Remembering Alex

Alex Chirelstein died suddenly last week. This was a person whose presence was felt even though his physical being was miles away. An avuncular, embracing, rat-a-tat-tat speaker of a man, I will miss him…we all will miss him…deeply.

His synthesis project for a class was brilliant.

He rendered a collage of Vygotsky’s life that brought together many elements from class and more than one of two from Alex’s imagination. There were layers upon layers embedded in this work and it was an example of fun and work at play all at the same moment. That’s the way it was with Alex. Though he was intensely serious, just underneath his passion for what he believed was a perspective that kept nudging his absolute devotion to whatever he was talking about in that moment. Seconds later, he could reverse his thoughts and argue the point from a totally different perspective, all the while with a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle that signaled his love for the engagement.

I barely knew Alex. And yet because of his “what you see is what you get” qualities, of what I knew, he let me know those parts well.

The vastness of this world has shrunken a bit because it (and we) lost this complicated, brilliant, new friend.

. . . .

From the Free Press, forwarded by Dr. Penny Bishop.

One step further with brain based work, Part One.


I teach an entry level course to mostly first year students called Learning and the Learner. It is a course for students anticipating full entry into the eled program at my university. The goals of the course are to get them thinking more as learners than as teachers, to help them begin to think systematically about their own thinking, and to force (?) them to identify and start to process how they need to work with their own normative reference groups in almost everything they do.

Up to this semester, I’ve used a good but typical heavy (literally) edpsych book – this one by Anita Wolfolk. It is her 10th edition and like all books of this genre, the text is dense, the voice for the most part, impersonal (though I loved it when you actually heard Anita’s voice leap out of the text) and the information, overwhelming. Good stuff for sure, but way too much of to justify the >$100 price tag. Over the ten semesters I’ve used the book, I’ve rarely used more than half of its pages, much less half of its content. I am finally (read: professionally confident enough) to select slimmer texts.

An ongoing goal of mine for this course is to establish a grounded knowledge base for them so as they move through the program, they can critically work with other “have to’s” that come their way. For this reason, in the last few semesters, I’ve resisted the urge to avoid fad and increasingly worked with information coming out of neurobiology figuring if we could establish a firm grounding in how we think the brain works, then that base would be a solid one to accomplish the aforementioned critical thinking.

So, long story short, I started this semester with a reading of James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain. It has been a fascinating read, both for me and for my first year students. I have to say, for a course that meets 31 first year students at 8am, two days a week, this book – and our learning – has kept them coming. (Okay, they have to come all but three times before they incur a penalty. Still, my attendance records show they are coming because they want to.)

Zull has not spoken down to us one bit as he takes us through the increasingly clarifying picture of how the brain learns. This is not a text that ends with a simplified list of what teachers should do. This is a text that attempts to explain the biology of learning and invites the reader to suppose what this might mean for teachers. I could go on and on, but I haven’t said what I wanted to say with this entry yet so I’ll make one more introductory point and then go to why I’m really writing this note to you. This semester is the first time, without prompting from me, a host of my students expressed with different words, the following realization: I think what I’m realizing is that teaching and learning are different enterprises. That if a student doesn’t learn, that is a result of poor teaching. I always used to think that when I learned to be a really good teachers, that all my students would be learning and those who weren’t it was because they didn’t want to.

Bingo. To have arrived at this thought is huge to me. The longer I’m in the profession, the more I see just how hard it is to change the belief my predominantly white middle or upper middle class students have, a belief deeply embedded in their prior knowledge, that students who don’t do very well in the public school don’t do well because they choose not to, not because they’ve been taught poorly. I have to say, I can stand on my head and teach as well as I can and still, at the end of the day, most of them still believe that good teaching leads to good learning except for those kids who don’t want to learn. Poor learning is the fault of the learner, not the teacher. Until Zull, that is. Deconstructing the process of learning biologically speaking has raised the unsettling issue of teacher fallibility in a way it has never been raised before. That is a very good thing.

The other very good thing is they now have themselves to consider as a really good example of just how conservative prior knowledge is and just how hard it is to change it. We’ve worked on this stuff for fourteen weeks. I hope they remember that when they start to blame a child for not understanding how to use proper consonant blends after they’ve completed two worksheets and one text analysis!

And I”m going to leave what I really wanted to say in this entry for my next entry, One step further Part Two.

RLC’s revised

Our subgroup has worked intermittently but inspirationally on a plan for an RLC since the initial ideas of entry 10/23/06. Here’s the latest plan, a bit more shaped and focused.


1. Theme

Making sustained positive differences in the lives of Burlington children and families through our Pawprints, intentional actions of civic awareness and community engagement.

2. Objectives

Major Objective A. Make a positive difference in the lives and aspirations of children and families of the Burlington Schools.

Major Objective B. Develop the civic awareness and social responsibility of each participating resident.

Major Objective C. Establish, monitor, and assess the connected relationships between UVM participants and Burlington’s children, youth, and families. These relationships are our Pawprints.

Objectives: Collectively, Pawprints will:

1. demonstrate a visible UVM commitment to children, youth, and families in Burlington

2. provide venues for UVM students to establish relationships with children and youth

3. establish relationships with children and youth that are sustainable beyond the usual semester to semester brackets of time and task

4. create and nurture cross disciplinary student inquiry

5. create aspirations for higher education for first generation children and youth

6. establish and nurture personal multiage friendships between UVM students and Burlington children and youth that enrich the lives of both

7. create an awareness of the need for life-long civic awareness and community engagement in UVM’s young adult participants

8. explore the role and range of various forms of public engagement, the kinds of public engagement that create responsible and caring communities

9. develop and affirm the power of social interest in both the UVM student and their protégés in the public school

10. utilize technology to connect and extend communities of learners

11. utilize technology to create and express stories of connection

12. utilize technology to learn and communicate about community structure and function, especially with regard to forms and distribution of personal and political power

13. assess community building developmental assets across the entire range of projects

14. equip every UVM participant with a laptop computer (making Pawprint an Apple Computer Project)

3. Outcomes

As a result of Pawprints, we would hope to see…

1. increased efficacy in University participants in community development

2. increased pro-social behavior of children and youth

3. research projects and presentations from a variety of disciplines

4. Burlington children and youth visiting campus for specific events

5. targeted instruction for UVM participants related to community development

6. increased knowledge of how the different populations within the Burlington community access and take advantage of community resources

7. the ongoing development of student understanding, action and commitment to the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy to make communities positive places to live for all their diverse groups of people

8. “Pawprints” from every student: a reflective record of their connections with a child or youth from the Burlington community

9. an increase in community building developmental assets

10. a home page for Pawprint that stores a video record of each participants inquiry

4. Academic Component

1. participation in a required one credit civic awareness seminar lecture series

2. an electronic collection, record and reflection of civic engagement

3. Pawprints: a defined, enacted, and evaluated service learning components that frames the civic engagement of each participant

4. an assessment of community building developmental assets across all participants, focused on but not limited to:

• planning and decision making

• interpersonal competence

• cultural competence

• resistance skills

• integrity

• youth as resources

5. Experiences

If successful in enacting a modicum of our objectives, we would hope to see experiences like the following:

A drummer who organizes a salsa rhythm section at the boys and girls club.

A baton champion who organizes a twirling group for girls 8-11 years old.

The engineering student who directs an egg drop contest.

The environmental education major who organizes a waist watch program at the girls and boys club.

An evening with the Superintendent of Schools, talking about what it means to run an urban school district.

A psychology major who studies the developmental assets of a group of middle school students.

A guitar playing composer who posts his songs, composed with two youth, on U-Tube.

An afternoon with the Mayor, talking about how to keep a community alive and functioning and solvent.

A biology major who builds a living environment with a group of fourth grade girls.

The multi-racial poet who starts a poetry slam every Friday afternoon in city hall with youth from the high school.

The middle school teaching candidate who begins an after school digital story telling project with a multiage group of middle school students.

A doctoral student teaching four evening seminars on her personal research of what it was like to grow up poor.

The people of this University and its home community celebrating together, in one place, “downtown,” its shared symbiotic bonds and relationships.

Connecting Virtually: The Big Disconnect

This is going to be a bit of a roundabout. In this short essay, I make the point that computer mediated learning is “cool” learning. By “cool” I mean “devoid of felt connection.” I establish a research basis for this conclusion and end with a warning about cookies and baskets. Along the way, I celebrate the resolution of a thirty-year question in my mind.

When I was an intern in Syracuse University’s Urban Teacher Preparation Program (1964-65), I had to make sure any lesson/unit/curriculum I designed attended to three human needs: power, connection, and identity. If curriculum addressed these three needs as well as the “content” that needed to be addressed, then the learner would be “hooked.” Motivation, intrinsic motivation, the motivational desire to want to do something, motivation that comes from the heart and gut is tapped when these three needs are addressed. The intern group of which I was a part worked hard to write stuff that was relevant to our kids and relevancy was achieved by attending to power, identity, and connection.

For the record, to design lessons for power meant your lesson had to enhance a person’s ability to influence others (in positive ways) and to have increased control over self; to design lessons for identity meant your lesson had to enhance how a person felt about themselves and what they knew about themselves as a human being; and to design lessons for connection meant the lesson had to designed in such a way as to enable to person to see themselves as part of a larger world. Designing with these hooks in mind was intellectually challenging and forced us to continually try to see the world from the perspective of our kids.

“Connection” is the need I want to unpack here. The need to belong and to see yourself as an accepted part of a larger whole is central to the individual psychology of Alfred Adler. Adler, and later his colleague Rudolf Dreikurs, went on to develop the idea of social interest, the idea that we live our lives as part of many groups and part of our basic motivational structure is to enhance our group lives. We need to watch out for each other and we need for others to watch our for ourselves. Community, then, becomes something much more than a nice place to live. Community becomes a necessity for establishing and maintaining our basic mental and spiritual and physical well being. Adler, Driekurs, and others were suggesting to us that our emotional health was grounded in our social relationships. Driekurs was particularly dogmatic on the point that classroom teachers need to attend to the social emotional climate of our classrooms. Our number one task as teachers is to manipulate the social and academic structures in our rooms so that the relationships between and among our children and ourselves are supportive, challenging, and filled with opportunities for us to discover and live out who we are as unique individuals within unique group. To be en-couraged is to be filled with courage – the courage to be yourself, the courage to discover who you are among peers, the courage to know your power and identity through your connections with others. Pretty heady ideology, ideology born of an era that saw millions turned to ashes in the ovens of Hitler’s grand plan. Adler and Driekurs were both German Jews. I can imagine for them, their formulations about social interest were thoughts that held life and death meaning.

I spent over thirty years considering their views as ideology: theory, practice, theory and practice that worked in magical ways, by the way, when you watched Rudolph Driekurs work with kids and teachers. It was another German Jew, Kurt Lewin, who noted there was nothing so practical as a good theory.

Yesterday, I made a connection that tells me I no longer have to consider these ideas of social emotional connection and social interest and whole human beings as soft ideas, embedded in the clouded certainty of social science research. A chain of three events has brought me there.

Event One. My partner in crime in 1982 was Frank Watson. Sometime in 1982 or 1983, Frank brought the first <a href="Commodore Vic 20 to our Apex program. The Commodores were rapidly replaced by a bank of Apple 2e’s and soon, our interns, our teachers to be, were tapping out commands to move Seymour Papert’s turtles around a virtual space. I was at once, fascinated and repelled. I could see these early computers were more than virtual typewriters. Fifteen years before I’d read O. K. Moore’s research on establishing autotelic environments to help struggling urban readers learn to read. But were these newer versions of Moore’s huge vacuum tube computer going to replace cuisenaire rods and base-10 blocks and language experience as the vehicles to get young learners, learners who were suspicious of what schools could do for them, turned on to the power of their own brains? I thought not, but I was worried. In all these years, I have not been able to wrap my mind around the substance of my suspicion. There was something fundamentally different about mediating the learning of place value by manipulating virtual materials on a computer screen than there was by mediating the same learning by manipulating real blocks in a classroom! In short, learning with a computer was different than learning with what I called the real thing. And to be sure, I had strong opinions that it wasn’t as good, at least for children up to the age of say, twelve or thirteen. There was something essentially cool and disconnected in the tap tap tap of the keys that I didn’t like.

Event Two. During my sabbatical research last year, I came upon two articles authored by a crew of researchers at Duke University who had the capacity to dig deeply into the structures of how we think and feel, virtually. Their work establishes the physiological reality of emotional memory. I remember re-reading these two articles over and over and saying to myself, that’s it. Adler, Driekurs, and all the other educators who knew how important it was to teach children as if they were whole thinking, feeling, emoting, running, playing people now had physiological proof of their ideology. Their ideas were not longer ideological invocations, they were simply good practice grounded in what we know about the way we are hard wired. The Duke researchers establish the circularity of thought and feeling because they have been able to trace the actual neurological connection between raw feeling and the interpretation and meta-processing of feeling. Thinking, feeling, behaving are connected now more than just by logic. They actually are connected in the circuitry of our mental processing. Now I knew that what I believed was not only right, it was also true. How important is the evidence condition to knowing? Very. At least to Israel Scheffler (1965), and to me. [Reference: Conditions of Knowledge.]

Episode Three. Gavin is one of my students in my current directions course, a two week intensive we are currently in the midst of. In his project, Gavin is struggling with a dilemma that approximates the dilemma I had when those Commodore 64s arrived in the Apex room in 1982. Although Gavin is coming at the issue a bit differently. Gavin is as personally connected to “community” as I was to base-10 blocks in 1982 and Gavin is sensing a threat to what he believes is central about one’s actual experience and membership and participation in community. He’s worried that people will equate the virtual communities so easily attained through a keyboard and the internet with the real communities that are so basic and necessary to him. Basic and necessary. Human beings need community, they need to belong and feel belongingness. Gavin and I are coming from the same place on that one. So how, we were discussing, does the virtual community experience differ from an experience of actual community? And as part of that discussion, we’d also talked about virtual warfare, the capacity of male human beings to kill, maim, torture, and do awful things to each other. We’d talked about kids, kids from conditions of generational poverty and their inability to show any real kind of social interest beyond defending themselves in the most physical of ways, and what was the influence of mediated environments on all this. How did the continual viewing of television as babysitter, how did viewing the news night after night with its images of car bombs, dismembered human beings, people running from mortar attacks, sobbing women in burkas, how were all these things connected to the fact that lots of kids simply can’t feel much empathy for their fellow human beings?

Snap! It all came together. THe commodores, the base ten blocks, Alfred Adler, Rudolph Driekurs, the classrooms full of kids who hit and yell and scream at teachers, the inability to empathize, the experience of tap tap tap communities on a cold computer screen – they all come together for me now. Here’s what I think. In our face to face experience of community – five people sitting or standing close to each other talking, arguing, listening, laughing, crying, whatever – our emotional systems are activated and processing every single moment of that interaction. I think the mere fact of being that close, physical proximity, sets the amygdala pulsing. Being with each other in real time is an emotionally mediated event. We are whole. The Duke research shows the emotional memory loop for every interaction we have. It shows that the ones that register strongly are the ones we remember and how we remember them is important. Merely by being in a situation, we can “get a feeling” that sets us on call for what is about to happen even if we don’t remember what it was that happened that caused the feeling. Or, we can be in a situation that triggers the feelings of another similar situation. Messages are running back and forth between the seat of emotions and the processing centers for emotion all the time and it makes no difference where the stimulus comes from. Being in the real live situation is a thinking feeling moment.

I doubt the same is true for the mediated computer environment. I don’t think the amygdala is triggered in the same way. The “distance” of the virtual world insulates us from having to feel and although the repetition of “bad things” opens up a whole other area to talk about – the area of desensitization to horrible events – I think the computer world exacts a multiplier effect on our numbed experience. In other words, virtual communities are literally felt differently because they are mediated. I’m suggesting they are more an experience of pure thought, an experience at once distanced and disconnected from our emotional processing centers. The computer world by itself is a disconnect. And perhaps, the computer world as a disconnecting medium of experience has to be reconsidered as a teaching tool.

So Gavin, thank you. I think you are on to something here and I’ll look forward to learn where you take our conversation. For me, a thirty year question has achieved some resolution and of course, will lead to new questions and considerations. Just in case you want to use these ruminations as a diatribe against computers, don’t! Life is an aptitude-treatment-interaction, so you know I’m gonna say computers somewhere, with some kids, for some purpose, in some situations, you couldn’t get a better tool. But as the medium through which we achieve our learnings about life? I think not. Absolutely not.

Thinking about teaching…

I’ve been reading a fascinating book recently called Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts by Will RIchardson, a California secondary educator. More than any other source of inspiration, this book, with all its inherent resources – site listings, wiki listings, etc. has really got me thinking about my teaching. Never satisfied, I look for new ways to involve the students. Not really to “get them involved,’ but ways to set up my teaching space so they become – want to become – involved. Not since the days of hands-on math investigations, outdoor thematic learning, ESS, Math Their Way, etc. have I been so interested in transforming my teaching. Thank you, Will. More on this later, I’m sure.

I think of this mainly with my 8am first year students. They are great people, every one of them. As my relationships with individuals begin to dip a bit below the surface, I appreciate them more and more and I feel privileged to be their teacher. They show up, at 8am, two days a week, waiting to learn. Waiting for me to teach them. And damn, I fall in to the trap every semester. They are waiting for me! I am working way more than they are. That’s not the way it should be. It’s transmission. And I want transformation. I want THEM to see the way things could be and to learn how to get their own kids actively connected and involved with their own questions. I can provide the parameters, but they have to do the digging, the exposing, the thinking, the reflecting. Why do I have to rediscover this again and again. It’s only when i get so uncomfortable with the level of my own spoonfeeding, enticing, salesmanship, that I finally hit the way and realize that what I see of them as learners through my window is but a mirror of my own making.

For the moment, I wanted to show you a really funny satire that i found as a result of surfing the NYC Collaborative Writing wiki. The site is a student writing about a new terrorist group called al-gebra.

( ;-))

Thinking about poverty in our schools

This diagram is portion of a piece I do with students on learning as an interactive process. The point I try to make is that student outcomes like achievement, capability, motivational level, and performance (the red arrow coming from a red circle that represents a student at the center of often contending forces in a school) are determined by the context in which the student is educated. A given child may be seen as quite a different student with different levels of achievement, performance and observed levels of motivation in two different schools because of how the context of education in those two places are different.

A recent discussion about levels of poverty has got me thinking about deconstructing free and reduced lunch count, our profession’s proxy for poverty. The school community (light green circle) is made up of several groups of families. Three sets of families, those represented by reddish print, might identify as frl qualified. In terms of data crunching the relationships between poverty and achievement, all three categories of families collapse into one number. In fact, one category of family, the desperate family group, is the category most at risk for acquiring achievement gains in school. Their lives are so chaotic to meet basic needs (transportation, safety, etc. – the needs represented in black print ) that learning in school is compromised day after day.

As a district’s overall level of poverty rises, I suspect the number of families experiencing the most debilitating effects of poverty also rises. As the level of poverty rises, the schools and its teachers are called upon to provide much more support just to get their children to the point where they can focus and pay attention. Teaching time decreases. Performance suffers. Rates of academic engagement – talking and working together on academic tasks – drops.

What if we re-focused our free and/or reduced lunch count proxy for poverty to look at poverty through several lenses? What effect would this have on decisions we made about schooling? About teaching and learning processes? I would hope this diagram might serve to clarify thinking on the matter.

poverty slide.jpg

I also have to say that as Washington continues to exact resources from school and community programs, as Washington continues to consolidate and shift resources to state decision makers, as Washington continues to fund those who fail to see the relationship between community support and civil behavior, the situations facing schools continue to worsen. The basketball hoops in church yards have disappeared. The community training programs have dried up. The youth work jobs are no more. The federal government has turned its back on its most vulnerable and decreasingly hopeful people. Instead, we build more jails to house those we have left behind.

Excellence in licensure-based teacher education programs: criteria and support.

I want to use this entry to (1) name my criteria for what constitutes excellence in teacher education programs; and, (2) I want to use this entry to collect research evidence that the criteria I mention define excellence.

For purposes of this entry, I am defining excellence in this way. “Excellence” means that program assessments document that students in the program (“candidates”) learn to teach in ways that create significant gains in content achievement by their public school students. I do not stipulate my definition of “Excellence” to be solely about a particular value position or set of practices. “Excellence” in my book occurs when candidates show they can “do the job.” In this case, this means understanding how classroom social and instructional structures interact to form a climate for learning. “Excellence” means that candidates for licensure must provide evidence that all their students have learned at higher than normal rates because of how they have been taught by the candidate.

Any one reading is welcome to comment, suggest criteria, add research citations. For the time being, the kinds of programs I am targeting are undergraduate programs that lead to a baccalaureate degree and full eligibility for at least an entry level teaching license, K-6 endorsement.

Criteria One: Significant program experiences are situated in actual classrooms in a public school and supervised in part by university faculty named as teaching faculty.



supervised by responsible faculty

Criteria Two: Methods courses require actual application and analysis in field based settings and reflect alignments between content, instruction, assessment, learner requirements, and appropriate standards frameworks.

methods learnings field tested

content/instruction/assessment/learner need aligned and analyzed

content is important content (standards informed)

Criteria Three: Teacher education students are taught knowledgeably relative to their career position. That is, their own learning environments reflect an appropriate dissonance between immediate need and more complicated instructional goals. Learning to teach is as much learning how to think about contextually sensitive teaching learning goals and objectives as it is about learning the specific tasks, tools, and methods of teaching.

continuum of pedagogical expertise

matching teaching and learning environments

tasks, tools, and methods

context sensitive and context free instruction

Criteria Four: Teacher education coursework and practica require successful completion of required outcomes with school populations that differ by age (at least three years apart) and culture; evaluated candidate reflection regarding their knowledge, skill, and ability to work with different cultures of students; and, successful evaluations of required outcomes by the appropriate cultural representatives. This criteria requires that candidates identify as multicultural individuals.

instructional experience with different age groups

instruction experience with different student cultures

multicultural identity

Criteria Five: Each faculty member of the teacher education program identify as a multicultural individual, have assigned responsibilities in both field and campus based instruction, and regularly process their position as a multicultural teacher with professional groups that go beyond sole dominant culture membership.

balanced campus/field responsibilities

professional reflection relative to multicultural identities

Criteria Six: Candidates and faculty are individually accountable for documenting successful program completion through the use of appropriate web-based technology systems.

use of web-based assessment systems

personal accountability

Criteria Seven: Candidates will demonstrate program defined levels of competence in interdisciplinary teaching methods, assessment driven instruction, differentiation of instruction, inquiry based teaching, complex instruction cooperative learning, and inclusive practice.

interdisciplinary teaching

assessment driven instruction

inquiry based teaching

complex instruction

inclusive practices tailored for students receiving additional school based services



Membering The Program

I was thinking the other day about memory and what it meant to re-member. It’s a little like the day I took the word en-courage apart and its meaning suddenly changed from a word that had a multitude of warm and fuzzy attributes to a word that signified courage. When a teacher encourages children to learn, they create a circumstance that allows a child to take on courage. It is through those acts of personal courage that fundamental learning change happens. After that moment, thinking about the meaning of “en-couragement” with regards to teaching meant far more to me than it ever had before in my professional (and personal) life.

The same shift in perspective is now true with the word “remember.” Cognitively, the complexity of our conceptual structures is rivaled only by the intricacy of their interconnectedness. I never thought I would live to see actual neurological connections. Their photographic reality is now just another google image event. We remember things sometimes in the most roundabout fashion. Everyone knows this. We can’t remember a name, but we do remember the last place we saw the person whose name we are trying to recall. They had a dog – a pug. The pug was in their kitchen during the time the room was filled with the delicious, sweet, cinnamon laced odor of a baking apple pie and zingo! “Hight” – the name of the folks you were trying to recall – turns on in your mind like you are turning the knob of a controlled intensity bedlamp. Going from the pug to the family name traced a path of hard-wired, interconnected neural connections across how many schematic constructions of thought, language, emotion, and sensation; all of it engineered by your own smart decision to consciously direct your recall process just to the left – or right – of the real target. You got to your friend’s name by imagining the Pug in her home. You constructed a virtual cognitive journey that put together again – re-membered – her name from incredibly layered and intimately elaborated cognitive schema. In this cognitive system, two plus two equals about fourteen. The result occurs because the parts coming together is way bigger and more profound than any one of those memories traces taken singly. Once assembled, schematic wiring becomes much more than any one of its neuronic members.

That’s the way it is with my elementary education program. Who we are and what we’ve built over twenty years of almost daily activity has created a program of highly complex, incredibly layered and personally constructed processes of people, places, purposes, and products. Thought rationally arrived at, the structures currently in place – faculty roles, student assignments, mentoring relationships, portfolio entries, program principles, internship classrooms, friendships both personal and professional – are highly elaborated and intertwined and in some ways, arational. Their current reality in many ways take on a life of their own, different from what was created, different and often better. These structures are constructed and tended by groups of people and across time, and are hard wired into our system in complicated ways.

What’s most interesting is that like memory, they do not work by themselves. They have no use by themselves. The program works because the people who created the structures tend to it. When a faculty member creates a structural component for a program in a school, part of that act of creation occurs because of the respect school people have for that person’s knowledge, skills, and yes, values. You don’t mentor students year after year because someone tells you things will work out; you mentor a student because you know – an evidentiary condition – that when things don’t work out, the “program” will be there to sort out the difficulties and make the uncomfortable decisions required by the situation. At their very basic level, programs are nothing more, well, not much more, than the people who make them work. And that’s where the analogy to memory comes in.

When people leave programs, whether by pink slip, retirement, or even by means of one’s good fortune, programs are dismembered. And you cannot re-member them by simply putting the students affected by loss in another class or shifting an experience to a new site or adding a new graduate student to take over the dis-membered functions of the organization. My program is membered. We the members of the faculty who built it, for better or for worse, have membered our program. Pink slips dis-member the program; re-membering it, because of the relational quality of its constructive process, is close to if not impossible, especially when the process of dismembering approaches catastrophic proportions.

So let us be clear here. We are not monitoring changes and adjusting processes, we are dismembering a program which is for all intents and purposes, ending it as it is currently known. If we end up at the close of the day with forty percent fewer faculty and increasing student numbers, we will have undergone a programmatic lobotomy. Our future will bear little connection or relationship to our past. We may well possess virtual memories that will undoubtedly get better over time…they always do. What we will be doing, if anything, will bear little resemblance to what we have accomplished to date.

And that will be cause for deep embarrassment. Embarrassment. Em-barrassment. Hmmm. Now that’s an interesting word… .