Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Got another rejection letter in my effort to find funding yesterday. That makes three recently. Mostly they remind us that times are tough and there are lots of people hoping for money from shrinking pots. ITVS (the Independent Television Service, which "funds presents and promotes independently produced programs for public television") was a bit different, in that they offer a 15 minute feedback session along with their rejection. I had talked to several film makers before we submitted our proposal, and knew it was very likely we would be rejected the first time we applied. I applied specifically to hear what the feedback would be. Today was the day. So now we have to figure out what to do with what we heard.

At 10:00 we called Joy Marie Scott, an ITVS programmer, who was very upfront about why the project had been rejected. They didn't see enough of a narrative in our 7 minute sampler, and imagine the film is similar to To Be and To Have, which turns out to be a negative in their minds, for TV. We do see a relation between what we are attempting and To Be and To Have--but for us it has been a positive. Where is the film in the American context that captures a classroom the way that film did for French audiences?

Ms. Scott feels that To Be and To Have is a theatrical film, not a film for TV. Sounds like an important difference for us to ponder.

Developing a narrative is a no brainer. That has been our goal from the beginning. There are several students we follow where we can define a trajectory from point a to point b (awkward to confident, non reader to emergent reader, outsider to part of the group...) There is an academic narrative around the development of poetic voice through self discovery. There is a teacher reflecting on what she has learned, what she strives for, and how the human equation enters in. There is the unusualness of the relation parents have to the workings of the class. I'm less sure of how well we show that.

So the adrenalin is still flowing through my veins. Did we ask the right questions, listen well enough? What weight do we give to her words? I can only go so far outside my deep connection to the materials, and the investment of time and energy we have devoted. I know from many examples that time and energy don't necessarily equate to creative success.

Tom has now put together almost all the small sections he wanted to create before we attempted to organize the whole. Soon we start the next stage, filled with curiosity, and some anxiety to see what whole will come from these parts.

Friday, September 18, 2009


In a few minutes I'll leave the windowless workspace where Tom and I edit, and head down the road to the school I taught in for decades, to volunteer. Fridays are still Campus Care time, an outgrowth of cleaning out the animal hutches at the end of the week. It grew so nicely, and had so many benefits that it outlived my time at the school. Here is a time when the students make a very real contribution to their environment by doing everything that comes to mind to care for it. It may be picking up trash, or cleaning the chicken coop, alphabetizing the new additions to the library, or whacking back the blackberry vines that have covered a path. Much of what we do might be considered "Chores." I love that! Chores are the basis of being part of community. When Tom was filming he captured kids spontaneously singing as they worked. That gave me goose bumps.

Right now I am helping kids with the upkeep of our compost piles and worm bin. We call ourselves the Friends of Worms, and rightly so, as we have quite a breeding community. There is a good bit of science that happens along the way. Last week we took the temperature of the different piles, and got out magnifying glasses to look more closely at our worms. But that is the byproduct of doing something worth doing in its own right: composting leftover lunches and weeds from the garden, turning them into soil for future gardens. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Congressman Joe Baca has taken a principled stand on an issue dear to my heart, as you will have gathered if you have been following this blog. High stakes standardized testing threatens to at the least eviscerate the kind of teaching and learning our film demonstrates, and it certainly is in the process of eliminating it from inner city schools. Baca has introduced a bill called HR3384. It calls for a moratorium on high stakes testing. "Since it’s enactment in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act has been a complete and utter failure," said Rep. Baca. "Instead of ensuring all of America's children have access to a quality education, the legislation has tied the hands of teachers and school administrators, forced students to learn inane testing strategies instead of real-life skills, and made billions in profits for standardized testing companies. I am proud to introduce this long overdue legislation, which can finally put America's education policy back in the hands of local officials, teachers and parents, and remove the influence of big corporations and Washington bureaucrats."

The best way to move this legislation to the forefront of the many bills pending before the House Labor and Education Committee is through phone calls and faxes to committee members from their constituents.

Here are the phone and fax numbers of committee members. If you do not see one from your area, write to George Miller as committee chairperson.

Democrats Phone # Fax #
George Miller, Chairman (CA-07) 202-225-2095 202-225-5609
Dale E. Kildee (MI-05) 202-225-3611 202-225-6393
Donald M. Payne (NJ-10) 202-225-3436 202-225-4160
Robert E. Andrews (NJ-01) 202-225-6501
Robert C. Scott (VA-03) 202-225-8351 202-225-8354
Lynn C. Woolsey (CA-06) 202-225-5161 202-225-5163
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) 202-225-2531 202-225-5688
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04) 202-225-5516 202-225-5758
John F. Tierney (MA-06) 202-225-8020 202-225-5915
Dennis J. Kucinich (OH-10) 202-225-5871 202-225-5745
David Wu (OR-01) 202-225-0855 202-225-9497
Rush D. Holt (NJ-12) 202-225-5801 202-225-6025
Susan A. Davis (CA-53) 202-225-2040 202-225-2948
Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) 202-225-2435 202-225-1541
Timothy H. Bishop (NY-01) 202-225-3826 202-225-3143
Joe Sestak (PA-07) 202-225-2011 202-226-0280
Dave Loebsack (IA-02) 202-225-6576 202-226-0757
Mazie Hirono (HI-02) 202-225-4906 202-225-4987
Jason Altmire (PA-04) 202-225-2565 202-226-2274
Phil Hare (IL-17) 202-225-5905 202-225-5396
Yvette Clarke (NY-11) 202-225-6231 202-226-0112
Joe Courtney (CT-02) 202-225-2076 202-225-4977
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) 202-225-5456 202-225-5822
Marcia Fudge (OH-11) 202-225-7032 202-225-1339
Jared Polis (CO-2) 202-225-2161 202-226-7840
Paul Tonko (NY-21) 202-225-5076 202-225-5077
Pedro Pierluisi (PR) 202-225-6215 202-225-2615
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (NMI) 202-225-2646 202-226-4249
Dina Titus (NV-3) 202-225-3252 202-225-2185
Judy Chu (CA-32) 202-225-5464 202-225-5467

Republicans Phone Fax
John Kline, Ranking Member (MN-02) 202-225-2271 202-225-2595
Thomas E. Petri (WI-06) 202-225-2476 202-225-2356
Howard "Buck" McKeon (CA-25) 202-225-1956 202-226-0863
Peter Hoekstra (MI-02) 202-225-4401 202-226-0779
Michael N. Castle (DE-At Large) 202-225-4165 202-225-2291
Mark E. Souder (IN-03) 202-225-4436
Vernon J. Ehlers (MI-03) 202-225-3831 202-225-5144
Judy Biggert (IL-13) 202-225-3515 202-225-9420
Todd Russell Platts (PA-19) 202-225-5836 202-226-1000
Joe Wilson (SC-02) 202-225-2452 202-225-2455
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) 202-225-2006 202-225-3392
Tom Price (GA-06) 202-225-4501 202-225-4656
Rob Bishop (UT-01) 202-225-0453 202-225-5857
Brett Guthrie (KY-2) 202-225-3501 202-226-2019
Bill Cassidy (LA-6) 202-225-3901 202-225-7313
Tom McClintock (CA-4) 202-225-2511 202-225-2511
Duncan D. Hunter (CA-52) 202-225-5672 202-225-0235
Phil Roe (TN-1) 202-225-6356 202-225-5714
Glenn "GT" Thompson (PA-05) 202-225-5121 202-225-5796

Monday, September 7, 2009


It’s already more than a week since I drove down to Fresno with 3 dynamic women to join the Freedom in Education meeting the father and son team of Rog and Joe Lucido had put together. Rog is a retired high school physics teacher. Joe is a middle school science lead teacher. A few years ago they founded an organization called Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse. That group started the Cesar Chavez Education Conference at Fresno State University that I have been to twice. This time they were bringing together a small but dedicated group drawn from the larger conference and contacts that has led to. The 22 people in the room included retired and active college professors, high school, middle school, elementary and special ed teachers, and even a retired principal, Lynn Stoddard, who had come all the way from Utah to join us. While we represented a range of approaches and philosophies, what united us was our opposition to high stakes testing, and a desire to find ways to enlarge the effectiveness of our individual efforts.

Going round the table, hearing what each person had done (and why they were ready to spend a beautiful summer Saturday inside a conference room) was inspiring. Several people had risked their livelihood to speak up against practices they felt were harmful to children. Several belonged to groups I had never heard of that were working for change. Seeing each other face to face was a real plus.

We talked about what direct action meant to each of us, about how to listen to and involve parents and community members. From Rosemary Lee I learned that there is a hemispheric education organization doing work in these areas, the Tri-national Coalition for the Defense of Public Education, and that both Mexican and Canadian educators have gotten the ear of their policy makers with ideas that we could learn from!

I think I was most touched by a middle school teacher from the Tahoe area who was just getting her feet wet in being involved outside of her school community. The action she was thinking about was to use the TGIF get together her staff has away from school, to bring up some of her concerns in a low key way. She personified making gradual change that has long lasting consequences. I was probably most energized by Stephen Krashen, whose letter writing campaign is starting to bear fruit, with op eds and letters to the editor not only getting published (mine never have) but responded to online. What I can’t tell is if we can reach beyond the circle of the already convinced. Will AUGUST TO JUNE be a way to do that? I hope many of the ways presented in Fresno will be.

For more about getting active to eliminate high stakes testing, go to www.stopnationalstandards.com