TED Talk from Sharon Brous: It’s time to reclaim and reinvent religion

Sharon Brous powerful TED Talk is a great part of the global conversation that needs to happen to heal the brokenness in our world. It fits perfectly with my message of optimistic realism. You can watch her video and/or read some of the highlights below.

 

4 Principles of Religion

Wakefulness. Our world is on fire, and it is our job to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames. We suffer from psychic numbing: The more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. We shut down at a certain point. Somewhere along the way, our religious leaders forgot that it’s our job to make people uncomfortable. It’s our job to wake people up, to pull them out of their apathy and into the anguish, and to insist that we do what we don’t want to do and see what we do not want to see. Because we know that social change only happens when we are awake enough to see that the house is on fire.

Hope. Hope is not naïve, and hope is not an opiate. Hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and against a culture of despair. Because what hope does for us is it lifts us out of the container that holds us and constrains us from the outside, and says, “You can dream and think expansively again.”

This is what religion is supposed to be about: It’s supposed to be about giving people back a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, a sense that they and their dreams fundamentally matter in this world that tells them that they don’t matter at all.

Mightiness. It is true that I can’t do everything, but I can surely do something. I can forgive. I can love. I can show up. I can protest. I can be a part of this conversation. “I am strong, I am mighty, and I am worthy.” In a world that conspires to make us believe that we are invisible and that we are impotent, religious communities and religious ritual can remind us that for whatever amount of time we have here on this earth, whatever gifts and blessings we were given, whatever resources we have, we can and we must use them to try to make the world a little bit more just and a little bit more loving.

Inter-connectedness. It’s so hard for us to remember how interconnected we all are as human beings. And yet, we know that it is systems of oppression that benefit the most from the lie of radical individualism. Phobias and racism of any type are all of our problems. Emma Lazarus was right when she said until all of us are free, we are none of us free. We are all in this together.

Our hearts hurt from the failed religion of extremism, and we deserve more than the failed religion of routine-ism. It is time for religious leaders and religious communities to take the lead in the spiritual and cultural shift that this country and the world so desperately needs—a shift toward love, toward justice, toward equality and toward dignity for all. Our children deserve no less than that.

Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: October 2016

How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?

flourishIn Martin E.P. Seligman’s Flourish (published April 5, 2011 with Simon and Schuster), he writes about the five elements people need in order to flourish. It goes beyond trying to find happiness:Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end.”

So what are the five pillars and how do we create those elements in a school environment?

Here are my thoughts:

Positive Emotion

In order for our schools to flourish, they need to be a place where positive emotions reside. At the moment, school systems, teachers, and students are surrounded with negative emotions. Most teachers try to create a positive environment for their students, but so much depends on what happens outside of the classroom. If we want to improve that outer atmosphere, we need to make sure teachers are happy and not stressed out over the increased pressures surrounding their profession. If the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Engagement

Students engage when they have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the subject matter, which is a direct result of the teacher’s engagement. I engage with my students because I want to hear and read what my students think about what we are learning in the classroom. The more control I have over the content of my classroom, the more engaged I am, which creates that atmosphere for my students. When reform agencies dictate the content of teachers’ classrooms, engagement diminishes significantly.

Relationships

Even at the college level where I rarely see students for more than a semester, I have developed strong relationships with my students. I also encourage students to form strong bonds with each other because they need to trust each other when they share their thoughts in classroom discussions and essays in writing workshops. If students aren’t talking to and collaborating with each other, they will never build those necessary relationships.

Meaning

Teachers find meaning in their chosen profession; it’s intrinsic to their job description. However, the current educational trends take away that intrinsic process from students: Students’ choices are being stripped away, with most schools buying into the factory model of producing only college-bound students, instead of creating a place where students can discover their own passions and direction in life.

Accomplishment

One of the reasons video games are so popular with children and teens is that they offer a sense of accomplishment as players move through the levels. This element is sorely lacking in today’s school system. In middle school, students can move through the grade levels without passing a single subject. Some parents are demanding that their children are rewarded for little effort. What has hurt teachers in this area is the evaluation system that measures teachers’ accomplishments through a deeply flawed test. No matter what we tell ourselves about the growth we see in our students, if our accomplishments can be stripped away by a flawed test, we will operate from a defeatist position.

As Seligman states, each of these five pillars needs to be present for people to flourish. It only makes sense that they must be present in the school system for teachers and students to flourish as well.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016

paint-brushesHow can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.

Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:

If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and anxiety?

If students were allowed to embrace their creative sides, would they grow up into adults who needed art therapy?

If art is therapeutic, why do we give it so little importance and relegate it to an elective in secondary schools?

Why do parents and educators allow people who don’t really care about their children to make unhealthy decisions for their children?

Why does the very notion of school imply that everything that is taught there needs to be quantified? Can’t we just enjoy learning without testing or assigning a letter grade to it?

Why are math, science, social studies, and English classes more important in a child’s education, than art, music, dance, and theater?

Why do people think that studying the arts is a waste of time and not preparation for college? Why can’t students who truly love the arts immerse themselves in those areas and continue to do so in college?

Why is our society so bent on educating only half the child? Do people not see the damage being done to our children when we eliminate the things that bring them the greatest joy?

 

Friday Writing Challenge: I Miss High School

Prompt: Something you miss

Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014
Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014

I miss high school—not my teenage years but the years I spent teaching high school English.

A few weeks ago, I went to the local high school with my son to see his friends play a 10-minute exhibition game as the half-time entertainment for the boys’ basketball game. As soon as I walked into the building, I felt the energy that only exists in a school: An energy fueled by youthful hope and ambition.

We were a little early, so we sat in the bleachers by Ian’s friends. As I looked at the faces on the court, I was disappointed that I didn’t know anyone. Then I immediately chastised myself. How could I know anyone in this building? I don’t teach here. I don’t teach at any high school anymore. My heart began to ache.

Ridiculously, I fought back tears. Why did I leave a place I loved so much? How could I resign from a position that defined my purpose in life? How could I leave the students who needed me?

I looked at the parents, siblings, students, and teachers sitting in the stands. In Colorado I would have had at least one if not five people approach me while I was sitting there—a student just to say hi or a parent thanking me for working with his or her child or an older sibling back from college telling me I made a difference. But here, in this high school, no one knows me: None know that I used to change lives for the better; none know that I would lose sleep worrying about students just like them; none know how much it meant to my students to see me sitting in bleachers just like these.

While Ian watched his friends play, I evaluated what to do with this surprising surge of emotion. Did this mean I should start applying for secondary teaching jobs? Would anyone even hire me after my public resignation letter? If so, could I really work fulltime in a public school again? That thought brought a new surge of pain and questions. How could I go back to a public school, no matter how much I loved it, when the reason I left still exists? How could I be part of a system that aims to replace hope and ambition with standards and test scores? How could I go back to a profession that is being exploited by corporate greed and destroyed by bureaucrats with little concern for our children?

As my mind and heart raced, I thought about my college students. I am still changing lives and losing sleep over them, but I’m not immersed in the community the way I was in high school. As an adjunct, I just show up for class. If a student has questions, I stay on campus a little longer, but I’m free to leave when I’m done. I know I am still making a difference with my college students, but at a community college, I have many nontraditional students who are no longer teenagers in their formative years. Nevertheless, they respond positively to my encouragement, tough love, and passion. Most of my students leave at the end of a semester better prepared for their futures. Some students, however, don’t make it to the end of the semester. They didn’t start this process with the necessary work ethic or resilience to battle through entitlement issues, to embrace the demands of a college class and grow stronger mentally and emotionally because of it—skills I made sure I taught in high school.

I also thought about my financial situation. I’m barely making it right now. I chose to work as an adjunct so that I would have time to write. But a part-time adjunct position has just as much work as a fulltime high school position with a quarter of the pay. So I have less money and still have limited time for writing. If I taught fulltime again, I would at least have money, but I wouldn’t have as much time with my son.

So where does this leave me? How do I get all of my son’s and my needs met without sacrificing my convictions? How can I still be part of a system that encourages and builds up students when they are at their most vulnerable?

This semester, I put a few things in place: I started tutoring a high school student, which has been great. I also am on the subbing list for the middle and high schools in the area. My son will be moving up next year, so I hope to have more jobs in the middle school—that would be the best of both worlds.

Last week, I had my first subbing assignment in the middle school—8th grade English. I felt the energy again as soon as I walked into the building. Being a substitute is definitely different from being the main classroom teacher: Some students tested my teaching abilities immediately. They brought their phones out, walked around the room, sat next to friends, talked while I talked, but they quickly found out I was in charge, but not with an iron fist. I smiled, laughed, and quietly controlled the room. Some students were sweet and wanted to talk to me. I loved it all! I felt like I was home. This was a viable solution for my heartache. Maybe, if I were there enough, students would remember and recognize me. I could be part of this system, encourage teenagers, and make some extra money.

Ironically, while Ian was jumping at Blitz and I was writing this post, a student from the 8th grade class I taught walked past me and stopped: “Hey! You’re the sub from the other day, aren’t you?”

I think this is going to work just fine.

This writing challenge was painful and cathartic. I cried while writing it, which helped me heal, but it also renewed my passion for true educational reformation.  After I published this post, I realized I had more to say about education and the teachers leaving the profession, like me, with broken hearts. I turned this challenge into a post that is now on Huffington Post. You can get to that post here.

The Philanthropic Experience: A Student’s Perspective

One of my current college composition student wrote a personal narrative essay that beautifully illustrates one of my ideas to reform education (

https://paulinehawkins.com/2012/11/21/high-school-reformation/

).

This is what I proposed in that post:

The Philanthropic Experience

For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Travel/Pix/pictures/2013/12/5/1386262243685/Pelourinho-Salvador-Brazi-008.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=2da05ce1061654577044b90f7c90a3c8
Salvador, Brazil

This is what Justin had to say about being one of those students and having that experience:

“A Brazilian Soul” by Justin Moore

From September to December of 2015, I spent three months volunteering in Salvador, Brazil, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. My comfort bubble was absolutely obliterated, and because of it, I am mentally, physically, and socially stronger. A year ago, I had no plans of doing any traveling or any plans in general. I was lost and unsure about what to do, and the future seemed like a terrifying monster called life that was going to chew me up and spit me right back out. I have always been that friend on whose shoulder people cry, and I have always been fascinated with foreign cultures. These two seemingly unrelated attributes led me to volunteering abroad. Thank god for Brazil.

Brazil helped turn me around even before I set foot in the country. With three months to go before leaving through the Cross Cultural Solutions program, my parents started nagging me about what I would do until then to make money. Their pressure and message of how only failures sit around all summer really impacted me. So I did something I had never done before: I got a job. It was a part-time, telephone-surveying job and paid about nine dollars an hour. The first week, I was terrified of making a mistake and felt as though I was wasting my time. It wasn’t until I received my first paycheck that I finally experienced a sense of pride and confidence. I never applied myself in high school, did terribly grade-wise, and never really achieved academically. After my first paycheck, I had this unfamiliar, rewarding feeling. I had worked hard at something and received something back from it. That money made me independent. It motivated me to work hard. And it showed me that I could succeed in life if I put my heart into something.

            After a couple months of working, it was finally time for me to saddle up and head out. It wasn’t until I saw the people of Brazil that I accepted I was abroad. I had landed in a third world country in a city that was 80 percent non-Caucasian, was poor, and spoke Portuguese. It was a strange feeling to be the minority now in seemingly every aspect of life. A taxi picked me up at the airport and drove me to my home base in the heart of the city. Boy was that a drive! Here I was, an 18-year-old, middle-class, white Justin from America, looking out the window at what could have been Pluto for all I knew. All I could think was, “Justin, what have you gotten yourself into?”

I settled into a modest apartment and realized I had a few days before any of the volunteering began. The other volunteers hadn’t yet arrived; I had nobody to see an no place to be. I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined samba (Brazilian dance), capoeira (Brazilian martial art), and Portuguese (Brazilian language) classes. These classes helped me immerse myself in the local culture, make some friends, and boogie down too!  Three months of samba and capoeira were amazing. Socially, I learned how to interact with those from other cultures and be more open. Physically, I lost 25 pounds and got into the best shape of my life!

The other participants of the program started to roll in the day before we began volunteering. I soon realized that not only was I the youngest, but I was also the youngest by 14 years. High school had taught me that the upperclassman were in charge. Strangely, that’s not how I came to think of the other volunteers. Living and working closely with my “elders” for three months, I began to feel more like their peers. We learned to respect each other, regardless of age, religion, and background; because of it, our group turned into one big happy family. I was not their son; they were my brothers.

The first place, and originally the only place1, where I volunteered was Orfanato Vo Flor (Grandma Flowers Orphanage and Daycare). Here, children between the ages of four to seventeen live or are dropped off each day if their guardians cannot provide a “safe environment” for them while they are at work. It is almost completely unstructured, and the children there run amok in a maze of broken glass and filth. One might say this is not a viable “safe” substitute, but these kids had parents who were drug addicts, physically or mentally disabled, and with little or no means. Sometimes they didn’t even come from homes at all and lived on the street.

I was incredibly nervous on my first day. When they dropped me off, I could feel every eye on me. I walked alone into the favela2 and stuck out like a sore thumb. I sought out the director of the orphanage and poorly understood the directions she gave me. We parted ways, and I stumbled back into the main area where all the kids were hanging around. I had no idea what I was supposed to do at the facility. I was terrified of being an awkward waste of space that just sits there and does nothing but consume oxygen. Then, out of the blue, a young girl named Ana Lucia ran over and pulled me into the best experience of my life.

Ana was the first out of all the children there to approach the intriguing but intimidating beast known as the American. Everyone else was too nervous. Once she did, however, every other kid swarmed in and started jabbering away and pulling on my clothing. I felt like I was in a petting zoo where I was the animal and they were overly enthusiastic humans. I spent the first day being dragged from place to place and shown a kind of love I had never experienced. The love was a sweet mixture of foreign fascination, friendship, and trust. It was insanity, and it was beauty.

I quickly went from exceptionally anxious to incredibly overjoyed at my situation. For the next three months, I spent my time cleaning, feeding, and playing with those kids. Every day, I would walk in and suddenly be absorbed into the gleeful screams and hugs of 30 children. The children loved me for who I was, and, in return, I gave them the love that they weren’t receiving at home. To them, I was American father, chio, –which is Portuguese for “uncle”—and brother. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how much I loved them, and how they were like my children.

When the volunteering ended and I flew back to the States, the experience and change in my life didn’t hit me until I lay back in my bed for the first time, crying, realizing what an unexpected miracle Salvador had been for me. The combination of the way I lived, the culture, and the work with the kids mixed together to give me a truly euphoric feeling. I had grown so much as a person, and the way I had gone outside of my comfort zone had allowed me to develop into a man who was ready to take the next step. I was confident, determined, and prepared to move on with my life. It was time to stop dwelling on the mistakes of the past and work towards my goals for the future.

Brazil is what gave me the confidence to start classes at Great Bay Community College as a full time student. Brazil is what gave me the energy and motivation to apply for a job at a software company, rock the interview, and then get the job. Brazil will always be remembered as the place where I blossomed into the man I am today. The friends I made and the experiences I had have helped me understand myself in a way I could never do in high school. I was that kid who had no idea what he was going to do. Now, I feel like an unstoppable force ready to take on the world. I miss my South American friends, Salvador, and the gift they gave me. I can truly say I will always have a bit of a Brazilian soul.

Footnotes:

1 I originally only volunteered at Orfanato Vo Flor, but I also ended up teaching two separate English classes for adults and teenagers (Centro Redentorista Missionary) and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS (CAASAH).
2 A favela is an urban slum in Brazil.

How different our world would be if more “lost and unsure” students could have this type of experience.

 

 

Uncommon Core Book Reading: Chapter 19

On August 24, 2015, I read Chapter 19: Teach Them How to Be Happy from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, NH.

To purchase Uncommon Core, go to WordCrafts Press or Amazon.

To schedule a book reading, speaking engagement, or interview contact me at pdhawk1010@msn.com or Bethany Ring, Publicist, WordCrafts Press pr@wordcrafts.net

Part 1: Identifying the problems in our current educational system


Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

I love Ken Robinson’s videos: He is entertaining and makes a lot of sense. Recently I read some criticism about him; these people thought Robinson was a lot of fluff with no substance, and some thought he was doing more harm than good because he creates a type of “caricature” around education with no real solutions. I disagree. Robinson has an important role: He draws attention to the problems in education, which he does very well, and then gives us the motivation and tools to start a revolution against the government mandates for testing. Not only does he identify the problems we have in education in this video, but he also suggests a simple solution to those problems, a solution that we already have available in this country.

We just need to get enough people to voice their concerns and desires for public education. That’s where the rest of us come in.

As a high-school teacher in a middle-income district, I won’t pretend to have the problems that the lower-income districts have; however, if the problems I face as a teacher are exacerbated in lower-income areas, we have a crisis on our hands.

I teach honors English to freshmen students and American Literature to mostly juniors, with a handful of seniors repeating the class. Even in this middle-income neighborhood, 27% of my American Literature class failed last semester (up from 10% seven years ago). Some people may be tempted to blame me as the teacher for those failures, but let me assure those naysayers that I did everything I could to help those students, but they chose not to get the help they needed. I literally begged them with tears in my eyes to let me help them. They flat out refused my help because they have either stopped caring or think they are beyond help. Even though I didn’t have any freshmen fail, I still had a number of Ds, which was unheard of in years past.

Sadly, a few of those F students dropped out of school at semester; I’m sure they had their own reasons for making that decision, but in general, school has become irrelevant for them. Both children were bright students who chose to sit in my class and do nothing, even though they were fully capable of performing every task.

In my limited experiences with middle-income students, the disengaged students are getting more dominant. I am finding them in my honors classes now as well, not just regular level classes. If No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were working, wouldn’t we see the opposite results?

Robinson makes this claim:

In some areas, 60% of kids drop out of school. There are others who are in school but are disengaged from learning.

Obviously, my numbers are lower, but any percentage of dropouts, let alone disengaged students, is unacceptable.

Robinson bases his talk on the three principles on which human life flourishes, all of which are being contradicted or actively destroyed under the current culture of education:

3 Principles on which human life flourishes:

   1st, human beings are naturally different and diverse.

   2nd, curiosity drives human life.

   3rd, human life is inherently creative.

As ridiculous as Robinson’s claim that the current culture of education is destroying these principles may seem to laypeople, I know this claim is true because I teach, and always have taught, life lessons in my classes through stories and classroom discussions. Every year I get more and more students who are starved for this type of teaching. Their ears perk up when I encourage them to be individuals; some cry when I tell them it’s okay to be different. Students stare at me in shock when I tell them I’m proud of them for asking questions because it shows that they are thinking and learning; sadly, for some, their natural curiosity has almost been destroyed. I also have students who need a lot of prompting and encouragement to find that which has been stifled for far too long: their natural creativity. I encourage doodling and out of the box thinking to solve problems, which some cannot do. Most students just want me to tell them what to do and what to think.

Robinson explains the deterioration of the first principle this way:

1st, human beings are naturally different and diverse. Education under No Child Left Behind is based on conformity, not diversity. Schools are encouraged to find out what children can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of NCLB is to narrow the focus onto the standards of things. Science and math are necessary, but they are not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, humanities, and physical education.

Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. The arts aren’t important just because they improve math scores; they are important because they speak to parts of children’s being that are otherwise untouched.

Thankfully, I work at and my son goes to school in a district that has all of these things, but it’s not enough. When I went to school we had Home Economics and Life Skills courses that taught us how to cook and bake, sew, take care of children, and perform everyday tasks that made our lives a little easier. What’s ironic about this is that I had close family members who also taught me these things because the nature of family was so different 30 years ago. Today, children don’t have these classes and many don’t have that type of family around to teach them those skills.

If school districts have the arts, humanities, and physical education courses, some schools take away these “electives” if students perform poorly on any portion of the standardized tests. Parents should not allow schools to do that to their children. I know my son would never go to school if they took him out of art or music so he could get extra help in math and reading. I know he needs these important skills, but he is just developing slower than other students his age for various reasons. He cannot be punished for that fact by having the things that bring him joy eliminated from his education.

For the schools that don’t have these electives because of budget cuts or poor standardized test scores, I can’t imagine what a grim, lifeless place that must be for students.

The solution is not to take these courses away from public education, but to allow students more choices and options in life. If they are allowed to choose their own paths, they will be engaged with their education. Isn’t that the goal? We want our children to discover their talents and passions so they can become productive members of society.

Next post: 2nd principle, curiosity drives human life.

The Alchemist: Introduction and #1 Personal Calling

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist

An alchemist is a person who changes a common substance into a substance of great value.

I knew before opening the book, I was going to love what was inside.

As a matter of fact, after I read the introduction, I knew The Alchemist was a book I needed to slowly digest, not devour, like the three-day, no-showering ingestion of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows. The Alchemist, as simple an allegory as Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” is filled with meaningful quotes that I could have easily overlooked, if it weren’t for the author’s introduction to his book.

#1 Personal Calling

These words caught my attention:

we all need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing; it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. (v-vi)

I read that on Christmas Day, 2011. The Alchemist was a Christmas gift from my daughter Nicole, and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was dealing with some devastating things in my life. I felt like everything I had hoped for with the New Year had just turned to dust in my hands. I was trying to hold my emotions intact because I didn’t want to ruin the holidays for my children.

And then I read those words. My eyes filled with tears. I looked around the room to see if my family saw my emotions. I was safe. I read them again. I don’t believe in coincidences, only God-incidences. He had my attention.

I already knew what my “personal calling” was. I have been called to be a teacher; I have no doubts there. All jobs and experiences throughout my life have put me in teaching positions. I started babysitting at ten (The world has changed, hasn’t it?). In all of my restaurant jobs, I became a trainer. In college, before I started my education classes, I worked in the tutoring lab. It was something that came naturally. Now, as a high school English teacher, I know I am fulfilling my personal calling. Teaching fills me with joy; my students rejuvenate me. I’m passionate about making a difference in children’s lives, and they reward me by telling me that I have changed them for the better. I could never stop being a teacher.

But something has been missing. While teaching is my passion, writing is my dream.

Some of my earliest memories are of writing stories, poems, lyrics (with ridiculous melodies)—and loving how it felt when someone connected with my words (on those rare occasions that I would share them). As an adult I have written novels, plays, scripts, and poems, some of which I have shared with others, some no one else has ever seen. I love writing, but I’ve kept it as a dream, too afraid to make it a reality.

While holding The Alchemist in my hands that Christmas morning, that’s what made my heart ache. I was just about to make writing a reality. The New Year was supposed to begin with my new travel blog; my husband, son, and I were going to take our dream baseball trip during the summer of 2012. We would be on the road for 32 days, visiting all 30 baseball stadiums, and ending with the home-run derby and the all-star game: 32 games in 32 days. That’s how 32in32.com was created. But that dream ended as I watched what I thought was my reality melt away. I can’t go into what happened without hurting people I love, but trust me, it’s painful.

I read Coelho’s words again. The last sentence struck a chord: “However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.” It echoed in my head as I started to question why my dream had to end. That question was then replaced with, “Why are you giving up? Don’t be a coward.” It suddenly became clear: Making my dream a reality could not be contingent upon my circumstances. My circumstance was just an excuse to give up on my dream, again. Coelho’s words made me see that. I would not give up. I refused to be a coward another second longer. With The Alchemist to guide me, I promised myself I would find a way to make being a writer my reality.

The Alchemist Posts