This Brazen Teacher

"Think wrongly if you please, but in all cases think for yourself." – Doris Lessing

A Chance to “Grade” My Students

I began piloting curriculum a month ago exploring ways young people curate with social media. A good friend and talented teacher allowed me access to one of her ninth grade art classes, and off we went!

The seven students involved in this project created online image collections that curated ONE WORD.

“To curate” (v.) the process of sifting through massive amounts of stuff in order to create something meaningful for presentation. 

Everyone curates to a more or lesser extent. You curate when you skip over the angry cat meme in your Facebook newsfeed in order to click on an ESPN link from last night’s game. Curation is selecting your attention. There’s a lot of reasons I think this is an important thing to learn about… but that’s a post for another time.

Here’s where YOU come in to our project.

Image choices send powerful messages about the curator who compiled the collection. In the real world curated collections of online images aren’t given a letter grade. Rather, they’re given feedback in the form of shares and comments (positive or negative.)

When these ninth graders saw some of my friend’s Instagram collections, this is what they said:

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 4.45.12 PM

Male, Mid twenties, living in a major city, large urban area. Someone who likes graffiti art and photography. Personality: He seems cool. He seems like he’s good with people and would be exciting to make art with.

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Female, early to mid twenties from Austin. Someone who likes dogs and cycling. Personality: She seems like she has a sense of humor, but also relaxed and cool to just chill with.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 4.54.02 PM

Male, late twenties- early thirties who lives on the coast. Someone who loves the outdoors, sports and photography. Personality: He seems fun and playful, someone to have a good time and play games with.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 5.00.03 PM

Female in her thirties or forties from a northern city who loves crafts and doing things with her family. Personality: She seems warm and caring, very mothering.

Granted these are huge generalizations, but were also the impetus for some pretty great convo on how we ALL collect and present images to express ourselves.


Below are links to their collections.

Check them out (there’s only seven).


On each blog is a link that says ASK ME.

Click on it.

Make guesses about their hobbies. Their personality. Their background. Then click SEND.

Your comments will go directly into the hands of these art students looking for feedback on the ways their image collections express themselves to strangers.

Why should you do it?

Because you have a lovely heart.

Because you’re my friend.

Because you’ll be helping young people learn about themselves and art.

Because of karma.

OR… if you’re the incentive kind… each time you post on one of their blogs I’ll enter your name into a drawing for an art print of your choosing (by moi.) The drawing will be one week from today: Wednesday February 13th. 


(and thank you) 🙂


LAUGH by Somira



DOODLE by Chassidy

TWISTED by Michaela

LIGHT by Porsche


The Universe Says ‘Hi’


“We’re friends kind of…”

Last night I stayed up until 1 in the morning writing an essay asking the Texas Wireless Association to give me money for an art program I’ve dreamt about for [probably] seven years. A one page essay that literally took me over 30 hours to write.

Not because it was hard,

but because it mattered so much.

Not because I really need this money,

but because putting a dream on paper is like putting yourself there too.

Yeah, that’s scary terrifying.

Not because the writing sucked, (well okay the first draft sucked. Thank goodness for a lawyer roommate that is an editing machine)…

But because by last night I think my writing was on fire.

[insert exclamation points]

Was reminded the ancient greeks believed ideas don’t come from people… ideas come through people from an unknown and invisible source. If and when we get out tha’ way the idea will come through so clearly we might wonder where the [resist expletive] it came from.

And sometimes….


Something comes through so clearly we can feel it as it’s happening. And that feeling, while it is happening… is so MUCH… I barely sustained 10 minutes of writing between snack breaks and pacing around the living room. Thank goodness for a patient universe that waited while I grew a pair. I’ve been chased by this most of my life, but honestly I think I first faced it in my bed last night with my hand in a bag of tortilla chips, and a MacBook on my lap.

Does else know what I’m talking about? My comment bar (and me!) would love to hear about it. I’m off to the post office!


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

~ Marianne Williamson

Teaching and Writing Again (A Little)

Last week I guest taught for a friend’s 9th grade art class. We talked about curating using social media, and began with a simple exercise in curating images inspired by one word. A young girl approached with a collection of images about courage. She looked me in the eye and (I sh*# you not) said:

I think courage is just fear… [pause for effect], but like taking the fear and using it. [pause to ponder] You know, using fear the way you want… rather than like, I don’t know, it using you?

When I left teaching in 2010, so left the bug to write on this blog. I suppose there was  a little a lot of blame involved– chalking it up to laziness, fear that I wasn’t legit, bla bla bla…

Of course I’ve dabbled with teaching while waiting tables and wrapping up a thesis at the University of Texas. I lead gallery tours for school aged kids at the Blanton Museum of Art, and lead an after school art club… But something about teaching in a formal school setting (and an arbitrary comment by a crazy wise 15 year old) caused Brazen to explode back onto the scene. I only wish I had considered how awkward it would be to talk about an alter ego in the third person when I stopped writing anonymously.

The co-creative energy working with young people is addictive for me. Creating an experience for collaborative growth, and then reflecting on it (sometimes brazenly, sometimes less so) here on this blog is a brand of fulfillment I wish everyone could experience.

Last night I made a quick doodle inspired by the her comment.

I’ll be needing to keep this nearby as I wrap up my last semester in grad school, face the reasons I left public education, find my true north, and get creative with my fear.



To see more doodles like this, you should CLICK here


The artist looks at her blank canvas and thinks:

“I will draw a tree.”

So she does. It is quaint yet perfect in the expansive white space.

The tree comes into existence without knowing how or why it got there, yet feels qualitatively alone.

“What am I doing here? What does this all mean?”

The artist ponders her drawing.

“That tree looks so alone…”

She pulls out her sketchbook and sketches ideas. Holding the sketches up next to her canvas she thinks:

“This bird will go right…


She puts pencil to canvas but hesitates. Something doesn’t feel right.

“No… here.” she decides.

She draws a tiny bird atop one of the branches.

The tree looks over and sees the bird.

“It is almost as if someone put this bird here just for me- to tell me I am not alone.  I wonder what such a precious creature will do now that it is here?”

The artist looks down at her tree and bird.

Unsure why… save that it feels right, she sketches an expanse of clouds.

The tree looks up at the clouds rolling overhead and again wonders:

“THAT is where a bird will go! Why it is almost as if the clouds and I are talking to each other as well– telling me about the flight of the bird.”

“Of course that is silly nonsense,” thinks the tree. “Clouds don’t talk.”

The artist looks down on the canvas, marveling at the mysterious way the tree, bird and clouds seem to serve each other in the space– an unspoken unity of line, shape and form that feels right somehow.

“It is almost as if you were telling me what to do next” she says to the tree. “Of course that is silly. Art doesn’t talk.”

A dull pain throbs behind her forehead and the artist squeezes her eyes shut. She has had a headache for days. Wondering if perhaps a healthy meal will help, she exchanges pencils for car keys. On her way to the market she stops at a red light.

A telephone wire spans the street above– the sun glowing through a wash of thin white clouds. Two small bird silhouettes flutter down and alight on the wire– their tiny wings beat rapidly for balance, and one looks at the other before settling into stillness. For a moment, the artist feels her headache dissolve as she absorbs the simple yet striking beauty above. A thought bubbles up in her mind:

“It is almost as if some higher power is speaking to me. The headache, car ride, diffused sun rays, red light, birds…  were all put here just for me to experience in just this way.”

The light turns green and her attention snaps back to the road. As she drives away she thinks:

“How silly. The world doesn’t talk that way.”

Red and Blue Make Purple

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. That is not philosophy… That is physics.”

– Albert Einstein


My first memory of a presidential election was in 1988. I was in the Third Grade. That particular November 2nd, while standing in the lunch line, my best friend Genevieve asked:

“Who ya votin’ for?”

“Michael Dukakis” my mini-self said proudly.

Teachers had been prepping us for weeks, and that afternoon would be a mock election. My parents shared over dinner a few months prior about different candidates. In eight years of wisdom, I assumed all parents told their children the same things.

She grimaced.

I looked at my feet slightly confused.

“I’m voting for George Bush” she said briskly.

My parents say he’s best for the job.”


“Why do they think he’s best for the job?” I wondered aloud. I briefly imagined her parents having secret access to special files like in the game of CLUE.

“Welp, one reason is for when we buy candy. George Bush will make sure it’s less expensive.”

“Oh, wow,” I replied. This was not something my parents had mentioned.

I’ll never know the context of what her parents told her. A candy metaphor was probably an effective way of explaining to an 8 year old the desirability of lower taxes.

“Why do your parents like Dukakis?” she asked.

I remember feeling something odd in that moment… something I had never sensed between us before. Even though there were no words to describe it at the time… on an intuitive level it was clear she wasn’t one bit curious about what I was going to say.

I shuffled nervously as I prepared to enter this lose-lose conversation. What I had gleaned from my own parents was no more sophisticated than she from hers:

“Dukakis really cares about poor people.” I said back to her. “If he wins, he will take care of them.”

I’ll never forget her response as she picked up a lunch tray…

“Haha! Yeah, well I’m a kid and I care about candy.”

As we entered the cafeteria with PB&J sandwiches I gazed up at the wall. There was a map students had been coloring based on electoral college votes.

Red and Blue.

For some reason I felt tired.


One day after a meeting, a co-worker named John pulled me aside:

“You know what would be cool?”

“Tell me!”

“Compose a list of false assumptions Republicans make about Democrats. I’ll do the same vice versa.”

I smiled.

Once I had taken an online political quiz for fun. The result had been:

“Any farther left and you’d be Stalin.”


John was a day-trader and server in his forties. He grew up in Louisiana. Sometimes I would ask him to just say New Orleans… “New Aww-hlins” was music to an Ohioan’s ears. If we’re going to make generalizations now, you can probably guess where an Ohio art teacher and Louisiana day trader fell in the political spectrum.

And still… I LOVED talking politics with John.

We would chat over napkin folding at work… education… foreign policy… healthcare… and through it all, I got a true sense he was interested in understanding. Rather than merely pick apart my views for weak spots, John had this flawless knack for connecting his ideas with mine to create common ground. I always left conversations feeling encouraged, hopeful, proud, and a bit smarter.

“I love that idea!” I tell him. Even the people I agree with are freaking me out. Everyone is getting seriously black and white about the issues.”

“Or too Red and Blue.” 

We both laugh.

“We need Purple.” he says looking pensive.

For a moment I’m confused.

“Red and Blue make Purple,” he replies.

I clock out for break and take a trip down memory lane– back to an undergraduate Painting class.

According to Western versions of history, the color purple was first found on the coast of Lebanon. Extracted from mollusks– so expensive was the process, only the wealthy could afford it. Over time it was adopted as a color for Roman government, and later European monarchies. By the 21st century elementary school children could find it the Big Box of Crayola’s:

“Royal Purple”

For some reason, I felt comforted.


“Can we PLEASE do that again” he asked.

I flipped on classroom lights.

Twenty, 7 year olds slowly packed up supplies– moving in what seemed like a slight daze. We had finished 45 minutes in silence making mandalas– circular artworks used in Eastern and Western traditions of meditation and self reflection.

“What did you think?” I smiled.

His eyes glowed. “I feel AWESOME.”

As the class lined up, one girl held back.

“Miss Borrelli?” She paused and waited until all of the students were on the other side of the room.

“What’s up?” I say while shuffling art.

Well… I just wanted to tell you… um… you said energy is something you can feel but not see… like when someone is trying to hide their sadness with a smile, but you can feel they are pretending.”

I look up and nod.

“Well… that’s not true…

I mean…


I can see it.”

My nodding stops but my smile remains.

“I mean, I see energy. I think I get it from my mom, she can do it too. It’s called seeing auras.”

“I’ve heard of that” I tell her.

She locked eyes with me and gave me a huge grin.

Before I found any more words her teacher arrived and she skipped off.


BOOM! said a post on my newsfeed. Obama is kickin’ a** this round.

I had the fortune of accidentally logging on to Facebook during the last presidential debate.

Please God, get ‘Bama out of office, said another.

Transported back in time. Staring at Punky Brewster sneakers… shuffling nervously across the green tile of an school kitchen.

Maybe I couldn’t see energy… but I could sure feel it.

I thought of conversations with John.

I wished more people could debate like him.

“We need more purple.”

I traveled in time to the Second Grade mandala lesson.

That night in my classroom I had Google searched “auras.”

“I wish I had thought to ask her what color mine was.” I had chuckled to myself.

As I read, I thought of Genevieve. I thought of the red and blue map. I thought of purple.

In Eastern traditions, purple is the highest energy…

the color of enlightenment…

re-connecting to the source…

to everything…

And to each other.

John was right, I thought as I logged off Facebook.

We need more purple.

It’s not philosophy.

Just physics.

As Powerful as the Hand


I stumbled across this today and thought:

“THAT is hanging in my next teaching space.”

A reminder of our energy’s creative punch.

I won’t put the reminder on the wall for my students. That will just be a happy extra.

First and foremost it will be a personal reminder.

To paraphrase Jim Henson:

Kids don’t remember what you teach them. They remember what you are.

What if my thoughts about a child can be felt like my hand?

[some will find this dramatic]

I suspect it sounds dramatic because we grew up in a culture which struggles to understand what is intangible to the five senses.

I am not exempt from this struggle.

Yet I ponder more and more:

It would be violent and destructive to hit a student who upset me. Could you imagine a teacher doing such a thing? They would be fired on the spot. We can see with our eyes the pain it would cause… hear with our ears the damage it would do. Such a teacher would be regarded as the antithesis of a loving cultivator of learning.

Yet what if the teacher’s thoughts were as powerful as the hand?

There have been moments when a child upsets me and at best, my energy is that of a cheesy car salesman:

I smile with a calm voice… the portrait of a perfect teacher… while inside I am disgusted with them. Inside I am judging… Giving up on them. My anxiety is bubbling over and I want this child out of my sight.

Can the child feel this as plainly as if I had laid a hand them?

Maybe not consciously.

Can the child see the damage my thoughts are doing?

Maybe not with their eyes.

It has been interesting for me coming to Austin. In this town large communities of people regard energy as this creative.

Thoughts as powerful as the hands.

I must remember that just because my thoughts are silent to a child’s ears…

blind to their eyes…

unfelt by their skin…

… does not mean they are silent, blind or unfelt to the child’s heart.



Making (Again)

When I lived in Miami during 2003-4 I met an artist who taught me a lot about the business of art making. He allowed me to work space in his studio for cheap if I ground his paints periodically.  To this day, he is the hardest working artist I’ve ever met. His pastels and paintings capture the material and intangible essence of Miami landscape.

When I returned to Ohio at the end of ’04, I utilized what I had learned to build a warm market. I was getting so many commission requests I began a waiting list in 2005. I should have been excited, but I struggled with combining love for art making within the framework of a job. In 2006 I stopped doing art upon request. In 2009 I stopped making art all together. It’s blasphemy for an art major and teacher but easy to let happen.

A few weeks ago I resurrected my high school doodle style and began drawing again. I plugged the drawings into mandala shapes and coupled them up with quotes for fun. Imagine my surprise to receive purchase requests for these things. At the risk of sounding foolish I won’t perseverate too much why the heck anyone would want swirly doodle drawings derived from a 16 year old’s notebook margins. If you like swirly doodles send me an email and I’ll mail you a print for $20 plus shipping. Eventually I might figure out the paypal thing.

For now I’m posting them to tumblr. Below is the most recent. As I pored over my quote file I discovered this from one of my favorite artsy scientists Michael Doyle.

We Will Have Reformed Something

Saul Steinberg… 1948

When children gaze at thoughts in their minds as directly as they gaze at movies on a screen…

And hear those thoughts as readily and easily as they hear a friend laugh, or a baby cry…

When they dissect personal fears as well as an amphibian’s insides, the form of a paragraph, or the components of an equation…

When they mold and shape personal attitude with the same fine motor skill as clay pinch pots…

When they identify dreams for their life with as much accuracy as themes from a scholarly article…

When their minds sound as quiet as a classroom during state mandated testing…

When a scraped knee, death of a pet, teasing from a peer, lyric from a song, or a ray of sunshine is as educative, powerful and relevant as a grade, gold star, or award…

When they entertain contrasting perspectives on life with the ease they entertain contrasting verb tenses…

When they navigate internal worlds at the same level as the external…

When creating their thoughts is as imperative as creating a product…

When children look back in absolute horror, unable to imagine spending six hours a day without conscious, concerted, consistent daily experiences in connecting, listening, studying, working and creating in collaboration with their inner selves….


We will have reformed something.


What do you want at school, kiddo? “Who are YOU?” asks the kiddo. I am your voice. “I’m talking to myself?” Yes. All people can talk to themselves. “How come more people don’t talk about it? I mean, that’s pretty neat. I like the idea of having a voice. Well I want a pizza party.” […]

Jeb Bush on Feelings

I had my thesis proposal two weeks ago.

While talking to my committee I started to cry.


It was (pretty) embarrassing.

There was no reason to cry. They approved my research. I was well on my way. All was dandy.

I guess I’ve never cared about something so much.

Not sure what to do with that feeling.

My thesis chair looked at me and said:

“We never mind tears. Usually the best theses come from the criers.”


Jeb Bush gave the keynote speech at the Education Innovation Summit this year.

Throughout the speech, I had been holding space pretty well.

Then he said:

“How [students] feel is going to be irrelevant, but being able to draw conclusions and argue points with objective reasoning will be the key.”


(Did he just say what I think he said?)


“How [students] feel is going to be irrelevant, but being able to draw conclusions and argue points with objective reasoning will be the key.”


I couldn’t believe it.

Not because I have an opinion that is different than his.

Not because I have an ego the size of an elephant to defend.

(Maybe just a horse?)

I couldn’t believe it because (in his terms), the statement is objectively, rationally (and in my words) empirically wrong.

Feelings and objective reasoning are like yarn and a loom. One cannot function properly without the other. They work together…

Feeling informed reason is why crying graduate students usually write great thesis papers. It’s why Steve Job’s intense opinions and feelings about his products made him notoriously hard to work with, yet changed the landscape of the world forever. It was why Martin Luther King’s feeling infested, impassioned reasoning changed the civil rights landscape in this country forever. It was why geneticist Barbara McClintock’s research began with visions she had in nighttime dreams, and intuitive impressions while experimenting. It is why she was laughed at and ignored… until her research earned her the nobel prize. It is why her biography was entitled: A Feeling for the Organism.

We can’t build a house with one tool… same goes for education… for life.

Feeling without reason can lead to rash acts of violence.

“I was caught up in rage. I wasn’t thinking.”

Reason without feeling can lead to calculated acts of violence.

Most Wall Street bankers won’t understand why people are mad.

So when I find out that Arizona State University invites a man who believes in divorcing feeling from reason…

The whole focus should be on student learning… The system should be rewarding not how we feel again, but what our results are…  Can you imagine questions [about feelings] being on a job interview? It’s about facts not feelings…

All pulled directly from his speech…

to the Education Innovation Summit…

I cringe.

This is not innovative.

It is dangerous.