Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

model trapped employees go for a smoke

I am not sure why I am so hooked on this story. Maybe because I have spoken to so many model trapped employees lately.

a model trapped employee goes for a smoke 2008:
Have you seen the New Yorker article by Nick Paumgarten called Up and Then Down? He tells the story of Nicholas White who, on his way outside for a smoke, was trapped in an elevator in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for forty-one hours.

He occupied himself with thoughts of remaining calm and decided that he’d better not do anything drastic, because, whatever the malfunction, he thought it unwise to jostle the car, and because he wanted to be (as he thought, chuckling to himself) a model trapped employee. He hoped, once someone came to get him, to appear calm and collected. He did not want to be scolded for endangering himself or harming company property. Nor did he want to be caught smoking, should the doors suddenly open, so he didn’t touch his cigarettes.

You can watch a time lapse video of White in the elevator from the building’s security cameras. I have been finding it mesmerizing. What would I do?

a model trapped employee goes for a smoke 1945:
Just as fascinating is the later tale from the same article about "the Empire State Building incident of 1945, in which a B-25 bomber pilot made a wrong turn in the fog and crashed into the seventy-ninth floor, snapping the hoist and safety cables of two elevators. Both of them plunged to the bottom of the shaft. One of them fell from the seventy-fifth floor with a woman aboard—an elevator operator [she lived!]. The operator of the other one had stepped out for a cigarette."

Then there is the blazing-Christmas-tree elevator-fireball thing.

Not too sure how this connects to literacy research and practice but just thought I'd like to share this internet tidbit.

P.S. Literacies #8 is at The Learning Centre and will be shipped next week!

Monday, April 28, 2008

rockets and reading

Sorry to miss Friday -- big deadline! One of my favourite things is to write for this blog but I thought that I should not distract myself from some other writing that had to be done. I hope you had a great weekend.

I have been watching a BBC Drama called Rocket Man on our local public television station. It is the story of a recently widowed man who is building a rocket with his son and some friends. They plan to launch the ashes of his wife into space "so he and his children can look up at the stars and always see her in the heavens."

It is a story of grief, parenthood, friendship, work, class and literacy. Yep - literacy. I am impressed with the way literacy is woven into this story. George does not read and write very well. This fact comes to light slowly -- a teacher notices that he has difficulty writing a note, a friend notices that he avoids reading -- but it never becomes the main theme. Even on the website the only reference to the fact that literacy is part of this story is a link to the BBC Reading and Writing site.

The story nicely shows how our literacy skill level is part of a basket of things that can have an impact on how we live our lives. George sometimes needs help with tasks that involve reading and he does not usually say why. He sometimes puts the needs of those who help him before his own or those of his children and this results in priorities becoming a little scrambled. Is this because he feels he needs to reciprocate for the help he receives? Perhaps.

This is not the story of a person who is fogged up and trapped by their inability to read and write. This is not the story of a person being saved by the gift of literacy provided by a beneficent volunteer. This is mostly the story of a man figuring out how to be a good parent, a good friend, a good worker, how to best honour the gifts his wife shared...and design and build a rocket from scratch!

I hope you get to see it one day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Last Saturday I facilitated a workshop about teaching across diversity and creating inclusive learning environments. It was a great group. Funny, exuberant and wise.

We did an activity where we thought about principles for creating inclusive learning environments. One man, who has vast teaching experience and shares what he has learned very respectfully and openly, proposed the following:

  • know yourself -- understand your social identities and your teacher identity
  • know the universal -- learn about the things all people share
  • know them -- learn about this group of students
  • know their differences -- learn about the diversity in this group
  • know their strengths -- and teach to them

I think I remembered that fairly accurately. I just wanted to write it down somewhere.

Monday, April 21, 2008

mobilizing wisdom

Another video from the FaceBook Funwall -- this one from the incomparable Fran Zimmerman of the St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program.

The video is about a Barefoot College project: The First Women Barefoot Solar Engineers Of The World.

The Barefoot College began in 1972 with the conviction that solutions to rural problems lie within the community. The College encourages practical knowledge and skills rather than paper qualifications through a learning by doing process of education.

"First they ignore you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
Mahatma Ghandi

Friday, April 18, 2008

hello spring

Sorry I am late. I knocked out my internet connection and just now figured out what happened and how to correct it.

There is lots going on in the online world that is related to us as literacy workers -- or that we might relate to as literacy workers -- but I am just going to share this video sent to our Facebook Funwall by Flora Doehler (artist and literacy worker) for now.

Many of us are greeting spring after a long winter and getting reacquainted with little creatures again. I think this video fits the occasion.

These dancers are from the Chinese State Circus. They are performing on the German television show Wetten, dass? (Wanna bet?)
Happy weekend. Say hi to the frogs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Happy Birthday to the café. We opened on April 16, 2007 and have enjoyed every minute of our first year.

I have made a big batch of these cupcakes so grab a coffee, help yourself to a treat, and let's celebrate a blogging good year.

It is one month until the International Day for Sharing Life Stories on May 16, 2008 - get ready.

Literacies will launch the Literacy Wisdom Parade on that day - join us.

In Toronto there will be an event at OISE from the Story Project - more soon. Let us know what you are doing in your town and we can post information here and on the website.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Gene Weingarten is a humor writer. His column, Below the Beltway, is published weekly in the Washington Post Magazine. On April 7, 2008, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for Pearls Before Breakfast, "his chronicling of a world-class violinist [Joshua Bell] who, as an experiment, played beautiful music in a [Washington D.C.] subway station filled with [mostly - to all appearances] unheeding commuters."


Excerpt from the story:
He [Bell] was, in short, art without a frame. Which, it turns out, may have a lot to do with what happened -- or, more precisely, what didn't happen -- on January 12.

Mark Leithauser has held in his hands more great works of art than any king or pope or Medici ever did. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station.

"Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting. And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'"

Leithauser's point is that we shouldn't be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.


Of course it does. This story makes me think that it is a shame that it matters so much. On the other hand, it is a powerful lesson for those of us who develop and present curricula and work to sustain holistic and humane learning.

Click on the link to the story or Bell's site to hear clips of the lovely music.

Friday, April 11, 2008

order and disorder

Excerpts from a Democracy Now! interview with Isabel Allende:

If I can write it, I can cope. And I’ve been writing many books, but in every book I try to explore something in my own soul that I need to solve, I need to understand.

I see the world in terms of stories.

I was trying to explain that writing a novel is putting a pack of lies together to get to a truth, to the truth. Without that truth, the novel doesn’t work. In a memoir, it works like the other way around. You work with the truth, and then you end up lying, because my version of what happened is different from the version of everybody else in the family, you know.

Tell us about the Sisters of Perpetual Disorder.
I have a little prayer group. We call it “prayer group,” although we pray very little. We mostly talk. And it’s six women that we get together on Tuesdays, and we witness each other’s lives. We help each other, but it’s not therapy. We meditate. And we are always in touch through the email. I had the feeling that I belonged in the United States when I met these women and I found this sisterhood. I think that every woman in the world should have a circle of women. It’s very empowering.

Maybe everybody should. Have a great weekend. Hang out with your 'hood. See you Monday.

Fishing, woodblock by Joshua Rome

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

winter's discontent

There are quite a few literacy workers who do work on the power of story telling -- how both the telling and the listening can be healing and can help us move forward. The Winter Soldier hearings work on this principle.

Hundreds of veterans and active-duty soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars gathered in mid-March for the Winter Soldier hearings. The gathering was modeled after the 1971 Winter Solider hearings organized by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

"We called this investigation the Winter Soldier Investigation. The term 'winter soldier' is a play on words of Thomas Paine’s in 1776, when he spoke of the 'Sunshine Patriot' and 'summertime soldiers' who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough. And we who’ve come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, and we could be quiet. We could hold our silence. We could not tell what went on in Vietnam. But we feel, because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, not red coats, but the crimes which we’re committing are what threaten it, and we have to speak out."

John Kerry testifying at the Winter Soldier hearings in 1971

Listening to the stories is a harrowing experience. The stories are an accounting of horrible acts but the telling is an act of bravery and a plea for peace, both personal and global.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Hearings (1971)

WinterSoldier.com (1971)

Winter Soldier The Film

Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Hearings (2008)

Winter Soldiers Past and Present on Democracy Now! : Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3

The Planting, woodblock by Joshua Rome

Monday, April 7, 2008

places to learn

Over at the working in adult literacy forum last fall, we talked about our dreams for places to learn.

Well, if you can't find them you can do what Konrad from blog of proximal development did and build one.

I’ve been thinking about classroom design for a very long time but have never really been able to experiment with it until I found out about Second Life and the virtual building opportunities that it affords. When I first started working on my teachandlearn retreat on the island of jokaydia in Second Life, I realized that, for the first time in my career as an educator, I had an opportunity to create my ideal learning environment. I had the freedom to create any place I wanted. Strangely enough, what I created does not have desks or tables, it doesn’t even have chairs. Instead, it has a hot-air balloon (great for small group conversations), a couple of Japanese tea houses, and a lot of cushions. Oh, and the view, you have to see the view!

Now there is some crazy wisdom at work.

Friday, April 4, 2008

trickle down

Here is more on how the '80s crushed us
-- see Wendell's comment on the post below --

and how a song from 1962 helped us feel better for at least 2:42.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

a steve, a stephen, and bobby

Last week I listened to Stephen Brunt talking to Steve Paikin about his new book, Searching for Bobby Orr. I like to listen to those two talk about sports because they transcend the prose of scores and ranks and milestones. This conversation of myth, legend, magic, identity and shift was no exception. Bobby Orr just turned 60. Here is what Stephen wrote in the Globe and Mail:

"What Orr represents to his generation is one of the great founding stories of Canadian culture. We are a country that produced hockey players organically, born of the rocks and the trees and the ice and snow. Their skill was not the product of science or schooling or technology, but somehow came naturally, emerging from the landscape and the climate, the frozen pond and the backyard rink. Those shiny golden boys could exist out there somewhere in a quiet small town, unknown except to those around them and untouched by the corrupting influences of the big city, of big money and of the big country to the south."

He spoke to Steve about how we find our identity where we choose to and for the generation that grew up with Hockey Night in Canada, hockey players such as Orr are forged out of the place where they first played and embody what Canadians think we are: tough, unpretentious, good team players, shy, modest, and self-effacing. And then Steve asked Stephen whether new Canadians, who do not know who Bobby Orr is, can understand Canada if they do not understand why Orr is important.

And Stephen said:
"This country is not that country. That is the country that you grew up in and the country that I grew up in, when families really did huddle around a television set on Saturday night to watch the one hockey night a week that was available. And everybody did play and they probably played on outdoor ice somewhere...

But there are all kinds of people in this country who grew up somewhere else, or who are growing up now -- my kids won't feel this way. They don't care about this stuff.

... It is very hard in a fragmented culture where everything is accessible from all over the place all the time to find something communal, something that everybody cares about at the same time. It is very hard to hold things together unless you can, at the same time, share a passion with other people. And I am not sure how that is going to work. My kids have grown up in a world where everything from all over the place is there, where their allegiances are not hometown allegiances or national allegiances. They can pick and choose.

This was the only choice we had and that is one of the reasons it became very powerful. What else was there? What else were you going to grasp onto? I think that when that generation passes and they are not as influential as the boomers are right now, I am not sure what it is going to be, but I think we need something.

And that made me ask myself, "Do we?" And, "Was there ever really a time when we all cared about the same thing at the same time?" And, "Why do I feel nostalgic for that even though I never felt completely part of such a phenomenon myself?"

No answers yet.

Listen to the podcast here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

wlufa update

On Monday, March 31, more than 150 people turned out to join striking CAS members at Laurier Brantford at a rally on the steps of the Carnegie Building at the Brantford Campus.

Many students, CAS members and full-time faculty members from Laurier in Waterloo drove down to join Brantford students, CAS members and full-time faculty as well as community supporters in solidarity.