Thursday, 30 April 2015


It has been confirmed that schools, K-16 and beyond, are part of the real world.  They are not isolated in a bubble of protection, separated from the rest of society while these young ones grow in an environment sheltered from the world’s harsh realities.  The internet of instant news has only exacerbated the downside of that issue.  One might wonder, in the day of lockdowns and stepped up security, what children are learning coincidentally along with the rest of the curriculum.
Schools help shape children’s beliefs of how the world works; at their very best, schools, and the good teachers in them, empower moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, schools could mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.
What does it say to kids about priorities when the United States allocates 20% of its budget, or about $720 billion on defense and 4% or $11 billion on education?  One of the arguments is that we have to remain safe, well defended from our enemies, in order to have a free and open society.   Perhaps the question is about equity in education, not trying to take anything away but rather to consider the essentials.
Here is another example from the real world.  At the “power conferences” — the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big East — median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, per capita.  Many college presidents would like to pull back on athletic spending but because the constituencies for increasing spending are numerous and powerful, and the counter pressures are few and relatively powerless, guess what?  It’s unlikely to happen.
The hopeful signs are that real world problems are now much more part of good schools’ programs. Issues such as hunger, poverty, disease, the environment, violence, politics, health care and education itself are now being examined in schools using history, science, mathematics, literature and the arts, through project based learning, experiential education and great teaching.
Students today have an opportunity to do better than their predecessors with making the world a better, safer, healthier, more just and peaceful planet.  Our children deserve the best that we have to offer them in schools that are part of the real world where laboratories and studios are alive with critical thinking problem solving, and tangible results.

For related articles:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

No Virtue in Being Busy

I receive a dozen or so emails, telephone calls or messages each week that contain comments about how busy someone is and I was once guilty of the same kind of remark.   And for those who must travel often for work, that adds a layer of time consumption, creating more pressure and stress on the schedule, calendar and one’s self.  Add up the demands and expectations of a family, a specific job or task, running a household, managing a business, dealing with the oxymoronic customer service, absorbing the news, being entertained, using the social media networks, watching and listening to others, and perhaps most importantly and more often neglected than not, taking care of ones own mind, body and spirit.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I set out to winterize our mist away system for the elimination of mosquitoes.  Without going into the details of installation early the previous summer, let me say simply that it is an engineering and chemical mystery and marvel that sprays pyrethrin (an organic compound derived from chrysanthemums) around our house and garden according to a programmed computer system and a 55 gallon drum of the mixture inside a garden shed adjacent to our house.  It had to be “winterized” and now I laugh at the scene although at the time it was anything but funny.  We had to call the “source” three times for directions to accomplish what should have been a simple task.  It took over an hour and a half.

I now watch or listen with some degree of amusement as a friend or colleague refers to an electronic calendar to find a slot where a meeting is possible or impossible and I do the same thing although my calendar and schedule have more leeway than in most of the previous 50 years.  When I served as an interim head of a school, I remarked that I was fortunate to be able to work half time.  That was 6 to 6!  And there were those evenings and weekends that added hours of work, most of it meaningful and productive.  How much was necessary, how much was essential and how much could have been given to others or simply avoided without any serious consequence?

Something I was fond of saying although it did not resonate all that well with some others goes like this:   A friend or colleague says, “It was a very long day” and I know what they mean but I have the audacity to respond with, “I have news for you. They are all the same length, 24 hours.”  The point is that we all have the same amount of time and it’s simply how we use it, how we spend it, how we choose to invest ourselves in the moment or the hour or in the day that has been given to us.  Why do some days seem longer than others?  Have we tried to jam too much into a finite amount of time, thus end up tired, frazzled and down?  When we are absorbed and immersed in what we're doing, the time flies by without even noticing.

Maybe there is a way of looking at the day or the week not as something to be filled up, but rather as this miraculous and precious gift of time which, in fact, could be our last day.  If that were to be, how would we spend it?  The point is not to create a personal drama but to be sure that we are including some of those things that we value the most, that we hold in highest regard, and not postpone them until we find the time or have the time.  Now, go put some of those into your schedule and on your calendar and see if it makes a difference.  Go ahead.  Just do it!  See what happens and let me know.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


Many of us go about our work without being concerned about the rewards of what we do. We have chosen a profession (or been chosen by it because it called to us) of serving others.  The point here is why we do what we do and that what we say and do are simply reflections of what we believe to be important and worthwhile.

I received a letter recently from a former student who claims to have been influenced by my “leadership” and while I believe that I was acting on behalf of the mission, vision and values of the school where he was a student, those were also my closely held beliefs about what is right, what is good and how people should treat one another.

This student of 25 years ago said that “the learning environment was electric. We were encouraged… to gain multi-cultural literacy and to follow the school’s motto,  ‘Courage for the deed, Grace in the doing’.  The assembly talks that you delivered were inspiring to those of us who were actually listening!  If my memory serves me correctly, you had a picture on your desk taken with the late Martin Luther King, Jr. , which made a significant impression on those of us who knew the story of your Detroit days. 

"You … inspired me to teach.  It has been 15 enjoyable years thus far, teaching such subjects as professionalism, ethics, and clinical practice to dental students and residents.  You also taught me to help those less advantaged in life.  I have dedicated a significant portion of my practice to treating children with intellectual, neurodevelopmental, physical and social disabilities.  These kids are often marginalized and over-looked in receiving the primary and specialty healthcare they deserve. “

The former student went on to relate a more personal story that was very meaningful and touching and then concluded by saying, “Please accept this short note as a token of thanks for your everlasting impact on my life.”   This kind of letter comes every now and then when you have had such amazing opportunities to be in this kind of environment of teaching and learning.   I was both surprised and humbled to receive the letter and shared it with my son, an outstanding science teacher in his own right of over 25 years.  And this is what my son wrote back to me:
“What a lovely letter. It is such an honor to be in a place of creating possibilities for students to recognize more of themselves, empowering their voices to speak up in support of truth seeking. I am amazed so often at the impact of the little things we do that are simply an expression of doing what is right. Nothing special, just the ordinary practice of being kind, of speaking out for justice, of sharing encouragement or offering understanding, celebrating courage or unique accomplishment - these simple ordinary acts can mean so much to someone when they happen to take place at just the right moment in just the right place. What a gift and privilege to be able to stand in that place over many years and keep up the care, keep conducting the Great Experiment in human learning and development. Thanks for sharing that marvelous expression of genuine gratitude and appreciation. It's not why we do this work, but it certainly doesn't hurt to get some acknowledgment every now and then that what we have done made a difference to someone.”

My hope is that every teacher and every educator can experience this kind of affirmation to know that what they do every day makes a difference and sometimes you might not know the results for years afterwards.  But, know this; it’s all worth every moment you have the chance to interact with your students and colleagues.  I had the blessings and benefits of 50 years of service and leadership.  May you enjoy much the same!

Sunday, 5 April 2015


Regardless of your history, tradition or religious preference, if you have one, one thing is clear about the calendar.   Every Spring (in the northern hemisphere, Autumn in the southern) Jews and Christians celebrate Passover and Easter respectively and according to ancient texts, Jesus observed the Passover Seder with this followers prior to his crucifixion.  Religious calendars have adapted to nature’s seasonal calendar and to various folk figures and animals.  The central focus of both Passover and Easter are stories that are told and retold, celebrations of memories to keep traditions alive with meaning.  This is also true of many of the world’s indigenous people.

When you strip away most of the practices and interpretations, it is the sun, the moon, the stars, and the earth that govern our life.  How we figure out our relationship to the natural environment, how we interact with it and what kind of regard we have for it reveals who we are as sentient beings.  It may be a big leap from Passsover and Easter to the environment and yet those who celebrate those two events are immersed in the latter.

According to John Grim of Yale,  “Ritual practices and oral narratives simultaneously connect native peoples to a world that is pragmatic and problematic, meaningful and ambiguous, of ultimate concern and felt beauty. While some in mainstream industrialized societies have begun to reflect upon the larger implications of evolution as a coherent story, the possibility of an environmental ethic developing from that story remains a challenge.”

What is evident in all of these practices is that there is an understanding that there are spiritual forces that can lead us to a higher level of pragmatism and self-understanding. Perhaps it is time that we consider how we are evolving in our relationship to the earth and to one another as human beings in the places where we live and move and have our being.  

When a spiritual leader such as the Pope, whether or not you agree with his religion, calls for an end to violence and oppression, is anyone listening? Or is it simply more noise in a world overcrowded with information, pronouncements and proclamations?  Take a little time to consider how you might respond differently this year and connect to a story that makes sense in your own evolution.   May your Easter season be filled with opportunities to celebrate the sanctity and beauty of life wherever you are.