Fuller Literacy Memo

Reading, Writing, Language, Speaking, and Listening

Passage from a Letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820

It seems fitting that on the evening of the Iowa Caucus, I start our literacy memo with these words from Thomas Jefferson:

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.

These are powerful words from 1820 and are still true today. I was fortunate to spend four days in NYC at a Lucy Calkins Institute on Coaching Writing. For days, I learned about teaching writing, did mini-lessons with some great students at IS 230 in the Bronx, and learned about engaging students in the hard work of reading and writing from my staff developer, Carla Espana.

I knew that I wanted to bring this work to Fuller when on the first day, Carla stood in front of a group of seventh graders and learned about the evidence they were gathering on whether or not the U.S. should restrict immigration. Students shared arguments and counter-arguments, waited patiently for their peers to elaborate, and asked the adults, "Who is the audience for this? If I know that, I can frame my argument better." Carla thanked them for the work they did and told them that she had faith in our country, because young people like them were going to grow up and be informed voters.

This is why we do the work we do at Fuller, we believe that our students can learn how to research both sides of argument and articulate their thinking. I see evidence of this at the sixth grade celebration of writing; reading Annabel Mendum's article on the 7th grade social studies simulation on Ancient Civilizations, and through reading the powerful memoirs our eighth graders have written about moments that shaped their lives. Our students have deep stories to tell, and we are working hard to give them the language and knowledge to tell them.

Feeling like you want students to celebrate themselves, raise their voices against wrongs they've endured?

From "The Cure at Troy"

Human beings suffer.

They torture one another.

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

History says, "Don't hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing,

The utter self-revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there's fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.

It means once in a lifetime

That justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

-- Seamus Heaney

Heaney writes about Philocotetes, an injured soldier whom Odysseus abandoned. The kids in Jim Burke's English class cure themselves with poetry for an hour a week when their hopes and hearts rhyme, while he sits back, bearing witness to their voices, their lives, and all they have to say if we can only find the courage to listen.

Thank you for working so hard for our students... from me and Lucy Calkins!