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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.

…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.

 

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.

Driftwood

I am back. The retreat was enjoyable and tiring. Although it was called a retreat, it was different in the sense that it involved research, writing, and lots of conversation. I find retreats invigorating. They are not sit, listen, and try taking notes as a speaker blasts through their presentation.

Retreats have a conversational part. Parker Palmer counsels people at his retreats not to take notes. Instead, we spend time writing and conversing how we feel about various prompts. That was a purpose of this retreat. It is the Currere Exchange.

Currere is the etymological root of curriculum, meaning to run the course of one’s life. It is a subjective way of interpreting a planned curriculum in a school. Whether teachers understand it or not, they are doing this continuously. As one of my co-researchers told me we make decisions about what to teach and leave things out we really like.

In a sense, currere is polishing a planned curriculum. It is a multi-faceted and complicated conversation between a person (re)membering their lived-experiences, aspire to a particular way of teaching in the future, and synthesize those two moments into the present. Each moment acts as a curriculum to inform the other, complicating one’s teaching in a dialogic way. Others enter the classroom and add to the complicated nature of the conversation, each adding their curriculum to the dialogue. It is like a piece of driftwood, being polished by the forces it comes in contact with.

My story being polished,

I (re)member and imagine;

Washed up on a new shore,

Who I am reflected anew.

I am a character in my story,

I pause a moment,

Noting lustre and matte,

Interpreting new meanings.

Soaking in the contours of living,

Experiencing new awakenings,

Running the course of my life,

Each new moment polishing me afresh.

Kathy took this picture in Waterton Lakes National Park.

 

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.

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.”

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