Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Historical Perspective from the State Department

Some concise pieces on the Milestones of U.S. Foreign Relations from the Office of the Historian at the U.S. State Department.

More about them from their web site:

"The Office of the Historian is staffed by professional historians who are experts in the history of U.S. foreign policy and the Department of State and possess unparalleled research experience in classified and unclassified government records. The Office’s historians work closely with other federal government history offices, the academic historical community, and specialists across the globe.
The Office of the Historian is responsible, under law, for the preparation and publication of the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy in the Foreign Relations of the United States series.
In addition, the Office prepares policy-supportive historical studies for Department principals and other agencies. These studies provide essential background information, evaluate how and why policies evolved, identify precedents, and derive lessons learned. Department officers rely on institutional memory, collective wisdom, and personal experience to make decisions; rigorous historical analysis can sharpen, focus, and inform their choices. The Office of the Historian conducts an array of initiatives, ranging from briefing memos to multi-year research projects.
The Office of the Historian also promotes the declassification of documents to ensure a complete and accurate understanding of the past."

*Wanted to add some italics of my own, but I figure you had your red pencil out too.

Encore performance

Still one of the best and most chilling data-driven animations I have seen:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


A good article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a professor at Tufts University who is applying her understanding of 'metric geometry' to the issue of gerrymandering; specifically using it to help develop a more objective definition of "compactness" that might clarify that meaning in the courts.

She has taken the initiative to create  5-day summer course that focuses hoe mathematicians can better prepare to be expert witnesses. "The first three days of the program will be open to the public and available online, with lessons that put redistricting in legal, historical, civil-rights, and mathematical contexts. Attendees of the program’s final two days will participate in one of three specialized tracks on giving expert testimony, teaching, and working with geographic-information systems."

I think this article is a powerful instrument to share with students to illustrate the "real world" application of school subjects and the value of overlapping disciplines, so am sharing it with our math and Social Studies departments.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I am not the webmaster

Today I designed or modified and posted four graphics for the school site banner:
Also, posted gallery photos for Read Across America and the Father/Daughter Dance, as well as updating the content of two home page articles. Just sayin'.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

In our own back yard

Went to the Binghamton Civic Association Chinese dinner as part of First Friday festivities in Binghamton. To our surprise and delight we were entertained and educated by students and staff from Binghanton University's Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera. The tradition and beauty of this cultural art form is being faithfully performed and shared with the community in all its detail, history, and rigor. The costumes were breath-taking, the performances were intricate and genuine, and the performers were wonderfully approachable and humble. We look forward to the dinner and performances next month when the BCA celebrates community members from India.

Friday, March 3, 2017

One thousand one hundred fifty-four

I have scanned and added the remaining 109 missing Afton Historical Minutes articles to the searchable file at the Internet Archive. It now stands at 1154 articles. Many thanks to the society members who did the hard work of identifying the missing articles from the database and locating copies for us to use.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

ATCI Redux: a letter

    You may or may not remember the student project back in 2013 when Abby E. and Dominic S. worked through the year to propose the Afton Teen Center Initiative (ATCI). It remains, for me, the most complete demonstration of students applying classroom skills that I have ever witnessed at ACS. Their idea was to leverage our school facilities and community involvement to create a place where teens might go to teens-together; safe, engaging, fun.

    Despite their surveys, their award winning video, community donations, and their meeting with community leaders - we (and that includes many) failed to find, follow-through on, or create an umbrella structure for a good idea to survive within.

    In the second half of last year, the library began hosting a half-dozen students who wanted to play “trading card games.” They met on Wednesdays from 2:20 until the elementary bus run. They were consistent in their attendance and courteous about the opportunity.

    This year as our back room has slowly become a place for remote-control cars, quad-copters, and builders, those students have also been turning up on Wednesdays. Yesterday we had thirteen boys here playing trading cards, foosball, RC cars, quad-copters, building with erector sets, straws & paper clips, and hot-gluing their car modifications. And it occurred to me that it is much less a MakerSpace than an ATCI center.

    For many it is the place to just be a teen, to be the one who knows something more than an adult: to be part of something. And it strikes me that we are fulfilling, in a way, the vision of Abby and Dominic. They were right. Kids rise to the opportunity; they are courteous, happy, learning from each other, and engaged. It is that oasis that they envisioned.

    I have spoken to both Abby and Dominic about these Wednesdays and they were radiant.

    Perhaps the only miss of the ATCI idea was assuming it needed to function in the evening to be beneficial. Although that remains a best-case scenario, I want you to know that the spirit of their hard work survives and is making a difference in the lives of the following ACS students.

Follow-through on a prototype

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Date check: March

March by John Lewis, 3 volumes.

Think. Speak.

Designed this handbill for a colleague, based on her text.

Flamingo, again

I posted these two look-alikes (flamingo & teapot) because noticing them was so much like coming up with a suitable rhyme or simile for a poem.

 If you think about it, a rhyme doesn’t necessary “match” the content of of the word it rhymes with; it is connected to that word by another dimension of its usefulness: its color, its music: its sound.

And when one reaches for a simile or metaphor, I think we depend, once again, on the malleability of the word to retain its meaning even as we mold it to a new purpose.

So a teapot, amazingly, can have something to do with raising our experience of a pink flamingo.

Three cheers for words and images.
Three cheers for writers and artists.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Today we officially launched the arrival of the Winter issue of our student Art & Literature publication: The Dark Side of Flashlights.

I designed the 88 page document using InDesign on the library’s iMac.

Earlier in the year I had photographed the student artwork when hosting it at a library exhibition. These images were cropped, edited, and labeled. I followed the same procedure for images that provided the inspiration for the writing portion of the publication; holding all images in a pool folder recognized by InDesign.

Subsequently, I captured the student Word files through our shared folders as provided by the participating teacher. Once placed on the page, these were uniformly formatted using style-sheets.

The only hunt-and-peck processes involved creating the Table of Contents after jockeying page order several times.

After a reasonably scrupulous proof-read, I submitted a proof copy to Upon it’s arrival, we made a few modifications and I then ordered three copies to donate to the library at $12.50 each.

The publication features the work of over three dozen ACS students. Proud.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I wish I had better news.

Reading The True Flag, about the American debacle of "expansionism" that we consecrated with the name Spanish-American War, I lose some of the resolve that I am hoping will sustain me in my own era of yellow journalism, "bully"ing leadership, and heavy-handed international "aspirations."

The trench between 19th and 20th century America reflected a total loss of common ground. Prodded by big business looking for new markets to match an industrial glut of production, exacerbated by a flood of cut-throat newspapers competing (at any cost) in a more literate America, and goaded by a core of savvy manipulators, the US became something else; something other than what many believed we could ever become: empire-builders. In that trench, in that vacuum as the Spanish Empire folded, the US, promising independence to both Cuba and the Philippines, instead annexed Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, and, at a sickeningly human cost, the Philippines.

Stephen Kinser paints a noble picture of the anti-expansionists and a hard-edged portrait of the empire-builders, who ultimately succeeded. It is the story of one group relying on the precepts of the constitution as their only weapon, versus another with the position, power, and insider-manipulation as theirs. Dialogue was sabotaged by a press that was as unreliable as it was abundant. Driving the vision of America as world power was the behind-scenes Henry Cabot Lodge who found his chess piece in Teddy Roosevelt: charismatic, shallow, aggressive.

What it led to; more than strategic territory, new markets, and economic dominance, was a loss of innocence, a betrayal really, of the original promise of the nation; that we were the good guys who played fair in a world of aggressors. Who paid the price were native citizens anticipating their own try at independence who at best became indentured to the US and at worst lost their lives to us; more in the Philippines than were killed by the Spanish in over three centuries of empire.

In all, this book was a lesson in hard-ball history. And I fear it is a cautionary tale for the present; where open-minded thoughts of equality and hope look to have their hands full with a compromised fifth estate, and a vision of constricting walls replacing one of expanding ones.

P.S. I thought, perhaps, my tone in this post was less than neutral, but in reading Paul A Kramer's piece in the today's Chronicle Review, History in a Time of Crisis, he asked what is the role of historians in a time of authoritarian politics? He suggested three roles: "disrupting inevitabilities, digging out lost alternatives, and widening horizons of empathy." I am not exactly a historian, but I will dip-in under his umbrella reasoning for drawing the similarities that I do.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My day

I began by hanging my latest poster; celebrating one of my awesome colleagues.

I shared a site on co-teaching (shared with me by a library colleague)with our Special Ed Director in support of her upcoming professional development presentation. She responded by asking me to print copies for distribution.

Noticed the president of the Afton Historical Society in our lobby and invited her for a conversation about our collaborative effort to bring artifacts from their collection into our school library.

Followed up on a Twitter feed to explore the LOC WWI site.

Received a shining thank you note from a colleague (distributed to the entire staff) for my efforts with her social studies class last week. Very nice.

Hunted up some past yearbooks for our sports-alumni group for team research.

Asked by a special ed teacher to collaborate on a poetry unit after February break. Set to meet tomorrow.

Our proof copy of Winter art/lit magazine arrived! Shared with our two collaborators. Fixed some typos. Ordered three copies for the library.
Asked by two MS teachers if i would consider teaching a elective course.

Shared information I had found and printed for student interested in sword-making.

Received a donation of wooden wheels and axles for our MakerSpace.

Toted cartons from our backroom to the reception desk a few times for the ACS food distribution program.

Processed an ILL to the Ithaca school district.

Thank you note

My colleague sent me this email and copied it to the school staff. Hey, its always nice to be appreciated, yes?

I wanted to thank Mr. DeVona for hosting 7th grade Social Studies classes late last week! He led a lesson on being a skeptical reader using a variety of materials! In a time when all sorts of information is being thrown at students through the media, it is important for them to be able to evaluate that information. Using Woods’ Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Mr. DeVona led a fascinating discussion using a variety of sources including Google Earth and scientific articles to help students to paint the picture of what that night was like so long ago! Students were engaged the entire time and the went on to do higher level thinking BECAUSE of it! Thank you, Mr. DeVona for your knowledge, your thirst for learning and the time and effort you spent pulling information together for us!  Thank you!

Monday, February 13, 2017


We compartmentalize history to fit into teaching blocks, necessarily. Chunks on a timeline. The intricate web of overlapping circumstances, isms, failures, and gamesmanship gets hewn to a monolithic lesson: the New Deal and how Roosevelt and war pulled the U. S. Out of the Great Depression.

Now, outside of classroom constraints it is easier to range about and wrestle within the tentacles that obscure historical snapshots, but which flesh-out the dynamics of a moment and help us grasp the complexity and fluidity of history.

It is a daunting challenge for a writer - and a reader, too. Indeed, it took Amity Shlaes five years to complete her study of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man (2008).

It is not an overview as much as it is an argument for reassessment. Shlaes, a respected writer on economics, argues that the New Deal ultimately "maintained" the depression, and that Roosevelt's exponential exercise of presidential power to leverage government as a pivotal player in economics was as much an obstacle to enterprise and growth as it was a vehicle for rescue and salvation.

Her premise that the degree to which Roosevelt experimented with recipes for recovery, chastised the wealthy as immoral, and politicized groups in need to cultivate constituencies taxed my skepticism, but she also illustrated both the amazing capacity of bureaucracy as well as the pitfalls of their entrenched policies, maneuvering directors, and tendency for self-survival.

The players she chose to introduce and follow through the book were mainly Roosevelt's "brain trust," a stew of intellectuals he kept at a boil from whom he distilled ideas that he put into action, action, action: the scope, complexity, and pace of which still startles.

I came away from this read with not so much an assessment of those times as with more questions about my own expectation of the balance of government in our lives. Surely, the role grew under the New Deal; working to sustain a nation, but also intruding on the individual.

Perhaps the most inspired inclusion by Shlaes was the chapter on Andrew Mellon's legacy. After eight years during which Roosevelt dogged Mellon in the courts as representative of the wealthy capitalists who had caused the the Wall Street collapse, Mellon steps forward in his old age with his long-planned gift to the nation; a National Gallery of Art comprised of his life-long art collection and the construction of the building itself. It is a priceless indulgence only the wealthy could have amassed.  Mellon's unselfishness highlights for Shlaes that private enterprise as much as government is capable of responsible, even inspired, action.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Skeptical viewers

Our poetry exercise from the last post intrigued our MS Social Studies teacher. So she brought her class down today and we responded to Grant Wood's Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. I used the opportunity as an exercise in evaluating an image as a skeptical viewer. We listed observations about the image that established season, landmarks (we brought up Google Earth to look for the cliffs and bodies of water pictured), time of day, and urgency, but we also noticed it's spotlessness and ideal quality which led us to questions about its accuracy, purpose, and authority. We were explicit in relating this type of observation and reasoning to ALL materials that they encounter in print and digitally.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A bit of poetry

Hosted an English class today with an introduction to writing some. We used Dorthea Lange's memorable photograph to generate responses as a way to provide words, imagery, and emotion to work with.

In anticipation of the next lesson, I have placed more images from our Picturing America collection on the floor for students to select, camp out around, and "caption" with a poem.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Iliad

Ever since I wandered into the stacks of the RIT Library stacks back in 1975 and stumbled on a Leanard Baskin illustrated, 500 page, deckle-edged copy of The Iliad, Homer has had me. The story; the helpless pawn-prone humans, their relentless savage vengeance, the shallow adolescent gods, and always-tumbling verse, will not let me go.

Years later, a friend gifted me over-sized galley proofs of another illustrated version; a work of art I itself.

I bought Robert Fagles' translation for myself (marking it all up) and later for this library.

Last year, I surrendered to the wonderfully illustrated version by Gillian Cross for my library; an accessible path for new readers, and a sumptuous dessert for veterans.

And finally, I have recently read Christopher Logue's War Music, a kind of riff on Homer that bears the majesty, magic, and timeless imagery of the the original; even in its incompleteness.

The story resonates with me for many reasons. It is ancient and so I revere it. That translators tackle it when each has such a limited lifetime, urges me to read their investment. It makes me reflect on the human condition, my human condition. I marvel at the intricacies and labyrinths of mythology, and a bow again and again at how beauty yet imbues tragedy, violence, and loss; perhaps Homer's eternal triumph.

My day

Began by charging the batteries in a couple of library cameras.

Posted nine short videos to the school site of the Music Composition class presenting recent work on the Sibelius system. Sent the teacher a link requesting captions and an overview.

Made a small gallery on the school site of Youth Bassketball clinic. Linked it to an intro I wrote onn the homepage.

Created a poster of the Youth Basketball clinic emphasizing role models. gave it to the coach who sent me the photos. Posted one in my library.

Cleared the decks, rolled tape, and hung 25 artworks and labels  for the HORIZON show in the library through February.  Posted handbills at the end of the day.

Logged to requests for auditorium AV setups in future months. Also fielded a call from one of the event planners about tech assistance for the event.

Queued up New Book slide show loop on lobby flat screen.

Walked a student over to the Afton Museum for a schedule research project on the local military holdings. Much cool stuff. Took photos, tried on exhibit clothing, planned for shared exhibit at ACSLIB. Snowing pretty good on the walk home..

Printed out proud photos for the student to share at home.

Took down M1 tank display on library floor.

Processed to two inter-library lones for Greene and Oxford.

Covered an afternoon study hall for an absent colleague.

Asked a wrestler to help me locate recent team photos, them posted one on our home page banner. Showed him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


      I recently finished reading The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel. It recounts the working evolution and impact of the women “computers” at the Harvard Observatory at the turn of the 20th century. The author does justice to both their pioneering efforts as women and to their pioneering efforts as scientists; weaving those two landmark stories together without diminishing either.

    The integrity of their work at Harvard - observing, analyzing, and recording the positions, spectra, and luminosity of stars from ground-breaking photometric glass-plate technology was purely in the service of providing accurate baseline data. That they worked years at this labor-intensive task to appraise and record hundreds of thousands of stars is amazing enough. But these remarkable people were not blind to the relationships of the data they were processing. They emerged as scientists in their own right; establishing and modifying classification systems, identifying relationships between luminosity and variable stars that led to the ability to establish distances, chemical content, and the scope of the known universe, and earning advanced degrees and the respect of the scientific community.

      Led by a visionary director Edward Pickering; open-minded, tolerant, and goal-oriented, and supported by philanthropist Mary Palmer Draper, the Harvard Observatory became famous not only for its world class Henry Draper Catalogue of stars, but for the contributions of the women scientists who emerged from that environment trust, opportunity, and discovery: Henrietta Leavitt, Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, Cecelia Payne, et al.
    It is a remarkable story; well-told and inspiring.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Exhibit preparation

Gearing up for the 4th exhibit of student artwork in the library this year! I begin with photographing the work so that I can post it to our school site, include it in our Art/Lit magazine, and use it in posters, invitations and big-screen slide shows.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Accommodating student interest to spur engagement

We have a growing number of students who have been repairing and modifying RC vehicles in our MakerSpace. Their shared interest makes for easy bridge across their diverse ages and expertise; creating a great overlay of asking and learning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Day

Shared subscription copies of our Dig, Cicada, Aquila, and Muse magazines with our Middle School ELA teacher to see if he could match them up with some hungry students.

Made three new link icons for our library page.

Constructed the Fake News page with resources I have been investigating in the past week.

Read and shared a fine NYT article about the importance of reading for President Obama during his time in office.

Also posted a tear-sheet from the NY Times of Watercolor Portraits Born of Tragedy adjacent to out current exhibit of student artwork in the library.

A passing ELA teacher saw the new Hamilton book on our lobby display screen and stopped in to confirm using two songs from it to introduce "tone" to her students.

The Pool staff came to borrow my mobile flat-screen TV set-up to see how flexible it was in their area. They were down last week to get the specifications of the TV and cart for their program.

Hosted students from Environmental Science and Credit Recovery while their instructor was out of the building.

Shared an 8 x 10 version of a larger recognition poster I recently made honoring a student's accomplishment with that student.

Burned a CD of Afton Historical Minutes and Afton Historical Calendars for the town historian after our session yesterday trouble-shooting questions about the AHS web site.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lowering thresholds to creative writing

I think it is time well-spent saying explicitly, "We need your voice. Sing!"

New arrivals

Tooks some pics of new arrivals and have them cycling through on my library-lobby big screen