Posts Tagged ‘education’

Grinding

November 19, 2016

grind

Nothing memorable was ever accomplished in a prosaic mood of mind.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (undated, but among his pages written while residing at Walden Pond)

My coffe mug has “Daily Grind” wrapped around the outside.  I pulled it from my cupboard this morning as my message for the day.  As a school teacher for twenty-eight years, I know the daily grind–too many subjects to teach to too many students in too many class periods with too little time for absorption per day.  In twenty-eight years that has not changed, and I’m confident will not change.  I love the film Rounders and the role played by John Turturro whom they refer to as “The Grinder.”  He makes a living playing cards, finding a way to pay the mortgage, alimony and child support (“My kids eat.”).  He is portrayed as a rather joyless sage who knows what he has to do daily to pay his bills.

But the paragraph just written is not what I consider the core of my life.  For twenty-eight years, though grinding, I have blissfully educated myself, poring over the texts and materials necessary to put fresh bread before the students.  And even if they did not absorb that daily nourishment, I did, incrementally, semester after semester, year after year. And I felt the growth of my own soul, appreciating every new shoot.  My life has been enriched through the decades, doing what I’ve been hired to do.

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Mark 4:28

I echo the sentiments of Thoreau.  I don’t sense within me a “prosaic mood of mind.” Throughout life, I have found a way to celebrate as I have fed on the religious sentiment, the literary and the artistic.  It has all been good.  And this day particularly has been good. Rising to my first cold morning of the season, I chose not to turn on central heating, but to go out back to my woodpile, fill the fireplace and begin a day-long fire.  For four hours now, the crackling sound has soothed me as I’ve labored over a watercolor commission in my living room studio, enjoying the crisp winter light slanting across the drafting table and listening to Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” This day has been filled with splendor because it marks the commencement of the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Our schools are closed the entire week, so I will not be returning to the workplace on Monday.  My holiday schedule is not exactly set in stone, but at least I know I have all the time necessary before me to complete this commission, then move on to the holidays.

Thanks for reading.  The morning has been truly delicious.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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Ruminations During a Three-Day Holiday Respite

September 4, 2016

archaic

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

All good poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings . . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

The first key to writing is to write, not to think. . . . You write your first draft with your heart; you rewrite with your head.

Sean Connery, Finding Forrester

I awoke this morning to my blog alerting me that thirteen days have passed since my last post. That was not intentional, though unplugging for a season has its rewards, so argues William Powers in his excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. 

Two weeks of high school are now in the books, and the three-day holiday weekend respite has been delicious so far. From the moment I walked out of the school Friday afternoon, my mind has been seething with memories of the past two weeks of classes–all of them invigorating. In the philosophy and art history classes, I’ve been employing Nietzsche’s model of Apollo vs. Dionysus, which he set forth in his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work he argues that the creative life is a constant struggle between the forces of Apollo (order, structure, reason) and Dionysus (chaos, spontaneity, passion). As an artist I have grown to appreciate that attempt for balance over the years. I have posted quotes above from Nietzsche’s novel as well as Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and the excellent lines from the motion picture Finding Forrester. All creative attempts embody a shaky counterbalance of order and spontaneity, and I for one like to lead out with my passion, then let reason clean it up subsequently.

For the past several days, I have experienced a series of delightful explosions in my philosophy and art history classes as we have explored the thought and creations of the ancient Greeks. I have studied this material throughout most of my life, and believed I had it organized in a logical (boring) way in the form of “lesson plans”. But the students’ questions and my serious responses never follow the lesson plans, and I find that delightful, always. And I’m confident that many of the students do as well.  After all, the questions are theirs. Nevertheless, there remain those students who prefer to have everything laid out in logical order so they can study their material, write their essays properly (boring) and take their tests (boring) and see their scores (which to me are always imperfect indicators of their excellence in thinking). My sentiments are about as subtle as a freight train, yes?

So . . . I am using this three-day holiday to clean up my lesson plans and present a more orderly package next week. Meanwhile I will continue to explore this Apollo/Dionysus balance. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, a very sobering and deeply gratifying experience in thoughtful reading. My favorite character is Ada, a crippled teenager with deep thoughts, who experienced healing later in life.  Her creed was expressed as follows:

Tall and straight I may appear, but I will always be Ada inside. A crooked little person trying to tell the truth. The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to find out.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Philosophy is Next

August 22, 2016

 me

Exhausted but Content, after Day One

No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and thus draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

Emerson delivered these bold words at Dartmouth College, two weeks after infuriating the Harvard Divinity School faculty with his infamous (and still unnamed) “Address” of 1838. Choosing not to grouse over the public rejection he endured, Emerson continued to play ball, pitching these encouraging words to young minds who dared to think independently. Emerson, immortalized by his “Self-Reliance” essay, pointed out how dismissive we are of our own independent ideas.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Tomorrow is the second day of school for me, and the first meeting of my Philosophy class. Every time I open a new semester with this class, I try to challenge the students to find their own voice and dare to speak their own mind. In 1784, when the European Enlightenment was at its peak, Immanuel Kant published his essay, What is Enlightenment (Was ist Aufklärung?). He described the experience as the individual emerging from his/her own tutelage, daring to think independently (Sapere aude). That’s what I wish to challenge my students to do: dare to know. We stand on the stratified centuries of intellectual tradition, yet too often pride ourselves only in mastering and reciting the material rather than believing that we can do it better, that we can push the envelope further than earlier visionaries saw or dared to push.

This day has been very satisfying. I’m hoping that tomorrow is as well.

Thanks for reading.

 

Altar Building

August 21, 2016

altar

My Favorite Room on this Planet–a Sacred Space

Emerson knew there was “an innavigable sea of silent waves between us and the things we aim at”.

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Sunday is a day set aside for worship by many. Personally, I feel that I worship far more frequently than weekly. Nevertheless, throughout this day, I’ve been building an altar in preparation for tomorrow morning when school begins for the 2016-2017 term. I could easily say that the altar preparation began when I left the last day of the Spring term. But it would be even more accurate to say that this altar has been under construction for decades. I don’t know when I first thought I would actually be an educator by professionI signed my first contract in 1985 when the University of North Texas offered me an adjunct post, teaching Introduction to Philosophy. It was then that I knew for certain how I wished to live out the rest of my life.

Tomorrow I meet my sections of Advanced Placement and Regular Art History, three ninety-minute classes total. I’m gratified to see a roster filled with familiar names–students I have already had in Regular Art History, Philosophy or A.V.I.D. When I see their faces, I will experience a homecoming of sorts. And knowing they chose this elective class gratifies me even more deeply. I hear many teachers express that they want to be liked, and of course I know that feeling. But far more satisfying to me is the idea that these students trust me.  They chose to return because they trust me. And I trust them. That is why I feel so much potential for good as we enter this relationship for a second year. Two of these students entered my classroom last week when I was setting things in order. I can’t explain what I felt when I saw them come through that door. I had no idea how much this summer I had missed their enthusiasm and positive contributions to the classroom environment. And now tomorrow, I get to see them again, and begin a new chapter in this odyssey.

Altar building. A teacher invests a great deal of time and effort, assembling material for the day’s learning, enters the room and tries to set the materials afire. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the match is wet and won’t strike. Sometimes the match ignites, but the material isn’t combustible. Sometimes the match ignites, the materials flame up, but the students are looking at their phones and don’t notice any of it. There is so much that can go wrong, even when one spends hours, days, indeed a lifetime preparing for the Event. But there is so much that can go right. And that thought is what keeps us coming back.

The altar has been prepared, and I’m praying for fire.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Words, Words, Words

August 2, 2016

T S Eliot complete scan (2)

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless 

As wind in dry grass

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Relaxing over coffee and books this morning, I found myself dragged into some deep sentiments while reading T. S. Eliot. In less than two weeks, I’ll return for a week of Inservice in preparation for a new school year. Throughout that week, words will fill the rooms in which we sit and listen, words that probably originated in Washington D. C., then filtered through Austin, Texas, then on to Arlington ISD, then to my high school, then to us educators.

Nietzsche pleaded for as few mediators as possible between the creating spirits and those spirits hungry to receive them. The more voices standing in the gap, the greater the distortion of the Word. As a solitary teacher, I am painfully aware of the fractures created in my classroom when the light of a Nietzsche or Emerson or Shakespeare passes through the prism of my being, breaking apart their precious insights into my own categories, thus weakening the impact.  I always hope that I can steer my students directly toward the geniuses as my art teacher steered me to Andrew Wyeth and Harold Bloom steered me to Shakespeare.

This summer has been a precious odyssey to me, with many valuable life lessons gleaned. I can only hope that this fall I will step into classrooms with some souls hungry to feed from life experience, and that I don’t find ways to fill the gap between the geniuses and the students with pedagogical debris.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

image

Life is being wasted.  The human family is not having half the fun that is its due, not making the beautiful things it would make, and each one is not as good news to the other as he might be, just because we are educated off our natural track.  We need another form of education.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Happy Thanksgiving to anyone out there reading this.  I don’t think I could have planned a better one for myself.  Waking in the darkness before dawn, enjoying the warmth of covers, and thinking good thoughts, I decided the first thing I wanted to do once I got up was go back to the third watercolor I started over the past three days, and see if I could finish it.  I did.  I took some chances in color that I’m not used to taking, and am glad I did.  I also tried out some new techniques in drybrush with the foreground–a combination of masquing, staining with a drybrush, and pencil rendering/scribbling–which was also enjoyable.

Returning to a book I’ve read once all the way through and am nearly finished with my second reading, I’m amazed at the insight and clarity with which Robert Henri wrote.  The man was truly a prophet, a seer, a visionary, and I’m grateful that he recorded his thoughts for posterity.  He has been a real gift to me personally.  I love the quote posted above.  And I’m glad, in retrospect, that I returned to my artistic roots.  I laid down the pencil and brush to pursue graduate studies in academic subjects, and followed a career in education.  But one day I woke up and decided to return to what gives me the most deep-seated pleasure in life–making art.  My job is still a good experience for me, but I live to pursue my passion when not on the job, and the activity never lets me down.  The holidays have been meaningful this year because I’ve had uninterrupted time to pursue painting and thinking, and it’s all been very, very good.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

 

 

A Day of Contemplation

September 6, 2015

imageIt is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.

Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”

I open today’s bog entry with this word: I may be blogging with less frequency these days, but with time spent away from social media, I am discovering more quality time for reading and journaling. Hopefully this will result in a blog with greater quality, and not just a daily quota of words flung into the chattersphere, hoping for relevance.

Reaching the halfway point of a three-day Labor Day hiatus, my soul is awash with sentiments of gratitude–I needed the rest from the daily school grind, though school has only ground for two weeks. I must be aging and slowing. I have laughed and cried my way through 150 pages of Don Quixote. The book is an excellent mirror I suppose for any reader, but particularly for anyone who has devoted most of his/her life to public school teaching. I don’t believe I speak only for myself when I confess to living in a world partially constructed after my own imagination. Daydreams and fantasies aided me in coping with my own public education which I found largely boring and unimaginative. It would seem that karma induced my return to the public school arena once I completed my education. And now, twenty-seven years later, imagination and fantasies still aid me in coping with much of the boredom that surrounds me daily.

Sancho Panza mocked his noble Don Quixote of La Mancha with these words:

Sancho, my friend, know that I was born, by the will of heaven, in this our iron age, to revive the one of gold, or the Golden Age.

Anyone wishing to parody my persona could chant those same words in derision. But I own them. Classical studies and forays into the humanities saved my life at the university, and by the time I entered the high school classroom as instructor, they had become the blood that courses through my veins. When I was growing up in public school, some of my teachers tried to be cool, drawing daily soundbites and lesson ideas from Leave it to Beaver and later M.A.S.H. Pop culture didn’t mature me then, and it doesn’t feed me now, nor does it nourish the students of today, as far as I’m concerned. No student in my classroom will hear me reciting anecdotes from Miley Cyrus, lyrics from Justin Bieber or soundbites from Donald Trump. Pop icons such as these are not worth my time, and they contribute nothing of value to one wishing to improve life, as far as I am concerned. As a fan of Rene Descartes, I have always enjoyed leading my philosophy classes through his cogito ergo sum–“I think, therefore I am.” I used to have a bumper sticker on the window outside my classroom door that said: I think. Therefore I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh. I came to school of course one day to find it had been removed. Sometimes I wonder if the one who removed it thinks and finds a reason to be.

When it comes to course content, I am grateful that I get to select and share the works of those minds who tried to improve society, tried to challenge young minds to become better. I make no apology for anchoring my course content in the humanities. Talking heads of education can lay out all the data they please, crow about job training all they please, and lay out social programs all they please. But these days, I still glean value from the works of Emerson, Thoreau, Cervantes, Eliot, Pound, Aristotle, Augustine and Shakespeare, and will continue bringing ideas to my classes from these great minds who dared to think big, dream big, imagine big.

At the top of this post, I quoted Ezra Pound, and with his challenge launched my latest watercolor, begun this morning, always with the hope that this could be my best Image produced during my lifetime.

Working on Foreground Foliage

Working on Foreground Foliage

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Pondering New Directions in Watercolor

January 2, 2015
A Dark, Rainy Friday Made for Books and Reflective Thought

A Dark, Rainy Friday Made for Books and Reflective Thought

There are men charged with the duty of examining the construction of the plants, animals and soils which are the instruments of the great orchestra.  These men are called professors.  Each selects one instrument and spends his life taking it apart and describing its strings and sounding boards.  This process of dismemberment is called research.  The place for dismemberment is called a university.

A professor may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students.  For all are restrainted by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

How delightful to be finished with my holiday travels, home again, and still possess time for quiet reflection before returning to school next week.  Today (Friday) is dark and rainy and well-suited for staying indoors.  The coffee pot is full, the books are stacked high, Mozart is playing on the stereo, and I’m grazing from a number of ideological pastures as I figure out what to do next with my time.  Today I have watched again the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and have felt so inspired at the thought of John Nash wrestling with the implications of a new idea.  The film has spurred me to dig deeper into journals and art books in a quest for some kind of direction in my artistic pursuits.  While re-reading one of my favorite books, Wyeth at Kuerners, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye the subject that I want to try next.  I’m waiting for it to get dark outside so I can work in my garage studio, relying on spotlighting effects rather than the natural light flooding through the windows of the door.

The Aldo Leopold quote posted above I culled from a journal I kept during the final quarter of 2013.  I enjoy perusing old journals, especially at this age when I seem to forget about 90% of what I’ve written in prior years that I thought so important then.  I was delighted to find Leopold tagging on to the same idea I published yesterday,separating Art from works of art.  For most of my life, I have attempted to make art, and always realized that my creations pointed toward Art but never seemed to cross the threshold.  And when it comes to assessing the strength of various works of art, I always seem to find myself tongue-tied.  Currently I’m working on this idea of how we as artists break works of art into their component elements of design, analyze techniques applied, and ultimately conclude that the composition is always more, much more than its parts.

Many of my ideas about art parallel my views on education.  Since I’ll be returning to school next week, my mind is full of these ideas as well, especially my view that education, like art, cannot be distilled into a few basic principles.  Education is an art, not a toolbox of techniques.  The assessment of a quality education (to me) cannot be divined from a sheet of statistics, cannot be discovered by analyzing data, and cannot be disseminated by training a group of teachers to follow a lesson plan template.  As an educator, I have no gimmicks, no magic tricks.  I study hard. collect myriads of words and ideas, assemble and arrange them and then communicate them to listeners.  Sometimes what I pass on is “caught” much as one would catch the measles.  As to the art arena, my watercolors are the same thing–an assemblage of objects, techniques, moods and ideas that sometimes work.  And in ways that I still do not understand, certain paintings of mine will reach viewers, will draw them in.  I’m eternally grateful for those encounters, though I have no idea how these things happen.

Looking Over my Recent History of Work, Trying to Determime What to Try Next

Looking Over my Recent History of Work, Trying to Determime What to Try Next

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am never alone.

Sundry Reasons to Smile Tonight

November 14, 2014
Friday Night at my Writing Table

Friday Night at my Writing Table

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour.  For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem.  These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought.  One tendency unites them all.  The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.  See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

It is turning out to be an excellent night for putting some thoughts down in my journal, despite the reality that my furnace broke down 24 hours ago, and will not be repaired before tomorrow.  Temperatures dipped to 30 last night, and threaten to do so again tonight.  The house is cold, but things are not so bad–in fact they are quite good.  A small electric space heater is adequate to warm the space that I occupy, and so I am finding ways to live in a smaller space until the cavalry arrives tomorrow.

As I shambled through my crowded chamber earlier this evening, I sensed that I was smiling, and wondered what exactly that was all about.  In my younger years, these physical circumstances would have left me fuming.  So why is tonight so good, after all?  Simply put, the recollections of all the experiences that wove together throughout this day to produce a beautiful existence.  All I have to do is recall them, one by one, and then smile at them collectively.

It was a profound honor this morning to be invited to sit beside a struggling, yet determined A.V.I.D. student wrestling with an assignment for A. P. English over an Emerson essay.  As she read aloud pointed texts from this sage and faced specific questions, I happily asked her questions the way these A.V.I.D. students do when collectively learning in their tutorial circles.  I didn’t have to give her any answers.  One by one, she solved each problem, then moved on to the next, and I just felt joy brimming inside me, watching her countenance brighten and her eyes focus every time she “got it.”  All I could hope is that she would come to love this man’s words as much as I have in my later years.

After that session, my Philosophy class came in for their scheduled exam (which may not have been a natural high), followed by a roundtable discussion on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” essay.  I shall always remember and cherish what transpired in today’s discussion, watching the sincerity of students willing to explore difficult questions that took them to the edge of their own traditions.  I shall never forget the words of one of the girls expressing that Emerson’s “American Scholar” speech “resonated” with her.  She left me her journal to read which included a poem she composed about a particular experience of driving through the night that brought her to enlightenment.  The vocabulary was charged with Emersonian sentiment, and I felt tears as I read it, and recalled the expressions on her thoughtful countenance every time she responded to the discussions of today.

The bell rang.  It was time to go to lunch.  But one young man remained behind to talk, to give up the early part of his lunch period.  He talked of the values which so deeply stir him at this stage in his life, and then, as he was preparing to leave, told me that this class was undoubtedly the best he has ever had in his educational odyssey.  I believe him, and it stirs me deeply, because I have had this unspeakable honor to join his hands with those outstretched hands of Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Kant and Emerson among others.  And we still have a few weeks left to learn from others before this young man continues the rest of his journey without me.  I am pleased to know that he has been transformed, and grateful that he, the afore-mentioned young ladies, and all the rest of the students passing through, have given color and texture to my life. Who needs a furnace tonight?!

Yes, tonight I have sundry reasons to smile.  Life is complex with these myriads of details and decisions that zigzag our way through each day.  But I am convinced that we are going somewhere.  And the journey has quality.

Thanks for reading, and sharing this night with me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Tribute to the Silent Ones

October 28, 2014
Still Making Adjustments on the Studio Still Life Arrangement

Still Making Adjustments on the Studio Still Life Arrangement

So, what is a teacher thinking as he stands at his open classroom door, watching his students file in?  

This morning, my mind was more active than usual, as I stood at my door, greeting my A. P. students and checking their I.D.’s.  My thoughts were all over the still life I had begun assembling last night in my garage, and I was sorry to have had to abandon it today to go to work, But alas, that is how the die is cast; I’m happy and fortunate to have a job, especially one that I enjoy.  And even though I was going to be speaking about ancient Rome in the minutes ahead, I kept thinking about those mute objects standing at attention this morning as I watched my garage door close and slowly backed down my driveway to head for school.

Probably 85 percent of our students are the ones we forget within a year after they have departed our classrooms.  We remember the top percentage of achievers with their grade totals, and we remember the bottom end with their attendant disciplinary problems and frustrating issues of barely passing or failing the course.  But what about those 85 percent in between that do all that is asked of them?  How are they remembered?  Are they even remembered?

I want to crawl into the heart and center of this still life under construction in my studio.  I want to know the stillness as well as the history that infuses that collection of mute witnesses to a large segment of my past century.  The assembly of objects reminds me of the heart of my student population that does what is expected of them, without fanfare, without drama, without drawing attention to themselves.  The quiet ones.  This night, I salute them, remember them.  Tonight I am better because of what they contributed to my understanding of life.  Tonight the spotlight shines on them and they cast their own shadows.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.