The Courtly Love of Books


When I walked into class this morning I flipped out over one of my students reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, one of my favorite reads ever. Lost in my enthusiasm for the book, I grabbed the book from her desk, clutched it to my chest, and rocked back and forth, performing my twitterpation for the book in front of the class. Unknown to me, this student, Tiffany, had purchased the book for a friend and she sat silently in horror, terrified at my handling of the book. When I noticed the nervous juxtaposition of her broad smile and arched brow, she said to me, “Mr. Ziebarth, I’m a courtly lover.”

Talk about juxtapositions. I had no idea what she was talking about.

“You’re a what?”

“A courtly lover of books. Just like the essay we read over the summer,” Tiffany said.

Well shame on me for not recognizing what should be a common allusion. She was referring to the essay “Never Do That to a Book,” by Anne Fadiman. As she reminded me of the essay, another student, Tabatha, blurted out, “Me too!” as she quickly produced from her backpack a copy of the next novel we’re reading, The Catcher in the Rye, lovingly embraced by a padded manilla envelope. A small group of students burst into chatter about how hard it is to write in their books, while others proclaimed how much they enjoy putting pen and pencil to page, marking their books and making them their own.

Fadiman calls this drive to draw and annotate in books a “carnal love.” She explains, “to us, a book’s words [are] holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them [are] a mere vessel, and it [is] no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated.”

I don’t care how my students treat books, just that they love them.

Me? I’m a book lover of the latter sort, as you can tell by the photo of the Murakami novel above. See the little dog-eared corner of the first page? I did that. Much to Tiffany’s courtly-lover’s chagrin.


The DV8 Sound of Trust

I’ve been completely grooving on the new album by Toronoto-based Trust. The track “Rescue, Mister” sends me spinning back in space (to Salt Lake City) and time (the mid 90s) to a beautiful, but gritty club called DV8. The club served as an after hours headquarters to the DJs of KJQ and X96, many of whom did weekly stints behind the turntables of its dusty crows nest of a DJ booth (read Todd Nuk’em’s spot-on memorial of the club, written when it burned to the ground, a surprise to no one, back in 2008).

I put in my time at that club, under the moniker Sean Boy Walton, risking my health (the smoking was incessant), to play the unique blend of darkwave, industrial, and goth pop that was always popular in Salt Lake City. Trust fits that place like a black leather glove (fingers optional).

You want to experience DV8 circa 1995, drop this track into your head. The time warp is uncanny.

Show Your Work : : A Networked Reading 2

Reading @Braddo Reading @AustinKleon continues as Show Your Work: A Networked Reading

The old writing adage holds true with student work: Show, don’t tell!

I love John Green’s question: “is there a way that we can use this technology to build places for engagement, instead of just places for distraction? ” As Douglas Rushkoff has pointed out, yes the youth of today are digital natives, but they’re thoroughly worked over by social media. It’s not just the digital natives by the way. We all need to act more and not let ourselves be acted up, in other words: Program, Or Be Programmed.


Reading @braddo Reading @austinkleon 1

I’ve been stealing ideas from Austin Kleon for my classroom for about five years now and I’m thrilled to have other teachers join in the looting. Brad Ovenell-Carter started blogging his reading of Kleon’s new book Show Your Work over a month ago and since then I’ve been itching to join in the fray and blog my reading of his reading.

I’m starting 76 pages into Ovenell-Carter’s reading and that doesn’t bother me. It also doesn’t bother me that I’ll be working backwards and forwards as he continues. We’re getting all McLuhan on Kleon’s little book, ya hear!

I’m floored by flow of ideas and insight that this process encourages and I can’t wait to see how all these things will blossom, wilt, flower. Feel free to join in the conversation.

A note on the process: While I’m jealous of Ovenell-Carter’s hand-drawn work (and I dig his handwritting—those loops!),  I decided to differentiate our ideas by diving into a digital toolbox, namely Skitch for Evernote.

Twenty years ago today I flew into Seattle for Sub Pop Record’s birthday celebration only to be greeted at the airport with the somber news of Kurt Cobain’s death. The party went on, but not even great sets from Sunny Day Real Estate and Velocity Girl could lighten the atmosphere of that weekend. Imagine all the music that could have been…

Show Your Learning

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 10.08.27 AMTeaching is a science—that’s how it feels when I’m collecting and combing through student data looking for how to proceed next. Teaching is an art—that’s how it feels when I’m in front of the class trying to hook them in with an introduction to metaplasmus, zeugma and other rhetorical tropes, schemes. Wait, that sounds like science. That’s because teaching is both an art and science—especially when I’m deep in a stack of essays working to understand the thoughts and  arguments of students while at the same time helping them craft their way to clarity with cadence and rhythm.

Either way, teaching is a creative and rewarding effort. And ever since I stumbled upon 20% projects and the work of writer and doodler Austin Kleon it’s only become more creative and more rewarding as I’ve worked with students to do what Kleon calls for in his new book Show Your Work!

David Theriault, a colleague/cohort, and I have been obsessed with this idea of showing our work: making our classrooms transparent, our work and that of our students laid bare for the world to see.  Not to show off what we do in our class, but to try it out in public, share it, and hope in comes back new and improved. Thus our activity on Twitter and in the edublogosphere (wow, that’s an ugly word). We’ve brainstormed hashtags, schemed up entire books on the subject. We’ve read the books. We’ve encouraged other teachers in our district to do the same. We follow people with similar obsessions.

But nothing really gets to the heart of the matter like Kleon’s book, which just arrived in the mail yesterday! And it’s much more rewarding to take a breather from the pummeling of pedagogical jargon, kick back with this bright, rakish tome and dream up ways to twist and tweak Kleon’s principles for my curriculum, my class, my students.

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 10.04.40 AM

I’m not the only educator stealing from Kleon.

Show Your Work! is subtitled 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, but a better way from my students and I to think about it would be: Show Your Learning! 10 Ways to Share Your Learning and Discover: Your Thoughts, Your World, Yourself.

Consider this one example from Zara who realized that she writes the same way she plays volleyball: timidly. But as she writes you can see her writing grow more assertive. I can’t wait to see her on the court next year.

Do you want to see the rest of my students learning? Stay tuned here, here, or here.

The newspaper, or any media for that matter, is no longer a one-way communication. Not a new concept, I understand, but I’m still baffled by how many people, especially teachers, don’t find this useful or are unwilling to participate in its possibilities—

In one brief swoop I can engage a journalist, biologist, and rhetorician (of varying degrees of repute) in a conversation.

Here’s the fray I jumped into:

Richard Dawkins’ (what I find limited) appetite for wonder


Daniel Coffeen’s “Art as Argument”

The Great Common Core Swindle: Denying students an audience

SwindleZYou may be tempted to take the title of this post the wrong way.

No, I’m not going to argue against the Common Core standards. I’d be happy to discuss their drawbacks elsewhere. In fact, if you care to dive deep enough down into my Twitter stream you’ll discover I’ve done just that on several occasions with colleagues and acquaintances.

Here and now I’d like to address what I see as one of the key strengths of the Common Core. A focus that’s been missing, from the California State Content Standards at least.


It’s there, listed at the end of the writing standards at every grade beginning with third: “Write…for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.” The old California State Content Standards also covered audience, but never specifically addressed a range of audiences, a key difference.

In a 21st-century, networked world, an audience of one, the teacher, or even the thirty or so students in a classroom is no longer a sufficient audience. And frankly, it hasn’t been for some time. As my colleague David Theriault likes to say, referring to teachers, “You are not your students’ best audience.”

Students who write for their teacher write for a grade. Students who write for an audience write to connect, to argue, to entertain, to inform. And when they have other purposes for their writing other than a grade, they begin to care about the craft, choose carefully their words, shape thoughtfully their sentences. Isn’t this the goal of writing standards?

So the question is: Does your school provide or cheat your students out of an audience?

Or, to cut to the chase: Does your school actively support a newspaper or broadcast program?

If it doesn’t, please stop going on about how you’re meeting the Common Core standards. Because in spirit you’re not.

I can’t think of a better way to prepare students for a larger, even world-wide audience or provide them with a better writing laboratory than a campus newspaper or broadcast program.

Besides offering students an audience and being shaped by two of the main modes of writing called for by the Common Core, informational and argumentative, a robust student journalism programs offers many other benefits.


Students journalists choose what they want to write about. Sports, movies, books, games, and news. Well, students don’t necessarily choose to write news per se, but with a bit of training, mentoring, and modeling, they’ll learn to spot it, gather it, and report it.

What are they reporting? The goings-on at your school, on the field, in the classroom, after school. And hopefully there’s a lot happening. Who better to tell those stories than your students? No one.

Want your students to be writing across the curriculum? Then reporting on the learning taking place in science, history, math, and business classes will do the trick.

Then imagine the range of audience your student journalists will reach: the student body, faculty, staff, families, community, world.

Photo ©2007 Flickr user Jessica_Hopper CC-BY-2.0


This is where students like to begin: expressing their opinion. But before they can argue a point, they need to gather the facts—a good habit for any writer, thinker, or citizen. If they jump the gun, they may end up on the bench where CBS reporter Lara Logan found herself recently.

So once they’ve gathered the facts they’re ready to form an opinion which in journalism will take the shape of an editorial or opinion column. Inevitably, students expressing opinions, especially in public, make adults squirm. But guess what folks? The adults don’t have to like it.

And that’s OK. Remember, we teach students who are in the same stages of adolescent development year after year, decade after decade. We encounter the same impulses and opinions every four years at least: the dress code is stupid, supervision bugs us, we don’t like the new bell schedule, why do we have to sit through assemblies, the campaigns for student leadership positions are just popularity contests. The list goes on. And on. Can you really blame them? If so, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to spend thirteen years of your life micromanaged by bells, adults, rules, procedures and the last five or six years befuddled by hormones and growing pains.


Adults won’t be the only ones who can’t quite stomach the editorials, opinions, or story angles. Many students won’t like them either. Fantastic! Guess what they can do? Write a letter to the editor, submit their own opinion piece, join the newspaper staff, start their own newspaper or blog. It’s called civil discourse; it’s the exact thing we’re training our students to engage in. At least we think that’s what we’re doing, but without a healthy journalism program we’re denying our students a safe place to try out and feel their way around civil discourse. Instead they turn to all sorts of social media, much of it hidden and anonymous, to hash out their opinions. Maybe, just maybe, if students had an authentic audience to air their grievances to, and training to gather all the facts first (which often puts out the flames of frustration), maybe there’d be less rantings and more discussions.


Newspapers and broadcast programs also provide a variety of tasks and audiences, requiring them to be precise in their work. Gathering news encourages students to see a story from multiple perspectives, not just one or two. They’ll quickly learn to see the world around them is much more complex than the either/or mentality so many suffer from. Writing headlines and photo captions also require an exactness and one you can assess by analyzing online traffic data should your newspaper also be online, which it should.

Broadcast news programs really hone students’ precision. Writing for TV is a different, more exact beast entirely. Plus the visual elements brought to bear on a story add a complexity and grammar all their own.

Both print and broadcast train students in visual literacy, a skill that grows more critical day by day as they’re bombarded continually by images.


So what’s stopping you from starting up a journalism program, or jump-starting one that’s lagging?

Perhaps your stomach and/or laws that protect student expression. Currently only eight states have laws that protect student journalists, enhancing their First Amendment rights. Even with those protections, student journalists and their advisers too often have to battle school and district officials for those rights. That’s good practice too though. Even professional journalists continue to vye for rights and access.

The California Student Free Expression Law offers students a pretty large field to learn on. Unless a story contains obscenities or libelous statements, or incites “the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school” (CA Ed Code 48907), students can write it, print it, and distribute it. Remember, they’re learning, and even the New York Times makes mistakes.

Only eight states. Two others include student speech rights in their education codes. I know someone who couldn’t even count up these states on both his hands (sorry, inside joke. Shake my hand when you meet me and you’ll get it). Until the forty other states offer these important protections, which also protect schools and their administrators, this country will continue to suffer from a lack of student journalism programs, programs which give students the opportunity to write for and interact with an authentic audience and prepare them to participate effectively in a democratic society, a society which depends on a free and functioning press.

So while states continue their transition to the Common Core standards, here’s hoping they don’t just talk the talk. Stop the swindle, walk the walk.