In late June, I drove from the Burlington airport down Route 116, eventually turning east on Route 125 to drive up into the Green Mountains to Bread Loaf, a campus of Middlebury College that looks up toward Bread Loaf Mountain. For many of the last twenty-five summers, I have made this trek, yet every time I make the drive it is entirely new. This year, the sky was shatteringly, immensely blue, and the dark green trees set against it took my breath away. The sun scattered sparkles on the river that runs down the mountain and around every turn lay familiar sites: the tiny Ripton Country Store (once featured in the New York Times); the overflowing flower boxes adorning the bridge over the river; the Robert Frost park (and just a bit off the road, Robert Frost’s old cabin, inhabited this summer by Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Paul Muldoon); and then the Bread Loaf campus, a group of 19th century buildings painted a distinct yellow or occasional white that dot the landscape, looking like visitors who turned up here long ago and simply decided to stay. I arrived on a Friday with nine others, and we settled down to get caught up with each other’s lives and to talk over plans for the summer.
By the following Tuesday, 240 students (most of them secondary teachers), thirty-one faculty members and directors, and six staff members surged through the buildings and across the landscape, looking for the first sighting of moose (or bear!) and breathing in the cool, clean air. Tuesday night’s opening session was a celebration from start to finish, as various faculty members spoke of this special community and the goals it has for transformation of education. Michael Armstrong, as usual, stole the show, inspiring us with his reading of a story written by a six-year-old. (If you have not read his Closely Observed Children or Children Writing Stories, check them out immediately). This summer, Michael’s classes (Describing the Imagination and Borges, Calvino, and Beckett) are among the most sought after. But there are so many fabulous courses to choose from: Doug Jones’s Black/Performance/Theory; Isobel Armstrong’s Vision and Optical Culture in Romantic Poetry; Robert Stepto’s Autobiography in America; Angela Brazil’s Using Theater in the English Classroom—and a lot more.
This summer I am team-teaching Writing, Technologies, and Digital Cultures with Adam Banks (from the University of Kentucky); we’ve met our fifteen students twice now and already I am impressed with their experience and insights. They are almost all teachers and hail from all parts of the country, from private boarding schools, from rural and urban schools public schools, from severely challenged schools, from elite schools. What we all share is our dedication to engaging our students, to teaching them with care, with respect, with love, and to learning with and from one another all summer long.
We kicked off our class by reflecting on our own initiation into digital culture, by describing our students, and by summing up the gap we see between the kinds of writing students are asked to do in school (still largely print based and formulaic) and the kinds of writing they are doing on their own: writing that is participatory and collaborative, that is multivocal and multimodal, that ranges across genres and media to reach audiences with their messages. Needless to say, I am exhilarated at the prospect of the next six-and-a-half weeks and what I know I am going to learn. Stay tuned to this blog for some of those lessons. In the meantime, I’ll be writing and reading and talking and teaching and learning away.