From Tatsuya Tanaka.
Saturday night the Gal Pal and I (and Kris and Brian) went to a concert at Traditions Cafe in downtown Olympia. When we go out, we go all out, which means some grub beforehand. Traditions concert tickets are $15. I counted about 40 peeps tucked into the small cafe. So I started to do the math because I’m always doing the math, can’t help it. Actually, MaggieZ does math, I do arithmetic. $600 divided between three musicians minus one-third to the cafe (guessing) equals $400 divided between three or $133/per. Don’t forget to factor in a few CD sales, but still less than $200/per.
And yet, all three musicians, Larry in particular, performed like it was a stadium concert with 40,000 people. His technical prowess as a guitar player and singer was impressive, but not nearly as much as the profound joy he had for sharing his gifts. The intrinsic genesis of his art was a beautiful, downright spiritual thing to observe.
And it got me thinking about whether I’d share my teaching gifts with the same committed passion if I only had a few students. And how I like to be well compensated for my time. And how I want to be more like Larry when I grow up.
Fast forward a few days to a story our local on-line paper ran on a local citizen who is doing a mindfulness workshop for local educators. Interested in mindfulness, I snooped around her website only to find a “shopping” section with bullshit mindfulness products. And her teacher workshop costs twenty Tradition’s concert tickets. I don’t begrudge her the right to run a profitable business or her desire to build wealth as a young person. Also, people pay decent money for yoga classes, but the overt commercialism and explicit selling of mindfulness, not only makes me want to run the other way, but likely turns off others who could benefit greatly from it.
Granted, it’s easier to take my advice to be like Larry and not just follow the money all the time, when you have some money. But whether you do or don’t have money, nonstop selling becomes habitual, meaning the extrinsic overwhelms the intrinsic until one’s work contributes very little to the greater good.
I’ve referenced two PressingPausers—Kris and MaggieZ—whose loyalty to the humble blog I greatly appreciate, but I’m thinking about a third who shall remain nameless because that’s the way he’d want it. Check out this other article from our same local on-line paper, “Puget Sound Honor Flight Recognizes Veterans One Flight At A Time”. When I first saw it, I immediately skimmed it for my friend’s name, but somehow he didn’t make it into the article. The fact that no one is watching him get up at 4 a.m. to drive to Sea-Tac Airport monthly, or watching him sometimes accompany local veterans on the actual flights, or watching him attend board meetings, makes all those activities much more meaningful.
Larry didn’t need much if any money. All he needed was a small group of people to share with. Same with our esteemed, third PressingPauser. All he needs is an appreciative veteran or two to share with.
It’s not my fault. I’ve fallen in with some bad dudes. It started a few years ago when The Sopranos drew me in. Then The Wire. Then Breaking Bad. Now The House of Cards. I should be eligible for a mail order degree in Abnormal Psychology.
What is it about Tony Soprano, Avon Barksdale, Walt, and F.U. that makes it so hard to look away as they leave ruined lives and dead bodies in their wake?
My theory rests on the assumption that I’m a part of the 99% that has a social conscience, but sometimes still wrestles with doing the right thing. At 2a.m., with the streets deserted, we still wait for the red light to turn, but not before imagining going. We get frustrated with people all the time, even irate at times, but we successfully suppress our violent tendencies. We get used to the tension between our better and worse-r selves. And fortunately for society, our better selves almost always win out.
Tony, Avon, Walt, and Frank are the 1% that effortlessly give in to their worse-r selves. Their lives are not complicated by other people’s feelings. Once off the rails, they have zero regrets. On second thought, scratch Tony from that foursome, his earnest therapy sessions with Melfi disqualify him from the truly pathological.
In large part, I think I find these dramas so compelling because I can’t fathom what it would be like to live completely unencumbered by doing the right thing. To not give a single thought to authority, social convention, and the social contract we enter into as drivers while running the light. To not care whether someone lives or not.
There’s another important variable in the equation. For me the gruesome violence is usually just palatable enough because I know they’re fictional dramas. After watching The Wire, I can reason, “That teen drug runner didn’t really die at the hands of the other teen drug runner, because they’re acting.” LIke when watching a play or reading a novel, it helps to know it’s imaginary. In Breaking Bad the innocent kid on the bike in the New Mexico dessert didn’t really die. He’s probably a popular eighth grader somewhere in SoCal.
Could the time I’ve spent with the Mount Rushmore of television criminals have a deleterious effect on my normal, law-abiding self? That’s doubtful because the Good Wife makes me take a powerful antidote to these intense crime dramas every Sunday night. Downton Abbey.
Postscript—Watch this 60 Minutes segment (13:40) on Wolfgang Beltracchi (13:40). Beltracchi, as evidenced by the final exchange which begins at 13:28, has Mount Rushmore criminal potential.
Fascinating essay last week by Don Van Natta, Jr. on the 1973 Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match that 50 million Americans and I watched on television. I was eleven and still remember it.
Riggs was a masterful hustler who “stayed in the barn” early in high stakes tennis and golf matches, meaning he purposely played well below his potential to lure his opponent and other bettors into a false sense of accomplishment. Then, mid to late match, Riggs would “come out of the barn,” play as well as possible and ultimately win. The art was in the timing.
The most talented, compelling artists almost always appear to be at least partly in the barn. As if they always have another gear or two in reserve. That’s what makes their performances so compelling. My first memory of this phenomenon was probably around the “Battle of the Sexes” when I was awestruck by a televised Dionne Warwick performance. She seemed to be expending about a third of her energy. Here’s just one example from the video archives:
When My Betrothed dances, she’s partly in the barn. And when watching my friend Brian ride his bike, with his rhythmic high cadence, perfectly still body, and oh so steady pace, I think, “Damn, if only it were that easy.”
Lake Center Dive is an immensely talented and stylish, up-and-coming foursome that conveys that “partly in the barn” feeling big time. Dig these examples:
Of course, an individual or group can only make something look effortless when they combine natural talent, intense commitment, and serious preparation.
My Betrothed, Brian, and Lake Center Dive owe people like me, who try to compensate for a lack of talent through extra effort, with a huge debt of gratitude. The rough edges of our extra effort is what makes the truly talented appear so stylish in comparison.
A bullshit workplace notion. Midway into artistic or athletic activities, jobs, careers, relationships, life, we plateau. Shortly thereafter, energy ebbs, and our performance erodes.
We improve for a bit, we plateau, we decline.
I observed a good second year math teacher today at the independent middle school. Then we conferenced. After listening to him reflect on the pre-algebra lesson, I listed his many strengths. Then I made a few suggestions. Call on Ben as soon as he puts his head on his desk. Give Robin your marker, take her seat, and have her teach everyone her prime factorization method by illustrating it on the board. Have two more students explain and illustrate their methods and then ask, “Which is most efficient and why?” Let the kite string out a bit and “guide from the side” for awhile. Remember, the educative effect is greater when students do something than when something is done to them.
He told me he likes it when I observe because he’s reminded of effective teaching methods that he has let slip. He’s a good second year teacher who has started to plateau because he’s rarely observed, and rarely gets to observe other, more accomplished teachers.
A small number of the very best teachers, artists, athletes, and people continue improving considerably longer than their peers by seeking out expert, critical feedback; by investing progressively more time and energy; and by surrounding themselves by other positive, hardworking people, who are trending upwards.
And the wisest teachers, artists, athletes, and people have a sixth sense for both when they’ve plateaued and when their performance has begun to decline. And then the wisest, most selfless, most financially secure of them, step aside to provide the next generation opportunities to improve, plateau, and decline.
Hope I don’t jinx myself with the next sentence. I’ve just passed through a period of above average interpersonal conflict. The wife, the daughter, everyone has been conspiring against me.
A lot of our behavior is explained by insecurities rooted in our past. As a result of our insecurities, we get sideways when other people dare think and act differently than us. Our tendency is to try to change the way they think and act. They resist. We persist. The result. Interpersonal conflict.
At a recent conference I met an insightful woman who was a professional mediator. She said something in passing that I found rather profound. “If we can normalize conflict, we can respond to it instead of react to it.” If intimacy and conflict are inseparable, as I believe they are, why do we react so poorly to conflict rather than constructively respond to it?
When we think of conflict as a weakness, as a sign of failure, and as something to be avoided at all costs, we get caught off-guard by it. That makes the successful resolution of it less likely. When we assiduously avoid conflict, natural low-level resentments build and become corrosive.
When we respond to conflict we slow things down enough to think and we’re mindful of treating the other person the way we want to be treated. We may get very emotional and talk animatedly, but we do so knowing a resolution is going to require respectful give and take. Instead of just waiting for the other person to stop talking long enough to begin arguing a point, we truly listen, and are mindful of the other person’s feelings.
When we react to conflict, we lose control of our emotions, sometimes end up shouting past one another, quit caring as much about the other person’s feelings, and ultimately say hurtful things which makes resolution much more difficult. Respond—gradual progress towards resolution. React—things spiral downwards.
It would be nice if there were Harry Potter-like wands that we could use on one another to make us more accepting of ourselves and more secure. Then maybe we’d be freed from the grip of wanting to change others to think and act more like us. By truly accepting ourselves, maybe we could learn to accept others—even their different politics, values, personalities, and life goals.
Felt nostalgic for Europe I guess and took the train to PDX for a workshop on adolescent literacy. I WANT to be a train person, but Amtrak is making it hard. It’s bad enough the train takes longer than driving. My Squeeze and I planned on eating an early dinner in the big city and then returning on the 6:15p. Workshop ended an hour early and so we decided to take the 4:20p and eat at home. Headed to the iMax at 3:40p. At the train station we learned the 4:20p was delayed about an hour.
Long story short, it never arrived, something about a tree on the track. Instead of a romantic dinner, we took a walk and then sat in front of the station reading in the setting sun eating pistachios. The 6:15p originates in PDX so it would have to leave on time. . . right? Longer story shorter, we walked off the train at 7:40p, exactly four hours after leaving the hotel for home. Something about a broken brake line they couldn’t fix. The man sitting in front of us asked if we wanted a lift home, he was bailing on the train, taking the iMax to his car in Clakamass. He had a morning business meeting in Seattle. What a life, or at least, nightsaver.
But I digress.
Stanford research prof was the main presenter. Excellent researcher I’m sure, but how can I put this nicely, his presentation skills were not as well developed. Here’s what Dr. Stanford Expert and his co-presenter, a much better teacher from The U of Utah, recommended.
1. Strengthen adolescent reading fluency, vocab, and comprehension through scientifically researched (read quasi-experimental and other quantitative studies) teaching strategies that have been proven to be effective including explicit vocabulary instruction and classroom discussion of texts.
2. Explicit instruction involves three steps: I do it (modeling). We do it (guided practice). You do it (independent practice). If teaching a complex literacy skill like summarizing, the three steps may take an entire week. Teachers inevitably rush the steps.
3. There are three elements to classroom discussion of texts: 1) efferent (the who, what, where, and why of what was read. . . what did the writer say); 2) analysis and interpretation; and 3) evaluation. . . how did you feel about it, how convincing was the argument or engaging/illuminating the narrative. Research suggests teachers slight part one which low achieving students benefit the most from. Dr. SE made it clear he had “absolutely no interest” in evaluation/students’ opinions.
It was alternatingly interesting and exasperating. Throughout the day there was no discussion of the purposes of literacy; there wasn’t a single reference to digital, electronic, or multimedia texts; nor was there a single reference to the societal curriculum. Nevermind that adolescents are in school 22-23% of the time and outside it 77-78%.
Here’s an alternative, admittedly less scientific, more sociological perspective.
Immerse children and young adults in rich literary environments for long periods of time. Surround them by interesting reading material. Unplug more and read in front of them. Talk about what you’re reading. Demonstrate a love of reading in your daily life. Repeat year after year.
Here’s a related math literacy, or “numeracy” example. One Sunday morning, when seventeen was two or three, she crawled into bed and snuggled in between mom and dad. Dad started counting. “One.” She squeaked, “two.” And thus began Sunday morning math. Overtime, we counted by twos, threes, fours, whatever we felt like. We never called it multiplication. My hunch that my daughter’s success in math is in part explained by those Sunday mornings would not impress Dr. SE one bit.
I was impressed with how candidate Obama talked eloquently about parents being their childrens’ first and most important teachers. I wonder why he’s abandoned the Bully Pulpit.
The teachers and school leaders in the workshop politely and passively accepted the “literacy and numeracy as a teacher-centered science” way of thinking as if there are no alternatives. Few probably realized with that paradigm comes a narrow emphasis on technical skills, test scores, and national economic competitiveness.
Research and what happens in school matters, but magic can happen when young people are immersed in rich literary environments where word and number play are daily activities.
Forget Wall Street and Detroit for a minute. Should we subsidize more artists?
Some would say “yes” because art suffers as a result of market competition. The artist says my concern is less with developing a distinctive style or voice than with earning a livable wage, less emphasis on what do I need to say or create and more on what does the audience want to hear and see.
Some would say “no” because art benefits from market competition. The artist says my economic vitality is dependent upon me developing a distinctive voice and style, yet at the same time, I have to attend to my audience’s interests, desires, and tastes. As a result, art advances.
We have the National Endowment of the Arts that supports some artists, but those monies are miniscule relative to the national budget. In Norway, I was intrigued that new buildings have to budget something like 2% of their total building costs to public art.