from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The end of the break 

Today is the last day before we return to the normal pattern of the school year. Our classes recommence tomorrow morning. Today will thus be a transition day. Besides finally filing my taxes (electronically - all the information is ready to go), I will have tasks that I must address today.

I want to use this diary to offer a very few thoughts about what I have learned and experienced during this break, because this is also part of what I will carry with me as we return to the business of classroom learning (although what happens in the classroom is actually a very small part of the learning). I invite you to take a few moments and ponder with me.

Normally during a break such as this (11 days this time), I would to a great deal of reading. Of books. Ones I had not had time to address during the intensity of life when school is in session. Often I will read close to a book a day. This vacation my reading was far less extensive. I have completed only 3 books and will complete a fourth with about one hour’s additional reading after all my require tasks of the day - filing the taxes, copying material for tomorrow (with 153 teachers and only 2 copy machines I am not going to wait until then), posting plans for the week on my website. I think it worth explaining why I did less reading. Of books.

Clearly I have been active electronically. I have taken the time to read a great deal more of what others who post at sites I frequent have written. I have also done a lot of my own writing: those who regularly frequent dailykos know that I have posted a diary every single day. Some of those diaries have taken a fair amount of time to compose. Those finding favor -- at dailykos or elsewhere - have presented me with the responsibility of participating in the ensuing conversations, at least insofar as remarks are directed towards me as the author of the piece (I have no responsibility to jump into dialogues on subthreads that may arise between others - thank goodness, since some of these can be extensive in themselves).

Some of the diaries I have posted did not take all that long to write, because they were the product of extensive and ongoing reflection. During break I finally have time to let the pieces come together. Others took a great deal of time to write -- in doing the diary on the book by Roberts, even after I had finished the book, I could not just sit down and compose the piece. I would work for a while, then I needed to walk away, because in writing the diary I was revisiting the book and reencountering all the strong feelings I had experienced when I first read it.

During the past week and a half I have also had time to catch up with some of the work on educational policy that I have been doing. I met with candidates or representatives, I drafted responses to things they sent me, I sent out unsolicited additional things to be considered.

And as part of the various electronic communities in which I participate, I tried to offer support, encouragement, constructive criticism to others, as well as to hear what they had to say to me in response to anything I might have written.

Sometimes I can judge how the communities will react to what I post, other times I cannot. I may have a sense of the importance or the power of a piece, but I do not know how it will strike those who encounter it, for I cannot know in advance what concerns they will bring with them when they explore a site on which I post, and how those concerns, or prior interests, may interact with the words that they encounter. I can be pleasantly surprised at the amount of attention a diary may receive, and I can also be frustrated that things I think valuable do not seem - for whatever reason - to interest a larger proportion of the community.

My wife -- and a few others -- have suggested that I consider gathering some of the things I have written into some kind of collection, possibly seeing if anyone might be interested in publishing them. I have no interest in self-financing, and I have often brushed off such suggestions, arguing that beside the many typographical and other errors (which of course could be corrected in the editing process) that the pieces were written for a specific purpose at a specific point in time, that therefore they would lose impact outside of the context in which they were first presented. Also, often the diary is but a small part of the story - the ensuing conversation often is at least as important, and some of my most perceptive remarks occur further down the thread.

During the break I have gone back and read a fair number of my previous pieces. I have at least looked at every piece in the past year, going back as far as my statement for Pastor Dan as an illustration of why some progressives should not be considered hostile to people of faith.

I am not the best judge of my own writing. Even so, I was surprised as how well many of the pieces at which I looked retained power and effectiveness. I was also surprised -- overwhelmed in fact - at how often people were thanking me for what I had written, or telling me how well I wrote. I even encountered a few suggestions like those of my wife, that I consider wider distribution at least of some of the pieces.

Some of my pieces have received wider distribution. I am part of the Indy-Bloggers movement that was an outgrowth of the opposition to Gonzales as AG. My personal blog is linked to by several hundred other bloggers. Things I write at dailykos and elsewhere are occasionally referred to by those at other sites. I have on my own sent out on several lists links to things I have written, especially on education. One online publication, HumanBeams, has more than half a dozen of my pieces on their site. And tomorrow Jay Mathews will feature a selection from something I wrote in his online column.

As I noted in my response to Maryscott’s apologia (which is NOT an apology), one reason to write is because we want others to read what we have to express. I acknowledge when I post I hunger for comments, for recommends, for mojo, In my case it is in part because I am insecure, that I want some affirmation that what I express is of value to someone besides myself. But it is also because the process of recognition is something of a feedback loop - get some and it increases the likelihood that you will get more. During this break I have come to realize how some acknowledgment that what we write has been read matters greatly, which is why I have encouraged people to leave the author some indication, in some form, that we have read her words. I know I hunger for it, and I have seen how others do as well. As a teacher this has reminded me how important it is to my students to have some acknowledgment at the intellectual risks they are willing to assay, for without that acknowledgment they will be far less ready to attempt anything not guaranteed to be safe.

I do not consider myself wise. When my students ask how I know so much, I remind them of two things. First, I am now almost 60, which has given me much time to learn and to forget many things. Second, I read, constantly. I am always willing to try to learn and encounter new things. That I may have some gifts of either insight or expression would matter little if Idid not keep my mind open and continue to learn, to be challenged.

One reason diary made the connection between teaching and life. For me they are inseparable. As a teacher I know that I learn more from my students than they do from me. After all, I am one of 7 (or in a few cases 8) teachers each has. I may come to the table with more factual information and more procedural knowledge, but that is more than offset by the cumulative uniqueness of each of them. It is not unusual to find those who respond to what I write commenting about me being a teacher. I hope that they will recognize that it is not because I provide information that gives me any effectiveness I may display, but because I probe, challenge thinking, and most of all listen and observe.

Many of you may now be back at work after this holiday weekend. I hope that before you become completely reabsorbed into the possibly mundane patterns of your quotidian existence, you stop and step back. Last night I was watching a Cspan program featuring the author Karen Armstrong speaking at Politics and Prose Bookstore almost two weeks back, and event to which I had wanted to go but for which I had a conflict. I drew several things from her remarks worth passing on here. First, all of the great movements that developed in the Axial age had an element of quest -- that is, there was a need to seek out something of meaning, but that search often was to find that meaning, that reality, in oneself. She talked about how much of the language was not of intellectual knowledge, but of knowledge of the heart. One example is that the word “credo” may actually be derived from the Latin work for heart. A second key point was the common insight of compassion, expressed in one form or another of what we have come to know as the Golden Rule, an idea clearly expressed by Kung-Fu Tse (Confucius) centuries before it appears in Hillel or Jesus. She reminded people that the word ecstasy comes from the idea of standing outside of yourself - being able to stand in the steps of someone else, to examine and evaluate from without, not just within.

I am not completely coherent about this. Perhaps at some point I can revisit. One comment on yesterday’s diary beseeched me for something more Quakerly, spiritual, because of the devastating nature of the material from the book contained in that diary. In referencing Armstrong I am attempting to respond to that request. I am not a Quietist, I do believe in action. But as I age I recognize that the actions upon which I embark before I reflect tend to be far less effective in achieving their putative goals than those that come from a deeper place, where I have confronted important things, and come to recognize my lack of complete insight. In her many years of study and reflection, Armstrong has increasingly come to a place where theological differences are unimportant except as they serve as a means of keeping people apart. There is so much much in common, there are the things that are basic to the human condition. As we continue to our activism -- political as well as moral -- if we can remember that there is far more that connects us than divides us we will neither despair nor will we ever totally write off another person. They have every right to reject what we offer them, and it may be that they way we present, how we offer, is at least in part the proximate cause of our failure to find something in common. If we speak the same to every person it is we who are at fault, because then we are not taking the time to meet the person where she is, and to invite her to a common understanding.

Enough. I apologize for the lack of focus presented herein. I had a few ideas, and I acknowledge they were neither fully developed nor well-organized. As is often the case, I am to some degree writing to myself as much as I am to a wider audience. If you have read this far, I hope I have neither confused you nor totally bored you. If one of you has gained anything, even if an insight of why I am completely wrong, then it was worth the time, the energy, and the electrons for me to share this.

May you have some moments of peace today.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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