Thursday, January 29, 2015

Backwards Day All Year Long

Dan Ferri

Some poems visit you at sunset. Some haunt you in the wee hours with Jabberwocky logic because, let's face it, anything seems logical at 3AM.  There are poems you reach for when a friend dies, when a marriage implodes, when gratitude washes away pain.

Dan Ferri's poem, Backwards Day, follows me down school hallways behind 7th graders hiding their faces in hoodies. It stands with me as I watch the kid who can't hold a pencil and whose school won't let him use a keyboard try to make a joke out of it. It sits on my knee in a kindergarten class while everyone else is sitting on the carpet.  This poem is for those who would rather cartwheel than walk, draw instead of formulate equations, those who write, know how to harmonize, and problem solve.

Holidays, snow days, and low grade fevers should never happen on the weekend.  This Saturday is Backwards day, and because of that, I was afraid it would be overlooked this year.  

You know what this list is?  It's a list of what proficiency tests do NOT measure.  I found it in a book by Gerald Bracey, On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools (Heinemann 2003, in case you are looking for some light reading).  

As we head into testing season (I know this because of schools that call asking for a visit "after the tests") I'm thinking maybe Backwards Day shouldn't be only an annual event like the 100th day of school or Dr. Seuss' birthday, but a holiday that we celebrate all year long.

Dan is a seasoned middle school teacher transplanted from Chicago to Canberra, Australia, and as such he knows schools, holidays, and isn't afraid to call out puppypoop when he sees it.  Reprinted here with permission. 

Backwards Day

Sometimes at school we have a special day
We call it backwards day
Everyone wears their clothes backwards
Or wears colors that clash
I have a modest proposal
Forget your silly backwards hats and tee shirts
Forget this stripes and checks together puppypoop
Let's get serious
Let's really shake school up

In math class, for homework
Describe the associative, distributive, and
Commutative properties
In dance
Choreograph it, dance it, show your work
Points off for clumsiness

In Social Studies, for homework
Prepare two Civil War marching songs, one North one South
Sing in four-part harmony, show your emotion
Points off for flat notes

In English, for homework
Carve a sculpture that expresses Hester Prynne's solitary courage
The cowardice of her lover
The beauty and strangeness of her child

In Science, for homework,
Bring in a broken toaster, doorknob, or wind-up toy
Fix it
You get extra credit for using the leftover parts to make something new
Points off for reading the directions

On the S.A.T.
Every one of the questions
Will be in haiku

You get two scores
One in whistling, and one in Legos
No calculators

Let's take a stroll down the hall
Let's see who is in the learning disabilities classroom now
Will you look at all those guys with pocket protectors
Sweating, slouching, and acting out
Hey, no one cares that you can divide fractions backwards in
your head buddy
You will stay right here and practice interpretive dance steps till
you get it right

Will you look at all those perfect spellers with bad attitudes
Look at those grammar wizards with rhythm deficit disorder
What good is spelling gonna do you
If you can't carry a tune
Toss a lariat
Or juggle?

You are going to stay right here and do the things that you can't
Over and over, and again, and again
Until you get them right,
Or until you give up
Quit school
And get a job
As a spell checker
At the A&P

~Daniel Ferri

Friday, January 02, 2015

Taking it to the Next Level

A wise philosopher (Cher?) once said that “everyday’s a new audition.”  That’s a lot of pressure!

And no time is that more evident than January 1, when we resolve something or other starting with the new year. 

In the writing and the reading, poetry gives me pause. To others I may appear motionless, but the truth is, I'm just tuning my voice.

Watch out, 2015.