Saturday, December 11, 2010

Come Winter


The air is crisp,
the earth, a drum
taut against the cold.

From the east,
pale beacons shine
through birch and beech
oak and pine.

Darkened skies.
The seasons shift.
The sun stands still.

We slip towards Solstice
and the light,
and the Moon of Long,
Cold Nights.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Burma - Three Years Later

Aung San Suu Kyi

My blog entries of September + October 2007 spoke of this woman.  

She has been under house arrest for the past 15+ years.  She and her political party won the 1990 public election in Burma, but the military dictatorship refused to give over its power.  They crushed the democracy movement and put her under arrest while the rest of the world watched, mute as usual.

Today, she is freed from house arrest.  She tells her people, "Do not give up hope." 

Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Laureate well-acquainted with the ravages of political abuse, had a wonderful statement.  He said, she is beautiful, demur and the model of integrity-- and the generals are so frightened of this unarmed woman with a belief in the equality of people.  She believes governments need to listen to all the people.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom from fear and repression.  

What she needs from us, now, is our total attention and our voices -- to keep her alive and to learn from her.  

I am looking for the Aung San Suu Kyi of my country.  Who among us has this integrity, belief and quiet persistence?  I want to believe:   "Do not give up hope."

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Where I vote

This is where I vote, in a quintessential New England meeting house. It has a huge circular wood stove, along with a few modern additions.  The wooden floor creaks.  We vote in small cubicles with plywood doors painted that battleship gray I remember so well from my childhood.  It's been on the Registry of Historic Buildings since 1998.

Inside, it's one big open space with a stage.  The windows have 16 panes on top, 12 on the bottom.  Soon they will be shuttered against winter wind and storms.

When we first moved to this town, 33 years ago, we attended town meetings here.  It felt like a direct link to those early patriots who had overthrown a colonial power and its abuses.  

We did the town's business during these meetings.  Residents met to argue about money, the road agent, the fire chief, and the schools.  Over pie and coffee, we talked mud and maple sap runs, face-to-face with people we may not have liked or agreed with; but we all lived in this town and shared in the responsibility of paying its services.

And, if you weren't there to vote, then the hell with you.  You didn't get to complain later.

Over the years, I have come to this building to vote on town matters, state and federal elections.  I've cast so many ballots for people or issues on the losing side.  I've had my celebrations, too, but somehow they seem short-lived.  

After last week's mid-term elections, I am back to fighting mist.  But, fight I will -- because I was there to be counted on the side of health care for all, women's rights, abortion rights, gay and lesbian marriage rights, social security and Medicare rights, immigration rights, global responsibility, turning around climate change by taking responsibility for our actions, job rights and labor unions, educational reform that builds on collaboration and children's real needs.  

I went and voted against the sordid influence of corporate money in elections.  Four billion dollars.  Stuff that into the deficit.  Send the shame of it back to the Supreme Court and   change the law.

I was there, I voted, and now I have the right and the responsibility to complain.  I don't care about political parties.

 I care about heart, values, courage, and our ability to step back and make decisions that support all life, not just mine or your's or some narrow band of buddies.

Sunday, October 24, 2010 goes to the Sandwich Fair

On 10/10/10, we joined with old friends to make our statement and participate in the international Climate Solutions campaign The day was glorious -- sunny and cool.  We marched in the 100th Sandwich Fair Grand Street Parade, surrounded by the colors of a New Hampshire autumn and the heritage of 100 years of an small agricultural fair in an early New England town.
We gave away seedling trees and lots of positive suggestions on how to stop the madness and become alive, responsible citizens of one world.
In planning, we wondered what kind of reception we might face. Too political for a Sunday parade? Dismissed in this pre-election climate of conservative rhetoric?

But the fair goers were of a more open mind and we, people of a certain age who have been peaceworkers for a long, long time, felt welcomed and supported and cheered.  I came away more hopeful than I have been for many years.
At the end of the parade, we hauled the earth back to our spot by the Mocha Rizing cafe. In this picture, I see us -- a small group straining uphill in the aftermath of the show, getting back to work and the next phase -- because this is work that is never done.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15, 1969: Moratorium March

October 15, 1969.  Millions marched to protest the Vietnam War.

Forty-one years ago today, I was working at a radio station, recently graduated from college and married for just a month.  Barry and Rob marched in parades held in Springfield and Amherst, Massachusetts.  I burned a candle at my desk.

What we didn't know then was the war would last 6 more years.  The following May, students would be killed at Kent State by Ohio National Guards.  We still had to look forward to Nixon, Watergate, a draft lottery, and more war.

My friend Michael was already dead by October 15, '69.  Johnny was not.  He was alive that day, but not for long.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The One Penny Opera

The One Penny Opera 

I've been working in special education since 1972.  I started as a learning disabilities tutor in Brattleboro, Vermont, when the field was very new and I was supervised by dynamic women professors who would later become important researchers and authorities in Learning Disabilities.

From the Brattleboro public schools, I moved to Greenfield, New Hampshire and was part of a new movement in residential treatment at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  We designed after-school activities for 200+ deaf, multiple-handicapped and LD students ages 5 to 18 years old.  With a team of recreational specialists and dorm counselors, we carried out a rich menu of activities to complement the academics.  

Later, Public Law 94-142 was passed and all students were guaranteed the right to a "free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment".  The LD kids left outside placements and went home to neighborhood schools and I went with them.

I learned the testing and diagnostic side of learning, and that's what I've been doing for the past 35 years.  I do individualized evaluations and observations to find what students are good at -- where are their strengths -- and how to design school/classroom programs that build on these strengths and minimize the weaknesses.  The work almost sounds simple when I write this, the bare bones of the job.  But simple, it's not.

Now I've decided this is my last year of testing and special education consulting.  I have so many other things I want to do -- like rabble rouse for better practices in education and travel and write and teach in the National Writing Project New Hampshire and read and drink coffee on the deck at 10 a.m.

As soon as I said, "Yes, this is the year", the inner drama began.  Reasons to stay, reasons to go.  Evidence of bureaucracy and stupid decisions.  The joy of kids and learning.  The years and years of my life I have given to this work.  Some days, it's very easy to leave, while other days make me wonder...

So, I'm creating my own plan for maximizing strengths and coping skills.  I'm honoring the past and remembering the anecdotes of different schools and students, the small joys and sorrows.  I'm writing -- my way of thinking.

Best of all, I'm marking the big transition in a hands-on way.  My good friend, also a master teacher still in the trenches, gave me these two little pots this September with 180 pennies, one for each working day in the school year.

Each day, I move another penny and the little pile grows.  
Day by day.  Monday through Friday.
One penny at a time.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Power of Place

East Inlet
At 6 a.m. the East Inlet waters are still. Mist hovers and then disappears into the morning sun.  A family of loons fishes the length of the waterway, while I drift nearby and watch the adults teach their young to dive and how to strengthen their wings for the coming migration to the sea.

In early September, the water grasses and wild rice go to seed.  The geese fly in the characteristic V and hawks circle overhead, soaring on thermals and gathering for their own change of place.

It's the end of a long, hot, dry summer and the beginning of a transition time for me.  As a teaching/testing consultant, I begin a new school year.  As a partner, I celebrate a wedding anniversary.  As a writer, I dance the dance with time, responsibilities, and the stories that spill out of dreams, conversations, experiences, glimpsed moments and vistas, memories, and all those other places where the words + images abide.

But first, we make a pilgrimage to the East Inlet in far northern New Hampshire, just a few miles below the border with Canada, where The Nature Conservancy maintains the Connecticut Lakes Natural Reserve.

We've been coming here for 25 years, and yet it feels timeless -- the smells, the surrounding firs, the backdrop of mountains and sky, the rising and setting sun, the quiet.  It still feels remote, a place where we see moose, deer, fox, coyote, osprey, ducks, heron, hawks, otters, turtles and loons.

To my great relief I am a very different person, today.  My kayak lifts gently from the beach into the dark water.  I hear crows, a woodpecker, a loon's call.  A belted kingfisher hurls himself from a far branch and spears a minnow.  The sun breaks through the clouds in its promise of another warm day.

Over the week, I will gather strength for my own migration south.  I'll settle into the season and meet whatever it brings to my life and surroundings, knowing I can return to this source again and again. This is why we need protected places in our world, sanctuaries, reserves where nature can be nature 
in all its glory and grand indifference.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The End of the Summer Institute

Robert Frost, Poet

We've come to the end of the Plymouth Writing Project Five-Week Summer Institute.  It was a brilliant experience.  We arrive as individual teachers and leave as a collaborative force.  We've laughed and cried, listened hard and worked even harder.  We have written thousands of words, hundreds of stories.

We've shared our teaching, our research, our thoughts and our teacher hearts.  I wrote: 

 There is a myth of the isolated writer, locked into himself/herself, door closed where he/she fights dragons and demons, alone.

But the experiences I am having in the writing project have exploded the myth -- blown a hole smack through the wall that separates writer from writer, artists from artists, the writer-me from myself.

The Writing Marathon at Dartmouth College was so much fun and so deep and so, so collaborative.   I loved the writing task:  Find a sculpture.  Observe closely.  Ask yourself questions.  Write and share.  I love the rituals.  Introduce yourself and say, "I am a writer."

At the end of the reading, your companions say, "Thank you."  No comments.  No critique.  Just simple gratitude:  "Thank you for sharing your world with us".

Outside the Rounds Building where our classes are held, there is a bronze sculpture of the poet Robert Frost to honor his teaching time at Plymouth State University and his legacy of words, images and New England thinking.  I remember watching him read his poem for John F. Kennedy's Inauguration as President of the United States, January 1961.

It was very cold that day.  The sun was so bright, Frost found it hard to read from his paper.  I was fourteen years old, witnessing the giants of history on a black and white television screen. 

I remind Frost of this whenever I pass him at his bench.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Obama's High-Stakes Teacher Bashing - COLORLINES

Read the full article on:

Never, never did I expect to be facing this kind of attack on teachers from this President.  I do not support Race to the Top.  My lifework has been as a testing specialist, mainly with special needs students.  I started in 1975, so I feel I am a "credible witness" to the damage inherent in "standardized" testing.

There is a place for reflection, assessment, and evaluation, but it's not this punitive, controlled and utterly political agenda that started with No Child Left Behind.  I can tell you we are leaving a generation of children behind.  No question.

We need to humanize our schools, not turn them into narrow-minded and competitive entities. Our children's learning depends on all society.  Support your teachers, especially the good ones.  Keep the special programs -- art, music, sports, drama -- especially in public schools!  Those people who put their children into private schools will have all those opportunities -- increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and the rest of us in the middle.

Good teaching, good parenting, good governing depends on collaboration.  We need to share good ideas and practices, not hold back and compete against other schools, other colleagues.

The corporate world does not create good teachers or good education.  Their goals are not "for the good of the public".

Bottom line:  Who controls education, controls the culture.  Ever wonder how much money these corporate testing companies make?   A lot.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Earth Day 2010

In the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica, I sit surrounded by green.  Even the air I breathe is green.  The shadows reflected in Dante Creek shimmer like emeralds.  The mosses, ferns and smooth waxy leaves wrap me in colors that have more shades of green that I have words.

I am here in the tropical lowland rainforest on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica to honor Earth Day.  For me, this is the Source, the Garden, a place rich and lush with life.  

Everywhere, we witness big and small miracles unfolding -- fronds of a new fern, macaws pairing for life, a hummingbird's tiny nest wrapped in lichen and spiderwebs.  

Over eleven years, I have returned to this place, and time and time again discovered something new, something fantastic, some part of the natural world I could never have imagined -- only experienced.  

This year, in late April, we walk the beach path at Corcovado National Park and listen to a din of low repetitive calls.  Not birds.  Not mammals.  Frogs.  Costa Rican Gliding tree frogs have parachuted into a small swamp to lay eggs in their short, frenzied mating.  We watch lime green-colored frogs with huge orangey webbed feet launch themselves from trees and glide, limbs outstretched, to land near the larger females.

For hours, they leap and mate.  Eggs, like luminescent pearls, line the leaves and tree bark.  Later, I read how the tadpoles hatch from these eggs and slither into the water just below.  They are, of course, a species threatened by habitat loss.

Gliding tree frogs
Corcovado National Park
Costa Rica

That's the other message of this 40th anniversary of Earth Day:  LOSS.  

Loss of habitat and diversity.  Species lost, forever.  Loss of respect and connection to the natural world.  Loss of awe and reverence for life.  No more trust in engineers, politicians, words and vows.  

Humans are the only species who destroy where they live and foul resources they must have to survive -- like clean water and unpolluted food supplies.

I write this blog 26 days since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  That's 26 days of oil spewing, unchecked, into the ocean -- and there is no known way to stop it.  The "experts" flail, point fingers and whine.  "Well, it's not that bad..."

The oil companies, regulators, designers and builders have lied endlessly and profited from their deceit.  They have no way to stop this oil.  Now, they want to spread offshore drilling into the Arctic and off the eastern seaboard.  What mockery.  What utter contempt for anything living -- people, plankton, fish, coral.   The ocean?

There's a big price to pay for this explosion -- and it's not going to be satisfied by any currency or BP's gesture of throwing dollars at a few states.

The real price will be exacted by the same force that creates 100-foot trees, laden with bromeliads, mosses, entire ecosystems from root to crown.  This same force drives frogs to glide and salmon to hurl themselves back to original spawning streams.  

It's the force of volcanic ash from Iceland, Java, Hawaii.  This force can shift tectonic plates and change everything in nine seconds or less.   Even the oil gushing from that broken pipe driven deep into the ocean floor belongs to this life force -- not to us, not to the puny humans.  

The sooner we learn our place in the natural world, the better it will be for everything living or not.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Think Twice Before You Draw

At 5:45 a.m. I catch the end of the BBC WORLD NEWS UPDATE - on Vermont Public Radio 89.5 FM. A few weeks ago they aired "The Gunfighters' Dilemma" -- my favorite kind of story where popular belief gets turned upside down and tied to higher-order principles and we all get to reflect on big issues.

It seems Danish physicist and Noble Laureate Niels Bohr used to take breaks from quantum physics + atomic bombs to watch cowboy movies. Being an alert and curious scholar, Bohr noticed that the first man to draw a gun in the inevitable showdown always died. This suited the moral high ground of good guys and bad guys in 1950's westerns, but it was also a puzzle to be solved by physicists and their graduate students.

Sure enough, after a series of carefully controlled lab gunfights, the gunslinger who drew first, died. It had to do with response time -- "reacting to your opponent's movement was significantly faster than the conscious decision to draw your own gun".

Professor Andrew Welchman studies reaction time and other brain function at the University of Birmingham, England. He conducted similar research with the same results. Draw second in a western-style gunfight and you win and live... maybe.

For a more practical application, he spoke about instinctive reaction and response time and how it plays out in life/death situations -- you jump to safety when the bus careens down the street at you. You don't stop to think, you react.

This talk of gunslingers brought me back to 1950's Saturday morning TV. Hopalong Cassidy. Roy Rogers. The Lone Ranger. We played cowboys and Indians, complete with fringed shirts, boots, hats and leather holsters with plastic guns. Later things got more complicated, as they do with age. Rawhide. Clint Eastwood and the "spaghetti westerns". Movies and life started to blur good guys and bad guys, but we still believed the popular logic that "first to draw, wins".

Then came 1963 and Kennedy's assassination. April 1968 and Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. June 5, 1968: Robert Kennedy shot and killed. May 4, 1970: Kent State massacre where students were shot by the Ohio National Guard. All the while there was Vietnam and it didn't matter who shot first or second or third.

This litany of my coming-of-age pales in the light of today's guns and warfare and popular culture. I think we still believe the fastest gun -- the first to strike -- wins. Too bad we don't listen more carefully to our scientists and teachers and thinkers.

My vision: Put the two biggest warmongers (from countries, neighborhoods, whatever) face to face, each with a gun, and let them wait for the other to draw first. Then, maybe the rest of us will be able to live, thrive, and survive in peace.

Illustration by Frederic Remington, 1861-1909. "A Dash for the Timber".

Monday, January 11, 2010

Connecting the Dots

There's a lot of talk these days about "connecting-the-dots" as part of our national security. As every Kindergarten teacher knows, connect-the-dots is a timeless practice that teaches essential skills -- sequencing, step-by-step problem-solving, realizing consequences of a missed step, and enjoying the surprise of a finished image.

It's all about taking the single steps and building up to the Big Picture. Adults don't seem to value Big Picture Thinking these days. It's easier to fight about the small steps and go off on tangents. If we focus too much on details and don't look for those next connections, we can avoid lots of things -- Change, Responsibility, Moral Choices.

So, I'm interested in Big Picture Thinking and Connections. As part of this blog, I'd like to offer a dot to connect. Read this and ponder where the next dot might be waiting:

January 11, 2010: Today it is warmer in Montreal, Canada than it is in Florida, USA.