Creativity Is The Ultimate Kill Switch

Shall we play a game?

This is the question a computer asks the teenaged hacker in the 1983 movie “War Games,” as it begins to launch “Global Thermonuclear War.” The hero saves the day with a simple, elegant hack of forcing the computer to play Tic Tac Toe against itself, which shuts down the missile launch sequence threatening to trigger an actual nuclear attack.

Here in May, 2017, a very real, very serious global cyberattack collapsedbecause a 22-year-old hacker with the Twitter handle @MalwareTechBlogactivated a kill switch within the malicious code.

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Finding Grace In Small Spaces

My first week of teaching was disastrous: I cried every day driving home and grabbed the phone to call my editor to beg for my job back more than once.

The only job opening at the time was for a 7th grade writing teacher, and I took it with the kind of hubris that only a non-teacher would. Any delusions of being like a teacher in the movies were quickly dismantled by the realities of facing street-wise and suspicious 12-year-olds.

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Being Sweet Might Get You A Seat

Being an advocate means being willing to extend grace to those with whom you disagree, but want to persuade.

There’s precious little I agree with Greg Abbott about, but I try to find every instance of common ground we have or any small action he’s taken that I can sincerely appreciate. In my meetings with him, he’s been gracious. For example, he invited me and a dozen teacher leaders in Texas to a roundtable late last year. Without cameras or reporters around, he delayed another meeting so as to give time for each of the teachers to speak. He seemed truly present and willing to listen, even to those of us who tended to ramble a bit. It was a moment of respect and I thanked him for it when I shook his hand. Continue reading Being Sweet Might Get You A Seat

Ripe For Ruin: Why Facts Matter

Does it matter if a fact or two gets messed up? I mean, does anyone really care if their name is misspelled or their business gets called by another name. It’s not that big a deal, right?

It was a big deal to get everything right – down to how we used numbers and spelled names – when I worked at the Amarillo Globe-News. I was thinking of that while I read this line from Charles M. Blow’s column:

The press may sometimes get things wrong, but it most often gets them right.

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Face The Monster & Fight Back

The story of Hansel and Gretel has long been my guide, but only recently have I consciously been aware of it. It seemed to describe my life so well: adults who couldn’t be trusted, or adults who abandoned you, or adults who would, given the chance, eat you up whole.

Teaching it to bored, jittery seventh-graders helped me remember that it’s a story about conjuring hope in the midst of fear.

What I love about the story is that it centers on the bravery of children. Of their courage, their ingenuity, and their resistance. The first time they’re abandoned, well, it’s to be expected in their crazy family. Hansel knew that, which is why he picked up the stones to guide them back.

Hansel’s reaction to overhearing his parents’ plans to abandon him and Gretel always spoke to me. He models acceptance of what is, but plans for contingencies.

My anxiety — when it’s bad — makes me catastrophize. But in my better Hansel-mind, I remember that I can guide myself out. I can find home, no matter where I’m at. It’s in my power to pay attention, to be brave, to accept that the circumstances of fear and pain and panic are temporary.

Also, Hansel didn’t act alone. And I suspect a lot of his courage was a response to needing to protect his sister. She returns the favor for him when she pushes the witch into the oven.

It’s Gretel who really calls me to courage. She faced down a cannibal witch without the muscle of her brother. Like Hansel, she decided to plan rather than despair. And when it came time to do the thing she didn’t think she could do: BAM! Into the oven went the monster.

The witch underestimated Gretel. She thought, since Gretel was complying with her orders to feed Hansel, and her willingness to eat crab shells, proved that she broke Gretel’s will. But she didn’t. She just made Gretel more creative, more disciplined, more committed to the plan. But it’s that act of final resistance — that act under her own strength — of pushing the witch into the oven — that’s what sticks with me. That’s what I imagine, even five decades on in my life, when I have to do the thing that scares me.

I channel Gretel. I face the monster. And I fight back.

Image: Theodor Hosemann/Wikimedia Commons

Story As Political Act

Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in a party, congress, in the university or whatever. That’s why. – Chinua Achebe

Stories have a unique power. They entertain even as they reveal truth. Joan Didion said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I would amend that to say that we, as teachers, must tell our stories in order that our students and our work may live in the public imagination.

Especially now when language has been weaponized in service of power.

George Orwell was obsessed with this same idea. I taught his essay “Politics And The English Language” to my AP juniors, and it seems to grow more relevant every year. Continue reading Story As Political Act

A Football Coach Who Hates Football

Try a thought experiment with me.

Let’s say you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan – I live in Texas, but please insert the name of your favorite team – and a new owner replaces Jerry Jones. A new owner that comes from Hollywood. He’s seen movies about football, but on the whole, he thinks it’s a pretty dumb game. This new owner then brings in a coach to replace Jason Garrett. The new coach is a friend of the owner who’s done him some favors, loaned him some money to cover some bills. But get this, the coach doesn’t like football. Not only doesn’t like it, but he’s campaigned against it on the grounds that it’s dangerous for kids. This coach has never played football, nor have any of his kids. He’s given all his time and money to – the horror! – soccer because he believes it’s a better sport for the country overall.

Would you tolerate this for even a second? Do you think the fans would tolerate it for a second? No fan would put up with such an absurd scenario.

Continue reading A Football Coach Who Hates Football

How To Be A Change Agent

I’m so proud of this article for ASCD! It features the work of my colleagues at Palo Duro High School, my friend James E. Ford , and the awesome Rusul Alrubail:

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Dare to Go First