Category Archives: community learning

0-2: Respectful, Responsible, Safe

In which Ms. Ebner considers dogged self-worth in others . . .


I’m near the front of the room with five kids yammering for my attention.  Two ask if they can go to the bathroom before the bell rings.  One asks if he can go to the office to call his ride home from school.  One or two more are explaining something about missing the day before, or asking me if they need to do a test, or something.  I can’t really hear.   It’s 32 middle school students all talking at once. I just want to get class started, take role within the legally-mandated time frame of fifteen minutes, and have everyone present so I don’t need to repeat instructions.  And in all of this clamor—oh, yeah, kids are not in their seats yet, are not giving any indication that they are here to be here and learn, but playing or chatting or zipping through their touchscreens—there’s Albert*, saying in his oversized voice and equally oversized enthusiasm, “Hi, Ms. Ebner.  Here is my behavior contract.  You need to sign this, put it in the folder and give me five reward tickets (to use for purchases).  See I went over the minimum points for my goal for the week!”


I bet you did.


There was a time when I was newish to this school, and still wonder if I am cut out for the culture.  I first returned because the office manager treated me well, as a valued substitute teacher.  Later, when I got to know more students, I continue to serve there because so many of them seem to like me alright.  I am a now a person with a personality and won’t put up with too much crap, but enough to make me one of the “not mean subs.”  Hence, the line up of requests and stories and the full orchestra warming up before class even starts.  There will be more distractions throughout the day.  “Can I get a drink of water?” Can I go to the bathroom?” “Can I go ask my math teacher a question?” “Can I make you life in this room more like a family, rather than an 8 hour incarceration?”


Albert is the second person I took to be motive to return to this school day in and day out.  When I first met him he came right up to me, started asking me questions, wondering about me, and being, yeah, a bit annoying.  He would try to relate to me.  When I mentioned my insulin pump one day, he held onto that knowledge—not as a person with diabetes himself—and asked me about it, curious, concerned for several days after.  The kid exemplifies a willingness to make the first move to relating instead of cowering in insecurity and bitterness at the world.  Albert reaches out.


One grouchy old teacher there described him to me once as “a puppy dog” but I would say— when he greets me as I come into school or come near the classroom—his persona is more like riding the edge of an avalanche.  He is always there, booming and moving fast, and he always has something sparkling yet bracing to say.


His classmates don’t like him.  Probably most of his teachers don’t either, which explains the “behavior plan” he has been on since the beginning of the year.  He is loud, says outbursty stuff at odd times, has way too much energy, and radiates indefatigable optimism for the essence of life at least eight hours a day.


He is what I wish all people had within themselves, or kept intact.  He has something unstoppable inside which makes me want to protect him from society’s insistence on dumbing-it-down so we can all be bored out of our skulls.


But the thing is, Albert doesn’t seem to need my or anyone’s protection.  He appears to have woken one day at a very early age—with his scruffy, consistently unmaintained red hair—looked about him and decided, People behave like jerks.  I will try to be better than that.


The behavior plans challenge his personal ethics and motivations as do the countless barely-hidden remarks smacking of borderline bullying.  He turns a blind eye to this unnecessary noise, and focusses on me.  The cymbals clang.


“Hi Ms. Ebner.  How are you?  I’ve decided to be a force for good today again!  What do you think of that?  Here’s my behavior contract.”

* Name changed to protect the identity of this wonderful student.


Theory and Fact

Our facts convince us but do they convince ultimate reality?

There has been some discussion here recently about what a fact is and what it really depends on to get a hold on the world (i.e. our minds understanding it as “fact”).  The problem is our species believes all of these facts–which are abundant–stand on their own.  A person can state something–their belief–and name it “just a fact about the world” and assume his interlocutor (s) will buy into his worldview.  But that’s just it.  There is a worldview there, from which the so-called fact depends upon for its existence.

I’m not trying to use the highly abstracted hand of skepticism to wave reality away from knowing creatures like yourself.  I’ll leave that to Descartes or Berkeley or Putnam.  But my aim is to remind you that “facts” are highly theory-dependent.  There are theoretical presuppositions behind every fact a person can name, and the truth of the fact depends upon the robustness of the theory.  Else it falls into the category of opinion.

We understand that objects fall because of our theory, or mental concepts making sense of patters, of gravity.  Or if you have never had the privilege of studying gravity in a formal way (school), you were (in fact) born with the fear of falling, as experiments on children show given controlled circumstances.  So, biologically, you will understand gravityness as true, that falling objects will not suddenly start misbehaving.  You will not test this embodied truth on yourself by throwing it (your body!) over a cliff.  This is a positive example of a fact which holds some mass in our worldviews.  My assertions utilizing biology and observation of physical objects and common assumptions about instinct or cognition back these asserted “facts.”

However, one must be wary because moral kinds of “facts” (or any using good/bad, better/worse, etc.) masked under the sacrosanct markers of True or False, ought to be realized as idiosyncratic preferences of individuals often arguing for thier opinions of how they would prefer others to see the world.  This can often be self-serving, selfish, and potentially destructive (the opposite might make up the consequence as well, as a matter of opinion). Beliefs also comes from biases, prejudices, and that ilk.  They are not justified until proven so.  It takes a maturer mind to question its own beliefs and opinions, and test them against alternative beliefs–even unpleasant ones– judiciously.

There is a wonderful game to examine the theoryladenness of factual claims, and how much we rely upon them,  often taking them for granted.  We have rich worlds within ourselves coming from our unique experiences, real or imagined. Below are a list of “facts” all linked to a common theory.  It is a puzzle to figure out.  See if you can guess the correct “theory” which links the list of facts below.  Feel free to comment on this blog.  The answer (guiding theory) will be in the categories at the end of this post.  Good luck!

  • Newspapers are better than magazines.
  • The seashore is better than the street.
  • At first it is better to run than to walk.
  • It takes some skill but is easy to learn, even for young children.
  • It’s true that it needs lots of room.
  • Beware of rain; it ruins everything.
  • A rock will serve as an anchor.
  • If things break loose, you won’t get a second chance.

Is Education … Barbaric?

In which we think things we probably shouldn’t think and say things we probably shouldn’t say …

An educator friend of mine supposed recently, “when humanity -one hundred years from now – looks back on what we do in American education, they will think it was barbaric …”  I laughed a little at this idea and remembered when I last sat in uncomfortable chair-desk when my body wasn’t as well-packed with middle aged weight.  And then I reflected again at a more recent experience of substitute teaching in a local high school.

It was awful.

(I shouldn’t say this.)

I’m trying to land a “real” teaching position and putting something like the following up in a public space could compromise my chances of scoring that highly coveted position (due to scarcity).  But, I’ve been abused enough by the education system and now armed with my high school diploma and 300+ credits of higher education, mostly upper-division (400 + level) courses I feel ready to be a citizen of this country.  I’m like that guy in Office Space who is suddenly relaxed about going to work, because he just doesn’t care to compromise his integrity any longer and can’t be bullied anymore by false authority.

I was at a school, one which would be called “State-of-the-Art” regarding the quality of athletics, programs, and the gorgeous building itself.  I went in optimistic.  I left with my heart in my hands.


This, due to the scarcity of sub jobs where I live, isn’t an optimal financial strategy (I work maybe once a week) but a really good one when I measure my physical and mental health next to other experiences I have substitute teaching.  “Just say ‘no’ to stress” be my motto now; my health depends on it.  And by “stress,” I don’t mean the normal amount (which is more than enough) I have at any given school (with any given set of poorly-crafted lesson plans and groups of lively and wonderful kiddos who sometimes test my limits or with other  educators with too little time and too much to do to be bothered with any below-the-surface understanding the the kids who compelled them in the beginning to serve with an objective to change the world for the better), I mean the kind of stress which drives dictatorships and authoritarian government structures into a tension with willpower to explode and exterminate, which in turn leave the citizens in a state of constant fear and on the brink of retaliation.

Because that is what the kids did with me.  Don’t these soon-to-be-adults know that they are getting a free education?

The last of four classes I had repeated the pattern from the three preceding it.  After being in their assigned seats (according to a picture chart available for me) they matriculated to where their friends were seated after my explicit instruction to stay in their seats and work with their table partners or people behind and in front of them.  I believe in cooperative learning- especially for such banal material like vocabulary – but experience has taught me that if one works with friends who are on the other side of the room for a reason, work doesn’t get done.

And my job was to make sure they learned (did their work).

Why did they move seats in spite of my direction?  Could they not see the reasoning behind my request?  Couldn’t they see by my demeanor of smiling calm that I cared about the test they would take later and the natural social-bonding aspects of school as well?  Is it that I am too soft on them perhaps that they figured they could get away with it?

Well, the last class of the day did.  I observed their blatant refusal to work with table partners and people at desks nearest to them as they one by one – popcorn-style – moved to places they wanted to sit, to be next to people they wanted to be with, and do their work.  This was not the case for the previous two classes, one of which I had to call in an administrator to help reinforce my (and, in essence, the absent teacher’s and the community-at-large – taxpayers’-)expectations for the day.

But my stepping from the podium and trying to observe these different dynamics with as little micromanagement as possible, I couldn’t help noticing also the times I was respectfully asked if a student could go to the bathroom or get a drink of water.  I say yes to this nearly every time  even though I suppose in most cases they don’t really need to use the facilities and are most certainly not that dehydrated, but are just bored and need to take a break (to text a friend most likely) from the classroom.  They really do try their best to control themselves, and work with me on this. It has been  pointed out to me how authoritative this practice is, or, rather, that there is an indignity in having to ask to use the bathroom.  Students accept some rules but not others, like being told where they should sit in order to review vocabulary.

I’ll no longer serve the State-of-the-Art school as a substitute now – I had to make that decision.  I also had to make a bold move to stand up for a certain student who was especially tenacious at testing me, but  – as was revealed later  – shared a common ailment with me.  Knowing about this commonality then compelled me to write the counselor of the school in a rage of reasoning passion and advocate for better understanding among school staff about this student and many like him.  It was my antidote for the physical stress I endured as the authority figure in a deeply authoritative school structure, one which is counter to my instincts toward humanity.  After all, I had my own share of mind-numbing in the American education system.  If it weren’t for some key players along the way I might not hold a masters in teaching today, much good that it does me,

Anza – Borrego Galleta Meadows Metal Sculptures

In which you learn about giant art in the desert …

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Guest post by Marilyn Ebner, who lives in the high desert of Sisters, Oregon. The past 4 winters in order to escape the cold and snow of Sisters, she and husband, Denny escape to Borrego Springs, California to hike in the real desert of Borrego Springs State Park.

Imagine your first trip to Borrego Springs, which is set out in the wide open desert of 600,000 Anza-Borrego State Park acres. You find yourself driving on Borrego Springs Rd, which runs both north and south of the town itself. You suddenly look off in the distance scanning both sides of the road and you see large, rusted life-size and larger figures of camels, saber-tooth tigers, wild horses, turtles, serpents, giant sloths, mammoths, giant birds, and dinosaurs. No, your eyes are not deceiving you, there really are strange figures stuck out in the middle of ocotillo, barrel, and cholla cactus. The cactus is normal to the desert in east San Diego County. However, the rusted figures before your eyes obviously are neither natural, normal and are definitely, man-made.

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So, as most people do when encountering these creatures for the first time, you’ll stop, pull off the road into the dirt, get out of your car, grab your camera and take a photo or two or three of whatever sculptures grabbed your eyesight and subsequent interest. Except for one sign “Galleta Meadows Open to the Public,” there seems to be no explanation for these sculptures that seem to miraculously pop up out of the desert floor. So how did they get there?


The sculptures were created and built by Sculptor/ Artist Ricardo Breceda, out of scrap reinforcement bars, wire and metal. They were commissioned by the owner/developer of Galleta Meadows Estates, Dennis Avery, who created his vision of this unique sculpture garden in the unlikely place of the desert surrounding Borrego Springs.

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On any given day, as you drive Borrego Springs Rd., you’ll see bus loads of people and cars doing just what you did when you happened onto the sculptures for the first time. In the past four years, Denny and I certainly have enjoyed taking family and friends to see them and see their varied reactions to the sculptures. We’ve taken many photos of us and others posing in front of them. One of our favorites, is the large serpent that seems to crawl from one open field, under Digorgio Road, then into the field on the other side. Another personal favorite is the scorpion. Both have made an appearance in our annual family calendars.

borrego springs 2012 101

Astronauts and Allegories

In which Carrie’s young filosopher friend considers the ambitions of children and difficulties they face because of the American debt crisis ….

Guest Post: Roisin

Ask a kindergartener  what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll hear cliche answers such as doctor, veterinarian, astronaut. Grade schoolers and middle schoolers answers are more diverse. Still a common element is significantly found in all young children’s answers when asked what they imagine themselves to be in the future; all of them have their hopes set high. No one tells the child with her eyes fixed upon the moon how unlikely it is to make it into the space program. No one tells the child, plastic stethoscope in hand, that his family would never be able to afford medical school. How dare we squash innocent ambition? Reality will eventually sink in, I suppose, somewhere between the first high school report card and that meeting about tuition with your college counselor. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Hard work in life doesn’t automatically equate to monetary funds. Sometimes, it seems like we live in an unfair society. That years of hoping and dreaming and long hours and idealizing are trampled upon and reduced to more “practical” careers. And suddenly, that little astronaut who could is left to merely gaze in envy at the moon.

Yes, I’ve realized that I’m probably not the first kid who claimed to be future president. I know many before me have vowed to change the world. As I prepare to enter college, with all it’s built up glory and anticipation, I’ve encountered an unanticipated obstacle. Money.

Naive, I know.

Forgive me for believing that good grades and pure drive were enough to get a student an education in this country. Forgive me for even posing to ask the question of why the cost of self improvement escalates into the thousands of dollars. Then. Forgive me for being so selfish.

Life is hard. It’s been said before. Our dreams slowly change from being a doctor, to becoming a mother or a secretary or a carpenter. It’s not about the occupation. It’s about being happy. Who am I to say that one dream is bigger or better than another? The enlightened one in Plato’s allegory discovered that his previous games and awards were nothing compared to what awaited him on the outside, in the light. In the light I see that title or money really doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. What matters is having a dream. Strive to reach it, no matter what. No matter if that dream is to become an astronaut or secretary. Those who say that your dream is “impractical” are still living in a cave, and they’ll view things differently. Their awards consist of nothing but shadows and titles and money and none of that truly matters.

I think that inside, we all still carry that flame of a goal. A goal perhaps deemed unreachable by a insensitive teacher or friend. It’s true, in the end we cannot all be the President. But some one has to be, right?


About the Author:
Roisin is a senior in high school and spends her time playing basketball, writing, attempting to understand her AP Statistics homework and contemplating what exactly Kant was talking about…. (when she figures it out, she says she’ll get back to us).  Roisin loves being outdoors and hopes to attend university in Montana.

Reading Response Paper on Sheltered Instruction

In which Carrie comments on English Language Learners and one of their unique contributions to American education…

Sheltered instruction, like some pedagogy terms, was one I never really understood until last week when it was defined as “using different cueing systems and scaffolds like written directions, demonstrations, gestures, slower pace, and repetitions.” (Hill, 2013).  This particular writing prompt treats sheltered instruction as a rare and hard-to-come-by practice by asking to describe how it is different from “typical classroom instruction.”  At least, this is the assumption I make.  And in this assumption I cite the trend that says that teachers often teach how they were taught.

When I consider what the rest of the world assumes to be good teaching – and by rest of the world I mean those without formal training in education or presentation strategies – I think they mean the “stand and deliver” method where the teacher talks and the students listen.  This emphasis placed on the “sage on the stage” is what we may call traditional, or typical, classroom instruction.  This is what sheltered instruction is not.
Sheltered instruction, however can still embody the appearance of a teacher-centered modality, only any outside observer will see that the students would not be falling asleep.  While the ELLs are benefiting from repetition, gestures, and other methods serving as context clues, like realia, the general education students are benefiting from a supreme lack of boredom.  An outside observer might evaluate such a sage as charismatic, or connected with her students, but really what the observer would be noticing is student-centered practice masked as the teacher standing and delivering.
Additionally, once a teacher tires of being at the front of the classroom, she can engage her mainstream and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLDs) students in experiments using manipulatives in math or real artifacts for literature and social studies or chemicals as in science.  In fact, if we used a “typical” science classroom (and one hopes it is no longer without labs, though perhaps in science classrooms with pressed budgets), our outside observer would agree with author Holly Hanson-Thomas (2008) where she writes, “By virtue of its motivating, interactive, hands-on nature, science is a course in which ELLs are often successful.”  I know that my career highlight experience (so far) with a science education organization, Wolftree, Inc., gave me numerous models for integrating potentially motivating, interactive, and hands-on models and materials into my future English and ELL classrooms.  I teach how I taught with them.

So, thank goodness for ELL students.  Without the light they shine on our deficits we may have been stuck in the dark ages of traditional teaching forever.  It is a pity we have for so long, and that it wasn’t until ELLs have shown us we were not using our best possible practices that we were inspired to do so.  So if sheltered instruction is “just good teaching” what is the big deal?  It must be that it isn’t yet the “typical” which gives us reason to make it so.

Hanson-Thomas, H. (2008). “Sheltered Instruction: Best Practices for ELLs in the Mainstream.” Kappa Delta Pi record. Summer 2008. pp. 165-169.

Hill, C. (2013). Classroom lecture.  TCE – Instructional Approaches for P- 12 ELLs

For the Love of Earth

In which we experiment with thought in the genre of science fiction…

“The essence of art, no less than of science, is synecdoche.  A carefully chosen part serves for the whole.”
-Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Imagine a world, a best possible world in all possible worlds, which is quite unlike Leibniz’s (or Voltaire’s “Dr. Pangloss”).  It looks and behaves similarly to what it is like now except that humans are slightly different.  They are all biophiles at their core.  This loving ethic for biological inter-relatedness has evolved over thousands of years, and is now as instinctual as the aversion to falling and the desire to reproduce.

In this globalized society, each of its members, from very early on, is obligated to care for and protect a particular species: plant, animal, bacteria, or whatever needs extra attention and study.  No one person begrudges this obligation because it is an encoded outcome of being human.  In other words, it’s just the way we live.

Because this is just the way we are, and because we also have excellent organizational capacity, each member begins with a species to protect and goes through a series of graduations or rites-of-passage so that they might be involved in the protection of more particular species over time.  Maybe a father has his species for a given time, and once it is well-situated, he can give it to his son while facilitating an apprenticeship.

This father might then take on a more challenging species while he aids the continued study and protection of the one bequeathed to his apprentice who has begun with a less threatened species as an elementary lesson in care and protection.  We are thinking of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development:  a child is seen to need some learning just a bit past his development level to strive toward.  So does, we’ll suppose, the adult.  By the time a person reaches, say, sixty, they might have had five or six species they were “in charge of” and have helped thrive in harmony with other organisms.

Now, obviously, there are at least two ways to care for a species: in a lab such as a zoo, or in its natural habitat.  Obviously, in this best possible world, we disparage the former, except in extreme circumstances of species decline, and do everything we can to ensure the latter, knowing a species must live in its best possible world also.

This is why we have organizational bodies called “governments.”  They run the logistics of necessaries like providing transportation to other comparable habitats where a species lives.  They facilitate the best possible education of our novices and experts so they may know as much as they can in order to help each particular organism being protected.  These governmental people are made up of the privileged and powerful class.

This  elite class of people is determined by results.  A leader of this sort has protected seriously endangered species in Nobel prize worthy ways, utilizing both ingenuity and superior knowledge, and has been rewarded with a high office, thus more responsibility.  These people fully expect to be surpassed in rank, and do what they must to make sure this happens.  They understand that they will need to be replaced, eventually.  That is just the way we live.

And, naturally, saving a species or six in a lifetime, involves greater things.  One important feature we have already mentioned: the habitats where a species lives.  The people assigned to this habitat will eventually be teaming up with others assigned other species which coexist with theirs.  Understanding the ecosystem also involves non-living elements, like the elements.  People working together on a particular habitat begin to see the necessity of really working hard together.  They assist where they can and are unable to take full, individualized  credit for their results.  They depend both on their species, other peoples’ species, and the help of other protectors to get the job done.

Meanwhile, back at home, the child and the father enjoy their time away from this work.  They, and their neighbors, have plenty to eat, are in good health, use free time to create and develop other interests, and they aren’t even worried about the rest of humanity.  They know each is doing his or her small part to socially protect the biospherical whole that keeps us alive.

By Carrie Anne Ebner