Monday, August 20, 2012

The Firebird & the Horn

"The Fire Bird" 

Computer Drawing by Rachel Barnhart

Most everybody jumps when the firebird bursts into the room; and when it happens, a few hide, but most want the ride, “Let’s go—right now—before I think about it.”  Until that blaze rushes in, we might just sit around, forever twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the brilliant leader or the stupendous project.  Too many sit waiting too long and wrinkle up, bored and cynical.  You’ve seen them hanging around the lounge, back row of the meeting, mumbling.  They missed it and don't believe it exists, not anymore.

That’s why we need the old tales, to reassure us of the passionate life, of work with meaning, of true love, or something close enough.   The firebird carries our longing, and the world needs our burning commitment to social justice, to creative expression, to graceful age. 

So looking for the firebird is right, but looking means more than sitting around.  Firebird stories hold advice about how we might prepare the way, how to invite the visitor, and how to attract the passionate opportunity.

For example, we have to contain want-to and have-to, like Odysseus held the shape-shifting creature, until the tension releases insight.  My previous blog told of this prerequisite.   

The firebird wants to fly in schools today on the wings of digital media and social networking.  Many of us are a bit frightened by the wild energy.  I like the way Ms. Rowland put it, “We, the teachers need to find a way to mesh the substance with the spectacle.”  We’re wise to see in the flash of media lights and excitement the risk of losing content. 

We also don’t want to forfeit the development of character that some of us treasure in traditional drill and practice.  Capacity to do good work includes persistence in a non-glamorous task, without getting sugar cubes at each incremental jump.  But let’s not make it either-or; don’t conclude that the new media bring only frills and playtime.

One reason we’re taking on tech integration is because fusing the spectacular nature of media engagement with complex curriculum promises high-level learning. The case of “gaming” gives a good example because innovators are finding applications that involve not just playing games but also have learners designing games.   They’re finding that game design sustains work and it motivates complex planning and articulated composing, as well as stimulating design, movement, characterization, and cooperation among designers.  That’s the fire of containing opposites.

There’s another bit of advice in the firebird stories, one I’d rather skip past, but to do so would likely bring consequences.  So it’s about sugar cubes—or more honestly, about chocolate desserts.  I confess to writing in my blog more and to promoting them on twitter and other places.  Where has this increased motivation and work output come from?  

I’d rather not admit it, but it might be because I discovered blog statistics.   I like seeing the chart that shows the number of views going up (even while I know all “views” are not legitimate readers).  I have to confess that my motivation to write isn't purely intrinsic, but has been fueled through online publishing and social media.  

Composition teachers should be dancing in the streets because access to publishing for real audience has never been so open, and the motivational power for learners to want to revise is at our fingertips if we have the creativity and imagination to focus it.

Our firebird story told us about this also, but it’s taken me about a hundred tellings to catch it.  When the traveler is directed to the youngest sister’s hut, the warning is that the Baba Yaga in the third hut is meaner than the others and escape will depend on immediately taking the horn and blowing it three times, each time with greater volume.  Only after the third and loudest blast does the Firebird flash in and offer that ride of a lifetime.

I’d never attached much meaning to the horn before, but insight fluttered in while I was wondering about this strange thing I'd started doing: writing the blog, clicking on the icon for Twitter announcement and agreeing to participate in the NWP Connect site and our Facebook organizational space.  I was blowing my own horn.  That’s what the traveler had to do before the Firebird flew in. 

Maybe a person has to be willing to blow his or her own horn before the firebird, the passionate moment, flies in.  Given our access to social media and the push for networking, it’s worth thinking about.  Hmmm.