Tuesday, July 1, 2014

' I Am' and the Creating /Clearing Spaces

Well, here we are. We made the move from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque. Our old house is sold and our new house is slowly transforming into "our home."

Last night, after another full day of unpacking boxes, running to this store and that for those consumable items we didn't carry along, we settled in to watch I Amthe 2010 documentary by Tom Shadyak.

My family tends to poke fun at me about this, but I hold onto the belief that the universe has a way of bringing us messages in ways that appear spontaneous or coincidental but are in fact in answer to the energy we are emitting. I know. It sounds a little far fetched or supernatural. The truth or falsity is not important. What is important is the choice of the believing. I choose to believe it, so I see it. I have been journaling about the accumulation of STUFF that now inhabits our new space. Shadyak's film is a confirmation of the feeling we are all sharing here as each of us takes on the obligation of choosing what we need and what we no longer want crowding our space. For Shadyak, "I Am" is a bookmark. He begins the film asking what is the cancer of this world--"I Am," and what is the potential remedy? "I am." The cancer he sees is the accumulation of wealth and objects symbolizing that wealth--and the competitive action it requires to obtain them. Love is the remedy--love for all, not wanting anyone to suffer, not even our enemies.

But these words, "I Am," have ancient meaning, that wasn't touched on deeply in the film. When I saw the title, I associated it with "I Am That." Soham (or if using a chanting meditation, you might be more familiar with the inverse HamSah), in Sanskrit, the word is formed by two words: Sah (he) and Aham (I) which together formed gives us the He I or, in other words, He am I . . . and shortened further, I Am (for further explanation see What is the meaning of Soham?)

In this reversed and shortened version, however--Ham Sah or Hamsa--also becomes the white swan which is the symbol of the individualized self, the essence of the self, which for many is the life force (god). This also brings us to Judaism and Islam where the Hamsa is an amulet to ward off evil.

So, for me, I am is resonate with Ham Sah/Hamsa, all pointing to what the film does cover, the essence of what the individual means in a world living alongside so many other individuals. I worry, however, that some might walk away from the film believing that the answer is denial of the self. This is one of the confusing aspects of Buddhism, the absence of all want. Sometimes, extreme asceticism is thought to be the answer.

What isn't in the film is the honoring of the journey to the realization Shadyak makes about his accumulation of wealth. Shadyak saw it as the cancer he is attempting to remedy by selling his home and most of his belongings, but the journey to that point must be honored because without it, he couldn't have made the film. He would not be in the position that would enable him to interview Desmond Tutu  . . . only someone in a position of power (in this case, power as a successful director) would have gained access to interview those he was able to interview in the film, and therefore, give it to us. The film is a gift to the world, one he could only give after having taken the journey he did.

And finally, I return to the original contemplation of our space, crowded with all our STUFF. Balance and Moderation are always key. We cannot throw everything out. We are fortunate, truly fortunate to have accumulated all that we have. It is a reflection of lives woven together. In the move, the packers stuffed boxes with belongings from all of us. Photo albums were alongside stuffed animals and wine bottles. If it resided within reach and there was space in the box, in it went. It didn't matter who it "belonged to." And now, as we are unpacking we have the opportunity to place value on some objects and let go of others. The ying-yang philosophy is paramount here. There is a little light in darkness and a little darkness ever present in the space of light. Each of us needs a space that is ours and is a reflection of the essence of us as individuals tied together by the bonds of family.

I painted the above tree on our youngest daughter's wall. We looked through pics trying to decide how she wanted HER space to be. This is what she chose. A place to read, a tree for reflection. In the bedroom my husband and I left behind, this lotus flower represented the essence of balance between us. A poem by Khalil Gibran bordered its leaves.

The point the film makes that I take in answer to my own overwhelming feelings is the point that we each need our fill, but to take more than we need is where it becomes insanity (imbalance). Gracing our new walls with old and new images of us has made a foreign space our own. But we are also, each of us, prepared to let go of those things that are no longer needed, that are excess.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Not Even Water

I'm sitting in a pizzeria. I decided on a slice and a glass of chardonnay and a water. It's the end of another long day, and I'm trying to prepare for the dissertation defense. My mind keeps wandering to the evening meal, the groceries I need to stop and pick up. My attention is drawn to every pedestrian outside the glass and every voice within. I wish I could just blink and it would be over. I re-read the story of Carmen and the little boy holding onto her leg, begging her "Please Ms. Carmen--don't make me . . .". I didn't think it would be this emotional.

     "Sorry--we don't have any."
     "You don't have any?" I catch a hint of anger in the question. I glance up and see a man dressed in a tattered jacket. He's wearing a ball cap and brown work boots. He has a backpack slung over his left shoulder. The waitress is talking to him from behind the barrier of a table and four chairs.
     "Only for customers." I wonder what he's asked for--to use the bathroom?
     "You don't have WATER? WATER is for customers?" Water? He's asked for water? I look down at my full glass--

The last few months have been a whirlwind for me. As planned, I finished writing my dissertation and defended it in October 2013. As of November 21, 2013, I am now officially a "Dr." Despite a background in writing, I have to admit, the process was far from easy. The discipline it took to finish the research and write the manuscript is difficult to put into words. Everyone who has gone through it--or intimately watched someone go through it--has heard others speak of it as grueling, but I honestly did not think it would be that way. I thought, "this is the fun part!" And . . . for much of my data collection process, it was. The hard part came in trying to organize the work into something others would a) be willing to read fully, and b) have some hope of doing justice to the participants. Research participants share themselves with you in a way they wouldn't otherwise. They know you're asking them to tell their stories because you're a "researcher," and in that role, there is this layer of responsibility that I really didn't anticipate. I interviewed fourteen women preschool educators. They shared some truly difficult material with me, and the enormity of the task just hit me full force. What if they put in all this time to this project--experiencing a sense of risk as they admit things they haven't been able to share aloud with anyone outside their intimate groups of family or friends--and nothing happens? What if it's all for nothing? And part of me sort of knew the reality of that nothingness. How many of us can say we sat down to read a good dissertation over the winter break? No one outside of a select few in academia. That's sad. It's really sad. The women I spoke with deserve to have their stories heard, and after I got over the initial fright of taking on that responsibility seriously, I resolved to see it through. I finished writing it. I defended it, and now, I have to find outlets for the work.

I wanted to hand the gentleman my water. It wasn't plastic, and for some stupid reason, I couldn't think fast enough. I could have asked the waitress for a to-go cup or I could have just offered to pay for a glass of water or soda for the man. Instead, I froze. I watched him leave, and I felt angry at the waitress and angrier at myself. Do you know how many dog-friendly establishments I passed along the way to that pizzeria? Do you know how I knew they were "dog-friendly?" Water. Bowls of water are set outside shops for the thirsty canine passing by, but this man was refused. Turned away. And I was caught daydreaming. I was worrying about passing my dissertation defense while a thirsty fellowman--possibly homeless, possibly jobless--was treated as less than a dog. The image stayed with me. I left the pizzeria and haven't returned, but the moment passed me by.

We all are handed obligations. Some of these obligations we earn; some we volunteer to take on; and some land in our laps unexpectedly. I can't go back and think fast. I can't buy that gentleman a drink, but what I can do is hold on to the way I felt guilty over my passivity. That's the feeling I've resolved to avoid. I distinctly remember that day and the way my mind just wouldn't sit still. I got nothing done--no studying, no preparing, and my research participants, like Carmen, were on the verge of being left silent. My inactivity that day left a mark in me like a signpost. Every time I think back on it, an inaudible alarm goes off in me. I remember that day because it was an aesthetic experience for me--that man, my passivity, and the task I had come there for. All tied up together in my memory. I don't know where the stories of my participants will end up, but the emotion I re-experience when I look back on that day reminds me that it's work worth doing--to satisfy my own thirst for goodness. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Utility of Social Networking for Professionals

In my new position, networking has taken on a whole new significance. The grant that we are a part of encompasses five states at eight institutions. To that end, we have created a new social networking space. All day today, members have been joining, but only a handful have posted or commented. I think this is often the case--and I am probably most guilty of it. I create/join collaboration blogs, list serves, and wikis, but there just isn't enough time in anyone's day to maintain participation at the same energy across the board. Most of the time we are discouraged from re-posting the same material to multiple sites, and I suppose I can see the logic in that because the same people are probably all connected to you through your various spaces, but what about those who just stumble upon you? This blog has been viewed over 3,000 times--by whom, I couldn't begin to guess, but the point is, I think "in moderation" and "more at the start" are good mottoes. Right now, I'm trying to encourage active participation across stakeholders by updating all the possible ways they may come across our social network. If you happen to be one of the unfortunate souls who is following me on multiple forums, I apologize upfront--bear with me. I won't overdue it, and I promise to slow it down.

So here it is: This is what I just posted to the social network forum about learning curves and the need of instructional designers to keep things in perspective:

Baby Steps . . . i.e., Learning Curves

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Job

I am obviously not a regular blogger--once my home school journey began with my youngest, I never updated this space. Even though I've been lazy about maintaining this particular blog, I have still been active on my wiki, and much has been happening in my academic life in general.

For instance, I have just completed my coursework toward my doctoral degree in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Denver. I am at the dissertation stage now--just finished data collection. Whew! I'm hoping to defend in October, so I still have a great deal of writing left ahead.

Just as I was closing out my final quarter of coursework, however, a Higher Eds job announcement came to my Inbox--I looked. I always look. Out of curiosity & to give myself a reason to fantasize about the what-ifs of my future after earning those three small letters after my name--P . . .h . . .D . . .

Well, as it happened, when I read the description I thought, "Huh--I'm actually already qualified for this--I wonder if I should go ahead and apply . . . it would be bit of a drive . . . and what about home schooling . . . but it would be nice to start earning some money again . . . ." Fantasizing.

I applied and was offered the position. I am now driving an hour there and back each day to a small community college where I am the new Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO) Instructional Designer. It's really a great opportunity for me and pulls together so many of my interests--pedagogy, curriculum development, online technology . . ..

The other exciting aspect of the new position is that the grant requires all coursework developed or modified with grant funds become open access, and to the best of the developers' abililities, adhere to Universal Design theories--both things I truly believe in. 

So far, it has been a whirlwind. My husband and I had to select a new school for our daughter, and she and I now have to say goodbye to our home schooling time. I will always cherish the two years we spent learning together, though. How many parents/educators have such a beautiful opportunity?

And then there is the gender role complexities of being a full-time working/commuting mother. The schedule has given us all some serious growing pains, but I am fortunate I have a truly supportive family and everyone has jumped on board and begun taking on a few new roles. I'm happy to report my husband is really a great cook and now we all get the benefit of eating his food a little more often.

I will try my best to maintain this space more regularly now that it is linked to so much of my professional profiles. Until then . . . remember to make each day a masterpiece.

Friday, July 1, 2011

And So, Our Journey Begins

My daughter and I will be learning and writing together over the next year. We officially began the journey today with Isa's first blog post.

I wrote about my intentions for her curriculum and she wrote about her first-hand experience:

“Mom! Come look!” Excitement. That is key. It is one of my principal intentions for education. All learners retain . . . See More

What I found in my backyard . . . See More: 

We're also using wikis:

Transform Learning @ Pbworks.com

and Project Isa @ Pbworks.com

Friday, April 1, 2011

Billboards & Breast-Sucking Dolls

What is the role of the artist?
Is she meant to cry?

What is the role of the artist?
Is she asked to bleed?

What is my role?
Am I doomed to record?

“Black Children Are An Endangered Species”
followed by: “Breast Milk Baby: The Magic of Motherhood”

Reflections of her contemporary society,
images of what will soon become what was,
she lives in her mind,
sits immobilized at computer screens,
while still dripping from fresh bathing

The constant gravity of ink on
sheets of white
her brown fingers tapping,
her leg folded beneath to later tingle--
that nagging reminder of the physical phenomena

Of being alive there is a rub,
heartbeats and sodium soaked trails
the guttural sighs she makes
when the house is still—
when there isn’t even anyone around

to inquire, What’s wrong?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Educational Utopia

The worst thing I could grow up to be was a Chi-honky—a Chicana who believed herself to be white. And, while I don’t recall a dinner-time kind of discussion about what exactly constituted a Chi-honky, the hidden curriculum of my surroundings gave me ample opportunity to associate the term with someone who succeeds—someone who earns a high level of education; marries well; raises children in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood; and whose income reaches above poverty level. The sting of the phrase has dulled because, when my family and I reminisce about what I was like as a child, we can all vividly recall the quirkiness of my make-believe schoolrooms that traveled with us to each new living residence—I had desks, a real chalkboard (commandeered by my grandfather when an old schoolhouse was being torn down), out-of-print textbooks, and an over-abundance of coloring utensils.

• I believe in education
The statement may seem like a meronym for an educational utopia, but it deserves inclusion. Far too many educators seem not to believe in the intrinsic value of education. They complain without a discernable ambition to change what it is they are frustrated with. They scoff at every new reform effort and label those who seek a new vision “impractical optimists.” Every school has them, but what has been truly disheartening is their existence even in every level of education degree program. Educators, and all those directly associated with the field, who do not believe in the inherent value of it should be—perhaps not shot—but certainly, strongly encouraged to find where else their passions might lie. For, as Ayers (2001) states, “Teaching is intellectual and ethical work; it takes a thoughtful, reflective, and caring person to do it well” (134).

• I believe an educated populace is a more just and humane populace
Lack of education allows people to stay in their own enclaves. They do not have authentic opportunities to interact with others, and therefore, are free to develop opinions about others without ever having those opinions challenged. Authentic, in this sense, is used as a distinction against “grocery-store” kind of interaction. While people living in any community may come in direct contact with others from outside their affinity group, they do not genuinely engage in dialogue with them about matters of value. Ghandi says the following of his own worldly education: “A variety of incidents in my life have conspired to bring me in close contact with people of many creeds and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the statement that I have known no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and coloured, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Mussulmans, Parsis, Christians or Jews” (compiled by Kripalani, 1972, p. 24).

It is not solely interaction with others that creates this empathy but also encounters with ideas hitherto foreign. Teachers can, and should, purposefully provide opportunities for students to challenge their own cultural values and perceptions.

• I believe every individual needs a mentor outside of the nuclear family unit. The cliché “It takes a village to raise a child” should not be overlooked. Contemporary American culture has moved so dramatically away from this ideal, it might be arguable that it is no longer “cliché.” On the contrary, there is a new term in use to describe the absolute opposite—helicopter parents. A large portion of today’s parent population seeks greater and greater control over all aspects of their children’s education and everyday experiences. While parents are a critical attributing factor to a child’s success and sense of well-being, they cannot, should not, be the only source of mentorship for a child. Governmental restrictions meant to guard children’s privacy need to be re-examined. Many cultures honor extended family members or even valued family friends as a key component to their children’s well-being. The Latino-Catholic community, for instance, honors god-parents as compadres, which in direct translation means “co-parents.” And some children, despite having parents, need other caring adults to also intervene on their behalves.

In addition to the re-examination of regulations which may make it difficult for mentors to have direct involvement in a child’s education, schools themselves ought to actively identify outside mentors for their students, for we currently do not “encourage teachers to develop links to the often rich home lives of students, yet teachers cannot hope to begin to understand who sits before them unless they can connect with the families and communities from which their students come” (Delpit, 2006, p. 179).

• I believe in universal concepts, not universal texts
21st Century Learning skills ask for the following five precepts: a) problem-solving oriented critical reasoning skills, b) ability to collaborate, c) self-directed motivation, d) information literacy, and e) ability to be innovative. Every educator working in today’s schools, public or private, understands that we are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been invented but will undoubtedly demand that they be ready to be successful in. The abundance of field knowledge and dialogue surrounding what is truly essential in the educating of our youth is overwhelming—no single educator could ever truly be an “expert in the field.” He or she must resign to be an expert in a sliver of a discipline within the broader scope of the field.

Hirsh’s (2006) Core Knowledge, a popular argument for the use of universal texts, has the right intent—the intention of providing a means for accountability, a means for clear assessment, and a means for those on the bottom of the social spectrum to gain access to knowledge which might otherwise be reserved for the elite. However, the critical error is in attempting to provide a canon of core texts from which this knowledge should be mined and from which these intentions met. Rather, as we are finally acknowledging as a society with our new focus on 21st Century Learning skills, it is the skills themselves that are of primary importance. Therefore, universal concepts which can be found in any text the individual teacher might have association with, should be the tool necessary for experience with the desired skills. For example, collaboration is a precept of 21st Century mandates—surely, there is not just one text that stands out above all others in its ability to provide students with the opportunity to collaborate. Universal concepts such as justice, equality, well-being, etc., can be found in multiple texts. I myself can freely admit that I have not read every text in print (or digital form). Information literacy is not just important for students, but for educators as well. Access to free, educational material is in such high abundance that no two teachers could possibly have the same warehouse of core knowledge. We too need to accept the fact and then use the gems we know and love to our best possible advantage in the classroom.

• I believe an educator’s familiarity and passion (or lack thereof) will impact his or her learners.
Like writers who are constantly instructed to write what you know, educators “must learn to imagine possibilities within the context of their teaching” (Schubert cited in Urmacher & Matthews, 2005, p. 21). Adjunct instructors are instructors who often have very little say in what they teach. The textbooks are ordered for them before they sign their names to the dotted lines, and their syllabi are housed in a database awaiting their revisions. Most adjuncts, however, have an uncanny ability to adapt—they read the pre-designed syllabus, page through the textbook—and adapt. “This I like, this I can’t stand—I’m not even sure what that is . . . .” They transform the course into something they can find passion in. In most cases, this passion translates to favorable outcomes. The worst possible scenarios in education are those that happen when a teacher is forced to teach something he or she has little knowledge of and minimal passion for.

Administrators worried about state-mandated standards need to focus less on the actual content and more on giving educators the license to be innovative (again ironic coincidence that those skills we ask our students to acquire are the same ones we deny our teachers from exercising). Universal concepts—not texts.

And finally, I will end with a relatively self-explanatory one that is directed at teachers themselves. Too often we become overly accustomed to the physical space at the front of the classroom. We are being asked to teach students in ways we ourselves were not taught—and that is sometimes an anxiety-causing hurdle. If we are truly educating today’s students’ with their unique futures in mind, futures we ourselves will not be able to enter with them, we must trust them to collaborate not only with one another—but with us as well. As stated by Alan November:
The essential question is not “What technology should we buy for our schools?” The much more important question is one of control: “Can we change our traditional culture of teaching and learning so that students are empowered to take more responsibility for making important contributions to their own learning and to their learning community?” (p.193)

* I believe teachers must be willing to dance with their students and be able to anticipate when to allow their students to lead—and when to gently reign them back into the rhythm of the song we are playing for them

Ayers, W. (2001) To Teach: the journey of a teacher. (2nd ed.). New York:
Teachers College Press.

Delpit, L. (2006) Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.
New York: The New Press.

Gandhi (1972) All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi As Told
in His Own Words. Ed. K. Kripalani. United States: UNESCO, World Without War

Hirsch, Jr., E.D. (2006) The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. November, A. (2010) Power Down or Power Up? In H.H. Jacobs (Ed.). Curriculum 21:
Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria: ASCD.

Schubert, W.H. (2005) Sensibility and Imagination: Curriculum Contributions of Elliot W. Eisner. In P.B. Uhrmacher & J. Matthews (Eds.). Intricate Palette: Working the Ideas of Elliot Eisner. (pp.17-32). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.