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Category Archives: 21st Century Education

Life’s Calling

Originally, I called this life’s mission, but that seemed to neo-liberal and neo-conservative for my liking. I subscribe to life as a calling and vocation based on the writings of Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer. Vocation comes from the Latin meaning voice, so a calling and vocation gives each of us voice in living and has an essential spiritual aspect to it. What calls each of us animates and we respond in ethical and moral ways. I think we have lost much of this in our current world. Although John Dewey did not write from a spiritual context per se, he wrote about self-interest as words meaning the same thing. What interests me? Interest comes from the Latin esse, which also is the root of essence, which is related to spirit. What inspirits me?

I wrote the following poem after a professional development day. I found inconsistencies revealed in those days fascinating. They were uninspiring, exhausting, and counterproductive. They lack personal, responsible choice. Too often, adults are dependent on others to make their decisions, hence the concept of accountability overriding responsibility. It is hard to believe we think these adults can engage in educating children, youth, and adults in any meaninful ways. Our voices are repressed, suppressed, and oppressed.

At the end of that day, I wondered and reflected on the following questions: “Am I seeing this in a proper light? What can I do to further the process of learning as a role model for students and other adults?” Learning and teachng are relational processes between people and subject. Parker Palmer argues we put the subject of our learning in the middle of pedagogic conversations. In this way, we acknowledge each human present has a different perspective of the same subject.

For me, going to an event based on Parker Palmer’s work, a poetry workshop with David Whyte, an assessment workship, etc. were and are exciting. It animates. When I obtained my Master’s of Education and PhD, it was not to earn more money or move up some fictional career ladder. Education was and is essential. In the midst of a pandemic. I am exploring how we can return to the roots of educating for life, as opposed to schooling to produce a compliant and conforming workforce. I think the latter emerges from the former, rather than the other way around

Living fully,

Sharing fully,

(Ex)pressing one’s voice–

Singing one’s song.

Whetting wonder,

Planting seeds of awe,

Lighting fires–

(In)spiring to dance one’s dance.

Watering, feeding, nourishing,

Enriching, emboldening, becoming–

Embracing what brings life and joy–

(In)spiriting.

Civil Conversation Circles

In a world with a shortage of civil discourse, we have reduced talking to talking at people. There is a binary process where we say yes or no, turn on or off, incude or exclude people. This leads to thinking in limited ways about choices we face. In fact, I think we end up dependent on those we perceive to be in charge to make decisions on our behalf. This is happening in education as we try to figure out how to get students back in class. As I listen to politicians, educationalists, teachers, parents, etc., what impresses me is we have limited our choices to re-opening schools completly, often without adequate resources and human capacity. or some form of remote learning, as if these are the only two choices. Other choices e.g. home school seem to be excluded, understood as marginal.

Quite a few years, I introduced daily conversation circles. We used them to clarify from my perspective, Also, students shared what they wanted. At the beginning of the school year, each student introduced themselves. It seems small, but this often goes unattended in groups, regardless of where they exist. In my experience, each student, humans in general, want a voice in their learning and work; a voice often cancelled.

In our conversation circles, we used a ‘talking stick.’ The person with the ‘talking stick’ is the speaker and others listen. The ‘talking stick’ was a gift from a parent who was a member of a First Nation. It had some traditional meaning attached to its design. In an era of digital technologies, the talking stick reinforces a civilty of face-to-face conversation which we increasingly need in our world.

In our small school, parents played an integral role, including and not limited to meaningful teaching in the classroom, teaching complementary courses, teaching at home, etc. I shared about our small school in a post called Soul’s Choice, so won’t add more here. My experience and research suggests, after Kindergarten, parents and teachers are somehow on a different team. But, as one teacher proposed, “We share something; the love of a child.” In bringing children back together, we need to hear from two essential voices, often excluded from the conversation about teaching, parents and teachers.

The following is a poem that rattled around for a few days. It might be a bit rought around the edges, but I thought it needed to see the light of day.

Reducing to binary,

Simplifying choice–

0 or 1,

Silencing others.

Inserting ‘and’ in conversations,

Accepting ambiguity–

Listening with one’s heart,

(In)forming community.

Embracing each child,

Loving without conditions–

Parent and teacher raison d’être,

Centring our calling.

Educating,

Sharing purpose–

Making whole,

Caring and healing together.

The picture is the talking stick, which I still have. The following is a short description of the symbolism of the talking stick. The wood is driftwood which came from a local lake and reflects nature’s contributions to conversation circles. Someone carved a bear head into the top of the stick. In some traditions, the bear symbolizes courage, freedom, and power. The feather is from a hawk. Hawks are visionary and guide the person. The coloured ribbons represent the four directions in the circle. The parent attached a medicine bag. The medicine bag heals, guides and protects, and has materials or objects of value to its carrier.

The Weighing

Jane Hirshfield wrote the following poem, speaking to hope and resilience. At the end of our rope, we find we have more to give than we realized. It is a sense “this to shall pass” and we can only live in the present moment, which is fleeting.

Hard times reveal fissures in our world and society. Look at who has been hardest hit by Covid-19: people of colour, elderly, poor, etc. We can then see the fissures and who is left out. This became clearer with George Floyd’s killing. It is not enough to question who is left out, but how these humans are left out, dehumanized in the process. Injustice calls us to take account of the life we live, the world we live in, and ask how do we make this better, for each human being we encounter. Injustice calls us to weigh how we speak and act towards one another and to transform who we are for the better.

There are no easy answers to large questions, despite what politicians, carnival barkers, and reality TV hosts would have us believe with their divisive language and actions. We can embrace that we have more in common than separates us. As Paulo Freire proposed, there is unity in difference beyond superficial multiculuralism.

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.
As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

When I hike in wildnerness settings, I wonder what is around the next curve, over the horizon, on the other side of the mountain, below the surface, etc. I am unaware of so much. What is essential is I lift into critical consciousness what I can to better understand how I can make the world a better place and act on that as best as I can. I will likely never get to the other side of Kootenai Lake or the mountains on the far side, so I can only imagine what is there, a utopia of sorts. The same applies for the world we live in. The difference is we can incrementally get there, together.

As I am called to be a steward of the world, I am called to be a steward and servant in leading others. Without fully understanding where I am going, I am going there.

After I posted, I was listening to the radio and they played this song. It seemed appropriate.

Albert Einstein

via Albert Einstein

Mrs. Vee offers a quote from Einstein and a headshot. The quote suggests imagination, which is unbounded, is more important than knowledge, which is limited in scope.

Those who educate provide “images for [the] imagination and for forming…memory….to grasp the ‘circumstances’ [we live in] in their infinite variety.” I use the word educate purposely, as each of us learns in settings other than schools. Schools are formal places where a particular agenda is followed.

Over the last few months, I struggled as I transitioned from having taught and wanting to teach. I define myself as a teacher. I taught one term at a small, private, Christian-based university. I applied twice for a tenure track position and have been ignored both times. I think there are multiple things at play and will deal with three. First, others my age are ready to retire. They say things like “I worked to get to this stage.” I understand teaching as a calling, so never worked to get to this stage. Second, it turns out, in the eyes of some, I am the wrong kind of Christian. I am Catholic, yet I am probably, in the eyes of many Catholics, the wrong kind of Catholic. Third, I limited my imagination. I think this is natural. I have not been here before and have few images for imagination. I only knew myself as a teacher, limiting the possibilities of what I could do and who I was still becoming.

The last point is essential. I mentioned this in the last two posts. I have been writing and am invited by others in to collaborate. I can imagine myself as a writer. I don’t know what kind of writer and what other doors it will open up. But, I have been here before.

Kathy reminds me frequently that “when one door closes, another opens.” What I have to recall is I do not know what will happen as I walk through the new door. I can imagine it and, with imagining, new worlds open up and hope exists.

Mount Robson 1 August 2019

This is the front side of Mt. Robson. I have never seen the backside. I can imagine what it might look like based on what I see and what I have read about it. There is a glacier and lake on the mountain. Based on past experience (history), I can imagine sitting on the edge of the lake, like I can imagine sitting and writing the next poem, article, book chapter, a book about teaching in the best little school in the world, etc. I get to imagine my life, so I don’t have to be the right kind of anything for administrators who can only operate in binary terms.

Imperfection

In my last post, I wrote using a line from Mary Oliver: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today, I turn to a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Carlson, Imperfection. What does it mean to be imperfect as I explore what I will do with my one wild and precious life?

In pursusing what it means to live this one and wild precious life, one needs to fall “in love with [their] imperfections.” One of my imperfections might be I continuously and restlessly explore where my life is taking me. In a way, I find an echo of Thomas Merton in this, and I paraphrase, some pursue what calls us without finding it and that is our calling.

I am unsure it is that straightforward and I sense what I have done is ignored where I am at in life, ignoring what makes me who I am with each imperfection. One such imperfection might be I lock in on a particular quality and allow it to define me more broadly.

Instead of discerning what is in front of me, I focus on things I do not control. Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In it, he suggests people, events, and signs are put in front of each of us to guide us in life. I defined myself as a teacher for most of my adult life and it was hard to set this aside.

I realize the likeliehood of returning to the classroom is remote. There are prevailing biases in play e.g. age . It appears few, if any, post-secondardy institutions want an aging male who does not fit their paradigm of a professor. Yet, the signs were there, despite my imperfections, something was calling. Over the past year, I co-authored a published paper and was invited to join in several other writing projects, joined a peer review journal board, and, most recently, was invited to submit proposals emerging from my dissertation.

The challenge is to get past an imperfection such as a single way of defining one’s self. Maybe someone will overlook age, gender, race, etc. and invite me to teach in their institution. I have to be awake to who appears and, at this time, it is people asking me to write and be part of those projects.

I am falling in love
with my imperfections
The way I never get the sink really clean,
forget to check my oil,
lose my car in parking lots,
miss appointments I have written down,
am just a little late.

I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why

I am learning to fail
to make lists,
use my time wisely,
read the books I should.

Instead I practice inconsistency,
irrationality, forgetfulness.

Probably I should
hang my clothes neatly in the closet
all the shirts together, then the pants,
send Christmas cards, or better yet
a letter telling of
my perfect family.

But I’d rather waste time
listening to the rain,
or lying underneath my cat
learning to purr.

I used to fill every moment
with something I could
cross off later.

Perfect was
the laundry done and folded
all my papers graded
the whole truth and nothing but

Now the empty mind is what I seek
the formless shape
the strange off center
sometimes fictional
me.

I leave you with a quote from Henri Nouwen and a picture.

“Where does my complete flowering as a human being connect with the needs of the world?”

While I stand by the turbulent river, I take time to listen and observe carefully what moves me in this moment to make the world a better place.

…the little bit of love that I sow now will bear fruits…

via …the little bit of love that I sow now will bear fruits…

Purple Rays shared a beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent his early career as an academic and shifted to L’Arche as a caregiver for disabled adults.

I recently read In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He wrote not about leadership writ large, but about his leadership during his early years at L’Arche and how much he learned from those he was to give care.

Transitioning from one role to another is always challenging. Nouwen provides insight into the challenges how he shifted away from leadership focused on being “relevant, popular, and powerful” to leadership more aligned with servant and love for others as a shepherd caring for each member of a flock.

How do I serve others? This is an essential question in my life as I transition from teaching in a classroom and to something new and, as yet, undefined. Perhaps, more importantly, it will always remain, at best, ill-defined.

Mountain's Layers

Perhaps, like the mountain, each striation will serve to help me author new stories and embrace the very mystery of the future, based on history and traditions that help me serve and be minful of the needs of others.

 

A Powerful Weapon

via A Powerful Weapon

Eddie Two Hawks provides wonderful quotes from various sources. Today’s is one from Nelson Mandela who was a champion of freedom, compassion, and education. Education is leading others into the world they will inhabit and letting them learn about the world. It is a transformative and just process that continuously act on each person as they act on the world they inhabit.

With each new generation, hope springs anew. Education is not just school. It is as John Dewey suggested one’s whole life experience. Dewey suggested life is a person’s meta-vocation and other interests become vocations. Here, I follow Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer and understand vocation as a calling that most fully expresses who I am.

Teachers and elders play substantial roles in one’s education. Furthermore, education does not cease, meaning others play roles throughout our lives in our becoming educated. It is a life-long process, but not in a slick way summarized with glib cliche, life-long learning.

For me, education is best described in poetic terms such as Mary Oliver asking: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is a waterfall carving out new space, transforming itself and the landscape it passes through with each passing moment.

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SOLITUDE

via SOLITUDE

Lara provides wonderful images of her neighbourhood, gardens, and pets. This post is one with a single picture and a Khalil Gibran quote about solitude.

Solitude is not loneliness. Teaching can be a lonely profession often done in solitude, largely away from other adults. I was fortunate. For most of my career, I taught in proximity to other adults and this provided rich conversations and insights for reflection to improve my teaching.

Gibran wrote a poem about children, reminding me students I taught were not my children. My favourite line is “their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” As a teacher, I only promised I would do my best to prepare students for tomorrow.

In French, the word retirer means to draw back, like an archer. It is in healthy solitude I gather myself, draw back, and find stability in teaching the next generation.

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

     And he said:

     Your children are not your children.

     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

     They come through you but not from you,

     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

     For they have their own thoughts.

     You may house their bodies but not their souls,

     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Where do we find solitude? I find it in Nature, in writing, in reading, in teaching, and in living. It is not a place. It is a relationship to life, others, and things.

DSC00320

Kathy took this picture in Jasper National Park. The roots of the trees form steps and a path up from the water falls we were visiting.

The Great Paradox

As a teacher, I wonder how we keep children safe from themselves and, at the same time, not curbing their innate curiosity and imagination.

Pablo Picasso said “Every child is born an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist after you grow up.”

Albert Einstein stated “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.

I am less concise, so I wrote a poem.

Born curious and imaginative,

Children do not have to be taught.

Yes, they can hurt themselves,

Ah, they need guides to walk with them,

Without inflicting greater harm.

The challenge lies in a question:

How do I guide them, without damaging them?

‘Tis a great paradox.

 

A Vision

I am preparing to go to Miami of Ohio to attend a writing retreat. It is a curriculum theory called currere, which is the root word for curriculum and is an infinitive verb meaning to run the course of one’s life.

Currere overlaps with the methodology, hermeneutic phenomenology I used in my writing my dissertation. The two are reflective, explore one’s lived-experiences, and interpret them as data . After a person reflects on a lived-experience, they imagine how it might inform their teaching. They create a vision of the past and future in a way to create a vision for the present.

William Pinar compared this process to photographs that gain clarity as they develop. I had not used the method, but referenced Dr. Pinar’s work and he was on my dissertation committee.

Part of the process of preparing has been to use the method of currere. As I wrote, read, and reflected this Wendell Berry poem came into my view. Even though I am not teaching, I wanted to create a vision of what the wisdom might be like. As a young teacher, I can envision having used the process as a way to survive, to be still, enrich my teaching and student learning, and creating a memory native to my teaching. As Wendell Berry says, it was a paradisal dream. Hard work never is. It is its own reward.

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow-growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

if we make our seasons welcome here,

asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead

the lives our lives prepare will live

here, their houses strongly placed

upon the valley sides, fields and gardens

rich in the windows. The river will run

clear, as we will never know it,

and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the levels of the hills will be

green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance

            cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand,

its rich leaf-fall drifting its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have

            opened..

Families will be singing in their fields.

In the voices they will hear a music

risen out of the ground. They will take

nothing from the ground they will not

            return,

whatever the grief at parting. Memory,

native to this valley, will spread over it

like a grove, and memory will grow

into a legend, legend into song, song

into sacrament. The abundance of this

            place,

the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling

light. This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibilities.

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