Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging: #1569

Tom Hilton at If I Ran The Zoo posts "Random Flickr-blogging" every Monday and invites other participants. Check out how it works here. Here's my first choice:

(Click on the pic for photo info)

The lonely giant sat, neck deep in the calm sea, staring in stony silence at an unattainable horizon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mildred Greear

(An unfinished post. Now (2012) I am going through my unfinished posts from six years of blogging. Many are political rants that, however heartfelt and true, would have served little or no purpose to post at the time and are now unimportant. But a few, like this one, I have decided to post despite never having brought them to completion.)

Two of our dearest friends since the mid-seventies have been Mildred and Phillip Greear.
Mildred and Phillip led the first outdoor classroom workshop I ever attended in 1972 or 73. We campaigned door to door with her when she ran for state senate. We accompanied her and Phillip in a overnight canoe trip down the Etowah with other campaign folk to unwind and assuage our loss in the run-off election. We worked with Brannon and I used Philip's shop to finish those doll cradles between my father's death on December 3 and Christmas of 1986. We rejoiced with Mildred and Phillip at their daughter Missy's wedding in their mountain top yard. We grieved with them and I sang at Missy's funeral in Helen, Georgia a few years later.

Recently I stumbled upon this quote from Mildred on the internet:

Mildred Greear, a retired teacher, is a civil rights activist in Helen, Georgia.

"Around 1964 my husband and I got involved with a group in Rome, Georgia, that fought for the peaceful integration of public schools. We had meetings every month at City Hall, which was across the street from a gas station where a bunch of men hung around. They were known to be in the Ku Klux Klan. They used to call over to a pay phone outside our meeting room and yell obscenities and racial slurs to whoever picked up the phone. We learned not to pick up the phone at all. When we left the meetings, they often followed one of our cars, sticking right onto the bumper. But we persevered. A number of us helped integrate the Fourth Ward School. We'd arranged to link together Black and white students as they entered school. Why was this so important? I think being poor gave me some feeling for people who are hungry for whatever it is that's better than what they've got. To feed the hungry—to feed any hunger, whether it's for food or a kid who wants a crayon or to hear music played—that's driven me. It was all so damned illogical to me: that the pigment in your skin had anything to do with who you were, or what you could do"

My Latest Project

I've been obsessed the last few weeks with an idea that has been percolating for a while now in my noggin: to extend our school's little nature trail across the stream and along it to the west end of the campus and thence back across the brook, up the bluff, by the driveway cut, up the northwest knoll, by the chesnuts, around the playground and building, by our Three Rivers display, by the classroom gardens and the bog garden, and back to the original trail. We will need two little bridges, the first would cross the stream right in the middle of the picture below.

Our school has the great advantage of sitting on a little bluff above this stream hard by the Berry College Wildlife Management Area. If you look through the naked winter trees at the upper right, you can barely make out the silhouette of the back wall of the school cafeteria. The trail would meander along the flat bottom to the left of the brook. Our students can study the macro- and micro- invertebrates that dwell in our stream. They can catalog the flora and fauna in the stream, on the bluff, in the bottomland, on the slopes.

The canopy has been opened here by the fall of a big tree and a small clump of pines saw the newly available light and moved right in. That's called succession. Children can investigate succession in the many overthrow mounds of different ages along the proposed trail.

The stream dribbles across shelves of sandstone, the compressed detritus of centuries that settled to the bottom of an ancient sea. Several varieties of fern find dirt-filled crevice homes.

How many elementary schools can boast such a campus?

I have written up a brief proposal to our School Improvement Team. I walked the principal along part of the proposed trail and explained some of the flora, fauna, geology, and ecology that students could investigate, and he seems pretty enthusiastic about the idea. And I have enlisted the help of a parent who works with the state department of natural resources, who is fired up and investigating grants.

This project fits into our special status as a school that emphasizes using the environment as an integrating context for curriculum. I hope we can make it happen.

More later...

A Poem to Start the Week: Mummy Slept Late

Studying poetic devices? Here's a hurricane of hyperbole. John Ciardi had fun with this one.

And for vocabulary: How many kids these days know 'bituminous' and 'anthracite' ?

John Ciardi
Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast

Daddy fixed the breakfast.
He made us each a waffle.
It looked like gravel pudding.
It tasted something awful.

“Ha, ha,” he said, “I’ll try again.
This time I’ll get it right.”
But what I got was in between
Bituminous and anthracite.

“A little too well done? Oh well,
I’ll have to start all over.”
That time what landed on my plate
Looked like a manhole cover.

I tried to cut it with a fork:
The fork gave off a spark.
I tried a knife and twisted it
Into a question mark.

I tried it with a hack-saw.
I tried it with a torch.
It didn’t even make a dent.
It didn’t even scorch.

The next time Dad gets breakfast
When Mummy’s sleeping late,
I think I’ll skip the waffles.
I’d rather eat the plate.

-John Ciardi

"Mummy Slept Late..." is from You Read to Me, I'll Read to You. You can probably find several of Ciardi's books of poetry for children in your library, or on eBay. I don't know which are still in print. Ciardi's How Does a Poem Mean is an excellent introduction to poetry for grownups.


The series of posts, A Poem to Start the Week, is my little anthology of the poetry I have used with my students in elementary schools during 27 years of teaching.

Previous Poems to Start the Week:

Just My Size
The Kindest Things I Know
Miles to Go
Love that Brother
Oh, Frabjous Day!

Other Posts about Children's Literature:

The Lion's Paw top kid's OOP book!
Aslan is Dead!
Multiplying People, Rice, and Readers
A Teacher's Life

You can read some of my own efforts at poetry here.

A weblog dedicated to Poetry for Children.
Watch Sonja Cole's reviews of children's books at Bookwink.com.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Top Ten Out-of-Print Books

I happened upon the Bookfinder.com list of the most sought after out-of-print books of last year. Perhaps Scholastic will notice that it includes my favorite children's book, a wonderful adventure story with a strong female lead character first published in 1946 that I have read to each of my elementary school homeroom classes since 1970. It's place on this list makes The Lion's Paw the most popular children's book among all the out-of-print children's books extant, I suppose, at least according to Bookfinder.com. I wish Scholastic or Mickler or someone would reprint it again so my students could find reasonably priced copies.

I have written before about The Lion's Paw here and here.

The top 10 as compiled by BookFinder.com:

1) Sex (1992) by Madonna; A perennial favorite, the pop icon’s first book

2) Football Scouting Methods (1963) by Steve Belichick; Legendary college football scout’s playbook, used by coaches and players

3) Touch Me Again (1978) by Suzanne Somers; A collection of poetry from the devotee of “inside out” self improvement

4) Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words (1975) by Johnny Cash; Original autobiography (and the source for the hit film Walk the Line)

5) Treasury of Great Recipes (1965) by Mary and Vincent Price; Recipes from world-famous restaurants reworked for the amateur kitchen

6) The Principles of Knitting (1988) by June Hemmons Hiatt; The ultimate hand knitting resource

7) The Lion's Paw (1946) by Robb White; An enduring children’s adventure story

8) The Secret of Perfect Living (1963) by James Mangan; An influential work in the personal behavior modification genre

9) Once a Runner: a Novel (1978) by John L. Parker, Jr.; Cult classic (a long-awaited sequel Again to Carthage expected soon)

10) One Way Up (1964) by John F. Straubel; Chronicles the history of helicopter development

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

11th Carnival of Children's literature

The good folks at Mother Reader hosts of the The 11th Carnival of Children's Literature have been kind enough to include my post about John Ciardi and Robert Frost and Frost's poem, "Stopping by woods..." Stop by and check out the midway.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Noted Blogger Visits Rome

Sheila and I enjoyed a visit this weekend from our good friend and contributor to the Limb, Mike Bock. That's the old coot himself above watching me blog.

And then I took a turn peering over his shoulder while he explored the wonders of my iMac.

A Poem to Start the Week: Just My Size!

I enjoy reading this poem of fantasy and love to my students each year. It is very sad, of course. But it also speaks beautifully of the power of love. My fourth-graders hang on every word of it.

I usually start by discussing some of the vocabulary:
What's a harp? What is a weaver? Rye? Breeches? Daft? Scarce? Fuel? Chafe? Regal?

What besides a harp can you think of that has lots of parallel strings?
Have you ever had a dream in which some object turned into a completely different object?

(Podcast link -- Click here

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

"Son," said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
"You've need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

"There's nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

"There's nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman's head
Nobody will buy,"
And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
"Son," she said, "the sight of you
Makes your mother's blood crawl,–

"Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you'll get a jacket from
God above knows.

"It's lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy's in the ground,
And can't see the way I let
His son go around!"
And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I'd not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn't go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.

"Son," said my mother,
"Come, climb into my lap,
And I'll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap."

And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,

To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour's time!

But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf's head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn't break,
And the harp with a woman's head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity's sake.

The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn't tell where,

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman's head
Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
From where I couldn't see,
Were running through the harp-strings

And gold threads whistling
Through my mother's hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.

She wove a child's jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,
"She's made it for a king's son,"
I said, "and not for me."
But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,–

There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king's son,
Just my size.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

The series of posts, each called A Poem to Start the Week, is my little anthology of the poetry I have used with my students in elementary schools during 27 years of teaching.

You can read some of my own efforts at poetry here.

A weblog dedicated to Poetry for Children.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
-George Washington

Terrorism is not new. You might get the opposite impression if you only read the weblogs of the far right.

When the Hessians brutally pounded, hacked, and pierced wounded American soldiers during the Revolution, George Washington could have responded with similar tactics but instead Washington commanded that American soldiers would, in the face of incredible terrorism, treat these heartless enemies civilly.

After the war a quarter of the Hessians stayed in America and became, in effect, part of the Revolution they had fought.

The audio for an NPR report that reminded me of this story was broadcast this morning. It will be available on the NPR website at 1 p.m. today.

George Washington's response to terrorism

This NPR page includes Washington's famous Rules of Civility.

The current President was not mentioned in the report, but the contrast of the characters of GW and the foul-mouthed, swaggering, "bring-em-on" GWB is too stark not to leap to mind. That a Revolution led by such character could devolve into the present administration is ... revolting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sunni & Shia - What's the Difference

My friend, the Rev. Frank Logue, of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland GA writes today of the great competing branches of Islam. It was good to get a brief refresher course as background for understanding the continuing civil war in Iraq and the other conflicts in the Middle East. From Frank's blog, follow the link to the NPR story on the Sunni-Shia split.

106th Carnival of Education

The latest edition of the Carnival of Education is full of good stuff at the Education Wonks site. I was pleased that this week's hosts chose to feature Mike Bock's contemplation on the Education of John Adams.

If you have a post, on your weblog or any other, that you would like to submit for possible inclusion in the next Carnival of Education just click on "submit post" in the Carnival box - near the bottom of the side bar at the right.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Seven: Blessed Teachers

I have been blessed by my first seven school teachers.

Mrs. Overstreet, First Grade.
She spanked me on the first day of first grade! I had walked to school, hand in hand with my wonderful mother down Mackville, Kentucky's main street. The Methodist parsonage, the school, and the church were all on that street as I remember the early fifties. The two first grades had met together the very first day, for registration, I guess. But the first real day I had the good fortune of sitting right behind my little friend (a girl) from church. Pestering girls was already a favorite pastime of mine, so several times I playfully pulled her hair that was so temptingly gracing the front of my desk. She complained to Mrs. Overstreet, who after numerous warning, hoisted me by one arm from my desk and applied her open hand to my backside. I guess that did the trick, I don't remember another paddling till fourth grade.

I do remember Alice and Jerry and Jip and the joy of reading that first primer to my family. I also remember coming home and using some of the blue vocabulary I learned at school on my sisters, much to the consternation of my pastor father.

Miss Florence (I don't suppose she had a last name), Second Grade.
I remember her as very kind and supportive, despite the fact that I waited too long to request a restroom break and (Oh! Mortification!!!!) had an "accident". Fourth Ward School was a long walk from 333 South Ninth Street, Griffin, Georgia, and the definitely-not-Main-Street parsonage for the Midway/Sunnyside/Vaughn Methodist Circuit. The principal was known to us boys as "Wild Bill" Cody. But Miss Florence was sweet and ancient. Fourth Ward did not use Alice and Jerry and Jip. They had Dick and Jane and Spot.

Mrs. Giles, Third Grade.
Mrs. Giles was very efficient, very stylish, very popular with her students, and very unready to put up with nonsense. I have a vague glimmer of a memory of a note that got passed that went directly to my parents when Mrs. Giles got hold of it. I think this was the year I got a taste of the stage. I got to sing a duet, "Side by Side", dressed as a hobo, in the big (as I remember it) auditorium. I've been hooked on applause ever since.

Side by Side
Written by Harry MacGregor Woods
(Patsy Cline radio transcription)

Oh! We ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side

I don't know what's a-comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side

Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It really doesn't matter at all

When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just travelin' along
Singing a song
Side by side


Yeah, Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It really doesn't matter at all

Now, When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side...

Miss Matilda Brown, Fourth Grade.
She gave me (I know, I know -- I earned) a D. In math, a D! You better believe Charles and Ruth Shaw's son made an A in math the next grading period -- they were six weeks long back then. That six weeks was definitely long.

Fourth Grade was the year of the fire. Our janitor, whose name I used to know, was seriously injured when the boiler exploded. We all cleared the building as we had practiced so many times, but it was real and scary this time. Firetrucks parked at crazy angles at the back of the school, the firemen scurrying in and out, and ambulance screaming to a halt, more scurrying, and then the ambulance screaming away. Miss Brown managed to get us out and keep us out of the way and under control. She was cool under pressure in that case.

I remember being extremely frustrated when we were given a writing assignment and I just could not come up with a beginning sentence. Nothing. That's what I had on my paper when Miss Brown dropped by my desk. She was not happy. I didn't know about the trial and error and rubbing out and rewriting and revising and crumpling of paper that was supposed to go into the writing process. I wanted a perfect beginning sentence to put down and it wouldn't come. Did I mention that Miss Brown was not happy.

Miss Brown was, if possible, even more ancient than Miss Florence. We were bigger and her classroom management was not subtle. One day while Miss Brown was out of the room briefly there was some commotion among her charges. Since she couldn't ascertain the culprits, she decided the best course to avoid a miscreant going unpunished, was to line all the BOYS up in the hall and paddle them. This was before rotator cuff surgery, I suppose, and her arm was gone. As she walked down the line applying weak taps to our posteriors, we began to giggle. This infuriated her to the extent that she started all over again when she got to end of the line.

At least once during fourth grade I was sent to "Wild Bill's" office for a paddling. I got to see him administer his paddle to the backside of an older boy. The boy gripped Mr. Cody's desk. The paddle flew in a graceful arc. I swear, the desk moved several inches. He did not paddle my buddy or me that day. I suspect he could see in our eyes that we would toe the line, for a while at least.

Every day I walked past the big old house with the wrap around porch where Miss Brown lived. There were hanging baskets all over it. I enjoyed stopping by to see Miss Brown. She gave me cuttings from what she called her "airplane" plant. I was thrilled to take those strange offshoots home and pot them.

Herbert Leach and I decided during my fourth grade year to expand our business enterprises to include yard work. Previously we just collected Coke bottles along the streets and hauled them in my wagon clear across town to redeem them for a penny apiece at the Coke plant. Now we would rake leaves or mow lawns. Miss Brown was one of our first customers. She wanted us to weed her garden. We had a hard time differentiating weeds and non-weeds. We also had a hard time meeting her weeding standards. We did not long continue in her employ.

Miss Brown helped me learn to use and appreciate a dictionary. She called me "impudent" one day. I was taken aback. I was hugely offended, but was unsure why. I rushed home and looked it up in the dictionary and was, thereby, greatly relieved. I've been fond of dictionaries ever since.

Despite all that, you know what? I loved that old lady.

Mrs. ???, Fifth Grade.
I am drawing a blank!! I can see her face before my mind's eye right now. I know her name!! What is it? It just came: Mrs Anderson! How could I forget? Mrs. Anderson, I am so sorry!!

Her class was in a lower room. Sort of a basement. It had high windows as I recall. We were great warriors that year. I spent a major portion of my time perfecting my drawings of battleships complete with fiery blasts from the cannons and Zeros or Luftwaffers plunging in fire and smoke into the sea.

At recess we invented a great game. Boys would pair up. One boy would climb onto the shoulders of another and go to battle against another pair. The team left standing was the winner. This game was short-lived, as you might guess. It came to Mrs. Anderson's attention when some kid took offense at being flung to the dirt and threw a punch. I happened to have managed to roll on top for a moment and was pounding away when Mrs. Anderson stepped in (thank goodness!). It was the most glorious moment of my elementary education and worth ten times the licks I got for it.

Mrs. Anderson was convinced of the need for good nutrition and insisted that each student eat at least three bites of each item on their school lunch plate. I did not eat potato salad. I still do not eat potato salad. If God had intended folks to eat cold potatoes he would not have provided us with fire. I tried to explain to Mrs. Anderson, but she could not understand. She seemed to take my calm explanations as impudence! I promise you: I was paddled for not eating my potato salad. Note: I did not eat it. She could have paddled till Sunday: I would not have eaten it. Ask my mama.

Mrs. Knight, Sixth Grade.
Mrs. Knight at Ellijay Elementary was also my Sunday School teacher. That just doesn't seem quite right. does it? There ought to be a law. Daddy was back in a more exalted position as pastor at First Church. (Actually Watkins' Memorial at that time.) I suppose some testosterone was starting to kick in by this time cause, as the new preacher's son, I was the center of a good bit of attention from sixth grade girls that summer before sixth grade and I was pleased. I immediately fell for (I'll change the names to protect ... whoever.) "Audrey Hepburn". The only problem was I had misunderstood the introductions and thought she was "Grace Kelly". Now as I look at the pictures of "Grace" and "Audrey" from that period I realize they were both pretty girls, but the mixup caused my first few months in my new home to be very uncomfortable. I confided to a friend that I found "Grace" very attractive. The real "Grace" accepted advances that I did not know I had made and the real "Audrey" wrote me off.

Mrs. Knight's class was a combination Fifth/Sixth. Therefore we sixth graders had to listen to fifth grade lessons too. It probably didn't hurt a bit.

Our elementary was in the former high school building. An advantage to that was the huge auditorium. Our music teacher, Miss Mable Hensley of the big earrings and showy scarves led singing there and Roy Smith the County Agent led 4-H meetings there. And when the World's Strongest Man (Paul Anderson) came it was the stage of that Auditorium where he picked up the apparatus that held fifteen or so little boys, including yours truly. And when Officer Don of the Popeye Club came to town we got to play Ooey Gooey on that stage.

One day Mrs Knight sent me to the office to take some sort of something to the principal. Or maybe it was a discipline trip, I'm not sure. Anyway, we had just gotten our brand new "educational television" sets. I was shocked to find our school's leader, in his office, watching Debbie Drake, the exercise guru, in her tights, doing s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s. Right there on educational TV. Oh, my!

Mr. Weeks, Seventh & Eighth Grades
Mr. Weeks was young and everyone thought he was a great teacher. We changed classes in seventh and eighth grade and our classes were in an adjoining, newer building. We thought it was almost high school. Those two grades are horribly jumbled in my mind, partly because we had the same teachers.

In 4-H we put together a program for The 4-H Hour on channel five in Atlanta and I traveled squshed into a back seat with several other kids to the big city for the taping. One kid demostrated how we graft apple varieties onto existing trees in Gilmer County. Another kid demostrated how to cook an apple upside-down cake. Charlese Poindexter and I sang a duet of "Around The World" -- the only thing on the program not associated with Gilmer County's famous apples.

A highlight of those two years was the day Mr. Weeks crowded all the classes into one room so we could watch the broadcast of America's first little fifteen minute journey into space. What an inspiration was Alan Shepherd!

Then there was the class trip to Stone Mountain. This time I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked "Doris Day" to be my companion for the day. She stuck with me on the bus down, but found other friends to her liking on the climb up the mountain and I was destroyed. I promise, I didn't get fresh.

Maybe I should have.

This little exercise is very humbling to this elementary school teacher of twenty-seven years. I have very warm feelings toward the seven teachers I have listed. They must have taught me something. But almost all of my memories of those years are of my classmates, my extracurricular activities, the fire, the spankings. I don't remember much at all about the math, science, history, reading, we did.

Still, all in all, I think these seven folks cared about me and must have worked hard to teach me a little something. Lord knows I tested them at times. Bless their hearts.

Barack O'Bama

As Oh!Pinion and Cold Flute have noted, Barack Obama opened his campaign for President with a speech reminiscent of John or Bobby Kennedy. He may have earned an apostrophe for his name with this speech. I'm gonna go a little overboard here and just give you whole thing, taken from his campaign website. Here it is:
Full Text of Senator Barack Obama's
Announcement for President

Springfield, IL | February 10, 2007

Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who've traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today.

We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union.

That's the journey we're on today. But let me tell you how I came to be here. As most of you know, I am not a native of this great state. I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year. And I accepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by a single, simple, powerful idea - that I might play a small part in building a better America.

My work took me to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. I joined with pastors and lay-people to deal with communities that had been ravaged by plant closings. I saw that the problems people faced weren't simply local in nature - that the decision to close a steel mill was made by distant executives; that the lack of textbooks and computers in schools could be traced to the skewed priorities of politicians a thousand miles away; and that when a child turns to violence, there's a hole in his heart no government could ever fill.

It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.

After three years of this work, I went to law school, because I wanted to understand how the law should work for those in need. I became a civil rights lawyer, and taught constitutional law, and after a time, I came to understand that our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate. It was with these ideas in mind that I arrived in this capital city as a state Senator.

It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that is America converge - farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships here - friends that I see in the audience today.

It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable - that it's possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we're willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.

That's why we were able to reform a death penalty system that was broken. That's why we were able to give health insurance to children in need. That's why we made the tax system more fair and just for working families, and that's why we passed ethics reforms that the cynics said could never, ever be passed.

It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people - where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America.

And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.

I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness - a certain audacity - to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more - and it is time for our generation to answer that call.

For that is our unyielding faith - that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

That's what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people - as Americans.

All of us know what those challenges are today - a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.

What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page.

We've made some progress already. I was proud to help lead the fight in Congress that led to the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.

But Washington has a long way to go. And it won't be easy. That's why we'll have to set priorities. We'll have to make hard choices. And although government will play a crucial role in bringing about the changes we need, more money and programs alone will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility - for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation.

Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.

And as our economy changes, let's be the generation that ensures our nation's workers are sharing in our prosperity. Let's protect the hard-earned benefits their companies have promised. Let's make it possible for hardworking Americans to save for retirement. And let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country's middle-class again.

Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America. Every single person willing to work should be able to get job training that leads to a job, and earn a living wage that can pay the bills, and afford child care so their kids have a safe place to go when they work. Let's do this.

Let's be the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis. We can control costs by focusing on prevention, by providing better treatment to the chronically ill, and using technology to cut the bureaucracy. Let's be the generation that says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care in America by the end of the next president's first term.

Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here.

Most of all, let's be the generation that never forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists with everything we've got. Politics doesn't have to divide us on this anymore - we can work together to keep our country safe. I've worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world's deadliest, unguarded weapons. We can work together to track terrorists down with a stronger military, we can tighten the net around their finances, and we can improve our intelligence capabilities. But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe.

But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.

Finally, there is one other thing that is not too late to get right about this war - and that is the homecoming of the men and women - our veterans - who have sacrificed the most. Let us honor their valor by providing the care they need and rebuilding the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins this work.

I know there are those who don't believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

That is why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us - it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice - to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail.

But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible.

He tells us that there is power in words.

He tells us that there is power in conviction.

That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.

He tells us that there is power in hope.

As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought to battle through."

That is our purpose here today.

That's why I'm in this race.

Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.

I want to win that next battle - for justice and opportunity.

I want to win that next battle - for better schools, and better jobs, and health care for all.

I want us to take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union, and building a better America.

And if you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you. Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.
I am not ready to promise my vote -- like that other Springfield lawyer in 1860, Obama's national experience is thin: he's only got a couple of years in the Senate.

  • He would represent a clear passing of the torch, like Kennedy. (Despite my admiration for several of the 50- and 60-something candidates there might be some advantage to our national unity in getting beyond my baby boom generation.)
  • He can use the English language.
  • He is a charismatic figure.
  • He passes my "comfort in his own skin" test.
  • He has a vision.
  • His is a vision I largely share.
I'm listening.

A Poem to Start the Week: Trees

All lined up to greet travelers through the Gate of Opportunity.

I did a Google search of the first line of this little poem to find a complete copy I could use here: there are some little plagiarists out there folks! I found two slightly altered versions attributed to children. One little crook was among the winners of a library poetry contest of all places, and another little fellow published "his" in India. The Indian one is different enough that a footnote credit to ol' Harry would solve the problem - maybe that was even the assignment, who knows?

Look carefully, a pair of bluebirds in the school forest, yesterday.

Anyway as I looked at the silhouettes of bare trees out my window here, I thought to submit Harry Behn's little poem as my poem to start this week. This one comes in handy for an elementary school science teacher like myself.

A recent death in our school forest.

Trees are the kindest things I know,
They do no harm, they simply grow
And spread a shade for sleepy cows,
And gather birds among their boughs.

They give us fruit in leaves above,
And wood to make our houses of,
And leaves to burn on Halloween
And in the Spring new buds of green.

They are first when day's begun
To touch the beams of morning sun,
They are the last to hold the light
When evening changes into night.

And when a moon floats on the sky
They hum a drowsy lullaby
Of sleepy children long ago...
Trees are the kindest things I know.

by Harry Behn

Last fall along our school nature trail.

Of course our sleek little Baretta -- the one Sheila had so kindly parked in the kind shade of the huge old kind Possum Oak that steamy July day -- might have had a different opinion of trees than Harry after Ol' Possum Oak smushed that little car flat right there in our front yard.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

105th Carnival of Education

The folks at This Week In Education are the creative hosts for the 105th Carnival of Education. They were kind enough to include two posts from the Limb this week. Check it out here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Poem to Start the Week: Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher but an awakener.” I have tried to bring a bit of awakening into my teaching, even in this era of everything-for-the-test. I think poetry is one of the great awakeners for children.

Twenty-five years ago or so I attended a lecture by the late John Ciardi, a fine poet himself and one of my favorite children's poets. (I'll probably eventually post "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast" -- it's another annual ritual in my class.) He spoke about the process of poetry writing. One of the poems he used as an example was the famous topic of this post, another poem that I, like most of the other teachers in the universe, recite to my students every year.

John Ciardi
Ciardi spoke the first stanza.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
Frost has a setting, the beginnings a rhyme scheme - know, though, here, snow - AABA, and a definite rhythm -- dadah dadah dadah dadah. He could just finish a little poem with three rhyming lines per four line stanza and do just fine. But look at the trouble he makes for himself with the next line:
My little horse must think it queer
Look at that! He tacks the B rhyme into the second stanza. What's he up to?
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He has created a puzzle. Now a definite pattern has begun: AABA then BBCB - soooo the next stanza oughta rhyme how? That's right, CCDC! He is creating a little rhyming hook to the next stanza with each third line.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
Yep, there it is, sure enough! (Can't you feel the easy wind in all those S sounds and can't you see that snowflake falling in the rhythm of the last two lines?) He has continued the pattern.

But wait a minute -- this poem doesn't feel like it's gonna be some sort of epic, does it? He's gotta end it soon. How's he gonna do that?!! He's trapped by this crazy rhyme scheme. I guess he could tie the last stanza to the first (DDAD), but there have been a lot of words over the dam since "snow".

Well, Frost comes up with it: the perfect solution, just a little simple repetition:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
You can feel the sigh between the last two lines, can't you? That little trick may never work again, but here it's perfect.

What it comes down to is: Robert Frost had fun writing this poem. He made a puzzle for himself and he solved it. He has painted a little word picture. And it's just right. Another dab of color would ruin it: one dab less would make it incomplete.

We can have fun with our poems too.

Robert Frost
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

I doubt that I have done Ciardi justice, but that's the gist. And, believe it or not, nine- and ten-year-olds pay attention to that little discussion. Even the least motivated and the most hyperactive hang on Frost's words and consider Ciardi's ideas.

There is such power in just-the-right-words that even rambunctious fourth-graders notice it.

Previous poems in this series:
Oh, Frabjous Day!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sunday Seven

Seven Blessings: First Edition

I am surely the most blessed human being in the world. I am so incredibly blessed that it is hard to know where to start. Since this is the first edition of what will, perhaps, be a series, I feel an obligation to be basic.
Two of my sisters (I have five) have already posted theirs. You can check them out at Sunday Seven.
Here we go --

1. I am constantly blessed by my family:

I live with someone who loves me and whom I love and trust and have fun with. I have two daughters who love me, tell me so, and despite their occasional aggravation with me, seem absolutely devoted to me. I admire each more than they can know. I am the son of an incredible woman who is a pastor, writer, poet, wonderful cook, and loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I am a sibling to six other people and a brother-in-law to several more and the uncle or cousin of a bunch more, all of whom get along remarkably well, with only occasional growls - usually about political stuff - all of whom love each other, treat each other's children like their own, and seem to actually enjoy being together.

I had a father whose love for me was unconditional, thank goodness, since I was a petulant teen at times. I was spoiled rotten by my paternal grandparents and adored my maternal grandmother and even though my mother's father died when she was a child his tremendous influence on her and her siblings was a positive influence on me as well. I don't want to leave out my wonderful aunts and uncles: Aunt Mary kept my baby picture on her bedroom wall till the day she died. Uncle Tom, the State Patrolman, let me off the hook and didn't tell Mama and Daddy when he stopped teen Terrell that night ("Please, Lord," I prayed, "don't let that be Uncle Tom!" It was.) Daddy's brothers called me "Sampson", Uncle Grady still does, and teased me mercilessly, (and I loved it) and slipped me nickels for slushy Cokes out of the barber shop Cokebox and dimes for ice cream cones down the street at the drug store.

My wife's family adopted me as soon as Sheila did, as a full-fledged member of that family, and I love them just as much as my own.

2. I am blessed to be an American.

Other countries' skies are as blue; their mountains are sometimes even higher; their flora and fauna as fascinating; their people and customs as intriquing; or as Lloyd Stone wrote in the wonderful hymn:
This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

I will not pretend that my country is perfect. It has often fallen short of its promise. But what a promise. What a dream. What a beacon of light it has been at its best!

3. I am blessed to have wonderful friends.

Friends like Mike Burton, Mike Bock, Steve and Laurie Craw, Mildred and Phillip Greear, and many more, have shared our joy in good times and helped us bear our grief or other troubles in hard times.

4. I am blessed to have a job that I enjoy.

They pay me a pretty good salary to corral a bunch of nine- and ten-year-olds every day and tell them the stories of our wonderful country and help them explore the wonders of our beautiful world. And I do it on a big campus that includes a beautiful brook, steep hills, mixed woods, some boggy bottomland, and grassy meadows and that borders a huge wildlife sanctuary.

5. I am blessed with pretty good health for a nearly sixty-year-old.

I take an aspirin a day, a small BP pill, and something for triglicerides. I have an achy foot and generally achy joints, but after I quit taking Crestor, the big hurts stopped (If you are taking that stuff and start to have major joint pain, talk to your doctor!) Trying to get the cholesterol down with oatmeal and walking is sometimes a pain, figuratively, but getting it down with Crestor was always a literal pain.

6. Speaking of walking, I am blessed to live where a wonderful walking path goes right past my backyard.

I walk at least 3 to 5 times a week usually 2 or 3 miles at a time, along our scenic Riverwalk or through our quaint downtown. My companion is a wonderful conversationalist, who laughs at my wit, and who loves me - my wife.

7. What a blessing singing has been to me.

It has made me a bunch of friends. It helped me win Sheila. It has allowed me to show out on stage in a bunch of musicals. It provided me some of my favorite experiences with my daughters. It gives me some of my favorite teaching moments. It has given me some of the most intensely joyful moments of my life.

Oh, my! I've just gotten started! But Sundays roll around every seven days.

The Georgia Carnival

In a moment of crass self-promotion I joined another Blog Carnival -The Georgia Carnival.
We can check it out together here. It is hosted by a fellow fourth-grade social studies teacher whose blog I discovered through the Carnival of Education that I have contributed my efforts to on a couple of occasions. I submitted a post to at least one other carnival - The Carnival of Children's Literature. They haven't included my post yet.

Molly Ivins Still Stirring it Up on the Web

Molly Ivins 2002 - photo by Ryan Donnel / Dallas Morning News

E.J. Dionne: Molly Ivins' Joyful Outrage
Dionne has some choice Mollyisms:
She explained her views on gun control this way: "I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives."

She said of a certain beloved former president while he was in office that "if you put his brains in a bee, it would fly backwards" and that "if he gets even more sedate, we will have to water him twice a week."

"This is a column," she wrote in September 2005, "for everyone in the path of Hurricane Katrina who ever said, 'I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in politics,' or, 'There's nothing I can do about it,' or, 'Eh, they're all crooks anyway.' . . . Look around you this morning. I suppose the National Rifle Association would argue, 'Government policies don't kill people, hurricanes kill people.' Actually, hurricanes plus government policies kill people."

Maya Angelou: Molly Ivins Shook the Walls With Her Clarion Call

Years ago there was a fundraising gala for People for the American Way in New York, and Molly Ivins was keynote speaker. I was a loyal collector and serious Ivins reader, but I had not met the author. Another famous journalist, who was to have introduced her, had his flight canceled in a Southern city. Norman Lear, founder of the organization, asked me to introduce her. I did not hesitate. I spoke glowingly about Ms. Ivins for a few minutes, then, suddenly, a six-foot-tall, red-haired woman sprang from the wings. She strode onto the stage and over to the microphone. She gave me an enveloping hug and said, in that languorous Texas accent, "Maya Angelou and I are identical twins, we were separated at birth."

I am also six feet tall, but I am not white. She was under 50 when she made the statement, and I was in my middle 60s, but our hearts do beat in the same rhythm. Whoever separated us at birth must know it did not work. We have been in the struggle for equal rights for all people since we met on that Waldorf Astoria stage. We have laughed together without apology and we have wept when weeping was necessary.

I shall be weeping a little more these days but I shall never forget the charge. Joshua commanded the people to shout and the walls came tumbling down.

I am shouting,
With two voices,
Walls come down!
Walls come down!
Walls come down!

Ben Sargent: Molly Ivins cant say that, can she? (Cartoon)

Paul Krugman: Missing Molly Ivins

Krugman points out Molly's prescience about the neo-con war in Iraq:
Nov. 19, 2002: “The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? ... There is a batty degree of triumphalism loose in this country right now.”

Jan. 16, 2003: “I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’ ”

July 14, 2003: “I opposed the war in Iraq because I thought it would lead to the peace from hell, but I’d rather not see my prediction come true and I don’t think we have much time left to avert it. That the occupation is not going well is apparent to everyone but Donald Rumsfeld. ... We don’t need people with credentials as right-wing ideologues and corporate privatizers — we need people who know how to fix water and power plants.”

Oct. 7, 2003: “Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire. ...

“I’ve got an even-money bet out that says more Americans will be killed in the peace than in the war, and more Iraqis will be killed by Americans in the peace than in the war. Not the first time I’ve had a bet out that I hoped I’d lose.”

You will find other good posts and links to posts about Molly Ivins at several of the blogs listed at the right: Oh!Pinion. Donkey Path, Cold Flute, If I Ran The Zoo, Birmingham Blues, and others. And, of course, you can raed Molly Ivins' own words at her site, also listed at the right. I'm short on time so I'll let you click those links rather than linking in this post.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Almost a year ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the Rome News-Tribune. I pled with owners of the properties being developed opposite each other on the Oostanaula River just downstream from the Limb to be sensitive to the beautiful riverfront environment. I asked that they avoid turning their dumpsters and loading docks to the river, but to integrate their businesses into the environment with decks and sidewalks joining it to the Riverwalk. This week one of the developers has released plans and I have to admit, given that there will be 4 chain restaurants (Olive Garden, Steak & Shake, Starbucks and one as yet unannounced) and a small strip mall, they seem to have done a pretty good job of just what I asked. There will be a large deck on the strip mall. A nice sidewalk will front the edge of the property and meander to join the Riverwalk. They have even named the complex "Riverwalk".

There are no announced plans for the opposite bank yet. (see pic above)

Click this link to see the design of Riverwalk

Molly Ivins: Stir it up!

Heaven has just been livened up a bit. Molly Ivins, a Texas spitfire, has died. A link to her columns has been in the sidebar on the Limb since I first found her website. Her last column, just a couple of weeks ago, was a plea to stop the Bush/McCain escalation of the war in Iraq. A year ago Molly wrote the line that might be considered her valedictory advice:

"Sit up, join up, stir it up, get online, get in touch, find out who's raising hell and join them. No use waiting on a bunch of wussy politicians."
- Molly Ivins