Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here's What I Think

What happens when you have had enough from a friend with whom you completely disagree on most issues?  On Facebook, it's a simple matter of "de-friending" someone.  In reality it doesn't work that way.  Do we want to dismiss friendships because our political leanings differ so widely from people we might otherwise enjoy being around?  It happens.  Most folks just avoid certain subjects or remove themselves from one another's lives gradually.
But it's complicated, isn't it?
Facebook certainly makes some strange bedfellows.  Sometimes they wind up as juxtaposed portraits, agreeing on something they obviously have a different take on, but nevertheless feel strongly enough to state an opinion.

But we all have people in our lives that don't experience the universe as we do.  People who belong to what we might consider the wrong political party, attend the wrong schools, social institutions, or have world views that are undeniably opposed to each other.
The trend these days is to rant and rage about our polarization.  The trick to keeping a variety of friends is to do the opposite.  State your case, make the points you need to make without disrespecting the other's view point no matter how ludicrous it might seem.  I always try to ask myself when dealing with a religious fanatic, a paranoid personality, or someone I deem ignorant of history, what are this person's core values.  Am I talking to a decent human being here?  Is this person inherently evil?  Might we find some common ground somewhere?
My horse friends don't exactly share the values of my writer friends.  My education colleagues are rarely religious fanatics.  I'm still looking for a compatible fly fisherman and probably will the rest of my days.
I had a student once who sat in the back of the classroom.  Since it was a horseshoe formation it was only three deep but nevertheless behind others.  He liked to participate in class discussions and the class came to value his insights.  But it was how he participated rather than what he said that is so memorable.  Kelly had the voice of an orator.  Yet he seldom spoke loudly.  After considerable discussion he'd slowly raise his hand.  After being recognized, he'd say something like, "well this certainly is an interesting discussion.  Here's what I think..."  He was forthcoming about who or what he agreed with and who or what he found not so much to his liking.  His demeanor created an atmosphere that made sure he was heard.
Isn't that what matters most if we are to make any progress with anything?  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Of Teacups and Dreams

We call them teacup kids.  Teacups because they are or are treated as FRAGILE.  What we've got here are kids who completely control their parents.  The tail wagging the dog.  They get choices.  Choices about everything.  Do you want the yellow cup or the green one?  The blue straw or the red one?  I wonder if they even know.  If they even care.
They dress themselves in all kinds of weather.  It's raining outside but teacup kids are wearing summer outfits.  There is snow on the ground, but those treated like the good china are wearing patent leather dance shoes.
Recently something came to my attention that involved such a child-rearing style and it gave me pause.  Huge pause.  A friend of ours from the coffee shop had a birthday party for her 4 year old.  There were other kids and a great big chocolate cake.  I'm sure there were many presents too.  What was not there was any "singing or laughing."  Apparently that can scare a 4-year-old.
Imagine never experiencing that specific kind of humiliation when everyone you know and care about is singing Happy Birthday to YOU!  Remember how strange that feels.  How embarrassing it is?  Now imagine never getting the opportunity to know that weird mix of emotions.
What are we protecting these kids from?  When did it become OK to bend and snap to every whim and misunderstood desire?
The old Jewish comedian Sam Levinson used to do a routine about his childhood that involved food falling on the ground.  He was raised in a tenement with 6 or 7 siblings.  There was never enough food. If something happened to fall from the table t the floor, six heads were butting under the table to be the first to capture the morsel.  A far cry from the waste and pandering that goes on today at many mealtimes.  It's funny, but not that funny.

So what are the consequences of this child rearing?  Might it instill a sense of entitlement?  Privilege?
How could it not?
Now I realize that things come and go in cycles.  But I wonder where these ideas originated.  My guess is that new parents who have definite ideas about how they were raised, (or perhaps just based on significant experiences) want to do it differently.  Then, because this stuff sells, a few books come out, then a few more.  Pretty soon a philosophy is born and the freedom to be free brings about a new "style" of child rearing.  Hope I'm around to see the results.
Some new evidence of the scientific variety has come to light about the importance and relevance of dreams.  Recent studies are about to apply the new computer technology to quantify and then qualify dream content.  We are beginning to get a picture of the frequency and meaning of dream images and symbols.  It all adds up to dreams being much more than the random firing of brain cells.  Some trends are coming to light.  Gender and age have a great deal to do with dream content.
I recall a few years ago reading in the psych textbook I used to teach with that dream content changes significantly as we age.  I can now report that the book was accurate, at least in my case.  The emotions of aging probably have a lot to do with it.  Last night I had a few dreams.  What I recollect most vividly is that there were two trout in one scene and I was trying to fill some containers to preserve their lives.  I went from something like an old aquarium tank, to a larger vessel like a shallow bath tub that then morphed into a small concrete pool.  I filled the small concrete pool and then realized I was late for school and needed to leave.  Hoping that the two fish, one small and one much bigger, would still be alive when I returned home.  I was concerned with the fact that they went from being in the wild to breathing tap water.  What remains most vivid is the colors on the fish.  Both rainbows, one had reddish gold gill plates.  Lots to work with here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Going the Distance

I just read an article about teacher turnover.  Latest statistics show that about 50% that go into the profession quit after 5 years.  Not too surprising especially given all the public perceptions and the low wages combined with the work load.  In my work with beginning teachers, I've research the attrition rate now and then and what I've found is no surprise.  The reality eventually overcomes the romantic notion that so many carry in their heads.  Add to that the ongoing corporate attack for privatization, the testing frenzy, and how those interests interpret test scores, the general lack of respect for authority figures, and there you have it.

There are those, on the contrary, who will stay no matter how difficult the conditions or how low the pay.  For a change, I'd like to consider why they stay.  I suspect that many who qualify here feel the same as I do.  My full-time tenure lasted 33 years.  I had intended to take a break about the 10 year mark but that never happened.  In fact, there were times during those three decades that going to the classroom proved to be a lifesaver.  When personal tragedies and pitfalls come calling, I found my work with students helped me escape the difficulties with relationships, family, the inconsistencies of friendships, and the general irrationality of life as an adult.
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I'd like to offer some insight into the mystery of what it takes to go the distance in the classroom.
I have always been into my subject area.  Whether it be history, psychology, literature, writing, international affairs, or journalism, much of my free time, my reading, my chosen education has to do with those topics.  I believe that students can see that.  When a teacher loves his/her subject it shows.  It also motivates.
Another factor has to do with truly liking people.  Particularly young people.  Being around teen-agers, despite their developing brains, is a heady experience.  They may be innocent but they are not jaded.  They have energy and they are idealistic and they truly believe they can do the things they want to do.  And then there is the no small matter of colleagues.  Some of mine were my best friends, for years.  Even now, when I return to my former home I see them.  I seek them out.  That kind of learning community is key to what is wrong today.
Despite the current malaise, the profession and those who enter and exit continue to remain complex issues.  Perhaps if some of the decision making power about curriculum, working conditions, and compensation were left to those who have endured despite all the difficulties, so many would not flee the profession.  See, I'm still idealistic.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


The commentators are saying our wounds are self-inflicted.  It's a logical explanation for why the current government shutdown continues to confuse, anger, and depress anyone outside of Congress.  The metaphor begs the question: what motivates self-harm?
Countries can best be understood by considering the behavior of people.  After all, national character explains quite a bit about why Russians differ from Japanese, or how Americans are perceived world-wide as opposed to Syrians.  The Brits the French and the Italians all have character traits that distinguish themselves from one another.
Thus, it follows that people who self-inflict pain for various reasons, might go a long way to explain why countries do it.  Are we angry, guilty, or in need of attention?  Is that why the U.S. Congress refuses to budge?  Are they all right fighters who will not blink and simply lock themselves into an unmovable position?  No doubt some are.  But is there a picture of this nation that is emerging that could offer an explanation?  How about this: Democracy, as we thought we know it, does not exist.
Add to that the continual misinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution and you have the beginning piece of a puzzle that may never get solved.

Another chunk concerns information.  What passes for objective information about everything from school reform to health care is disseminated on multiple outlets each with their own agenda.  How can we possibly solve any of these problems when we do not use the same set of facts.
Sometimes I listen to a radio station or watch a TV station that I would never choose to select.  It's painful, but enlightening.  The things some folks believe.  Everything from loss of jobs to full-blown Socialism if we dare offer healthcare to those most vulnerable, those most in need.
It's even become our entertainment.  A popular TV host sent a camera crew to the heart of a large city and asked people on the street if they supported Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Most took the latter never knowing they were one and the same.  They seemed so convincing in their reasons too.
We have every right to be embarrassed.
Back to vanishing democracy.  It occurred to me today while driving a long stretch of highway and listening to the news that the current malaise in Washington D.C. is very similar to the attack of public education.  Both threaten democracy, both are disruptive to the extent that they will no doubt make enemies for life, and both involve an unequal distribution of wealth.
We used to pride ourselves on our strong sense of confidence.  It's difficult to like your self and feel good about what you are doing when you continue to inflict wounds on yourself and don't know why.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Attached to Nothing

Yesterday dawned clear and sunny.  That's the reason I decided to hit the road about 6:30 a.m. and get in one of those Fall days of fishing.  It was a Sunday.  Can't remember the last time I went on a Sunday because I usually avoid  the crowds and traffic on weekends.  But the window opened and let in a 75 degree day in the big middle of some intense rain storms up here.  Sometimes you can over think a simple matter like spend the day on a lake or not.
Landing at my favorite little Mt. Hood lake about 8:00 proved a surprise.  Very few people around.  The gate to the little parking lot was still open but the day use area bulletin board with fee envelopes was gone.  Winter is approaching.  Over the course of the day, the temperature rose about 20 degrees.  From better put on a fleece to time to take off another layer.  The chill vanished about 11:00 and a pair of canoes hit the water.  Just three watercraft until a family of kayakers appeared about noon.
Over all a lovely day.  Beautiful rainbow trout, the resident osprey, and a fresh coat of snow on the Mountain.

Sometimes I think the best thing about fly fishing from a float tube is the solitary time.  The luxury to sit and think can be the most valuable thing about an outing of this kind.  So, between changing  how I rig my flies, maneuvering to another part of the lake, and just taking in the sounds and sights, I think.  Sometimes I give the line a tug or two and the movement attracts a trout.  Occasionally  a thought worth keeping settles in.
I thought of Jimmy Chan, a student I once had in a senior class.  He only spoke English during the school day because he lived in San Francisco's Chinatown and spoke with family and community members solely the rest of the time.  But Jimmy's limited English never got in the way of his natural curiosity.  His older brother was a math genius and enjoyed more recognition from students and faculty. But Jimmy was somehow more personable.  "I was wonder..." he would often ask, dropping the ing on wondering.  "I was wonder, is there a word that best describes how food tastes?" His questions would come in a constant stream.  He was always engaged, whatever the topic.  It was such an appropriate interruption, "I was wonder" because that's exactly what Jimmy was; he was wonder.
Just then a fragile wisp if spider web floats by and I wonder how it gets onto the middle of a lake.  It must break off in a gust of wind.  Wonder if it just falls in somewhere or makes landfall and continues as before.  Wonder if it has a passenger.  It's here and then gone.  Like a Haiku, it forms in my mind:

      In the middle of an icy lake
      Spider webs hover
     Attached to noting.

A poem, caught and released.