Monday, August 4, 2008

A New Jersey Tale - Fuhgedaboudit!

NOTE: When reading this all NJ speaking parts should be read with the Sopranos in mind.

When I decided to go to Constructing Modern Knowledge ’08, I worked on getting my plane tickets with Scott Floyd of Whiteoak ISD. Knowing that gas prices were climbing, luggage was costing money and plane tickets were not getting any cheaper, we turned to When all was said and done we flew to Philadelphia and made a connection there to fly into Manchester. The return trip was going to be a little different with the first leg of the trip going to Newark, NJ and then from Newark to Dallas.

Backtrack a bit to the 4th of July and the Travel Channel. I happened to catch the Top 10 Hotdogs Places in America and wouldn’t you know, one of them is in Clifton, N.J, Rutt’s Hut. Upon further investigation Clifton is about 20 miles from the Newark Airport. Since I was traveling with Scott Floyd (@woscholar) I hoped he would want to take a side trip especially since we had 4 hours to burn while in Newark.

We landed in Newark and headed to the taxi stand. Scott had done some research and I knew the cost of the ride out there would be a bit expensive - $52 – one way. So we got to Newark and went for it. I told the driver, country of origin unknown, that we wanted to go to Rutt’s Hut and he assured us he “knew” Clifton, NJ. So while he was driving I was using my iPhone to get us the address and directions we needed. After a couple of wrong turns we circled back and arrived at Rutt’s Hut. There were 2 entrances so we took the non-bar entrance first. We stood there just watching and soaking in the atmosphere. There we were, two Texans in the midst of New Jersey history, society and Travel Channel lore. We walked up to the counter and truly not knowing what to get I simply ordered 2 “World Famous.” That’s it. Nothing else on the overhead menu about choices. The guy behind the counter who probably was the guy that made sure the Sopranos was authentic on TV, looked at me and said “Anything else?” I just said no. In less than 10 seconds I had two “rippers’ as they are referred to. The reason they are called rippers is that they throw these hot dogs in deep fat fryers and cook them. Once they get hot enough the skin rips and they pull them out, slap them on a bun and pass them to you. I then moved to the side and looked around. There were two containers with lids on them and I took the lid off one and there was this chunky yellow stuff (which Gary Stager assures me is known simply as “yellow stuff’) that I assumed was their homemade relish. The other container had what looked like a special mustard concoction. I put the “yellow stuff" on one hot dog and the mustard on the other. After a bite I walked back to the counter and asked if I could get a soda and the Soprano historian looked at me and said “I asked if you wanted anything else.” I got my soda and looked at Scott and he simply used ketchup on his one dog.

We ate and actually made small talk with one of the locals who was watching his young daughter work on eating a cup of chili. The local asked us where we were from and then he asked if we had ever seen the bit on the Travel Channel? When I said yes he said “whatever you do go over to the bar area and also make sure you go in the restroom. It will all take you back to the early 1920’s. Scott and I took out our cameras and were snapping pictures and people all around knew we were definitely tourist. So we finished in the diner part and walked around to the bar/dining room area. I walked up to the bar and sat down and Scott joined me. The bartender who looked as if he lived there for the majority of his life asked what we wanted. Scott said he was good and I said 2 dogs and a Pepsi please. Two more deep fried, nitrate infested, sulfide loaded Rippers. As I ate and Scott drank the Coke he had with him we looked around and listened to the bartender ordering food on a microphone to the other side of the diner in a language foreign to the two of us. We could see him open his mouth and hear sound come out and were totally unable to translate it. Next thing we knew food appeared at the pass through window which he delivered. Amazing.

We finished up and started planning our next move – getting from Rutt’s Hut to the Airport. I told the bartender that I needed to call a cab, thinking of course that any bar has several numbers for cab companies. He looked at me and said “You gotta number for one?” To which I replied no I don’t and he walked away. Scott and I looked at each other and we started chuckling. We walked outside, I called information, I was connected and I was told that it would be 20-30 minutes. We were still well within our layover window so it was all good.

We walked around taking pics outside and talking and then started to get a bit nervous. I called information again and as I was getting connected this huge black limo pulls up with a guy that looked like Kam Fong Chun from Hawaii Five-0 only bigger. He was wedged into the front seat with a huge crate in the passenger seat. He said “You call for a car?” I called for a taxi. “You goin’ to Newark?” I said the Newark airport yes. “Get in.” I looked at Scott and we hopped in. The limo smelled of stale beer, and was dirty. The ac barely worked and then the questions and the verbal assault started. “Where youse from? Texas. “Texas? What part?” Dallas and East Texas. “Oh I’m going there soon.” Really what part? “Terrell.” (He pronounced like Terrell Owens of the Cowboys) Oh where Jamie Fox is from. “Who?” Jamie Fox. “Yeah whatever.” What are you going there for? “Going down to buy me a gaming dog.” Me I am thinking a bird dog but quickly realized NOT. “They still do that in Texas?” (Dog fights) Scott replied it’s against the law. “That’s what I thought. No cock fights, dog fights nuttin huh?” Nope. “That’s why the only thing left in Texas is steers and queers.” Not in our neighborhood. “Yep steers and queers.” “I got me a world class champion up here in the front.” I’m thinking I doubt he is talking about parading a poodle around at the Westminster dog show. He tells us that the only reason he is in the limo business is that his uncle set him up and was willing to front him the money. Otherwise he would be working in the family furniture store for $300 a week.

We got to the airport, in plenty of time for our flight and OZZIE our limo driver was laughing because he talked about always being abusive to his passengers and they still keep coming back for the entertainment. All about the atmosphere in the state of Jersey.

I think I will watch a rerun of the Sopranos to relive it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Constructing Modern Knowledge '08 Reflection

This past week I had the chance to travel to Manchester, New Hampshire, where I participated in Gary Stager’s Constructing Modern Knowledge. Not only did we sit and listen but then we had wonderful opportunities for those hallway discussion that, in my opinion, are absolutely essential to try and digest all that we heard with the other 30 or so educators who were there.

Probably one of the most amazing things was to have a chance to talk with Peter Reynolds , Alfie Kohn, Bob Tinker, Marvin Minsky, Sylvia Martinez, & Gary Stager (of course) and to question and push back and discuss and reflect with each of these individuals. To walk into a workshop and come face to face with these individuals and to drink from that fountain of knowledge was at times like trying to sip from a fire hose, but it is that full blown washing of our minds and ideas of the old ways, that helps create the new ideas that lead to the potentiality of change.

As a former coach I saw many student athletes that had potential and in many cases that potential was realized and in others it wasn’t. The same is true of students that aren’t in extracurricular as well as with our faculties. How many of us have seen teachers shut down and just never reach their potential or start off like a rocket and burn out in that first 5 years we all hear about?

Throughout this week I saw the opportunities for me personally to realize potential and the possibility of not realizing potential. If anyone would have walked in during the conference I’m sure they might have immediately thought “well all they are doing is sitting around and just playing.” We did play, we tinkered, we talked, we got frustrated, we sat with people that paved the way and we listened and talked and listened but most importantly we LEARNED.

We learned new ways to be present to our students, to our faculty, to each other. Sure we learned new tools but as so many in the blogosphere have said over and over it is not about the tools. It is or at least it should be, about how we help bring our students to the well of knowledge. Do we allow them to passively sit, are we on the stage, is it about us or them, do we allow them to make mistakes and try again, do we allow their learning to get messy? For those in positions of leadership the same questions apply to the faculties and staffs we work with each and every day. What gets modeled is what gets learned.

This week we listened, we talked, we learned, we created and we learned from what we created and from what others created and we questioned and were questioned and we learned from that as well. We were even given the opportunity to get messy. I encourage each of us to model the messiness of creation and creativity, model the need to dive into the deep end, to walk the plank of education by being on the edge, to lead by example and to be willing to do it all each and every day and be wonderfully exhausted at the end of the day,

Thank you Gary Stager. Thank you for going out on a limb, for being willing to bring us together, for being willing to model , for being willing to helps us get messy, for helping us question but most of all for being there to support us.

Thank you Gary.