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    Building Happy New Years Requires Asking For Happiness and Working Towards Seeing It Bloom

    I read the paper where Ellen DeGeneres had a hilarious set of Resolutions,which she suggested as more attainable by starting with positive framing like, "I won't attempt beauty school again." Things you know you can do and things you want to do. She said something like, "I'm going to continue not smoking, and lay off thinking of losing weight." I loved this. I was listening and it did cause me to laugh for the first time in a bit. Then I read this....on the Buddhist thought for the day:

    It is important to recognize the power of our emotions--and to take responsibility for them by creating a light and positive atmosphere around ourselves. This attitude of joy that we create helps alleviate states of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. Our relationships with others thus naturally improve, and little by little the whole of society becomes more positive and balanced. - Tarthang Tulku

    The thought was really so much a part of what I've been thinking about in teaching all my life and especially of late as I must do some things which are going to require backbone, clear voice and personal resolve......as I re-approach this making of a New Year. I'm going to need to be my true self and love myself enough to face foolishness directly and with a happy heart. It's the right thing. The real thing. And then something clicked going over to see Susan's website at http://www.susanohanian.org
    I read her touching Lament, one I feel so deeply in my soul it really rather aches and one I know with every fiber of her being pervades her actions to try to bring to public awareness the realities and the responsibilities of personal action to face and shape what's happening in schools:

    An NCLB Benediction for the New Year

    May God banish from your school
    The roach, the rat, and NCLB rule

    You have to rely on the deity
    To rid your school of this atrocity.

    Congress is of no use
    They're responsible
    For this abuse.

    Susan Ohanian

    Which brings me to my current interest in a Nell Nodding's book Happiness in Education. It's remarkably lovely place to settle into a relationship to what we are doing when we work with children.

    I've been listening to people as I talked about the realities in teaching saying to me rather pointedly as if I could answer the question, "Well what solutions do you propose?" Well in answer, yes, I have a really fundamental one. . . let's place student happiness right there, at the door, right in the dialog.

    It's clear over testing and testing mania and this accountability paradigm might not best fit our children, not really, not our kids.These are just real children and so two and three hours on unit tests the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas as "mandated" in the Hueneme School District interpretation of School Improvement isn't that. It isn't a happiness paradigm. It's a fear and punishment paradigm. It's actually a Pavlovian construct.

    It's clear that Direct Instruction doesn't even consider student motivation, happiness, individual at all. It's clear that happiness means as many thing to as many people as any guiding Principle. . . but still if you read Noddings, you'll learn where I think we might aim, and it would help us design schools of the future, because I know that learning, exploring, evolving, being on a personal discovery is a process of what I define as happiness.

    It's so important to me that my Gabriela, my Jessie, my students this and every year plan their lives seeking their bliss. That's a mission statement. I attended a behavioral exercise a la John Hollingsworth [President and Co-Founder, DataWORKS Educational Research] and the Ventura County Office of Ed. on the Datawork's definition of truth in teaching in November, when I truly began a decline which was profound. A room full of adults willing to hold up white boards and chant all evening long while a man who seemed inadequate, insecure, and rather a coward, definitely no leader for children, had them all chant learning was, "Every child on Standards at level all day long." What utter hypocrisy and, yes, he'll sell it to you. Packaged along with the cheapest white board you ever saw. . . all so you can carry this around as an educational answer. I began to be convinced that shallow and insincere and money-driven people are willing to take from children their happiness. Their right to pursuit of happiness, their American dream, their days filled with workbook, drill, kill, complete behavioral management. I saw the night for what it really was. . . a darkness. . . a black hole, a void a vacuum, a failure of a group to stop this. To say something. To ask for something as simple as. . . some content. And then as the kids say. . . or the Grinch says. . . I pondered and pondered and realized that this is really all about the right to happiness. At least it is for me. I deserve it as a teacher, the children deserve it, if you are reading this, you certainly deserve it. A friend quoted something: "If it's not fun, why do it?"

    You know in a way if we empowered our lives with that would it be so bad a thing? My initial reaction was. . . life isn't all games--until, thinking, I realized his point. It took hard thinking actually. If we are so poorly skilled at instruction, so de-skilled as humans at this thought as teachers, we really shouldn't be leading in instruction. Hollingsworth should not captain a boat. He is a midget for this. He wants to see others groveling around repeating his words. That's just sycophant stuff, trivial, errant, not a happiness pursuit. He'll not find happiness this way, money perhaps but not happiness.

    We should design a learning community that sings, plays, asks, investigates, visits, interviews, explores, validates, hums with literature, science please, arts, math, music and not fear it. Or prefer a fear-based or guilt-based construct that removes happiness to test. I think happiness was intended. I really do. If you want to get religious, why would happiness exist, if we were not meant to use it with our children.

    So my thoughts go to a song I sang in third grade led by Mrs. Peyton. It's called First Tulip. It was always such a joy:

    First Tulip

    Especially useful for younger girls who are not reading yet.

    Begin with lots of imagination, gently placing one tulip in front of each child. Tell the story of the first tulip and then review the words using a tulip in front of you and the props/signs. Then sing line by line allowing the girls to gently lift their tulips out of the garden bed.

    * "Here look in my garden bed" – Point to tulip lying in front of them on the floor
    * "Something beautiful is growing" – Lift up tulip.
    * "Bright shaped like a cup all red" – Leader holds up a red cup
    * "Tulip opens to the sun" – Leader holds up picture of sun and children gently open the petals.
    * "Last night it was small and green" – Leader holds up a small green closed tulip and children can cup their hands together.
    * "Flame like now it is a glowing" – Leader holds up picture of a fire.
    * "This one is the first I've seen" – children hold up one finger.

    "Now sweet weather has begun" – Leader holds up sun again.

    Of course in my memory it goes:

    Look here in the garden bed
    Something beautiful is growing
    Bright green with a cup of red,
    Tulip opens to the sun

    Last night you were small and green
    Flame like now you are a glowing
    This one is the first I've seen
    Tulip open to the sun.

    My version is just a bit off, but we sang it everyday to open the morning with Mrs. Peyton playing the piano and settling us into the day's routines which were such a comfort.

    And now in my Teaching Garden, the way I chose to look at this job for the past 24 years. . . I offer these thoughts.

    All children are entitled to bloom; I resolve to water them and care for them as my own.

    All children are gifted; I resolve to look for their capacities.

    All children like to be heard; I am resolved to listen.

    All children are beautiful; I have a resolution to see their beauty.

    All children need routines, patterns, rules JUST ENOUGH to structure their experiences positively; I resolve to recall the admonitions of Bill Thomas my art ed. prof, if you are doing all the work or the majority of it, something went wrong.

    All children deserve to learn from people who find happiness in learning; I resolve to continue a joy dialog.

    All children need advocates, they are children; I resolve to become a better advocate for my garden.

    All children need someone to the unlock art, music, song to use literature, arts, creativity everyday as I always have in my teaching life; I resolve to keep going. And if this means in the margin of a workbook or the pattern of bubbles on a scan-tron sheet, I'll resolve to figure a way. It's my job.

    And Happy New Year my friends . . . every one of you somehow is intertwined in this little piece tonight as I toast this New Year which I hope brings to all of us the happiness we deserve and the love which we continue to feel one for another.


    All I know is if teachers remain silent, they are going to lose their profession. In many cases, the profession is dead: when you're reading a script, you are not a professional.

    —Susan Ohanian, Interview with Peter Campbell 3/28/06

    Sign the petition to Ask NCLB be stopped. . . it matters, you can help


    2007-01-01 06:29:15


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