Ash Wednesday School Shooting

Repentance: A radical change in mindset and heart, a promise to do better, surrender, a confession filled with remorse

griefIn every school or education organization there must be people you can trust. In spite of bureaucracy, complacency, high-stakes political frenzy, we must guarantee a safe space, a place where anyone can find the rhythm and pulse of our collective humanity. Maybe it’s a kind eye, a warm embrace, a second chance or a genuine asking. Or maybe it’s a quiet individual who finds clever ways to make things fair, who listens to truth, who reminds us of the right-minded pathway.

When a tragic incident occurs such as the Ash Wednesday school shooting in Broward County, Florida I think about all the inside people who were perhaps too busy, preoccupied or turned the other way. How could a teenage child be so lost and unfound, so unseen? How could there be such a wide open, emptiness of space for such violence to occur when schools are so micromanaged, organized and contained? What are we looking at in our schools if so many children are lost, lonely and afraid, left to slip away in the fury of desperation, hate and insurmountable shame?

There is something to be said about the loss of humanity inside our schools and education organizations. There is something to be said about our stubborn blindness. This is yet another cry out for change, a desperate plea for us to reconcile with ourselves, our true purpose in education and our moral obligation to design schools that are responsive and sensitive to the inner lives of children and adults.

***

There is this mirror between the world and me.

Standing upright I hold it one foot away.

It is this distance that reveals, or rather—

Conceals the sadness and the shame.

It is this distance that keeps me from feeling pain.

 

Letter to My Comrades

Revised.

Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dear Comrade,

First off, let me tell you that I am doing as well as can be expected. In spite of the flu epidemic that has had its way with several members of my family, we are in good health and of sound mind and spirit. I am writing because I wanted to talk to you about an important topic, that at this very early morning hour gave me great clarity and purpose. In my euphoria of the moment, I am still not sure if these words are a mere result of what some might call a semi-feverish state, or if in fact I have stumbled upon some nugget of truth worthy of sharing. Either way, I’ve already made up my mind to write to you, my dear friend and Comrade.

I want to share my thoughts with you about the proliferation of charter schools, online school programs and other such structures of choice that have been neatly implanted in the architecture of our country’s school system that I believe can serve to divide our minds, pit our hearts and souls against one another. If we look hard at certain structures and current norms of education society, we can see how we might have been left blind to a fundamental obligation as civic and social servants—  to develop and nurture all children in this country with a common spirit of excellence and achievement, a shared sense of social responsibility, a connection to a community of greater purpose, and an understanding of relationship and interdependence.

Public education has always been the way to access knowledge and the joy of discovery, an opportunity for community building and encouraging important dispositions we typically associate with being a wise human being– such as compassionate, insightful, critical thinker and courageous, to name a few. Dispositions such as these are direly needed if we are to continue to raise children to engage in, participate in, improve upon and enliven our society. Let me be clear, this is not an attack on charter schools or on-line programs, in particular. In fact, I hold entrepreneurship and freedom to personalize one’s education experience in high esteem. However, this is a mere warning that perhaps in exchange for such fast-paced innovation, we have allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered or robbed of our ability to coalesce and transform society through one collective, large scale movement.

What are we to do but to try to expose the roots and causes of this blindness, that which may be built into our ideologies and infrastructure? Perhaps it is worth our consideration, to look at a potential toxic thread called narrow individualism and separatist thinking. These are both a mindset and a way of doing and being in the world that allows for and even encourages inequitable funding, the poor distribution of resources in education and projects and/or institutions that are self-aggrandizing or self-serving. We can see this all the way down from the smallest gerrymandered school district, often relegated to communities of color and poor people, to reputable, prestigious institutions where, in the case of the latter, the “us vs them” and hierarchal norms are often well designed and reproduced, both in architecture and in every day practice. Dear Comrade, you must know that to which I am referring, the laundry list of behaviors and vague occurrences that we bear witness to on a daily basis that are too many to include in this letter.

This morning I felt a bit run down and old, rethinking my twenty-six years in the field of education. This is a confession, Comrade, since you know quite well that I am the first one to espouse the power of good spirits and agency! But, that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we perceive and treat each other,  divisive norms and institutions in constant competition is undeniable. It is everywhere and revealed in our patterns of thought, conversations, how we perceive and judge people from other schools or organizations, how we choose to channel our energy… Perhaps it is acceptance or surrender to forces of evil that in spite of all of our greatness, we seem overcome by our own fear of survival and every day unchecked, routine actions.

That which I am speaking about, of course, is our inability to be inclusive, to work together for the common good, to demonstrate how education is the great hope and glory of our civilization, to see public schooling as a valuable social and civic service institution, the great unifying force and democratic endeavor that reaches across this vast and diverse country. This is the way that I came into it, believing in it, the hope and value of education as the foundation of the great American dream. Years later, I knew very well that this is not the great American dream, by far, but simply a human dream, the universal dream of being able to get past an existence of mere survival and tribalism to an existence full of happiness, passion and self-actualization. This dream has always been elusive in the United States because so much of our history reveals the eternal flaw and folly—a self-actualization that was not meant to include all living beings, respect for our mother earth and regard for humanity. For us who know well enough, the power and promise of any dream lies in its imagery and vision– dreams have the ability to speak to us in quantum, transcendental ways, to resonate a message for our  personal well being, our social well being, the omniscient power of the transpersonal realm.

As many of you know, I have spent numerous occasions in life in which I have fallen through the cracks of the structure and tradition of norms that make up our tightly knit education system. In these moments, I have found solace in innovation and alternative pathways to express voice and stay involved. These lapses have been much the fault of my own since I have stubbornly dared to expect more, to have spoken truth, to have believed in the ideals given to me—many of which I was taught at home and in the very schools I am most concerned about! This is the vision of education for enlightenment, if there were such a word to encompass all that I feel for my beloved education! It is a vision of doing something great in the world, of making a difference through the blood, sweat and steam that a human being can create within herself and within the context of a school system! In sum, I have sometimes fallen out of the good graces of those who exalt the great education traditions and have suffered financial setbacks and isolation. However, from this great abyss, I have always been given a return to the Over-Soul, as Ralph Waldo Emerson named it; the great wisdom and connection to all of humanity. It is the full knowing that we do not under any circumstances have it all under control. Herein lies the only certain mystery that affords us humility, passion for living, compassion for human suffering…the partnership with some greater energy.

All of us that have fallen to the bottom of the well, find ourselves in these bare moments, where we recognize that we are just another fallen soul. And it is in these moments in time that we find ourselves in truth and communion with revelation. It is revelation that says, we all fall and we all overcome. We rise again, like Ralph Ellison rises out of the sewer, to find power and promise in his great pen.  It is the universal Phoenix, the journey of the soul, that we rise again, transcending this bleak landscape and in doing so, learn to come together as One to work for the common good.

Isn’t this what education ought to be about, learning to work together for the common good, to address the greatest challenges of our time, a time in the universe which we share?

Ought it not be about coming together in communion with this revelation?…Ensuring that each of us gets up and out of the darkness, stands tall, walks with pride and dignity and is held by collective arms, to find the source, to feel firmly secure, in body, mind, and spirit— to raise a family and teach and read and deposit in each generation a passion for discovering one’s own unique personal power, curiosity and talent?

I woke up this morning feeling the need to share these thoughts with you dear Comrade. There is simply too much division, too much attachment to survival and materialism in education. There are too many good teachers, school leaders, strong educator souls running around with the best and brightest ideas but who cannot see outside the fury of their diligence and discipline to realize that no one school in the middle of a ghetto will ever flourish, no one school director, or charismatic leader working narrow-minded and alone will ever transform a community, no organization that is trapped by materialism, fear, greed and nepotism will ever have an impact on the hearts and minds of the young people, that which should always be our centering force. For it is the young people who see right through it all, especially those who for no fault of their own have the most unfortunate fate, who have to swim through the muck of every sidewalk crack early on in their upbringing, those who we marginalize and shut out too early in society. The young people sense it, see it, know it long before they know how to utter the word hypocrisy.

Before Martin Luther King’s death, he spoke of the three great evils, racism, materialism and militarism. I want to second his speech and I also want to draw our attention to the great evils poisoning our spirit in education—they are fear, individualism, cynicism and hypocrisy. Just let those words sit in your brain for a moment. See how they are all interrelated. Seeing patterns in life and in the laws of nature is critical for our confronting these evils. Why, just yesterday as I was driving fast on the highway, I looked up into the sky and saw a flock of birds heading in the south direction. South from my perception that is. They flew together with such direction, purpose and confidence. They had an internal rhythm that appeared to be an invisible cord guiding all of their movements, down to the flap of their wings, miraculously in unison. It occurred to me that fish in the sea travel in the same way. Scores of fish turn this way and that way, together one electrified collective unit. And while driving and entranced by the beauty of their coordination and sonar like communication—it dawned on me that the birds flying in the deep blue sky and the multicolored score of fish swimming together through the deep blue ocean mirror each other. What happens down below in the great dark abyss of blue green waters is also what happens in the turquoise heavens, in the vast blue sky, in the open day light. All is one, I think, all is one in nature as all is one and the same in the spirit of education.

So what do these laws of nature have to teach us about how we must confront the great evils poisoning our education system? I believe that our greatest potential and hope for the future lies in our willingness to relearn how to work together, to open our eyes to the wholeness of our collective experience, to reach out to your education Comrades, across race, religion, gender and across the generations, to collaborate, to build coalitions, to offer help, service, support, real encouragement and positivity. Pay attention to the smallest detail that defines who we are as a community and how we engage with each other, the time it takes to communicate and respond to a hopeful email, for example, the words we use to express ourselves in text, in email, over the phone, in a meeting, the how we choose to make our Comrades welcome in the field, to show them what it’s like to fly guided and unafraid, to honor our word above all else, to extend a helping hand to everybody who says they want to do something great– and most importantly, to do so in the NOW, even when we feel overextended or busy. How we behave with each other is indicative of  the character of our field, it is first and a priority. Only then can we turn our attention to the outside world and consider education. Building community, amassing energy, coordinating our efforts, flying together, inside and outside our ivory tower institutions, this matters.

Look, Comrade, I know there is so much more to say but I have lost my wind. I told you- I’ve been up since early morning and still, I’m a bit feverish. I need to rest now. I will write again, I promise. Today is a new day.

 

 

 

Ode to Dewey: Powers, Prophecy and Dignity of Teaching

I believe that this educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following.

Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897

The last few days have been dreadful— a real deep freeze. Not only has the weather been unbearably cold, but our boiler collapsed on New Year’s Eve leaving my family without heat and carbon dioxide scares for three days. On the third morning, I lay paralyzed with madness. I was cocooned in an old blue sleeping bag, several layers of fleece and wool covered feet. In that moment I thought, I’m losing my mind. Trust in my existence waned. I sank deep into my sofa and considered what happens to our body, mind, spirit when outer conditions become increasingly challenging?

My eyes land on the portable heater we borrowed. The steady hum muffles my brain. It didn’t help that I had seen the Mountain Between Us and The Zookeeper’s Wife over the holiday. Everything felt like it could spiral out of control in a minute. What happens when outer conditions become increasingly challenging, arduous and pained? What happens to us when the world fails us, when society fails us— as it happened for the millions of Jews, Poles, Slavs during World War II, the African slaves for over three hundred years, for the Puerto Ricans after the hurricane?

It’s only been three days and I’m feeling bi-polar. I am tight lipped, sullen and defensive. Then suddenly, I’m running outside with a surge of energy and gratitude for life. I log onto the internet. Diane Ravitch posted Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed on her website. I want to read it, to feed my intellect, but I can’t. I’m too cold and lethargic. I decide it makes better sense to drive my daughter to school. I can do this, I think.

I am driving her to school and a yellow bus suddenly stops holding us hostage in the middle of a narrow block. Usually I’d feel agitated, but I’m warm so I relax and observe the scene. Shortly, a mother appears out of the house ushering two children. She zips a coat, tinkers with a hat, hugs, kisses and onto the school bus, one by one they go. There are four cars behind me. The longer we wait, the more I become breathless, the more I surrender to this image— the love and devotion for our children and their education has the power to stop a stream of traffic. It is in an instant a lesson on how our inner world can dictate social consciousness.

I am zooming down the West Side highway. My high school age daughter snoozes in the back seat and I am filled with gratitude for her life, my freedom, her school. The dead boiler and the cold feels temporary and insignificant suddenly. I think about the day to day life of a teacher and school leader who choose a life of service. They build learning communities for children and families who may be experiencing hardship and challenges caused by cracks and gaps in society. We hear stories of fires, natural disasters, trauma. We imagine or know intimately the life of a refugee where suffering and displacement are prolonged. Homelessness, family illness, separations, poverty. So many of us come to school as part-time survivors. How should we approach teaching and learning when our outer conditions appear to be increasingly challenging? How might we design learning communities that are conscientious, that are responsive to the frailty of our society, structures and political arrangements that often fail us miserably? How can we institutionalize our universal love and devotion for the inner and outer lives of all of our children?

When I get back home, I am ready for Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed.

I highlight and bold so many beautiful lines. I interrogate his thinking. Then, I close my lap top and think, what is the best way to share my day’s important discoveries.

I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.

       Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897

 

The Weight or Weightlessness of Courageous Conversations

The heaviness of a small segment of dark brown bodies at the end of a long color line that curves around the room going from dark skin to medium to light. Two outliers insert themselves and evocatively defy the trend. They are motivated by something else; the unexpected psyche of an individual who defies the very notion of a ‘fixed’ color line. For them, notions of color remained equivocal and complex. Even after interrogation, there was an explanation, defensiveness, squeamishness. How do you identify yourself? Is your experience the same as the others on your side? The answer remained surprisingly yes…and no. I wondered, Is there a space in our consciousness that defies color?

It reminded me of the label ‘trans-gender’ or ‘trans-racial.’ I think about the many youth who are creating new labels that for them communicate a desire to transcend the narrow-minded materialism of the body form. Are they giving rise to a new, boundless human consciousness?

Alternatively, the outliers on our side of the color line who were seemingly ‘white,’ could have been in denial or exercising privilege. Dr. Lori Watson explained, the color-line is not the entirety of our experience, but it is critical that we isolate race so we can understand it and intervene in the inequities that exist in society.

Across the color-line, I see three white women standing side by side. One is squirming, the other crying and the third—the younger of the three— is standing confident, firm, wide-eyed. The latter, we learn is angry at her colleagues’ surprise at what we are witnessing. We were all grateful she chose to express voice, like many others. Three white bodies, the same and yet different. Three brown bodies, the same and yet different. And yet, we were grouped accordingly based on a survey of our experience in the world.

Some of the comments that ensued were, We don’t want pity, we want understanding. We want voice. We want to bring our whole selves to work. I’m tired of carrying the weight of this experience. One added, I have never experienced functioning in a predominantly white organization.

I was thinking, now what? What do I want to see? What is my expectation moving forward?

I want each individual regardless of racial, cultural or ethnic background to get paid equitably for their service and have an equitable scope of work. I want each individual to have equal access to leadership positions and to be developed in that direction, especially those who come from underrepresented groups. The real lever for transformation is the redistribution of power across the color-line. Access to leadership, job-security, adequate pay and a well-balanced scope of work allows individuals not only to thrive in society but to engage in making decisions that matter. Such as policy, company norms and processes, strategic planning and importantly, managing and allocating money. It also involves hiring and retention which is crucial to the integration of new perspectives, capacity building and sustainability.

I am not saying that awareness of race and racism and inequities don’t matter. Or that equity of voice in a meeting does not matter, or bringing one’s ‘whole self’ to work is not a fundamental human need called Belonging. However, in order for us to walk the path we must value all human beings both in awareness and acts. Adequate and fair compensation. Allies across the organization who communicate safety and job-security. Ongoing investment in an individual’s professional advancement. Access to real decision-making on issues that matter. These are demonstrations of equity that have the power to shape a new practice in education so that our children will inherit a place that values all life and is committed to the sustainability of our collective humanity.

It has been a heavy two days. Yet, I am beginning to feel light and hopeful as I sit and write in my hotel room in San Francisco just before getting ready to return back to New York City. I wanted to take a moment to share —Courageous Conversations are important. Moving beyond diversity is important. Learning our history is important like— who knew Rosa Parks was a trained activist surrounded and supported by the NAACP community who had a long-term Civil Rights strategy? How much of our history has been modified or deleted denying our right to truth?

On a more personal note, I will say I felt enormous pride and gratitude for standing amongst my people. Latinos, Asians, Arabs and Others often get lost in the conversation. We get lost with each other, in confusion or by being passed over or coopted. We are a diverse and rich community. Let’s look at each other more.

I didn’t want to attend the conference, I confess. I get emotionally, physically and spiritually fatigued by the topic. But, a colleague wisely pointed out that when we receive an invitation to such an event, it is not just an invitation for your Self. It is an invitation for you, your forefathers, your ancestors— who without your presence remains voiceless and unrepresented.

So, yes. In the end I moved from action and thinking to the emotional quadrant. I got teary eyed and sensitive standing alongside my brothers and sisters. Real action, compensation and retribution for a people’s suffering are all important. But so is standing up publicly and holding hands with your friends, colleagues, family and ancestry. It is because of your willingness to embrace these rare, very present moments that we have the power to touch many lives that span and blend and even by death transcend the color-line.

 

 

Where Do Important Lessons Begin and End?

“The pressures of inequality and of wanting to keep up are not confined to a small minority who are poor.”

~Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level, 2010

“While preparing for a presentation, I start a conversation with the custodial worker assigned to our room. He tells me that my type of work is important, but no matter how much we try to perfect the school and the teacher, nothing will change until we realize that a perfect school in the middle of an impoverished ghetto can never amount to anything. I look up from my neat binder and pile of handouts. The African American man leans over with a squint in his left eye and asks, “What message are we giving a child when we invest in the school but neglect his parents and his community?” I think about this for a long time and I am transformed.” 

~Ríos, Teacher Agency for Equity, 2017

Two important events have happened that carry important lessons.

Lesson #1

My fish got sick. His name is Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson is a Betta. Betta’s are very lively and friendly. Since I bought him, I’ve had him in a very small tank that seemed to suit his needs. But with the change of season he started withering. His usual energetic self was now laying at the bottom of the tank. He was lethargic and often buried his head under rocks. Since the weather changed, I decided to add a small heater but it didn’t make a difference. He ate less and less and within days, I began to worry Mr. Anderson wouldn’t make it.

When my son came home for the weekend, he pointed out that Mr. Anderson was depressed. Depressed, I asked? Depressed, he repeated. Maybe you should change his environment, he said while he read up on Bettas on his phone. And you need to talk to him too, Mom. Bettas live alone but they need company.

I bought Mr. Anderson a larger, more vibrant home. I added a filter and some colorful rocks. We all made a special effort to talk to him a lot. Mr. Anderson has not been happier! He swims and darts around all day. His eating habits have improved and he dances for me when I am near enough to see.

While watching Mr. Anderson jiggle his beautiful red polka-dotted body, a feeling of profound appreciation and warmth swept over me. Call me sappy but I felt like he was channeling love, gratitude and the spirit of God to me.

I learned that even a small, loner fish like Mr. Anderson can have needs. I learned that mood is important and moods are tied to our environment. We all need a good space and change. I am reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago called, Mindfulness for Poor People—on the power of space and how often We are forced to stay small to accommodate.

Mr. Anderson gave me permission to acknowledge the causes of my own suffering. I too had been feeling sick and lethargic. I was trying to fix it but doing the wrong things. By being mindful of Mr. Anderson and my environment, I knew what I needed to recharge my spirit.

I have grown out of this space and I am ready for change.

Lesson #2

Last week my daughter texted me to say she was in a shelter. A shelter? I texted back. Yea, she replied, there’s been a shooting. Oh, so that’s what they call lockdown at Stuyvesant, I thought. I marveled once again at the power of language.

I instinctively knew my daughter was safe but I wondered about her inner world—was she scared, disillusioned, saddened by the incident? I ran to my computer to get the news. The first update I got was from Twitter, my new ‘go-to.’ Within minutes more tweets were posted with information and photos. It was already being labeled a terror attack.

I slipped into the world of cyber space. Simultaneously, I sent numerous texts to my daughter and husband coordinating their escape from lower Manhattan. Forty minutes passed before I looked up from the screen and my eyes landed on the black bat I had put up for Halloween. Below it was a large bowl of Costco candy. That’s when it hit me. Another holiday tradition usurped by violence, stress, anxiety.

It wasn’t until eight o’clock that I left the house to get my daughter and husband at the train. They crawled into the car with dark circles under their eyes. They were flushed over with that withered, sour smell of the subway.

The next day we decided to keep our daughter home from school. I told her it was important to take time to pause and reflect. I recommended she rest and say a prayer for the dead. She looked at me sideways.

Not surprisingly, her fortress of a school opened ‘business as usual.’ Teachers, administrators and school leaders courageously opened their doors, taught a full day and led. A part of me envied how easy it was for them to just carry on. But then I realized— isn’t that what we keep doing— over and over again? We just keep carrying on?

I learned that violence, stress and anxiety are real, heavy shared universal human experiences. How fast we can absorb, process and digest the daily dose of violence, stress and anxiety is still considered an individual’s mental health problem. We talk about the negative effects of cortisol and trauma on kids and learning. Teachers and school leaders absorb the same chemicals and it results in chronic low trust, depression, poor health and random, peculiar, anti-social behaviors we often see in our schools and communities.

I learned there are no borders, labels, nor identities that can individually claim the type of violence, stress, anxiety we are experiencing as a society. We are one, big, ravaging sponge-like organism, with little fires sprouting out from all over our limbs. Whether you are home alone or in company, whether you reside at the middle or on the top, or even if you’re dead in the roots your soul screeching and squirming—we are all One.

 

Women Teachers

“Many feminist scholars believe it is essential to put women as well as indigenous people back into the human story.” 

Karen Vogel, 1995

Women teachers all around me and I am a woman too. Have I always noticed a woman’s narrative—Or are my inklings new? Alas, I find myself caught in another web of wondering. Will I find my observations true to all teachers or will I find them unique expressions of womanhood?

~Women teachers are caretakers all day long. Running from school to home, from students to children, to life partner, to parents

~Women teachers speak loyalty and trust. They want to please. They care about relationships. They are team players.

~Women teachers sacrifice themselves in order to keep things running smoothly.

~Women teachers juggle two, three sometimes four jobs (inside and outside the home). Sometimes they feel energized by this dynamic schedule. Often they are fatigued and wonder how they will possibly manage it all.

~Women teachers don’t feel comfortable saying no and setting boundaries. They are likely to appease and accommodate to keep harmony.

~Women teachers apologize even when they are not responsible for the pain or suffering of others.

~Women teachers care about aesthetics.

~Women teachers teach like it’s a labor of love. They celebrate life through teaching.

***

To be continued…

How do you know if you’re making a difference that matters?

This is the year that everything seems to matter— and yet no one knows if what they do day-to-day matters very much at all. It’s certainly the paradox of our time and especially for teachers. I think it’s important to reflect on our everyday practice and put into question our views about the purpose of education and how we engage young people.

Jacob Needleman writes about an all too typical experience:

“There they were, about fifteen boys and girls, there I was—talking, talking, talking. I couldn’t stop talking. Hands started waving in the air and I finally called on one of the students. But no sooner did she start to bring her question out that I steamrolled over it with an answer that left her absolutely no room for further questioning. I went on talking, amusingly, animatedly bringing in Plato’s cave here, the Upanishads there… Time flew by. The bell rang and suddenly the class was over. That was it, that was all. As the students cheerfully filed past me and I smiled to each of them, exchanging a few informal remarks, I began to realize in my gut what had happened. To be precise: nothing.”

This fiasco, as Needleman called it, propelled him to engage in deep reflection and eventually to take on a high school class in San Francisco after years of teaching at the college level. Later he writes, “My task is to engage that part of them that needs to achieve while calling gently to the part that dreams of Truth.”

Needleman designs his philosophy class around enduring questions that he categorizes as “real, gut-level questions of life that often students are not free to address in educational institutions.” Questions such as:

Why are we here?

Why are we given more advanced brains than other animals?

Is taking another human life ever justified?

What is a human being?

What can we hope for?

Who am I?

What is love?

While I read Needleman’s words in a thin book I found on a cluttered shelf at Strand bookstore (Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers, edited by Linda Lantieri) I inhale and exhale deeply. I am inspired and reassured. It is so easy to question.

This is a message to all my fellow writers, philosophers and teachers out there who feel deeply about the quality and character of life. What matters is your willingness to inquire within and to find the magic that transforms the outer world through honest, everyday practice. It is keeping humanity at the center of all things.

Sometimes we are stuck in a place where we have to ask: How do I break through this robotic stance? How do I metamorphose this lifeless, sterile, empty space, this institutionalized public space into a personalized, soul-searching, heartbreaking, life-altering space where the spark of curiosity dances through us continuously?

It is easy to get bullied or brow beaten especially considering the real challenges of teaching and learning. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that examining, exploring, honoring, nurturing the quality of our character, our souls, the core of our human existence is somehow someone else’s job or not so important.

Mathematics, science, ELA and technology are important, but not so much if we do not have the capacity to use knowledge in an ethical and mindful way so that we better our world, ensure we are working for peace. Without an investment in the soul work of teaching every day, in nurturing a sense of belonging, purpose, meaning, and value for all life– we may be accidentally contributing to the self-destructive, violent, and hateful behavior we see tormenting our nation.