Thursday, December 11, 2008

What About Me?

When my wife and I first took our children to Disney World years ago, I experienced a moment of parental genius. When we arrived at the first park, we all stopped to set the ground rules for the day: no running, stay within eye shot, and this little gem, make sure everyone else has a great time. I was quite pleased with myself, but then the kids simply got caught up in the intensity that is Disney.

I have been very busy lately because a number of the programs that I coordinate at school are overlapping. I am finding over the past few days that I have to deal with a lot of people and am finding that no one seems to be concerned if anyone else is having a good time.

Well, I had an epiphany of sorts this morning. I notice many of our culture’s metaphors are about a big payoff—of course, our economic life is literally about that. Whether it is working hard at family life, at the job, even working at our relationship with God, it’s all about a big payoff for the pains that we must go through now. What if we changed the metaphor, or at least looked at the same metaphor from a different perspective? Let’s just say that this is the payoff. We are living it today. What ever happens today is just such a gift that I am having a great time.

I don’t intend to demean those who are struggling through life, but I suspect we all have our pains—I have yet to meet a single soul who did not experience some hardship in life. But I do intend to ask, why not turn around and look at life from another direction? You’ll get a different point of view about everything. I am going to do that today. And if you want to do it too, I think that would be cool. And if you do choose to do it, that would mean that you would be having a great time. And since we would be having such a great time today, let’s share that. Let’s just say that the main rule for today is to make sure that one other person in our lives has a great time today. You can choose anyone to be the recipient. Good luck, and have a great day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If This is Progress, Then...

Now I know why old people feel scared. I’m feeling scared. We used to laugh at the old saying, “Just when I learned how to play the game, they changed all the rules.” At some point, however, rules change so drastically, that the new set of rules is really frightening. Now I suspect rules have been changing at the same pace for as long as rules have been changing, but we old guys have seen so many rule changes that we get to the point where we have seen enough.

What are these rules? As best I can tell, rules are based on a society’s values. Those values change and adjust over the years and only those with long memories can think back far enough to realize the drastic changes that have occurred over a lifetime.

I hit one of those points recently as my newspaper editors (I am faculty advisor for our school newspaper, The Harriton Banner) and I have been dealing with the issue of stress in schools and the so-called “study drugs.” Our last issue covered the school reaction to our report that study drugs were being used in our school and our next issue will cover parental reaction to that article. During one of our editorial meetings, we were trying to size up the different kinds of parental reactions that might be identifiable. One of my editors said that she was convinced that stress in school came mainly from parents who look to give their own kids a leg up on other students. When we see a student taking too many classes, being involved in too many programs, and in too many sports, it is likely that the parents are behind such a drive. It does not, then, take a huge logical jump to conclude that parents might be OK (explicitly or implicitly) with their kids taking these study drugs.

The room was silent.

Then The New York Times reported that parents are having their young children genetically tested to find out what sport they might be good at. Yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a group of scientist are concluding that taking study drugs is OK, and it can be a benefit to both individual and society.

As a young man, I might have said, “What the …?” Today I am scared. I am scared of the value being advanced here. I am scared at the hyper-competitive society in which I live. I am scared that this is just too much. Is there any going back?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

One Wound; One Place; One LIfe

This morning I was thinking about Thomas and his plight, not so much a failure in faith because he refused to believe in God or Christ. Thomas' plight--and the ultimate source of a powerful conversion--was that he could not, perhaps refused to, look at that empty space within himself. He refused to accept his own holy wound because he could not accept Jesus' holy wound. The break down in faith was that he was unable to see that his wound and Jesus' wound were one and the same. When he finally placed his hands into the wounds of Jesus, he was placing his hands in his own wounds, and they became holy. He accepted them. It is the place where--as Richard Rohr suggests--God resides, where we meet God; and we are one. And the holy wound becomes the place of real life.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Killing in God's Name: Get in Line

Why do we kill in the name of God?

I suppose we have done enough study of history to know how it works, the politics, the mechanics and logistics of killing in the name of God. But the deeper question as to why we do it always remains unanswered. This is, I believe, because we suffer from a heavy dose of blame and denial. “You people did this!” “No, it can’t possible be,” we say and think. “These attackers don’t really represent ____________ (fill in the blank with the name of any religion).”

When the attackers flew planes into the World Trade Center, they were praying. They believed they were doing God’s work. And our well meaning cries of support for our Muslim brothers and sisters, who would never think of doing such a thing, are not so much cries of support as they are a kind of denial. We have isolated the enemy and he is not I. Well, if there is anything that should tie us together it is our belief in God. When one acts in the name of God, we all do. It does not matter which religion; It does not matter if the act is good or bad, we are all involved.

Now it seems that the attacks in Mumbai have similar origins as our 9/11. And the blaming and denials are beginning. Yet we cannot deny a world where we produce people so sure that they know what God wants that they would kill, literally or emotionally, in His name.

Just fill in the name of the religion and the name of the crime; the sentence would be the same. If one kills in the name of God, we all have, and we have to figure out how to stop doing that. We are all people and we are all in this together, so we all need to take responsibility.

I pray to God that I see, especially during Advent, in my own life, how I am intolerant of others. I firmly believe that a world can be changed by attitudes and those attitudes start at home. I further pray that a deeper understanding and Love for my fellow men and women replaces this exposed intolerance.

Maybe that’s a start. Or maybe I’m just a crackpot.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Of George Costanza and Scapegoats

In the spirit of awareness being the best defense against the ills of a slightly askew society, my wife and I had a discussion recently, brief but fun, about the stresses that our society puts on men and women. My wife admitted that women tend to feel jealousy toward other women who they perceive to be better looking and asked if men felt the same. I said no, but admitted that men feel jealousy toward other men who they perceived to have more status. We had a good chuckle, although a nervous one, and peered at each other with that “not I” look.

My mind shot into overdrive, and I got to thinking about George Costanza, that hapless character on the sitcom Seinfeld. Why George? You see, George is a wildly popular character among men; any man who is quoting Seinfeld is usually quoting George. His popularity is found in our realization that George is our scapegoat, that beast that carries all of the sins of a society. Men will scream in delight each time George fails because when it comes down to it, without George, we believe that we would all look like losers.

This little comedic rumination got me thinking even more about gender roles in our society and our tendency to scapegoat. The down side, of course, is that scapegoats prevent us from taking responsibility for ourselves, our actions, our beliefs and the outcomes of those actions and beliefs. This way, we live by outward appearances instead of living by our beliefs. Instead of scapegoats, then, we need to look for role models.

There are many great role models out there, for us men those who have rejected status and power as the center of our lives, for women, I suppose, those who have rejected being objectified by a commercial society. Logic, of course, dictates that these role models are not likely to be famous, but are likely to be our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our teachers, and our mentors, men and women who live lives in glorious anonymity. They show us that there is a better way to live.

I feel as if I am rejecting part of what it means to be a man when saying all of this. But that is the point. That nervous look my wife and I gave to each other after admitting the pressures on both of us is very real. The influence of our environment is so very powerful and constant. The best that I can say is what I said in the beginning: In the spirit or awareness…

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanks, Ted. I'll Pass That On.

I think that I scared my students, and believe me I didn’t want to. I teach a class called Foundations of American Education at the local community college. It’s what we old teachers used to call Education 101. This is the basic introduction to what it means to be a teacher. In September, I told my students the goals of the class. My first goal was to not scare anyone away from the profession. But I added that there would be some challenges that they would need to face as preparing teachers. Challenges should not be confused with scare tactics, I said.

Last night I handed back research papers. There were a lot of D’s. My young future teachers really struggle with writing! I asked how many of them read regularly. Only 20% said they did. I began to sweat. I didn’t prepare a lesson on the value and necessity of reading for all people, let alone teachers. But we did talk and discuss the issue, and there seems to be a problem that they all have in common.

No one ever taught them to love reading, to value reading. They were all told that they couldn’t write, but no one really took the time to teach them. These perspectives are those of the students and are certainly not burdened with any sense of personal responsibility, but the message is a common one: no one ever told me that I could read and write; no one ever believed in me.

How does one share one’s love of language? This love never came naturally for me; I really had to work at it. I did, however, have one professor that helped me in not so obvious ways: Ted McCrorie. He loved literature, and he was a poet. Was he responsible for my own path into language and education? It’s not that simple. What Ted did for me was to believe in me; in fact, on some days I thought he even liked me.

You see, I am and was a lucky man. I got into college because I was an athlete. I’m not so sure that I would have gotten into this particular college without that. You see, when I graduated from high school, I couldn’t read (the irony was thick, the English teacher said with a flair for the cliché). Oh I had decoding skills and a good sight vocabulary but put two words together and it meant nothing to me. I would have scored 0 on any fluency test. A psychologist told me later on that I probably have a mild case of some kind of dyslexia. Ted McCrorie knew my little secret, but never let on that he knew. After tests he would call me to his office to get “clarification” on some of the things I had written. He would laugh and tell me that my handwriting was so bad that he couldn’t read what I had written. In reality, he was allowing me to re-take my essay tests in oral form. We had an unspoken agreement. Ted would assess me in this manner—buying me time—and I would use that time to improve my language skills. Ted gave me what I try to give my own students: time, many chances, and belief that I was actually trying to improve myself. And that’s what I did.

I am allowing my students to revise their papers. I hope that I didn’t scare them. I hope that they believe in themselves and have the feeling that I believe in them. These students will make the best teachers if they get through because they will always remember the struggles that students go through, because they are going through that now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wrong Again

(note to self: you haven’t published a novel yet). A few posts ago I was very critical of a book about which many of my friends were raving. I didn’t mention the title because I have this rule about judging authors. I know that writing is hard and that no one sets out to write a bad book. I did feel compelled to finish the book because of my friends, but I struggled with this one. I am nearing completion of this book and I have to say this: I was so wrong. The book is called The Shack and is written by William P. Young. It’s number 1 on the New York Times best seller list, so you probably have heard of it, if you have not read it. I don’t want to go too deeply into the story in case you haven’t read it (this is the official recommendation to read it if you haven’t yet), but it does deal with the main character having a conversation with God. There are some challenging images, and I suspect everyone will take something a little different away form its reading. Some will find it affirming, though, and some will find it life changing.

I will tell you this: I most likely struggled with the first part of the book because it dealt with something so horrible that I didn’t want to think about it. I had an idea where the book was going and kept thinking to myself, why doesn’t the author just get to the good part. It has become clear that this is the point of the book. You can’t just fast forward to the good part; life is a little more complex than that and not a little painful at times. So if you get a chance, pick it up. It will probably be worth it to you, in some way. And push through the uncomfortable stuff. That will be so important as you interpret the rest of the book. Enjoy. And Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Peace!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Proposition 8 and The Makings of a Man

I think that Richard Rodriguez is right. The movement to scapegoat gay people is founded in the disintegration of the American family and the insistence by women that they have an existence that extends outside of the kitchen and outside the shadow of men. Women, Rodriguez posits, have a deeper connection to the gay rights movement because the gay rights movement seems analogous to the women’s movement. Although Rodriguez paints a pretty bleak picture of a patriarchal society in decay, I hope that the definition of what a male is can grow and change and improve as our society wrestles with these questions that make many feel uncomfortable. I suspect Rodriguez would agree.

The problem with how males define themselves is that it is founded in a society in which males are trained to exercise power over others. Often, this creeps into sexuality, as witnessed by the continued belief that a man’s prowess is somehow connected to his sexual dominance of women. This cultural weight that we carry around our necks is compounded by our commercial sector; one need not go too far to see advertisements for a number of drugs to cure male sexual dysfunction. Note the looks on the faces of the women in these commercials: grateful. There is something seriously wrong, here.

There is such a thing as masculinity that is distinct from femininity. But our insistence, as a society to place sexuality at the top of the list of differences is just wrong. Maybe it’s wrong to place it on the list at all. Although sexuality is a part of most people’s lives, it should not be the defining element, whether it is spoken or not, of who we are as people. To my mind, maleness begins with, as Richard Rohr insists, spirituality. I am not surprised that Richard Rodriguez can maintain a loving relationship with his partner and with their Catholic parish. He is defining masculinity in a very different way. He sees life as being a lot deeper than the accumulation of power. Rodriguez shows us that it is the true male that lets this go. Position in society, as he seems to take his position as an intellectual and author, is a gift and a responsibility, not a possession. Being a witness has far more value in any society than being a king. If you doubt that, just look at history and how kings have treated witnesses who dared to speak of different beliefs: John the Baptist, William Wallace, and our founding fathers had they lost the war.

Men can define themselves best by being witnesses, by being present. And it is this, really, that makes men in our society so impotent: our failure to be there for our children and our families and only there for women when we get the urge. No wonder women are fed up. And no wonder gays are the scapegoats.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The World Gets Smaller, Again

Among the citizens in the general population we certainly have our naysayers. Every society has those. I suspect that they will eventually come around regarding the power of blogging in government. I read a few naysayers in this weekend's papers. They were saying that government by the Internet was not going to work. It seems that President-Elect Obama is continuing to use the extensive online network that he used for his campaign to communicate (and dare we say listen to the voices of his constituents). In some ways this is certainly a new idea in politics if we are to believe in the power of things like blogs: information flowing in a multi-directional process. I hope it is not just a modern way to take a poll or nothing more than another Ronald Reagan, who mastered the manipulation of the press to sell, well, whatever it was he was selling. I hope President Obama continues the use of these tools that he used as candidate Obama and now President-Elect Obama. In fact I have his rss feed coming into my aggregator. I have never felt more involved. I hope that it is not just a felling, but a true shift in how we govern ourselves.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Resurrection Story

I wasn’t there the morning that my sister died, that cold, wet February morning. I have pieced together the scene over the years, partly from the stories of those who witnessed it, partly from my own maturity. Although records will show that my sister was the only one to die in the terrible accident, four people died that day, bodies strewn about the highway, next to a crushed and twisted car that, minutes before, carried part of a family, my mother and father, my brother and my sister.

As a father myself, I relive the moment of my own father, the driver and innocent, although I don’t think he ever forgave himself for being behind the wheel at a particular place and at a particular time when another car, traveling in the opposite direction jumped the median and, like a heat-seeking missile, landed dead square and tore apart my family’s car. When movement and that horrible noise of twisting medal stopped, my father, mother, brother, and sister lay strewn on the highway, sleet falling on the sudden silence.

In a movement of habit and obligation, my father began to rise and to take control of the situation. He only got as far as his knees, when he saw my sister’s crushed body. He stayed there on his knees until he could only drop to his hands, his head bowing, forehead touching the wet pavement. I imagine that he had felt betrayed. He had lived a good life, dutifully fighting in two wars when his country called, faithfully raising his children, and probably believing that if he did all that was asked of him by a God that he believed loved him, then he could withstand anything in life, except, perhaps, this one horror that all parents do not want to think about. He would never have imagined that this loving God could take away one of his beloved children. He lived the rest of his life with his chin up, as he used to call it, demonstrating a bravery with which he thought all men should live, but he lived with his heart searching for his daughter and for his beloved Father who left him in the sleet that day.

No, it wasn’t my father who rose to the occasion. How could he? It was my brother, Steve, a young man who had seen his own troubles but was not burdened by a life of war, and hardship, and the struggles of any family man. It was he who went over to pick up my sister’s broken body, to hold it lovingly, but powerless, nonetheless, to bring it back to life. I could hear it in his voice when he called me. “I think you’d better get down here. We’ve been in an accident and Marybeth is hurt pretty bad.” Of course, he knew that she was already dead, but protected me from that moment so that I might be able to travel safely to the hospital. I don’t think Steve ever recovered from that, and it would be simplistic to blame his alcoholism on that moment, but I can’t help to think that his life might have been different only if….

And it was my mother, who faithfully and literally followed her Irish-Catholic upbringing, which taught her that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. So this punishment was more than she could bear. Her life after that was one of self-punishment and self-imprisonment, trying to make up for imagined and unimaginable sins so that one day she would be with her “angel in Heaven.”

My father passed away a few years later and Steve died years after that, his body succumbing to years of abuse from his alcoholism. And I had a dream last night. A dream in which Marybeth came back to life, only after Steve placed an anointing oil on her forehead. My father stood by, proud of his son, and happy to see his daughter. He still stood back, but this time standing. I am quite sure someone else was there. Perhaps it was my mother, who today lies in a nursing home, suffering from a horrible dementia that seems to ask her to relive that day over and over. I am sure that the other person there was Life itself, the Spirit that many of us believe breathes life into our lungs, the loving Father about which my Catholic faith should teach us. And if you are a Christian, you would recognize, in an instant, this scene as the Incarnation itself.

We all lose things; life changes and certainly never ends up the way we had once imagined it. But that is the point, isn’t it? The things that we clutch and hang on to are the things that are guaranteed to decay, to become lost, to become meaningless. My father found his loving Father for whom this accident caused him to search. My brother is far more a hero than many of us remember because his life’s pains seemed to define him more than this event. But it was this event that really defined him, his humanity, his ability to love. And despite all of those sappy songs that croon that love never dies, it is his love that lives in all of us today. It gives hope that my mother, who today, minute by minute, is still living that accident, is receiving that same gift. After all, sometimes time is a gift.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Because I Want To

During my first year of teaching, I received a gift that has informed my teaching and my learning (Hey! That's the name of this blog!) ever since. It was given to me by a small quiet lady who headed the development office at the school and the office where I was posted as my daily duty. It was a little booklet entitled "New Teacher's Survival Guide." I am pretty sure that I read the whole thing. Most of it was practical advice that I probably still haven't taken. But one article remains with me today, the title of which escapes me. But the topic was about reading for yourself. It warned me that during the first year of teaching that I would be tempted to throw all aside as I prepped, read, and wrote for class. The article went on to say that although these endeavors were admirable and necessary, not at the expense of my own mind. It even went on to say that if I needed the excuse, I could tell myself that my own self development would make me a better teacher but it insisted that the intrinsic value of self development should need no excuses. So I still take a little time each day, to read, to write, or just listen to some music. Just because I want to. Peace!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yes, I Admit It.

With apologies to Lisa Scottoline, I think the cloistered nuns had it right: silence is the way to the soul.

And yes, I do read Lisa Scottoline's column in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sundays. It started because my wife reads it and always has something funny to say after reading it. So I took a look, just to see. And I have been taking a look ever since, just to see. I find that Scottoline speaks a language that is pretty universal, transcending gender, especially when talking about parenthood. She may be a little off the mark sometimes when I think that she fails to understand the deeper meanings of maleness, but her column is called "Chick Wit," so I give her a pass on those times. And perhaps, at those times, I am being too sensitive.

I think, however, she missed the mark this weekend for a different reason. Scottoline started off right on the mark as she described the adult child flying from the nest. I was right with her. Until the end. You'll have to take a look at the column but I just want to focus on the last line. It was one of those lines that people read and then shake their heads knowingly and approvingly while they stroke their chins, yet really do not understand the deeper meaning. Here it is: "...with apologies to my cloistered sisters, I think that voice, not silence, is the sound of the human soul." Maybe it's because she mentions soul, always a dangerous thing for a writer, who risks being called cliche at its use. But she pulled it off because she was quoting the cloistered nuns.

No, I don't accuse Scottoline of cliche. I do think that she sold silence a little short, however. Sometimes silence is a louder voice than words. Sometimes silence reminds us that we control so little in this life. And when we get to a point in our lives, where we think that we should know how to handle any situation but where we do not know what to do or what to say or how to handle that situation, we are given a choice. Speak--and therefore try to impact the situation. Keep silent--and try to accept the situation. To be sure there are times that we need to speak and impact our world. Justice depends on it. But sometimes we need to just be silent... and accept, quietly if painfully. The first is the currency of our world and is good. The latter is the currency of our souls where life really happens, I believe, as do Scottoline's cloistered sisters. And when our children leave, tears are bountiful and no words will help us to understand or control. But quiet acceptance will give us insights never dreamed of. And it is then that we come to accept that our children do grow into adults and that is just plain cool.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Plateau of Relativity

I'm reading a novel right now, the title I don't care to give because all of my friends say it's a great book, and I find it quite poorly done. Yet, it is a popular book, so who am to say.... It did catch my eye at one moment, even though the description that caught my eye broke the rule of don't show it to me unless it has meaning. Well, I think it broke the rule; I, for the life of me, couldn't figure out why it was there. Perhaps it is me. Anyway, the description to which I refer is a description of a valley, a plateau really. But what made this valley unique was that it was at 5000 feet above sea level. I never thought of a valley being above sea level. I have always thought of a valley as a lake waiting to happen if not for the protection of the mountains surrounding it. Like this disjointed scene, I suppose we can find rich, lush valleys anywhere, anytime. Even valleys that almost touch the sky. Hmmm. Just thinking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Effective and Responsible Communication

To be effective at communication, we need to define two terms, often confused with each other: these terms are power and authority. Both power and authority are often naively defined as having control over others. Power, however, has nothing to do with others. Power can be defined as the control that we exercise over ourselves. Power is granted to each individual by virtue of the fact that we are human beings and deserve respect and deserve the opportunity to exercise some control over our own lives. If one tries to exercise power over another, this is very unhealthy and is really about trying to control another. Authority, on the other hand, can be defined through relationships and is granted by social structure, and therefore comes with a great deal of responsibility. In its healthiest form, authority is a partnership in which all people involved, leaders and followers, understand their roles and through that partnership live a productive and creative life. The Harriton Banner, Harriton High School's newspaper, of which I am faculty adviser, recently published an article that made everyone feel very uncomfortable. Some might view this as exercising power over a community by telling it something that is very uncomfortable to hear. By this definition, the newspaper places itself in position over the community and becomes nothing more than a preachy institution, the type of institution that over-populates our society as it is. Yet, The Harriton Banner exercises no power if it is to be a vital part of our community. It is, however, granted authority by the school district and community that it serves. The paper also is granted authority by various Supreme Court rulings on freedom of the press. With this heavy authority comes heavy responsibility. My hope is, that by publishing a challenging article, that we do not set ourselves above our community, but honestly share in the joys and challenges of a community to which we belong and to which we owe our authority.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blogging and Podcasting

I am testing podcasting with Blogger.

Monday, November 3, 2008

And the Winner Is...

Life is about competition, a friend once told me. It's survival of the fittest; winner take all; just win, baby.

Hey, I like the idea of winning. The Philadelphia Phillies, a team that looked good in spring training, better in April, a little off in May, and so on, delighted us all, in this region, with a World Series championship.

I think I have had enough of competition, however. Isn't there a time when we are not trying to beat our fellow man into the ground? I knew that we had gone over the edge when we started to play sudoku competitively. In fact the Philadelphia Inquirer just announced that a proud Philadelphia had won the bid to host the 2010 World Sudoku Championship. What a fool I have been: I always thought that sudoku was a way to relax at the end of the day, a little game to play. Suddenly, I feel the need to practice, to get better, to beat others into the ground with my number crunching prowess, to show that I am the best, that I am number 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAH!

Wait. Is that really what life is about?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Test Scores, Betrayal, and Being Human

Seems to me that MiShawna Moore is one of us: an educator who cared and went to great lengths (too far sometimes) for her students. This story is becoming all too common as we look to test scores to reassure us that everything in our schools is all right. Neil Postman warned us years ago when he said that science has become the new golden calf, the thing we worship because science is never wrong. In reality, whether science is right or wrong (and it can be wrong), Postman argued, human beings should be thinking, not relying only on data, polls, and test scores.

It seems MiShawna Moore cared. No one argues that she went way beyond the call of duty. If she were a soldier and her school were a battlefield, she would have been given a medal, and would be a national hero. But it seems that between feeding and clothing her students, and sometimes their families, and making her students believe in themselves; she was doctoring test scores. So far there is only circumstantial evidence that test scores had been doctored, but MiShawna Moore resigned and moved away. I can only believe that she meant the best and her alleged actions, if misguided, had the highest of intentions. She has become a victim of a society that is crying out for a savior, one she was willing to be, yet a society that demands evidence that the happiness of our children will ultimately lead to greater earning power.

And here is the betrayal. If MiShawna Moore were to be convicted of anything it is this: She made the people in her community believe that they could be successful. And success can be measured in two ways: happiness with being who we are; or a large bank account. Moore was providing the first kind of success when the community was assuming that the success was the second kind. Moore must have known the difference. I suspect that she ignored the difference and hoped that one day the two definitions would coincide.

When MiShawna Moore walked away, we lost a little piece of our humanity: imperfect, basically good, and caught up in a world in which we face some very serious realities that should not be trifled with by assigning test scores to assure ourselves that those realities don't exist. Life is not that easy, as MiShawna Moore just proved.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sometimes I worry about work. Sometimes I worry about my students. Sometimes I worry about the election. Always, I worry about my family. This sobering clip of what is happening in the Congo, reminds me that we remain pretty immune to the dangers that many around the world must endure. Is the United States risking becoming weak, as conservatives argue? Is the United States simply a selfish bully, as liberals argue? Are we even arguing about the right things in this election? Are my students even aware of what is happening in the Congo or anywhere else for that matter? I am struck by the juxtaposition of my area's celebration of a Philadelphia Phillies World Series victory and the people in the Congo, living in desperate conditions, fleeing for their lives. Chaos in Philadelphia last night was mostly celebration with a few misguided individuals turning over cars, breaking local business' windows, and setting fires. In the Congo, chaos is much more dire. What do we do? What do we even think?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where Are We Going?

Like the boy in the story, I can sometimes become enamored by the latest technology to pass by. It's an innocent feeling, understand, but it can be blinding. I just dive in and get involved. But is that wise. Am I ignoring my true love? I like to write; I like to read. And both activities have to do with the processing and interpretation of a language, one that I learned as a toddler and that was pushed at me all through school. I survived school to love language anyway. I do reject those that say that my teachers were right and I finally saw the light. But I credit Steinbeck, Baldwin, Joyce, and others for turning me onto language more than my teachers. So naturally I am frightened by what is becoming of that language. What language will today's students use and what view of language will today's student take away from school? Will I turn them onto James Baldwin? I doubt it. Will I try? I sure will. As humorous as the above story is, I wonder what our students will find after they leave? I found Steinbeck et al. Will our students find only emoticon? :-(

Johnny Can't Read or Write (Can He Think?)

Johnny (yes, the one who couldn’t read or write) has a look of horror on his face. He has been asked to complete a project in which he must define the task; must identify and organize his resources; must make connections; must draw conclusions and evaluate those conclusions. He has survived the many years of schooling, despite not being able to read or write, by dutifully submitting assignment after assignment that failed to challenge or inspire. He knows the system and he will not put up with someone telling him that the rules have suddenly changed. He, of course, will resist doing this assignment.

I've been thinking a lot about my students and how they proceed with their academic lives. In a class that I am taking we have discussed leading a horse to water, etc. And to this day, after 21 years of teaching, I still question how we can get him to drink.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Art of Art: Closer to Earth

There is something divine about stopping amidst all of the information, in the news, in the blogs, on peoples' minds. W.S. Merwin always makes me stop, at least for a moment to ponder the richness of our human existence, and distracts me from the alleged richness of our economies and currencies. Although Merwin's "Alba" gives us the bucolic on the surface, there is a more powerful message, to me at least, about the staying power of the human spirit if one looks at a bit of history of the Italian town. Still singing after all these years.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Did He Say Blogosphere?

Why, yes! He did! I was watching an interview of Paul Krugman talking about our current economic crisis. He was asked his opinion of the current government bailout plan. He liked some of, and some of it he thought was too little too late. In fact, he said there were a lot better ideas out in the blogoshere weeks before the government took action. Wow! I guess our elected officials don't blog. By the way, Krugman had put a link to the interview in his own blog.

I am beginning to wonder how powerful blogs really are. Governments that feel uncomfortable are taking action against bloggers. Must be powerful stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are You as Excited as I Am?

I am beginning to sound like a politician on the campaign trail. I hope there is more substance in my excitement than we have witnessed in the orchestrated appearances of our would-be political leaders.

I just read the "papers" this morning, using my usual rss feeds, so I feel as if I have gotten a cross section of views--at least within the constraints of my own prejudicial selections of the actual feeds. I went over to Paul Krugman's blog, read his thought on yesterday's Alan Greenspan testimony, and added my comment. How powerful is that? Once again I am feeling the power of blogging, reader as both consumer and producer. I will pop back in at lunch to see what others have to say. News will never be the same.

Now, will my students ever feel the same excitement? My hope is yes. I will need to create a project for the second quarter and will include blogging somehow. I hope that I am up to the task. I don't want to spoil this powerful medium. Time will tell.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Leadership

Whenever we overestimate ourselves, rust starts to accumulate on the wheels. Whenever we underestimate ourselves, we begin to slide backward. The two work hand in hand in preventing progress and good leadership. Like a good blog, one must go with the flow, not necessarily a linear path, so that opportunity is not missed. Leadership is often defined in a way meant to control. I would call this old leadership. Yet, the new leadership tries not to control, but to encourage, guide, and mentor a team or group of teams with the knowledge that the destination is unknown in specific terms but known in more global terms. For example, If I am a teacher, I want my students to read, write, and think, but I must also be aware that the definition of reading, writing, and thinking have changed. Old leadership will hinder the development of the new definition. New leadership will usher that thinking into the mainstream.

What is Worth Learning?

I owe Stephen Downes who writes the blog, Stephen's Web, for this question. His article, "Things You Really Need to Learn," is a great read, imperfect, but a great read. And I suspect that the greater point: Our learning is imperfect, or at least it is ever evolving. What I learn as a youth has a life lasting impact, yet I learn must differently as an adult, and happily so. Mr. Downes is putting a human touch on learning, something that I rarely see, in reaction to an article by Guy Kowasaki in which learning is a mere currency and success could be measured in dollar signs and titles. I prefer to fall on Mr. Downes' side where learning includes all of us, where learning has deep impact beyond earning power, and where things like caring for self and others is an admirable pursuit. The article reminded me of a story I read by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, about three kinds of men. Blogger Dave Englund outlines the article quite well. Rohr, I think, would agree with some points that Downes makes but disagree with others. The third kind of man is the one who "enters, teaches, recognizes what others are thinking, commands, questions and calmly acts." Both Rohr and Downes have something to say about learning and living. But there are differences in the two, I think. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Two Way Street Without the Double Yellow Line

If I have been learning anything over 21 years of teaching is that I have so much to learn. This is not big news to anyone who loves to learn. But today it is bigger news, at least to me, because of the wealth of information that is available. More information is not only available, but it must be found, it must be sorted, it must be screened, it must be organized, and it must be used, preferably in a positive way. So suddenly, education is not simply a one way street, teacher providing some information and directing the traffic toward other information. Today, students are the teachers as much as the teachers. But students are also the editors and the producers of ideas. Schools now need to help students become these thoughtful persons instead of just pushing students in a single direction of rehashed information. Frightening? You bet. But it is a new world and we need to be brave. I'm not exactly sure where this will lead, but I hope I have the ability to be a part of it.