Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pirates

I've been confused about the whole pirate situation in Somalia. I didn't know what was going on or how in the world modern day pirates could even exist. This story cleared it up for me a bit, or at least made it clear enough to make me want to learn more. Apparently, it is a protest against the lack of government in Somalia, and they seem to be treating the hostages really well. This story is also interesting because the breakthrough came when a reporter let her 12 year old daughter call the pirates on her cell phone. Lessons everywhere in this...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Angulimal & the Buddha

I have been following this blog for a while now, and have enjoyed its unique perspective. This entry in particular is worth passing along not only for the insights given in the post, but for the wonderful telling of the story of Angulimal and the Buddha.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Expectations & Punishment

Here is a terrific article on parenting that applies equally well to teaching, and also to how to deal with our expectations of ourselves. 

I particularly appreciate the U shaped curve for expectations - that too much chaos and too much rigor have similar negative results; and also the process of shaping - allowing time for development by lowering the expectation and building it slowly over time. And I deeply appreciate the idea that when our expectations are not met, we feel it as a stress on ourselves, which causes a loop in which under-performance on the part of the child fuels negative behaviors on our part, which causes resentment and further under-performance. I have never been a real believer in punishments, because they merely serve to correct the behavior while you are present, and diminish the bond you have that could ultimately foster the shaping of behavior in a healthy and productive way. 

I have said this before and been perceived as weak or naive, but there is an emormous difference between punishing and correcting. My experience in every leadership position I have had has been that a punishment is ultimately a sign of our inability to deal with our own failures, and if we want a real success, we must always think creatively and clearly about how to build confidence and character through the inner resources that already exist within the child and within every child. Every person wants to do right at his or her core, and simply needs to be reminded of this and empowered and inspired to do this. Punishment has the paradoxical effect of exacerbating the problem rather than correcting it. 

It is nice to see the research supporting what is counter-intuitive to some. But all we have to do is ask when in our own lives a punishment (as distinct from a correction) ever produced a significant change for the better; and if we think of one, we have to ask ourselves if it was not accompanied or followed by an empowerment that would have worked just as well on its own.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Morning Dawns

This article from the NY Times expresses what is for me the most urgent outcome of this election. Here is an excerpt:
From far away, this is how it looks. There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth - call it America - where such a thing happens.

Even where the United States is held in special contempt, like here in this benighted Palestinian coastal strip, the "glorious epic of Barack Obama," as the leftist editor Jean Daniel calls it, makes America - the idea as much as the actual place - stand again, perhaps only fleetingly, for limitless possibility. ...

But wonder is almost overwhelmed by relief.  Mr. Obama's election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm - a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos - saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course.

They say the country that weakened democratic forces abroad through a tireless but often ineffective campaign for democracy - dismissing results it found unsavory, cutting deals with dictators it needed as allies in its other battles - was now shining a transformative beacon with its own democratic exercise.

It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies.

Yes, I voted for Obama because I believe in him. And yes, I voted for him because I value his judgement and principles. And yes - damn it - I voted for him because he is an amazingly eloquently and inspiring speaker.  That matters to me as an English teacher, it matters to me as a human being, it matters to me when I choose a leader that I want to represent me to the rest of the world.  I heard again the other day that line from an early speech that rings in my ears every day now.
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.  If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother.  If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.  It's that fundamental believe - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work.  It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as an American family.

The echoes from John Donne and Jesus are unmistakable.   It is too long since we have had leaders who have understood that the true essence of Darwinism is cooperation, not dominance.   A species does not survive through self-aggrandizement, but through compassion.

But most of all, I voted for Obama because America must now come out of its dark ages. The past eight years have been the most horrifying of my life - hearing grown, intelligent men and women try to say that water boarding is not torture, that we must spy on librarians to protect ourselves from terrorism, that the world is defined in black and white, and you are either with us or against us. We Americans have trampled on every sentence of our constitution, we have destoyed our  credibility (and credit!) with the rest of the world, and we have actively squandered every opportunity we had to be stewards of the world rather than bullies. For me, these years have felt like Lord of the Flies, except for the unbelievable blindness we exhibited until just the last year. I do not believe Obama is perfect. I don't believe he can save us. I don't even expect him to keep most of his promises.  But today, the real pride I feel is the sense that America is reawakening from its slumber.

The nightmare is ending, and we have much work to do, but - finally - that work can begin.