Wow! This has been a busy semester and there are so many things I want to talk to you about. But first, I promised that I would come back and give you a rundown of my time in Anaheim at the Innovations 2014 conference.
Here are my basic reactions.
HOLY SHIT William Rankin is awesome.
The wifi situation at this conference was ridiculous.
In this day and age, if you don’t have wifi coverage for your entire conference, you are shooting yourself in the foot. No one should have to leave the conference space to access the internet, cloud storage, etc. This is a tech-conference deal breaker.
William Rankin, I adore you.
California is pretty outside.
Twitter is still the best way to find the coolest people at a conference.
I invented the Swagnet.
I also promised a lot of folk that I would be putting up more info from my session on Gamification and that is happening this week.
What do selfies, instagram, vine, snapchat, twitter, tumblr, and a slab of granite all have in common? Storytelling.
On Thursday, President Obama let slip, perhaps for the first time, his true feelings toward liberal arts education. In a statement on his post SOTU address tour he stated, “A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career, but I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”
This has prompted an almost unprecedented shift in the Republican stance on the arts and the roles that they play in society and in our schools.
Sen John McCain (R) was one of the first to break the silent tension when he declared, “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We need mandatory arts education in all of our school!”
Since his declaration, several other key Republican spokespersons have followed suit. “The President is trying to devalue arts in education. Look at the record, he’s been doing it for years. Why? What do we know about what happens when kids have free access to art in schools? Critical thinking happens. Teamwork happens. Individualism and invention happens. Problem solving happens. The last thing the President wants is a bunch of intellectuals running around.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio took to his blog and advocated for arts funding. “The time has come for our government to stand together in a bi-partisan effort and declare that we support arts. And we need to put our money where our mouth is and back that up with grants and other arts initiatives. I mean, Obama takes charge and all of a sudden we have people like Justin Bieber running around. This has to stop.”
When the question of a federally funded initiative for supporting the arts came up at Friday afternoon’s press conference, Rand Paul expressed support. “It’s a wonderful idea but I’m pretty sure we already have one of those. So we’re looking into it. John Dingell is sure it’s around here somewhere.”
Sarah Palin waited until late afternoon yesterday to weigh in on the subject. She was scheduled to speak with a group of journalists and community members following an impromptu performance by a local Inuit artist in the town hall. The performance began with dancing and chanting and concluded at the 17 minute mark, with the artist disemboweling a dead seal and “sort of stomping around on it,” described one witness.
Visibly moved by the performance, Palin emphasized her commitment to art and particularly art history which, she explained, is filled with examples of Americans with strong morals and a deep love of patriotism.
She was quick to cite more global examples as well, stating “Just look at Shakespeare’s books. Those are stories about good people. Moral upbringing, and hard work. It’s not vulgar. It’s not violent. What we need to be asking is why Obama’s fighting to keep art out of schools? I think that’s the question I’m not afraid to ask.”
Palin isn’t the only Republican outsider who feels the president is doing too little to make sure all Americans have access to art. Late Friday night Rush Limbaugh also weighed in on twitter, citing,
“NObama wants to shut down your minds, man. Wake up sheeple! He wants all of you to be mindless robots. #1984”
Sean Hannity was quick to reply to Limbaugh.
“@SeanHannity We should take the initiative. We need to support art if Barack is too scared. #wahh”
“@Limbaugh Agree! Let’s make a website or a tv station or something! All art! #rebelsWITHacause”
“@SeanHannity You know, you could be on to something here. Call my people. I’m excited about this. Let’s have lunch ;-)”
“@Limbaugh Love it! And we can filter out all the icky stuff. #weiners #haha #insidejoke”
“@SeanHannity You’re a genius. This is going to be huge.”
“@Limbaugh Freedom ART! #USA #USA”
@SeanHannity RT Freedom ART! I think we have a name!
While no official word has come from the senate minority leaders on whether mandatory arts education legislation is on its way to the senate floor, Democrats are already gearing up for a fight.
In Chesney, Colorado, a local politician stated they were eager to begin plans for a book burning/wiener roast rally as soon as the weather was warm enough.
It is uncertain what the future holds for arts in education and arts funding in general. Republicans insist that they are ready to fight to keep Obama from getting his way, but his recent declaration of intent to wield his executive privilege may mean that their hands are tied.
This has been Master Blog Theatre, nothing in the above performance of a news story was real except for the absurdity of its believability.
I’ve been preaching the message of high impact student engagement and development for a while now. People are getting the message but I don’t know if they are getting the urgency. My friends kindly suggested that perhaps I take my own advice and share my thoughts using my own words. Because I’m a storyteller. And a teacher. And I dare people to do things that scare them ALL THE TIME. I encourage it. But all the time this big scary thing was hovering in the back of my mind. Well I did it. I broke all the rules of video blogging and just got up and was my natural self. One small victory for me. Hopefully the first of many. I don’t let a lot of people see the “real” me. I’m happy to let all of you.
I’m also on Vine now, although I haven’t posted anything yet. I suppose since I have mentioned it, I had better get started.
Fine me through Twitter
Be well, you crazy weirdos.
This has been a year of change and growth for me. I don’t think I’ve ever ended a year so completely different from when I started it. Not in my memory. In fact, before this year, I wasn’t aware that it was possible. January seems like such a very long time ago.
Aside from a few small conference presentations and professional development workshops, my year started off with our production of Proof.
It was a good story, well told. I was proud of everything about it. The cast was warm and close. The playing space was small. The atmosphere was very safe and creative. It was the kind of project that recharges tired batteries. One that gets you ready for the next big dive.
Summer moved in quick and things began to happen in a rush.
I was asked to be a Canvassador by Instructure and I said Yes! But we’re going to wait to tell our parents.
I worked with our Discovery Theatre students to create an epic retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from their perspective. Cool news about that soon!
I wrote and self-published my manifesto for teaching, Prepare for Impact. I am so proud of this book and the feedback I have gotten from teachers across the country. Teachers who needed inspiration and got some. So many good feels!
I went to InstructureCon 2013 and presented The Case for Building from Scratch. It was hot off the presses and meme-a-licious. The conference as a whole was really, really, fun. Everyone there was so passionate about the student experience and about teaching and learning. It was a great big pedagogy group hug.
At the conference I got one of the best opportunities ever. I was able to get up on stage during the lightning round and say with my voice all the things I had been saying in my book. “Yes, you ARE right. Teaching IS important. Don’t forget. You are changing the world.”
I don’t know if I inspired them, but I know they inspired ME. I came back with a bug up my ass about gamification that just wouldn’t quit. I also had a mean start on a second book.
Instead, I stopped everything to make a short film with my friend Amy Rankin. Well, she did the filming part, I did the sitting-on-the-couch acting, part. And lots of changing clothes. Oddly enough, the end result wasn’t too far off from some of the conversations I’ve had with myself from time to
Two weeks before fall classes started, I decided I was going to completely rewrite my online Theatre Appreciation class as a gamified course that used contracted grading instead of traditional grades. They would create their own learning pathways. They would collect gems in their deal to complete Thespis’s crown. Sure, no problem! What could possibly go wrong?!
Looking back, I must have been crazy, but somehow I did it. And sure, some things blew up in my face. But other things were so awesome, they made the blown up parts ok. I promise I’ll cough up all the details. More than you want probably, in later posts. It’s on my 2014 list.
My next big goal was to finish the second book, Teaching in Zero Gravity, before the semester got away from me. I knew my fall production would be auditioning in the last week of September. The book needed to be done before that.
I missed it by a week or so. It was done, edited, and waiting to be uploaded when I got the news that my good friend, Kris Sulzberger was nearing the end of her struggle with cancer. It was the second week of Buried Child rehearsals. All of my plans dissipated into the ether. I dedicated my book to her, and justifiably so. She taught me so much about teaching online. I spent as much time as I could with her. Taught classes. Directed the show. It’s all a blur.
Kris died on October 27. Buried Child opened on November 8th.
We had a celebration of life event for her on the stage, November 10th. I delivered a eulogy dressed as a pirate, while the dark skeletal set of Buried Child lurked quietly behind the screen.
What happened next? Life moved on. It was Thanksgiving, then finals. My office at school was offered up to the gods of construction and improvement and I moved back to the faculty hallway, into Kris’s old office, in fact.
So my year ended approximately a million miles from where it started. I am ok with this for the most part. I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with words like loss and gain, but I will say that the seeds of discovery found writing Prepare for Impact were forced into early bloom when Kris got sick.
All I know is there are some things I have to do. And some things I get to do. What’s up for me in 2014 has already put it in the running for best year ever. I’m going to do everything I can to make that a reality.
If that’s going to happen, we can’t stay safe. We have to be brave. We have to allow the wild-eyed child out unsupervised. We have to be willing to squelch the mud between our toes and obliterate all the crunchy ice puddles. We have to build the best pillow fort ever. We have to be nice. We have to listen. We have to wonder. We have to build. We must become.
Oh, did I say “we?” I was hoping you’d come along.
Please don’t mind the digital mess, I’m doing a little remodeling and I’ve never been a fan of working in a blind.
I have written these words a lot and deleted them. But I promised myself that I would tell this story before we moved on with the blog, with the holidays, with life.
In my first year of teaching I don’t remember much other than a flurry of activity. This is normal.
In my second year of teaching, I stuck my head out of my office and said, “I think I could be better at this online teaching thing.” All inquiries led me to Kris. She sat me down and we chatted for a long time. That was followed by a series of email attachments, sample class stuff, her own syllabi.
She had figured out the solutions of many of the problems that I was only starting to she and she not only shared them, but over the years as we each refined things, we would continue to bounce ideas off of one another.
She was a natural at pretty much everything. She had a style all her own and it was a good one. Classy. Funny. Fearless. Magnetic. When she was in the room, that’s where the fun was.
We became friends. On an early trip to Champaign to check out a plant store, or a yarn store, or a pet store, the farmer’s market, or a craft store, or a tea store, or some type of store . . . could have definitely been a thrift store . . . she stated very clearly. “I have breast cancer. It’s terminal.”
Well, hell, what do you say to that? I said the first thing that came to mind. “That sucks!” She burst out laughing. I did too.
That was my response again 6 years later, just a few months ago, when she sent me that text. The one that told me she had been given 1-2 months to live. The one that said there was nothing more they could do.
We had drifted apart when she got married. You know, love and all that. She had moved from just up the street to a few small towns away. But in the moment I read the text, everything changed. At the same time, I was in production in the theatre. She and I began talking every morning. We laughed a lot. She gave me the same open access to her death she gave me to her life. Still teaching and learning.
She died on October 27. We had planned to see a matinee of Spam-a-lot that day.
This is the part where the blog becomes fuzzy. I carried on with the show. With life. We planned a celebration of life event. I gave a eulogy dressed as a pirate. There was a conga line. It was good. Ok, I don’t know about good. But it was right.
And everywhere I went, warm hands reaching out to pat mine. Whispers. My sister died. My mother. My son. My husband. Strangers who normally shielded eyes become real and raw. A bond is there that was not before. I didn’t know what to say. So much grief and pain is discouraging. We all shared the horror of helplessness.
Coming back to the world is sort of like a slow surfacing through a murky sea. Things get clearer. Brighter. Noisier. More hopeful. And I wonder what I am left with. What are any of us left with?
And that is where I left this blog. The one I started over a week ago. Another sort of finality I suppose. If I finish the blog, it’s true. She is really gone.
She is really gone.
She is not really gone.
Because, you see, she existed. She impacted. She gave of herself so freely the world became a better place. But like a not-for-profit institution who loses one of their major donors, there is now a gap in the world that cannot be filled by one person alone. Kris was too big for that. It will take all of us. Yes, even if you.
We have all lost people too soon. All that we can do now is to accept the lessons we have been given and work twice as hard to share the load. To be better. To do more.
So it is settled then. We have a lot of work to do.
For Kris, for everyone lost, for ourselves, for our kids, for each other.