Longing for the simplicity

Bird Droppings December 13, 2020
Longing for the simplicity

I was thinking back a few years around this time. My reading and writing were taking a beating with getting ready for the end of the semester, a trip to North Carolina for a new grandbaby, and driving my wife to and from work since she broke her foot. Of course, nothing would have stopped me going to see our grandbaby and or helping my wife out. Today I have so much yard work and gardening to do and a lot of research and reading and writing to work on. It is always that I find solace in my Native readings and in their understanding of life and reality. Perhaps it is my great great grandmother’s influence that draws me to this and various other bits and pieces of my life’s journey along the way. The air is warmer today as I walked out to run to the store.

“For the Lakota there was no wilderness, because nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly, Lakota philosophy was healthy – free from fear and dogmatism. And here I find the great distinction between the faith of the Indian and the white man. Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

Reminiscing after what seems like an eternity, we had several days of benchmark testing. In that school district a supposed data point for students learning acquired. Teachers were on pins and needles and with many student’s semester grades in classes counting on a passing grade on the test tensions ran high. Teachers in this county unfortunately are reviewed based on these tests. Interesting that failure rate is significant and we are told it’s not the test it is what is being taught.

The subject knowledge of students ends up being be focused on their capability of taking a computerized test not truly on whether they know the material or not. “Teach to the test” is the mantra of education. Content not context is the rule of thumb in current political arenas as a basis for education. Our governor has been speaking after giving teachers a bonus cutting education funding again. We as a dominant society continually have to prove our worth, be it through conquest in olden days or testing as it seems now. A constant struggle to show we are the best.

“There is no ‘happiness index’ for the children in our public schools, and certainly not for children in the inner-city schools where happiness is probably the last thing on the minds of overly burdened state officials.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young teacher

A good friend I used to co-teach used a combination of context and content and achieved very well with his students on the Biology EOC. His combination of hands on and relevant experiments in his biology class provide so much more than a cramming for the test that is done in many schools and in so many classes. Several times during the semester we would bring in various animals from my room as we were studying or grab a beaker of algae water from my turtle tanks to exam under a microscope. I think as I read the quote from Jonathan Kozol I was thinking of Foxfire and kids wanting to be in classes and teachers that kids want to go see and classes they want to experience. Many the times, I would have kids walk in my room and ask what class do you teach? I want this class. I watch my son come by his exuberance is exhausted as they wind down these last few days before the holidays, I am still pondering next semester.

As I was getting ready to leave school a few years back a former student stuck his head in the door. “The room has not changed much”, as he peered around checking every nook and cranny and, in my room, there are many. We held a nice polite conversation catching up for several minutes and I was amazed while still hyper and fidgety he was calm. The inner anxiousness was gone. No one can ever say he is not hyper active but the sadness that permeated his days seems to be at least in a major way lifted. He was smiling from ear to ear and telling about college and a possibility of four A’s and art work he was working on including one of me holding my granddaughter. We walked over to see another teacher friend of his and talked the entire time catching up on five years he had been my student and a year now in college. A simple visit and my day was made. His photo hangs in my room one of him walking across the stage and the other showing his award from the state department of education for his award-winning essay a few years back. I have shared with many his poignant essay of getting ready to go to his brother’s funeral. In showing to hundreds of people many who did not know him always a tear is shed.

As we talked I shared with him a discussion with another visitor just before he arrived. She went to Spain and Italy for a spring semester to study abroad. Another favorite student although she was never in my class we talked often and we spent ten minutes recently discussing her trip. As I talked with her I mentioned seeing “the Pieta”, carved from marble by Michelangelo. In 1964 which was one of the rare visits out of the Vatican for this work of art when it was displayed at the New York’s World Fair. I waited in line nearly an hour to see this magnificent piece of work. As I walked by I explained my feeling to these two students visiting at different times. I felt warmth as if you were waiting for Mary in white marble to breath. I wanted to touch the hand of Christ to see it was soft rather than cold stone. I had never been moved by a piece of art work as much as this had touched me.

Somewhere along the line I have heard art, real art is when you can convey a tiny piece of what you felt and saw as you created the work. Not just show another version but allow an individual to see a portion of what the artist saw as the stone was chiseled away. It is said Michelangelo could see his work in the stone. The quarrymen would call for him as a particular piece of rock was unearthed and quarried. Some he rejected but when he chose a piece of marble the creation was not to make a something for others but to reveal what was in the marble. I thought back to my friend and his essay and how he conveyed a tiny portion of what he felt to everyone who read that story. Perhaps the reason he seems happier is that he has allowed us after so many years to understand a small bit of who he is and why. My morning is closing about me and there are many things to do to get ready for my grand baby’s arrival so please this holiday season keep all in harm’s way on you mind and, in your hearts, and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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