiction, great books, social class, teacher education resources, teaching reading, teaching writing, Uncategorized on July 21, 2009 at 9:03 pm

I cried this afternoon.

Yes, a “children’s chapter book” hooked me from the first sentence and I read until the final word.

And cried.

And laughed.

And smiled – a real, genuine, can’t stop my muscles from doing what they’re doing smile.

I read Me and Rupert Goody this afternoon and had to tell you all – again – that Barbara O’Connor is an author I’ve been looking for for many many years. Too bad she wasn’t around when I was a kid…

I’ve already shared some Barbara O’Connor titles I discovered last summer on past posts, and I’ve read two more of her books already this summer:

Me and Rupert Goody (1999)

How to Steal a Dog (2009)

Scholastic must’ve recently discovered her as well – How to Steal a Dog is published by Scholastic and it’s gotten a lot of attention via school book fairs and other media. This surprised me, actually, since I find O’Connor’s books to be beautifully written and set in working-class or poor communities where issues of race, gender, dis/Abilities, religion, work, age, family structures, morals, and intelligence are richly woven into the lives of the characters. Not your typical Scholastic book – but I’m glad she’ll have a wider audience of readers now and maybe, just maybe, more kids will be introduced to diverse working-class and poor lives through her narratives.

I read O’Connor’s books to Hayden, my seven-year-old (and read them to her as a six-year-old as well), and I have heard of teachers using them in grades 3-8 depending on the book and the purpose. I recommend them for all ages of readers, and truly enjoy reading them on my own. I laugh, I cry, I shake my head, and I can’t put them down.

Blessed Unrest Review by Paul B. Scudder

In conservation, creativity, critical literacy, democracy, freedom, great books, justice, politics, poverty, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on August 12, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Paul Scudder is a fine arts, commercial, and portrait photographer, master naturalist, and long-time friend of mine. Here’s his review of Blessed Unrest.

Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World by Paul Hawken

“Teach your children what we have taught ours, that the earth is our mother.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons [and daughters] of the earth.  The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.  We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”                                                ~ Chief Seattle, Suquamish Tribe

Author Paul Hawken develops a theory in this inspiring New York Times Bestseller that the world’s citizens are in the throes of a movement.  A movement that many of them are unaware exists outside of their own circumstances.  Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) ranging from one-person internet bloggers to large non-profits throughout the world are busy each day trying to create awareness for a cause they hold dear and trying and change the minds of individuals, governments, and corporations that are working against them.  Millions of these NGOs throughout the world are part of a larger “movement” that is working from the ground up to change the planet on which we live.

Hawken draws a correlation between the need for social justice, restoration of the environment, and protection of indigenous cultures.  He believes that an individual or NGO must care about all of these issues to be successful in their own cause.   You can not have one without the others.  All three of these issues are the result of runaway abuses of the “free market” economy that is currently enveloping the globe by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the multi-national corporations that are its members.

Blessed Unrest’s contention is that we must demand that governments and multi-national corporations provide a fair and decent wage to their employees, protect and preserve the indigenous cultures in the areas they are using, and do it all in a way that does not harm the environment.  Corporations can no longer be allowed to acquire land, displace peoples, and impoverish local workers all in the name of the “free market” system.

The text of this 325 page book is less than 190 pages. The remaining pages include a 105 page taxonomy of over 1 million types of non-profit groups that exist throughout the globe that are involved in the “movement”.  Additionally, Hawken backs the claims he makes in his thesis with 25 pages of footnotes and bibliography.

This book is a must read for anyone who cares about true democracy and freedom, cultural preservation, the environment, or the world that we will leave to our children.

“Blessed Unrest is exciting, compelling and very important. . . It will Inspire and encourage millions more to take action.”
~ Jane Goodall

welfare brat by mary childers

In American Dream, classism, creativity, families, family-school relations, gender and education, great books, language, mothers, personal narratives, poverty, professional development resources, social class, teacher education resources, Uncategorized on August 1, 2008 at 3:03 am

I’ll be adding this book to my list of terrific reads that explore the complexities of social mobility through education. Childers’ memoir is beautifully written even when she’s writing about her teenage rage directed at her mother and painful realizations caught up in the tricky web woven between gratitude and desire, loyalty and resentment, love and fear, school and home. Some of the most insightful moments for educators might be in her writing about language use, clothing, and eye contact as she crosses the threshold into middle-class Manhattan to work as a teen and downplays desires to attend college to maintain peer relationships. Interchanges between Childers and her guidance counselor would also make for interesting dialogue, as well as the variety of ways her siblings experience mobility – and how sexuality, lies/truths, language, and relationships buttress such mobility.

Brava Childers!

Rich read aloud chapter books/working-class stories by Barbara O’Connor

In communities, families, family-school relations, fiction, great books, poverty, professional development resources, social class, teacher education, teacher education resources, teaching reading on July 20, 2008 at 9:40 pm

I discovered Barbara O’Connor this summer and have zipped through three of her young adult short novels – all of which I would read aloud to children in the early grades. Hayden loved Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia and Taking Care of Moses and I read Moonpie and Ivy on my own (reading aloud takes so much longer than reading to myself…). Each of these three books are richly contextualized in the daily lives of working-class and poor characters while none of them are overtly about social class. You won’t find the more typical “overcoming adversity” stories here, but rather nuanced narratives of love, desire, loss, grief, anxiety, anger, friendship, and all the other complexities of living as humans. Hayden and I love the characters – it’s rare to find a book for children with tattooed big-hearted men, aluminum-can collecting dads, or mothers who have reached their mothering limits within a context where everything costs more money than she has and no one nearby can help much. But such characters fill the pages of O’Connor’s stories, and I have enjoyed them immensely. I’ll likely seek out her other books as well…

Testing Time Again…A modest proposal for change

In communities, democracy, great books, high-stakes tests, justice, kindergarten, NCLB, politics, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on April 10, 2008 at 10:29 pm

I was in a kindergarten classroom this morning where children are not allowed to make any noise for two and a half hours each day for three days for fear of disturbing the testing classrooms next door. Instead of their usual greetings, sharing, mingling during their creative projects, and moving about the room – the way kindergarteners and other students need to do – they are watching videos. Instead of engaging in rich curricular work, they sit silently at tables.

Kindergarten is not tested in this school.

But the kindergarteners are. Their experiences are yet another one of the “unintended consequences” of a high-stakes testing regime in our country. And they know the “big kids” are taking a “big test” and everything needs to be silent. So the kids taking tests can’t think of anything but the tests – and the kids supporting the “silence” for the test takers can’t think of anything but the tests.

More “collateral damage” done by the billion dollar testing machine wreaking havoc in our schools and on our future as an educated, engaged democracy.

We know tests are biased and advantage students from English-speaking, White middle-class and affluent homes.

We know schools and teachers have narrowed curricula to focus explicitly on the high-stakes test-preparation areas of reading and math often leaving behind science, social studies, language development, fine arts, physical education, and project-based experiences.

We know children vomit on testing days, teachers have insomnia, and principals are stressed to the max.

We know children, teachers, principals, and parents cry when a score comes back only 1 or 2 points below proficient.

We know test-preparation has dumbed down curricula and bored our students (and teachers) to death.

We know so much  more…


I modestly propose three steps toward change:

1. Find colleagues and community members to read and discuss Collateral Damage

2. Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and encourage them to read Collateral Damage (perhaps we could even buy an extra copy to send out to folks – or photocopy the first chapter and mail to them)

3. Start a local, grassroots campaign to “End High-Stakes Testing and AYP Sanctions”

Find some others concerned about the same issues:


Susan Ohanian

Anti-NCLB Legislation

Awesome Anti-NCLB merchandise

book on Class wins AESA critics’ choice award!

In classism, critical literacy, family-school relations, great books, high school, language, mothers, poverty, professional development resources, publications, social action, social class, stephanie jones, teacher education resources on October 19, 2007 at 12:20 pm

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