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Category Archives: Progressive Education

Day of the Imprisoned Writer: a letter to Mahvash Sabet

Day of the Imprisoned Writer: a letter to Mahvash Sabet.

We have many people around the world who are imprisoned for their political and religious beliefs. Usually, I find when we put a face on those that are somehow different they become real and human. It is important to reach out and take the hand of those who suffer persecution at the hands of others regardless of the reasons. It is important to make people real and human.

When I did my undergraduate work, I was able to take one special education course. In the course, a point that was made several times and stuck with me was that we are more alike despite obvious differences than we are different. It is overwhelmingly so.

Do we need science to tell us the obvious? Or, can we see the humanity that lies beneath the differences we want to see?

It is an issue of private shame

It is an issue of private shame.

The link is not to a poem, but rather to a series of quotes about hunger and the personal shame that comes with it. Politicians use hunger and other social justice issues as talking points and not seeing it as a matter of private and public shame in countries such as Canada and the US with their wealth.

On the left, we have politicians who would subscribe to giving people something. On the right, politicians would blame those who go hungry including the children. Giving people a hand up is important and walking with them is a part of the longer journey. Solving issues such as hunger is community work. It takes neighbours helping each other in those moments of need. Regardless of what we have, we share. Wouldn’t that be a powerful learning in our schools.

Tomorrow’s Child

I will change my routine week and post less often. I need to work on my dissertation topic. I want to enroll in the proposal seminar in June. If not, it will be next fall. I need to begin to set the table for the next part of life’s journey.

Today, I commented in an online forum about the state of public education. Another commentator asked, “Is there no hope for real change in the schools of America?” I am not American and cannot answer that specific question from where I sit. Instead, I answered, “I do have hope and, more importantly, I have faith that we can make the necessary changes despite the obstacles. What do we want for our children and grandchildren? This seems like the question we need to ask. Does change offer a sustainable future, not for me, but for future generations in an unimaginable, complex, and chaotic world? This need for real, flexible, and sustainable change reminded me of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I found this beautiful poem by Brazilian poet Rubin Alves. He spoke of hope, but not hope as a soft and gentle aspect of life, but hope matched with suffering and resiliency which gives rise change and the hoped. I particularly enjoyed: “So let us plant dates/even though we who plant them will never eat them./We must live by the love of what we will never see.”

What is hope?
It is the pre-sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
It is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not
determined by the limits of the actual;
and in a miraculous and unexplained way
life is opening up creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection –
but the two – suffering and hope
must live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté
and drunkenness.
So let us plant dates
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
That is the secret discipline.
It is the refusal to let our creative act
be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience
and is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints,
the courage to die for the future they envisage.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.

Why Write Poetry

Yesterday, I read a haiku written by someone who appeared to not enjoy writing haiku. Despite this, the person wrote an interesting, amusing, and thought-provoking poem.

I am not sure this is verbatim but it goes somewhat like this:

Here are five syllables

And here I write seven more!

Are you happy now?

The person who presented this poem indicated that despite having written haiku they were unsure why teachers wanted them written. I think there are good reasons, but I could be wrong.

1. Poetry calls for the best possible word choices. Most poetry is simultaneously spare and spacious. The spareness is in the number of words; the fewer the better. The space allows the reader room for interpretation. What did the poet mean? What senses are invoked through the word choice.

Words chosen

Describe my moment.

No two experiences identical

A jungle of meaning revealed.

Each sense sameness different

Worlds bridged.

2. Students learn about figures of speech and their importance in expressing what we want to say. We can compare unlike things and make sense of a complex world.

3. I tell students who struggle with reading and writing poetry is an alternative way of expressing themselves. I use ee cummings as a model so they overcome their worries about grammar, spelling, and capitalization.

i dig ee cummings

no punctuation

no capitols

won’t worry about spellin either

no sweat

aint no problem

i write poetry

4. I enjoy poetry. I always have. I remember a poem, The Elevator, I memorized in Grade 4. I think it Walter de la Mare wrote it. My friend memorized a poem called Douglas Fir, because his name was Douglas. What my enjoyment means, is I bring enthusiasm to the process.

I believe we need to tell students what they are learning and the reasons they are important. But, then it might just be me.

Tuned In and Fired Up

I mentioned this book in Culture of Peace and Angry Young Poet. It was worth a read. I start with a haiku which emerged from the book.

 

Who stretches the teacher?

Journey into their essence

Reveal the learner.

I read Tuned In and Fired Up by Sam Intrator for two reasons: as a teacher and as a graduate student preparing for the dissertation process. Sam contributes to the work of the Centre for Courage and Renewal which based on Parker Palmer’s writings and thinking.

The book is enjoyable, informative, and motivating. Teachers need to take time and pause, reflect upon, and recall the reasons they were called to teaching. There are alchemical moments of discovery we artfully use and define teacher, students, and subject. It is surreal and its magic can never be underestimated as the three blends into a single whole and respects individual integrity.

Part of the magic in this book is Mr. Quinn, the teacher. He took risks and students tuned in and fired up to his genuine presence. Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach, suggested “teaching is always done at the most dangerous intersection of personal and private life” (p. 18). Mr. Quinn’s teaching was learning and realized he could wrong. The magical aspect takes a teacher onto the boundary and, then, into uncharted waters. Good teachers take that risk and students sense it.

Towards the end Sam cited William Ayers: “Since teaching is always a search for better teaching, I am still in a fundamental sense becoming a teacher. I am stretching, searching, and reaching toward teaching” (p. 134). This is a virtuous cycle of learning-teaching-learning to infinity.

Sam leaves the reader with an incredible list of those things teachers can reflect upon and use according to their setting. Many are well-known: cultivate rapport with students, compete tenaciously for their attention, and spark their desire to create. Others were ones I felt were lesser known: embrace your role as a performer, tap into their senses, and acknowledge boring. That last one is challenging. At the adolescent level, treat them like they are becoming adults.

Questions: A concern expressed by Sam was a need for genuine collaboration. What practices do you use in your workplace or learning that foster collaboration between adults? If you teach, what ways do you include students?

Recommendation: I loved the book and let me leave you with just two ways. It was easy to read without losing meaning. Sam used simplexity and achieved his aims. Second, he left a thorough recipe without the quantities. I need to figure those out with students and subject.

Intrator, S. M. (2003). Tune in and fired up: How teaching can inspire real learning in the classroom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

An Angry Young Poet

Each year, I spend time on poetry with the students. Two years ago, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I was able to say, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class.

I mentioned in Culture of Peace Sam Intrator. He suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in about 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in the global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War, even in Canada, entered our homes via television. I found voice in poetry and expressed an abhorrence to institutional and government approved murder. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind. Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged that in us-find our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. I concede it is not exactly the original, as it was pretty angry. I hope the original message is still there. Students asked for more poems and I complied. These past few months I rediscovered my poet’s voice. It is a gentler voice, I hope.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

 One game

If it is one

No fun to lose

No great thing to win.

War!

Hollow

Men, women, children gone

In no time

Woe! The vanquished losers;

No winner

Each, vanquished in every sense.

Divided

In ruins

Rebuilding

On countless graves

Rudderless.

Without pride

Beggaring citizens

Values of others

Resenting conquerors

What does war bring?

No jobs

No hospitals

No schools

No homes, but the streets

Destruction everywhere.

What does war bring?

Death of innocence

Loss even in victory

Comrades fallen

But see an enemy vanquished.

Killing

Proving nothing

What fools

Going on forever

Will we learn?

We must

I pray

For human survival.

Take care and have a great 20th of July, 2012.

Culture of Peace

Each child has a voice

In a secure space

Voices are revealed.

I am reading Tuned in and fired up: How teaching can inspire real learning in the classroom by Sam Intrator. It is the published version of his doctoral dissertation so I read it out of a twofold interest: as a teacher and as someone getting ready for the dissertation process. Sam asks teachers to consider the following question: “What engages children in learning?” That was the focus of his study and he found an innovative teacher, Mr. Quinn, who lived up to the challenge.

Mr. Quinn was studying Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, but found the students were not enjoying the early part of the book. He took them outside to the ball diamond, had them select a small patch of ground, and spread out from their classmates. Mr. Quinn asked students to observe, collect data, and write about a 1 foot by 1 foot (30 cm by 30 cm) patch of grass. They were to try see the world as a poet-scientist and find their way to describe their small ecosystem. Despite initial grumbling, the students became engaged and wrote poetry, reflective journals, and connected that patch to their lives in many ways. For many, it was the highlight of their learning that year.

In Grade 8 Social Studies, I found an activity in the Teacher Resource Manual called A Culture of Peace. This activity engages students and brings out even the voice of those who generally choose not speak up. This is one of those activities with no right or wrong answer.

First we discuss a Culture of War, which by the standards of the day should be easy to do, but an interesting thing happens. About 10-15 minutes into this discussion, students run out of descriptors for a culture of war or they repeat what has already been said. I record comments on the whiteboard and say, “It is time for a change of pace. What are some descriptors for a Culture of Peace?” I fill up a whiteboard with student responses. They are so engaged they know when they are duplicating previous responses. They are listening intently to each other. The shy, reluctant students engage in the conversation, because they feel no risk of being wrong.

The first time we did this we had to stop after an hour because we were borrowing another classroom and the teacher needed it back. When we walked out of the classroom to return to our classroom, one of the boys turned to a friend and said, “I could do this all day.” As a teacher, I felt like I was on Cloud 9. I look forward to this activity each year. The students and I become engaged in our learning.

Question: What was one learning experience that engaged you fully and made learning worthwhile and so memorable to be vividly recalled years later?

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