Listening Practice: Vignettes in Entering the Mess

Everyone I know is asking some variety of the same question right now.

How do I contribute to healing, racial and otherwise, in a way that encompasses concrete action and personal examination? 

I talked about listening in my last post, as part of my personal examination, and so I wanted to share with you three moments from our city’s peace rally this weekend.  Despite my temptation to speed past what was being said when the ‘white fragility button’ was pushed, I found myself listening in a way I haven’t before.  I was listening with the curiosity I used to bring to my students, and I am humbled and further curious about what I heard.

Ghostbusters

He had kind eyes and a clever sign with the iconic Stay Puff Marshmallow Man as a Klansman instead.  This tall African American gentleman, clearly a practiced speaker, quickly put the crowd at ease with his warmth and humor.  In the short time each speaker was allotted, he started drawing a parallel between reading levels and people’s willingness to deal with racism.  In part I think he was trying to highlight the ridiculousness of people who still needed what he called “the Disney version” of our country’s history with racism–namely, slavery, Civil War, Martin Luther King Jr., the end.    While his point made sense, as a teacher I started thinking about it literally.

When I first started teaching, I encountered reluctant readers with the firm sword of ‘they should learn to read for the intrinsic value of it.’  I had always been a reader, delighted in words.  It didn’t make sense to me that others were not.  In fact, it seemed insulting to bribe them with extra credit, candy, and all manners of ingenious bribes that teachers come up with over the years.  I had to fall on that sword a lot of times (I mean a lot, a lot, a lot) and get my metaphorical guts everywhere, before I was willing to concede that some kids just weren’t there yet.  They needed a ‘carrot.’

So what if that’s true of understanding and dismantling racism?  Yes, we should stop being racist assholes because it is the right thing to do.  I also know it is inherently and deeply unfair to ask or expect people who have dealt with it THEIR WHOLE LIVES to care about those who are truly backward in their thinking.  And I am not suggesting that a Nazi, or someone else who wants you dead, deserves that.  But there are others, like myself, who are genuinely motivated to move with heart and take responsibility, but we’re struggling with the ‘how,’ feeling it out as we go, hoping it will be enough.  So could we have racism flashcards, like we do phonics flashcards for new readers?  What would breaking down this complex reading look like?

And, what was my own ‘racism reading level?’  I put myself at about sixth grade, for those who are interested.  Like most sixth grade readers, I can understand a plot, a few nuances, but if there’s not enough action, too many big words, too much description of the setting, or if I have to read aloud to my peers, I start getting sweaty and losing attention as I scan for the nearest exit.  I want to read the hard books on this subject, but like a brand new English speaker I had once who carried around Harry Potter for the better part of a year and finally brought it back to me unread with tears in her eyes, they make me despair sometimes that I won’t ever get it.

Thank you, fellow tall friend, for giving me a metaphor I could wrap my brain around.

Southern Swag

This lady scared me.  She was beautiful, both steel and roots in one body, but she scared me like the black mothers of some of my students used to.  I knew I better be on point and not waste her time with trifles.  I could hide behind the label of teacher, or in this case rally attendee, but she wasn’t having it.  She started speaking about multiple encounters she’d had with police brutality, and how even today some had warned her to not “say too much” before coming up to address this largely white, affluent audience.  I had to grab Wonder Woman’s lasso to get my attention back, it was running out on her words so quickly.  But then she came to a point that stunned me into complete attention–black people have always known what it is to be other, but now, under this administration, unless you are a white, male billionaire, everyone will soon know how this feels.  “And what are you going to do then?”

Weirdly, I found myself excited by this point after the shock of it stopped me short.  I started thinking that maybe this was EXACTLY WHAT WE NEEDED.  Forced disenfranchisement.  It is hard, and maybe impossible, to teach empathy as an intellectual exercise.  What if we finally fucking felt it?  What if we looked around to men and women of color and went, “Oh, you weren’t just being melodramatic”?

The American government does not love us.  Institutions can not love us, because institutions are not people.  They are meant, at their best, to be a representation of people’s hopes and values.  They are concrete buildings, built on abstractions.  Unfortunately, when we confuse institutions with people, we have a harder time trying to change them.  I can’t be the only one on planet Earth that has struggled to correct this thinking, and there is still an inexplicable part of me that wants the institution to love me (probably because the rules for loving and relating to people seem much more vague and messy).  When I left both organized religion and public education, I was an exemplary participant and cheerleader. Understanding that the institution did not love me was heartbreaking each time.  However, doing so allowed me to realize how little I had settled for, the other possibilities that were present, and sadly, the opportunities I had lost to really be with the people inside these institutions.

The current administration is allowing sickness to surface on every level.  Could the silver lining be that it reminds us of how much we need each other, of how similar we are, of how we are in charge of shaping institutions, not the other way around?

Thank you, brave warrior, for believing in our collective destiny enough to tell us the truth.

Matter-of-Fact Boy

Upon leaving the rally, I walked past a mother and her two young sons.  I overheard the following snippet of their conversation:

Son: “I’m glad they are saying all these things.”

Mother: “How come?”

Son: “Because maybe the bad people will hear them and change their minds about hating.”

And I saw the mother’s face.  Overwhelmed with the myriad of conflicting emotions a moment of hope like that brings, she did what we’ve all done as adults.  She gave the, “Awww, that’s sweet,” face.  I’ve seen that face given to me, to artists, to children, to anyone really who holds a pure and simple emotion or belief fiercely.  In response, he gave the face I’ve seen on children time and again, the face I myself have given in response to the distance created by condescension:  “What?  I’m not kidding, I’m not trying to be cute, or quirky, or entertaining.”  What he said to his mother was true and completely possible in his eyes.  There was zero conflict between his heart and the state of his words/actions.

After all these years, I can only believe that adults are jealous of this integrity, this harmony.  And maybe it’s not the “real world” that kids or other dreamers live in, but if it is not “real”, why do we go to such great lengths to destroy it?  Why do we make children learn the word ‘pretend’ in order to meet us where we’re at?  Shouldn’t we protect any vessels that can shelter and grow hope this pure?  Shouldn’t we chase this degree of alignment, integrity?  I know that every time I unearth more of it for myself, I have more love for the people around me.  We already save seeds against future disasters, so this is not a new concept.

Thank you, little seed, for hoping.  I can’t honestly hope like you do yet, but I am working on it.

What could you hear today, if you were listening, that would help heal the world?

 

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When Things Need Replacing

I could only bring myself to watch one clip of events unfolding in Charlottesville.

In it, a torch carrying mob chanted, “You will not replace us.”  In a split second I was keeled over in gut shaking sobs on my couch, cradling my laptop as if it were a baby.  Though I revile their message, I found myself connecting to the feeling underneath that chant–the feeling of pouring yourself into something, right or wrong, so vigilantly that you develop tunnel vision.  If and when your hacked off awareness then starts to creep back, push in on you, the feeling of having worked for a lie is terrifying.  Change brings anger.  Your self-worth crumbles.  The rules seem to be new, just as you finished mastering the old rules.

I felt these same things while leaving the church fifteen years ago, and public education one year ago.  I never picked up a physical torch, but I burned lots of things to the ground in both those seasons.  I never pointed an actual car at a crowd, but there were lots of bystander casualties as I came to terms with my illusions.

I wasn’t crying for the Nazis, but because I did not understand how we as a nation could possibly combat this cellular fear of otherness that is now oozing from our historical pores.  Dealing with children who still inhabit children’s bodies is one thing, but what if the child is in an adult’s body?  How do you begin to enter a space where tantrum and logic are both present?  I felt hopeless, like I wanted to run away.

But tonight, somewhat calmer after a neighborhood peace vigil, I can listen enough to hear my heart.  Although I want there to be a “right” course of action, I know that’s not possible.  The only “wrong” course of action is inaction, allying with hate through inactivity and numbing distraction.

So, what else can I do?  What else am I asking of myself in response to this newest display of fear?  Listening is the first word that comes to mind.  Seeking out stories that are different than mine, and doing what it takes to strengthen the skill of listening without judgement or concurrent narrative.  Facing institutional and interpersonal racism is some people’s everyday lives.  I believe this with my brain because I’ve both seen and heard it, but my heart has not yet absorbed it enough to be fully transformed, to consistently act in line with my values instead of my privilege.  Even tonight, as a young trans woman spoke at the vigil, I found myself wishing she would tone down her anger a little.  My very next thought was really more of a sigh, a deep one, on realizing how much better I need to be at listening.

Owning my own racist/privileged attitudes, in explicit terms, is the next request I feel myself making.  What is my part in Charlottesville?  Well, first off, I am frustrated at the never-ending nature of social justice struggle.  I want there to be one big action, or a series of smaller actions, that will count as “enough” on the cosmic scales.  I want that action to have concrete and somewhat immediate results, and I want it to be hard enough to do that it feels “worthwhile.”  In short, I want to tap in and tap out again with something I can put on my Facebook.  By doing so, I contribute to how long these struggles take.  This option is less available for folks who are fighting for their own lives.

There were also lots of times as a teacher that my racism was quite clear to me, but more recently, I’ve become aware of it in my internet dating practices.  My first instinct is to swipe left or delete men of color, often times before I have even read what they have written.  When I do read, and often find myself intrigued, I find myself saying things like, ‘it would probably be easier for him to date someone who is Black.  How could I ever understand what life is like for him in a way that would be enough?’  Translation: I am not willing (yet) to put myself into the vulnerable territory of doing that work, even though it is the exact same work I ask people to do in getting to know me.  I tell myself I don’t want to add to someone’s pain by misunderstanding them, but I am not entirely sure that is honest.  I often add insult to injury by conflating these men with the absentee Hispanic and African American fathers of my students all these years, and the judgement I hung over those men was immense.   Again, it comes down to my ease.  It is easier to know people as categories than as individuals.

I assure you, there’s more.  The countless moments that I am probably not even aware of as they are happening.  I hope to shift that, rooting these weeds out with kindness where I can, with a little ass kicking where I can’t.  I also don’t expect a gold star for these revelations, but I am starting to see that if I don’t name them plainly, then there’s little hope of real change; a heart that more closely matches my outward actions, so that the actions don’t become just a politically correct bandaid.  I don’t want to march, donate, email, call, and still allow myself my comfortably dirty corners.

I don’t know how else we start truly belonging to each other, seeing each other as parts of ourselves, when some are born with such privilege or such struggle, but I know we have a lot of things that need replacing before we get there.

What the Water Wants

This summer has been weird.

On the one hand, there’s been traveling, dinners out, dancing, a new friend, swimming, sleeping in, jumping out of trees, poking into new career possibilities, committing to an examination of my fears, and a cute boy to spin me around the dance floor and call me beautiful all night.

On the other hand, people are cancelling jobs left and right, I’m borrowing money, an abnormal pap smear sent me in for biopsies, my Dad called me aloof again, a very large check got lost in the mail, aforementioned cute boy turns out to not be a great communicator, and still, no life plan that makes sense to anyone.

I’m not used to so much good and so much challenge all colliding at once.  I’d arranged my teacher life to where it was either mostly stress or mostly relaxation–aka, the school year and vacations.  I’ve started to feel like someone carrying a large bucket of water, full to the brim, trying to keep it from sloshing out.

This was very much the metaphor in my head as I started warming up for dance class on Monday.  Stretching, breathing, paying attention as usual, and then bam!  An utterly disruptive question.  You know the ones I am talking about, right?  The questions that are not necessarily logical.  The questions that will lead to more questions.  The questions that are turning points.  It was all this, and yet elegantly simple: what does the water want?

I’d like to say my response was spiritual and enlightened, but it was more along the lines of, “WTF!!  I am too busy trying to hold all this to consider what ‘this’ needs.  Can my stupid brain unhook from my magical intuition for just a few minutes, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!?!?!”  But, after having what amounted to a dance tantrum, I calmed down enough to be able to consider it as more play than work.

I tried to move like water as I dropped into the rolling beats of the warm up set.  I felt my own sweat, the heat of the day still trapped in the walls and floor, and puddles of light from the overhead bulbs.  I experimented with sloshing up against the side of an invisible bucket.  I flexed and bent to feel the liquid in my wrists, elbows, knees.  The dance, as it tends to do, reached up and took me.

I was water.  And then, I had my answer.  A perfectly non-answer, answer.

The water wants to be water.

I was tempted to tantrum again.  In my very own version of Family Feud, the left brain says, “This is not an answer to which you can create action steps.  This is not an answer that you can explain to others.  THIS IS NOT AN ANSWER.”  On the other side of the board, right brain says, “But it is.  And you feel what it means even if you can’t say it in a million words.”

A request for more patience.

Hold the shifting conditions lightly little H2O molecule, everything is temporary.

Feel the fun of making a mess.

Look at who and what is around you, one of many.

You are soft.

You give life.

So much combining.

The water wants to be water.  And so, year two of Delaney Walkabout begins.

 

All the Things I Wanted to do at the Farmer’s Market Today

Summer!  Colors!  Sun!  Everyone magically emerges from their houses at once, as if they had forgotten that the outside existed.  This makes it an excellent season for people watching.  As I sat on the curb near this week’s musical selection, taking it all in, my beautiful mind started to entertain me.  Thus, I give you everything I wanted to do at Farmer’s Market today:

  1.  Shave the impossibly tiny goatee of the solo, acoustic guitarist.  Why was it so tiny?  Is that all he could grow?  It was providing no sun protection to his very white skin…aka superfluous.
  2. Flick peanuts or glitter bouncy balls at the people who were taking their fruit and veggie gathering agenda very seriously, and I mean, VERY SERIOUSLY.  Are you seeing all this, people?  The little kids were.  I made eye contact with and smiled at about two dozen of them whose little necks were rotating like windmills to see it all.
  3. Offer to sit with the little boy whose mom was in a hurry.  He saw a piece of trash near me that looked like a frog (it really did) and he crouched over it in fascination for barely a minute before his mom pulled him away.  He started to fuss and cry, and I didn’t blame him.  I didn’t blame her either, mom is a serious job, but I would’ve sat there with him and looked at the frog trash until it lost its allure.
  4. Eat more slowly.  It struck me, as I pulled perfect strawberries from the white plastic bag, that each one of them had the entire care, art, and intention of the entire Earth in them.  WTF???  WHY DO I EAT SO FAST ALL THE TIME?
  5. Make friends with the couple wearing the matching clown pants.  Only really cool people could own such ginormous pants.
  6. Organize the people around me in the eating area to play musical chairs, even though the acoustic version of “With or Without You” is probably not a great musical chairs song.
  7. Swipe ‘no’ on every single man on Tinder.  Better yet, I’d organize a collective of women who would infiltrate and do the same.  We’d force the men offline en masse, and then maybe they’d learn to relate in real time, less posing and hunting.  I feel this would be a tremendous service to woman kind.
  8. Steal the sari of one of the Indian ladies I saw.  It was the most amazing piece of fabric ever–spring, summer, and all the colors of all the fruits and veggies, combined perfectly without being loud or confusing.  I pictured running around her like Road Runner or Flash.  I wondered how many circles I’d have to do in order to unwind it and run away.  Then I thought, not only would that be a crime, but probably a hate crime since she’s Indian.  I wonder now how many hate crimes happen because our love is immature, and all we can think to do sometimes is possess the thing we can’t understand but are drawn towards.
  9. Give the little boy in a green Portland shirt a better show.  He snuck up at one point to shoot me with his bow and arrow made by the balloon animal guy the next aisle over.  I gave him the obligatory twitching and dead person tongue hanging out, but he seemed unsatisfied.  I wish I could have given him cartoon lines of chaos coming off my body, full orchestral back drop, and various audience members with large, liquid anime eyes, jumping and cheering.
  10. High fived the mom who dressed her twins the same.  I don’t care what anyone says, that shit is adorable.

Happy Sunday everyone!  Keep all your eyes peeled…there’s delicious stuff happening out there.

 

 

Clearing Space

Spring moves into Summer.

I’ve loved few things more in the last few years than learning to check my pulse with the turning of the seasons.  It’s an easy stirring compared to the clawing, churning, and squeezing that my brain can get up to.  I went into Spring with the clear understanding that it wanted to be simple.  However, staring at my home altar this week, I wasn’t sure if I’d “accomplished” that.  My historical default is making things complicated, and with everything in flux and in question right now, how could I have done that?

But upon reflection, I have.  It came without much effort, in the practice of clearing space.  I’ve always been one to tidy and to travel light in the world of physical possessions, but this Spring showed me that there were quite a few empty shells cluttering my heart and mind.  The ones I know about…

  • I cleaned out my classroom for the last time and cashed out my teacher monies.  “Chelsea, that’s SO irresponsible!!!”  Maybe, but I needed all the feet out of that world as I continue my exploration.  I needed to walk back on campus and feel my whole body tense, I needed to hear former colleagues in the depth of May, state testing funk, I needed to play Kaleo’s, Save Yourself, sitting in the car with my friend Liz, bags and boxes packed in the back seat.  For all my moments of longing this year: for a predictable world, for something I’m an expert at, for challenge, for kids fawning over you–there is a solid disconnect that I can’t wish away.

 

  • I also called a truce between myself and masculine energy, after many years of fear.  Through writing, I finally spoke of my full disappointment, betrayal, and sadness–the things that were supposed to be sturdy and protect me, did not.  But the men were wounded, and they did the best they could.  And the masculine in myself has protected me with fierce vigor in every moment that it could.  I stopped playing around with medium length hair and went full faux-hawk, I bought charcoal gray sheets, I created and held boundaries like never before, I lead in my dances, I even stopped birth control pills.  Whether this makes any sense or not, I started both calling in and becoming the man that I wanted, not the man I was supposed to want.

 

  • I ended it with an on again, off again lover of almost ten years.  I showed up to our last meeting as the present day me, and found that our connection was no longer there.  I said a whole afternoon of heart rending goodbyes to him, without ever saying the actual words.  I didn’t know if it would “work,” but I did the best I knew how to do.  He texted a few days ago to ask if I wanted to catch up and have dinner soon, not if I wanted to have him naked in my bed.  He heard me.  My bumbling attempt to be true, to honor both myself and our interwoven history, was received.

 

  • At the end of my last movement workshop in March, my friend and check-in partner James looked at me and said, “You have no trouble knowing how to let people in to your life.”  He wasn’t trying to negate my truth in the moment, but rather give me a different possibility.  I started to weep.  The tears took my old, defunct narrative–Chelsea as awkward, Chelsea as outsider–miles closer to the ocean.  The space left behind by this narrative is immense, and my eyes get big as many other nearly dead narratives start to surface around the edges of my consciousness.  A Chelsea who does not have to earn love?  A Chelsea who can leave before she is exhausted?

I wish I could give you some step by step guidance for how to make all this happen, but I can’t really, not in a way that would be as personal to you as it is to me.  But it started with the intention to simplify, and as I stand in this spacious field and turn my attention to Summer, my next altar theme appears: doors.  How can I be available and aware as opportunities present themselves, not shutting out off awareness or availability for lack of tools?

I could tell you all about the new man in my life the last few weeks, the one who will probably help me practice a lot of this, but that is for another post 🙂

Notes from the Field: 1 Year

There are some stretches I thought about it obsessively.  There are some months it never crossed my mind.  In a little less than a week, I will have been out of the classroom for one year.

This time last year I was attempting to have a complete and gracious ending, staying out of my head as much as possible, letting my time with kids and colleagues serve as reflection time.  Some moments I really sucked at that, but there were also picture perfect moments I can call to mind.  Now, I am sitting in the backyard of my Airbnb, watching birds, listening to the fountain, smelling citrus and jasmine, and feeling the sun on my shin bones.  Basically, perfection.

Taking a few days to roam, listen, and rest, has been the perfect way to say ‘thank you’ to myself for the hard work of this year.  And although Delaney Walkabout will go on forever, I wanted to try and put a few closing thoughts to this tumultuous first year.  I’m going to give it to you listicle style–seeing that I’m pretty fucking relaxed right now and transitions and logical flow seem too tricky to care about.  Also, these are in zero order, and may likely repeat each other.

My love goes out to the world as I write this, ever involved in its own leavings, beginnings, reclamations, and rewrites.  May this be a smidge of sustenance as we create beauty out of struggle.

  1.  I got my back.  It’s beautiful that I am coming to trust others more and more, butt the problem is I used to never really trust myself.  Now that I’ve survived and even thrived in this year, I have concrete proof that I can take care of myself, regulate myself, move myself when the time is ripe for moving.
  2. I am more than one thing.  In fact, the number of things I am is somewhat astounding.
  3. I love kids, always will.
  4. I no longer think of the choice to leave school as the “right choice.”  It was a choice I made, one that I mostly happy with on most days.
  5. If I wanted to go back to the classroom, I begin to see what the path back would look like.  It has to do with learning to leave before I’m exhausted, not squeezing the good until it suffocates, understanding where my innate desire to be generous stops and martyrdom begins, and getting way more comfortable with conflict and pissing people off.  As much as I love teaching English, I don’t think that could be my subject anymore.  I need more non-grading paper time than that subject allows–time to follow myself.
  6. As much as I’ve slowed down this year, think in fact that I am the Mighty Empress of Slowed Downness, there is room to go even slower.  This is something worth pursuing, although I fear it.
  7. Speaking of fear, I can tolerate a whole lot more of it than I thought, and not die.  I can sit in the unknown without running–granted, I may fidget a mighty piece, but I don’t have to run.  Instead, I’m learning to flex and bend when things don’t go as planned.
  8. Childcare is not my final career stop, but I really like hanging out with little kids right now.  I realize though that I am very concerned what other people think of it, me the almost 40 year old babysitter.  In reality, I’m probably the only one passing judgement on myself–selfish (to put myself first, take my time, expect to get around the icky parts of adulting), irresponsible (not to use my gifts to their fullest potential, largest good), lazy (even though 11am-1am the next day fits me a lot better than 6am-9pm).  I wonder if being ‘important’ was my way to get around people noticing I am weird–aka “She’s a little strange, but she’s great with the kids.”
  9. Vulnerability is not incompetence.
  10. Part of my shame, vigilance, lack of self acceptance is inherited from the family line.
  11. As I’ve come to trust myself more this year, I’ve been less scared of men and the masculine in myself.  Call it a truce, a healing, or a further step in integrating all the compartments of my life, but I like it.
  12. I can keep trying to earn love if I want, but it is such a waste of time as it is literally in everything.  Love is the physical substance this universe is comprised of.
  13. There is an abundance of time, energy, opportunities, provisions, everything.  Believing it is scarce is just an excuse I make to keep me from listening, following, change, and being scared.
  14. The more I listen, the better I get at listening.
  15. Nurturing your friendships is important and awesome.
  16. Just because I have more time, doesn’t mean I will use it wisely.  It also doesn’t mean I will not get tired.
  17. I actually really like surprises and adventures.  This is shocking considering how tiny I had my life pulled in around me as of a few years ago.

I’m sure there are more, and maybe I’ll come add them later, but now it’s time for a nap and then the beach.  Or the beach and then a nap.  Hard to say.  Happy UnTeachaversary Delaney.  As your friends from your last school said last night in your dream, “We are happy for you” (and they said it while throwing celebration candy up to me in a tree, which made it even more awesome).

What I Really Wanted

If you are a non-child bearing or rearing adult, your Saturday morning is probably spent sleeping in, making coffee, and checking your social media.  Mine is now spent fighting evil, trash sneezing monsters that are polluting the ocean and killing all the fish, with the help of the characters from Paw Patrol, whose names I actually know.  About five minutes into this week’s battle, which consisted of Paxton throwing karate moves and me throwing bark at the play structure, I paused for a water break–our rules of engagement being slightly different than that of the current day military.

“Paxton, can I ask how this bad guy turned bad?  I mean, did he always sneeze trash at people for fun?”

“No, he used to be a good guy, but then a bad guy tricked him and said he’d give him candy if he sneezed trash on people.  Now, he’s been doing it for so long that he just does it for fun.”

“Wow….I kinda feel bad for him now.  Sounds like he had a rough childhood without anyone to teach him or take care of him.”

Sigh.  “Are you going to say we should forgive him now and not kill him?  That’s what my mom always says that you have to forgive everyone.  That’s the rule.”

And I paused.  The adult in me, the habits from years of being an authority figure, and the ghost of a Pentecostal upbringing, all urged me to agree with his mom.  But I couldn’t, so I didn’t.  I went on to tell him that, although he has a great mom, I disagree with her on this one.  And that even though it usually makes us feel better to forgive, there is nothing that says you have to, and in fact, you might have very good reasons for not forgiving (especially if you are a four year old getting bullied at preschool, with a new baby brother that dethrones you from being the only child).  “Besides,” I ended with, “it’s not real forgiveness if someone makes you do it.”  We then went on to brutally slay the evil, trash sneezing monster together.  Side note: it made for some very delicious evil monster sushi, so we did use what we killed 😉

As I cleaned my house this afternoon, letting my mind wander with scrubbing and vacuuming, it hit me.  That moment was and is a huge part of what I really wanted with teaching (especially in my latter years), what I rarely feel I reached, with the exception of social moments with students.  It’s part of why I grew increasingly frustrated.  Where the curriculum, both created and forced on us, looked at a subject from one angle, or with one application in mind, I wanted to teach in 360 degrees, full of paradox, application, and mess–aka how we actually learn outside of the school environment.  Common Core promised some of this, and I approached it independently in my own classroom and with colleagues over the years, but it never flowered.  I lacked skill and energy, and the system was only adaptable to a certain point.  Especially here in Silicon Valley, it was difficult to create learners because grades were more status, yours and/or your parents, and a future big paycheck.

This of course simplifies the issues in play, but I’m writing a personal blog post here, not a treatise on the problems in public education.  So what would this look like?  Good question since I’ve never gotten very close to it.  If I taught in 360, I’d be able to tell a student, “I will be wrong about so many things while we’re together, because no one knows you like you do, but I am going to ask you to trust me anyways.  Trust me and challenge me when you think I’m full of it.”  Ownership.  Acknowledgement of shared humanity.  I’d have more than a year or two in which to develop that environment.  Maybe not a full ten or twelve like I’ve heard of in some Waldorf schools, but we’d be stuck with each other until we could work our shit out.

I’d be able to OPENLY bring into question ALL the unquestionables: the authority of parents-church-government-medicine, social constructs like success and gender, physical realities like time, and the list goes on.  I’d be able to do this without having an apocalyptic parental/administrative response.  And if there was a kerfluffle with parents, I’d have few enough students that I could sit down with a parent for an hour and talk it through without that hour costing me three of my weekend.  I’d have few enough students that if someone wanted to skip studying one thing, I could send them off to read and learn as they please, and actually check back in with them.

And what about the planned curriculum?  Let me take one example from my English teacher life: the plot line.  All students, almost every year, learn and revisit the parts of a plot.  The hope is that each time you revisit the knowledge, it is deepened in some way.  In theory, this is great, but the plot line can only get so fucking deep before a kid’s eye rolls and moans are 110% justified.  Now here’s the thing, I think knowledge of the plot line is tremendously valuable, but for totally different reasons: changing your personal story mid-course, predicting and avoiding mistakes in history, being able to step back from the stories that come to you each day and see the greater human significance, also to see the individual players and who is gaining/losing in the midst of each story.  Why are there multiple versions of the same story?  What do we say to the stories that have been lost, either by accident or by force?  Why are we so easily controlled by advertising?  How does the brain function in storing and making meaning of stories?  I may be fucking insane, but I think answers to most of these questions, and way far juicier ones, are resident in the simple, boring plot line.  What if we could look at all of it?

And the truth is, we can’t.  Not in the system we have now.  Probably not even completely in the best of alternative schools.  But that’s what I really wanted.  I wanted them to not have to wait till college for messy learning.  I felt my shoulders drop and my exhale sound when I straight up told a four year old that his mom could be awesome, but still be wrong, and that there could be other ways to look at it.  Forgiveness could be a virtue, but not a law, and it could still be okay to want to kill a monster, even one with a tragic backstory.

There are no solutions in this understanding, but there is relief in being able to articulate, at least a little better, what was missing.