Monday, July 28, 2014

Swapping a Toga for a Flight Suit

In the first century A.D., Tertullian famously asked, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"  It was a question to expose what he saw as the irreconcilability of logic and faith.  Many would ask a similar question with regard to me and the week I spent at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  What has a Latin teacher to do with Space Camp?  The answer is everything, for if teaching Classics has taught me anything, it is that true education knows no boundaries.  It is about the exploration of the glories and wonders of creation, and few things usher us into those glories and wonders like our human achievements in space.  So let's see just what got this toga-wearer to don a flight suit!

Was it the chance to work with the best teachers from around the country and all over the world?

Was it pushing myself in leadership training and learning to survive a helicopter crash in water?

Was it learning to build ablative shielding and a lunar lander...for an egg?


Could it have been building and launching a rocket?  Yeah, that's right, a rocket!

 Maybe it was training in the multi-axis trainer and the 1/6 gravity chair...

or preparing for shuttle and lunar base missions...

or meeting NASA legends Homer Hickam and Ed Buckbee?

Actually, it was this.

I was on Team Destiny, comprised of eleven other State Teachers of the Year, a professor from Greece, and a principal from Australia.  We shared all the experiences depicted in these pictures and much, much more.  We breathed stardust for a week and were reminded of just what can happen when human beings push the edge of the envelope to create something new to explore the truly unknown.

And what has all that to do with a Latin teacher?  In the first century B.C., Cicero wrote,

Ex quo omnia mihi contemplanti praeclara cetera et mirabilia videbantur.  Erant autem eae stellae, quas numquam ex hoc loco vidimus, et eae magnitudines omnium, quas esse numquam suspicati sumus.  (De Re Publica 6.16)

"As I gazed at them from this point, all the other heavenly bodies seemed brilliant and amazing.  And there were stars that we have never seen from earth, and the sheer numbers of them all were such as we have never imagined."

What the space race of the mid-twentieth century achieved and what NASA and space agencies around the world are attempting today is simply the next step in the shared journey of discovery, and because this is the definition of education, it has everything to do with me, for I am a teacher.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Here For a Purpose

This may be the most boring picture of all time, yet it represents an excitement I have not felt in many years.  I am in a dorm room at the University of Alabama Huntsville, and tomorrow I will join teachers from across the nation and around the world for a week at Space Camp.  I am going to learn something that is truly novel for me.  I am always excited to learn something further about Latin or the ancient world, but that is a different sort of learning.  That kind of learning is to go deeper into a field about which I already know something.  Tomorrow I will begin learning something completely new.  I know nothing about space science, but I am going to learn, and I am more excited than I can say.

The humble quarters in which I am lodging speak to this.  This tiny room serves but one purpose, to provide a place to sleep and perhaps to do a bit of work while I am learning.  It is not meant to be my home, and my unpacked suitcase atop the wardrobe reminds me of that.  This is a place where I can come for a brief time as I join eager educators in the process of learning.

This simple room's purpose reminds me of my purpose, to learn something brand new.  When was the last time you learned something about which you truly knew nothing?  And armed with the tools of learning that I have developed and honed over many years, tools I have shared with countless students, I stand ready and as eager as a child the night before his birthday, for I am a student again.  I have the privilege of "going back to school," but this time with a hungry, even voracious expectation that youth's lack of experience could never have allowed me to feel in my school days.

I look at this simple, Spartan room one last time before shutting off the lights, filled with the sure knowledge that there is nowhere I would rather be. 

Monday, July 7, 2014


I admit it.  I was not just wrong about the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy.  I was wrongedy-wrong-wrong.  I knew that the forum would be made up of many important voices speaking into education policy in our country, including fellow Teachers of the Year, elected leaders, researchers, and leaders from the business and non-profit worlds.  Yet as the forum drew near, I began to have my doubts.  So much of what we do is talk, and so rarely, it seems, does that talk get us anywhere.  I am making a difference when I work directly with my students or with teaching candidates in university teacher-prep programs, but what would it gain me to spend three days with policy wonks?  The answer is inspiration, motivation, and a better relationship with the foot soldiers and field captains in the battle for our children's, and therefore our country's, future.

For an excellent summary of the forum, check out my friend and 2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb's blog post.  I would like to spend a bit of time, though, talking about some particulars I gained.  Did you know that

  • hope is stronger predictor of college success than the SAT or a student's G.P.A. and that hope can be reliably measured according to Gallup?
  • there is a negative correlation between PISA math scores and perceived entrepreneurial capability, also according to Gallup?
  • University of Texas mathematics professor Philip "Uri" Treisman suggests that not everything in a school's or a district's report card must be psychometrically valid and that we should be presenting what a school does best and letting the public decide?
  • according to Dr. Paul Kelley of Oxford's Sleep & Circadian Neuroscience Institute the onset of most mental illness is in adolescence and is caused by sleep deprivation?
I could go on and on about redesigning the job of teachers so that we can extend the reach of excellent teachers for more pay, within budget, and without forcing class-size increases, as at least one organization has shown can be done.  I could talk about an innovative program that Kansas State University has established to help administrators develop the skills they need as leaders, recognizing that there is a world of difference between administration and leadership and that schools need both.  I could share with you an amazing alliance of military, business, crime-prevention, religious, and athletic leaders called Council for a Strong America that focuses on early childhood development and pre-K programs.

I say I could speak about these and many more insights into education, but I am tired of talking.  There are people, good people, who are working hard and trying new things to help our children, and I want to join them.  St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, famously wrote in the 3rd century, "non loquimur magna sed vivimus," which translates, "We do not talk big things but live them."  (De Bono Patientiae, 3)  This was the motto of the first Junior Classical League chapter I sponsored in Austin, Texas, and I am taking it back up as my own.  It is part of our American heritage to know that we do not need permission and we do not need to be asked to make things better.  We simply do it.  To paraphrase a line from Thomas Babington Macaulay's famous Horatius, now who will stand on my right hand and join the fight with me?