It’s hard to rhyme when you have the time if you have hurt in your heart

Rhyme is joy, rhyme is fun, rhyme is lightness; sit quiet and feel the sun

It’s hard to rhyme when you have the time if you have hurt in your heart

It’s hard to rhyme when you have the time if distorted ink and desperate acts pull you apart

It’s hard to think about and a challenge to imagine the painful acts and the ugly ink that appear not from the heart

And it’s hard to think about and a challenge to imagine a forceful influence behind a curtain that places us all on a board to serve the pleasure of a few

The arrhythmic events, the footprints of ugly ink, and the distorted acts of pain and puppetry, veil our sight, become the troubled air we breathe, and unrecognizably shape the rhythm of our lives

So, what can we do?

Do we just turn away to fancifully imagine and find that rhyme, that joy, the light, the sun, believing our heart rhythm will return on its own?

Or must we face that ugly ink, in order to understand the distorted acts of terror, in order to alter the script, in order to rebuild the rhyme and reshape our true rhythm?

Really? Can we alter the script, can we bring back our rhythm?

Can we find the strength, the heart, and the light that is bright and strong enough to accomplish this task?

There is no other choice

Distorted ink has always been part of the landscape, painful acts of twisted terror have always existed in our gardens of life and the twisters and distorters have always roamed among us – yet as with all we see and breathe, we have to decide when we wish to stop allowing the distortion and stop allowing ourselves to be twisted to serve the purpose of others. We must decide to stand up and actively alter the script, change the landscape, and return meaning to our rhyme and our rhythm

This arrhythmic world has been decades in the making and it will be uncomfortable to unmake

The ugly ink and the twisted acts of terror will not disappear overnight but we need to change the agenda, alter the script, bring light to the garden

We need to rework the balance of the soil in our life-garden to support that which we know to be good and plant our spirited ideas using fresh and beautiful new ink. We need to come to understand how we have unwittingly been played and manipulated and retake control of the life-script in our planet garden

In the words of Stéphane Hessel, stand up and find your outrage, become indignant, get involved, and then share the dignity with all. Read the work of many, speak up, but discern carefully, believe, and know that we are all equal and we can share this small rock together if we choose. Ignorance and arrogance are the enemy.

Find your rhythm and with it, build a symphony

Don’t Run Me Over on the Way to the Poll

In my small part of the world (British Columbia, Canada) we are in the process of electing (May 9) a new legislative assembly that will hopefully provide leadership and governance for the next four years. I believe that we, in Canada are one of the lucky places in the world today in terms of relative freedom, security, and justice. None of this can ever be taken for granted despite the less than 60% of eligible voters who voted in the previous election. Of the 3 main parties that are vying for control of the legislature in my province, each is offering up a variety of promises based upon perceived needs, wants, and enticements for a vote.

Yesterday, one of the candidates in my riding knocked on my door and I politely suggested that she could better spend her time knocking on doors of those more interested in her political perspective. We exchanged pleasant but restrained smiles and as she walked away I realized that I did not tell her why she would not be getting my vote and why I believe there is a core moral element in any democratic society that is necessary when being given the privilege of forming a government.

The current premier of the Province of British Columbia does not appear to possess the personal moral authority to be the leader of our government. We see this the world over: look at our economy, look at our bright job picture, look at how we have protected this, or this, or that, but please do not look at the behaviour of our leadership. Is there not a long-term price we pay for behaviours that do not belong in a civil and caring society? Over time do we just suck it up and say thanks for the supposed goodies you have passed on to us and shut our eyes to the way you conduct your business? What makes you so special that you can comfortably ignore red lights (see Apr 29, 2013 CBC article) until you are caught, pocket massive amounts of cash just because you can, or callously disengage (#IamLinda) with the electorate in a fashion only a well-practiced bully might do? Do these behaviours not taint the very good things that your government does or are we all so shallow that we will continue to turn a blind eye and be thankful for the little things you throw our way, and that we have a job and a roof over our heads?

Leadership in any organization starts at the top and everything and everyone associated with that position on down is either tainted or blessed with the message and modeling of that leader. Our world today is littered with sad societies run by those with great guile – let us not be one labelled as such.

No I will not be voting for my local Liberal candidate but I will cast my vote and I will continue to try and help others come to understand that there is more to being part of a moral and caring civil society than the false image generated from behind the curtain.

Ethics, Integrity, or does any of this matter…

I have always believed that my values define me. I believe that my moral compass is quite publicly visible. I believe that there is an ethical line that surrounds each of us and although we find that line very blurry at times, the line does exist. And yes, this all sounds so simple until it’s not.

Until today I have never yelled at a student or asked a student to leave my office – yes, until today.

I posted my grades and I know that students traditionally come knocking after the fact to see if their numeric grade could be bumped to the next alpha grade. From my perspective it is not a case of bumping grades rather it is a case of the grades speaking for the student and for the progress of that student throughout the semester.

A student asked me to alter their grade by in excess of 5%. Actually this conversation started last week and today was the culmination of at least 5 different petitions and along with these petitions came stronger and stronger pleadings for this grade change. I think the straw that broke my patience was the arrival of a friend who had a far more persuasive approach. And then it hit me what I needed to say and what I must do to put an end to this conversation; in the process, I got angry and I raised my voice.

I informed my company that they were asking me to violate my values, my principles, and my beliefs. What they were asking me to do was to throw away everything I believed in that provided a clear foundation for what made education in my college and my country valuable. I indicated that if I were to grant such a request as they were asking I might as well fold my teaching tent and walk away because from that point on, my integrity would be forever shattered. I indicated that they were asking me to disrespect a value-set that holds our system together and to throw away everything I believe in regarding the worth and value of our education system in order that they could be given something that was neither earned nor deserved. They were asking me to cease to offer value by bastardizing my principles.

I think that somewhere in my few words there might have been a pretty good rant of some nature. I was angry that I had to continue to indicate that the mark was not changing no matter what pleading or petitioning was happening and I was frustrated that it appeared that it had nothing to do with the student’s knowledge of the subject matter but it had everything to do with something beyond the bounds of an education. When I stopped to take a breath I was quickly assured that I must have misunderstood what was being asked of me. I took advantage of this diversion and asked my company to stand up and leave my office immediately – this they did.

I have spent much of my life trying to learn and to understand what life is about. Times like this cause me to question my values and my worth, but today I came to know a little more about the ethical line that defines my world.

Knowledge creation as a social process

It was a treat today to get an email from a friend congratulating me on my newly published article. The neat part was that although I knew it had been accepted for publication I did not know it had been published.

http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/1039

I think we all get lost in our work at times and things that were front and centre at some point may have moved to a different space in our life. This paper was submitted over a year and a half ago and although I spent time editing it after the first review I had not read it with intent since it was first written.

As I reread my paper today I found myself getting excited again with an old friend and it made me think of a small part of Gleick’s 2011 book titled The information: A history, a theory, a flood. In it he speaks of the impact of Babbage’s 19th century Difference Engine. He states that the engine “had to be forgotten before it was remembered”. Additionally he quotes historian Jenny Uglow where she writes that such failed inventions, contain “ideas that lie like yellowing blueprints in dark cupboards, to be stumbled on afresh by later generations.” (p. 123) This is a great description of much in our world and it really does speak to my belief that although our ideas may lie fallow we are forever connected to them and when the time is right and we have built appropriate supporting connections then something wonderful may surface. It may be time to pick up where my idea scaffolds left off. – anyone care to join me?

Gleick, J. (2011). The information: A history, a theory, a flood. Toronto ON: Pantheon Books.

The worth and value…

I teach, I hope that I educate, and in the process I continue to make grand assumptions about what students should and/or should not know beyond the confines of their subject area or chosen field. I believe that I support my students and offer them multiple opportunities to learn and participate and exercise their sense of understanding within the physical, virtual, and intellectual spaces provided. I do however get cranky towards the end of a semester when I am asked questions from students, the answers to which I believe they should know or at least know how to go about finding. Yet somehow I need to continue to find that small and compassionate part that stops me from really understanding that some students, no matter where they are in their life journey, really do not have any grasp of the basics. When I am asked the impact of a 10% assignment on a final grade when a student gets 5 out of 15 marks on an assignment – I should walk them through the process regardless of how many times I have explained this to the class as a whole. I should not judge the student for their lack of attention or attendance even though I do. I need to recognize that we will all develop a level of success in our life based, to some degree, upon the nature and/or nurture elements in our upbringing and although my few moments of frustration or compassion may or may not change a life, it just might show someone the worth and value of a teacher.

Humanity, Migration, and Shakespeare

I recognize that the larger conversation about what is best for any community currently takes place on a variety of the world’s stages however we need to somehow place these issues into the forefront of our greater consciousness given the state of global conflict, the resulting migration of people, and its impact on our communities. I am loathe to refer to our communities as fragile or otherwise as I believe any such fragility comes from the heart and soul of those currently part of the community. I do wonder however, whether community behaviour stems in part from an inability or possibly an unwillingness to find anything other than a cheap and simple solution that requires no real thought or engagement other than lazily agreeing with the loudest, most arrogant, and/or pushiest of voices.

From a global perspective we quite regularly find ourselves becoming involved in the conflicts and challenges of our neighbours. Wars and all conflicts rooted in some form of geopolitical, racial, religious, or hegemonic behaviours create many opportunities for the shifting of power, wealth, and the greater movement of people from one part of the globe to another. Those not being displaced or not directly involved in any of these disputes find themselves impacted in many unintended or unimagined ways. Although directly referring to the movement of people, the impact of this movement goes far beyond someone walking through a back pasture or setting up camp in a local park. The social and economic disruptions are so significant that this global movement and migration is permanently changing the landscape of communities across the globe.

Despite an apparent keen desire to perpetuate an era of willful blindness, our global inter-connectedness no longer permits such perversion despite its siren call and ignorant appeal. So what do we do? How do we react or respond to the result of such a massive disruption of societies and the subsequent movement of people?

The mass movement of people from one region to another is far from new and recently I became aware of a fascinating, unpublished, edited work of Shakespeare where he addresses this issue for his time and if we not only read and appreciate his words and then exam the long term effects of this mass migration then just possibly we could begin to see how we also might behave today.

Shakespeare had been commissioned to add to an existing play. Quoting from the following website http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/shakespeares-handwriting-in-the-book-of-sir-thomas-more

The play was authored collaboratively and is about the life of Henry VIII’s chancellor, Sir Thomas More. It was initially written by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601. Shakespeare was commissioned to add a 164 line scene to the middle of the play in which More courageously quells an anti-French race riot on the streets of London. The Lord Chancellor delivers a gripping speech to the aggressive mob, who are baying for so-called ‘strangers’ to be banished:

It is understood that Shakespeare added the following:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to
France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 

As I read the above I realized that Shakespeare was speaking of my family, as they were French Huguenots fleeing persecution in their native France. My family settled in the Fen country of England and became successful farmers. Eventually parts of the family migrated to Canada, the US, and Australia.

What if England had refused them entry and sent them back to their persecutors? This is a similar story that plays out in the lives of millions upon millions of people all over the globe and apart from indigenous peoples, how did any of the rest of us ever make a success of our lives? Were we not welcomed? Were we not received in some form and supported as we made new and rich lives for ourselves and our families?

The Bard is still the finest – And this your mountainish inhumanity?

(The long quote above comes from http://theshakespeareblog.com/2015/09/shakespeare-sir-thomas-more-and-the-immigrants/)

Martha Gellhorn, an observation

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I love the breadcrumb trail the world of reading offers when we are open to it. I recently found myself wrapped up in a wonderful book titled The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar Mazzeo. The author writes about the world of the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris. She primarily focuses on the time period of the Second World War although she sets the stage by introducing us to Paris and the exciting world of the rich and famous starting at the turn of the last century when the Ritz was first opened.

Among the many characters we are introduced to in this book, I was taken by Mazzeo’s descriptions of the world of Martha Gellhorn and her challenges as woman correspondent and journalist during the second world war. This description can be found in chapter 16. Balancing the demands of those paying for her to write against an unknown world of horrors and excitement, not the least being that she was at the time the spurned wife of the great Ernest Hemingway. Yes, Hemingway appears to get first billing but Gellhorn is an amazing writer in her own right. The snippets presented in Mazzeo’s book caused me to dug deeper into the life and world of this author, global traveler and gutsy, articulate woman and I discovered a 60-plus year career of writing and traveling where she encountered war and the travails of ordinary people all over the globe. She found (or placed) herself in almost every conflict starting with the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s right through to the early 1990’s when she wanted to go to the Balkan’s but realized her health and age prevented such an opportunity. I can imagine that at a certain point the lifestyle became the only thing worth living for.

Her writing is beautiful. She was known as a chronicler with a very in-your-face style of prose that must have been honed by years of seeing a reality that greatly challenged her belief and understanding of humanity. I have read some of her work and I have just begun a book titled The Face of War. She originally wrote the book in 1959 and edited and rewrote parts of it in 1986. A fascinating part of this book is the evolution of her thinking and her passion and compassion for the human race. She writes, in part, in her 1986 edition:

After a lifetime of war-watching, I see war as an endemic human disease, and the governments are the carriers. Only governments prepare, declare, and prosecute wars. There is no record of hordes of citizens, on their own, mobbing the seat of government to clamor for war. They must be infected with hate and fear before they catch war fever. They have to be taught that they are endangered by an enemy, and that the vital interests of their state are threatened. The vital interests of the state, which are always about power, have nothing to do with the vitals interests of the citizens, which are private and simple and are always about a better life for themselves and their children. You do not kill for such interests, you work for them.

Our amazing species is programmed from childhood in my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism. It is a nonsense phrase, despite its compelling power. Invoked for the purpose of rallying citizens to war, the correct phrase should be my-government-right-or-wrong. I always liked Tolstoi’s crusty remark that “governments are a collection of men who do violence to the rest of us”.

At this point in history (1986/87) the USSR had yet to fall apart and the ensuing changes to the world order had not been imagined but if we augment Gellhorn’s nuclear fears with other forms of terror and global disruption her message could be much the same today, just add more zeros to all of the figures quoted.

It is now almost thirty years beyond the final date in this book of wars and what have we learned? My age and my generation want to believe it is never too late to hear, to learn, and subsequently do something to move away from a perennial world of wars big or small. I wonder, however whether our world of one-percenters’ has developed a too powerful sway in the overall global decision processes. I continually attempt to encourage my students to see and know the power each of them possesses especially if and when they work together. Sadly many are overly focused on the here and now of bill paying and future life planning to be able to appreciate the connection.

The Martha Gellhorns of the world are few and far between. I wonder if despite the continual adventure and driving force her life must have been whether she was also very lonely. Maybe what we all see and benefit through her writing was her life’s mission. I am beginning to see a richness of layers in her writing and believe that there may be much value in her prescient observations today and tomorrow. To be continued…

A Teacher-Educator, a visionary, and a gentleman who amplifies the common good @terguy

My dear friend Terry

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. You took me places (physically, intellectually, and spiritually) and introduced me to a myriad of worlds of understanding that have helped shape the ground upon which I teach, learn, and interact with others and for this I am ever grateful. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.

A grand accomplishment

I made a breakthrough today on something that has been bugging me for quite some time.

What is amazing about this breakthrough is that I made it by NOT doing something.

I have a project to build a series of resources for a particular aspect of my teaching and I felt that I needed to build a philosophical rationale to explain and support the work I was doing. I spent several days building a framework and today I got to writing. As the day went on, the writing became a rant and the rant became richer and more refined, and I even rebuilt my blogging theme to allow this grand gesture to have a great spot on the screen.

I copied and pasted the title and then I copied over the post and I read it again and tweaked it and reread it and… then I stopped.

I stopped as I realized just how my great and wonderful (and powerful) words could so easily be misunderstood and could cause others to be hurt or possibly cause some to shy away from the very thing I was attempting to address. I have no idea what stopped me today or why I could see what I had not seen for the previous days but I think I have just shown myself what I attempt to show others. I so desperately wanted to speak my words out loud and have others join in and push ideas around that I failed to see that the act of getting to this point was all I needed for me to be able to move forward with my project. I do not need to publicly jab at others or to whine in a disparaging way about seemingly important issues, rather I need to quietly go about the process of building my set of resources to support others and trust that those who need and use them will benefit.

 

When I was a boy…

When I was a boy I lived in the north eastern part of France (Metz) and December the 6th was a wonderful and magical day – It was known as Petit Noël and there was a parade with St Nicholas and Père Fouettard and there were gifts and it was grand fun. This memory has always been precious.

Unfortunately 25 years ago on December 6 an event occured that will forever change how I and many see December 6 . On December 6, 1989, fourteen women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal and although on this day I find that I want to remember these wonderful childhood memories I am drawn to a world that I cannot comprehend or really understand. 14 beautiful lives were taken in their prime just because they were women. How can we possibly comprehend such hate and anger?

In these past 25 years there has continued to be a litany of crime focussed solely against women. Yes there have also been crimes against different racial, religious, and ethnic groups as well as everything and anything that human kind seems to be able to dream up. Yet somehow we must find a way to stand up and speak up about all of these events in some way. Why not start with this day – December 6 – a day to remember the lives lost to violence against women but also a day to keep this event alive in our memories so that we can be cognizant of behaviours that lead us down this dark path and work to prevent the growth and development of this unfortunate behaviour.