More Wordles

After I tweeted the Wordles to @kindergeek, she made one of her personal letter.

And then Anthony Cody took all the letters… and see what all letter, together, highlight.  

The fun part now is to go to those letters and search for some of those words, reading all the different contexts in which they appear.

Wordling Cody/Ravitch’s Letters to the President

When Diane Ravitch asked that we write letters to President Obama about his education policy, I did so, despite the stacks of awaiting homework.  When Anthony Cody compiled the letters, I had to skim them, again despite the stacks of awaiting homework.  (But when, oh when, does a high school English teacher not have stacks of awaiting homework?)

So then I wondered what Wordle might reveal.  Often, when I am introducing text, I use Wordle to show the main words of the text to provoke a discussion on what the themes and tones might be of the piece.  I have also used Wordle to summarize students’ reactions to units, experiences, and lessons.

In this case, what will a Wordle reveal?   The first two Wordles are from teacher letters, where I would pull random chunks of text from at least five different teacher letters.

Teacher Wordle #1
Teacher Wordle #2

Then I took a third Wordle, this time capturing the entirety of four parent letters.

Parent Wordle

Of all the Wordles, I find the first the most interesting, perhaps because of the words “poverty,” “equipment,” “Medicare,” and “therapists.”  Words that somewhat get to issues that surround teachers in every school every day.
The letters are hard to read, like letter 94, where Mathew Swope talks about how, as a cop, he grew tired of seeing kids hurt and harmed, so he went into teaching, only to find himself as a punching bag, blamed for the societal ills he has spent much of his life trying to fix.
Or letter 100, where Bryan Boutanan writes this, “I read the middle school essays posted on Bulletin Boards at the beginning of the year. Usually the theme is “My Goals”. Instead of writing about becoming an astronaut, a basketball player, a doctor, or an urban ranger these children write about what they can do to become a Level 3 or 4. They no longer think of themselves as people who can aspire to great things. They think of themselves as a number; a number that is artificially created. Is this what you want for your daughters?”

Or letter 143’s, “And while we’re on the subject of music…do you have any idea (or do you care) about what your plan is doing to the arts? Do you understand what standardized tests are doing to phase out music, art, drama, and theater instruction? There is no money left after districts buy these test prep kits, buy the tests, pay to have them corrected, and then schedule children into unnecessary remediation. Do you know that your policies are prejudicial? Do you realize that in many inner city schools, children who score a “1” or a “2” are removed from their specials and forced to sit in test prep?” from Gail Richmond.

Or Jack Cole’s letter 361 where he compares his English school to his old American one: “Testing: In my first month in England I have only taken TWO tests. And if this was America I would have already taken at least twenty. And the tests we take are to help us not the testing companies.”

I am glad I wrote my letter.  I am glad so many wrote letters.  I am simply hoping President Obama listens.

Dear Mr. President- a writing teacher laments the Common Core

It nears midnight and exhaustion calls me to bed, but I cannot.  Diane Ravitch asked us to write to you, a more important priority.

It is time to look at priorities.  I prioritize the relationship I have with students, the same relationship your Common Core devalues.   Informative and expository writing are the mainstay of your writing program.  The Common Core does not provide rubrics for narrative or descriptive writing beyond early grades.  This is wrong, Mr. President.  Horribly wrong.

When I teach students writing, I must find a way to be entrusted with their thoughts.  When they state an opinion, they must trust that I will respond fairly, humanely, kindly.  When they play with punctuation, they must trust that I will respond patiently, instructively, non-judgmentally.  When they tell me, sometimes inadvertently but sometimes blatantly, of deep secrets in their private lives, they must trust I will respond with empathy, respect, and discretion.

I do not gain this trust easily, and the best vehicle I have to do so is personal writing.

But this is frowned on in the Common Core.

The Common Core and the upcoming teacher evaluation systems put me in a race against a list of standards when I would rather be walking a journey side by side with students.   This does not mean I lower standards.  Personal writing means I have an avenue to entice students to raise their own standards and expectations.

I agree that American education must do more to meet the economy.  I agree my students’ best future depends on the skills I, we, teach them today.  But I do not agree with taking out meaningful and personal writing assessments, nor do I agree with the diminishment of literature.

When I taught the new staff about writing today, I shared this quote with them from George Orwell:  “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”

I believe that truth has never been more important than in this current age of corporate media and divisive partisanship.  Thinking independently is needed.

May I tell you then of my anger and tears when our school cut Fahrenheit 451 to make room for more non-fiction essays?  May I tell you how the fact Ray Bradbury died the week that Governor Walker was re-elected burned my soul?

In the tragedies of my life, I thought not of essays, however well written.  I thought of the Grapes of Wrath, of Things Fall Apart, of To Kill a Mockingbird.

This summer I read Kelly Gallagher‘s Write Like This, which, for the first time, struck a political note in asserting that we must hold true to what is right.  Narrative writing is right, Mr. President.  Fiction reading is right, Mr. President.

And your educational policies are wrong.