Complicity: The New American Way

Remaining silent or refuse to take action about school and mass shootings is an act of complicity. It’s Friday February 16th. Fourteen students and three adults were killed at school two days ago. My wife and I heard the news on the way home from work that afternoon. Our response wasn’t shock or horror as the events of the day were detailed. It was sadness and resignation. And then the rest of the night and the next day I simply avoided the news.

The next day in my 8:00 a.m. class, no-one mentioned Parkland, Florida. In fact, I never heard mention of the shooting the entire day. Remember, I work in the education department teaching prospective teachers, and we weren’t talking about it. I’m sure my students and colleagues were thinking about it. I certainly was when I began class at 8:00 Thursday morning. As I opened my mouth to begin class my desire and willingness to bring up the subject dissipated. I paused, revised my thinking and began the day’s lesson. The topic for the day, ironically, was safety in an elementary science classroom. I don’t know this for sure, but I would think that danger from gunshot might be statistically the highest cause for serious injury or death in an elementary science classroom.

Exhausted, and suffering from a migraine (stress induced?), I retreated to the quiet of my home after my last scheduled meeting at 2:30 to complete the rest of my work from there. And then I did what I do to process such emotions–I picked up my guitar and started writing. What I learned from the process of writing, which is why I do it, is that I am complicit. We are all complicit. When we don’t speak up, we are complicit. When we vote for politicians who ignore the 80% of their constituents who desire some sort of regulation reducing access to guns designed for one purpose–to kill people, we are complicit. When we don’t vote, we are complicit. When we offer and accept thoughts and prayers as our only recourse, we are complicit. When we accept that there is nothing we can do and turn off the news, we are complicit. When we let politicians say “now is not the time for action, it is a time for mourning.” and then do not force them to have the discussion and take action when the time is right, we are complicit. I am complicit.

Trying to engage in a conversation about gun violence the day after a school shooting is not offensive and insensitive to the families of the victims. I believe not doing so is indifference to the families of victims, which I think is worse. If your words of comfort and grief never lead to changes to reduce the need for words of comfort and grief, then they are meaningless sentiments. They are lies. So, in the interest of furthering dialogue within the halls of our governing chambers, both national and local, I propose this strategy for the political leaders concerned about gun violence. Accept the NRA and its pocketed politicians’ 48 hour gag order. And then organize yourselves so that every day except for the two days after a school or mass shooting, one of you takes to the floor of your chamber, parks yourself in front of a camera, is on the radio, or in print media to talk about what actions we could take to curb gun violence. We need to talk about this every fucking day until something is done. No, until all we can do is done, and we end this epidemic of gun violence.

This means nothing, and probably accomplishes nothing, but this is what I could do yesterday to process and try and understand.

The New American Way

Seventeen souls were lost today
Taken by another’s rage and pain
Here we stand with nothing to say
Seems like the new American way

Today I couldn’t shed any more tears
I can’t understand what’s going on here
As the sun sets on another blood-stained day
Seems like the new American way

And if I raise my voice up tonight
Will you tell me that the time still isn’t right?
And all we can do is bow our heads and pray
Seems like the new American way

Here we stand again playing the fool
Pretending there’s nothing more we can do
Except hide our kids behind locked doors and barricades
Seems like the new American way

We’re stuck in this story with no end
Another day, another seventeen shot dead
Over and over again we throw up our hands and say
Seems like the new American way.

Posted in Written Blog

¿Agua Limpia?

I’d like to share a blog post from one of my daughter’s friends, Carmina Singleton, an impressive young woman.

photographing diversity

Two years ago when I came here with my family, we were told not to drink the water as it has bacteria which can affect the digestive system. In Minnesota, where I live, we are surrounded by pure water and 10,000+ fresh water lakes for that matter, but coming to Mexico has been a struggle in needing to budget for water. I never thought that I would have to worry about purchasing drinking and cooking water. I think that because I grew up with the privilege of having clean water, I never realized the financial struggle that people in developing countries are in. As I experience the different lifestyles and changes, I can’t help but feel empathy for those who live in more difficult and developing countries. Like Ghana for instance, they are rarely given the chance to drink pure water, thus drinking water contaminated with chemicals and littered with…

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Elders Under a Tree

I breeze past the tall statue of Paul and Babe first on my morning bike commute. Then past three elders sitting in the grass and side-by-side against a large oak tree. They face the lake that lies between them and the rising sun. The dew glistens off the grass. Morning in the north woods of Bemidji, Minnesota. The warmth of the sun juxtaposes with the cool morning air and slight breeze. It will soon be hot and windy. One of the men gives me a friendly wave and hello smile as I pedal by, as if there is a recognition or bond between us strangers. His smile warms me more than the morning sun.

They each wear a coat too heavy for a summer day. Each also has a small backpack near them. A bag of Fritos is passed between them. These are their possessions. I climb the little hill and then pass the statue of Shaynowishkung an Ojibwe man known locally as Chief Bemidji and recognized for his efforts to help the area’s first white settlers to survive. “Shaynowishkung…means ‘he who rattles,’ according to Ojibwe culture, a rattle is used to shake away negativity.”

Inscribed on one plaques next to Shaynowishkung is:
“So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”
-infamous insult by Andrew Myrick, spokesman for the traders, August 15, 1862.

I pedal by and on to the rest of my day. Three elders under a tree.


*Text of plaques taken from Text of the four Chief Bemidji Statue Plaques (May 4, 2015). Bemidji Pioneer

Posted in Written Blog

FORE! Playing Golf and Learning to Teach While Not Slicing it Into the Woods

Anyone who has golfed knows that learning to hit a golf ball consistently straight and where you aim is really hard. There are too many untold variables in each swing that can make striking that little white ball with that little club sitting at the end of a long flexible shaft almost impossible to do consistently for the recreational golfer. Most recreational golfers learn by watching others, maybe some instructional videos, and tips from friends or playing partners—but in the end, mostly learn by getting out on the course and just playing. It is a game after all and just practicing hitting a golf ball on the driving range isn’t really that fun. With some practice, many individuals develop enough consistency to (mostly) enjoy the game. At least initially.

As the recreational golfer plays more and more, invests more in better equipment, memberships, more green fees, etc., his or her expectations also increase. For most however, there is a point at which his or her consistency in their swing plateaus and cannot be improved upon without a drastic increase in coaching, training and practice. With additional coaching many discover flaws in their swing resulting from being relatively self-taught. So engrained in muscle memory are these flaws, correcting them might take more practice (and therefore money) than he or she can afford. Not wanting to quit, most recreational golfers accept those limitations and adjust his or her strategy in playing the game to compensate for the flaw.

The most common flaw compensated for, but not corrected, is a slice. This is when the angle of contact with the ball creates significant side-spin causing it to arc away from the hitter (so right-handed golfer slices to the right). The harder and farther you hit it, the greater the slice. He or she learns how much slice to expect and aims to the left. Imagine this scene. You are standing getting ready to hit off the tee and right in front of you is a narrow fairway with a lake on the left and woods on the right. You’re right handed and slice a bit to the right. So you aim to the left (out over the lake). And wouldn’t you know it, this swing is perfect. Your ball sails perfectly straight and far—and plunks down in the middle of the lake. You tee up a second ball and, out of frustration, grip a little tighter and swing a little harder. Anyone who has golfed knows the result. Now you really slice it and lose the ball in the woods off to the right.

In teaching, I propose that we are slicing it into the woods. Despite whatever training most of us have had, we are like the amateur golfer, and rely on what feels right. This is especially true when push comes to shove (and with pressure to increase math and reading test scores, decreasing budgets, full classrooms, increased social needs of students, etc. there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on) the teacher falls back on his or her muscle memory. In the case of teaching, that means teaching something the way that you learned it—even if that conflicts with what you intellectually know research says about how the brain constructs meaning, what works best for motivating students, and is the most effective assessment methodology.

While we have learned a great deal about how children learn and how to meet their needs socially as they mature, the infrastructure of the physical, curricular, and organizational layout of most schools really has not changed that much in the last 100 years. So now imagine yourself as a new teacher who knows all the research, but is surrounded by colleagues primarily using didactic teaching methods, relying on a traditionally-written textbook, and pressured to “cover” a long list of standards, in this system that does not reflect the changing nature of our society and current research about children and learning. Or imagine yourself as the building administrator looking at declining math and reading scores for your elementary students—these are the things we test for and these are the scores that get reported in the paper. We all know we should be taking the time to allow students to do authentic inquiry-based projects and assessments. We all know that we should have fewer students per teacher to allow for more individualization and authentic assessment. We all know that all 12-year olds aren’t at the same point in their maturation and learning to be treated the same and lumped together. But this takes more time and resources. And the spring math and reading tests are looming.

So what do we do? We increase the practicing for the math and reading at the expense of the other subjects. We increase the pace at which we teach the content (meaning more didactic stand-and-deliver instruction to at least cover the content) and eliminate the time for using individualized techniques for the students struggling to keep up, or bored students that  understood the concept two months ago.

To use a golfer phrase, we “grip it and rip it.” Out of frustration we grip tighter and swing a little harder. We do what we have always done, but just faster and with more intensity—because that is what muscle memory tells us to do and what we know we can do to get through the curriculum in time for the test with the number of students we have in class. Of course it doesn’t work. Test scores stagnate or even drop despite the increased focus on those two subjects. Student frustration and boredom increases and behavior management issues arise.

We can either continue to compensate for our “slice” and aim a little more to the left (hoping we never actually hit it straight) so that the ball will hit our target at least some of the time, or we can re-assess the fundamentals of our swing, forget the muscle memory, and re-learn to swing properly. Fore!

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To The Greatest Generation…I Call BS

I’m fed up with the “Greatest Generation.” Okay, so they won a global war and oversaw the largest expansion of the human population and advancements in technology. But whatever. Despite all of this advancement of modern society, here we sit in 2017 and everybody is pissed off. Count me in. A wave of anger is fueling political global upheaval. And I can understand that desire. The great lie of the Greatest Generation is that the next generation will have it better than the last. This simply isn’t case anymore.

Social, political, and economic systems built on a model of perpetual growth defies all laws of natural resources and just plain physics. Can’t happen. Won’t happen, and eventually the systems (natural systems, economic systems, political systems, stock markets, etc.) see a correction. We are seeing these corrections now. For the first time, individuals who had their eye on the American dream that sold them on the idea that you can have a career of honest labor and build a prosperous future for yourself and your children is not the norm. The reaction to this is counter-productive however.

We react to this by electing a president and congress promising to return us to the halcyon days of a time in our history where the American dream was a reality. But it never was a reality. It was akin to purchasing a luxury car with a credit card. For a while you get to drive a really nice car, but eventually, the interest from the credit card and the maintenance of a high-priced automobile are beyond your means and income. The Greatest Generation didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and build this prosperous nation. They bought it on credit from the next generations, and the interest is coming due in the form of political unrest, terrorism, voter disengagement, economic stagnation, rising racial conflict, class warfare, and environmental distress.

The very practices we look back to lead us to today’s reality. We elect leaders that capitalize on this false ideal. They then propose policies that further borrow against the next generation further disenfranchising the poor and working class while rewarding those that were the beneficiaries of the great lie of the last 50 years political and economic systems of perpetual growth. This has created unprecedented income disparity. What is lost in this history by the greatest generation (still largely calling the shots) is that without a strong middle class our economic system will eventually collapse into a fiefdom.

It is a lie that returning to those old traditions will lead us all to prosperity and a return of the strong middle class. I think they know it and that is what has me pissed off. While saying they will lead us all to the Promised Land, they are trying to enact policies that furthers the perpetual growth for a select few. Don’t they know that the world is one of finite resources, meaning that the great majority will not only not see perpetual growth, but must experience perpetual reduction of means and resources to fund the perpetual growth of a few? It is either a case of tremendous ignorance and incompetence or downright deception and evilness.

So to this group of the Greatest Generation, I call bullshit. So while the “Greatest Generation” got to increase their wealth and have retirement funded by the anomalous growth of the 1990s stock market, the next generations get to live through the Great Correction. You led us into economic, political, and environmental distress. Either try something different than making us “great again” by repeating the same mistakes that lead to the great depression, world wars, racial and civil unrest, and impending environmental catastrophe, or enjoy your retirement and get the hell out of the way.

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Jesus Was Alone. Do We Have To Be?

I was heartened this morning when Pastor Rob Kopp said that he struggles with Palm Sunday. The day has been “domesticated” he said, waving a palm frond for us to see. Words like Hosanna are used. There is a celebratory tone and feel to the day. “Yeah, Jesus is gong to die this week!” This certainly creates some cognitive dissonance. But cognitive dissonance is where discovery occurs. I struggle, not just with Palm Sunday, but with all of it. I struggle with having anything to do with something that so many can so easily weaponize causing such pain and justifying condemnation and violence.

My friend, T McKinley writes in his book Reclaiming My Spirit, and at his blog site, about taking back his spirituality from a religious upbringing rooted in shaming one into faithfulness and compliance. He writes about his revisioning of God as a oneness of spirit. This is quite the opposite of what I see around me so frequently right now. Instead of oneness of spirit and coming together, I find more and more reasons to divide, separate, leading to eventually having to conquer.

An author I admire greatly is Brian McLaren. He writes a lot about his Christianity and in particular turning away from the modern Evangelical tradition to an Emergent Christianity. He was searching for Christian theology that brought people together to make heaven on earth as opposed to using Christianity as a wedge to separate and identify winners and losers–and then used as a hammer to punish and beat down those not in the right group. This is my struggle. How can Jesus’s teachings lead to such opposite enactments of one’s story? How can the same teachings lead some to a loving, forgiving God and others see a shaming, judgmental, punishing God?

And it isn’t just in religion that we find this ideological polarity–though I think religion is often, if not usually, the root–but it is everywhere I look. It is in how we think about issues such as race, crime, poverty, politics, education, and so on. Can we all claim to be working towards progress when going in opposite directions?

Christians (of most stripes) speak of Christ dieing on the cross for our sins. Talk about struggles. This is a doozy for me. This kind of statement means nothing to me. Maybe it’s just too abstract and distant to provide me any real value. Today, however, Pastor Kopp said, “Jesus put himself in the place of the most vulnerable.” This I can begin to understand. Jesus faced violence grace, not violence. This is true strength. Pastor Kopp concluded by  placing the palm fronds in the center aisle of the sanctuary saying, “May these signs of peace not be a source of litter.” Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Divisiveness begets more division. We’re spiraling down people and I’m struggling with that. It sure would be nice to see less violence and more grace.

Bruce Springsteen concludes his song Jesus Was an Only Son with the line, “The soul of the universe willed a world and it appeared.” While listening to Pastor Kopp this Palm Sunday morning, I had this song repeating through my head like it was on a tape loop.

Jesus was an only son indeed. Do we have to be? Or can we will a different world than the one we currently see–a world filled with division, hatred, condemnation, and most of all, fear?

So here’s my version of Springsteen’s song, Jesus Was an Only Son, recorded today.

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The Arrogance of Representative Steve King’s “Western” Civilization

Representative Steve King tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.”

In an interview following he stated that he meant exactly what he said, adding “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values,” and, “In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”

I hear these comments as a clear “dog whistle” to white supremacy. It seems that King views “his” culture as threatened and possibly at war with other cultures. King did try and soften the white supremacy angle by stating, “It’s the culture, not the blood. If you could go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby.”

But I think this statement exposes his true thinking (maybe fear). “If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the inter-marriage, I’d like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.” I’m making an assumption (that very well could be wrong) that “same” to King would most likely be his racial background of European descent. To be more generous, I could assume that he would be okay with a homogenous population that was a mixture of races from around the globe—presumably a skin tone in the middle between the lightest skinned Northern European and the darkest skinned African or indigenous Australian. But only if they all embraced Western Society and assimilated into “American culture.”

King is operating under the assumption not only of American exceptionalism, but of Western exceptionalism. What he seems to be communicating is that you can bring your darker skin, but not your “darker” culture to America. Certainly I could be wrong, but I think this might even be a generous interpretation of what he is saying.

This is an arrogance of the highest order. He is living in a place that at one time was peopled by tribal nations that had evolved biologically and culturally in that location for thousands of years. In a few hundred years, his American, Western culture was built in that location on the genocide of the indigenous tribal nations living in that place, and also genocide of the ecosystems that evolved in that place for millions of years, and in so doing has ignored any ecological and cultural knowledge accumulated along the way.

To operate from a belief that his worldview is the one right worldview, and that the others do not offer anything (except maybe some melatonin) is simply arrogant and ignorant. Considering the result of this worldview based on unsustainable growth and exploitation of (seemingly) unlimited natural resources is a society facing species-threatening ecological crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, I’m simply embarrassed that he represents enough of “us” to get elected to office. Maybe instead of assimilating others into “American” culture, America would be well-served to assimilate into other cultures instead. Then maybe a more sustainable way of life could be practiced.

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