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Listening and Learning

I was going to press a wonderful post from Cheryl’s blog called Living in the Gap. Unfortunately, she does not have a press facility, so I did the next thing. I copied a paragraph from her post that I relate to:

“Am I ready to look at the part I play in the current reality, come out from the safety of the suburbs, and confront my own racism? To take a sober look at my own bias, privilege, and exclusionary practices. This is when I want to curl up like a pill bug and roll away, but this movement is not about me, it’s about listening, learning, and leaning into the race issues currently afflicting our country.”

We are in an unusual moment with the protests. They call us to stop and listen to one another in ways we may not be used to. They also call us to ask questions we have not asked in deep ways, such as “how do I confront my own prejudices? Am I even willing to confront them?” I use the word prejudice to open the space a bit more. It is not only about race. It is about gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.

Currently, I am co-writing an article for publication using Paulo Freire. Freire used critical theory and I paraphrase him here. He said prejudices are interwoven, arising from individual lived histories passed from one generation to another in unquestioned ways. It is listening to others without taking on a saviour role, without drowning their voices, and hearing them speak about their reality. They await opportunities to be raised into consciousness and critically questioned. How I understand this is through a Socratic lens where skepticism begins at home. How do I make the world better, more just, more democratic. Freire suggests it is a slow process. In his book, Pedagogy of Hope, he acknowledged using gender exclusive language in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published 30 years earlier. He learned to use more inclusive language as he became critically aware of the harm done without it. It was a small and necessary step.

Freire argues we need to listen to one another, not denying difference. Instead, he calls on us to accept “unity in difference.” At our core, (in French coeur is heart and core) we are each human. Too often, we talk over each other and listen to defend entrenched positions. A key theme in Freire’s writing is human “unfinishedness,” always becoming. I reflect when I took-for-granted privilege and wonder how I might overcome this. It is not easy. It will not be finished. I understand my role, as an elder, as one of serving and listening. Leadership is serving, transforming, and mindful, rather than transactional and hierarchical.

Robert Greenleaf stated “the best test [of servant-leadership], and difficult to administer, is: do those being served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous while being served: Since so many people seem afraid to grow, the true servantleader who brings it about is an extraordinary person.” If I look at the next generation and they offer me hope that there is better to come, perhaps I can take some solace in that. Without hope, we wither and flee from the scene, abdicating our responsiblity to one another.

I leave you with a video of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son. If I expand the defintion of pedagogue to its broadest etymology, it is how elders interact with youth, allowing them to dream. Hope is not about a lack of obstacles. After all, no life is a crystal staircase and that is most evident for those on the margins of our societies, including in Canada with its history of residential schools and mistreatment of people of colour. It is, as Freire suggests, being willing to struggle and fight to overcome overt and covert injustices and inequities we encounter and witness. It is listening and testifying in those moments to offer a hand to those in need, regardless of race, gender, orientation, creed, and class without being dogmatic. How do we testify in each of those moments? It is not succumbing to historical amnesia and existential weariness.

 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Angry Young Poet

In keeping with Why Do I Write Poetry, the following poem is one I wrote many at about the same time. This is the third time I visited the poem in terms of writing and editing. Several years ago and while explaining the importance of teaching poetry, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I responded, “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. We talked about the context I wrote the poem in. Even in Canada, I lived in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict and struggled with what that meant.

Sam Intrator suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in a global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War entered homes via television. Increasingly, I discovered my voice through poetry, expressing an abhorrence to institutional and government sanctioned killing. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind, advancing their ideological stance. My teacher, Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged us to discover our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. We talked about how metaphors of war are used commonly in various institutions and how I found this as troubling as the violence and trauma of war. That feeling re-emerged over the past months with describing dealing with Covid-19 in war-like terms and the troubling events of the past weeks where purported leaders feel it is OK to speak about human beings, not citizens, as an enemy and objects to be manipulated for financial gain based on the basest forms of self-interests. It is worse than the war as it takes on invisible and pervasive forms. It is a form of Social Darwinism where the strong survive, trampling on those further down what is understood as a food chain premised on unfettered oppression of other humans, including various forms of systemic violence. Consider billionaires, in the Covid-19 crisis, gained while those in most need lose what little support they had.

I contrast this with Jacinda Ardern‘s message as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman describes her as an empathetic leader. What emerged in reading the article was we de-serve better leadership, mindful, transforming, serving, etc. focusing on people as humans, not objects.

Students asked me to share poems and I did, with the context within which I wrote them. Parents, who were in the classroom each day, asked about my candour. I responded “I am not about changing minds. I try to change how each student thinks about the world, to see under the surface, reveal a sordid underbelly, and revel in the wonderfulness of human life.” This is a hopeful message, and the leadership we need is evident e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Mary Wollenstonecroft, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Soujouner Truth, Rosa Parks, etc.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

A game–

Darwin misunderstood,

No great thing to win.

War and it language!

Bells ringing hollow,

Men, women, children gone!

Woe! vanquished losers and winners;

Humans, vanquished in every sense–

Thriving on dividing.

Resenting conquerors,

Rebuilding ruins–

On countless graves.

Morally rudderless,

Blaming the fallen,

Beggaring humans.

Homes on streets,

Hollowing souls–

What war brings?

Innocence dying–

Prryhric victories,

What war brings?

Comrades fallen,

Enemies vanquished–

Proving nothing.

Will we learn?

I pray

For human survival.

I leave you with the following video and song. We listened to Harry Belafonte, and I still do, with his uplifting and hopeful message. We are in this together, not against one another, with each other.

Why Do I Write Poetry

During a professinal development event, a presenter spoke about teaching poetry. To my knowledge, this person spent little time teaching, yet he was a supposed expert about all things teaching. In the course of his presentation, he expressed disdain for poetry. He claimed, without evidence, we teach poetry without explaining to students why we teach it.

In my teaching, I described reasons why I taught something, opening up learning to include what students considered important. This included questions about topics and content. Often, students began with a negative view of poetry. With time, we got over hurdles together. Without a collective effort, we do not overcome issues in life and learning. We end up with haiku written through rote formula:

Here are five syllables

And here I write seven more!

Are you happy now?

The presenter indicated, despite having written poetry, he was unsure why teachers taught poems written. I think there are good reasons, but I could be wrong.

Poetry calls me to choose words, paradoxically spare and spacious. Spareness is in the number of words; the fewer the better. The space allows the reader room to interpret. What did the poet mean? What senses are invoked through the word choice?

Instead of counting something, poetry asks me to explore life and understand quality is not evenly distributed. I have privileges, maleness, whiteness, education, that others do not have the eauitable access to.

Choosing words,

Caring about each–

Describing feelings,

Experiences never identical.

Revealing thickness in meaning,

Experiencing sameness different–

Bringing us together,

Bridging worlds.

I told students, who struggled with reading and writing, poetry was an alternative to express themselves. I used ee cummings, as a model, to overcome 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

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. His name was Douglas. When I enjoy who and what I teach, I bring enthusiasm to writing poetry.

Artists, including poets, are often at the forefront, addressing social issues. In our times this includes Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. Sometimes, I do not think of these authors as poets. Each of them wrote/writes poetry helping to raise my awareness about issues.

Below are the wonderful and poetic words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Peace in our heart

I close with a poem I wrote many years ago as a 15 year old in high school. I have never been a fan of what we call capitalism. What we have is predatory and is at the root of current political, economic, and social issues. Only a handful are admitted to the club.

Captains of Society

Captains of Society

Shallow, superficial, arrogant

Single ambition

Greatness in the eyes of others

Only those with resources can apply

The rest

Forgotten

Pay a high price, but…

It’s their fault

They own their misery.

A cheque to charity

Assuages my conscience

What about the despair?

Don’t care

I claim I do

Donations in badfaith,

It’s a tax receipt

I really claim, but…

Done on the backs of others

Get the staff to donate time

Not mine.

Increase taxes

Not mine!

No way!

It’s wrong!

Tax others!

What is work?

I create jobs

It’s a spectator sport

This work, which

I manage from afar.

Drive luxury wheels

Shout

Curse

What’s the hold up?

Who’s blocking my way?

The ‘75 Ford station wagon

Engine shot

Dead broke!

Is it their home?

 Throw a party

Drink

Eat

Be merry

No concern for homeless

A romantic notion this ‘hobo jungle’

Not my world

What’s wrong?

It’s not my fault

I gave at the office.

After all.

Throw money at problems

It might help

Don’t

Stop, see, care

If it really helps

Denying, refusing, unfeeling

I pay for a clear conscience

After all.

 The misery

In surround sound…

Is out of sight;

Out of mind

Transforming

Several years ago, I arrived home, after spending time in Spokane. I struggled in the first few days back and reflected on what was happening. Quite often, I resist routine and find it is hard work.

Rarely, are we alone in our travails. It is universal Real change, transformation is slow, purposeful, and patient process. Upon looking at pictures we took on our travels and for all of nature’s ability to sometimes erupt and change rapidly, most change is slow and transformational. For the most part, deep change, transforming, in nature is a great model to observe.

I wrote the following poem in response to those reflections.

Waiting,

Impatient–

Desiring more

Leaning into headwinds,

Transforming–

Slow, patient, with purpose

Lacking blueprint.

Journeying,

With one’s self–

With companions,

Breaking bread,.

Trusting–

Devoting,

Changing together.

Embracing,

No explaining,

Words unnecessary–

Smiling assurances.

Looking back,

Revealing worn paths–

Sharing,

Sheltering one another

Pressing ahead–

Certain in uncertainty.

I took the picture on the way to Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park. Even on a well worn path, there is a limited view of what is behind and ahead. As well, there are many things hidden along the path, there and invisible. There is always a trust in other people and in the path as I move ahead with purpose. Paradox exists in the feeling of certainty in an always uncertain world.

On some mornings and evenings, I observe the sun rising/setting with the moon in the sky. Several years ago, early in the school year this occured. I began haiku class with poems describing phenomena we often take for granted. I emphasized poetry  often emerges from what is overlooked.

Great poets have a way of lifting extraordinary phenomena into fuller view for us. I modeled this with shared from Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, etc. I try to write poetry in a similar way.

Greeting and adieu

Sharing the sky together,

Guiding one’s journey.

I took this picture as I approached Waterton Lakes National Park enroute to Spokane. It was a beautiful evening with just a wisp of cloud below the rising moon. It was as if Nature decided a needed two guides on my trip.

On many trips, I pass mountains, which, even when I stopped, I did not grasp their majesty. It is as if they have their own language and ways of being.

Clouds surrounding,

Momentarily crowning,

In regal splendour.

I take many pictures of Mount Robson as I drive from Edmonton to parts of British Columbia. Even with clouds, it has a majesty about it.

 

.

 

Prayer of St. Francis

I did post this March 19, 2020 at One Step, Then Another, but it is special. Kathy and I celebrate our anniversary today and this was a reading at our wedding. Initially, the priest was reluctant. I think he saw the disappointment and let us use it.

When I heard the organ, I stood, literally shaking I was so nervous. I turned, looked at Kathy and her Dad, and stopped shaking. What was meant to be was meant to be.

Regardless of one’s relationship with others, intimate or distant, these are words to guide how we accept the Other, as Emmanuel Levinas said. This way lifts the Other to a human subject in an I-Thou relationship, rather than as an object and it.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.
We took this at the Grand Canyon several years ago.

Metamorphosis

As I reflect on my blogging, I note a significant change in tone, voice, and content. When I began, I did it for the wrong reasons, driven from ego. Transformation is about one’s self.

Thich Nhat Hanh shared the following about the miracle of being alive:

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Transforming is not the same as change. Change is always happening, often running below the radar. When something or someone transforms, I bear witness to it or that human. I am pulled up short and take a second look, perhaps more. I become aware of the remarkable change, which is part of a larger, less visible cycle. I am aware of the remarkableness of the world and its inhabitants.

Experiencing metamorphosis is about seeing one’s life in its simplicity and ordinary elements, in the extraordinary. In this way, living is the miracle. Just being aware of what surrounds me and what I encounter is the mindfulness that makes life a miracle.

I took this picture of a butterfly. I was aware of its beauty and how it made life fuller.

Merely changing,

Occupies my idle mind.

Denying, silencing–

Another self.

Questioning–

One’s inner terrain.

Who is this self?

What life is this self living?

Maturing,

Emerging,

A chrysalis–

Thoughtful gift.

Flourishing beyond rhetoric,

Journeying with others,

Appreciating–

Valorizing.

Driftwood’s Wisdom

Kathy took this picture as we walked along Waterton Lake. She thought it might inspire. That evening, I scribbled ideas into my journal about wisdom and its sources. I enjoyed listening to stories told by our parents, grandparents, and other elders I come in contact with. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and I am the elder.

Washed up flotsam,

Polished to glassy sheen

Revealed beauty.

If I apply this natural process, to humans, we gradually polish ourselves and soften the rough edges. At least, we can hope.

Polishing waves hone

Glimmering wisdom emerges

Softening rough edges.

Life As a Panorama

Kathy took these panoramic pictures as we drove to Waterton. I wonder how I make sense of life without a more complete picture and the haze fades, revealing a complete and panoramic view. Even at that, life’s complexity shrouds the mystery, as there is too much to take in.

As a still shot,

Life–

Emerges by image by image,

Parsed, fitting my definition.

As a broad view,

Life–

Evidencing no visible pattern,

Full, rich, ineffable.

As a quilt,

Weaving—

One stitch into the next,

Ragged, seamless paradox.

As community member,

Retaining one’s self—

Binding together,

Adhering disparate parts into one.

Pensive Pirate

For me, creativity and energy emerge in quiet moments. Kathy took this picture in Glacier National Park. I paused to scribble. We only saw a handful of people on the walk in and out.  For me, Nature gives me room breath and refresh.

Pausing, reflecting

Fortifying one’s spirit

Soaking in Nature.

Even though I enjoy quiet and solitude in Nature, I am drawn to its loudness. I love waterfalls, their power and what is not readily visible remind how much of life is a mystery. Whenever we travel, we stop and hike into various waterfalls. What is ironic is I have a fear of heights, which limits my ability to get close. On the other hand, Kathy is part mountain goat, so we get wonderful pictures.

Now and then, I get a chance to get closer and, on this trip, Cameron Falls offered me an opportunity to do just that.

In Waterton Lakes National Parks, I had to keep my distance as the drop off on the overview was too much for me. The result is an overload that drains me of energy. This is a view of Blakiston Falls, which are bridal falls. In case there is any doubt, Kathy took the picture. Below, I express gratitude to see through another’s eyes.

Revealing beauty

Viewing through another’s eyes

Nature’s abundance.

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