Grown-up Topics, Uncategorized

The Chinese Library

Around 2006, I was invited to lead a delegation of Literacy Educators for a conference via People to People (the organization started by President Eisenhower). About 20 teachers signed up for the excursion.

As is often the case, the conference of international speakers (mostly Chinese, speaking Chinese with occasional translation) of talking heads was dull. But other activities were planned for the week, such as a visit to the Great Wall, a silk factory, shopping, and of course school visits. We were all most looking forward to the two school visits.

In the way of context, Chinese children in Beijing are grouped into schools by abilities based on their score on a single uniform test across the city (as it was explained to us bu our guide). Therefore, we would be shown only the top schools with only the top scoring students.

The first visit was a high school which began with a welcome orientation by a school administrator in a sort of conference room.  He was warm and welcoming. One of my teachers asked how they deal with struggling readers.

“We don’t have any,” was his terse reply.

The rest of our visit was orchestrated and escorted with no interaction with either teachers or students. We got back on the bus, and began talking.

“I didn’t see a library,” one teacher brought up. Hmm, we all thought. Indeed we did not. American schools always show off their library to guests. We had asked our guide earlier if the schools have libraries.

“Yes,” he said immediately, and he recited the ratio of books to students in each school.

So, we resolved on the second visit, a school with younger children, to see the library. We arrived at the second school.

“We’d like to see the library,” I asked respectfully via a translator. There were heads nodding and we were escorted to….a lunchroom. At one end were a few magazine racks with age-appropriate magazines. We looked at each other. Hmmm.

By this time, was international travel had been extensive. So I was thinking there had been a translation error. Translation is a tough thing, especially between languages that are so very different.

So, as delegation leader, I asked again, trying in earnest to be more clear. “We would love to see your library – the room where all the books are, where students might find a book to read, or to check out for a report or project.”

There was quiet talking and mumbling and of course, we had no idea what they were saying, but clearly there were conferring about our request. We were then directed to the two elevators, and in each case, a Chinese person selected the basement button.

From the elevators were were led down a long hallway. The ceilings were lower than in the rest of the building. In the hallways were also the planters taken in for winter and broken chairs and desks. Lighting was dim, and winter chills seeped from somewhere.

A Chinese man stopped us in front of a metal door with a padlock on it, We stood there for a good 10-15 minutes. Clearly this man did not have the keys. Finally another man arrived with a ring ok keys, and opened the door. We filed in quietly.

There were books all right. Rows and rows of metal stacks. We went up and down the rows looking at what was there. BUT, nearly all the books were still in shrinkwrap. No book showed any signs of use. Everything was too clean and untouched. There was no card catalog, no windows, no place to sit and read, no desk for checkout. Many titles were Chinese translations of British literature – classics. We saw no picture books. No evidence of cataloguing.

We stayed quiet, not wanting to be disrespectful. This time we were given a tour which was more personal. We were brought to a large room where children were seated with their teachers, and they demonstrated for us a Chinese art of paper cutting. It was interesting and enjoyable. We were invited to answer questions of the students. Some raised their hands. Translators helped. One asked what we thought about the “One child” rule, and didn’t we agree it is a good thing.  We decided to steer away from that one. I said something about how we really don’t know much about the rule, so we cannot comment.

Afterwards we were paraded into a lovely art room. The thing was, however, there was no evidence that art room was used. Nothing smelled like art supplies. There was nothing drying, or in progrss, or hanging, or displayed.

We were brought into a science lab. It was a large and well equipped lab with bunson burners, beakers, flasks, and lots of sinks and benches. But, there was a fine veil of dust on all the glassware. There was no evidence that this room had ever been used.

As we passed classrooms, we smiled at the children who were stuffed wall to wall into rows. A teacher upfront would not be able to walk anywhere but down and row and back as desks went all the way to the back wall – I counted 36-40 students. Children had all identical haircuts, wore uniforms, and the rooms were quiet.

“May we go in?” I asked the escort. He seemed unsure what to say, but opened the door. We trailed in, said hello to the teacher and greeted the students. We encouraged the teacher to keep teaching, but that wasn’t going to happen. Children broke they stoic stance and popped up like jumping beans, wanting to shake our hands all at once. We felt like rock stars amid momentary chaos. We said our goodbyes and then left.

I don’t think that part of the visit was in the Chinese plan.

We were taken to visit the “counselor” who was called the “Teacher for Morality.” She was talking with a few students in an attractive and comfortable setting with chairs and a table. Of course, we do not know what they were talking about.

Our guide had been the assistant principal. We learned the principal was not an educator. He was a member of the Communist Party there for enforcement of whatever they needed to enforce. The assistant principal, a woman, was the real educator.

Subject area textbooks were Party approved, and uniform. We saw no child interacting with books other than the approved texts. We saw no books anywhere, other than those magazines in the lunchroom.

We had lots to talk about back at our hotel. I still think about this visit. Still unpacking what it means to have a locked library that no one uses.  Still thinking about a country where children have no access to books – by design, not because of poverty.

I find myself so very thankful for American libraries, and the fact that they are so incredibly important, and that we sometimes have to defend them, and I for one, will always support libraries. A world without libraries is a very different sort of place. Not one I wish to live in.

red metal padlock
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com
Uncategorized

What has happened to Multiage Education?

Before George W. was elected, many schools were making great strides, grouping students by clusters of ages, rather than single arbitrary grade levels (for which there is no research supporting the grade level grouping). Multiage grouping – often in clusters of 2,3 or all primary students, or all intermediate students – is the deliberate grouping of students for the social and educational benefits it affords, and there are advantages to teachers and schools (and parents) as well.

Some of us hoped with the election of Obama, that some things would return to their educational good common sense. Alas, that was not the case.

While in Florida, with a colleague and a most talented teacher, I had the pleasure and opportunity to follow a group of students in a multiage primary classroom for four years. Our research taught me so much, and the results went far beyond what I thought possible.

Teachers struggle with how to structure multiage curriculum, as they are accustomed to grade levels. The change is fairly minimal when you remember you are teaching students and not grade levels, and we have always tried to do our best to meet the needs of everyone.

Administrators struggle with how to report data, and how to explain it all to parents. These two issues are highly solvable, and not difficult.

Everyone thinks parents will hate multiage grouping. Parents are initially skeptical. In Florida, after one semester of implementing multiage classes at a Manatee County elementary school, 94% of parents were thrilled with the arrangement, as they saw their children thriving in a model far more like a family than most things done in schools.

Let me share an anecdote. A veteran kindergarten teacher became a multiage k-1 teacher, by choice. She was accustomed to the frenzy of those first weeks of kindergarten with too many children not knowing how to do school, or tie their shoes, or put on the jackets, etc. Year two, half the class were new kindergarten students and the second half were first graders who’d been kindergartners the prior year – the year started off so smoothly.

Around day 3, kids were lining up to head out to lunch. One or two kindergartners were wiggly, disruptive, and not responding to teacher directions to line up quietly and in an orderly way. One first grader turned around to the wiggly kindergartners and with a look, said,

“We don’t do THAT here.” That was the end of the incident. Peer pressure can be a good thing in the right circumstances, when used in the right way. The newbies complied for their classmate in ways they might not think to for their teacher. The rest of the year was like that: Smooth, calm, a medium ripe for much learning.

For teachers or administrators out there who want to be multiage, who are multiage and need help defending your practice, or honing your practice, I can help you if you need help.

In the section about Books I Have Written are listed 2 books I co-authored on multiage education, one with an administrator as co-author. You can find these books on amazon. They are no longer in print.

You can also reach me through this website, or my email wkasten@kent.edu. Consulting fees are reasonable and negotiable as long as it does not cost me money to help you.

If you are a courageous teacher or school holding on to this best practice, then my congratulations and best wishes.

Poetry, Uncategorized

Where I am From….

Me, at age 15. My brother took the photo, and we developed  it in his home darkroom. 











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Sometimes it’s fun to write a poem based on a pattern some otherpoet used. This one is based on George Ella Lyon. She is a wonderful poet. Hereis my version.
Where I am From…
I am from the red house, near tothe corner of Clinton and Third.
I am from two parents who lovedeach other and their children.
I am from the “farm” wheresummers shaped my feelings about land, open spaces, and New England.
I am from the Dutch grandparentswho cooked and baked sweet Dutch treats each Sunday.
I am from those Americans whocannot gaze upon Lady Liberty with dry eyes.
I am from the home with cats,laughter, and many, many books.
I am from times of struggle,little money, few nice things.
I am from the father who stood atour front door refusing to sign a petition to keep a Black family from buyingthe house next door, telling them to their face that they were wrong. “anybodycan buy a house if they can afford it,” he told the man.
I am from the river, the brook,the bay, the sunrise on the Penobscot, the loon on the lake, thunderous waveson sharp rocks.
Now, I am the mosaic of my past,one rich in places, the treasures of my travels, the friendship ties to faraway shores.
All these, and especially thememories, keep my heart warm.
 
w.c. kasten, copyright 2009, all rights reserved.
Uncategorized

Attic City

Residents of Attic City

Attic City

2 Comments / Blog / By admin

The house Tom and I grew up in was tall and narrow, with two regular floors and then a basement and an attic. Our bedrooms were small so the attic became our place to play as younger kids. Mom put a linoleum rug on the floor to keep us from getting splinters in our feet, hands, and knees from the wooden planks of the floor.  The red flowered linoleum became Attic City.

Between the two of us, we had quite a few dolls and stuffed animals. Dolls, all girl dolls, were then married off to various stuffed animals who we made all boys.  Bookshelves with the books removed were apartments for couples. We had a sort of real-sized wooden dog house that had been made in Dad’s shop at school, and this became the home of the mayor of Attic City. The mayor, named Happy, was a stuffed beagle toy with open and close eyes, and a toy Tom really liked.  A small child sized table became a home for my entire family of Ginny Dolls (before Barbie was invented).  I had sisters Mary and Muffy, three teen dolls named Sharon and Jill and Marian, and a baby doll named Ginette. They all had real wooden beds, with pillows and blankets. Marian was the Mom of this little family. Jill was nice. Sharon was always getting in trouble.

On rainy days, we played Attic City. We would make up stories for the characters in the town. Tom always wanted there to be a robbery or a murder. I never wanted anything bad to happen. I preferred stories with weddings, or going to school, or playing games.

On the other side of the attic, Tom had his Lionel Trains set up. Two big tables in the shape on an L, one table being the city with little houses and trees, and the other table being the country with barns, cows, and fences. The best part, in my opinion, was the train whistles. Tom had two. Sometimes we would blare both of them.

We played Attic City for years. Our last game, we had made our town its biggest yet. We thought Attic City needed lights, so we got into the boxes of Christmas ornaments. Tom strung 6 strands of lights back and forth across the attic ceiling, then did something to make them all blink, and then added the blaring train whistles.

Right about this time, probably responding to the noise, Mom came up the stairs.  She was not pleased. She made us take down the lights, put them away, and clean up Attic city.  That was the end of it. But then Tom was getting too old to play with a little sister anyhow. Tom still has Happy, the mayor of Attic City on a bookshelf in his home.  I visit both of them at his house each year.

This is Mary (left) and Muffy (right) from Attic City.  They are over 60 years old now, so Muffy’s eyes seem to be rusted shut.  My mother made both of the dresses they are wearing.

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Residents of Attic City