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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Dear Education Reformers:

education reformI’ve spent much of this month  listening to teachers. Their stories break my heart. Because these are teachers who are voluntarily seeking to improve. And they are exhausted, folks. Bone-deep, brain fugue, blank-eyed exhausted. It’s all they can do to get up in the morning and go to work.

From small rural Oklahoma districts, they tell stories of tests that no one can explain. Tests that define their students’ futures as well as their own. They speak of students who throw up from stress over these tests that ostensibly measure teacher accountability.

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Accountability to whom? Certainly not to their students, who stop paying attention once testing is over (because after all: school now is about testing, isn’t it? not learning, right?). And yes, that’s one of the stories they tell: students halt all work once tests are done. Because hey: it’s all about the tests, right?

Tests do NOT measure learning. I know non-educators find this hard to believe, but a far better measurement of a child’s learning is asking him or her to teach the topic to someone else. Another good assessment is a portfolio of work, so you can see the student’s progress over a span of time.

There’s no time for that these days. Portfolios are labour intensive, and watching each student teach another? What dreamland do I live in? What there is time for is testing. And worrying about testing. And preparing for testing. But not — please note — a decent discussion of what this is supposed to accomplish, or how the tests are graded. Some, in fact, are graded electronically. By computers, w/ ‘rubrics.’ circuit board

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Here’s a link to an essay — written by a teacher at MIT, Les Perelman — that scored a 6 out of 6 on a prestigious e-graded test. A shorter, cogently argued (and sensible) essay only received a 5. Hmmm… You’ll note that the ‘winning’ essay is total junk.

Folks, teachers are indispensable. I don’t WANT my grandson graded by computers. There are enough computers in our lives — and I even like computers (well, most of the time). But I like teachers infinitely better.

And our teachers are not happy these days. For very good reasons. Maybe, if we want our students to perform better in school, we should listen to these teachers. You know, the people who work with our kids DAILY. For HOURS. Who say that hunger, neglect, poverty, stress, and other human errors are what cause students to perform poorly.

I guess that would be too simple, right? Just a thought…

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no, love is NOT enough

 Grief_by_crystalomnia“In this world where everything will not turn out okay, where the anything that is possible is not in our hands, the real deal is to, nonetheless, look deep into who we really are, and then from that place, reach out a hand, to act, to live a life of care.” ~ James Ford

Wow. I read those words and flinched. Because I have known since I was a child that love is NOT enough. I have known love to wound grievously. To hurl words like sharp stones. And even at its better moments, love does not save from tragedy.

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I’m sure that the victims of the Navy Yard mass shooting were loved. But my love does not armour my beloved, as I have found in my life. Not my sons, not my husband, not my parents (and I count my in-laws). Love will not protect against life’s darkest turns.helping hands

But as James Ford notes, what love will and can do is still amazing: it can comfort. It can help heal. It can listen and be there. In other words? We can’t trust to love. But we can offer it up, always, when things go wrong. And that’s hard enough.

Because sometimes love requires us to be there for the giver of pain. To offer that lost traveler a hand. I can’t think of anything more difficult than being open to the pain some people give me, via my loved ones. But I’m pretty sure the helping hand isn’t confined to just the people I love. Sigh…

 

 

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what helps…

2012-05-28 16.23.47Remember the old Beatles song? The one that begins When I find myself in times of trouble…? It’s Let It Be, from the white album. And while Mother Mary isn’t my default for times of sorrow and trouble, poetry is. As is getting outside.

Something there is about sitting in the green light of summer, the yellow light of fall, that heals me. I can watch birds at the feeders on the deck for hours, happy to compare the flight of tiny hummers to large pigeons. Soothed by the whirrrring of wings and the calling songs.

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Here’s a poem that reminds me there will always be ‘outside,’ replete with the things that repair hearts. Like frogs, this one sitting happily on my flowerpot outside, 10 feet up from the ground… Life is magic, isn’t it?

From a Country Overlooked

by Tom Hennen

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.

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suffering, and letting go…

letting goBuddhism assures me there will be suffering in life. That pain will come (and go). That change will as often be for the worse as for the better. But as a generally optimistic person, I usually ignore this.  (I know — what kind of Buddhist am I?? :) )

And so, when I am confronted by truly mean people — people who will lash out in their own anger and say mean, hateful things — I’m flummoxed. And then I too become angry.

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Sigh. BIG sigh. Because this really helps no one, and only makes my nights into dark sleepless hours of stomach-churning and head-spinning.

Because I am, at heart, an emotional engineer. I want to FIX things. I want to stop the hurt — my own and that of the ones I love. And how very wise the Buddha was when he shook his head (surely he shook his head?) and said so many centuries ago: Suffering I teach, and the way out of suffering. And the way out? Just to get through it. Without letting the feeling dominate you.rage2

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Doesn’t that sound simple? But it’s the hardest thing I know. As I try not to let the anger take me over, to just ‘feel it and endure,’ I am almost sick. How can you say you love people if you throw the jagged blades of knife-words at them? What kind of love is that? How can I speak kindly to a person who enrages me? Even if, once, I loved them?

But then… what kind of love alters when it alteration finds….? Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. When I am this angry with someone, it certainly doesn’t feel like love. And it’s hard as hell to just ‘endure’ it…

 

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