persistence and progress


[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.)


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.”
“Sometimes you just need to go outside and ride your bike.”
“Holy $%^& that’s amazing”:

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