The moral consequence of acceptance

The moral consequence of acceptance

Uncertain of our place, but standing with my sister and husband nonetheless, shoulder to shoulder, for others. Brattleboro Rally for Trans Justice. 2018.


I don’t feel safe to be a part of any community 
outside my own.

Of all the words spoken at last month’s Rally for Trans Justice | Brattleboro, these are the ones that most pierced my oblivion.

How affronting my hubris. How careless. How dangerous even. To dismiss another simply because he/she doesn’t look the way I expect she/he to look.

Acceptance is protection, declared one of the rally signs. I nodded my head in sobriety.

I have a responsibility here.

Hate is a choice. Trans is not, expressed another.

I felt that inside.

“Do better,” the speaker offered to those of us who identified as the sex to which we were born. “Talk to each other. Educate yourselves.”

I am and was so grateful to all those who were courageous enough and vulnerable enough to gather with people like me who want to be allies, but who have so much to learn.

I hope there are more and more spaces where people who identify as Trans feel safe and accepted and most of all feel that they—belong.

At one time I felt awkward around “them,” and then confused, and over time curious, and finally accepting, but now my heart is made glad when I see the woman at the register who kinda looks like a man but who is clearly a woman inside.

She’s always been warm and funny with me even when I accidently use the pronoun, He.

Guest Post: Katie & Lily

Guest Post: Katie & Lily

18 years ago, I sold my childhood pony to a wonderful family in Connecticut–in order to buy my next horse (I was quickly outgrowing her–even prayed her legs would grow.)

It was probably the first “adult decision” I had to make, and it was a hard one.

I made a list of all the things I wanted my mom to tell her new owners. The most important being that if for any reason they were to need to find her a new home, I wanted the first option to buy her back.

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Well 18 years later my pony has come back to me.

It’s a fairytale ending.

I am grateful and my heart is full.

~Katie Forsley

heat wave

heat wave

Bird Egg Feather Nest, Maryjo Koch

Tiny chirps let us know that the eggs in the nest above our light fixture have hatched,
and so this year, having failed yet again to prevent her nesting there,
we re-arrange our tiny porch to better accommodate feeding & flight,
which is to say: poop;
while eagerly awaiting the sight of little heads popping up from her moss wrapped nest.

She comes every year.
Last June Casey saw each one of her chicks take flight.
She’s been my steady companion this cold spring–flying out each time I arrive home or depart,
and then as the weather warmed, flying back and forth to the nest as I watched from the kitchen, fixing meals for my family, while she fed hers.

Last week I introduced her to a friend.
We’re all Mamas after all.

But then a day went by, and I realized I hadn’t seen her, and then another, and I was almost certain I hadn’t, so this morning, I asked Casey to check.

And all the little chicks are dead.

There won’t be poop all over our porch after all.

june 2017, marlboro, vt

Writing from MacArthur Road

Writing from MacArthur Road

A decade ago, in my early forties, I decided to let myself be. A writer.
I’d already been writing for some time.
Since the age of 18.
To myself.

Alas, I was not one of those girls who always knew that she wanted to be a writer.
(I write memoir.)

Oddly or coincidentally or serendipitously, I am sandwiched between two women who were the kind to always know.
Jodi to my north.
Robin to my south.

Had I known this about them then, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to join them.
But one was disguised as a beloved elementary teacher;
and the other, an award-winning performer.

The three of us live, on the same road, in a row.

Until last winter, when Jodi left the Green Mountains for the coast of Maine.

Robin remains.

“Most everyone does,” she says, about the members of her family.
(There are at least 7 MacArthur households on MacArthur road.)

I come from a big family too. But I left. Which is maybe why I write memoir.
(Safe distance and all.)

Fiction. Memoir. Fiction.
MFA. Not a real writer. MFA.
Published. Unpublished. Published.

This year both Jodi and Robin have books coming out, one after the other.
Jodi in May. Robin in August.
Short story collections.

I pre-ordered Jodi’s book right away.

I’ve never liked short stories.
They leave me longing.
Edgy.

But Friday night, after dark, we made the trek down our hill,
through the valley, and up another mountain, to the village of Putney,
to its newly renovated Next Stage Theater.

There, Robin read from her upcoming short story collection, Half Wild, and afterward performed with her husband, Tyler Gibbons–as the duo Red Heart the Ticker–which followed an interview and Q&A.

We brought my son along. Not the one upon whom a character may or may not be loosely based in one of Jodi’s stories… (sometimes I think we’re all writing memoir. Or fiction.) but the younger one who still lives with us on MacArthur Road.

During the interview, Robin spoke of her family’s history in Vermont, with mention of her father as a baby; and Aidan, 15, turned and whispered:

“I can’t imagine Dan as a baby. Can you? Ask Dad if he can.”

Though they’re not old enough to be our parents, Dan and Gail MacArthur are like the grandparents of MacArthur Road, and actually have the pleasure of all 4 of their grandchildren here, including Robin and Tyler’s two.

Gail drove the school bus and served on the select board and helped shape a number of community initiatives in town; and Dan has the same years of dedication, including the Board of Directors for the elementary school, and raising many of the houses in the area, like ours and Jodi’s–one after the other, about a decade ago.

Gail and Dan also have the sugar shack a 1/4 mile up the road from our place, where my boys make maple syrup each March, and further still–another 1/4 mile up–the farm stand–where we pick our berries each summer and eat scones on Sunday, baked by Robin and Tyler.

“Why didn’t I know that?” whispers Aidan, when the Poet Laureate of Vermont introduces Tyler as “a graduate of Harvard,” who has scored numerous feature films, feature-length documentaries, shorts, art films, and radio and media sites.”

Aidan turns toward me again, this time with a smile, when Robin tells Chard deNiord that she and Ty met at Brattleboro Union High School (where Aidan is a freshman now.)

“We were in an art class together,” Robin says. “He looked at a piece of my work. Said it could be better.”

Red Heart the Ticker, Next StageTyler tells Chard that he wrote Peaches and Plums–the March 2013 edition of Songs in a Lunar Phase (a monthly subscription-based CSA–the A for Arts instead of Agriculture)–after Robin rebuked his earlier attempt to write an upbeat song about March.

I sulked away, he said, but then Peaches and Plums came which is pretty down on Vermont.

“Filled with yearning for spring,” Robin corrects.

Though they haven’t performed together in two years, they played a handful of songs on the stage this evening.

Tyler joked that his goal was to bring as many instruments as songs.

Ty and Robin ended the night with one of my favorites. A soulful tune that she wrote:
One Last Tear.

As Robin sang, “Will you bring your blue dress and your pale blue…”

Aidan turned to me quizzically, but I refused his stare, for fear of laughter; because like him, I thought heard “pale blue ass” instead of “eyes.”

Robin MacArthur, Half Wild, Next StageThe short story Robin selected read like music too.
The words
Flooded toward me.
And then in me.
Like a quickening.
Then they picked up speed and rocked me with the rhythm of labor.
Climaxing in a body of water.
Releasing,
in a field.
Abandoning me.
Empty
and Full.

“The stories take place at the edge of Vermont towns,” Robin says. She admits that Tyler makes plot suggestions. She adds:

“I’m not wild about plot.”

“She’s half-wild,” Aidan whispers.

We both smile when Robin announces the release date for her book–August 2, 2016–Aidan’s 16th birthday.

It was just after his 15th that we visited Jodi and her husband Bob for the first time in their new place in Maine. Aidan never did get to have Jodi as a teacher, but the timing worked out that our oldest had her for four years straight. Under Jodi’s wings, Lloyd became a reader, a writer, a mathematician and a scientist.

The following summer, alongside the MacArthurs, Jodi helped lay the sub-floors that would serve as the foundation of Lloyd’s second-story bedroom. In later years, he stacked her wood and mowed her lawn–a scene which inspired the first story in her collection.


Jodi returns to Vermont from the coast of Maine this spring to read from: They Could Live With Themselves.

The event takes place at the Hooker Dunham theater in Brattleboro just after the book is released.

It’s just like Jodi to have both an auspicious pre-order date and publication date: Brigid’s Day and May Day.

Thirteen years ago, we bought a parcel of land together on MacArthur Road in much the same way. With intention and magic.

I feel poised between these two women.

Perfectly. Imperfectly.

Each writing about Vermont.
While I write about the sea,
and its hold on me.

Hoping that their paired success will serve as a threshold to my own.
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David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

David Holzapfel: Vermont Humanities Educator of the Year

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn.
(David Holzapfel, in remarks to the Vermont Humanities Council)

photo: Francie Marbury
photo: Francie Marbury

David Holzapfel has been a Windham County educator for the past 25 years. This fall his work with students was recognized by the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC) when they awarded him the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award in a ceremony that took place on the campus of the University of Vermont in November.

The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council
The annual meeting of the Vermont Humanities Council

“The Vermont Humanities Council is pleased to honor Vermont teachers in the humanities who challenge and inspire their students, who open up for them the world of ideas, and who help them know the joy of learning,” said VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “In honoring one such teacher each year, we pay tribute to all the fine teachers in Vermont, and we honor the important work they do.”

The award, which comes with $1,000 prize, is given annually to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.

David’s particular brand of teaching excellence was the focus of a recent interview entitled, “Not teaching to the test,” by Sarah Buckingham of

David Holzapfel’s fifth- and sixth-grade classroom feels more like a small liberal arts college than it does a public elementary school.

The multi-age, multi-subject classrooms at Marlboro Elementary School embrace an interdisciplinary and experiential approach to education, influenced by the nearby Marlboro College.

Holzapfel says teachers there are given the freedom to teach the things that excite them: “That’s where learning becomes infectious for kids and that’s really what we want,” he says.

In this way, Holzapfel is being celebrated for doing things differently.

David admitted to Sarah that he didn’t pay attention to things like the Vermont Standards and the Common Core “and all those sorts of things.” In fact, one of his colleagues joked that he was being awarded for “doing what you’re not supposed to be doing.”

In David’s remarks at the annual VHC conference, attended by 300+ educators across the state, he addressed the policy initiatives that interfere with teaching and learning:

There are those educationalists who believe that if we can just get the curriculum and the testing right, kids will learn. Every six to eight years since I began teaching, a new educational initiative has been handed down and touted as the solution: The Public School Approval Standards, The Vermont State Standards, No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress, Race to the Top and currently the Common Core Standards.

“The problem is,” says David, “If the curriculum standard in place (eg State Standards, No Child, etc) is so spot-on then why do we continue to change to some other grand scheme every few years?  And then the new plan is touted as being the solution to the problem of why kids aren’t learning. But it’s not the curriculum, it’s not the test that drives kids to learn. It’s meaningful work, challenging work entered into with enthusiasm.”

In a recommendation letter to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s passion for challenge:

David believes that students need rich content to sink their teeth into. His search for the perfect book and the most engaging activity is relentless. Long before the Common Core, David understood that the literature he chose for his students needs to be complex and challenging and that, with the proper support, they would rise to the challenge.

photo: The Commons
photo: The Commons, Sarah Buckingham

“‘Challenging work’ does not mean that anything goes and that anything a student does is OK,” says David. “The teacher’s job is to instruct and guide individual students to learn to be learners and to be able to communicate their understandings. That means we must study and practice the writing conventions, math facts, critical reading and thinking skills; those tools which will enable us to learn about cellular biology or how an engine works or sustainable farming practices.”

“But teaching isn’t about force-feeding widgets with information which is what the curriculum-testing model promotes,” he says. “Too often I feel that educationalists don’t really trust that kids want to be learners.”

In the article, “Not teaching to the test,” reporter Sarah Buckingham addressed David’s approach:

(It’s) not to say Holzapfel’s curriculum doesn’t meet those standards: he’s just come up with his own way of satisfying them.

Each year his students read the epic poem “The Odyssey” and memorize the first stanza of Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” in the original Middle English.

“Those kinds of things don’t show up on [standardized] tests,” Holzapfel says, “and yet they’re the things kids remember and the things kids value. It becomes a part of them.”

Holzapfel says he takes issue with guidelines and standards that compartmentalize subject matter.

‘”When we’re studying astronomy we’re also reading Ray Bradbury. Everything is related to everything else. And the strictures of, ‘Well we can’t talk about math or we can’t talk about science while we’re looking at art’ is just silly. If you present the same material in as many different ways and through as many different lenses as possible then you just increase the chances of creating understanding.”

Susan Calabria, of the Brattleboro Musuem and Art Center (BMAC), was among those who recommended David to the Vermont Humanities Council for the award. As the Education Curator of BMAC she has worked closely with David and his students over the years. Susan wrote:

My first introduction to David was in my early years at the Museum (c. 2002-2003) when he participated in a VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) symposium at BMAC. His excellent presentation – which I saw him do in his classroom with students in ensuing years – was on extending VTS to support a geometry lesson. He used a projected imagine of an M.C. Esher print as a starting point…

David was one of the first in our area to incorporate the VTS method into math, literacy, history, and science projects.

Susan spoke at length about how David took VTS into field studies with his students, combining art and science. David emphasized the role of field research in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is one of the active muscles of the humanities and is a cornerstone of learning through all the grades at the Marlboro School. Successful field research takes time and dedication, a tremendous amount of planning, support and trust. And did I mention time? The temporal aspects of learning seem rarely considered by policy-makers and yet we all know that those topics to which we dedicate time are the topics we truly know;  this is immersive learning.  But, to quote educator Ron Berger, “Today’s pressure is toward surface coverage of content to prepare for high stakes tests. It’s growing more difficult to give students the opportunities to use their minds well as critical thinkers, to work as historians, scientists, mathematicians and writers.” There is simply not enough time for engaged learning within our curriculum-tweaking standardized test-taking mindset.  Is it any wonder that too many students seem disconnected and are bored in school?

In a press release announcing David as the recipient of the Humanities award, VHC celebrated his work in the field:

The learning journey of Holzapfel’s students goes well beyond the classroom. A major component of his sixth-grade classes is a week-long field research trip to New York City, the cornerstone of a year of study that includes a focus on immigration to America as well as students’ independent study projects. Students visit Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum and take part in other activities that illustrate the immigrant experience. Holzapfel carefully prepares students for their independent studies, which culminate in New York with students interviewing people such as a member of the New York Stock Exchange, Central Park’s landscape designer, a curator at the Museum of Natural History, a stage manager at the New York City Ballet, as well as local pedestrians.

photo: Pam Burke
NYC field research trip; photo: Pam Burke

“The NYC individual field work is demanding,” David admits. “Students and staff work through topic selection, pre-field work research, field work involving interviews of professionals in the study area, investigation of primary resources, collation of field notes and integration of that information with the classroom research, a final report, the generation and performance of a multi-media presentation with no established time-frame and finally, a parent-community presentation of approximately 7 minutes. That’s complex. An inch wide and a mile deep. But it’s worth the effort because when it’s done thoroughly, it engenders a true sense of accomplishment: Kids are proud of the work they’ve done because it was complex, multi-directional, and deep; and teachers are proud because they’ve led students through an authentic experience.”

David noted the challenges and rewards of field work in his remarks to the Council:

Field research is hard work for educators in the current climate. But I believe that for all those involved in direct education, students and teachers alike, nothing builds a positive sense of purpose and confidence better than the accomplishment of a difficult task done well.

"the web of life"  photo: P'tricia Wyse
“the web of life” Woodford State Park
photo: P’tricia Wyse

 

Carol Berner, who serves on the faculty at Smith and Antioch colleges in the education department, recently had the opportunity to work closely with David in her role as Regional Coordinator of River of Words. She joined David and his students at Hogback Mountain:

On this first encounter I was struck by the intensity with which David’s students were immersed in their nature study. They were proud of their plots, skilled at observing, respectful of each other and nature, familiar with the names of particular mosses and trees and welcoming of a newcomer.

Through sustained focus on a particular place, over time, and with expert guidance students discover that learning takes time and happens in community – not only the community of the classroom but also of the forest. These 5th-6th graders entered into a relationship with their study plot that taught them how to observe, imagine and articulate interconnectedness with the world. We all learned how to “think deeper” and “look at things in different ways.” The magic of this kind of learning is captured in one boy’s concluding reflection: “And it was peaceful.”

A sense of belonging lies at the heart of David’s approach to teaching and learning.

In his remarks to the Council, David touched on the importance of place-based education:

In addition to deep, active learning, field work instills in students a sense of place. Meaningful interactions with a location and a subject matter and work within a community engenders in all of us a sense of belonging, of connection.

Local interviews
Local interviews

In her recommendation to the Council, Principal Francie Marbury highlighted David’s community history project, Work in Marlboro:

Over the course of several years David’s students have interviewed Marlborians who live and work in town. These interviews are archived digitally with the Marlboro Historical Society and create a rich record of this eclectic and colorful community. Interviewees have included the road foreman, artists, college professors, builders, bus drivers, and town officers.

“Teachers like Swenson Award Educator David Holzapfel are our civic heroes,” writes VHC Executive Director Peter Gilbert. “The influence of such teachers on their students never ends,”

Principal Francie Marbury echoed this praise in her recommendation with this quintessential anecdote about the lasting effect David has on his students:

Imagine – school is out for the day and all is quiet as a lanky adolescent walks purposefully down the hall and up the stairs to David’s room. He’s come to check in, fill David in on high school life, and reminisce about his 6th grade field research trip to New York City.

David’s high expectations for his students, his wry sense of humor, and his passion for the material he teaches result in his being the teacher students remember long after they leave Marlboro School.

In his remarks to the Council, David credited his Alma Mater, Marlboro College, for teaching him “that sustained focus in an area of study broadens and deepens the pleasures of learning.”

It is this dedication and delight I strive to impart to my students.

David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip
David Holzapfel, captured by a student, Cape Cod Field Research trip

(Note: David Holzpfel began teaching a Marlboro Elementary School in 1990. He’ll retire this June after 25 years in the classroom.)

(this article was first published in The Cracker Barrel, Deerfield Valley News Winter/Spring edition, 2015. Thank you to the The Commons, Brattleboro, VT for sharing photo/text.)