That’s all I can speak on: Me, Sharing the World.
Not how healthy, white, middle-class, college educated people have, but me.
Trapped in this particular color skin this time around, all blue-eyed, burnable and born on the doorstep of the 60’s, you would assume I knew all about this Black v. White thing, right? All I ever saw, though, were The Addicts and The Sober; the Hungry & Grasping, and the Measured, Stable Ones. Those were my polarities. Those were my tensions. The content of their character led them Into reality or Away from it. People would either accept me or reject me for my unfamiliar blend of creativity. It was with my heart that I watched people.
“What do you think of this Ferguson incident and all the riots and protests?” my predictably outdated, judgey and not very international-minded friend implores.
“I don’t feel qualified to comment, is what.”
“I have hopes, though,” I add, “that this will at least raise awareness of how violence works.”
“How violence works? What I meant was the black versus white thing! Do you really think it’s possible we don’t really know how they feel?”
My back is up, my heart’s a little racy, I’m biting my tongue.
That none of this is a race thing for me comes from a place that has witnessed violence firsthand more than once, perhaps even having had a hand in it myself, an intruder in events not meant for me. A place where packs of mangy wild dogs follow me down a lifeless backstreet on the south side of town, where some of the scariest creatures I have met were skinless, but human. Dirty and used and desperate, every color of Clay. (South side of Anycity, USA, by the way.)
The very same fight or flight response surging through me when I faced Bear and Puma boiled my blood when the gun was pointed at me, awakened body memory when I kicked the Bowie knife away from the perp’s pinned hand.
Sharing the Planet has never been easy.
There’s too much at stake.
My voracious history reading mother once told me that she believed Humans would never stop their violence against each other, that it would only change tribes, kingdoms, and nations.
“As long as there were the Haves and the Have Nots,” she said.
I argued vehemently against her, the idealist that I was in my early 20’s. I was such an extreme idealist, I believed with all my heart that World Peace would come IN MY LIFETIME.
Well, my lifetime is now up to 53 going on 54, probably past the halfway point, and the narrative of poison for the sexually corrupt and the opulent 1%, the illegal immigrants and unwelcome terrorists (using 21st Century Skills and lingo to damn the Damned!): these are screaming at me to reconsider my mother’s World View.
My question NOW is this: Can this view be found in all cultures, tribes, and nations?
Can I please hope in my tiny I Me Mine mind that there is another half to all humanity, a half to balance me and those like me,
a half that believes we WILL someday learn how to Share this Gift that is our Planet?
Now, that’s worth taking off more than just 1 Monday a year, I’d say.
A son: your brother, your husband, your father, your friend.
Painting (“Keeping an Eye of the World”) created with multiple layers of “leftover” paint from other paintings…
…at least 16 layers that I remember.
“The teacher will arrive when the student is ready”
~ attributed to Buddha, but falsely so.
I began my career in education dreaming of a leader I could really admire.
29 years and 12 principals later, I still wait for my Scooltopia.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with dedicated, brilliant and lovable teachers and administrators; world-class, international, talented and gifted. Always, something was missing. I sought a real Change Maker, a Pied Piper in progressive education, someone brave enough to stay the course when faced with well-meaning but misinformed parents, corporate supported lawmakers, automatons defending the status quo.
Each and every time I started off a new relationship with a leader, I was hopeful; like after those beginning of the school year Sis-Boom-Bah Ra Ra Back-to-School speeches, I felt supported, inspired, and energized! Promises of “learner-centered,” “innovative” and “inquiry” confused me later, though, when I was handed the new prescriptive protocols for testing, the Science Kits that needed to be taught within a very brief and inflexible time period, or the revised curriculum standards detailing the disciplinary mastery that must be achieved for each child’s specific age group.
I’ve seen the raging creative fires in my leaders’ eyes just smoke over right after reading an e-mail from central office, the heavy sigh just before making that announcement regarding the new initiative from the powers that be that doesn’t replace anything you already do, but will add yet another set of checklists to your accountability checklist.
I’ve seen super-exciting incentives to “Play” with kids more lose steam and disappear. Buttons made to help us “Embrace Humility” with our colleagues in order to encourage collaboration were worn by a few, and then one, and then none. Efforts to have children write their own curriculum aligned with their unique needs are “put away for later,” “when we have the time.” Field trips cancelled due to liability worries. School gardens never broke ground due to district rules designed to “keep kids safe,” or worse, because “that’s what people see when they first drive up,” and the groomed lawn looked so much more presentable.
I don’t know what I expected would happen. When I began my career, I believed we would only get freer as history unfolded in my lifetime, that the idea of a “standardized” human being would grow less popular, that we would strive for an UNcommon core. I did not foresee the laws suits that would tie our hands, or the fear of mediocrity that would force us into rash thinking, panic mode, always worried about not being the best in the world.
I think now perhaps I was placing unrealistic expectations on our leaders, that my lofty idealism was actually the cause of my disillusionment in public schooling. My naiveté had me forgetting that public schools are a place mostly for Rule-Followers, not rule benders and certainly not breakers!
Still, I held out for “The Special,” that one in a million voice that would champion the children: what’s best for children, not just what’s safe or what’s measurable, but what’s BEST.
And, WHO was going to make this happen?
Certainly not the leader who is in it for the Ego.
Not the leader who bent over backwards for every interest group.
Surely not the leader who uses their position as a way to use people.
What about the leader that threatens others, but only in privacy?
The ones that sadden me the most, though, are the visionary that buckle when most everyone else is saying: “It won’t work,” and the one that bans truth because it is unpopular.
But I’m not one to criticize. You don’t see me trying to get my administrator’s license. You haven’t seen me down on Capitol Hill trying to bend a politician’s ear. I don’t have any books or manifestos published with easy to implement directions for a more learner-centered, innovative and inquiry rich classroom. You don’t see me holding Town Meetings to share my vision!
No, I’ve been too lazy or selfish or just plain crippled by low self-esteem.
I wanted someone else to be the Voice, the Light, the Hope.
I was hoping they would have arrived by now.
Yet a new way to interpret my Father’s admonition: “If you really want something to get done, you’ve got to do it yourself!”
“Don’t look further for answers: be the solution. You were born with everything you need to know. Make a promise to stop getting in the way of the blessing that you are. Take a deep breath, remember to have fun, and begin”. -Jonathan H. Ellerby
I need routine, else all my best creative ideas fade faster than they came.
If I don’t have a schedule to keep that is attached to other people and a promise, nothing things done. I won’t meet the deadline if it’s just MY deadline: I’ll daydream that I’m writing and my visions will be so visceral that I will opt instead not to actually sit down and write. Or I’ll just tell myself that I’m not getting paid, so why bother?
2014 was the fastest year I have ever seen go by! I tried to catch everything in a box, but I failed miserably! I had intended to write a weekly blog entry! Ha!
Oh, I did write those entries. IN MY HEAD. Every week, there was a theme, the authentic content just flowing out of the days’ events, keeping brief notes on my phone or the calendar. But I would never sit down and wrote it all out. There was always something in the way~my daughter’s math homework, my bronchitis, a trip to DC. The bank, the flooded basement, my soft widdle pillow.
My Dad used to say, quite a lot actually: “There’s alllllllwaaaaays something,” all drawn out like that. It took me a long time to figure out what he was talking about, since he used it in so many different contexts, so many different places.
So, if there IS always going to be something, then I really need to just develop a habit to write and publish once a week, regardless of the excuses, reasons, life obstacle du jour.
It’s because I’m always gonna have something trying to stop me from writing that this post is dedicated to SHOWING UP, to putting myself willingly into the box, and then allowing all the world to see.
This post is about giving voice to my transdisciplinary perspective of the common things we teachers and students face every day.
This post is a promise I intend to keep and that I invite my colleagues and friends, brothers and sisters, students and playmates, to openly comment on, participate in, enlighten me on.
My Intention? To bring my readers a thoughtful, inspiring, and humorous quick read every Monday for the entirety of the year 2015. The content will revolve around my experiences with all the little people we’re responsible for and the adults trying to give them the best possible learning experience available.
I am not trying to sell anything, prove anything, or make anyone think less of themselves.
I am The Traveling Transdisciplinarian and this is my tale.
So this is what they mean when they say “Count your blessings”, “You never know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone!” and “Carpe Diem. Seize the Day? Not with my left hand.
I do not want to reach for anything: I simply want to reach.
The loss of my left hand rocked my world, clearing the smorgsboard table of my wordly desires: I cannot find what I need in the world outside my self. Now, I only want what was mine all along, My Precious. Now, the only way to satisfy my longing is through memory and living through the experiences of others: mostly, the young.
I spent 37 years holding the guitar wrong but rockin’ out nevertheless. I spent 37 years expecting something to arrive that never came. I spent 37 years with a perfectly healthy hand, wishing for something more. I spent 37 years wanting people to recognize my talent. Now, all I want is my left hand, the hand that writes melodies, the hand that gives form to my heart.
It came like a bolt from the sky, and the shocks felt throughout my left arm and hand were no less electric. Carpel and Cubital Tunnel, Repetitive Stress Injury, Growing Old: Call it what you will, for months now, I have lost the ability to perform my songs on My Beloved 6-string.
Had I been misled all along? Assuming God had given me this talent for a reason, how come I was never able to make a living of it? Was I supposed to have a different destiny all along? Had I wasted countless hours of my life chasing what can only be lost?
These are the nightsweat thoughts of 2 AM, ever unable to be answered definitively.
But I’ma gonna be an Optimist about this! Thirty-seven years is a damn good run if my guitar-picking years are over. Just might have to tickle some ivories, beat some box, discover a new channel for this ever restless creative energy who recently lost a hand.
Oh, I’ll do my due diligence with my silly putty. I’ll stretch and massage, extend and flex. But I’m old and wise enough to not expect these gifts to come back. I’ll not spend another 2 years just trying to get back to where I was: I will adapt. The wandering minstrel does not need a guitar. He does well with bells and whistles and things that rattle and boom. He carries the history of a nation in song, and until he loses his voice, he will not be silenced!
“You know, we were just saying you look 10 years younger since you left the schools. It really shows, ya know?”
I made some kind of comment about being able to fill my bucket with a bit more sunshine, and as I walked away smiling the brimful smile of glowing health, I thought: Now, why does a public school teacher need to stop working to stay healthy? We are talking about 100,000 people here in the United States that take care of our children 5/7 of the week. Shouldn’t they at least be the Picture of Health, held up as the exemplar of balance and well-being for our kids to model after? Of course!
But, No. That’s too simple. We like to make things difficult here. (There’ll be a test!)
Let’s start with physical health. Can I just say: Indoors, Sitting, and Reflective? Good for meditation and mental health. Not so much for physical. Let’s not forget that there’s homework to do, too, son: More sitting.
Social health: As long as we’re safe to express ourselves and celebrate our diversity without having to conform to too many standards of behavior and academics. And, um, “Being in line is not the time for socializing, Billy.” “Well, when will there be time to socialize, Mr. Kittrell?” “Lunch. And recess.” “But then I don’t have enough time to eat and I’m hungry all afternoon!” “Billy. Not now.” (Yes, I am both student and teacher in that scenario to emphasize that conversations must be kept inside your head for the time being; all day; maybe forever. Shut Up.)
And, How’s your Mental faring? Well?
Well, Let’s just say that every time I have had stress enough to make me feel like I was going off the deep end, I can honestly say that Humor was nowhere to be found. If you have been in public schools anytime this century, you know humor is not an essential skill and is not foremost on the minds of our leaders, and there won’t be a test for that.
And, last but not least, Oh, No, not the least of these: Spiritual. “You’ve got to be kidding, right? They expect us to address issues associated with God in our class? Have they ever heard of separation of church and state?” The Pypster participant practitioner has a point, but I sure wish I could share with kids what fills me up, what gives me courage to face the demon Critics and Judgmenteers, and listen to their faith as well in a spirit of open, perspective-building inquiry, wherein the jury will never be out as long as there is a child in need of spirit.
So, what am I going to do? I cannot stay healthy in the career that I am most highly trained for and where my big love for kids could be fully expressed. America. I need your help.
“I’m not one to resist something that’s a given. And these tests are a given; it’s the LAW and some people choose to rail against it: I’m not one of those people. You’re going to find me embracing them and hoping for the most positive outcome and development. I expect you to do the same.”
Wait, I recoiled, trying hard not to show it. Am I “those people?” And if I am, am I not on the positive side? “I stand for development!” I wanted to scream out! “I seek continual improvement!” For a moment there, I was the Bad Guy: Mr. Antithighstakes. Test Hater. “Don’t you want to see the children improve and challenge themselves to prove it to us?” I was once asked when I expressed my views on mandated testing. Of course I do. Who could ever say they are against children setting goals and working towards them? What exactly is it about these tests that brings out the Judge and The Grudge in me?
It’s the WEIGHT we give them that bothers me. And of course, the fact that they do nothing to help our students grow: How could they? The students never get to see where they made their mistakes. All they get back are numbers and labels, one of which is Unsatisfactory.
The content is fine, if writing and mathematics are your thing. We want children to summarize, to calculate and solve problems: that’s a no-brainer. But, oh, the weight! And children see right through our facade to be all about Love of Learning, Collaboration and Inquiry. Remember being a kid? You didn’t always know what the Big Idea was, and you never thought about what goes on behind the scenes or was being stated outright as a Mission with a capital M: You judged people by what they made you do. What mattered to you was how they filled your time, what teachers emphasized as The Most Important Things to Know. Both the straight-up and the nonverbal message these kids are getting is that performance on the test is far more important than what they would like to spend their time studying. Nevermind that the children want to create a school garden, find out more how they can help to save the remaining tigers in the world, or spend all their free time practicing hip hop dance moves, for that matter. We need to get them ready for the TEST.
“My niece calls me last night, you know, the one who is in the teacher education program at the state university, and she goes off on this tirade against all the injustices of standardized testing, and she says: ‘You can’t imagine it Mom. It’s horrible!‘ So, I tell her, ‘Get used to it Baby!’ These tests are going nowhere!”
All nod. Every person present in the room nods. Some have masters and doctorates, even.
What?! My back is up. Breathe. Breathe.
No! Get mad! Why would a room full of seasoned professionals who I KNOW believe that this is not best practice not stand up to this?! How can we, in good conscience, go through our days, knowing that we have succumb to the Monster that public schools have become?
“My daughter just couldn’t stop going on about ‘the high stakes testing'” I tried to tell her: ‘You can preach all day from your pedestal, Honey. Ain’t nothin’ gonna change.”
“You know that’s right!” (Say it like a black woman, and snap your fingers, move your head from side to side)
Why are we joining in on this defeatist attitude? Are we just beaten down so badly by the sheer scope of this pandemic that we don’t bother? Was it the time(s) that you spoke up at a staff meeting in front of everybody, were validated, but never heard another word of it? Or worse, you spoke up and you were dismissed as a dreamer, an idealist, naïve to think you really have a voice in public schools. Or more simply: “These are hard economic times and I’m not risking losing my job over a stupid test.”
How did it happen that we ended up organizing ourselves around data and not children? Are we just so in love with our supertekkispreadsheets that we have forgotten the human beings they are supposed to represent? We are using 21st Century technology to accomplish 20th Century tasks, if you ask me, and it’s a waste of hard-earned taxpayer money.
Those of us in the public schools, we know that most of these high stakes tests only measure left-brained linear functions and that our intelligence and creativity, in the words of Ken Robinson, is far more “diverse, dynamic, and distinct” than we allow for! So, why don’t we take the research seriously, let it transform our practice? Why don’t we speak out against the current oppressive trend and stand up for children and all their untapped energy? My guess is that we don’t speak up because we, too, are products of the same conformist, don’t-rock the-boat system that still has a stranglehold on our public schools despite the fact that we are 13 years into this new enlightened century.
One of the reasons I am speaking up against this is because I am from a loud and large family, where if you didn’t speak up loud and clear, you didn’t get your needs met. Once, when I mentioned that to another teacher, she told me to “Go for it!” but then added the caveat: ” You won’t catch me dying on that hill!”
I now have a daughter that embodies all the intelligences that we don’t typically test for in the schools: She is dramatic, understanding the tragedy and comedy in life that most people miss. She can musically mimic the pain or joy she finds in other people’s voices, making dry characters spring to life! When someone is hurting, physically, emotionally, or in any way imaginable, she will be there, working her best to make it better. She has a vivid dream life, is prolific in her sketchbooks and brings her sprawling collection of stuffed animals into animation in complex and colorful detail. Both pets and wild animals respond to her with great interest and love. For the first few years of her writing life, she wrote as if seeing the writing through a glass window, completely reversed but she would execute it still left to right, you know, like Leonardo da Vinci.
I’ll die on that hill.