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The Panther

I learned new words today. I read an article by Judith Butler who used the word carceral, meaning “relating to prison.” It fits with systemic prejudices e.g., racism, where particular groups of people are imprisoned at a greater rate than their percentage of a society or country.

But, it includes how people are limited to a geographic space, so they do not come in contact with the elites. It extends injustice and oppression those groups and individuals experience. Paulo Freire argued this cuts across racial, gender, and linguistic lines and includes class distinction. People are trapped and imprisoned within a life that offers little hope for them and their children.

I am unsure Rainer Maria Rilke intended to make a political statement in The Panther, but it serves as an analogy to understand how another might experiences life in the midst of oppression. In not witness ing another’s disenfranchisement e.g., economic, political, educational, etc., I grow to think their plight is not real. But, bars, literal and figurative, become reality. As Rilke states “a great will stands stunned and numbed.”

The opposite of my indifference is love and serving, reaching out to give a hand to those who need help to cut the bars away that oppression has built around them. It is less about doing for them and more about valuing their lived-experiences in meaningful ways. Freire said to read the word, humans first read their world, bringing their understanding of living to formal education.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a second … then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

I love the blues. A sad thing about the genre is many women who were pioneers were not recorded as often as men. It is a treat to hear someone like Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing.

A Child Sits

Several years ago, during a family discussion about war, my mother asked me where I stood on war. I am opposed to war on the grounds: “Thou shall not kill!” This edict underpins Abrahamic traditions guiding Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths. It is a central premise is central to the universal Golden Rule.  Who suffers? Inevitably, it is the weakest, the most vulnerable.

I used an activity with students to demonstrate the difference between cultures of war and peace. I asked for words to describe a culture of war. Usually, the list was short; maybe 10-12 words and phrases. When I asked for words to describe a culture of peace, the list was long and students did not struggle to find new words. The conversation often went for an hour or so.

Despite this, we struggle to find peace. In today’s high tech world, we no longer need to be physically present to attack. It can be done via computer commands ordering pilotless aircraft and rockets launched from distance.

 

Child sitting–

Unable to shed tears;

Shivering–

Cold, wet,

Fragile, weak;

Hungering for reprieve.

Despairing amidst carnage–

Seeking refuge;

Finding only chaos–

From distant places,

Raining down hell;

From heavens that should protect.

School yard bullies–

Feigning courage;

Kicking those already down–

Seeing no human face,

No suffering,

Lacking care, compassion.

Humans seeking true courage–

Begging, imploring;

Returning to good senses–

Leaving behind,

Wanton, senseless,

Violence, death!

I chose this video, because it shows the outcomes of zero-sum situations and how we fool ourselves there has to be winners and losers.

Gettin’ My Mojo Back

I looked at this poem a month ago and decided not to post it. As I listened to music today, a song came on called Getting My Mojo Back and felt it was time to post it.

I wrote this during a retreat on Bainsbridge Island based on the work of Parker Palmer. It was at a time I was wrestling with staying in teaching due to the politics. I felt I was not giving it my all and lacked confidence in my teaching.

During the retreat, I reflected and had candid conversations with others and concluded it was time to control what I could control. Interestingly, it was in the conversations with others that I had to choose to be all in really came to the forefront. I went back to my classroom, spent another 5 years teaching, and giving it my all.

I think, when we lose confidence, we do not realize it. It sneaks up on us, rather than being a cataclysmic shift. Recovering confidence is similar. It is done in small steps and realizing we are not alone in the moment.

I had to realize anger was born out of fear and loss. Once I acknowledged this, I was at ease with letting go and moving forward.

It just happens–

Letting go;

Speaking without anger–

Embracing one’s sadness;

For what is lost.

Staring into an abyss–

Sitting with unformed questions;

Terrifying darkness–

Sensing incompleteness,

Feeling uncertainty.

Taking stock–

Looking inwards;

Accepting extended hands–

Discarding baggage

Moving towards a place of light.

Mojo gaining momentum–

Emerging at its pace;

Creating healing space–

Living one’s own truth;

Living in each moment’s question.

I attended a John Lee Hooker concert in 1972 or 1973. I grew up listening to jazz, gospel, folk, and blues with traditional country, early rock and roll. I took it for granted that I attended a John Lee concert until an American, who shared a love for the blues, told me he never did. African-American performers toured in Canada on a regular basis at a time they did not have that same ease of movement in their own country.

When I used Langston Hughes’ poetry in my teaching, I remembered he wrote from a different understanding of what America was. This was an outgrowth of an awareness of my privilege as a white Canadian male.

In Seeming Chaos, Hope

I gave a lot of thought today about hope and its lack of it. I do not confuse hope with positivity and positive mindset. Instead, I understand hope as grounded in reality. Emily Dickinson described it as “the thing with feathers,” suggesting we cannot fully describe it. Its ineffeable nature creates a metaphoric meaning for each of us. Without dreams and hope, Langston Hughes cautions “life is a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.” With hope and dreams of previous enslaved generations, Maya Angelou repeats the title of her poem “I Rise” as a prayer and refrain against hopelessness.

Too often, people want to pigeon-hole others in binary and dichotomous ways e.g. conservative or progressive. It appears easier and less ambiguous if we can label someone, somehow providing a sense of stability about who this or that person is. What we mis-understand is “and” means something. It acknowledges how complex each human is. We are not usually one thing or the other. Instead, we are mingling of things, experiences informing how we live, and the context within which we live. I want to conserve things e.g. Nature and, at the same time, progress e.g. equity regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Neither is premised on political or, in our case, reality TV, sloganeering.

Paulo Freire and bell hooks write about hope, unconditional love, and dialogue in educating children, youth, and adults. I think the critical theory is incorrect. What they propose is critical pedagogy/andragogy where I ground dialogue in listening with lovingkindness to those with different lived-experiences. In mindful, non-judgemental listening, I seek to open up space where the Other shares their reality and wisdom. In acknowledgeing the humanity of the Other and greeting them in dignified silence, I might offer the fragile hope so needed in today’s world. Imagine a world where we greeted one another with dignity, rather than making up slick political mottos and creating disparaging nicknames that assault others?

I wrote this poem after a long, hard day. I thumbed through some right-brain scribbles and this was the result.

Even in chaos, hope–

Faith springing forth,

Beloved Other sharing wisdom:

What do we hold in common.

Communal rhythm,

Symphonic voices arising–

Loving harmonies;

Binding and healing.

Listening,

Giving dignity–

Acknowledging shared ground.

Holding each Other gently,

Unsure together–

Breaking bread

Being safe in this space.

This was the first secular song I heard in church. It was the late 1960’s. Today, I think we do need mountains we have bulldozed, meadows we have paved over, and water we have contaminated. Having said this, we need love and hope equal measure to make those things happen.

Courage

Dominant groups control the conversation, excluding those who disagree. This is exacerbated with social media. It is difficult enough to present one’s  ideas through civil dialogue, let alone in 240 characters, in a Facebook post, and even on a blog. This raises interesting and eloquent questions about how we bring about meaningful, equitable, and sustainable change. How do we encourage others to come into the light and share their stories from the margins? How do we include the most vulnerable in our communities by making ourselves vulnerable? Each day, humans, with little, reveal courage as they engage a world that seemingly turns its back on them each day.

It is not enough to tolerate and merely see differences. We need to recognize them as we enact tranformational and sustainble change, closing the gap between those without by holding out a hand to help lift them up. This take acts of trust and courage. It would take vulnerability and courage as we each expose our self in ways that take us to the margins of our comfort zones.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman encouraged the non-routine as we each sing out and question the imbalances of our world in civil conversation: “Not words of routine this song of mine, but abruptly to question, to leap beyond, yet nearer bring”

(In)just living,

Revealing courage,

Being vulnerable.

Affirming as human,

Expanding boundaries–

(En)couraging, rather than (dis)couraging.

Making visible,

Seeing humans in their fullness–

Naming each other.

Creating dialogic spaces;

Where agreement meets

Welcoming the other fully.

I leave you with this video.

Speaking One’s Truth

I wrote this as I was making decisions about continuing to teach. There had been considerable upheaval as new administrators arrived and left, families left, and a friend and colleague retired. I found myself constantly in the midst of a storm with little or no control in how things might move forward. At a retreat in Oakland, I spent considerable time reflecting and journaling about the issue at hand, so this was not intended to be a poem and it took a year to write itself.

What I wrote was a summary of the past year and the struggle to ways to create in my teaching and be more present to my students. What I lacked was confidence in who I was and what I was enacting as a teacher, the performativity and improvisation essential to my teaching. I planned a lot in my teaching, but the depth of planning allowed me to improvise in ways that a lack of planning could not.

In The Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss how loss and fear lead to anger. What is important is during challenging times to try to be aware of what gives us meaning and hope in life. Although I would love to teach and be part of educating the next generation of teachers, I find it easier to accept that is not happening, focusing energies on writing and teaching in a new way. If the situation arose to teach and educate the next generation of teachers, I would consider it. What it is not doing is defining who I am and my life.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

Living my truth;

Questing in each moment.

I took this picture in Arizona in March. It was the last of five I took. Each day, as I walked back, the cactus had bloomed one or two more flowers. The cactus and its flowers exist just to be a cactus and its flowers, beautifying the world. They remind me, even in harsh conditions, plants and animals flourish in their time.

As I was writing, Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up played. It is appropriate. As we face challenges, we move on up and achieve, albeit an unpredictable, something.

Do Pigs Have Udders?

Part of educating for hope is “reading the world” in hopeful while living “in dynamic interrelationships” with others (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 102). This means opening the world to eloquent questions without presupposed answers and without the threat of violence of any form. I used the quote in a recent book chapter I co-authored with a colleague from North Carolina. The book is to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. What does it mean to live in a world full of hope; a hope(ful) world.

My first day back from the retreat I posted about in Welcoming Differences and Gentle Rain I noticed the students were subdued. In the afternoon, I was alone, which was unusual. Without an adult and teaching three grades, it could be demanding. Other times, it provided interesting moments, and this turned into one of those moments.

I had contacted a substitute teacher I had used several years before and who was available again after completing a long term assignment for an ill teacher. As we talked about what was bothering me, the students told me they had not enjoyed the teacher. I was surprised, as he had seemed a good fit before. I asked for an example and they told me he had told them their conversation was inappropriate. This was unusual, as the students in this group were well-behaved and respectful. I asked them what the conversation was about and they told me, while completing some Science, one student asked “Do pigs have udders?” Apparently, this became a hotly debated topic and it was brought up again today.

I laughed. For me, it was funny and pointed to an irrevocable human truth: curiosity about the world we live in and eloquent questions leading to exploring the world and learning about it. We had serious fun as we talked about what udders were and their role in feeding offspring. I even phone Kathy, who was raised on a farm, and asked he. She was not sure, but thought it was a structural thing and pigs probably did not have it. We left it as an open question.

Simple question,

Emerging eloquently,

Not presupposing answers;

Fueling curiousity–

Energizing learning.

What does this mean?

Is it true?

Querying and questing;

Seeking to fill gaps;

Not with certitude;

New questions emerging.

With passing years,

Recalling that moment,

Smiling, chuckling;

Appreciating simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

As best as we can learn, they do and it was fun trying to figure it out. Adolescent children ask the darnedest things. Laughter is an antidote for difficult moments. Something I learned as a student teacher was a safe classroom allows children, youth, and probably adults to ask provocative questions with no preconceived answers. In the polarized world we live in, we have lost that assurance of safety and are reluctant to ask questions needing answers.

I will save you looking up the answer on the Internet. Pigs do not have udders. Udders are a reference to mammary glands on certain mammals and it has to do with their structure. I read a version of this poem for a group at a retreat in Wisconsin. As I finished, adults wanted to know the answer. I said I didn’t know and someone looked it up on the spot.

I don’t have a picture of a pig. Here is one of a bear I took in Waterton Lakes National Park. Bear and pigs are related, so it was as close as I could get.

One’s Story

I wrote this poem while I was at the retreat I mentioned in Companions. The retreat was long, tiring, and rewarding. Even though events of this nature can be stimulating, I also find I run up against blocks due to how tiring they can be. I mean tiring in a good way. We spend time in solitude, which is not something that is easy. When we were together, deep listening, another overlooked quality, was essential.

I wanted to share my experiecnce at the retreat here and questions that emerged. To write the poem, I let ideas percolate for a couple days. The word courage and heart are related. Courage comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart. The heart is the holding place for our truth and we often have to have the heart and courage to tell our story. Humans are the only beings capable of telling their story, flawed and essential to their being and becoming.

One’s courage;

Revealing one’s story,

So telling to tell,

Always emerging.

Narrating and sharing,

Telling one’s story;

Sharing to be heard,

Listening differently,

Listening deeply.

Words anew,

Illuminating, enlightening

Sharing sacred space;

Recognizing and loving.

A colleague took this picture of me at the retreat. We spent a considerable amount of time on our own and in nature. It brings out the best in me.

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.

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