by Matthew Koslowski on March 17, 2010
in Anecdotes

The covers were all rolled in on themselves. I knew all the pages would be stuck together. The first book I picked up was On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho. And it dripped like a wet sponge.

Despite the grief at having lost hundreds of dollars worth of books, I found comfort in picking up the works of Basho. Although he could have had a comfortable life as a military officer or a small official, Basho renounced that to become a poet, to teach poetry, and to travel. His disciples built him a modest hut and planted him a banana tree. In fact, they built him several huts throughout his life because each was destroyed.

All Basho owned was some clothes, his hut when he had one, his banana tree, and his art.

I have long admired Basho’s poetry and the sparseness of his life. Back in college I remember, perhaps after spending time reading Basho, saying that a trunk full of books, a trunk full of clothes, a pen and paper, and a sleeping bag was all that I should ever need.

Quite against my choosing, my life will be more spare. More spare materially, but perhaps more full.

Perhaps because I picked up Basho first and I remembered my old ideal of living a life around my art instead of around material goods, I was not too grieved by the loss of my books. There were some losses I will grieve.

Many of the papers I wrote in college and course readers and other miscellany were soaked through.

The next book I picked up was priceless. As a Christmas gift, I received a dual language edition of Rilke’s poetry, in the original German with Russian translations. A hardcover book, I had had some hope that I could save it and set it in front of a space heater. When I looked in after it the next day, it looked swollen and beyond saving.

Another priceless book, a dual language edition of Petrarch’s Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics in Italian with English translations by Robert M. Durling, sat in the water. I have two copies of that book, though only the ruined one is accounted for right now and the other may share the other’s fate. What I do know is that I received the one that was ruined as a gift from my favorite college literature professor, Dr. James Biehl.

Then I picked up Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. While sad to lose that book, I chuckled. How appropriate a book to lose. As I picked up books and papers, tried to guide water to the sump pump, I felt there was something Sisyphean in the effort. And beyond the effort of clean up, I thought of other Sisyphean tasks.

Will I work to earn money to buy these books again only to worry that they may get ruined again? Or will I use this opportunity to create my life more consciously, to consume less but enjoy more?

Perhaps even Sisyphus can smile.

Can we teach teachers?

by Matthew Koslowski on March 11, 2010
in Anecdotes

While study after study shows that teachers who once boosted student test scores are very likely to do so in the future, no research [Jonah Rockoff, economist at Columbia University] can think of has shown a teacher-training program to boost student achievement. So why invest in training when, as he told me recently, “you could be throwing your money away”?
–From “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green, The New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2010.

When I first read the above in The New York Times Magazine, I was shocked. This economist questions if we can teach people to be successful teachers.

While I believe that there are natural limits to each person’s ability, I believe that education and training help people increase their natural strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. Being able to teach someone something requires more than just knowledge, it requires the ability to communicate that knowledge. Education and training in methods can help teachers acquire the ability to communicate their knowledge.

Imagine that instead of providing hands-on training to Emergency Medical Technicians we taught them only the theoretical concepts behind the techniques. They learn anatomy, biology and some chemistry; they discuss the theory and the history of the techniques; but they are never taught the techniques themselves. Then, in the field, the technician does not know how provide CPR and someone dies.

In this scenario, would an economist question whether teaching particular techniques and methods in addition to academic knowledge was worth the money?

If you think my scenario sounds far-fetched, please read the following quote. In 2006, Arthur Levine, a former president of Teacher College at Columbia University, wrote:

“Today, the teacher-education curriculum is a confusing patchwork. Academic instruction and clinical instruction are disconnected. Graduates are insufficiently prepared for the classroom.”
–Arthur Levine, quoted in “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green, The New York Times Magazine

Despite these two quotes, the article “Building a Better Teacher” focuses on Doug Lemov of Uncommon Schools and his research into what makes good and great teachers. He systematically surveyed and videotaped teachers who students consistently scored well year after year. From his research, he was able to distill many techniques that he found the best teachers employed.

Mr. Lemov’s work shows that research is being done into whether teacher training can help improve educational outcomes. The article convinced me that it is possible to improve communication of ideas using techniques and methods that are not currently a standard part of teacher education.

Future teachers and their future students will be best served by the changing focus of teacher training institutes from high level, abstract pedagogical theory to on-the-ground, concrete teaching methods.

Too Much Inspiration

by Matthew Koslowski on February 24, 2010
in Anecdotes

Last night, I saw Jonathan Kozol give this year’s inaugural lecture of the Civic Discourse Series, a joint venture of Suffolk University and the Boston Athenaeum.

A whirlwind of thoughts is twirling through my head, picking up other ideas along the way.

I found his speech was breathtaking. When it came to asking questions, although I was able to think of a question, there was so much to ask. I’m still thinking about it and still thinking of questions I want to ask.

And I want to do justice to his lecture. So, tomorrow I’ll publish a longer piece on it. Subscribe by email to get tomorrow’s essay emailed to you.

Finding the Ferry-way

by Matthew Koslowski on January 13, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

The Art of Sinking in Poetry by Alexander Pope
The Epistles of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
The Odes of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
“For poet, classics translate into success” by David Mehegan, The Boston Globe, July 7, 2005

The other day I found a copy of Alexander Pope’s The Art of Sinking in Poetry in Barnes&Noble. As I began to read it, I began to think of Horace’s “Ars Poetica”, how long it had been since I had read it, and thought about when it began to take on a special meaning for me.

I felt myself floating after finishing my undergraduate degree.

I found myself fighting against ideas that I did not want to accept. But I did not then have the strength to put them down.

I still don’t.

Then one day I was reading The Boston Globe — only good things come from reading The Boston Globe — when I came across a story about a translator trying to revive the classics of ancient Roman poet Horace.

Read more..

Pablo Neruda, a Few Sad Lines, and a Fight

by Matthew Koslowski on January 6, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda (various trans.)
100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor (Bilingual Edition) by Pablo Neruda (Stephen Tapscott, trans.)

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry by Pablo Neruda in translation. And whenever I read Pablo Neruda, I wish that I were fluent in Spanish so that I could understand what he wrote.

I rediscovered, “Tonight I Can Write…”, a poem I have struggled with since college. My first reading of this poem lead to a fight with one of my favorite professors, Dr. K–.

And I learned a lot from the experience.

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