pages like wings

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by John

Field biologists are familiar with releasing organisms to the wild. Until today, I was not quite sure I appreciated how such activities could make a person feel. I have teacher friends who raise fish eggs in a chilled aquarium to be released in spring to re-stock salmon populations. I know of people who tag birds with the hope of tracking their travels. And I am sure almost you have seen nature programs of injured or orphaned animals being rehabilitated and returned to their natural habitat.

Today, I packaged the Proceedings for the 2011 Crossroads meeting. I was quite conscientious because these envelopes are to travel over the nation. One is going to Seattle and another is going to Tallahassee — from top left to bottom right corner. Others are going to California, the Carolinas, Georgia and New York state. The number of address labels was exactly 50 which seemed off by at least one. But indeed we have just 47 presenters and 4 facilitators. Since I already have my copy, it is accurate that there are 50 yellow envelopes waiting for the postman to retrieve tomorrow.

I tucked a generic note into each envelope asking the recipient to acknowledge they received their package. I expect to hear from more local Crossroads participants by the end of the week. And I am anticipating comments about the document’s appearance. I explained to our local copy company that since we were meeting in Texas, an orange cover would be nice. When I retrieved the materials today, they apologized for the color since it is not exactly subdued. They even referred to my order as: “Oh, the orange books.” So trick-or-treat!

Fly my little booklets. Find your way to welcome hands. When you arrive, take your rest and allow your keeper to open you wide and caress your interior. In just 10 days or so, you and your siblings will all come together in Texas. There your worth and value will become realized and appreciated. May your travels be swift and true. Looking forward to seeing you all, proceedings and people, in the very near future.

persistence and progress

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[by John & Adam]

Following the big national organization meeting, the two of us took a train ride from Denver to our rustic writing retreat in Utah. Our goal was to make substantive progress on a manuscript describing what we’ve learned by hosting Crossroads. In the process, we expected to discover what Crossroads might be in the future. Our days were divided into thirds: writing the manuscript, seeing the sites, and re-hydrating our bodies.  Train rides and thoughtful pauses in between induced new pieces, models, and re-drafts for the next day.

The local landscape offered useful contrasts to our internal landscapes. Whereas five years of Crossroads feels like a long time, it has no comparison with the geologic features carved over millions of years. On the other hand, the arches and walls we photographed, climbed through and scraped against are the results of the gentle persistence  of water, wind and exposure. We were inspired.

Writing is a long, hard, arduous process.  It, like any building or erosion, is a process of change.  Sand grain by sand grain, a dune is built up; and sand grain by sand grain, a fin is eroded to leave behind the essence.  We hope that our own writing and editing leaves behind some structure that looks as if it was always there, just waiting to be revealed.  Nature’s own whimsy suggests to us that the beauty was always locked somewhere deep inside a pile of sand.  Wind and water just had to work their way into the crevices to find the sculpture within.

As nature’s persistence reveals the comical geology of the desert, there’s a model for all of our work.  Certainly for us there was consolation in the landscape that patience and persistence were virtues for our writing.  Every word added or removed was a sand grain being placed.  And having come from the meeting in which an ocean of educational researchers had convened just days before, we could imagine the sand grains of work being done.  Some should be whittled away, sent by natural forces into a forgettable dune.  But some endure, remain, and have effect.  Having listened to countless words and having been blinded by countless slides, it is easy to become jaded and think that there is no real progress being made.  Some pieces must remain, though: calls for social justice, critique of current standards, and re-thinking of the very bases for practices that we take for granted.  We have to believe that what we do must leave behind something enduring, something important, something worth writing about.

(That small white sliver under the arch, right of center, is John. 6' 2" tall, just for scale.)

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Epilogue: Other images and lessons learned

Lesson 2:
“Sometimes you can’t wait for change; you must carve your own path”:

Lesson 3:
“From out of a dry landscape there is beauty”:

Lesson 4:
“There must be room for joy in our work.”
Or,
“Sometimes you just need to go outside and ride your bike.”
Or,
“Holy $%^& that’s amazing”:

to say it can’t be done

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[by John]

At a recent multicultural education conference, Dr. Carl A. Grant gave the keynote talk. He was standing in for Dr. Jacqueline Jordan-Irvine who had taken ill. Because of his backup status, he had little time to prepare, yet little to lose. It was one of those daring occasions where someone uses PowerPoint for the first time. Doing it away from home and in front of teachers and teacher educators further increased the tolerance from the audience. Kudos  for jumping in as both a speaker and a power-pointer.

Boldly, Dr. Grant insisted that the local tech guy sit on stage behind the lectern in case problems developed. This distinguished and dynamic scholar of color charmed us all in an instant. Dr. Grant began his talk about culturally responsive teaching by preparing the audience to view a video called The Danger of a Single Story that is a TED lecture by Chimamanda Adichie (http://snipurl.com/adichie). The essence of her talk is that when we rely upon a single story to understand another group we are destined to get it wrong because one story necessarily lacks sufficient complexity.

Primed as we were, there was a collective groan when the audio did not work. Tech Guy was on his two-way radio, apparently to God, trying to fix the problem. When God didn’t appear, Tech Guy was left to his own devices. His solution involved turning up the laptop speakers and bringing the lectern microphone close by. I could hear the narration if I didn’t breathe. Dr. Grant asked if we could hear and received a collective “no.” More fiddling by Tech Guy and then the sound rose so the author could be heard. We were now almost 2 minutes into the video. Someone called out with the legitimate request: “could you start it over at the beginning?” Tech Guy shook his head and said “no.” Dr. Grant explained to the audience how important it was to get the big picture — and Tech Guy relented. Using all his physical strength and technological brilliance, he dragged the slider back to 0:00, pushed by the communal will of the room.

The rest was the kind of rare and wonderful magic that I am incapable of fully communicating. I encourage you to watch the whole twenty minutes yourself. The point here is that much would have been lost had the lecturer accepted Tech Guy’s refusal at face value. His only task as the assistant was for the audio to be loud enough. That the message was not being delivered was immaterial to Tech Guy. His job and motives were discrepant from his responsibility to Dr. Grant and the gathered community. What should have been a shared goal ended up being misaligned. Only through intervention and insistence was the goal realized.

We often find ourselves at the gates of an Emerald City. The doorman refuses to let us see the Wizard until we tell who sent us and provide proof. Dorothy had to evoke the name of the Great Witch of the North and coquettishly display her ruby slippers to substantiate the claim. Dr. Grant had to lean on Tech Guy to slide a virtual controller a couple of centimeters. To his credit, Dr. Grant was calm and benevolent. He also stayed true to his purpose and would not be deterred. The lesson for us is to refuse to accept the initial “No, it can’t be done” when offered by someone else — especially by those whose goals are near-sighted aim or non-existent.

This tale of gentle graciousness and mob mentality converging so Dr. Grant could fulfill his purpose is but one example of our responses to the word “No.” Other strategies — persistence, annoyance, deviousness — might be effective in other settings. Crossroads is but one example where the insinuation that “it can’t be done” was enough to push it to fruition. From the outset there was a clear goal in mind — and more have since emerged. Continued and collaborative pushing brought us to this point. More importantly, individual Ventures arise as direct response to Vexations. Those with clearer and deeper senses of purpose can accomplish what needs to be done without being told. It is as if you arrived with sufficient foresight and boldness. There are big differences between “can’t” and “won’t” — recognizing the distinction and making strategic decisions is how things will get done.