Wednesday, October 1, 2014



So much of our living and loving,  teaching and talking,  thinking and planning is focused on noticing and celebrating differences.  

We make an effort to assure that each child living  in our home feels individually special and valued  as a unique person.

We strive to  make certain that each student in our classes recognizes herself in the books we share, the films we use for content-area learning, the examples we choose, the quotes we offer, and the daily general walking and talking we do in our collective spaces.

In the current educational climate in which we find ourselves-- expecting everyone to jump through the same hoops, use the same curriculum (tightly scripted in many cases), pass the same tests, and so forth-- I think that it is important to remind ourselves and our students that there are, indeed, unique and wonderful differences that we each display and experience, and that these are cause for celebration.

Recently, however, one of our  teacher consultants reported that a student in her class said that we should be spending more time focusing on all of our similarities, instead of constantly reading and talking about our differences. Other members of the class all agreed. 

This comment reminded me of something one of my mentors told me as I was just starting to work on my book.  He remarked that my writing prompts tended to require harder-darker-search-your-soul writing, rather than the "happier" sort.

I guess is some respects he was right.  We are all too thrilled to examine our happier, pleasant, and positive moments, but less ecstatic about turning over the stone that covers our deeper selves. Yet, that is often where the substantive, more meaningful, deeper writing lies.

Likewise, I  guess I also fall into the let's look at the differences category,  rather than we are all alike category.  I believe our uniquenesses make us interesting.

But perhaps, my colleague's students are right, just as my mentor was right.
Perhaps we do need to focus more on our similarities.

Perhaps by first establishing our similarities, the points where our sameness intersects, we can then return to the differences with a renewed and more genuine appreciation-- with the samenesses we have already identified, those similarities that bind us together, and the likenesses that foster our wanting to know each other and understand the differences-- providing a foundation for  collective exploration.

Perhaps we must immerse ourselves in the Me too's before we can honor the many Not mes.
And maybe we first need to identify the I agrees and I think the same things before we wrestle with and for the bones of contention.

When I think about my teaching, this was  always the pattern.  We established the points of our intersections, before beginning to examine our diversions.

One of my favorite tools for initiating this discussion with younger and older kids alike is We Are All Alike... We Are All Different, created by the .   

In both the original and newer edition,  this book examines both similarities and differences.

The book's simple structure can be easily imitated, just as it is, for the youngest writers, and also can be used as a supporting structure for creating a more difficult pattern by older writers.

We are all alike.
We all....
We are all different.
Some of us...
Some of us...
What do you...?
The repeated pattern deals with people-- our bodies, our families, our homes,  our food, as well as our likes and dislikes.

This vimeo makes the pattern clearly visible and becomes  a perfect conversation starter:

We Are All Alike...We Are All Different from KC on Vimeo.

As an additional writing possibility, I offer you an idea shared by one of our  teacher consultants in a past summer institute. This interactive writing activity will also generate alike and different teacher consultants in a past summer institute. This interactive writing activity will also generate alike and different thinking and writing. 

We began by writing Where I Am From poems using George Ella Lyon's original poem by the same title as a model and mentor text.. This generated thinking and writing about our differences, our I Am Also From poem. 

(For additional resources for writing about our lives, see my previous post, Poetic Memoirs )

We are all the same.  We are all different.

But science says we are more same than different.

Genetic researchers have consistently reported that the amount DNA that we all have in common is 99.9%.  What does this mean as we think about people and their differences?.  What does this mean as we classify and sort people,  as we include and exclude folks?

This piece of research may initiate new conversations, inquiry and writing.

More recent findings have lowered this common number to only 99.0%, but to me this is still a remarkable amount of similarity, considering our visible and apparent differences.  The newer, lower number does not significantly change the conversation we might have around the fact of shared DNA.

And finally, as we consider likenesses and differences from a variety of perspectives, I offer the eerie image of sameness presented in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine .

In Chapter 6- The Happy Medium, L'Engle describes the planet/city of Camazotz in which everything is the same, and everyone marches to the same beat, literally.

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of lawn in front,  with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door.
Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers there would be
exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the
houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope,
some were bouncing balls.
 Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin, and saw that he, too, was puzzled.
"Look!" Charles Wallace said suddenly. "They're skipping and bouncing in rhythm!
 Everyone's doing it at exactly the same moment."
This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball.
Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again.
Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses.
Like the paths. Like the flowers.
Then the doors of all the houses opened simultaneously, and out came women like a row of paper dolls. The print of their dresses was different, but they all gave the appearance of being the same. Each woman stood on the steps of her house. Each clapped. Each child with the ball caught the ball. Each child with the skipping rope folded the rope. Each child turned and walked into the house. The doors clicked shut behind them.

As a child, this was the only part of the book that I later remembered--it was that disturbing to me..

When I reread the book as an adult, I was surprised to realize that the remembered text was such a small passage, tucked in the middle of the book about so many other ideas.

What about this sameness freaked me out as a kid?  I couldn't have explained it then.   I don't know that even now I can define the  factors that raise the hairs on my neck and make my stomach hurt. as I reread this passage from my past.

Perhaps the disturbing factor is the unrealistic mandated sameness that we now  face in education.

Perhaps that  radical 1% where we differ in our DNA ever strives to assert itself.

When is sameness valued?  When is it less desired?

We are all alike. We are all different.  What does this  mean?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

We have been taught since childhood that we are each unique and  our diversity is cause for celebration.

How are you like other people you know?  in your family?  among your friends? among your colleagues?

How are you different from people you know?

What likenesses and differences do you value?  Which seem to be hindrances?

Write a poem or personal essay exploring your similarities and differences to others.

Write a persuasive essay considering the roles of likenesses and differences in our society.
Consider the  positive and negative aspects of noticing, acknowledging,  celebrating, fostering, or even   mandating sameness or differences.

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