Wednesday, December 10, 2014


© Jorge Royan / / CC-BY-SA-3.0
The proverbial light bulb comes on.

 I have an idea!
 I am thinking... and  like a flash,  a new thought enters my mind and erupts in an explosion, a mental rush of energy and activity.

For me. and maybe you, too, this most often happens at night just when I am drifting off, not yet asleep but not truly still awake-- or when I am beginning to wake, yet still floating on a sea of thoughts and images.  It begins in the back of my mind-- an inkling-- a burst, or on that rare occasion, fireworks and a  full-blown  idea, complete and ready to air and share.

Maybe it is an idea for writing something that has been poking at me for days or even months.

That happened the other night.  I have been wanting to write more about Ferguson and the police and racism and all that is going on right now.  As I lay in bed it occurred to me to combine  my love of short and formal forms ( haiku, haibun, ghazal, pantoum) along with some free form structures to create a repetitive, multilayered which the same ideas get turned  over and over to show each facet of  the ugly crystal  from which we can't take our eyes away.

Click here to read a draft of this piece, Ferguson: A Nightmare-- No Matter What (Form), which is still under construction.

 Maybe it is an idea for how to accomplish something in a situation that is unusual in some way.

 I will be  working this afternoon with teachers in a local school district for their early release session.  I have been pondering how to share the mentor texts I will be using for the session with this large number of folks--about 100 teachers. In smaller groups, I  usually pass the books around so the everyone can touch and see.  Late last night in a flash it occurred to me to put two or three books on each table. A compromise of sorts.

What do you do with an idea?

Kobi Yamada helps us thing about this question in his new book What Do You Do With an Idea?

This is the question the little boy in this story faces:

One day I had an idea.
"Where did it come from ? Why is it here?"
I wondered, "What do you do with an idea?"

He goes on to share how "strange and fragile"  the idea was and wasn't quite sure what to do with is.

His idea is pictured as a small egg-like creature with legs and a crown.  The idea gets bigger and more important, is fed by the boy, and receives various  responses from his friends and other people.
Some discouraged his idea, but the boy continues to work with his idea.

In the end, he learns that not only can an idea grow, but when it is shared, when it bursts forth and flies, one idea can change the world.

What idea have you been feeding and growing that might make a difference in your home, community or the larger world?

What idea is following you?

Like the old riddle, Which comes first the chicken or the egg? we may wonder which comes first-- the idea or the need for the idea.

In Yamada's story, the idea comes first and his main character must determine how to use the idea.

But sometimes we, instead, encounter a situation in which we desperately need an idea.

The old saying goes, Necessity is the mother of invention.

In The Flat Rabbit by Bardur Oskarsson, a dog and a cat are in this difficult spot.  They have come across a flat rabbit, a dead rabbit, lying in the road.

What must they do?  They need an idea.

They brainstorm idea after idea, seeking a suitable way to honor the rabbit and a fitting sending-off.

They went to the park to think.

At least the dog was thinking--so hard that his brain was creaking.
Where could they move her? And what if somebody found her and ate her?
They could leave her outside number 34, but what would people there think if  they saw a dog and a rat bringing back their rabbit, totally flattened? No good would come of  that.

And so their thinking and ideas continued...

Students will love following the thinking  of the dog and rat, as well as matching it with their own ideas.

What else could Cat and Rat have done with the flat rabbit?

What do you do with an idea?
Where do we find ideas?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on how you develop new ideas.

When was the last time you got a great new idea?  

Where were you?  How did it occur to you?

How did you feed and grow your idea?  With whom did you share it?

What were the reactions and respsonses of others to your idea?

Write an essay on the process of developing new ideas.

Write a poem tracing the birth and growth of your latest idea.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Photo by Jamelle Bouie 2014

August 9, 2014
A black boy is dead
a black boy is dead,
and a black boy is dead and
still another
black boy is dead

November 25, 2014
another black boy's life--

And fire erupted
across the nation
blazing in the hearts
of those so long
pushed to the wrong side
of the law
held under the prisons
of prejudice
while constitutional rights
beg for a chance
to rule for all
to serve all
to indict
the injustices
the ignorances
the ugly
truths that taint
our nation
our world,

But another black boy
is dead..
and  again and still
nobody bears the burden
of guilt.


By now we have all read the news, seen the images, had the conversations and arguments with our family, our friends, our co-workers, and, perhaps, even some folks that we don't know or even like much.

We have pontificated on social media,  commented on the comments, shared links and....cried.

We have talked to our children and their children.

We have reminded our black sons and nephews and little cousins to move slowly, keeping their hands always in view, announcing when they need to move to reach ID, or for whatever  they have been asked to reach.

We have reminded them to remain polite--- non-threatening.

What do we say now?

What conversation do we have now?


How do we explain a twelve-year-old carrying a toy gun shot down before the police car even stops to see he is a child or if the gun if real or if...?

How do we comfort our sons as they navigate a gauntlet of prejudgments and barriers?

How do we read and write this difficult yet familiar time?


There has been much written and blogged and published and even drawn about Ferguson specifically, and the ever-growing unchecked actions of some police officers, in general.

I am offering here a small sampling of texts and readings revealing a variety of perspectives that may push your conversations to the next level.

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald Columnist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2004,  always hits the nail with the right hammer. His recent  columns offer thoughtful reflections on recent events.

The Meaning of White Privilege 12/2/14

Let's Talk About Black-on-Black Violence 11/29/14

The Rules are Really Different for Blacks Seeking Justice 11/25/14

And as we think about the notion of white privilege, Nathan W. Pyle, writing for Buzzfeed, shares a graphic lesson  presented by a teacher illustrating  this concept for his students in This Teacher Taught His Class a Powerful Lesson About White Privilege 11/21/14

While many are loudly protesting I am not a racist, I don't see color, Racism is dead-- we have a black president... we need to consider this supposed-color-blindness, this new" racism without racists."

 Is there such a thing? What does racism actually look like in 2014?

Two books help us examine these ideas of 21st century racism..


What conversations do we encourage in our classrooms?

Many have posted resources and lessons that can help promote reflective, constructive, and agentive talk.

Mary Hendra has posted suggestions for fostering civil dialogue as we engage in difficult discourse.

A multitude of excellent educational resources are available at the following must-know- must-use sites:

Teaching about Ferguson at the Zinn Education Project

Students are Watching Ferguson and Talking with Students About Ferguson and Racism  at Teaching

Teach About Mike Brown, But Don't Stop There and "This is a Test": Educating to End the School-to-Grave Pipeline in Ferguson and Beyond at Rethinking

Who needs to be talking and thinking about these issues?  We all do--black, white, young, old, rich, poor...we all do.

I was tagged by a colleague on Facebook in this thoughtful and provocative reflection, We, White Teachers of Mostly White Students,We Have a Lot of Work to Do  from the blog Crawling Out of the Classroom.

This discussion needs to spill out of the classrooms into our community institutions, especially our places of worship.  My own denomination (as yours may also ) offers  several helpful resources that can be used  not only by our congregations, but in the larger community, as well.

And finally, I again offer  the post I wrote in response to the killing of Michael Brown-- Open Season on Black Men.  It includes additional resources that may also  help heal and comfort, as well as offer strategies and solutions.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Read at least three different pieces on Ferguson,  specifically,  or racism in general.

Write a reflective essay presenting more than one perspective.

Write a poem or choral reading including several voices.

Write a letter to child  Ferguson helping her understand the complex issues..