Friday, February 23, 2018

Children's Crusade

Nothing is more inspiring to me than the increased mobilization and speaking out of high school students around the politician’s non-response to Parkland. They are getting quite an education in the evil power of power and money to continue avoiding the real issues because it’s not in their financial interest and the unbelievable attempts to actually insult and blame these brave high school students. It’s a bad sign that kids who mostly should be worrying about pimples and getting invited to the party and passing the math test are having to carry the heavy burden of sanctified violence on their small shoulders because the adults are not. But it’s a good thing that they are waking up and starting to wake some of us up.

If the little ones had the power to speak on their behalf, they could join the movement too. And the fact is, they are extremely articulate about what’s fair and just and right and what makes them happy and sad— it’s just that no one will give them the floor. And it indeed is the unnatural order of things for adults not to protect the children and not grow up to their responsibility as adult citizens and speak out on behalf of the children. Maybe this will help us all wake up.

Meanwhile, it has been a pleasure to post photos reminding folks what schools are for and how adults can help give children just what they need and make them happy. I include a few here.

Back to China this morning for 8 days, so off of the blog grid yet again. If you see no posts, that’s why. Hope to see you again in early March!!

Do Over

Each day in Trump’s America is another head-shaking moment of “Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” So now the latest core curriculum for emerging teachers:

• Passing on the lore of great civilizations.
• Developing kindness and compassion in our children.
• Cultivating their tender souls.
• Learning how to shoot to kill with state-of the-art assault weapons.

So that’s all you got, Mr. Trump and the NRA-funded politicians? Arm teachers and give them bonus pay according to marksmanship skills? Great idea! Hey, let’s arm the kids too and devote P.E. classes to target practice! And the custodians and the school crossing guards—“Hey, you! If you jaywalk, I may just have to take you out!” Let’s recruit needed teachers from retired military. Let’s use school budgets for new weapons—come on, who needs books, art material and musical instruments?!

Going on a field trip? Kids, don’t forget your weapons! We’re going to visit the State legislature today. Black kids, sorry, we ran out of money, so you only get to use butter knives from the kitchen. Sorry about that. Oh, by the way, we’re cancelling all school plays, but we’ll still use the drama teacher to role-play lockdown. Who wants to be the shooter today? Who wants to be the hero taking him out? And music teacher, we could use a few kids in the marching band for the military parade and we’ll need some funeral dirges.

People, people. Remember as a kid when you messed up so badly everyone decided on a “do over?” America, no one dreamed even ten years ago we could fall so low. Either we withdraw our membership from the league of civilized nations or decide it’s time for a do over. Go back to the time when the NRA didn’t exist and the country had some sense of common sense and a moral compass. Well, from Native American, African, Latino’s, women’s point of view, there never was such a time. But still, in my lifetime, tardiness and gum chewing were near the top of the list of school issues. Let’s at least get back to that.

And you don’t have to agree with me, but remember, as a teacher, I’ll be armed.

Snapshots of Delhi

Well, not much, as I’m mostly teaching the kids all day long. But after that first day at India Gate and the Gandhi Museum, I did get out to an International Puppet Festival, a Jazz India show and tonight am going to a classical Indian music concert. Talking to various Indian teachers at this International School— and wonderfully so, there are many—I’ve gotten little snapshots into some of the current culture, from the trivial to the serious.

For example, apparently it’s bad luck to get your hair cut on Tuesday. I needed one on Monday, but decided not to push my luck the next day.

The air quality here is a constant factor, but it’s not the Beijing factory pollution, but one that comes from burning crops in the outskirts. From the little I understand, the practice of crop-burning is trying to compensate for not having tractors to plow the land. I could be wrong here, but if that’s so, seems like it could be a fixable problem.

And then a sadder story about someone’s sister going into labor and arriving at the hospital. Apparently, the hospitals here have a deal that they won’t see you unless someone gives blood first. So the pregnant woman’s sister offered hers. But there was a catch—they only take male blood. Huh? Is there really a difference? Is this up there with Chinese foot-binding and European/American witch-burning as one of the more outrageous and extreme examples of cultural misogyny? Since the woman in labor only had sisters, the father of the child was not on the scene and her own father was in ill health, things were looking desperate. It took a male faculty member from the school rushing over to make sure the woman could be cared for. Whatever admiration I have for Indian culture—and I do admire a lot—this is simply unacceptable. Women of the world, I am so sorry for the ongoing ignorance and assault by my gender group. It is simply shameful.

Back to a lighter note. A sign next to where I’m staying announced “Awards for Blind Cricket Players.” With no disrespect intended to the blind, I can only wonder, “Huh?! How exactly does that work?”

So tomorrow it’s back to the artificial big city of Shanghai, another school and another PD workshop for teachers. another 8-day black-out from Facebook and blogs. Here in India, it hasn't exactly been a cultural immersion in this land of cultural complexity and contradiction, but a nice reminder of its gifts and a hunger for more. Particularly interested again in studying a bit more Indian music, but also realistically knowing that such a highly developed art form does not lend itself easily to “a little bit of study.” Maybe I’ll just be content with the lovely song one of the Indian teachers sang for me and let me record.


Thursday, February 22, 2018


Four days of teaching new kids at the American Embassy School and we’re already old friends. Good music, good simple choreographies and compositions from the kids, good singing, good humor. As always, my crafted talent is the group mind and heart, get it moving, get it groovin’, get it singing, get it swingin’.

But, like in my own school, I’m noticing that in each class there’s always one, two or three kids not with the program. Does it bother me? Yes, it does. My first reaction, to be honest, is “what the heck is wrong with you?” But then quickly, “What’s going on?” There are so many reasons that a child might not participate. For example:

• This is way over my head. There’s no way I’ll be successful so I might as well not try.

• This is way too easy. I’m already bored.

• I never get enough attention, so maybe you’ll notice me if I’m a jerk.

• I’m feeling really sick today.

• I’m sad about something that happened at home.

• Hey, I’m a boy. Of course I’m going to make fun of this!

• I’m only 5 years old, but I got issues.

• I have reasons you’ve never even heard of.

And so on. And how do I react? Well, there’s no formula. Sometimes a stern reminder and clear statement as to who’s boss and you better shape up is just what the kid is asking for.
Sometimes a little joke establishes some much-needed trust. Sometimes rewarding instead of punishing their stubborn behavior (like the kid who refused to sing and practice the song and got to play the big bass bars) works like an aikido move to turn the energy around. Sometimes a simple question: “Are you feeling okay? Oh, you have a fever?” The delicate balance is to entice the child to successfully participate, both to contribute positively to the group endeavor and feed their own learning.

This is the art and craft of teaching that is based on relationship and can never be codified in a systematic approach to compliance. Kids, like adults, are unpredictable and subject to so many whims and fancies, that each class demands a multiple of strategies to help each kid while tending to the group energy.  It requires patience and faith and perseverance, from the teacher and kid alike.

One more day of teaching here before heading back to Shanghai. We’ll see what surprises they have in store for me tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Temporary Cures for a Broken World

• Listen to Andrei Gavrilov play Bach’s French Suites. Really listen.

• Teach a music class with 3-year olds exploring the sonic and movement potential of paper plates.

• Eat pistachio nuts and think about how your Dad loved them. Eat them on his behalf.

• Open the door and let the light evening breeze caress you.

• Travel back in memory to a time when life was simpler, people were more civil, things made more sense. Then realize that there never was such a time. And accept it.

• Go back to Bach.