Sunday, November 15, 2009

2nd draft - freedom poem

We, who have never been.

“miss, that’s racist!”
they say, without knowing
how deep the puncture
wound really goes.
our lungs are collapsing
as we search for breath
but pull in water and wool,
our eyes swollen from salt
that has never flavored
our own distaste
for another race.

they call us free
but my heartbeat
contradicts the simile:
freedom is like an eagle
soaring upon the
crisp, November wind.

this has never been.

we live in meter and time,
spill out our own
rhythm and rhyme, and
sta –
to –
or a sick syncopation
or simpatico
is always suspect.

tell me
about freedom

i want to hear the fiction
we paint on the backdrop
of our lives to cover up
the true story.
these lies we hold to be
self-evident, i am pleading
for evidence of our guilt
to be brought before
the court, for the broken
backs to be bandaged
in retrospect.

but we turn the cheek
to what we see
and retell the story
that we’ve been trained with.
let freedom ring, as if its ever
filled our avenues with its
beautiful song, of sorrow
we know, of free we can
only hold onto the bars
and hope.

everyday a siren sounds
to pull you over, you;
the usual suspect.
everyday a block traversed,
a stop and search,
tear you down on
every corner uptown because
you are young, black and
obviously dangerous.

what did you know and
when did you know it?
tell me about the first time
the dream had a crack in it,
had a rip and tear so small
that you just swear
you could overlook it.

this dream deterred
has never been built
on a belief of equality,
just a borrowed billboard
slogan to help us buy
into our own brand
of bigotry.

(still sounds awkward to end it this way... i'll be posting it to my students this week on IPG to elicit their help!)


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Poetry Takes Us By Storm!!!

Wow. We have had massssssive issues surrounding technology this fall, which I don't wish to get into. Suffice to say, there has been a long delay and relatively small amount of students getting into the IPG site this fall, but I must remind myself that it's often about quality and not quantity -- because they are posting some work that is deep, honest, and risky. I am so proud of them, and it's been inspiring me to write, too.

Thank goodness, because I have a reading coming up downtown on Nov 21st, so I have to read something, and something new! So, here's something new. I am horrible at writing political poems, but have a lot to say to the concept of freedom right now. I was inspired by Brian, one of my students, and a poem he posted on IPG -- "Some Kind of Monster". I'm thinking of reading his poem with mine (or having someone else read it for him, or have video of him reading it himself to play there?), because they are so closely related. I read this poem of his last spring and it wasn't even on my mind when I began writing my own. I can't post his piece due to student privacy issues, but contact me via email and I can share part of it!

Oh, and I'm posting this because I want your feedback -- so give it to me! Tear it up, it's a first draft!


We, who have never been.

they call us free
but my heartbeat
contradicts the simile:
freedom is like an eagle
soaring upon the
crisp, November wind.
this has never been.
we live in meter and time,
rhythm and rhyme, and
off---beat sta – ca—to –
or a syncopation or simpatico
is always suspect.

tell me
about freedom

i want to hear the fiction
we paint on the backdrop
of our lives to cover up
the true background.

1865 to 2009 –
are we off that?

so we turn the cheek
to what we see
and retell the story
we’ve been trained with.
yet everyday a siren blares
pulling someone over;
the usual suspects.

everyday a block walked,
a stop and search,
tear you down because
you are young, black and
obviously dangerous.

what did you know and
when did you know it?
tell me about the first time
the dream had a crack in it,
had a rip and tear
that you just swear
you could overlook.

this dream deterred
has never been built
on a belief of equality,
just a borrowed billboard
slogan to help us buy
into our bigotry.

“miss, that’s racist!”
they say, without knowing
how deep the puncture
wound really goes.
our lungs are collapsing
as we search for breath
but pull in water and wool,
our eyes swollen from salt
that has never flavored
our own distaste
for another race.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

fake bakesales

Trying to push your students to get to the next level is often really difficult. Especially when they're your babies and they're now in 10th grade and no longer in your class, so you don't have the daily influence like you used to. For my Live Poets, it became incredibly clear to me that they need a push when we were planning our first fundraiser of the year. They were like: "We're doing a bake sale, next Wednesday, we'll all bring stuff -- break!" and they ran out of the huddle like Tate Forcier - a little too quickly. I decided to deliberately sit back, watch and see what happened. Ooooh, it was painful for me, a self-confessed control freak, to not remind them and call home to tell their parents about it and bake 5 batches of brownies to help the bake sale happen. I made a conscious decision this year that THEY are going to step up the responsibility level. Sometimes they need to watch it fail in order to realize how to make it succeed.

So, the day came and no one remembered to bring in their baked goods. Masters of the last-minute switch-up, they were prepared to run to the grocery store, buy myriad Entemann's cakes and call it a bake sale. I pulled them all together and met with them instead. I pretended to be very upset, but I think they saw my smile, and they knew it was an opportunity for me to get up on my soapbox. But I surprised them again. They're used to being yelled at outside of school when they make a mistake and all of the calm that I bring does not undo the rest of their lives.

(stepping up onto the imaginary soapbox)

"Guys, what happened?"
"We forgot. We're so sorry, Lauren."
"Don't apologize to me. Talk to me about what you'll do next time so this doesn't happen again."
"Well, we need to each know what everybody is bringing in, and we need to remind each other."
"Okay... so..."

Thing 1: "I'm making brownies."
Jazzy: "I can't bake, so I'll help with advertisements."
Lechuga: "Me too!"
Eazy E: "I'll make the signs... it should have the new logo on it."
Yung LA: "Yo, cake. White cake, chocolate frosting. Tell my dad, will you? He won't believe that I have to bake a cake for school."
Jay-Arr: "Cookies... chocolate chip. They're my mom's favorite."
Jazzy: "Can you make that red velvet cake?"
Me: "Sure. I'll also get change for the customers... what else?"
Princess P: "Mami and I will buy some of those Entemann's cakes, everyone loved those last time and they're a good profit."
O.J.: "What can I do? Can we do a push-up contest to attract attention?!? I got this!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!"
Jazzy: "Spread the word. Maybe we can all put it on our away msgs a few days before, to let everyone know, plus posters and signs."
Yung LA: "I'll tell the Prez and P will tell Mami about it. "
Princess P: "What about drinks? Oh and plates and stuff?"
Me: "I have plates, napkins, silverware... maybe the Prez can bring drinks?"
O.J.: "I'll ask him on aim tonight."
Me: "Okay, so we got this. Next Thursday. Oh, who's gonna fill out the fundraising request?"
Jay-Arr: "I gotchu, Lauren."


It was only after this conversation took place and the REAL bake sale got planned that I gave them their University of Michigan Education hats. They were wilin, and every single one of them wore them to school the next day. When asked if they wanted to go back to Detroit the next year, or go somewhere else, because the AMC has been moved, they didn't even flinch. "Um, we have to see grandma! And we never saw Ann Arbor, and where you live, so we gotta go back."

"So, let's do this."
Break huddle. Spread offense. We got this.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

A letter from 2001.

I always think it's important to talk about 9/11, and to remember. Watching the towers fall from the front steps of my apartment building is an image that is forever burned into my mind. This year in my classroom, I read a poem that I wrote a few years back to my students, and asked them for any images that stood out. L said "the part about seeing tanks on the street, feeling so close to war and that you called this crime scene home". We broke that line down a little bit and I asked about why I would call it a crime scene. J responded "because it is a crime that all of those people had to die, for oil".

Now, as a teacher, I have shifted the way that I speak about my experiences, and my after-thoughts. It is not my job to indoctrinate my students with my political beliefs, and it is interesting to hear them say that Bush was behind the attacks. I wonder about the origins of those statements and I need to be careful to frame my words with "some people believe it was like this... others argue that it was like this." I do not seek to raise parrots in my classroom, but want these kids to listen to information, ask questions and make their own decisions about what they believe (about 9/11 and everything else we talk about).

Most of my students were 6 when it happened. I was 21, senior year of college; I was working as an RA in the dorms at the New School. we had just opened up a dorm three blocks away from the Twin Towers. I was at that dorm two days earlier, commenting on the view of the towers from the western windows. But whether or not my students remember, I still think it's important to remind them. (and sometimes, I learn how personally they were affected by it... all my love to your famly, I.) It is a massive moment in our history, when some would say the U.S. was dethroned from our self-appointed dynasty.

While I fervently desired to teach before 9/11, the urgency increased afterward, because I realized how closely ignorance is related to a reactionary response to a situation like this. My prayers and blessings to the families who are remembering their lost loved ones, and who do not have the luxury of forgetting this day.

I was searching for words yesterday, and a quick google search of myself reminded me of what I had to say about 9/11 in 2001. I was so much more eloquent then, so I am re-posting... it is 8 years old, but it's surprising how relevant it still is, because we are still at war. Let's bring our soldiers home and worry about our domestic issues, America. Let us no longer be the oppressor the world over.


Letter to a girl at school
By Lauren Michele Fardig

This is a letter I wrote in response to a classmate who had written an article for Newsweek titled "The Day The World Changed, I Did, Too" (Oct. 1, 2001 issue, p. 9). It was about her feeling patriotic and pro-war because she felt that a war focused on terrorists is the only way to keep "us" safe. I have to ask, "Who is ‘us’?" Anyway, I know that it has been a month and that everyone is "trying to get back to normal" but that is impossible for me.

October 12, 2001, 4:29 a.m.

Hey there. I feel weird typing out a letter to you, but for some reason I’ve been doing all of my writing on the computer lately, which is unlike me, but oh well. I’ll take writing in whatever form it wants to come in these days.

It’s been difficult for me to write during the past month. I’ve been writing a lot, but it’s not the peaceful release that it used to be. Writing itself has become an act filled with anguish – an act of resistance – because sometimes I feel like words are the only weapons I have (and would want to have) so I must use them wisely, especially in times like this.

I want to talk to you about your article, because I think it’s very honest and talks very emotionally about how you’re feeling regarding the World Trade Center attacks. I too denounce violence against Arab-American and perceived Arab people in this country and abroad, but I must say that I am strongly anti-war. I don’t believe that I am confusing justice and revenge when I make this statement and I don’t believe in complete pacifism in this circumstance whatsoever. I do think that the people responsible for the hijackings should be brought to justice, but I don’t think that a focused war on terrorists is something that will keep anyone the safest.

I heard on the radio today that despite this week’s bombings in Afghanistan, bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban are still safe. I know that they have already begun and it will be difficult (if not impossible) to convince the American government to stop bombing, but I do think that the people going to be most affected by these bombings are the Afghan civilians. I think that releasing some sanctions on Middle Eastern countries combined with the U.S.’s participation in the creation and implementation of an international criminal court would be a much more humanitarian option to bombing countries in which a fundamentalist terrorist group resides. Knowing bin Laden’s history as a CIA operative in the 80’s, I don’t doubt that intelligence has some reasons for sincerely believing his involvement, which they are not explicitly relating to the people. But until we know that, and taking into account the video that was released last Sunday of bin Laden speaking, I am not fully convinced that he is responsible.

That aside, I do want you to know that it has been extremely important to me to think critically about U.S. involvement in the Middle East AND allow myself the space to feel and deal with the grief and sorrow of knowing that thousands of people died a mile from my house. The plane crashes were intentional, well executed, despicable and utterly unjustifiable. I do see how the U.S.’ imperialist and interventionist role in foreign policy, not only in the Middle East but in Nicaragua, Cuba, Panama, El Salvador, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, and all over Africa and Latin America, has fueled large amounts of hatred toward the American government from many Third World countries. I do understand how people at school could say things like, "This is our own fault" and such, though I think it’s a really simplistic and reactionary way to put things into perspective. No one on those planes, in those buildings, or trying to save those lives deserved to die, and no matter what role the U.S. played in instigating such animosity in the hearts of others, that will not change. However, I think it’s really dangerous to set up an "Us vs. Them" mentality.

I know you were speaking about terrorists as the "them," but you have to understand how angry people get when a country supposedly based on freedom and democracy has oppressed them for so long. Freedom and democracy for whom? Certainly not those who are not white, not Christian, not straight, without money, illiterate and living in Third World countries. I have found it hard to find faith in patriotism in these past few weeks. Even though I was very unsure, very afraid, very confused, one thing I knew is that this was not an attack on "freedom itself" as George W. Bush stated. So many of the people working in the WTC were not free. There were more than 500 undocumented Mexican workers employed at Windows on the World who were killed, whose families are afraid to come forward with their names for fear that they will be deported under more strict INS regulations. The World Trade Center was built on a slave burial ground. We are living in a country that still thought of black people as three-fifths of a person not even 150 years ago.

I do not find solace in believing that my country will protect me. I am more concerned for the people who live in this country who are racially profiled everyday, who are incarcerated for petty drug charges and serving life sentences because they are non-white, who are beaten to death for being outwardly homosexual or trans. When I think about current safety regulations, I have to think about *who* is being made to feel more safe and just what we are defending when we strut off to war. I live my everyday life with a certain amount of privilege due to the color of my skin, the level of my education, my ability to be in a private, liberal arts college to study what brings my life passion and meaning. I do not have to think about where I am placed in the world because no one demands it of me. But I demand it of myself, because as a writer, an educator, and a white, queer, working-class woman, I strongly believe that no one can be truly human until we are all human.

We must stop dehumanizing others, and I fear that setting up an Us vs. Them dichotomy severely risks essentializing certain ethnic and religious groups as a "them" (I’m not implying that you said that, just that it could be interpreted that way). When you said, "These terrorists despise our very existence" who is the "our" you are speaking about? The U.S. is a very diverse country of all races, sexes, sexualities, classes, national origins, and religious affiliations. While it is easy to think that this was an attack on America as a whole, from the international news I’ve read in the course of my life, I do believe that many people across the world have a strong understanding of the difference between the American people and the American government. I can definitely read the symbolism in the WTC attacks as a direct hit on capitalism itself, on the invincibility that the U.S. formerly believed itself to have, on the arrogance of our false generosity in aiding under-developed countries with our own economic interests in mind.

Anyway, these are some thoughts that your article provoked in me. I definitely understand your reaction toward what’s been happening all around us, but I do think it’s important to place this action in its historical context in order to try to understand that it did not happen randomly, out of the blue without any provocation or pressure. It is all too easy to try to turn it into a battle of "good" vs. "evil", but that is irrelevant in this case. While the U.S. had a major involvement in ending Nazi takeover in Europe during World War II, we were simultaneously placing Japanese Americans in internment camps in Northern California. We have our own history of violence and genocide, which I know you did not dispute, but it is important to ask how retaliation is going to keep us safe, when it is only endangering the lives of many other innocent people.

At a march on Sunday, I listened to the father of one of the people killed in the WTC speak about how it would not make his grief subside to bomb anyone, thinking of all the other fathers who may lose sons and daughters at our hands. My current focus is definitely on education and how we can work to bring in alternative media and ideas, how we can work to use our experience to aid in the fight for social justice and change. I strongly believe that peace and diplomacy, instead of economic and military force, are necessary in order to change the circumstances that brought this attack to the U.S. Returning to normalcy is simply not an option for me; there is a heightened sense of urgency in my struggles to work for social change. I am deeply upset and entrenched in all of this and think it so crucial to bring writing, teaching and learning to the table as ways to heal, collectively. I’d like to keep on dialoguing with you about this. Thanks for your honesty and analysis.


Friday, August 14, 2009

back to it....

there has been so much swirling in my head as i prepare for a new year. how do i take the successful moments of last year and build on them (Iraqi refugee event; stereotype poems, stories, reflections; Pedro, Greek/Roman myspace projects)? which units need a lot of work (Egypt/Meso, Greece/Rome)? how do i integrate more direct instruction of concrete reading and writing skills? where does computer literacy and college summit fit in?

here's some ideas that are currently marinating:

- independent reading time - 3 days a week, freewrite - 2 days a week
- strengthen format of writing workshop - workshop every 3-4 weeks
- reading discussion groups - The Reluctant God, Tales of the Sufis, ABC, Pedro
- annotated bibliography for books read, to carry throughout BKHS
- habits of mind/work
- classroom procedures/notebooks
- rigid AIM office hours
- monthly communication with parents (newsletters)
- setting up an email account with every student
- extra credit for joining and posting on LPS
- stereotypes - theme of last year. theme of this year? connecting thread?

then there's the more concrete structure of my units. 6 six-week units allows me to cover what i need with regard to connection to global, and it also creates a solid framework so that i can integrate computer programs into the final product. there is enough time to have major reading/analyzing activities, a polished writing product and gain experience with a computer skill, demonstrating their ability to use the program in their final draft of their writing product.

i need to re-draft my syllabus and re-think day 1. creating community contracts, ice-breaker, scavenger hunt around the room (aww, i remember that Michael Jackson was in my scavenger hunt last year... sad). i REALLY want to put out the intro to 9th grade zine this year, and i REALLY want to give them a "Day 1 Survival Guide" as a model, so that's what i'm going to try to work on next week... along with the Detroit DVD. gray and i have really made it something special.

as one more personal project, i'm also going to publish a poetry chapbook this fall. i've accomplished almost everything on my 2009 top ten (to-do list!) and i would like the world to see some of my writing. much of it follows me into the same ravines i've always written from, but again, it could be a good model for students who wish to do the same with their work. and i do crave the warm photocopies of a fresh zine pressed against you... there is nothing like that sense of satisfaction.

wish me luck as a get the teaching itch back... as if it ever left.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

You already snow... LPS took Detroit by storm!

Detroit was live!! The Live Poets Society kicked butt and took names (and aimflows) at the Allied Media Conference last week!

For all of the planning that we did to make this trip happen, for everything I envisioned it to be, I never imagined it would work out as well as it did. We had such a great trip on a thousand different levels, and the unique personalities of each young person mixed with the personalities of the chaperones was an accidental alchemy that made for an incredibly exciting week.

Here's a preview of one of our many hilarious moments. The kids had been singing this one particular, explicit R & B song the entire trip and this video was what happened when we asked them to sing something, anything else. Enjoy Mary!

As you can see, we had mad fun. Check out more of our photos and videos on From the 12-hour sing-along on the way there, to the surprise U.S. Muziq performance at the D-Tension open mic, to being celebrities of the conference due to their zeal, to all the inside jokes and belly laughs, impromptu performances, nail night, push-up contests, bball games and flame-wars, to the more serious work we did (conferencing with the MAC students via video and conference call, our spectacular workshop at the AMC, and the US vs. South Africa freestyle we participated in)... I will never forget this trip, and no one who went will, either. The students were begging to stay longer, and I watched them network with other youth like pros. It was so overwhelmingly successful that they were immediately trying to think about fundraising ideas and ways to improve for next year. We WILL be back at the AMC, you already snow!

I'm so proud of my students. They really went above and beyond my expectations, whether they were speaking to someone at the conference, graciously thanking the person responsible for our housing accommodations, or chatting with my grandmother. They got to meet practically my entire family, and see my city, which was so special to me. I am so grateful to everyone who had a hand in supporting this project and bringing one of my dreams to fruition. The Live Poets Society is taking off and I'm so excited to see where it will take us!

Much love,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why Detroit?

(a mission statement in-progress for my Detroit trip with students... your feedback is welcome, please go check out our Ning! Address below)

Hey there,

So, as I'm on AIM with one of my Detroit project super-stars, emailing someone about our lodging, and working on updating the Ning we started, I'm feeling the tangible taste of this adventure. Backing up a bit, this is a trip that I conceived in my head before I ever taught at BK. I have attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit for a few years now, and also the first ever conference, then called the Bowling Green Zine Conference, in 1999 on the campus of BGSU, in Ohio. I have self-published my own writing for nearly 11 years through "zines", or independently published mini-magazines of poetry, personal essays and imagery (usually collaged and photocopied, distributed by independent distributors and by me). I found my voice through this publishing and still cherish the connections I made with other writers and artists across the world. I have a strong bias in the power of self-made media to transform the lives of youth -- I lived this transformation and became a conscious activist and teacher because of it.

This conference is a phenomenal place where activists meet up, share their work, and build communities of folks working on media production from a grassroots, social-justice angle. In Detroit in particular, they're looking to build an alternate economy that does not rely on the floundering auto industry, but is rooted in technology and the future. Teaching youth media-making skills allows them to find their own voices, and broadcast their thoughts. Whether by radio show, song, poem, photograph, film, music video, zine, art installation, graf piece... giving my students the tools to be able to make their creativity into a product will benefit their lives after high school, that can help connect them to a career that they love and can prosper in -- this is my goal. To help them understand that media-making is empowering AND can take them places.

Broadcasting is just the beginning, though. Having an exchange of thoughts and ideas that is constant, way past the conference this summer, that becomes a part of the school culture, and their writing process. Connecting with our incredibly inspiring art teacher to have this continue as an online component of a literary/art mag, making this project a truly student-run production, and Detroit an annual trip. Integrating this into my classroom, making technology and media-making a part of what I teach -- changing the shape of the ELA classroom to really focus on what communication looks like now. These are some larger goals we're working on.

Check out our fledgling site -- which will begin its chrysalis this week as the students begin to work on it...

And also check the Allied Media Conference -- we're SOOO looking forward to the opportunity to be in Detroit.

Wish us luck!

Friday, June 12, 2009

getting around firewalls...

hmm, so interesting when i'm asking my students for the newest proxy servers... and when i can't pull this video off of the website on which it lives, and into, so that i may save it to my desktop. let's see if this works...

(more to come next week, when i am done teaching. i smell reflections!)

Chappelle's Show
The Racial Draft
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Speed-dating and the Quest for tha D.

Hey ya'll,
So, the end of the year has not allowed me to keep you up to date. We rocked our way through Greece and Rome, working on independent research projects about a god/goddess in the pantheon. Then, each student "became" their god/goddess and created a myspace profile, which highlighted the research they found and got them to make connections between the stories by thinking about which other gods/goddesses would be on their top 8. They also got to try and figure out a playlist for their god/goddess and focus on a theme/mood that fit their personality, it was an awesome project -- I'll post some student work when I get a moment.

Then, we speed-dated! Yup, that's right. Call me crazy (and lots of ppl did), but I was looking for a way for the kids to role play and really work on their memorization skills and also learn something about some of the other gods and goddesses, so I came up with a speed-dating lesson where they tried to find a match with another god, based on what they knew about their personalities from the myths. What they learned: greek gods/goddesses are all somehow related to one another, Zeus slept with everyone and had a hard time at speed-dating because the goddesses all knew his game, Aphrodite and Eros both got questioned about why they were speed-dating A TON (because shouldn't the GOD and GODDESS of LOVE have an easy time finding love?!? not so much, i said), and Artemis is a lesbian, or at least that's the inference that they made about her preference.

Now, as the year ends, I'm turning my attention to the D, and tryin to get my students there. We've been doing some grassroots fundraising -- bake sales, student-helpers in teachers' classrooms (the students get paid and donate their "salary" to the project), letter campaigns, but the reality is that we need lots of money in a short amount of time. Here comes the dilemma... even though I can't really afford it, should I cover the cost of the trip to ensure that it happens? My heart and soul is invested in this, but in my first year of teaching, I realize that I needed to start fundraising in September in order to fully do this right. Hindsight is 20/20, but this trip is still ahead of us...

I'm hosting a fundraiser on May 30th (NYC folks, get in touch!) and am hoping that one of the 4 grants I wrote this winter will come through to take care of a chunk of it. The kids have really gotten themselves motivated to take charge of a fundraising project (each student has a fundraising goal and had to design and implement a project on their own... though I assisted in trying to make those projects happen), and are beginning to put together the content of their "zine". We did a Garage Band workshop with Beat Mining Productions' CEO/Producer Roamy Fils-Aime, and are trying to work other media into our expressions as we speak.

I really hope this trip happens. My students are great. They keep telling me "Miss, we got this." It's amazing how sometimes a meeting with them when I'm stressed and exhausted will completely rejuvenate me.

Holla at me if you have fundraising ideas, or wanna learn more about the work we're doing.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This talk is a few years old, and I think Seadragon (or an offshoot of the technology, anyway) is part of the operating system for the iphone, if I'm not mistaken, but lately I've been thinking about the implications of everyone being digitally connected, and then someone on an educators community I'm on posted this. Check out Goble's ning, called "Making Curriculum Pop" here: , but seriously... as he demos this in the video below... just pause and think about images being able to talk to one another like this... and have data attached to them. how a random digital photo you take in new york city can provide you so much information when you get it online... hmm. Just food for thought. My brain has been full of so many things lately, so it's been nice, while on spring break, to ponder possibilities.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

viva la lolo

i have been trying to just breathe. it has been simultaneously the best and most challenging year of my life. i don't know if i'll ever recover from this year, or how to measure my growth. i just know that i've been growing exponentially in my ways of understanding the world, and in my ability to maneuver through my days unphased. i am galvanizing myself right now, building armor out of an intense love and wearing it to protect myself. to cover others. to win.

for the first time in my life, i feel like i am always winning. it is humbling, because none of this is about me. it is about you. i write to me a lot, but this is the time to turn it outwards, to expose it. i don't need an audience for my writing, because i have one in my daily life. except here is the thing: the biggest thing i've learned this year is how to listen.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

keep a prayer in your heart.

the past few weeks have been madness, sheer madness... but in the best way possible. the students really pulled it together to put on a wonderful event on tuesday for the Nothing Like My Home finale/community event. my stress levels were high, as i realize time and time again, that while project-based learning has the rep of being "easy" with regard to high-levels of student engagement, it takes a ton of planning on the part of the teacher to "structure the openness", if you will. in order to have the students truly organize an event, each of the 120 ninth graders had to have a finite role to play, and for me, that meant they needed to have some choice in the matter. i find that giving students agency in the shape and nature of our work is the best way to build their desire to invest in the project.

despite having technical difficulties (i.e. no sound system), the students rocked our worlds, with their deep poetry about the refugee experience, with their ability to roll with the punches and put on a show anyway, with their desire to help and commitment to making the event run, well. my marketing team got the word out there about it, my security team plotted the best entrances/exits for safe traffic flow and monitored for students cutting class, my food team educated our guests about the middle eastern food being served, my gallery guides took our guests on a tour through the photo exhibit and explained the biographies of the subjects. my MCs stepped it up, read loud and proud, projected to the audience, and the kids really listened and appreciated the presence of Ms. Majeed, an Iraqi journalist and refugee, who came to speak to us about her harrowing experiences and need to leave her country.

my kids closed the event by giving me a huge group-hug (being swarmed by 9th graders was adorable) and cleaning up the room in about 10 minutes flat. i was so heart-warmed by their attention to detail, their willingness to listen and participate, and even to try the strange food (falafel, hummus, pita and tabouli salad) that i had made for the occasion. the experience was great and we all enjoyed our time together that afternoon, though the biggest complaint from my students was that the principal spoke too long, ha!

so, i thought that i'd be able to take a big breath, sigh of relief and maybe catch up on my sleep, as of yesterday. i missed a call from my mom during our grade team meeting, and thought it an odd time for her to call me. i called her back as soon as i got home and got my dad on the phone. we chatted for a second before the following twist in the conversation:

dad: "oh yeah, and i'm in the hospital."
me: "WHAT?!?!"
dad: "it's nothing, just a bad stress test. i'm okay..."
me: "well, okay... how long are you there?"
dad: "not sure, they put a stint in..."
me: "WHAT the....?"
dad: "here, your mom can explain it better... love you"
me: "love you, too."
mom: "he neglected to mention that he had a HEART ATTACK! he's in denial. they took him in an ambulance from the doctor's office to the hospital... at least it happened there."
me: "WHAT?!?!?! are you serious? what's going on? should i come home?"
mom: "no, he's fine... he's fine, really. just wanted to keep you in the loop..."

STOP. REWIND. my head swirls back to our conversation of last week, him telling me that all he wants to do when he next visits is sit on my stoop with me and survey the South Bronx block. keeps going back, to his high-blood pressure, to his obsessive morning workouts, to his activeness, to his shoulder surgery and unwillingness to ever seek medical attention, to his laugh, his inability to ever wear socks, his hair that has been in the same style since the early 80s, his piercing blue eyes, his no-bullshit attitude, his "feelings just get in the way" callousness, his installation of the core value of respect into me, his affinity for sweatpants, his "dress sweats", his playing catch with me in the front yard, his teaching me how to throw a ball, water-ski, drive a car, boat and golf cart, his desire to come back in his next life as a buffalo (literally), his love for beer, his long talks about life on the way home from softball games, his local celebrity status, his joy and appreciation for waking up every single fucking morning.

i try to treat every conversation, every meeting, every phone call with every person i know like it will be the last. tomorrow is not promised, this is something i learned from my father, and have had to deal with in the loss of many people in my life. this is why we must treasure every moment and i feel so lucky to have grown up with him, to have him around for me, as this is not a given in our society, either. he is truly a "piece of work", as my mom and i say all of the time, but his influence on who i am is so monumental, and the thought of (not to mention close proximity to) losing him shakes me to my soul.

in my head, i know that he will be okay.
in my heart, i'm asking for your prayers.
i love you, dad.

thank you.

lauren michele fardig

Monday, February 16, 2009

we living our dream

we have begun our 2nd semester and are off to a running start. finishing our unit on stereotypes and reading "American Born Chinese" was enlightening to so many of the kids, who didn't believe that a comic book would actually make them think and reassess their own thoughts. so when i asked them to get "back in the boat" because we were traveling to a new area of the world, they got into it this time. they brought with them some new knowledge that they apply to their lives directly. i can't tell you how many times since this unit i've heard them call each other out on using a stereotype in a derogatory manner.

for my unit on biography, situated in the Middle East, i employed the use of outside resources. i'd been working on bringing a photo exhibit documenting the lives of Iraqi refugees into the school since November. in conjunction with the photos, i'm using a curriculum called "Nothing Like My Home", which was developed by the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility () the photos were taken by Lori Grinker, a photographer and photo-journalist who charted the journeys of 5 families fleeing Iraq. it has been an incredibly powerful experience from my students, who have done everything from charting out their ancestor's journeys through the world using our classroom floor as the globe, to imagining themselves as refugees and needing to "pack their bags". as we work through the unit, their assessment is to put on a community event where we discuss what we've learned and bring our school community into the conversation about the refugee crisis.

now, leaving something like this to 9th graders is a scary idea, but they've stepped up to the plate, with some amazing analytical and creative ideas for making this event a memorable one. we're on mid-winter break until next week, but i am really excited to return and get working on this project with them.

another project that i'm really excited about is the IPG. my 7th period class had a conference call with the U of M poetry mentors (thanks, Jeff!) two weeks ago, and while other projects have prevented us from making as strong of a presence on the site as i would've hoped so far this semester, it was really exciting for them to feel like they are in the "business of poetry". we're working on refugee/escape poems right now, as i'm trying to connect our classwork to this project, so look for them soon!

sometimes i'm in awe of the work my students do. case in point, S's poem, as posted to the IPG site:

Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King can walk
Martin Luther King walked so Barack Obama can run
Barack Obama ran so children can fly
so ima spread my wings and meet you in the sky
we all sleep so we can dream and we woke up
and we living our dream

as i'm grading today, i realize that even though i question myself and my own methods all of the time, it has been a truly memorable year, and just looking at the documents of their work is testament to the fact that they're becoming writers. most of them struggle and whine their way through the writing process, but they're doing it. they moan about reading, but they're building vocabulary and reading more smoothly. they complain about their brains hurting after my class, but they're getting at some complex thinking, even if it's disguised in playful activities. i believe that the best learning happens when kids don't even realize they're learning at all.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

if i ruled the world, i'd free all my sons.

we're working on freedom poems. i'm working on always writing models of all of the pieces that i assign. i have 5 people observing me teach tomorrow afternoon. am i worried? naw, i'll just do my thing. here's my take on freedom, january 2009.

morning hope song

to the glorious mornings
when I wake alone,
and know I have a job
to go to and a home
in my name.
having voted in 3
elections, still
having the right
to choose,
I am a free woman.

what breaks my
heart on my first
conscious breath
each day, is that
I reap benefits
that not everyone
lives, because not all
are yet free. (he said, none of us is free until we are all free)

“if I ruled the world,
I’d free all my sons.”
this is a Nas song
that you have to listen to
every once in awhile.
when the wind blows
just so, and the crisp,
clean January
suddenly breathes the
vision back into
my veins.

we have so much
work to do together,
we are ants, but I believe
in the everyday victories,
and the small progress
we make daily.
Freedom is a state of mind,
like a verbal vision,
a 75 degree, sun-drenched day.

-lmf 1/13/09