Monday, January 4, 2016

Letter from a Former Self


I have taken some heat from various folks about saving too much and it’s true that there are some things I could let go and would be happier for having done so. But then I come across things that are worthless just sitting in storage, but precious when I re-discover them. And illuminating.

Just today, I found a handwritten little essay that I believe came from a Board retreat when we were asked to reflect on why we chose to work at The San Francisco School. I didn’t date it, but I’m reasonably sure that the year was 1976, at the end of my first year of teaching. 40 years later, I re-read it and though I wish I could edit the writing, I’m stunned to see the continuity in ideas. Turns out that the vision I had then at 24 years old is pretty much the same as the vision I have now as 64 years old. The only difference is that back then, it was all conjecture and possibility and now it is a truth given body by all the years of practice.

William Stafford speaks eloquently of this unchanging vision:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.…

So here’s the starting point of that thread that has stitched together some 30,000 classes with kids at this marvelous school (I pick it up again tomorrow!) and will only end when I do. Thanks to that young, bright-eyed 24 year old—I think he would be pleased to see how it all turned out.

WHY I AM HERE:
To share what I know and what I don’t know and what we all know.

Sharing what I know solidifies it within myself. Having to present it means tracing back to the source and getting in touch with how it develops in myself and others. I work with children because teaching is where I plug into the greater process of survival and energy-exchange. The invisible realm of focusing and channeling group energy to create a joyous and self-expanding event is my workshop, voices, bodies and their musical extensions my tools. My specific goals are for children/people to acquire the vocabulary to speak in music, to know how music can serve them when words fail, to loose the song in their hearts.

Sharing what I don’t know means opening up and allowing others to help expand my limited vision. It means sharing my confusion as well as my certainty. It means continually looking into the perfect mirror that children are and see my own anxiety reflected as well as my own joy. The school serves as a thermometer of my own state of being, a supportive community that simultaneously challenges me and brings me to task when I halt the flow and get stuck.

Sharing what we all know means dissolving all confining roles—teacher/student, woman/man, person/tree, and being with all people and things in affirmation of our unity. Singing and dancing as the mutual celebration of our common experience.

THE LARGER PICTURE:
What kind of school do we want to be? What kind of people to we want to be? What kind of people do we want our kids to be? As teachers, we must take complete responsibility for these questions, being in a frighteningly powerful position of creating an environment that affects kids’ and teachers’ growth. What messages are we giving out? What are the implications in the greater context of our culture and the messages it gives out?

The task for me is both personal and political. We are fighting a cancer and it’s my hope that we and the kids can grow big enough to absorb that cancer. The cancer is America’s greed and owning things and owning people and conquering nature and always bending things to our will. The antidote is taking responsibility for our acts, recognizing our place in the community of people and the greater community of plants, animal, fossil fuels. Opening to the inexhaustible resources within ourselves and learning to share that with others.

The most powerful message we have to give is a united, loving staff that handles its difference with caring and concern, affirms its unity in open expressions of affection. This is no naïve vision, it is our real potential to be realized through hard work, pain, anger, boredom and tears as well as joy and laughter. It is our poem to create in our own living flesh. May it be so!

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