that have been floating around my mind over the past few days, especially at moments when I watch my wife sleeping in her hospital bed and do not have my focus solely on her.
After watching (with her) some of the inanity in the questioning of Chuck Hagel, I really find it hard not to be very judgmental on what I see of Republicans in Congress on both sides of the Hill. The pandering for political positioning is gross and disgusting and does little to advance sensible discussion of policies on which one could legitimately have a different point of view. It is one reason why I wish Reid had been far more forceful in advancing filibuster reform. In fact it reminds me why I do not like the idea of one person negotiating and excluding other voices until after the deal is done. Even if I like Joe Biden a lot, I think it violates good government principles to have him the only one negotiating whether it is with Mitch McConnell or anyone else. It is important to have more than one set of ears and one set of perceptions so that commitments do not exclude points of views and concerns that are otherwise ignore.
Some more below the cheese-doodle.
There is real evidence that people around the country are no longer willing to depend upon elites to advance policy. This is especially true in education, where we are seeing efforts from the grass roots to push back at what my friend Pasi Sahlberg has labeled with the acronym GERM for Global Education Reform Movement, the policies that are distorting the value and purpose of public education to other ends. In education we have pushback from teachers, students, parents, administrators and school boards, and it is occurring not just in bastions of liberalism such as Seattle but across the state of Texas.
Our paradigm of politics is broken, or at least dysfunctional. That applies to both major political parties at national and most state levels, although there are examples of local parties that understand and are beginning to function differently, in part because local activitist (including several active here) are getting involved with their local parties and helping change how they function.
I am of a generation where people took to the streets, or deliberately did non-violent civil disobedience to chane the atttutudes of society and the governing policies of the nation. The methods we used then are not the ones that will be used today, not specifically. People are learning how to use social media, bypassing the gate-keepers of traditional media in order to get things rolling, and then sometimes forcing the trad-media folks to pick up the messages we are already defining.
Some on the left have had serious discussions about creating our own equivalence of the right-wing mechanisms that have flourished since William Powell wrote his famous memorandum shortly before he went on the Supreme Court. Of course, we do not have available to use the funding mechanism used by the other side, which complicates things . I have been part of a number of discussions on how we move the needle on multiple topics, not just education but also health care, gun violence, etc. Absent that funding we may actually be blessed in not devoting efforts to creating parallels to all the infrastructure on the other side, because it forces us to think creatively, including learning how to use the mechanisms of the other side, including some of their key figures, against them.
At times one may be tempted to despair. Had I any doubt such a surrender is unnecessary as well as counter-productive, what my wife and I have experienced in our own moment of need of support has convinced me that similar connections are possible not merely because of things like personal medical or financial crises.
The most radical change will come about when we begin to conform our personal lives to the values we hold most dear. That is, we rethink how we live, how we spend, and begin to bring those into conformity with the values we espouse. It may mean downsizing our houses, disposing of some possessions, clearing time for helping others in our communities, spending time connecting people across our various networks.
I do not have the answers. I remember when I was exploring with others the possibilities of what I coud or should do after retiring from the classroom, my good friend and mentor Parker Palmer suggested that while I should remember I would always be a teacher, I might need to earn to define my classroom differently, not limiting it to the traditional structure of a school. My writing is a form of teaching. But I also realize that at times my writing functions like rising in Meeting for Worship to give a message. I may not know for whom it is intended, but if it arises from a deeper stillness, I can trust that it is a message I should give. When someone tells me afterward that what I said or what I wrote spoke to them, or prodded them to speak or write even if not in agreement with me, then I have served a purpose that is a form of teaching, or if you prefer of co-learning (for the good teacher is always also learning along with her students and even from them).
Our national discussions over gun policy are important, not just because of Sandy Hook, but because of the ongoing tragedy of gun deaths, whether by suicide, violence, or accident. They are also important because they provide an opportunity for us to rethink how we do policy, how the way we have not included all voices in the past has not served us well. Here I think the Congress could very much learn from what the Connecticut legislature is doing with its hearing yesterday in Newtown. It reminds me that in the past Congress use to go to places around the country to hold hearings, so those who could not travel to Washington could have their voices heard.
I said these thoughts are are miscellaneous. Perhaps you might consider them better described as somewhat random.
Yes it is important how Leaves and I are growing personally from what we were presented by virtue of her medical condition. That is important for us, and we share in case it is of value to others, but also because we now know that in sharing we benefit from what others offer us.
But that is not enough. How we are learning also makes us realize the importance of not limiting the changes to ourselves, just as what we are learning from our discussions after 12/14 in an elementary school in Connecticut need to be about more than gun violence and mental health.
Although perhaps we could say that it has to do with the mental health of our society?
Today may be the last full day in this hospital. We are preparing for Leaves to come home.
Our learning and reflection continue.
Even as my primary commitment now is to her well-being, I hope that my reflection, writing and sharing will keep us connected beyond our personal medical situation, and that the connections we make because of this are for more than the support and love and prayer on our behalf that we cherish.
Hope these words have some value to someone else beside me. Writing them helps me clarify part of my thinking, even as in the process I find more things about which to reflect.
Life is like that.
There are no final answers, just more questions to consider.
The presence or recognition of additional questions does not preclude action, at least not for me. Rather it keeps me humble in knowing that I have to act but must do so knowing my knowledge and understanding is far from complete. Learning is continuous, at least for me.