Friday, November 29, 2013

Identity Coursepack

The second coursepack of the year engages the second SK theme: Identity.

Where the Explorers coursepack was purposefully wide-ranging, this second text is more streamlined. The topic at hand is the definition of American.

The first half of the anthology provides readings on the intentions of this newfangled nation, and the narrative of how the decision was reached to break away from the most liberal-minded and humanitarian kingdom in human history (not to say the British Empire was atrocity-free). In the end we created a document called the Constitution, loyalty to which entitled one to full-fledged citizenship, regardless of background.

Discovery of AmericaPaul La Farge1
New ColossusEmma Lazarus6
What Is an American?Hector St Jean de Crevecoeur7
Gettysburg AddressAbraham Lincoln9
Four FreedomsFranklin Delano Roosevelt10
Wordy ShipmatesSarah Vowell11
Fifty YearsLarry Gonick14
Ohio, 1754Larry Gonick16
Americans & EmpireEdmund Morgan20
Oops!Larry Gonick27
ConstitutionLarry Gonick38

This wasn't actually true, of course. Most Americans weren't citizens in our earliest years, and most suffered deeply from this denial. Changes were required and still are. The greatest characteristic of the Constitution is that changes to it are built right in. This process began even before its ratification, with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments. Since then, most of the Amendments have the effect of distributing the rights of American citizens more widely.

The second half of the coursepack explores this process.

LiteracyFrederick Douglass44
Douglass Meets LincolnLarry Gonick47
How It FeelsZora Neale Hurston48
Creation StoriesBarbara Kingsolver50
Phoenix, ArizonaSherman Alexie53
House on Mango StreetSandra Cisneros61
American Born ChineseGene Luen Yang68
Undeterred by RealityMolly Ivins87

Explorers Exhibitions

Exhibitions were a little different this fall than they were last year, and the second round, slated for January, will be a further evolution of the concept.

This time around, the kids were required to teach two fifteen-minute lessons, as they were in 2012-2013. Topics were selected from the theme of Explorers. This was a little tricky, since the word 'exploration' and its relatives are so spongy. 'I'm going to explore how much I like to eat Kit Kats' or 'I want to explore how much I love my stuffed unicorn, Andy' proved tempting topics. These and their ilk were vetoed.

Instead, we had the following collection (this is a complete list):

  • Martian rovers
  • minimalist music
  • early French film
  • the evolution of Antarctic transportation
  • Ponce de Leon
  • royalty in London
  • the colonization of Australia
  • photonic matter
  • life on Mars
  • touring Maastricht
  • Annie Edson Taylor and Jessica Watson
  • theatre in London
  • the emergence of New York City
  • Chinese exploration
  • the European Age of Exploration
  • early navigation
  • early cartography
  • traditional African housing
  • comparing Diana Nyad and Michael Phelps
  • Ponce de Leon
  • the Silk Road
  • missions to Mars
  • a history of computers
  • the palace of Knossos
  • Eurycleia, Odysseus' maid

As always, students were expected to engage their attendees and provide activities that would enable us to process the material. The kids did this in a variety of ways befitting their variety of interests. Danny showed an early French film, providing annotations and answering questions throughout. Ryan played samples of minimalist music. Aristea created a game show on Minoan civilization. Mike asked his audience to use Pei Xiu's six principles of cartography to map out one of our project rooms. Lily walked us through an activity-filled six-stop tour of London.

Faculty came out in force, for which we're grateful: Josh, Monica, Joanna, Imogen, Val, Sam, Rachel, Karen, Mary and Fran all attended at least one Exhibition.

For the next round, engaging the theme of Identity, three changes will be implemented.

1. Instead of teaching two fifteen-minute lessons, students will teach one thirty-minute lesson.
2. Each student will have an adult mentor, identified via the topic selected.
3. A full round of rehearsals will be formally scheduled.

Once students have finished reading the Identity coursepack, the preparation and proposal of individual projects will get underway. Topics will be selected and mentors identified before the holiday break. Exhibitions will take place in the third week of January.

Further Adventures of the AAA

Our latest away game was at the Friends School in Detroit, where we toured their school--our kids loved their huge art room--before running a lap around the school and playing two games of their devising: Aerobic Bowling and Sinking Ships. Friends has a little quarter-sized gym space, and we chatted about how such spaces can be maximized. Our kids really hit it off with our Quaker brethren and sistren. Bryan and I made sure that every team had both SK and FSD students on it, and all two dozen of the kids dove right in. We look forward to hosting them in return, hopefully sooner rather than later.

What will we do when they come? Playground Parkour? Calvinball? Multi-Sphere Futbol?

The County Farm Park Mile Run, perhaps?

Northern Odyssey

It was an early trip for us, possibly a bellwether for future years. Before September was out we took off on a Wednesday afternoon, travelling straight up I-75 and over the Mackinac Bridge. We were fourteen in number, the extra seat on the bus crammed with sleeping bags, fishing gear, maps, and contraband snacks.

The first night was all about acclimation, camp set-up, cooking, and chatter. Tents were pitched all over the lakeside lawn of the property, with a view across the Straits of Mackinac, the bridge a soft creamy green to the southeast. We switched off cooking and cleaning, ending up with home-cooked meals of pancakes, bacon, pasties, pizzas, curry, braised fish, sandwiches, and plates piled high with leftovers. The kids frolicked on the rocky northern shore of Lake Michigan well into the late dusk. After dinner Rachel and I introduced the Our Whole Lives curriculum to the kids. Mike tended the fire and we all got to sleep at a decent hour, some indoors, some out.

The next morning we scarfed breakfast, packed lunches, and headed north to Tahquamenon Falls. A short rainy hike off the park entrance brought us to the Lower Falls. We rented three rowboats which traced routes across the river so circuitous they made Odysseus' trip look like the express train. Then we hiked the circumference of the island, wading under the falls on both the east and west branches of the river. Kids are oblivious to cold when they feel like it. This was doubly true at Whitefish Point, where we took off our shoes to walk on the Lake Superior beach, holding collection there amidst the whipping winds of the sweetwater sea.

We drove back to the Straits. We made dinner, held a delightful two-hour OWL session, held another collection under the stars. Then we watched O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen Brothers' Depression-era version of Odysseus' story, and hit the sack after midnight.

That wasn't the end. The next morning we spent three hours packing and cleaning, following a master list posted on the wall, writing fourteen thank-you notes. (I understand that both the list and the thank-you notes are still on display in the house.) There was one last trip to the lakeshore, a sandy beach at Michigan Dunes ten minutes west of the house, before we hit the bridge again, traversed the Lower Peninsula like the good Trolls we are*, and made it back to SK at 3:30 on the dot.

* The good people of the Upper Peninsula, also known as Yoopers, sometimes refer to residents of the Lower Peninsula as Trolls, because we live under the bridge.