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Sunday, November 8, 2015

More musings from a tree house...

 I read books by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I meditate in my tree house.  I garden.  Sing. When I exercise, I focus on being in “the zone”.  I, in general, work hard at being peaceful.  
That’s why I’m not successful.  I’m working at it.  Not being it.
Mr. Kabat-Zinn, at a recent conference, spoke of moments of consciousness--the “ping, ping, ping” of those moments and the stringing of them together through practice.  “Ping! Ping! Ping!” for me, means: “Forgive! Forgive!  Forgive!”
I’ve had lots of professional “ping” opportunities.  I’ve provided some as well, though not as many, I think, as I’ve been given.
Here are some of my professional moments:
“Ping!” Forgive the brute who targeted me for bullying!
Done. Check.  Moved on to help other targets. That one took me awhile.  But, now, when I think of him, my forgiving heart just aches at the pain he lives—his own most probably, and the pain of those working for him.
“Ping! Ping!” Forgive his sycophants! Forgive, too, the school district leaders who know all about him and protect him!
Check.  Done. Understood the fear.  Fear of losing jobs. Fear of being exposed. Again: loosening moments. Letting go.  Mr. Kabat-Zinn, I think, would understand.
“Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping….” Forgive Pam Stewart.  Forgive Marva Johnson.  Forgive John Padgett.  Gary Chartrand. Rebecca Lipsey. Michael Olenick.  Forgive Andy Tuck. Ah, but it feels impossible for me to forgive these seven people. How is it that they are the boogie men of my nightmares?
They are Florida’s board of education.
I rarely sleep through a night without a “what if?” question bubbling up in a dream and awakening me…. “What if she doesn’t get a diploma?  What if after all of her hard work—thirteen years of schooling—she doesn’t get to go to college? What if she, like more than 150,000 people in Florida, receives a certificate instead of a diploma?  
What if she just gives up? What if my eleventh grader just says “Mom, I’m not going to pass it, so what’s the point?” after her third try at THE TEST?
Oh, dear God, what if she never, ever, passes their—my seven boogie men’s—test?
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” is the title of one of Mr. Kabat-Zinn’s books. I’ve practiced its “letting go” content wherever I go. I practice in a tree house and standing at a stove, a washing machine, and a bathroom sink. I drive with the book’s content in my mind and heart.  I use the “ping, ping, ping” of moments of strung-together-peace to ease me through Miami’s traffic on my way to and from work each day.  I face the day’s challenges with a forgiving spirit.
But wherever I go—Miami’s traffic, my office, kitchen or laundry room-- I’m there with a high school diploma.  I earned it long before board of education test and punish boogie men could keep it from me.
I find that it is not for me—at least on this issue—possible to forgive.  Fear will continue to float like a fishing pole’s bobber on the still waters of my mind. I cannot forgive the boogie men who’ve put the pole in my hands.
Just, for God’s sake, give my daughter a diploma.
10:44 am est          Comments

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Musings from a treehouse...

It’s late afternoon in my treehouse. It’s a magical spot. Quiet. Breezy.  Shady.  Fitbit shows 9,201 steps.  Ten thousand, then, will be mine today.  Some days I’ve gotten real close to that magical number, even without the 0530 exercise walk.  Those days are enlightening. They show me that I do things—in this case get my 10,000 steps just by being me and doing “me things”. “Me things” that will get me my 10,000 daily steps without officially exercising include: walking back and forth with laundry baskets full of dirty or clean clothes depending upon the direction of my steps; back and forth—this time to our refrigerator and stove—cooking dinners, and before that, back and forth unloading the recently purchased groceries to cook said dinners.  
Here’s an example of a professional “me thing”: At a district mandated training this past week, attendees were asked to create our individual life’s story in one sentence.  That was not hard for me.  Mine, with just a little “clean up”, came to me almost immediately.  It was this: “I stand up to and speak out against injustice.” I’d just returned the day before from Orlando.  I’d driven there to attend the Florida Board of Education meeting. I spoke against the standardized testing abuse of my state’s children. I stood up for the more than 140,000 people from whom our state has withheld diplomas. I stood up to the board members and their blathering on about “rigor”, “raising the bar” and “global competitiveness”. Although there were a lot of people there, I wondered why more people were not doing the same. Every parent, every teacher—why weren’t we filling stadiums with our protests?
The answer: First, fear. Employees’ fear of retribution.
Fear’s “the biggie” for employees. Teachers, counselors, and administrators are scared to talk about standardized testing abuse…but I do. It’s my one sentence life story. I talk about it in social media forums like Opt Out Orlando and Miami-Dade. I talk about the lack of electives—guitar, chorus, theater, physical education classes—for our most vulnerable students.  They’re assigned, year after year, to the boring intensive reading electives.  Those don’t work.  Each year, because we do not have scores in hand when we are scheduling students—the scores come in around November--, we just put ‘em back in.  Children are worn down and tired.  They want to play.  They want to “tocar la guitarra”.  
I write letters to state senators, representatives and commissioners; school and state boards of education.  We are in a particularly unique position here in Florida, in that we’ve gotten really good at this mess of standardized testing.  We’re the epicenter!  We’re Jeb Bush’s educational backyard! We have other states now following our “educational reform” lead!  And our yard is dying.  It’s full of weeds, baby.  We need some watering.  Fertilizer would be nice too.  I’m not talking about the standardized testing “hosing” we’ve been getting from Tallahassee bureaucrats for the last 17 years.  I’m talking real “watering” flowing directly into the classrooms for supplies and supplements to teachers so that they can nourish our children.
But instead….
We parade children through another testing cadence “ONE, TWO, THREE! ONE, TWO, THREE! GET IN LINE, JUAN!  WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR NONSENSE OR FUN, LIDIA! DOWN TO THE LAB FOR PRACTICE!” —reading drills and math drills and typing and iReady and FAIR and all the rest. We are the results of the Tallahassee generals’ orders.  We’ve become barking drill sergeants.  We know it’s abusive to our vulnerable children. But we are our generals’ minions.  We do what we are told.
For to not do so means an end to us and to our careers.
What about parents?  Where are their voices?  That’s the second part of my treehouse musings (now with the setting sun reflected in oranges and pinks on the lake alongside my treehouse).
The answer: Trust.  We parents trust that our state’s leaders and our schools know what is educationally best for our children.  We trust that their tests indeed do what they say the tests do; that they diagnose and evaluate our children’s’ areas of strength and weakness. It all sounds so good!  “Of course we want our children to be “globally competitive!” we might shout. “Take THAT China!”  But we’ve not thought that through because it doesn’t matter  if our children are, or, are not “globally competitive”, without diplomas, they can’t even be certified to work on cars at the garage down the street.  If our children strike out at high stakes “Rigor Field”, they can’t even cut hair, paint nails and do that as certified beauticians.
So take your “global competition” and….
The good news is that more parents every day are realizing that the state does not have our children’s best interest in mind. They’ve got their and their cronies special interest staring them right in the face.  
You’d think my advocating for children wouldn’t have to be a “me thing”.  You’d think it would be an “all of us thing”; that that “all of us” would include state boards and departments of education.  For example, you’d think we’d all be saying and meaning this to one of my students: “We are going to help you, fifteen year old eighth grade boy living with your grandmother because your dad’s in jail and we don’t know where your mom is. We are going to build human platforms of support for you.   We’re gonna wrap you up in our warmth and our caring.  We’re gonna hold the ladder to your success, you wonderful boy. We’re going to be there with you—nurturing you; guiding you. We’re just gonna love you.”
Sun is now almost gone.  Almost at the 10,000 Fitbit steps.  Maybe I’ll walk around the perimeter of the house.  That should do it for today.
Tomorrow, of course, we start again.
11:37 am est          Comments

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