Tag: learning

Why love? Some reflections on splitting and healing

I would be remiss if I pretended that my interest in “love” (as in my previous post) was merely philosophical and scholarly. In fact, my decision to center love in my work has been a deeply personal one, propelled by life experiences: facing my own mortality with a cancer diagnosis ten years ago, while simultaneously seeing my life unravel in divorce; seeing others lose loved ones or have their lives fall apart in unexpected and confusing ways; grappling with just how small we are in the grand scheme of things; turning to spiritual teachings from diverse traditions as a way to find new meaning and purpose in life; and re-affirming that I want to use my “one precious life” (Mary Oliver’s term) not just to study the world, but to participate as best I can in making it a more positive, uplifting, equitable and just experience for more people on the planet. I’m inspired by bell hooks, who wrote that she was determined to talk about love wherever she goes, even though it may “challenge, disturb, and at times even frighten or enrage readers.” (https://plumvillage.org/thich-nhat-hanh-interviews/interview-with-bell-hooks-january-1-2000/)

Part of my own post-cancer, post-divorce, post-life-falling-apart healing process has involved looking deeply at the psychodynamics of my own life decisions – trying to make more conscious things that were not fully so.  This feels important to explicate in relation to the matter of “splitting” that I discussed in the previous blog post.

For some time, I have struggled to understand what it was that drew me to cross linguistic and cultural borders in my own life, as I moved from a homogeneous, English speaking, white working class, mostly Catholic community to an elite institution of higher education and then ran fast and furiously from that world of privilege into community organizing and teaching. What is my own confusing relationship to my class origins, my whiteness and privilege – especially the privilege that I speak from today, as a white, English-speaking, U.S. full professor at an elite institution?

What I have been seeking are not explanations for my own border crossing that allow me to feel good about myself, or superior to others (e.g. to those members of my family and community who have not chosen to cross cultural or linguistic borders very much in their lives). Rather, I have been trying to understand what I was pushing away from, differentiating myself from, or “splitting” from myself – and what it would mean to reconcile those aspects with other parts of myself that I have more consciously chosen.  My aim has been to understand something about the kind of healing work we have to do as individuals, as a nation, as a world, if we ever hope to get past the things that are dividing and killing us.

I have come to see that in pushing away from the seemingly myopic, limited, homogeneous, monocultural, working class town I was raised in – by learning Spanish, marrying an immigrant (refugee) from Guatemala, moving to California, becoming a bilingual teacher, and working in immigrant and refugee issues for my entire adult life – I was not just embracing new communities, I was running away from something in myself.

This is the kind of psychological splitting that I discussed here. Essentially, I created an “other” – the people from my family or community that I left behind. In “othering” them, I didn’t have to see things in myself that I did not want to see.  This involved some unspoken shame for whiteness of a working-class variety.

In fact, I carry the “limited, myopic, provincial, monocultural” community that I came from in me; it is not something I can run away from or leave behind.  I need to look at how it shaped me and own parts of myself for which I feel no pride.

But that community is perhaps not the things I have labeled it as, or certainly not just those things.  It is filled with loving, humble, good, if imperfect (like all of us) people, who have been shaped by their experiences in the world.  I carry them in me as well. Most importantly, I can choose the values I want to live by, not be bound by these aspects of my identity, and try to hold myself accountable to my values. This is the kind of healing work we need to do as individuals, as well as in the world.

I am attempting to name my experiences in this way, and connect more fully with all aspects of myself, not in order to “confess,” nor to elevate myself or my own experiences, but to seek lessons for healing in the larger body politics. I recognize that I have more work to do, as we do on the planet as well.

 

Feeling our way into new understandings

IMG_3924B-Club 2016 is in full swing now. The shift in perspective always surprises me, though I’ve seen it every year. The initial confusion that most of the young adult participants have when they first enter this space begins to fall away. Their critiques of it get suspended, at least a little. Their resistances erode. They begin to open themselves to the experience, to develop a new understanding of what we are doing, and contemplate why. They start asking new questions about the nature of teaching and learning, and thinking about transformative education in new ways.

The entry point is usually experiential – participants feel their way to new understandings based on their own participation in this space. For some the leap is an easy one; for others it moves them into zones of discomfort. I’m always particularly impressed by the ones who admit to discomfort, and are willing to sit, wrestle, or ride with it.  It’s so much easier to resist discomfort than to work with it.

Our class meets for an hour before the kids come in. We talk about the theory we’ve read that week, and use their reflective notes to deepen our connections between theory and practice. This year, this theory talk takes place at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, after the Grugs have been in classrooms, and taking their own graduate school classes, all week. Not an easy time to engage in heady discussions about zones of proximal development, shifting and shared expertise, repertoires of cultural and linguistic practice, and other such Academese! During that first hour I see how hard the class is trying to remain awake and engaged, but how low their energy really is.

At 3:30 we go to B-Club, and spend 90 minutes playing with kids. This week the Explorers’ Club went off to look for caterpillars, butterflies, ladybugs and other secrets hIMG_0591idden in the grassy field upstairs, telling scary stories as they went. Ramón and Amber led a group in finishing the paper maché piñatas they started two weeks ago, talking about this familiar cultural practice as they dipped strips of paper into gooey concoctions and laid the strips over balloons. The art table continued to attract a small but faithful group of budding artists – though mostly girls, as Greg noted in his reflections on the gendering of space and activities.IMG_0587 (That’s one of our theory-practice conversations: how can we create activities that defy easy gender binaries, and help all kids to expand their repertoires?) Kids stop by the letter-writing table, book corner, or journal writing section whenever they fell like it, integrating literacy into their play with the creative encouragement of Grugs. IMG_3920For example, last week Michiko played a game of Hide and Seek with three first graders. She explained:

“We started writing each other notes at the letter table and throwing them on the ground for one another to grab, run away with, and then read. They said things like, “hi,” “do you like cookies?” and “you can’t find me.” Our altered version of Hide n Go Seek turned into an imaginative land of flying letters and secret hiding spots, at least in my mind. Soon, other buddies joined in and it was so fun! I realized that just as with performing, the more into it I got, the more fun it would be for everyone involved. I found a pair of binoculars and pretended to look through them in search of the girls. I’m sure I looked ridiculous wandering around the MPR like this, but the girls seemed to love the game. I kept thinking they would lose interest, but I guess at the ages of 7 and 8, hide and go seek in a big room with pillars and lots of room to run is forever compelling.”

At 5:00 the kids go back to their regular after-school program home, and the Grugs, Ugs, grad students and I gather in a circle to debrief. What struck me most last week was to see how much the energy shifted between 3:30 and 5. Suddenly the Grugs were animated, their eyes bright as they shared from their experiences with the kids. Laughter punctuated the room. They really wanted to share, to the point that we all seemed to forget it was 5:30 at the end of a long week.

By noticing how we feel in this space, we start to ask questions about how to create more spaces where people feel good: happy, engaged, in a “flow” of activity, rather than pressured, stressed, or bored. The Grugs start to wonder about differences between contexts like this and the typical structures of school. They begin to see learning in new ways, and to recognize the cultural nature of the practices that we take as “normal” in school. Here are a few of their reflections:

(An) important aspect discussed in this reading is,“…an expanded view of what counts as scientific thinking and activity…(Nasir, et al.)” I believe this is the real purpose and foundation of B-Club. We are supposed to be looking at all the “non-traditional” learning that is going on around us and try to connect what we are seeing back to what we are learning in our texts. It seems like it would be easy but, we too are products of years of conforming to dominant cultural practices. It is difficult to spot learning taking place because we have been trained to see learning one way. We are trying to combat this detrimental way of approaching teaching and therefore learning. This article suggests that we can do this by both, “…expanding conventional views of these domains and deepening understanding of the intellectual power inherent in varied discursive and reasoning practices that youth from non-dominant groups bring to school (Nasir, et al.).” In other words, we must recognize the differing ways our students learn in their lives outside of school in order to gain a deeper understanding of why their varying ways of learning have just as much value as the dominant cultures’ ways. In theory I am sure I will be “testing the waters” in B Club, but I will hopefully be able to apply this throughout my teaching career. (Amber)

Rogoff’s article (on Communities of Learners) gave me a deeper understanding of what B-Club is about and attempting to achieve through the theoretical framework of a “community of learners.” It is not simply an after school program run by adults, but more like a community of students and adults interacting, collaborating, and learning. I noticed some parallels between the article and B-Club. Many people in the cohort have expressed hesitance about the lack of structure at B-Club. This is reminiscent of Rogoff’s description of middle-class European Americans’ focus on “organizing the child’s learning through instruction as the format for caregiver-child interaction” (p. 73). Children are expected to behave a certain way in schools, or “specialized adult-run settings,” even after school hours have ended (p. 73). Rogoff describes the phenomenon of middle-class European Americans having a difficult time understanding the community of learners, which I have noticed at B-Club. I believe most of us have been conditioned to operate within the standard adult-run schooling philosophy and anything outside of that can seem chaotic to some. (Jessica)

(Note: Grugs chose their own pseudonyms and gave permission to be quoted here. Faces will be blurred in all photos posted on this site.)

Of course, the Grugs wonder how – or even if – such experiences can be brought into classrooms, and whether the kind of learning that they see close up in this space would even count as “learning” in school. There are many questions that we will continue to explore as we move through the quarter together. For now, we are focused on seeing kids and experiencing learning in new ways, using our practice to deepen our understanding of the theories we are reading, and using the theories as new lenses into what we see and feel.

In future blogs I will explore a bit further this seeming paradox of preparing for the future by being fully where we are right now.

Readings referenced:

Nasir, S. N., Roseberry, A. S., Warren, B., and Lee, C. Learning as a Cultural Practice: Achieving Equity through Diversity (pp. 489-504). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.

Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understanding of the idea of community of learners. Mind, Culture and Activity. 1(4). 209-227.

 

 

 

Why do I write?

Welcome to the 2016-17 academic year!search-1

I’m making a “new school year” resolution to write regularly in this blog. This is my  commitment to public scholarship and to being as transparent as I can about the work I do, why I do it, and what I learn from it.  I also want to face the hard question of what possible good this work (and writing about it) may do in the world.

I haven’t written in a while. Losing my earlier blogposts stymied me. (See Lessons on Impermanence.) I couldn’t really see reposting old writing. Blogs at their best should be fresh and alive and current.

I have also been suffering from writer’s block in the face of all that is going on in the world right now. What do my words matter, search-2when people are being shot by police at traffic stops, wars are raging, madmen are terrorizing people all around the world, refugees are drowning, the climate is going to hell, and income inequality, racism and xenophobia are at an all-time high…. What can I say in the face of all this?  What difference can my words possibly make?

And then there’s just general writer’s block stuff: the voices in our heads that keep so many of us from putting our ideas into the world: “Who cares what you have to say?”

At a writing workshop this summer, in response to the prompt, “Why do you write?” I scribbled this:

I want to say it comes from a noble place, an enlightened space, a transcendent higher self whose pure and perspicacious aim is to breathe wisdom, light and consciousness into the world. I want to believe it comes from an egoless space, a wise and intentional voice of compassion and humility.

But really it comes from a little girl who long ago was lost in the middle of eight, a child who learned take her place and wait her turn and be careful what she wished for lest she blow her precious wishes, and then she’d be sorry. Three rides at Paragon Park each summer: which ones to choose? She wanted to feel her body soar on them all! One box of candy passed around the dinner table at Christmas, with no pictures on the bottom: what if she chose one with nuts or raisins, not the silky caramel or soft whipped chocolate she craved?

When people ask me what life was like growing up with seven siblings, they seem to assume there must have been a lot of chaos at home. We were ten bodies sharing four bedrooms and one and a half baths. But I search my memory and find no fight scenes. No whining or complaints. My mother reined us in with her unspoken rules:

Children should be seen but not heard.

Children should just do what they are told.

Do your share.*

Wait your turn.*

Don’t ask for attention.

Don’t take more than you need.*

What you have is good enough.

Don’t even WANT any more.

So I write for little Mahgie, who thought she took up too much space. I write for the girl who stenciled Margie the Magnificent! in bold capital letters on the half sheets of scrap paper that were rationed out at home, only to crumble under her mother’s stern glare. I shout back at the same glare that Ginny the Genius received when she pronounced herself by that name. I scream with my sister Ginny, who was locked in the “Screaming Room” by herself, at age two, and for my sister Nancy, whose face turned blue when she locked her own screams deep inside. My words are a dance for my mother, who at age three spun around her kitchen gaily in a bright yellow dress only to receive the same shaming look from her mother, and to wake up the next day to learn that her father had suffered the first of a series of strokes that would take his life. I write for little Anna and for the repressed, rationing and self-denying mother she grew up to be. “That’s good enough,” my mother would always say, “That’s all I need; I don’t want anything more.”

I write for my mother, my grandmother, my sisters, and our daughters, for all the people who were told suffer in silence, shut up and take it, be seen but not heard, or not seen at all. For everyone who was ever told not even to WANT any more.

*Note: There is much of value in these unspoken family rules…The world could do with less greediness and more sharing.  But when we repress desires, where do they go? They may come screaming out…and it’s really only when we let them out that we can have any chance of reaching to that higher place of wisdom and perspective.

Perhaps my hesitation about putting words out into the world comes precisely from a recognition of the power words really do have. Words allow us to sing, dance, desire, love…or hate. Words can build bridges, or walls. They can release old pains and bring about healing…or cause new wounds. They can invite people in, or close people out.  They can open hearts and minds, or polarize and divide.

I want my words to heal my own psychic pain as well as the pain that permeates the world. I want to find words that transform suffering, not perpetuate it, pass it on, or simply translate it into new forms. I want to build bridges, not walls.

This means getting past the two-year-old in me who wants just to rant and rave.  (Finally letting her out might allow me to leave her behind.)  It also means writing not just to people who will approve of what I say, who already agree with me, who are poised to like anything I pen.  It means finding words that will surprise, or give pause, and help people -including myself –  to consider things in new ways. Writing can help the writer to grow, as well as those who read.

(Reflecting back on what I’ve written here, I fear my  characterizations of the world going to hell are the kinds of words that can polarize: with some aligning with me, and others seeing the world through very different lenses…Still, I’m just calling it as I see it, and I  invite people who see things differently into dialogue…)

My colleague, Mike Rose, provides inspiration. Mike’s small book, Why School (https://www.amazon.com/Why-School-Reclaiming-Education-All/dp/1595584676), was the “book of the year” read by all incoming students to the Graduate School of Education this fall. Mike writes with reverence about everyday people, doing everyday things, revealing their dignity and humanity. His words go straight to the heart of big issues, with nuance and complexity, but also crystal clarity, and hopefulness. He stakes a clear stance on controversial social and educational matters, but does so in ways that invite people in rather than close them out. (See his blog: http://mikerosebooks.blogspot.com.)

So this is my renewed commitment to write: to face my own demons who think being good means being quiet, showing them instead the power that words can have to help make the world, not “good” or “good enough,” but much better than it is.  Or at least, this is my commitment to try to use my words that way.

I invite you to face your own demons as well, and to write, speak, scream, sing, or dance your own words.  Responses to this blog are most welcome.  You can leave a reply in the space below.

 

 

Lessons on impermanence

I am reconstructing two years of blogs that were lost overnight, and using this as an opportunity to learn some lessons about impermanence.

First, the story: Apparently I neglected to renew the hosting of my blog. I also naively assumed that everything out in cyberspace stayed in cyberspace forever, and could be easily retrieved.  Wrong.

This lesson came on the heels of another huge loss: the death of my mother, Anna Marie Walter Faulstich: a remarkable woman who was mother to eight children, grandmother to fifteen, and great-grandmother to three.IMG_0442

Now losing a webpage is not the same as losing a loved one. But losing my mother helped me to take the loss of these two years of work in stride, and to really absorb a life lesson that is so much more profound than it seems when expressed in a few words on a page.

Things – words, ideas, and people we love – really can be lost forever.
So too can glaciers, languages, species, polar ice caps, cities, and nations – things that are being lost from our planet even as I write these words.

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We have no guarantee that what we take for granted will be here tomorrow, next week, or next year.

If we’re lucky, the things we love can be around for a long time – as my mother was for 94 long, healthy years.

Mom Headshotmombaby

But we can be sure they won’t be here, if we don’t care for them.

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I can (and will) reconstruct much of my blog, but we can’t rebuild the polar icecaps.  We can’t resurrect species that have gone extinct.  We can’t retrieve lost languages. We can’t bring back the dead. And we can’t know the impact of these losses until we have lost them.

If we really took in these lessons on impermanence, how would it change the ways we live?