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Category Archives: Education

Keep Evil at Bay

via Keep Evil at Bay

Let me begin by saying, we do keep evil at bay by not acknowledging it and turning away if we do. Hannah Arendt referred to this as the “banality of evil” in  her book Eichmann in Jerseleum. Now, I have not read anywhere where Arendt deals with her relationship with Martin Heidegger, an anti-semite and member of the National Socialist Party during World War II.

As well, when we use the word mindfulness do we mean just being aware or do we bring with it the ethical water to purify our world, words, and acts. This is enriching in this wonderful post by Michele. She provides quotes to point us towards the ethics of a mindful life and and thoughts about how to keep evil at bay.

Ultimately, how do I choose to live and who I am? Is this the person I want to be? It does not mean perfection; far from it. It means I take time to ask who I am becoming and who I want to become.

As I read Michele’s post, it reminded me of the Cherokee story about two wolves that live in each of us and which one we choose to feed:

Two Wolves

I tell students we mistake values for beliefs. Values are what strengthen us. They emerge from each of our hearts and offer courage to do what is proper, not right as a binary choice. On the other hand, beliefs force me to create a world to fit those beliefs and defend it.

If I feed myself with Good, with qualities of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, truth, compassion, and faith, I have strength and courage to stand up for what might make the world a better place in an indefinable way and, at the same time, not become attached to that thought so I cannot let go.

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

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.

What Do You Plan to Do with Your One Wild Life?

Mary Oliver wrote the beautiful poem The Summer Day. She ended the poem with a question: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Actually, she included several questions, which are not answerable in any certain way. Life is unpredictable, but what we want to do with it echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer who wrote “desire beyond wanting.” To me, this suggests we each aspire, perhaps can aspire, to something beyond simply knowing and planning. There is more to life than we can plan and predict, yet we can hope.

I think, as important, the question is about vocation and what calls us forward and animates each of our spirits. Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer write about how vocation and voice relate to one another and are how we express who we are in life. Merton goes so far as to say some of us are perhaps destined to search without discovering what calls us.

I wonder, “have we lost this sense of spiritual purpose in the early part of the 21st Century?” We look out there, read the newspapers, follow 24/7 news, etc. and feel deep despair and hopelessness, perhaps even disinterest to follow what beckons. I don’t say this lightly. Two incidents led me to wonder about this. First, at a recent community engagement conference, I was struck by how much despair filled the room. Second, in a private conversation with a parent, they commented how a child was struggling with what exists beyond our individual life. The child is experiencing a sense of despair over this. In part, this is exacerbated because the parents are atheists and feel unable to give guidance in a spiritual way. Finding our voice and who we are is more than an instrumental process of work. It goes beyond to the spiritual essence of who each are and how that brings meaning to our lives and the world.

In the latter setting, I emphasized the idea that we conflate religion and spirituality. One can be deeply spiritual and non-religious and non-theist. One can be religious and theist without being spiritual. The essence of spirituality is to find what calls to me and respond with the qualities of life I want to find in the world. I don’t think those in short supply, but, if we listen to the media, we come away with a different view. At the heart of this, might be the great existential questions poets, like Mary Oliver, ask us.

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I include a lovely reading by Mary Oliver of this poem.

Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

via Fresh Quotes: Mary Oliver

Nancy posted this over two years ago and reblogged it on her site Strawberry Indigo after Mary Oliver passed away.

I noted the other day what draws me to Mary Oliver’s poetry are the questions, direct and indirect she poses. Several years ago, I concluded a presentation on Mindful Servant-Leadership with the following question from her poem Summer Day with this quote: “Tell me what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

Another quote Nancy shared which fits is “Instructions for a living a life/Pay attention/Be astonished/Tell about it.” This raises questions about how I pay attention, how we reveal being astonished, and how I give an account of myself and respond through stories. Rather than answers, as Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms.” Without preconceived answers, there is eloquence and beauty in one’s questions, living themselves out in ever broadening circles.

Mary Oliver reminds me to “some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” At my age, I understand myself as a river meandering through the landscape rather than cutting through rocks. Perhaps, this appears predictable, but I ask “what is invisible and moves with currents below the surface? What has life taught me? How do I share with others, who often are disinclined to slow down, stop, and listen?”

What I recall is I did the same, filled with busyness and urgency of life, not in the moment, but in some future I chased. Instead of meandering, I was a rushing river carving out a path without concern for what might appear. The second river flows through a narrow channel, with high banks I cannot see over. The first river flows in ways I can look back and ahead, understanding there is mystery flowing below the surface. What is obvious is often superficial, rather than mystical.

Above Numa Falls

 

Wisdom From Wooden

via Wisdom From Wooden

When I first read John Wooden‘s book They Call Me Coach, I had coached hockey for several years. I was not a teacher yet. I liken his work to Robert Greenleaf‘s servant-leadership. It is about the quality of relationships, leadership, and how people (in)form their character, which are ineffable and indefinable.

Wooden wrote about character, leadership, and what success is and is not, and this influenced how I coached and taught. I shifted from a sage on the stage to a guide on the side more often, focusing on what it meant to be on a team and in a school setting as a teacher and student. I focused on a question: “What do we want to be remembered for as a group?”At the heart of teaching are the quality of relationships we have with our students and players.

Pedagogy and educate come from Greek and Latin words meaning to lead children and youth into adulthood. It is not about winning, losing, or win-win formulae that delude us into missing the qualities of various pedagogic roles.

Wooden’s former basketball players at UCLA, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Wooden called him Lew Alcindor even after his name change), and Gail Goodrich speak about how he coached around character and how one played, rather than winning and losing.

In the capitalist and materialistic society we live in, including schools where we compete for marks, not focusing on a win-lose mentality is challenging. Despite challenges, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment when I succeeded and told players and students how they improved as a person. When I meet former players and students, we often talk about the quality of relationships that emerged from those settings.

Tina provides three of Wooden’s quotes related to character and leadership. Regardless of the quote, I find there is what I like to call “uncommon common sense” embedded in the axioms. Wooden also provided what he called The Pyramid of Success, which is below copied from his official site.

Wooden-Pyramid-of-Success

Greenleaf’s best test for servant-leadership is equally as daunting to define and focuses about questions related to the quality of relationships and character formation.

“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

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