This may be connected…


Bugs on the door.  Shouldn’t knock ’em off.

My mind went for a stroll this morning, as it does.  First to the Stark reality, or non-reality, of that last scene in “Endgame”, of a father (or any parent) trying to the end to protect their world.

Last night mom gave Kristin an orchid, with some ornamental bugs around it, which reminded me of when we went to see Gaudi’s “La Sagrada Familia”.  Such a beautiful altar to life itself, with sculptures all around, but at the door, a jungle of vines and bugs of all kinds.

I was wondering who decided to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.  There was no small amount of risk built into casting a person known for addiction and dysfunction to be the anchorman of a series of multi-million dollar movies.  And what a tremendous payout.  But for him, personally, really,- the story of his life.  The writer or writers of the arc of his character must have had some inkling that “Iron Man” was really his spirit animal, or perhaps was writing him a map back into life.

We all have our bugs.   Family members who are are estranged, banished, addicted, dysfunctional, or just out of favor.  I thought about that this Mother’s Day, as with most holidays.

Then I thought about Gaudi’s message on the door to the cathedral.  Thinking about Robert Downey “Iron Man-Stark”, Mother’s Day, the broken family, I once again walked into that cathedral space.  Bugs are welcome.  They are part of the Sagrada Familia.  The altar to it all includes it all, and in fact, the bugs may just be the hero that saves the family.  They are part of the door; they may just be the key.

I understand that I am the bug somebody, and probably take a turn being a bug for everybody I spend enough time with.  Hopefully I will be forgiven, and will forgive.   We all take a turn being a bug.   If you are the focal point of your family, or the blacksheep, or somewhere in between, let me channel my Gaudi, to say that you are part of La Sagrada Familia, and you belong.  Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope it was beautiful.

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Living Curricula

opendooricoEducation is the answer to the question, “what kind of people should the children become?”, and “what kind of country shall we live in?”, and really, “what is to become of the world?”.   Family and friends are much the mix in education, as is the classroom.  People learn to evaluate and prioritize the truths they are presented that is the most consistent with their experience.

Students who are raised in a compassionless, unresponsive, meat grinding system are more likely to attempt some sabotage of that “brick in the wall”, than support it as taxpayers. Student performance outcomes have recently been valued over all else.  The reductionistic illusion of objective measurement and data collection in education is most easily maintained if confined to the things we can measure; reading and math outputs.  Music, art, science, and social studies have been long-suffering in this era because we know they are great for the growth and development of people, and necessary for the future of civilization, we just don’t know how to measure and explain that growth in the short term, so at times we have done away with those subjects altogether.

Teachers are starting again to be heard.  We know that pushing a young person who is suffering from malnutrition, abuse, or neglect to perform can diminish the nurturing they need and cause damage to the teacher-student relationship, and to other aspects of their development as a person. Responsiveness to culture, opportunity, and the student as individuals comes from teachers who are people first, and who draw out the people who are also students.  We know that there are better ways to educate.

For too long we have confused  “high standards” with “standardization”.  Just as biological diversity is a mechanism for survival, so too are rich sets of divergent, linear, contrary, lateral, imaginative, and cross disciplinary thinking -sources of survival.   Uniqueness and culture should be fostered by education.  A system that is responsive to people depends upon the people in it, but could be encouraged by a different framework.

Standards curated, community built curricula and resources could be specific to locations, communities, and grade level.  This type of curricula would grow cultural awareness, social justice, and be the mechanism for the type of true cultural and civil rights pass-down that mass produced curricula cannot provide.

Opportunism, on which survival depends, can be understood by example, and would grow from this same model.  Schools that are close to zoos have opportunities different than those that are close to universities, or museums.  The ability to take advantage of beneficial surroundings reinforce culture, build identity, and partnerships.

Responsiveness to environment which is vital to life, should be a characteristic of curricula.   Much of the content of what we teach is not responsive to the needs of our society or world.  This “House Project” is a bit of curriculum I created which includes modern building ideas with project learning about 3rd grade math concepts.  Integrated learning, which this is also an example of, is more possible when developed by this method.

All people need a starting point, but strictly structured materials that bind teachers to “fidelity” do not propagate professionalism.   Building paths toward authorship simultaneously builds expertise.  We can pay teachers for the work many already do in adapting curricula to the specific needs of their students, and create a repository for the many original works and practices which otherwise may be lost.  We can create a lineage of authorship, peer reviews, and creative commons resources that are accessible by theme, grade level, topic, or any other categorized reference, and even create suggested units like the revolutionary music genome project provided for music.

Scripted homilies baked in oaths of fidelity from dynastic publishing monopolies such as Pearson do not foster a “free marketplace of ideas”, or teachers or students who learn to think on their feet, or for themselves.  Instead can come choirs of familiar melodies, out-of-sync with the times, unable to respond to the urgency of the now.

We have provided the example of  Perhaps with a professional allowance, a state curated/organized/reviewed “teacherspayteachers” could divert funding back into the state, into the hands of teacher authors, and could re-assert and develop teachers as the creators of curricula, and tests, and reinstate the teaching profession to its full stature.  Open source means open access and continuous improvement, and curricula that is responsive to the times and culture it is responsible to educate, rather than tests and material which teachers (currently) vow by signature not to divulge or discuss.  The time is right for a change.  We have been loading up lesson plans into (what has been the vacuum of) cyberspace for years for our evaluation, we could be building an ever-improving, living curricula at the same time.

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a thing I keep

she was witness to the atrocity
her father slit her mother’s throat
in the months before

and when the counselor told me
I fell in the hall, until the wall caught me.
I would have gone to the ground, and the counselor
said, “perhaps I should have warned you, somehow”

in the collection of the things that happened that year
I must have given her the impression that I was holding her hand
or maybe I even did at times

that is a little thing I keep
when I wonder if I have done some good

that picture she drew of me holding her hand, and she is smiling

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Wind’s in the East

iu.jpegHere comes Mary Poppins, and none too soon, in an era where people are, as Bert said in the original, “hemmed in by mounds of cold, heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up…They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped some of ’em, carpets and all.”

I enjoyed the new movie, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.  Please don’t read this if you intend to see the movie.

There is a point of contention I have with the new movie, however glad I am to bring Mary Poppins back into our popular culture.  My contention is only important if you are a terribly impractical person, like myself.  To me, Mary Poppins is perfectly impractical in every way.

Near the end of the movie, when Dick van Dyke’s character comes out to save the day, he says that Michael Banks’ original tuppence did actually get invested, and that worked out well for him to purchase back his house that he grew up in.  I’m not terribly interested in the verity of the math on this, (although here it is, if you are), it’s more that the solution for this movie is the prison of the previous.

That, to me, is a terribly practical turn, and works against the magic of the film. The wonderful, fateful, Supercalifragilistic- expialidocious tuppence, were better spent, (or thought to be spent) on feeding the birds,- when the saints and apostles smile on someone each time that they show that they care.  My kid-self, and my current self have not drifted apart in opinion on this; that it was a far better thing to have spent the money on the fleeting things of the bird woman and her birds; to get the nod of the statuary in St. Paul’s was a far higher honor than “that sense of stature as your influence expands to the high financial strata that established credit now commands”.

As Mr. Banks concludes in the original, “it turns out, with due respect, when all is said and done, that there’s no such thing as you,” or me, of course.  The loss of humans is inevitable, but loss of humanity is oblivion.  Because if the birds matter, and the lady, and all of it matters, and if we care, then maybe we can matter, too.  The old movie remains more impressive to me still.  It was a better truth that Mary Poppins once sang to me, that I’ll leave you with now:

Though her words are simple and few

Listen, listen she’s calling to you

Feed the birds tuppence a bag

Tuppence, tuppence tuppence a bag




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My Dad’s Gift

kjMy parents would argue, and when I asked my dad once why he and mom wouldn’t just  split up and get it over with, his answer was that when he was young, his father left him.   That was so awful for him, he made himself a promise to never do that to his own kids, if he had children some day.  So he was going to keep that promise, the vow,- that was one thing he was going to be sure to keep.

It’s the time of year again,  gatherings with family and friends come in successive weeks.   My dad would sit quietly for many of our gatherings in his later years, and observe like someone going to an art gallery and admiring the greatest works of all time.  The noise of being all together was a great symphony, and he would take it in until his conclusion to each gathering, his solo in the performance, when he would issue his ritual decree,  “family is where it’s at”.

We have played our part to keep the gatherings going, to live out the sacred text passed to us.  Our coming together again allows for the chance that the wobble in each of us can be corrected by the gathering of all of us.   However much we may agree or disagree, at each marker to have the people you love continue with you on your voyage is affirmation of your love, and a microcosm of assurance that peace and joy are possible, and in those moments, tangible.  Thanks Dad.  Thanks, noisy, busy, beautiful friends and family, and Kristin, my partner in these many gatherings, and all that is between.

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When a Student Dies

I think left to my own devices, and in some other profession, I am an introvert, but I believe that in order for people to learn from one another communication is required.  It is to this end that I write.

Teachers also deal in privacy, the sacred trust that the student-teacher relationship relies upon – the cathedral that is built for learning to occur, it is full of stained glass windows that easily shatter if the student feels at all betrayed.  It is to this end that often I, we, do not write.

But I’ve thought about this too many times, and time and identities are far enough removed that there will be nothing divulged here.   I hope that a person who needs this will find it, because it has happened again.  My own personal sadness is a thing, but the mirror that is held up at any instance like this, that I believe most people go through naturally, is, “did I do alright by this person?”.  So, if you are that teacher, or a person in a similar situation, I hope this is worth something to you.

Besides being advocates, teachers are antagonists.  At Monte Vista, high centered above the door is an oyster with a pearl.  The seed is the agitating grain of sand, the metaphor is not lost on me.  As a teacher, I have pushed students to do-over, to try again, to apologize, to keep their hands off, and to say “please”.  It is the role of the teacher, and, even more broadly to society, teachers are idealistically the devil’s advocate, the non-compliant, the critical thinkers, the subversive, the agent of change.  How can a teacher feel good about this relationship, especially when most days, you have at least one student begging you not to ask them what it is your job to ask of them?

In the age of leveraging the student-teacher relationship by the state for the purpose of raising the accursed test score, even as the state and publishers script interaction, don’t be that tool, instead, still love them.  Love is the curricula, love is the test.  For some students, tests are wildly inappropriate.  There are students I’ve taught who watched their father nearly kill their mother, or succeeded in killing someone else with them present, or, for a couple of students, were nearly killed themselves by, or with the aid of a parent.  I’ve worked with special needs students, who would sleep, or cry, or have a psychotic break during the test or other stressful situation.  Many of these situations are not unusual for teachers, but the question I am left with is: was I enough of an advocate?

The other questions, outside of the content of curricula, is the question: did I teach them enough about how to weather the storm?  Did I teach them the joie de vivre?  Did I help them connect to the community?

When I see a student years after I’ve had them in my class, if they seek to talk to me, if they can look me in the eye, I believe that I did alright by them.  I know that they know, the thing I asked of them was not for me.  Sometimes my teaching has been a selfish thing, but when I get it right, it’s for them.  The student that will be buried this week, they came back a few years ago, and we laughed.  With some students I do very well, with others, I know I could have been better, or I wasn’t “the thing” for them. As a teacher, I let go, knowing as is said, that you can’t be all things to all people. But, I hope I did alright.



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re: Connection to Wonder

I just read an interesting article with a very evocative title:  “As the World Lost Its Sense of Wonder and Majesty, So did Jurassic Park”.  The article goes on to ponder that thread , but left me on a trek of my own, to articulate my own rumination of wonder.

Our bodies lose sensitivity.  I picked up a piece of metal, hot from hours in the sun, and although I registered the pain, I did not flinch, nor cease the work I had engaged in, knowing the pain would subside as I worked.  I remembered watching my Uncle with admiration at his labor in the sun, handling some piece of metal that I could not poke at for the pain it caused me, and how he didn’t belittle my pain, and protected me with warning, and care.  Then, I thought the becoming of a man was the perseverance of pain, and aspired to such.  I realize now the thing I admired was the care he could afford to show, whatever his own situation, which he did time and time again.

In the reliquary of science, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.  I have wondered if to some extent phylogeny predicts ontogeny; that the whole imitates the individual, that we as a society lose sensitivity with age.  This is probably only true if we poison the stream:  if we expose the source of our societal refreshment, our children, to the unfiltered toxins we as adults consume daily, then the source of the spring becomes contaminated too.  We regularly lock our doors but leave the powerful worldwide windows of screens wide open for the strangers of the world to enter into the senses of our children: unmonitored, unfiltered media can carry cynical and violent messages which affect them.

I think of Macbeth, “There was a time when I would have been terrified by a shriek in the night, and the hair on my skin would have stood up when I heard a ghost story. But now I’ve had my fill of real horrors. Horrible things are so familiar that they can’t startle me.”  The ebbing of humanity with each tide of rationalization that excuses us from a loss of care is broadcast on networks in groupthink, to quell the shock of  deeper atrocity and crimes against humanity that are simulcast with the more graphic images, the more visceral audio.  The drill must go further, and more shockingly down to find the threshold which affects the receding nerve.  This approach is something to be wary of.

My father retained a sense of wonder and respect throughout his life.  A doctorate in Geology helped him in this regard, I think.  He would pause on road trips to read to us the tomes of the land whose spines were legible to him in strata, books he would read to us along the way.  The wonder of the world never escaped his grasp, even as stratigraphic tomography did.

Working with children as a teacher, vicariously re-discovering the thrill of realization has been my own connection to wonder.  Parents who are aware of their own child’s interpretation of the world, as I have sometimes been with mine, are allowed passage back into those cathedral spaces.  The value of being an advocate to those people who are fresh into the world, who see the dead-ends in some of our misdirections, and still courageously move forward seeking new solutions, is that you can become that again.  I get to take those people to the places of discovery, and they take me back to the place of wonder I love.




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