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What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

19 Jun

The title is a direct quote from Jack Gilbert’s poem, The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart


Studying the German language, it is difficult not to think of the meanings lost in translation.

I recently read the article about the boy who scammed first the German police, and then the world with his story about living in a forest for nine years. It was discovered that he was just an average teenage boy from the Netherlands, running away from a broken home and troubled life.

Just an average teenage boy with a broken life.

When I was seventeen, my cousin Brent, who was also seventeen, killed himself on the front porch of his home.

Just an average teenage boy with a broken life?

Lives of other people enter our minds through sensory organs; whether we read or hear or see, part of their experience suddenly becomes our experience. And what do we do with it? Do we read and hear and see for entertainment? Do the stories move further than the eyes and ears? Do they linger in the mind or settle in the heart?

This young man was running away. One choice of many to make.

The article reports his story through the voice of the young man’s friend.

“His bucket was way too full. He just wanted to have a new bucket.”

I understand meanings lost when German is translated to English; as I want the meaning between language to be true, I strive in writing to narrow the gap, bring the meanings closer to a similar understanding.

What does this say for meanings of the heart? What is lost in translation between the eyes and ears and heart when we read the story of a troubled teenage boy, a suicide, a grieving parent? What are we losing by not dwelling, by not striving to bring the languages closer together?

Rilke writes that lament is not enough and Jack Gilbert that the words get it wrong.

In striving to understand can we come closer to knowing what it is to be human, and to help those dearest, and ourselves.



Finding Heimat in Alt Ed: I’m a Mama to 120+

30 Apr

I’ve been mountain biking lately. I’m finishing up my student teaching. I’ve removed my mind from politics.

While teaching, you start to pick up on just how important your job is, even if you knew it in theory prior to teaching. You start to notice necessary leaders in the school; leaders who show their kids what it means to be a good, fair person. You start to notice how desperately so many kids need this example. Then you notice the money.

I feel as if invisible dollar bills, not air, is the force pressing so evenly against our bodies. Money, driving all actions, squeezing all pocket books. The reality that money (or lack thereof) will be THE factor in shutting down or crippling successful schools is ridiculous, for certainly, there is enough money in the world, especially the United States, to keep schools open and functioning.

Jay Z's MIAMI Mansion

I am thinking of the school at which I am student teaching.

I was lucky enough to have been born into a family where none of my needs went wanting, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Each individual has their own personal set of issues, but my family was a rock for me. When I remember childhood, it is a warm, comforting memory. I think of home and my mother’s meals, brothers and sisters, the banks of a pond, the peepers outside my window at night – all come back to me. Family. Shelter. Warmth.

This is more special than I can truly realize.

Before arriving at Marquette Alternative High School, I had never stepped foot in a school that replicated the warm feelings of home and family. I had spent almost 200 hours volunteering and observing in area schools, and that is what they always were – schools.

This is fine; not all schools must recreate the special dynamic of home. For so many kids, however, this is exactly what they need. A safe place. Family. Home.

In German, there is a word that does not directly translate in English; the word is Heimat. We translate it to mean “home,” but it carries a special connatation – the idea of warmth, family, safety. It is all wrapped up in one small word.

Marquette Alternative High School meets a need that money cannot create. Money can support the people who need to be there in order to create this safe place, but a family does not sustain Heimat with money. Unfortunately, money always plays.

Remove a father from a family and watch what happens in the life of a child. Take away an older brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, and the family is utterly changed.

Freud said once that as soon as a given state of things is upset, there arises an instinct to re-create what is lost. People who have had their families torn apart by abuse, substance, death, and adversity search to re-create the family which is lost. A person can take multiple approaches to such re-creation, and strangely enough, we often search in the same ways which destroyed our first family.

Finding real family, real Heimat, real love, can change this.

This is my plea to allow the song to remain the same at Marquette Alternative; this is my plea to put forth money to a place that provides a safe place for so many kids. Please, find it within your budget to maintain the level this building is at.

A Heimat is something that simply cannot be replaced.

My Second Family: The Wily Brood at MAHS

Death, the Greatest Teacher

9 Oct

I learned recently that Steve Jobs died this past week. This surprised me as I had just discovered his speech to the Standford grads of 2001, where he had spoken boldly on death and living. Battling cancer, he said, “No one wants to die.”

Death. Grief. We, the American culture, the empire, the watchdog, do not like to think on death. We do not want death near, nor anything that resembles the Reaper’s face. If death is far removed from our personal life, then we can safely be terrified by horror movies, media images of war, and fantastic tales. Bring death near, and we are lost, no where to turn with our grief or fear.

A friend recently sent me the article, “My Stillborn Child’s Life After Death.” A woman loses her child during labor and takes him home for six days before burying him. She shows him his room, sings to him, and says goodbye.

The common reaction is disgust – this woman did what? Taking a dead child home is not okay – the dead should be buried, and the woman must manage her loss.

My initial reaction to the article was a deep sensation of sadness. A woman loses her child. What is more tragic than this? When life should have been flourishing, she was given the dead.

However, I also had the feeling, This is strange.

But it is not strange. Only because of my culture, my socialization, did I assign judgement to this woman’s act. Casting away the social demands of what is right or wrong regarding grief, I see this woman in her ultimate strength. I do not believe America has the answers for true joy or sorrow. We are unable to express as our animal self needs, in situations of deep loss and grief. According to the social norm, we are supposed to adhere with a one day funeral and wake – this is the allowance for public grieving. I am more apt to agree with Rilke, in these few lines from his poem Requiem for a Friend:

Once, ritual lament would have been chanted;
women would have been paid to beat their breasts
and howl for you all night, when all is silent.
Where can we find such customs now? So many
have long since disappeared or been disowned.
That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve
the lament that we omitted. Can you hear me?
I would like to fling my voice out like a cloth
over the fragments of your death, and keep
pulling at it until it is torn to pieces,
and all my words would have to walk around
shivering, in the tatters of that voice;
if lament were enough.

Where can we find such customs now? American culture leaves no room for grief – we want death quickly put away, in a neat box, and we want grief the same. Keep it inside. Grief is not meant to be kept inside. People need to scream out in the night, and others need to hear. There is a need for grieving.

I am glad this woman found a way to deal with her grief, and cast off the judgements of her culture. I thought also of the old woman in Germany who kept her husband after he was embalmed, and continued life as normal after he was dead. She still cooked him meals, sat him in his favorite chair, talked to him.

Grief, that we cannot understand. Death, to whom we are unaccustomed.

A ex-philosophy professor recently minimally explained the idea of Freud’s superego to me. He said the superego is society’s demands on the individual. As civilization progresses (we “develop”), the demands on the individual become greater. Civilization comes at the cost of the individual’s happiness.

Cast off the waterlogged coats of our society, which keep us from knowing ourselves. We are not required to adhere to society’s norms – seize your happiness – make it your own! I will leave you with a wise word from Walt, my favorite Whitman:

How can he NOT be your favorite?

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and
am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

 – from Song of Myself

This post acknowledges Death, the greatest teacher.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

1 Oct

Steve Jobs addresses the 2005 graduating Stanford community. His comments on death are particularly searing, and reiterate the sentiment of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Watch the whole thing and prepare to re-evaluate or re-affirm.  Education via oration.

Education Ordo Amoris v.2 (Updated for Ever-developing Beliefs)

15 Aug

Ordo amoris. What is it? What does it mean?

“Augustine says the “order of love” (ordo amoris) is the “brief and true definition of virtue.” According to this order, the human person must love everything in creation according to its proper relationship to God, which means loving God above all creatures and not inordinately loving any creature as the human person’s ultimate end.” – MUSE

So Augustine has the universe whittled down to a hierarchical pyramid, with the quest for god sitting on top. This is the standard, the bar, the student who always, no matter the circumstances, throws the curve by getting an A. According to Augustine, all love must be measured in relationship to god. No exceptions.

So what of the love of learning?

If I may define the quest for god as a human being’s inherent need/search for meaning in the universe, then I will draw similar conclusions to the quest for learning. For what other reason do we learn than to explain ourselves and the world? And we love it. Just watch a baby looking at colors and shapes.

In the Zone.

Therefore, the love of learning cannot be far below the love of god on Augustine’s scale. We loved learning so much that we thought it should be accessible to everyone. So we institutionalized it and gave birth to Formal Education. Let’s take a look at how our current society feels about education, specifically those doing the educating:

Oh you pathetic teachers… You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.”

“Teachers are using students for their political props”

Come on. Not even Mister Rogers is on our side?

“Students can’t master simple division or fractions because today’s teachers — churned out through lowest-common-denominator grad schools and shielded from competition — have barely mastered those skills themselves. Un-educators have abandoned “drill-and-kill” computation for multicultural claptrap and fuzzy math, traded in grammar fundamentals for “creative spelling” and dropped standard civics for save-the-earth propaganda.”

Rather than stockpiling up rage to spew out a phonetic frenzy of teacher hate, one might consider using all that time and energy to, perhaps, DO something about the system so detested. Like vote in a local school board. Demand better evaluations for teachers. Support public voice by supporting public institutions.

Parker Palmer states in The Courage to Teach, “People who start movements do so not because they hate an institution but because they love it too much to let it descend to its lowest form” (p. 177).

This is the movement – return the institution to its higher purpose by loving it, and therefore undertaking action to change it. We cannot allow our public schools to fail.

Love the institution by changing it. Education Ordo Amoris. Let’s bring it back.

Rick Perry, You Go Back To Class

9 Aug

Translation: “Stop profiting with our education. Our dreams don’t belong to you.”

I just heard about the protests in Chile. Guess what SECONDARY students are protesting?

You got it. Privatized education that was instituted in 1973 under the REIGN OF A DICTATOR. Hmmmm…..

Read the article HERE.

Photos courtesy of this cool site.

Ricky Ticky, you better listen up! Thanks for the love, Chile.

A Student, A Person, Not a Number

8 Aug

Woo-hoo for local news! I’m all about it and the most recent is sent to me from my mom via the Escanaba Daily Press (check them, out, they’re alright).

However, the most recent local news is somewhat… depressing. Are we surprised?

“With the state’s unemployment rate stuck in double digits and school districts struggling financially, even experienced teachers are finding themselves out of work. ”

Well, let’s be a downer. As a soon-to-be graduated pre-service teacher, I’m not finding that news particular uplifting. But what media organization reports anything positive? It seems, in the modern world, that positive news is for saps.

Yes, unemployment is up. Yes, teaching jobs are shrinking. But we buck up, we get on. The real alarming news is the following:

“Since peaking at 117,973 in the 2004-05 academic year, the number of public school teachers in Michigan has shrunk by nearly 9 percent, a loss of about 10,000 jobs, according to the Center for Educational Performance and Information. That number tracks the 8 percent drop in public school students, to 1.56 million, that Michigan has seen over the past five years.

Why is the percentage of public school students dropping? Could it be that we’re opening our doors wide open for private education ventures, closing hundreds of districts, and closing networks to the public sector?

Dear Michigan,

Stop telling your citizens and public employees they’re not worth a damn. Fund public schools. Don’t close them. End of story.

Sincerely, Much Love,

A Student, a Person, Not A Number.

Thanks to the Daily Press (and Mom!) for the great article.