Knowing Our Limits

I came across the following email from a student who withdrew from class as the semester began:

I’m having a very hard time soaking all this in. My head is hurting. My navigational skills are not working. My fingers hurt from typing. This college stuff seems to be out of my reach at this time. Maybe later when my mind and my clean date gets longer, meaning more clean time. There is too much on my plate right now. Need to clean some of this crap off my plate first. You must know your limitations. (30 January 2011)

I saved it for these past months to try to wrap my mind around it. On the one hand, it’s accurate, at least we do need to know our limitations and there is often too much on one’s plate. On the other hand, we learn our limits pushing beyond them when grace allows. I wasn’t offered the opportunity to counsel this particular student. But even when I am permitted, mostly I listen to them think about how this is similar to or different from that – whatever it is they are feeling, coming up against.


If the giving up requires giving over your interests, preferences and rights to Jesus, then and only then, is giving up the perfect thing to do. Then what and how you are doing things are aligned with the principles and processes of surrender and they will never be confused with resignation.

InstaMom Day #2

Something about becoming a mother overnight has made me ruthless. Might be hormones. Might be inspiration. It’s perfect timing however you slice it. Could it be that being responsible for another has made me realize, at last, that I must take care of myself in every area of my life to do the dance of parenting with whatsoever grace may come? When all is said and done it may simply be permission to prioritize life in a whole new way. There seems to have been no learning curve at all. I simply, or not so simply, had to see myself as significant, albeit tangentially, for the reordering to occur. This is not the perspective I take in the classroom and perhaps that’s been the rub all along. We’ll see how they like me now.

On the frontlines of motherhood today, we got disappointing news. M’Dear’s hair is too soft for Sisterlocks. The salon owner was suggested as a pro with braiding children’s hair so I gave her a call and she’ll buzz me when she gets back in town after the long weekend. I find this incident notable because of the wilt in the spine the news occasioned in my precious niece. She was all set for a new look and I had no idea that having a delay or change in kind of make-over imagined would affect her this way. I tell you what: having a child definitely gives you a different perspective on things and I am so glad God chose me for this assignment at this time in my life!

Motherhood Trumps All

About twelve hours ago, 15 hours if you’re counting from the Eastern time zone, I became the summer mother of a 9 and 10/12ths year old. Needless to say that school’s officially in session – for me – and Ise powerful tard. So forgive me as you imagine the blog that might’ve been.

New Horizons

Sunrise Over Crater Lake and Wizard Island, OR

One great thing about teaching / learning is that they are full of do-overs. Each semester is a fresh start. Past failures are past, if not entirely forgotten, and one’s hope rises a thing reborn. At least, in my case, this is so. I imagine it’s a feeling similar to mothers who, labor forgotten, conceive and bring forth again. Some may call it hysterical blindness. I prefer to think of it as selective amnesia. Having experienced both in high school, I speak with some degree of authority. Viewing the film You Again with my sister and niece this evening, I am reminded of not only how history repeats itself, a timely caution, considering, but just how far-reaching are the consequences of emotions we don’t let go. I am so happy for having reconnected with my Re-evaluation Counseling Colleagues and thrilled at the prospects of our budding writers’ support group. Regular discharge on early memories will no doubt improve my ability to be present and access my best thinking in and outside the classroom. Hopefully, this will translate into a better learning environment for us all.

Education As the Practice of Freedom

I am thoroughly enjoying reading Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky and preparing for the Themes of Immigrant Literature course for Summer Session #1. I love the details of finding images of the texts’ book covers; details about each author’s life; background information on the time, culture and context of each plot. It’s like putting together the pieces of a ginormous puzzle. Once these are in hand, even though I keep trawling for more information as the semester progresses, I then focus my attentions to the structure of assignments and ever more effective ways of as serving as a catalyst for student engagement. In an ideal world learners teach themselves effort-fully, though without the resistance that, for a time, has them believing I am the enemy and I am not-so-simply yet delightedly along for the ride.

Of course, in a real sense I am the enemy- of confusion that is – and not of the learners collectively or individually. When pushed to my limits in the past, I have voiced aloud an apology for their previous years of conditioning and misinformation about themselves, their infinite and yet to be identified abilities, and the worlds within and around us. From time to time I share this excerpt from Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook:

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

If I offer it at a particular moment of openness or shared presence, more than a few grasp the invitation to self-liberation. Sometimes, one or more remember the Marley quote almost always on the Basic Writing syllabus and connect the two at once.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds. (Redemption Song)

At such moments, the intersection of the human and divine is palpable. Thank you Paulo Freire, Lucille Clifton and others known or unnamed who have lived and encouraged the rest of us to live education as the practice of freedom.