Archives for category: Personal

In an earlier post, I shared with you the fact that I took a bad fall, landed on my knee, and tore the ACL ligament. The MRI showed the damage was even more extensive than it first seemed. I not only tore my ACL, I managed to take out several other ligaments as well that provide stability. So much for enthusiasm and striving boldly into the challenges of life.

As a result, this is the new schedule: I am going to Louisville this week to accept the Grawemeyer award. I wouldn’t miss it, even if I have to use a walker and a wheelchair.

I am canceling all other speaking engagements for the balance of April and May. No Milwaukee. No Madison. No Towson University. No Honorary degree at Columbia College in Chicago.

I may be facing knee replacement surgery.

This much I promise you. I won’t stop blogging and tweeting unless I’m under anesthesia. I will not stop advocating for commonsense reforms, for respectful treatment of educators, for loving treatment of children, and the joy of learning until they pry my cold, dead fingers from my electronic devices.

A while back, I posted a moving statement by Vivian Connell about her discovery that she has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and a limited life-span. I called it “Vivian Connell: The Face of a Hero,” recognizing the grace and dignity with which she was facing a dread diagnosis.

She wrote about her plans to do good works in whatever time was left to her, and one of her goals was to take a group of students from North Carolina to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C.

Here is the post in which she explains how everyone can contribute to the fund needed to transport the students on this important adventure.

I made my donation. I hope you will too.


Vivian writes:


The North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children is acting as the fiscal agent for the project entitled Writing Wrongs: Student Voices for Justice. You can read all about the project and donate here. And I’ll be deeply grateful. Moreover, I can honestly say that as I face the daily, increasing difficulty with walking, I am comforted and meaningfully encouraged when I look forward to this trip and this project with these kids. Thank you.

You may recall that when I went to AERA and shared a session with the wonderful, dynamic Helen Gym, she managed to pick her way carefully through the crowd that lined the wall of the room, while I managed to trip over someone’s foot and fell flat on my face. No harm done, the room was carpeted, and I landed gracefully in such a fashion that I was unhurt, indeed bounced up and proceeded to the podium.


Well, it turns out that the fall in Philadelphia was merely practice for what happened two days later. On Saturday morning, I packed the car and drove from Brooklyn to Long Island for what I expected would be a quiet weekend. My dear partner was away for the weekend. I dropped the dog at Doggie Daycare (she is a 60-pound critter and she loves to run with playmates), then proceeded to the abode by the sea. I took the cat inside, then went to the car, thinking I would go for the mail and supplies. But something happened, I don’t know what. I tripped, landed on my left knee and couldn’t get up. I felt a snap inside my leg. There was no carpet, there was stone. At first I thought the pain would go away if I just lay there for a few minutes, but when I tried to get up, I couldn’t stand. So I dragged myself on my back up the steps and into the house, reached up to the phone and called a neighbor. She called emergency services, and within 10 minutes, there was an ambulance, a police car, and assorted other vehicles in the driveway. Literally 15 people were there to help me, and I was grateful for their kind and efficient care. I was taken away by the volunteer fire department ambulance to the local hospital in Greenport, where the doctor did an x-ray and told me I had no broken bones. As soon as he heard what happened, my son took the bus from Brooklyn so that he could take care of me and bring me home. Today, I saw a knee specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC, who told me I had torn my ACL, which seems to be a very valuable ligament in the knee. He told me that I did not need surgery but my basketball career was over (sorry, Arne).


The good news is that I am alive and well. I am fortunate to have friends and family who are kind and caring.


I will be in Louisville, Kentucky, next week to accept the Grawemeyer award.


What’s the moral of the story? Be careful. Slow down. Type faster. Walk slower. Watch your step. Try not to multi-task. Live in the moment.


I will try to remember the moral of the story.



As this post demonstrates, when you have dinner with Julian Vasquez Heilig, you dine with a very active and imaginative mind.

There you are thinking of a stiff drink, and he is thinking of the Odyssey! You are blowing off steam about the latest outrage from Washington, and JVH is cogitating.

You are comparing notes on how California and New York are dealing with federal pressure to conform and buckle, and his mighty brain is acting like a filing cabinet.

I am honored that he thinks of me as a mentor. I think of him as one of our bravest and most valuable young scholars. Those of us who hope for a better day for our society, now steeped in a dog-eat-dog culture, place our hopes with Julian and his peers to lead us out of this dark wood.

I earlier posted Vivian Connell’s letter in which she described her reaction when she learned she has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Vivian here tells us of her continuing journey and reminds us of her boldness of spirit, her determination to squeeze out of life all she can without self-pity but with courage.

I really liked her opening epigram:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Vivian reminds us that each of us must decide how we will spend “the time that is given us.” None of us knows whether that time will be marked in days, weeks, months, or years.

The choice is ours.

Vivian will soon launch her Kickstarter campaign to raise money to take students to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. When she does, you will hear about it.

In the meanwhile, Vivian, know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Miracles happen.

On Tuesday, I taped an interview with Bill Moyers.

The show will air six times this weekend on PBS stations across the nation.

Bill has become an expert on ALEC, having done important programming (see here) about that shadowy corporate-funded organization that is promoting deregulation of the public and private sectors and encouraging privatization.

Given his interests and mine, we had a great conversation about the strange convergence of ALEC, hedge fund managers, and assorted Republicans and Democrats around a common agenda.

He wanted to “follow the money,” and there were many stories from Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere that reveal the effort to monetize our nation’s public education system without improving it.

He and his crew did something that I have never seen before.

After we finished out taping, we retaped portions of the conversation that needed more detail, clarification, or had any other need for correction.

At one point, I discovered I could not say the phrase “flow freely” without committing a spoonerism. Twice, I tried, and it came out “f-r-o-w-s f-l-e-e-l-y.” I can’t even type the spoonerism because autocorrect keeps changing the words into something else! I think I got it right the third time. I heard long ago that left-handed people (like me) are prone to spoonerisms. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It has to do with transposing the beginning sounds of two adjoining words.

Anyway, I loved talking to him. We are both Texans of the same generation. We share a worldview about the importance of civic obligation. We both detest the way that capital is invading every part of our lives and finding ways to make a buck for a very few.



A couple of years ago, I read an article in The New Yorker about the federal government’s efforts to shut down health-food cooperatives that sell raw milk.

The story focused on California, where SWAT teams descended on sellers of raw milk and locked them up.

What is “raw milk,” I wondered.

It is milk as it comes from the cow, not pasteurized, not homogenized.

Sounded frightening. I remember in health class in junior high school learning about Louis Pasteur and how important it was to get all those nasty biological agents out of milk so it would be safe for human consumption.

But then something funny happened.

I spend half my time in a rural area of Long Island (yes, they still exist), and week after week I pass a farm with an unpronounceable Welsh name (Ty Llwyd) on route 48. I always saw the sign that said “eggs” and “potatoes,” but I recently saw a sign that said “Raw milk, legal.”

A few weeks ago, my curiosity piqued by the article in The New Yorker about the black helicopters in California, I stopped and bought a big glass bottle of raw milk. The farmer said to be sure to shake it, so the cream blended in.

When I got the milk home, I shook it up and had a glass. Unpasteurized, unhomogenized. It was amazing. It was delicious. It was unlike any milk I ever tasted before, although I did remember unhomogenized milk with the cream on the top, delivered to our home in the 1940s.

On my second visit, I took my grandson to visit the farmer’s cows and chickens, and they looked content. None was locked in a packed cage. Don’t get me started about the way chickens are raised on factory farms; it is inhumane. Years ago, I visited Delmarva, the area where Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia intersect, and was upset to see the tall chicken coops, where the lights are on 24/7, and the chickens never set foot on the ground.

Our local farm was nothing like that. The chickens roam freely.

Now, I order my raw milk in advance to be sure to get a bottle. It is pure white nectar. And the eggs are unlike any I ever bought in the supermarket.

The raw milk that I buy is legal. The state of New York allows consumers to buy directly from the dairy farmer. They regularly inspect his facilities.

If you live in a state where it is legal to buy from the dairy farmer, I recommend it. It turns out that those biotics are actually good for us.

Some people actually take a pill called pro-biotics. Who needs to take pro-biotics when you can drink raw milk?

Raw milk is better than chocolate.

I took two books with me on vacation.

One was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

The other was Walter Kiechel III, The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World

I also brought a copy of the New York Review of Books, which had a good article about data mining and what a big business it is.

The thesis of Carr’s book is that the ubiquity of the Internet makes it very hard for us to concentrate on reading books. I kept wondering why he wrote a book to say that.

What made his book worth reading was one stunning chapter about Google. It explains in exquisite and alarming detail that Google ‘s business is built on data mining. If you want to understand how data mining works, read this chapter.

The entire Google enterprise is built on the principles enunciated by Frederick Winslow Taylor a century ago. Taylor conducted time-and-motion studies, clocking how many minutes it took workers to complete various jobs, and believed that there was a best way to perform every job. Everything that matters can be measured and turned into a system. Taylor’s method is the foundation of industrial manufacturing. Now it is the foundation for Google and its competitors. He writes, “The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient, automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding ‘the one best way’–the perfect algorithm–to carry out the mental movements of what what we’ve come to describe as knowledge work.” Google’s CEO says the company is “founded around the science of measurement” and is trying to “systematize everything” it does. It is data-driven and seeks to “quantify everything.” Carr writes, “What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind.”

Google, he writes, is the “Internet’s high church, and the religion practiced inside its walls is Taylorism.”

Every time you click on a link, an advertiser pays, and your data are recorded in a database. Your preferences, your interests, your searches, become part of the database, which enables vendors to target you efficiently for their goods and services. Every time you click on an advertisement, you build the Internet database about yourself, “and Google rakes in more money.” The more we rely on the Internet to seek information and buy things, the fuller our profile of data for others to use for advertising and selling.

It is a hugely profitable business, and you are part of building it. Almost everything that can be known about you, everything you typed into the Internet, is in your database.

The other book, The Lords of Strategy, tells the story of the business consulting industry. It was written by the former editorial director of Harvard Business Publishing. If you really want to know how the world works, read this book. It begins with the story of Bruce Henderson, who founded the Boston Consulting Group. BCG–which is now advising school districts like Philadelphia on how to shed their primary mission and to privatize more public schools–was created to advise businesses on strategy. BCG virtually invented the idea of “strategy.” That meant studying your competitors’ business and figuring out ways to compete more effectively (e.g., lower your cost, increase your volume, become the market leader). BCG then gave birth to Bain and Company, which was even more competitive than BCG. Then came the revival of McKinsey as a force in strategizing how to win in the game of corporate dominance.

Reading this book was not easy. Household names come and go and disappear. Corporations are taken over by men who think of profit only, never of people. There is never any extended discussion of the obligations of a corporation to the public or to its employees. People’s lives are treated as unimportant. All that matters is market share, shareholder valuation, and profit. The winners get very rich, the losers, well, who cares?

These books have obvious relevance to the plight of education today. Both refer often to the Taylorism that underlies their activities–that is, the belief that measurement matters above all, and that whatever matters can be measured.

Kiechel speaks repeatedly of “the Greater Taylorism,” that is, the firm belief that data answer all questions, and the more data the better the strategy.

People don’t matter. Data triumph.

Except at the end of his book, he notes that all the strategies cooked up by the great minds from Harvard Business School have essentially failed. The theories conflict with one another. One supercedes another. But the economy crashed in 2008 anyway, despite the brilliant minds.

Kiechel is minimal in his skepticism. Perhaps on purpose.

My skepticism grew as I read, along with a sense of revulsion for these “lords of strategy,” these “masters of the universe” who use their minds to control our lives but regard the rest of us as ants in a terrarium of their design.

Next time, I will bring Agatha Christie to the beach.

I just returned from a wonderful, relaxing vacation in Turks and Caicos, a beautiful part of the West Indies, and I am now raring to go, with a schedule of events for the next week plus ahead.

On Wednesday evening, I will join John Merrow in conversation at the JCC in upper West Side of Manhattan, 7:30-9:30 pm.

On Friday, I will be in Indianapolis at Butler University, watching a showing of a school documentary called “Rising Above the Mark,” made by Indiana educators led by Superintendent Rocky Killion. I will be part of a panel discussion after the film is shown.

On Saturday, March 1, I will be the keynote speaker at the AACTE’s annual meeting. I was thrilled to learn today that I will be introduced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

I fly to Austin that afternoon, and arrive that night to join the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education.

On March 2, I will give the keynote at the NPE meeting and listen in to all the panels of activists from across the nation.

On March 3, I will be a keynote speaker at the SXSW conference in Austin from 1:30-2:30 in the opening session.

On March 4, I fly home.

On March 13, I will participate in an exciting discussion at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, with Carol Burris, Pasi Sahlberg, Michael Fullan, and Andrew Hargreaves. The event will be moderated by Southold-Greenport superintendent David Gamberg, and will be joined by other Long Island superintendents and members of the Long Island ASCD.

On March 17, I will be in D.C. to speak to Title I coordinators from across the nation.

On March 22, I will speak to the annual conference of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project run by Lucy Calkins.

April 1, I will be at Syracuse University.

April 3, I will give the John Dewey address at AERA in Philadelphia.

You see the kind of energy a good week’s vacation can give you?

I know, I know!

I’m on vacation.

But the hotel has wi-fi, and I have two devices and a serious addiction to this blog. Of course, I forgot to bring my able staff of 92 so you may spot more typos than usual, as the glare of the sun in the West Indies is pretty intense.

As a matter of record, I am not sorry to miss today’s snowstorm in NYC. But I will be back in a few days, ready to don the boots and triple layers of clothing. Ready to walk the 65-pound Mitzi in the slush after putting her snow boots on.

Meanwhile, here is a prediction: today is the day this blog hits 10 MILLION page views. It passed 9 million only five weeks ago. The blog started April 26, 2012.

That’s my metric, for which there are no bonuses or sanctions, just the pleasure I take in knowing that the blog has become a valuable information hub that helps educate all of us (including me).

This is how we will prevail: by educating ourselves and educating the public.

Step by step, we will tear down the status quo built by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations, and we will together envision and build an education system that our children need and deserve. An education system that respects the individuality of every student, that treats them as humans, not data points, and that recognizes the potential and gifts that they have, instead of putting a number on them and processing them like chickens in a factory farm.


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