I have always been a reflective person. Starting in pre-adolescence I used to carry notebooks around and jot down observations, thoughts, perceptions. I would "think aloud' on paper. I would step back from what i was doing and try to understand it, and would apply the same technique to things around me as well.
For almost a decade, blogging in various forms has taken the place of those notebooks, although a few months ago, as the results of a chance encounter, I found myself again carrying small notebooks and periodically writing in them instead of online.
During my time here it was not unusual that on a Saturday morning in particular I would offer some sort of reflection - on observations about the world around me, about my experiences in the classroom.
I have appreciated the feedback I have received, and the willingness of the members of this community to click on my posts and at least take a glance at what might be above the fold.
So today what I propose to do is to reflect upon reflection. If that does not interest you, so be it. If you might at least be curious, please continue below.
As a teacher I always found it important to step back from the doing of teaching to consider that why and what. What was i doing, what was I perhaps missing, how could Ic connect what i said and did - and what I did not say or do - to what happened? What might I want to change, for what might I want to explore differently.
As I grew in my teaching, I realized that it is was just as important to provide that opportunity for my students. In fact, I viewed it as an obligation not merely to provide the time and space, but to encourage, entreat, even challenge them to take on the process of self-reflection so that they could both own their own learning but also find connections with the rest of their lives and the lives of those around them.
When I reflect, it is not just about things recently, but it also requires me to go back and consider again how things done and not done in the past come to shape what I do and say now.
I am required to acknowledge what I have gotten from others - in that sense I know I am not a 'self-made" man because I have benefitted from much I have been given or offered by others, from the comfortable home in which I grew up, from superb schooling, from access to books, plays, music, safe places to play, an opportunity to experience people from a variety of backgrounds.
As I approach the midpoint of my 67th years, I can look back on a country and a world both very different than what I first new. When I began school there were very few independent nations on the African continent, much of which was still considered colonies of European Nations: the UK, France, Belgium, Portugal. There are now 54 sovereign nations on that 2nd largest continent, more than the 51 nations that appeared at the founding conference in San Francisco the year before I was born.
Before the Civil Rights era of my school days there were no Black representatives from states of the Confederacy, and few from the North. The only elected female Senator was Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who would from time to time be joined by widows of deceased Senators who were appointed to fill the vacancy until the next election.
Our society may have seemed less messy, but that was because those who were "different" in any way were expected to stay in their places and not upset the apple cart.
And yet, there were good things about those times, including the development of a vibrant middle class and nothing like the economic disparities of our own time.
Looking back, I do not see the development of greater social justice to be the cause of the economic and to some degree social and political disparity of current day America. And yet I still see things that trouble me.
It is perhaps timely that when I glanced at jotter's post for top diaries, at the top of the list for 2008 on November 9 is one of mine titled This may break your heart, and it should about the cover story on that day's Washington Post Magazine about the Remote Area Medical fair in Wise Virginia, to which I would go for each of the next 4 years.
When I was younger I was distressed by what came across my tv set about the violence applied against the Civil Rights movement, but I rarely saw discrimination up close - except on a memorable Winter vacation trip to Miami Beach when I was ten and I first encountered segregation in the form of Whites Only restrooms in the airport, and I began to pay attention.
I lived through so much change, for example, living in New York City at the time of Stonewall. Of seeing my female schoolmates begin to break down the kind of barriers to legal and business careers that my mother, 2nd in her class at Columbia Law in 1937, and Sandra Day O'Connor at Stanford in 1950s, had experienced.
As I reflect back on this quiet and calm Saturday morning, I know I am a product of the times I experienced. I became both an activist and a teacher because of the times I experienced, but also because of other people who challenged and encouraged me.
In junior high, we heard from Jackie Robinson. In high school Norman Thomas came and spoke to some of us. Remembering the impact those visits had on me, I sought to provide similar opportunities for my students, bringing in Congressmen from other states and nationally know journalists, getting internships on Capitol Hill, bringing in parents who could provide a range of perspectives, encouraging students of all political persuasions to participate in campaigns of those in whom they believe - as a result on of the items in my portfolio is a handwritten note from Christine O'Donnell, who thanks me for doing that when she discovered one of her volunteers was from Greenbelt MD, asked why, and was told I encouraged all my students to participate.
There is a point to this reflection. It is very personal.
I am as probably almost all know now retired from the classroom. I have since the end of the school year done a number of things that have provided some income, and have also volunteered politically for some friends, as well as increasing the amount of writing I have done, for some of which I have been paid.
I have also finally done some serious thinking about myself, how I live, how I related with others.
At times this has created some strain upon others around me, most notably for my spouse Leaves on the Current, who has loved me enough to give me the necessary space.
I have learned several things about myself, at least I think I have.
Despite my wife's best efforts, I remain socially awkward, and will probably always be so. I am shy and still somewhat insecure and prone to depression. But I am also an extreme extravert, and need connection with others. This at times may present me with apparent conflicts, but so be it.
For all the intellectual firepower some may attribute to me, I am far more emotional and caring than I am thinking. This has often surprised my students in the past.
Because of these, and for other reasons, I spent years beginning to close parts of myself off. That may seem like nonsense to some who regularly read me, because of how apparently open I have been about myself in my writing, but in fact my heart was closed and clenched, not really taking in other individuals, at least, not to the degree it should have been.
While I may able to look back at things I have done with a certain amount of pride, that is insufficient. I need to be contributing to something larger than myself and those close to me.
I need to be stretched. I cannot continue to do the same thing, even with great skill, and be satisfied. I have to take on things that require me to grow. Part of why my heart was closing off was because I was becoming stale, not challenging myself in the ways that made me vibrant, that enabled me to give back to others at least part of what I have gained in my 6 and half decades from so many others.
I was ready to leave the classroom because by my standards I was stale. It does not matter how others may have viewed me, that was an honest self-evaluation that I did not fully grasp until near the end of this summer.
I expect to return to employment of some kind, at least part-time, as soon as I can. What I may do in the short-term might not be what I do long-term. I can conceive of returning to the classroom in the Fall, and in fact have a tentative offer where i would be teaching a different AP course in a school with a different population that what I had for 13 years at my last schoo. But I am also exploring whether i can make enough as a writer to maintain flexibility of schedule, allowing me to volunteer for things I think important. I am also exploring doing things in politics and government for people I respect to help them succeed, even it if might mean my going largely silent here - in such positions what I write would no longer be considered to be only my voice, but would likely be viewed as representing my employer. It is one reason I have turned down previous opportunities of political or governmental employment.
I know I will remain reflective. I cannot be otherwise.
I may not be able to share publicly as many of my reflections depending upon how I wind up spending my time.
I know that I am looking to be of use to something bigger than myself.
I am not going to define how that occurs, except that I know I will remain based in Arlington VA from where I write these words.
Life is a journey. I may be in my 67th year, but as yet I do not see the end of that journey, even as I know it could happen at any time.
Perhaps it is because I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up.
I am still working on who I am.
I am still finding the world around me a fascinating place, full of possibilities to make a difference, to find meaning for myself in how I am of service to others.
It makes for a challenging journey. It can be a bumpy ride.
At least it will continue to provide fodder for my reflections.
So be it.