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Category Archives: Education

Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-“
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Make the Earth Your Companion

Nature teaches and is always present for us to learn. When we pause and are present with the universe, we can learn. J. Patrick Lewis wrote this poem as a reminder of lessons available when we take time and make the Earth our companion.

We do not live separate from the Earth and its inhabitants, sentient and non-sentient. We live in relationship with the Earth. This suggests the companionship is direct and active, dynamic and energetic. Companionship is about breaking bread with another. When we journey as companions, we are in communion calls on us to be stewards and serving the Earth and the relationships we live in. Communion is  fellowship and mutual participation, an exchange of energy which is life-giving and affirming.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Let the Sky paint her beauty- she is always

           watching over you.

Learn from the Sea how to face harsh forces.

Let the River remind you that everything will pass.

Let the Lake instruct you in stillness.

Let the Mountain teach you grandeur.

Make the Woodland your house of peace.

Make the Rainforest your house of hope.

Meet the Wetland on twilight ground.

Save some small piece of Grassland for a red kite

on a windy day.

Watch the Icecaps glisten with crystal majesty.

Hear the Desert whisper hush to eternity.

Let the Town weave a small basket of togetherness,.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

An Observation

We live in paradox in the world. Parker Palmer uses May Sarton‘s poetry in his writing to bring this point to life. It is hard to be sensitive and being gentle requires a certain toughness.

Since I arrived home, I have read more than I have written. In part, I am exploring the aesthetic qualities that life shares with us. There are qualities that allow us to live in the world in ways that we do not bruise or wound the hidden fruit. Yet, we are left with scars in that work  forever making us stronger when we are not wearing gloves. The paradox of life is gives us strength and sureness and, at the same, we are tender and vulnerable.

Teaching, and for that matter any pedagogic work, requires that sensitivity. It is always rough as there is no how-to-manual. We learn this work through the tact and sensitivity of the work itself, reflecting more on what goes well as opposed to what goes well in pedagogic forming. We come to be observant, patient, and see the particular of each situation revealed in the universal.

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

Walking

I finished my course work last night and head home Monday where I will continue the dissertation process. What is ahead is as uncertain as what I faced when I arrived at Gonzaga in June 2008. At the time, I envisioned me in a classroom, teaching and finishing this work during summer months.

I cannot predict what lies ahead and even the most immediate step tests new ground. When I look back, there is no going back. I see memories, frail and wispy, more distant in each ensuing moment.

Antonio Machado reminds me the journey is not planned with absolutism. It emerges anew in each step which is never re-traceable. I used the line “walking you make the road” in my last course paper describing teaching not as planned, mandated work, but as in-between spaces, ecotones, Teachers and student live those plans out in their real lives.

I look forward to going home, but know this place and these people, after 10 months living here, leave  imprints. They offer spaces ‘regular’ life does not always. There is no going back on what I learned, knowing it shapes my path.

Walker, your footsteps

are the road, and nothing more.

Walker, there is no road,

the road is made by walking.

Walking you make the road,

and turning to look behind

you see the path you never

again will step upon.

Walker, there is no road,

only foam trails on the sea.

 

Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge

I did not realize Ursula LeGuin wrote poetry I knew she wrote prose and the poetry was a pleasant surprise.

Besides the last line about always coming home, two other lines stood out. The first was letting my fingertips be my maps. This suggested being in touch with the world I live in; feeling it in a visceral way. When I close my eyes, the world reaches into me through my body. In there, the world lives in my soul which is house which is not a house. That feels Zen-like.

Ted Aoki wrote about bridges which were not bridges. Teachers invite students into learning. In those spaces, anything happens and teachers intuit their way around.

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well-loved one,
walk mindfully, well-loved one,
walk fearlessly, well-loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

The Low Road

I had to read this whole poem as the first stanza is scary, but Marge Piercy provides a message about the way we our Self.  We are never alone in this work even when we are separate in time and space. Humans connect in ways that make the person stronger.

When we care and act, the world becomes a different place. It is one act, one word, one smile at a time. It is a moment of mindful gratitude at a time. It happens when we are attentive, mindful, and present in the world and not as detached observers.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Coyote

As I read this weekend, I found Peter Blue Cloud poem. Blue Cloud subtly describes an interconnectedness quite, often overlooked in daily life, that exists in the universe. When we step away from life’s busyness and impersonality and move slowly, gracefully and intimately we explore and connect in the world instead of being outside it.

Indigenous cultures, through tricksters, understand the world as a space humans live in. Coyote is a trickster in many North American aboriginal stories. Through coyote, Peter Blue Cloud reminded me I live in the world and not outside it or beside it. I made whole in this relationship.

Ecologically and ideally, classrooms, students, and teachers are nodes on vast interconnected webs across time and space. Seen this way, education is a reverent, holy space binding us together as it holds stories across cultures and generations. We hear the voices of all, particularly those who live on the margins.

by starlight hush of wind the owl’s voice,

the campfire embers glowing inner universe

by firelight smoke curls weaving faint the voices,

coyote voices faint the pain and smell the pitch,

fire, I sing you stars,

fire, I breath obsidian

& again the owl’s shadow voice leans back

into times past

slinging firs fire,

brittle spine bent bowed toward the fire,

voices low to murmur a child whimper,

deer fat sucked upon to gentle dreaming,

the mother her song the night cradles,

child, the owl, too, has young,

tiny hears and warmth of down,

& old man coughing guttural spit to fire,

young people giggle beneath hide fondlings,

soon to sleep,

again coyote voices drown the mind in a loneliness

of deep respect in love of those who camp

just up the hill,

& tiny crystals of tears spatter the dust,

my people,

legs cannot every carry me back to you,

soul that holds you

forever.

Learning is the Thing for You

I told students, when I learned something new, I was going home to tell my wife. I unsure they believed me, but, often, I would go home and tell Kathy what I had learned or a particular frustration from the day. Often, the latter led to learning.

T. H. White, in this excerpt from The Once and Future King, suggests learning is a universal solvent for what ails us at any given moment. It distracts us from worrisome, sad, and fearful things focuses on something right here in the present moment. It occupies our minds, fills our bodies, and feeds the soul of our being.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn… “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss you only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world ways and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured, never fear or distrust, and never dream regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

Landscape Survey

I chose a metaphor about 21st Century learning being similar to a living topography in my writing to date, which is different from the flat world view of some i.e. Thomas Friedman.

There is definitely more information available in our world and it comes at us much faster, but my view is one that of textured and layered world and not flat. This uses the etymological roots of topic linked to topikas and topos. In this sense, we engage topics which are alive and there multiple meanings continually emerge, one for each person in the learning environment.

I am challenged by the thought my understanding is not the only one that applies. I only need to turn to nature and see what John Brehm pointed out in this poem. I constantly survey landscapes as communally a better world hopefully emerges, not through a unified understanding, but one diversely rich and humane. I am called to remember others see things from a particular and unique perspective that is their own, not mine.

And what about this boulder,

knocked off the mountain top and

tumbled down a thousand years ago

 to lodge against the stream bank,

does it waste itself with worry

about how things are going

to turn out? Does the current

slicing around it stop itself mid-

stream because it can’t get past

all it’s left behind back at

the source or up in the clouds

where its waters first fell

 to earth? And these trees,

would they double over and

clutch themselves or lash out

 furiously if they were to discover

what the other trees really

thought of them? Would the wind

 reascend into the sky forever,

like an in-drawn breath,

if it knew it was fated simply

to sweep the earth of windlessness,

to touch everything and keep

The Bridge

As I write or is the verb dissertate, two early themes emerge: bridges and the ecological nature of classroom. In learning, there is an ongoing bridging from place to place, from time to time, from subject to subject, and from you me and back again.

A bridge we forget is one that takes inside our self. Learning is constant transforming. We are always changing yet we are rarely aware of change. It is like a fish in water, it just happens.

It is important to be mindful and present in learning. What are the changes? What does this bridge between you and me change in each of us? We never become one and it is in the in-between spaces on those bridges that we find the newness of our self when we linger.

Octavio Paz’s poem reminds me of bridges that fill learning spaces, an ecology of learning. There is a rainbow in, over, and between learning as I learn who I am, the world I live in, and the beings I share that world with.

Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.

Entering it
you enter yourself:
the world connects
and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,
there is always
a body stretched:
a rainbow.
I’ll sleep beneath its arches.

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