Prison, Greenhouse, or Waterboarding

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Common Core State Standards, Grade 8, Reading Standards for Informational Text

I’m working on teaching this and other standards to my junior highers. Reading and thinking critically is imperative, yet yesterday I had an interesting “uncritical” reading moment.

I read a blog post by John Spencer called “What if School Isn’t a Prison?” He said, instead of comparing his schooling to a prison, as he usually does, he was challenged to use the metaphor of a greenhouse — some crap was inevitable, but there was also sunlight and fresh water. Definitely a rosier metaphor than prison for what school was for many of us and is for today’s students.

As I read it, I thought, Hmmm…maybe…that’s nice.

Then I read the first comment at the bottom by Tom Panarese:

What is this? I can’t retweet this! I can’t quote this in my efforts to show the other teacher bloggers that they need to risk their livelihoods and families in order to rebel against a 19th Century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children into an early grave! Terrible. F.

Whoa! It took me back. It was like a slap up-side my head. Read! Denise, it yelled to me. Critical reading alert: Evaluate the argument…assess the reasoning…relevant and sufficient evidence?

I had to stop and re-read it. He’s right. Instead of taking the blog post at face value, why didn’t I read it critically and thoughtfully the first time? Why didn’t I react like I really felt? I’m not sure why, because I really resonated more with what Tom said. I want to “risk my livelihood…in order to rebel against a 19th century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children.”

His challenge was good for at least two people. John, the author of the original post, responded back with another comment. He began rethinking and questioning his own post. Tom got him to think critically, and he appreciated the conversation.

I am another person who was helped by Tom’s comment. His challenging response changed me. It made me a better reader. It changed my attitude, at least for a day. Yesterday I felt a little snarkier than usual. I was a little more willing to risk being wrong while doing right by my students.

The next time I hope right away I can read more critically. I don’t want to be afraid to open up a conversation if something troubles me on such an important topic as educational reform.

I also hope others will speak up when I say something that begs a challenge.

For the sake of the students, perhaps, we must.

Your First Comment

This is a post for you to try your hand at commenting, inspired by my “Joining the Conversation” session at the Iowa Reading Conference and “Extend the Conversation

If you have not made a comment on another person’s blog — written out there for all the world to see — it can be scary. I remember the first few times I left comments. There were so many things I didn’t understand. Like why there were so many different platforms hosting the blogs. Did I have to get a log in for all of them? If I didn’t log in, sometimes my carefully crafted comment would be lost at the stroke of the submit button. Of course, I didn’t rewrite it. I just walked away dejectedly.

When I would make a grammatical or spelling mistake and push submit, I would cringe and take another two steps back. Sometimes I made a crazy comment because I hadn’t read the original post carefully enough. Maybe I can’t or shouldn’t do this after all! I’d think.

It took a couple months of commenting on blog posts I really loved to get encouragement enough to know I wanted to continue.

On my blog I’ve tried to eliminate some of the barriers to receiving comments. I think it’s pretty simple to leave a comment here. You don’t have to log in. You can be anonymous, if you wish. You don’t have to leave a URL or email address. I think you do have to write an “anti-spam” message though.

That’s why I thought you might like to try your first comment here in the safe zone! Another perk…if you make a mistake or don’t like what you’ve written, you can let me know and I can edit or delete it.

I hope after our session, you will choose to join the conversation! Start here with a triumph, a question, or a doubt you have about this conversation. You can also carry on a conversation with each other. That’s the beauty!

A Request to My PLN

How have you benefited from joining the conversation?

Dear friends,

Will you please help me? I will be leading a session at the Iowa Reading Conference next month. It is called “Joining the Conversation.” It will be a session to challenge teachers who have not yet joined the conversation occurring daily online through blogging, Twitter, and/or Flicker.

I am curious about what you have found personally valuable about joining the online educational conversation. I’d love to share your stories with the people who come to my session. Here is my “handout,” a work in progress.

In the past year or so, my joining this conversation has brought me great joy as I have received progressive PD opportunities, amiable friendships, and a renewed sense of calling. (The conversation that I joined has also provided outstanding learning opportunities for my students. However, most of this workshop will focus on the teacher’s involvement in the conversation.)

What benefits have you received from joining the conversation?

I’ve made a Linoit to which you can add your experiences through sticky notes, images, files, or links to blog posts and videos.

I’ve placed a separate topic in each corner of the Linoit, so you can tell us how one or more of the following have helped you join the conversation: blogging, Twitter, or Flickr. There is also a corner about the benefits your students have received as a result of your connections.

Thank you so much! I hope you can help. Just click on the image below and add a bit of your story!


Denise Krebs

Click to add your thoughts.