What America Must Become

In honor of missed opportunities, rather NOT missing the next one, the one that may in fact be saving Ethnic Studies in Tucson, I offer the following inspiration from James Baldwin‘s letter to his nephew, known elsewhere as My Dungeon Shook.

And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.  For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.

February 1st was the day of compliance with the ban on Mexican American Studies in Tucson’s Unified School District, not coincidentally the first day of the shortest month in the year and the month allotted to celebrating the human history and contributions of African-Americans in this nation. Martin Luther King Jr.’s caution is as noteworthy today as it was when he was alive: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Encouraging Exchange With A Student

When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough get just enough encouragement to keep going. The following email exchange took place recently.

I posted the following in response to a student’s submission of a reading journal:
I love that you attach the assignments as jpg images! May I have your permission to share them in the future? They are great evidence that there’s more than one way to do a thorough job using an electronic text! Also, I’d like to follow up on one of your responses about interacting with instructors. I hope I haven’t given any indication that I wouldn’t welcome contact with you outside of class or given the impression that I would think you “not smart enough”. If I have, please give me an opportunity to make amends. I believe every human being has the capacity for genius-sized intelligence and feel honored that learners allow me to accompany them on their journey to discover it.

Looking forward,

To which Student responded:

I’m so glad you love that I attach the journal assignments as jpg images! Yes, you have my permission to share them in the future. To be honest I wasn’t quite sure they would be acceptable. I read the class Syllabus and weekly assignments over and over. I did not see any restrictions on how to structure the weekly chapter journal exercises so I hoped they would be acceptable.

Regarding my responses about interacting with instructors. I think its great that you feel honored to accompany students on their journey to discover intelligence! It’s nice to hear an instructor still have the same passion to teach as though they just discovered passion. Afterall, this passion drove your heart and mind into your chosen career. You have not given me any impression that would think that I’m “not smart enough”. This thought stems from past instructors The only negative thoughts I’ve had about this class is that I feel my grade is not what I worked endless hours on. I’ve spent up to 8 hours straight on just one chapter assignment. I feel I work very hard and read the directions on each assignment carefully. Maybe I’m just not understanding clearly. I have learned I need a lot of work on my grammar, punctuations, etc. I am shy about approaching others I don’t know. Thank you for your encouraging email! I’m enjoying this class and the psychology behind everything we say or do and how it affects the way we interact with others!

Thank you,

Simple pleasures in the life of an educator make that life possible even if I know there is no magic bullet and we are not in this to “win” any war but because the battle for unleashing initiative and cultivating compassionate human intelligence must be waged.

A Day in the Life

After nearly 20 years in the classroom and new adoptions for the preceding several semesters it becomes obvious that no amount of standing on my head (or textbook substitution) will make a dent in students’ motivation and accountability for their learning.

I use trade paperbacks in their entirety (how retro of me, I know) in my World and Migrant Lit courses. I simply grew tired of hearing “the book hasn’t arrived” or, “financial aid didn’t come through in time to get the reading done”, or “I can’t access the link”, or “my computer / internet connection isn’t working”.

The above paragraphs were sent in response to an etext publisher’s query regarding my decision to discontinue adoption of a text I’d previously used. This is the price of progress to date. Can we call it choice fatigue? We have so many options, formats, customizations and yet none the equivalent a silver bullet to kill the two-headed monster of entitlement and indifference that seems to swallow learners bodily.

NANOWRIMO 4 Teaching In Defense of Democracy

We had the faculty retreat today so I wrote only 639 words in the direction of 50,000 for the month. But they were good ones, truth-telling words that indicate a new level of understanding, preparation and growth. So, for this blog, despite the fact that I went home and got into bed in the coming rain after leaving the Preserve, I will simply post a few of the notes I took while preparing for my presentation on abundance using the work of Parker Palmer from An Active Life and Healing the Heart of Democracy.

Our lot is to call democracy back to its highest form… Protecting our right to disagree is one of democracy’s gifts, and converting this inevitable tension into creative energy is part of democracy’s genius. Parker Palmer

What are the steps to remaining “full of hope about our capacity to see the light” (14)?

Looking at [teaching] through the eyes of the heart might mean…(14)

AAC&U’s American Commitments

It is the ancient and honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (The Drama of Diversity and Democracy, p.14).

To build and maintain a “commonwealth of compassion and creativity… (14)

Why I teach and therefore what I hope to teach more directly is the  “link between language and empathy” (13).

The will to uncover “the pain…buried under jargon” is accompanied by the skill to restore.

I love pearls for their luster. They shine from within because something irritated them into being. Some of my best students have served as spiritual irritants and made me a better teacher.

war is not the only setting in which violence is done: violence is done whenever we violate another’s integrity (13-14).

Heart + the place of integration and therefore the site of disconnection and fragmentation and opportunity once or repeatedly broken.

“The core of the self, that center place where all our ways of knowing converge – intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily among others” (12)

Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage.

Where does the courage to act humanely come from and can it be cultivated?

We are here today because “there are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend and only heart talk can convey” (12).

What does it mean to teach from a heart broken open (12)?

Empathy, accountability and democracy

…to speak without fear against all that diminishes us

NEXT 098: As a learner / writer I believe _____ about myself, my potential, my chances, my future. These beliefs are seen in the following actions…

To reconcile whatever divides us from ourselves requires…

To be effective we must balance reaching out and looking in.

How capable of “reaching across divides” do you feel?

How much of a trust holder of democracy are you?

To avoid forced altruism find a true point of identity with people whose basic believes are contrary to your own.

Loaves and Fishes: Acts of Scarcity or Abundance

Contemplation and action cannot be separated the way that we separate work and vacation. … true contemplation draws us deeper into right action

(An Active Life, p. 122).

[Jesus] was perfectly capable of resisting false action (123)

…compassion is a quality that makes action responsive rather than reflexive.

Humility makes it possible to act for and with other people (124)

A life lived at the depths…

How might we feed people’s authentic hungers, help people penetrate the illusion of scarcity and act out of the reality of abundance (124)? Practice knowing / not knowing

What would it take to let others have a fair share of self respect, interdependence and self-efficacy?

Contemplation is any way we unmask illusion and reveal reality (134).

God’s abundance remains in the realm of potential, always there, always available. We are called to incarnate the Christ-life. (135). To respond to human hungers with everyday actions that incarnate God’s abundance.

Blindsided in Church

With all God has poured into me in the spiritual and natural realms I remained speechless and dumbfounded. The elder had shown nothing but concern for me in our previous conversations. Yes, I had thought it a bit odd that she brought me pantyhose and kept volunteering to exchange them for the correct size when she didn’t see me sporting them after a couple weeks. But I just laid that to the charge of generational differences. We live, after all, in a dessert and I rarely wear skirts above my knees so I don’t see the point of wearing stockings even if they’d give my uneven skin a bit more polish. The same can be said for make-up and you’d be hard-pressed to remember a time when I was found sporting anything beyond lipstick and that rarely.

So when she made that remark about all those Hispanics lined up for immunizations at some grocery store or other and that she was now debating about paying her taxes as a result, I was caught off guard. The only thing that came to mind after sharing Christ Jesus’ command that we love one another was the great festival my husband and I had seen on a recent furniture-hunting expedition to the East Side. It had been similarly wall to wall Latinos enjoying the games and getting their kids’ shots. She said she’d only been joking and turned away.

What I might have said was, yes, isn’t it wonderful what great care Latinos take of their children! Or, after more than a decade of being a practitioner of the NCBI model, I could have pulled a Columbo and asked her what exactly she was getting at, the better to hear her into action. I might even have invited her to tea so I could have the chance to dust off more than 14 years of my Re-evaluation Counseling Art of Listening skills. But no, I became a smiling deer in the headlights, and stood there, blinking.

I wonder this morning at her motivation. Was she inspired to make the comment because she saw me sitting with my husband and thought perhaps he was only a love interest and therefore she had time to stop the presses, derail the union? Or, was this part of Jesus’ plan to answer the tearful prayer offered up on the way home after church while listening to the gift He’s given Whitney Houston, that I more effectively give to others what He’s given to me?

Or, is it His way of allowing me to understand better and to live what Oswald Chambers discusses about reconciliation in today’s devotional?

“First be reconciled to thy brother . . .” Our Lord’s direction is simple, “first be reconciled.” Go back the way you came, go the way indicated to you by the conviction given at the altar; have an attitude of mind and a temper of soul to the one who has something against you that makes reconciliation as natural as breathing.

Whatever the reason, I accept this challenge as a call to go up higher in my daily walk and talk as an ambassador for Christ.

Don’t Volunteer to be a Victim

I enter the house, hands full, not a light on. All is silent but for the crickets. For the first time in 13 days they seem to be more outside than in. The day’s efficiencies behind me now, I can think back and remember what it is I wanted to say to those students whose conversation I overheard while leaving the building. Don’t volunteer to be a victim. I said nothing not wanting to be sure of what I’d overheard. It was more of an invitation than a response to the part of the conversation that I didn’t hear but could easily guess. I’m ditching, with you. The speaker was a young African American backpack wearer. His audience was a female of either Korean or Japanese ancestry and her body language said her mind was made up, torso leaning in the direction of the door, still open, as if waiting.

I said nothing because I didn’t know into which ear to whisper and could not guarantee that whatever I might manage to say would not be a rant. What I did know for certain was that they were not my passion’s primary audience. You can’t speak truth to power if there’s no one there. For the better part of two decades I have had a soapbox, limelight, and a center stage in front of one college classroom or the other and yet have remained virtually silent for all intents and purposes. Thankfully, that season has ended.

In the name of keeping better company I set out to a Border’s closing after a delightful dinner with a kindred spirit. The pretext was to find a copy of Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope or Clifton’s Ordinary Woman for the new dean who has invited us to share a book that tells her something about the giver. I know neither will be available but the quest provides reason sufficient for driving across the parking lot from Sweet Tomatoes to the once proud anchor store of this shopping plaza. For something in the neighborhood of eight dollars I score three titles, among them a reader, a memoir and a novel. All are written by authors known and beloved by me. The latter two are cloth-bound hardbacks and originally sold for $25. The reader is softcover.

Once home, I can barely put them down long enough to decide which will be first. Maxine Hong Kingston’s I Like a Broad Margin to My Life wins though, truth be told, I began Alvarez’ Saving the World in the bare naked bookstore amid row after row of garishly empty bookcases. It is one thing to read history. It is another thing to be awake in the world when it is passing before your eyes. First, the Post Office, now, this? When, after all, did the writing of letters fall by the wayside? Did it stumble and cry out, or whimper, as it lay in the road in broad daylight, gasping? Were there any witnesses? Where is Baldwin now – not Alec or Stephen, William or even Daniel, but James, the darker, older brother.

Getting God’s Word Out

When Christ Jesus identified himself to John’s disciples by his works, preaching the gospel to the poor was significant because it represented a leveling of the playing field. Divine favor, faith in and access to it was no longer for the wealthy few but was now being delivered to the unwashed many by the very Son of God Himself. How it appears to have morphed in the past 2000 years back into a privilege owing to an elite club is baffling. Blogging about it is one way to take the fight for God’s glory back to the streets, virtually perhaps, but such messages are increasingly available on both sides of the digital divide.

Riddle Me This, Batman

Finished grading the term’s submissions an hour before quitting time today. That constitutes a personal best to be sure. I’m not finished as there are three who’ve yet to complete assignments. All three have been given the same extension. Two are working to finish. One went to the department head for an over-ride to withdraw in the last week of the semester. Of the first two, one got derailed by challenges in her family life. The other’s job diverted his attentions. The third had technical difficulties which I suspect were real enough but not sufficient excuse for shoddy work on the submissions he did post.

What I wonder is why do some students feel entitled to ask for a bailout and others take responsibility for their fates? Is this class conditioning? Culture? Not gender given there is one male on both sides of this equation. Perhaps it’s not privilege, but a history of having someone take your part and a resulting expectation that such should continue. In a perfect world, this should be everyone’s experience. But what’s the purpose of a withdrawal policy in the first place?