Faust/Marsalis: Why the Arts Matter

Amidst the hullabaloo about Common Core standards in schools, the arts have been swept into the corner. This insightful article points right to the heart of the matter: young people today, more than ever, need to engage their entire beings in their learning. Through exploration, experimentation, and relating the world to their unique sense of self, a wholistic education is possible. Self-expression is a basic human need. The ability to think critically about anything and everything is an essential developmental skill. The arts provide both. Why are we limiting our young people’s learning and potential for enlightenment?

Diane Ravitch's blog

Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, and Wynton Marsalis, master musician, wrote a joint article for USA Today about the importance of arts education.

They wrote:

“We hear widespread calls for “outcomes” we can measure and for education geared to specific employment needs, but many of today’s students will hold jobs that have not yet been invented, deploying skills not yet defined. We not only need to equip them with the ability to answer the questions relevant to the world we now inhabit; we must also enable them to ask the right questions to shape the world to come.

“We need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics and values as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adapt, and to make sense of lives they never anticipated. We need a way of teaching that encourages them to develop understanding of…

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Little Bubbles


We all live in little bubbles. Like the aquatic spiders who sit and build bubble nests to serve as floating nurseries for their young, we each create our own little comfortable incubators for our self-fashioned realities. It is part of survival, and it is what allows us to feel sane—we take in what passes for reasonable and just in our self-fashioned reality, and we reject everything that doesn’t fit, or seem “desirable.”

We don’t mean to be insular, bigoted, opinionated, close-minded, or unkind— it’s simply an inescapable fact that humans have only so much capacity for the clamor of ideas and influences that writhe in a seemingly chaotic universe; every individual sets his or her own limit as to how to organize the cells of the inner self: what will be retained within the cell walls and what must be expelled or rejected. This is true of everyone, whether we choose to recognize it or not.

Little Bubble #1

Blooming Boxes: I am a teacher at a high school in Daly City, California. In 1962, folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote, sang, and made popular a song called “Little Boxes”, which was about hundreds of identical-looking tract homes built in Daly City in the post-war 50s for a burgeoning middle class. Radio and television successfully propagated the mass ideal of a car in every garage, a chicken in every pot, and a manicured lawn in front of every house. They all looked the same, as the lyrics went:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

(Hear it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUoXtddNPAM)

Little Boxes

One of my English Department colleagues has devoted years to innovating ways to make learning meaningful for his students. He teaches Film as Literature classes in “The Cave,” a hybrid classroom/student lounge/library whose walls are plastered with fine art and film posters. He has decided to start a “Blooming Boxes” Festival at Westmoor that will be an annual celebration of the diversity of individuals and the importance of communities within and beyond the school. The festival planners (among which I count myself) are inviting students, their families, and the wider community to express themselves through the vehicle of a box, which they will decorate and customize. Families, classes, businesses, and whoever wants to can individualize a box as an artistic expression of who they are. The aim of the project is to let people come out of their “little boxes” and share their cultural and human uniqueness, while also forming community with their diverse neighbors. The boxes they create will be on display at the school during a day-long celebration of culture, food, and music, to be held on campus in the spring of 2014.


Today’s Featured Spam #3: Superb!

Monet Eucalyptus


Somebody necessarily kouiib assist to create severely posts I’d state. This is the first time I frequented your web page and so far? I amazed with the research you made to make this real publish extraordinary. Superb task! (7/3/2013)

Today’s Featured Spam (#2): Sweet as a Rose

Today’s Featured Spam #2:

Excellent items from you, man. I have consider your stuff prior to and you are just extremely fantastic. I really like what you’ve got right here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way by which you assert it. You’re making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to keep it smart. I can’t wait to learn much more from you. That is really a great web site.

(Submitted on 2013/06/27 at 2:54 pm)

Yellow Rose

Now tell me, who could resist such accolades? I know that I am “just extremely fantastic,” but it’s really nice to hear it from someone else from time to time.

This spammer also “like[s] what [I]’ve got right here.” This phrasing is almost Zen in the way it brings one to consider the here and now–makes one live in the present.

I also, ostensibly, am “making it enjoyable and continu[ing] to care for (sic) to keep it smart.” I have been courted by less habile speakers, and with some success, I might add…

And finally, being a teacher, I feel my life’s direction validated by the line, “I can’t wait to learn much more from you.” Wow.

The whole thing just makes me feel loved. This spammer should start a dating service, where he (or she) coaches suitors on what to tell their dates. Or work in the diplomatic corps. Such talent should not be wasted on spam messages.

And just so you know, there is great sincerity in my apparent sarcasm.

Honoring Spammers: Today’s Featured Spam

Today’s Featured Spam

I truly wanted to develop a small message so as to appreciate you for some of the fabulous facts you are writing at this site. My long internet search has now been recognized with extremely good tips to share with my great friends. I would point out that most of us readers actually are extremely blessed to live in a notable site with so many outstanding people with great things. I feel really happy to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to tons of more excellent moments reading here. Thanks once again for a lot of things.

Red bush

I am a ruthless protector of my privacy and right to not be solicited. I am on the “Do Not Call” registry, and if a representative of some organization or company has the temerity to call me anyway, I think nothing of hanging up immediately upon discovering the nature of his or her call. As rudely as possible.

I find it somewhat paradoxical, therefore, that my feelings about spam on my blogs is less cut and dried. Perhaps this has something to do with my profession.

I, as all of we bloggers [yes, the subject pronoun “we” is appropriate here], get a lot of spam comments on my blog. But hitting the “Delete Permanently” button seems so final and so uncaring. It negates the existence, and the full verbal and emotional expression of its originator. Let me explain.

As an English teacher, I feel it is important to appreciate writing regardless of the form or language level at which it appears: to recognize the abilities, and more importantly the intentions, of the author, instead of just red-lining through all of the mistakes. Writing is, after all, a very personalized form of expression. When reading, I look for the kernel of truth, colored by the personality of the author. I seek to know the writer through everything that makes him or her distinct. To miss the message due to the imperfect form of its delivery, would be unfortunate.

Now to the point of why I actually like the content of spam messages:

Continue reading “Honoring Spammers: Today’s Featured Spam”

Space Yoyo

OK, so I was browsing astronaut Chris Hadfield’s YouTube videos, and I came across this one–it’s a fellow ISS crewmember demonstrating advanced yoyo techniques in space… every bit as entertaining as the video referred to in my previous post. Enjoy! (Pay attention at the end for tricks on picking up members of the opposite sex!)

Klaatu barada nikto!

Former Canadian Minister of Defense Paul Hellyer attests that at least four species of extraterrestrials have been visiting earth for thousands of years, and some are living with us in the Nevada desert, kept under wraps by the military, and helping the U.S. government develop zero-point energy and cold fusion. He has a lot to say on the subject of earth-extraterrestrial relations and about how we should manage our own planetary affairs; check out the video above to hear it.

Have you seen the movie Paul (2011)? It’s about an extraterrestrial who has been living in Roswell, New Mexico since his spacecraft crash-landed, and who hitches a ride with two overgrown “kids” attending a ComiCon festival. It’s a really funny film. It may be based on more that pure imagination. Whether you believe what Hellyer says or not, his message about saving the planet (so we can continue to live on it) and working for peace on earth and acceptance of other races (terrestrial or other) makes a lot of sense.

Appreciating Culture, Community & Food

Selling samusas & paluda at International Foods Day
Selling samusas & paluda at International Foods Day

I volunteer as advisor to the Burmese Club at the high school where I teach. Its members are students whose parents, grandparents, or other family members have come from Myanmar (formerly Burma). In some cases, the students themselves were born there, but have immigrated to the U.S. They are just one of dozens of different cultures that comprise the student-body of this San Francisco Bay Area school.

Taking on this role was a bit of a foray into the unknown. I had no idea what the club was about; my only contact with Burmese culture had been teaching two Burmese students in an after school High School Exit Exam preparation class. Many of the kids in that class were smart, interesting, and creative, their only handicap an incomplete knowledge of the English language.

The club’s advisor position had been vacated mid-year, and out of curiosity as much as compassion, I showed up every Wednesday at lunch. I sat there through a few awkward meetings where I felt out of place because I didn’t know the students, nor they, me. They were very self-directed, organizing their own events, and happy to communicate with one another without any need for the fly-on-the-wall advisor. Most of the club members are second-generation or later, and do not have a language barrier; in fact they are among the brightest and most accomplished students in the school. So I took the initiative to ask questions about what they were doing and how I could help. They were very polite, and did ask for certain kinds of help. I assisted them in fundraising through the school’s International Foods Day, a multicultural event where clubs sell foods representing their ethnicities, and everyone gets to try something different while supporting the clubs. We did two of these events during the semester.

The culminating event was the Thing Yan Water Festival, a traditional Burmese New Year’s festival celebrated in April. I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew was that the event itself lasted all day and involved food and entertainment. I reserved the facility (at our school district office) for a Friday afternoon & evening set-up/rehearsal, and an all-day Saturday event (11 hours). I had to buy some balloons and decorations, but otherwise just needed to be there to “supervise.”

I have never been so pleasantly surprised in my life. Once in the theater, the students went about decorating and holding the live music & dance rehearsals. One of the fathers is a sound engineer; he brought his sound mixing and amplifying equipment, played CDs and tested sound levels as the performers rehearsed. I could tell that over the years of putting on the festival, these kids had gotten the routine down. They worked very efficiently, enjoying each other’s company as they did so.

When the rehearsal ended, without any prompting from me, the kids all cleaned up, put away extra decorations, and swept the stage.

I showed up bright and early the morning of the festival. While the event would not really start until 3:00 p.m., we began setting up at 10:00 a.m., preparing the dining area for food vendors, and putting last-minute touches on the stage. At around 1:00, parents began to show up with big pots of home-cooked food. They set up at tables around the room, under signs written in beautifully round Burmese script.

At 3:00, people from the sizeable Burmese community began to show up. They bought their food tickets and lined up behind the tables for platefuls or takeout containers of delicious noodle dishes, spicy chicken, fish, broth, and vegetables. I tried some of the chicken and “rainbow rice,” but also made sure to get some samusas (slightly spicy, flaky triangular potato “pancakes”) and paluda (delicious sweet pink strawberry drink full of tapioca strands and chunks), although I passed on the vanilla ice cream that it is usually served with.

I then walked across the hall to the theater. A lot of the performers were students from our school singing pop songs or playing instruments, but there was also a big Burmese component, including traditional dances (beautifully rendered by students in the club), and two fashion shows: one of traditional Burmese clothing, and one decidedly modern.

Throughout the entire event, the parents helped and socialized. They were very kind and eager to meet me, though some were shy about their limited English. After the last performance, parents and students cleaned up, restoring the large facility to pristine order within less than a half hour. I got to leave earlier than expected, with a real appreciation for Burmese culture—not only food and dances, but a spirit of kindness, family connection, and appreciation of traditions, as well as an infectious joie de vivre.


Terrorism Defined


Terror is a funny thing. Some people would say that terror is not funny at all, and that it’s—well, terrifying. And they would be right. But hear me out. I believe that if we examine the term closely, we have a greater chance of seeing it for what it is, and not letting it… terrify us.

If you look closely at the word ‘terror’, you will see that, by definition, it is fear: a heightened and intense fear.

According to my 1971 Oxford English Dictionary (the old-fashioned, paper edition),

Terror is:

“1. The state of being terrified, or greatly frightened; intense fear, fright, or dread.”…

2. The action or quality of causing dread; terrific quality, terribleness; also, concr. a thing or person that excites terror; something terrifying.

3. King of terrors, Death personified [biblical references]. …

4. Reign of terror, a state of things in which the general community live in dread of death or outrage; esp. in French Hist. the period of the First Revolution from about March 1793 to July 1794, also called the Terror, the Red Terror, when the ruling faction remorselessly shed the blood of persons of both sexes and of all ages and conditions whom they regarded as obnoxious.

Hence also White Terror, applied to the counter-revolution that followed the Red Terror, and to other periods of remorseless repression in other countries. …”

Terror, then, is a heightened, distilled fear that makes people go crazy and do crazy things. The Red Terror in France spawned the retaliatory White Terror, both of which caused people to live in fear and dread, and to commit acts of violencehate crimes—upon one another.

Terror is a great motivator; it is very compelling. A state of heightened emotion, it incites the same emotion in others, either to rally with the terrorists or against them, but in equal measure of passion, not of reason. No one is thinking calmly or rationally; adrenaline and the worst of our primal instincts take over.

I don’t think it can be argued that the ends, or acts, committed while in this heightened emotional state, this state of terror, can be viewed as reasonable or justified, or grounded in any kind of rational or humanitarian thought (for you have to understand that the perpetrators of violent, terrible acts are as terrified as are their victims).

“Terrorism” is defined in the same dictionary as:

“1. Government by intimidation as directed and carried out by the party in France during the Revolution of 1789-94; the system of the ‘Terror’ (1793-4) …

2. gen. A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized. …”

“Terrorist” is defined as follows:

“1. As a political term: a. applied to the Jacobins and their agents and partisans in the French Revolution, esp. to those connected with the Revolutionary tribunals during the ‘Reign of Terror’.

b. Any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation; spec. applied to one of the extreme revolutionary societies in Russia.

2. Dyslogistically: One who entertains, professes, or tries to awaken or spread a feeling of terror or alarm; an alarmist, a scaremonger.


Terror is a dangerous thing. Once you get caught up in it, it is hard to pull away. Like jealousy, hate, and lust, it is a strong emotion with a great capacity to absorb and entangle people. The best thing you can do is to maintain a calm, balanced, and rational outlook, and not to get caught up in the heat of the moment.

It is always a good idea to look calmly at the emotions, from within or without, that occupy our attention and vie for control over our lives.

It is also a good idea to go back to the source of terms we use every day, and re-examine their roots, their meanings and their connotations, in full.

How do you define “terrorism”? Has the definition changed over the years?

Source Cited:
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Vol. 1. Oxford UP, 1971. Print. 2 vols.