What Children Need – Part 2

You fathers and you mothers
Be good to one another
Please try to raise your children right
Don’t let the darkness take ‘em
Don’t make ’em feel forsaken
Just lead them safely to the light
– Billy Joe Shaver, “Live Forever”

In my work with preschools, schools, and universities, young people of all ages tell me there are five life experiences they most need from their parents.  In the order of their importance, these are:  

  1. Meaningful Time
  2. Boundaries and Discipline
  3. Healthy Activity
  4. Spirituality
  5. Adultness

1.  Meaningful Time

Children crave dedicated time with their parents.  They yearn for regular, protracted periods of interaction in which their parents’ focus is undiluted, and their energies are wholly committed to communing substantively and intimately.

Children want their parents to talk with them, counsel them, and explore life with them. They want their parents to help them understand complexities, discover wonders, discuss hopes, dispel fears, explore horizons.  They want to talk. They want to listen. They want to share life, love, and learning. Children particularly need and benefit from family reading time, family films, family walks, family trips, and, above all else, regular family meals.

Children especially do NOT benefit from inappropriately long hours in front of a television set, electronic games, earphone isolation, or excessive hours with solitary computer play.

For many parents, finding time to build family intimacy can seem impossibly difficult. The pressures of our careers become ever more consuming. Or we may be out of work, anxious about the future, and desperately seeking employment. We may be preoccupied with multiple other concerns that seem personal, adult, and therefore primary.

Solutions must be found. Parenting must be our baseline priority. Our children need to know that we honor this commitment, embrace it as our paramount calling, and regard it as our most joyful opportunity.

Our children often will not state that they want extensive, fully engaged time with us. Many boys will not say so, and most adolescents will not. They even may object to or complain about customary and intense engagement with us. Nevertheless, they want it.

If they do not receive it, they invariably will believe they are not loved. Even worse, they almost always will conclude they are not loved because they do not deserve to be.  They will assume they are unworthy, ignoble, undesirable, defective.  And they are likely to seek approval, love, and time with those who do seem to appreciate and care for them.  Such people, peers, plausible elders, or emblems of the popular culture, may well be predatory.  They almost certainly will be undesirable shepherds for our children’s psyche and spirit, entirely unsuitable models for our children’s mentality and action.

2.  Boundaries and Discipline

Children need to know the attitudes and behaviors their parents expect of them.  They yearn to understand clearly what our boundaries and limits are, and what, therefore, theirs must become.   Children require rules.

Rules are but rhetoric unless we mean them and enforce them. Children need us to identify our principles clearly. They need us to define fully and fairly what consequences we will impose if they disrespect our expectations. If they disregard our rules, they need us consistently and justly to implement the consequences we have promised.

Many mothers and fathers believe they are parenting progressively and lovingly if they impose no limits, or few boundaries. In my experience, children never see an absence of limits or a neglect of boundaries as either broadminded or affectionate. They invariably regard untoward parental liberty as indifference and neglect. As one seemingly rebellious but in fact tenderhearted and anguished adolescent girl once told me:  “My parents don’t love me.  They don’t care about me at all.  If they did, they never would let me get away with my behavior.”

This child’s suffering and eloquence were unusual. Her judgment’s extremism was not. In my work I have learned that all children whose parents impose neither boundaries nor discipline feel themselves to be unloved. And without exception, children who believe themselves to be unloved suppose they deserve to be. They believe they are unloved because they are unattractive, defective, worthless.

The ringer? Children need their caregivers to give them systems of boundary and discipline that are harmonious and constant. Spouses, grandparents, extended family members cannot appear to be divided and subversive of one another. Binding customs and practices, and the principles that shape them, only can make an internal compass for the child and a communal governance for the family if they are universal and unequivocal.

Children of all ages and both genders regularly will experiment with their parents’ boundaries and test their parents’ discipline. This is natural and necessary. Rules only feel real when they are tried; and children only can learn how to become appropriately autonomous by exploring inappropriate autonomies.

No matter how belligerent their explorations and no matter how bellicose their protests, our children secretly will relish and feel relieved by our unwavering resolve. Our resoluteness is proof-positive that we are in charge, we care about their welfare, and we are committed to protecting them.

The alternative? Children who successfully violate their parents’ rules and abrogate their pledges of discipline have to live in a universe in which no one seems to be in charge. No one, that is, except their own utterly undeveloped selves. Unregulated children always will test their boundaries with ever-increasing ingenuity and extremity. They will press more and more outrageously, more and more dangerously. For any extreme of lawlessness and its attendant perils will seem preferable to a child than accepting a universe in which there are NO controls – and, therefore, no sense, sanity, or safety.

3.  Healthy Activity

Like all human beings, children want and need to be vigorously alive, dynamic, functioning, vivacious, operative, working, playing. They want and need to be alert, assiduous, industrious, energetic, strenuous. They want to be robust, spirited, hearty, healthy.

Children do not need to sit still before an entertainment box. They do not need to lie recumbent. They do not need to twirl knobs and twit buttons.

Nor do children need a multitude of possessions. They need – and they intensely prefer – to create competencies, develop skills, build repertoires of confident capability. They want to delight in their limbs, exult in their lungs, and revel in their musculature. They want their cheeks flushed, and their eyes blazing. They want to feel healthy and happy.

Fit active children stand erect. They stride proudly. They feel themselves to be an essential part of a universe that ebulliently lives. They don’t require incessant external amusements. They don’t require capital investment. They invent their own entertainments, and make their own community.

Parents can facilitate this crucial development by encouraging it. If necessary, they can impose it. The best way we can encourage devotion to healthy activity is to model it, and to include our daughters and sons in our own wholesome pursuits.

Family hobbies, sports, recreations are invaluable for children. Family time that fosters healthy behaviors also teaches beneficial lifelong habits and vital life skills. Family sports, hikes, bicycle rides, camping trips, boating expeditions, ice-skating, snowshoeing, outdoor cooking parties, stargazing gatherings: recreational opportunities have no limits, and confer wonderful benefits for children and adults.

Passivity and sloth, alas, also have no limits. Idleness and immobility, though, do teach habits, do form ways of thinking, and can impose lifelong impacts on health.

4.  Spirituality

Many children who talk with me and write for me speak repeatedly about a hollowness they experience in their affect and in their identity. They describe their hollowness as a vacancy that makes them feel empty, lonely, or lost and severely, if abstractly, frightened.

They define their hollowness as a lack, or a failure. They cannot discern their connection with nature. They cannot perceive their unity with the universe of living beings. They may have a sensitivity or an attachment to religious values and teachings. Yet, they cannot determine in what manner they may know, commune with, and react to the divine. If there is a divine.

In this sense of inchoate but intense anomie, our children may be reacting to broad social tendencies. They may be responding to the excessive authority of science and technology in our era, the disproportionate preeminence of rationality in our culture, the championing of cerebration at the expense of the instinctive and intuitive in our civic lives. They may be dealing with the fact that, in all public and many public schools, it has become impossible to teach character, consciousness, or creeds. They also may be observing that many modern communities are aggregated by commerce or convenience; whereas, in almost all earlier epochs, people gathered into kinship and societies because they shared faith traditions, belief doctrines, or other collective ontological determinants.

Many parents now neglect teaching their children about spiritual dimensions, feeling, and faith. This may be an outgrowth of the fact that, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, more and more adults have lost faith in received beliefs, and have endorsed the rapid ascendance and controlling dominance of reason, science, technology, and engineering in our civilization. Many adults find it challenging or outright impossible to pass onto their children wisdom and truth about sentiment, emotion, and spirit life, for they themselves suffer from the absence of this elemental human consciousness.

Children long for spiritual life. Spirituality is inborn in our daughters and sons. It alarms them to have this primal aspect of their awareness go unrecognized in their families, their homes, their schools, and their communities. Spirituality is the essence of childhood, and it dismays and frightens our children to lose it.

Solutions for this endemically modern quandary are not easy to find. Concerned parents may want to consult and collaborate with trusted friends, religious counselors, and other spiritual teachers. At minimum, parents should welcome and involve themselves prominently in their children’s experience of the arts, life science, philosophy, and metaphysics. For children rarely will mutely accept a void in their learning. If they do not receive teaching in spirituality from their parents, they may seek guidance and training from peers, improper mentors, or the popular culture – a culture unabashedly committed to temporal concerns, materialism, consumerism, premature sexuality, and, far too often, virulent violence.

5.  Adultness

Children perforce are childish. Children’s peers are childish. Much about the contemporary culture is morally and emotionally immature.

Children love the childlike. They should love it. However, young people always tell me how deeply they need and cherish the presence of decisive, dependable adults in their lives; how they hunger for, rely upon, and are grateful to mature, confident, reliable grownups who responsibly shape, preserve, and protect their family, their minds, their actions, their existence.

This may seem an automatic provision. It is not. Many young people sense that the adults in their lives are not fully adult. Children find nothing else in their experience more terrifying.  No other circumstance or condition more unsettles and disenfranchises them. Children are wondrously resilient. But they need guardians:  fully developed grownups, who are fully devoted to parenting.

Once more let us recognize a truth absolute and eternal. Children will learn. Learning is all that children do. If our daughters and sons cannot learn from authentic adults, they will learn from immature, unwise, uncaring tutors: peers, false prophets, dishonorable gurus, malign forces.

__________

We will discuss effective parenting strategies and techniques in a series of essays entitled:  “Parenting for Happiness and Success.”

The Mandatory Mercy of Goldman Sachs

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations
     – Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”
 

The horrid, big, rich scoundrel.
      – Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now

For months, journalists and politicians have heaped indignation upon our nation’s leading bankers for being, as we term it, “tone-deaf.”  Bafflingly ignorant about appearance, colossally indifferent to public opinion, many of our country’s financial directors have awarded themselves and their peers vast sums of shareholders’ and, it may be felt, taxpayers’ money as salary and bonus payments for contributing powerfully to the domestic and global economic collapse.  No one has displayed more ignorance of or arrogance about public reaction than the directors of our society’s most influential and successful bank, Goldman Sachs.  Nor has any other bank received more ignominy.

Goldman reserved from its earnings nearly $17 billion for compensation during the first three quarters of 2009.  The bank’s solvency was protected – was made possible – by previous taxpayer-funded government payments and loan guarantees.   Taxpayers’ outrage and politicians’ incensed criticisms evidently surprised the bank’s leaders.  Their initial responses, unapologetic, indignant, intractable, were beyond “tone-deaf.”  They were unprincipled, callous, and astonishingly incompetent.

Belatedly, damage-control specialists conceived that a public ignored and a government defied perchance might make for future political complications.  Their most recent attempt at tardy remedy?  Compulsory charity. 

On January 11, 2010, The New York Times reported:    

As it prepares to pay out big bonuses to employees, Goldman Sachs is considering expanding a program that would require executives and top managers to give a certain percentage of their earnings to charity.

The move would be the latest in a series of initiatives by Goldman to soften criticism over the size of its bonuses, which are expected to be among the largest on Wall Street, bringing average pay to about $595,000 for each employee — with far higher amounts for top performers…

While the details of the latest charity initiative are still under discussion, the firm’s executives have been looking at expanding their current charitable requirements for months and trying to understand whether such gestures would damp public anger over pay, according to a person familiar with the matter who did not want to be identified because of the delicacy of the pay issue.

Here’s a wild guess, a stab in the dark.  “Such gestures,” we assert, will not “damp public anger.”  Such gestures may well, though, intensify it. 

It’s not the case that we who abide in the realm of the public despise charity.  We revere it, and we practice it.  However, we do so in emotions of sincere concern and care.  Not to “damp” other people’s anger.  Not to dupe other persons or newspapers or our government into believing we are compassionate or generous.  Not to make any impression whatsoever, but to aid.  Without calculus, to shelter.  Without manipulative intent, to give succor.  

Mercy, which is compassion toward those who are in distress, by its nature cannot be mandatory.  Altruism, which is unselfish devotion to the welfare of others, cannot be obligatory.  Charity, which is benevolent helpfulness for the suffering, cannot be compulsory.  Certainly it cannot be an insidious artful maneuver.

Fool us with mandatory mercy?  Dupe us with obligatory altruism?  Gull us with involuntary empathy? 

Clams clinging to our coastlines have more commonsense than these guys.  But, of course, it’s not that these guys don’t get it.  They just don’t care.  Their avarice is limitless.  It’s confiscatory. 

Greed and indifference on this scale belong to a species other than the normally human.  When the American president proposes to tax this species heavily, he is pressing against the confines of the U.S. Constitution.  Yet we who inhabit the body politic are not likely to think our president has gone tone-deaf or craven when he does this.  We are likely to sing his praises, send him hosannas, and urge our elected representatives to support his indignant initiative.

What Children Need – Part 1

 – I am, a stride at a time.  [James Joyce, Ulysses]

For more than forty years, I have taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in schools and universities.  In the context of these profound and elemental fields of learning, students of all ages often have confided in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

From my students I have learned that nothing in life is more important for human beings than our experience of parenting.  How we are parented almost always determines how we conceive of ourselves, other people, life, and the universe:  how we exist, how we seek, what we achieve, and what we accomplish.

There is no single method or formulaic means of parenting that is suitable for every parent and ideal for every child.  However, children do seem to experience several universal requirements.

What children need

Children have three fundamental and essential needs.  They need their parents to:

1.      Know their true nature

2.      Love their true nature

3.      Nurture their true nature

The child’s true nature

Children need their parents to know them for who they actually and individually are.  This sounds both simple and evident.  It is neither.

We accept that all of us have unique fingerprint whorls, retina patterns, and speech timbres.  We understand that all of us have singular DNA compositions.  We realize that every snowdrop is distinctive and matchless.  We believe in theory that every human being also is unique, singular, distinctive, and matchless.  In the lives we live, though, we often find it impossible to apply this belief to our children.

Instead, parents vision their children.  Many parents attempt to program their children.  Consciously and unconsciously, we hope and expect – in many cases, we require – that our children will evolve into people who will fulfill our preexisting ideas about them.  Frequently these ideas express one or more paradigmatic but hidden aspects of our negative egotism:

  • Our dreams about ourselves.  We want our children to be the person we wish we had become.
  • Our parents’ dreams about ourselves.  We want our children to fulfill our parents’ expectations about us.  We ask our children to remedy our inability to fulfill our parents’ often unreasonable hopes and requirements.  We require our children to accomplish the inevitably incomplete missions of our childhood.
  • Our ideals about our identity in society.  We want our children to reflect to the world our normalcy, rectitude, and consequence.  We demand our children demonstrate by their commitments, manner, and achievements that we are correct, worthy, responsible, good adults.

We rarely consciously apprehend when we surrender to any of these subliminal impulses.  No doubt we always leaven our irrational and unfair impulses with authentic love.  However, our children invariably discern, fear, and resent our unconscious contortions.  And in their fright and anger about the manipulations we unknowingly impose upon them, they often cannot detect the true love that shapes and informs our behaviors.

What do children do with their frustrations?

How do children express their frustrations with our parenting?

Often they don’t know that they do feel frustrated.  Children rarely understand themselves any better than we parents understand ourselves.

In any event, it might not matter if children could fully comprehend their wish not fulfill our subliminal agendas.  Children rarely can advocate for themselves, and they almost never can acquire advocacy from society.  Society is primarily organized by and for adults.

In time, though, all children discover that they do have abundant power.  Primal, prepotent power.  Later we will talk much more about children’s reluctant discovery and complex, uneager exercise of their unique authority.

The sad struggle

We who parent continuously struggle to impose our unconscious preconceptions and our seemingly all-powerful will upon our children.  But over the course of their developmental years, our children invariably find ways to demonstrate and eventually to embody their inherent character and true constitution.  In every element and aspect of their existence, they express their sensibility and enact their personality.  They display their likes, tastes, wants, and talents.  They indicate their dislikes, disinterests, and disinclinations – the sum of which conveys not necessarily their weaknesses, but rather their own preferences and potential life directions.

All children expect that the parents who birthed them will know them, and will rejoice in their inborn nature.  They expect we will hear them, see them, and revel in their unadulterated actuality.  Not prefer them to be different from who they actively are.  Not require them to fulfill mandates external to their spirit and psyche.  Not oblige them to develop interests and talents they lack.  Not hector and hound them to become replicas of other, somehow more desirable children.  Not yearn or insist that they be thinner, taller, prettier, more handsome, more graceful, smarter, more practical, more spiritual, more this, more that.

Every daughter and every son’s most urgent life need is to become known, accepted, and cherished by other people:  particularly and principally by their own parents.  At one or another level of awareness, every child thinks, always:  I reveal my spirit and my soul to you so clearly.  Please see me, hear me, know me.  Please love me:  “As I am.  As I am.  All, or not at all.” [These lines are spoken by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses.]

Nurturing nature

If we can recognize and love our children’s intrinsic character and consciousness, we can devote our parenting to fostering all the passion, confidence, capability, and creativity with which life or The Divine has gifted them.  We can help them build their own pathways of power.  We can help them incubate, protect, and limitlessly expand their sacred infinite potential for happiness and success.

This is not an easy role, for we often cannot help but respond to our own fierce subliminal drives:  our need to fulfill our parents’ imperatives, our mandate to be perceived in our community and culture as adequate and correct adults, our yearning that our child will evolve into the person we hoped to become.

Our task – this should be a joyful mission – also is challenging because our children may well be different from ourselves.  Radically different.  Am I by birth, predilection, and choice mathematically inclined?  Devoted to and gifted at intellection, cerebration, calculus, the numeric?  What if my daughter in her mind and soul is an intuitive?  What if she possesses the faculty of attaining to direct cognition and knowledge without evident rational thought and inference?  What if she’s an ecstatic, and doesn’t thrill at all to the discipline of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions, the science of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations?  It may be that  my daughter, unlike me, was birthed to become a poet.  Perhaps a savant.  A healer.  My opposite, yet not apostate.  My opposite, but not my opponent.

Our children need from us precisely what we needed from our parents, and most likely did not completely receive.  Our children need us to perceive, treasure, and nourish their genuine essence and identity.  They need us to help that flourish.  Not fear it.  Not dread it.  Not prefer something else to it.  Not improve it.

The social imperative

We want our children to understand, embrace, and develop their full inborn potential.  However, we also want them to comprehend, move fluidly within, and ideally exercise effective and just leadership upon their social and civic surround.  We need them to establish what we have sought to establish:  a suitable balance between their innate sensibility and the civilization that houses their individuality and enables its power.

This is the ultimate project of our children’s selfhood and our parenting:  how to create a middle path between the extremism of unfettered personality and overly intolerant conformism.

__________

We continue this conversation in an essay entitled:  “What children need – 2.”

U.S. Relief Command

The recent events in Haiti demonstrate that the United States must develop a new Military Relief Command. 

The U.S. Relief Command should be modeled on the Marine Corps:  an essentially autonomous, highly trained, pre-equipped rapid response body that swiftly can deliver and operate anywhere in the world:

  • Emergency food, water, shelter, and sanitation supplies
  • Earth-moving equipment
  • Comprehensive emergency and long-term medical care capabilities
  • Emergency and long-term telecommunications services
  • Temporary and long-term government functionality
  • Security for populace and relief workers

The Command should be led by a General George S. Patton of relief. A formidable, indefatigable, entrepreneurial, universally admired and deservedly feared problem-solver with a history of pre-eminent effectiveness in armed services leadership.  A person who will place the urgent humane aid objective before all other goals, constituencies, and practicalities.  A person who enjoys, and who is known to enjoy, the complete confidence of the President of the United States. 

The Command should control its own air, naval, and land transportation assets, its own supply depots, and its own telecommunications systems. These may well be comprised of existing military resources outmoded for modern combat, but well-suited for domestic and worldwide relief needs.

The Command should have at its disposal and be able swiftly to transport, house, feed, and equip a National Reserve of trained human services volunteers who are willing to be called to duty as needed.  

The Command should report directly to the Secretary of Defense, and be deployed at the order of the President. 

By Act of Congress, the Command should have the authority, subject to approval by the President, to impose military controls as needed over domestic and international jurisdictions.  For example, the Command should be able to exercise control over air, seaport, rail, and highway traffic in areas affected by disaster.

Lead From The Heart

“Which way am I heading?

President Obama is a brilliant man, but he delivered a banal State of the Union address last week.  It was a speech shrouded in shrill anger, tedious sloganeering, tendentious posturing.  It was a performance rooted in ritualistic tilts, nods, bobs, weaves.  Our president sounded tired, and looked defeated.  In a Victorian novel, it would be said that he was bilious. 

His audience was worse.  Democrats rising and clamoring with every invocation of 50-year-old clichés.  Republicans refusing to rise, staring grimly at cameras or primly at one another.  Everywhere, for nearly 90 minutes, we beheld every conceivable tepid symbol, emblem, talisman, and totem of old paradigm Capital consciousness.  It looked as it is:  devoid of higher truth, empty and inane, and consciously malignant. 

Our nation and society confront enormous problems.  Some are ancient, but many are entirely new.  All are immensely complex, and all are imposing immense injury upon multitudes of individuals, our body politic, and the planet we share. 

Our lawmakers, jurists, military officers, and chief executive sat, stood, sat again, in their mausoleum, clasped in soporific cadences, trapped in morose meaningless jingoisms, locked in scarcely concealed platitudes.  The hundreds of persons preening in that marble chamber style and name themselves leaders.  However, not one living soul in that audience, and certainly not our president who nominally addressed them, manifested any substantial awareness of the true State of the Union.  Nor did one living soul appear authentically to care.

We expect little, maybe nothing, of Senators or Representatives.  But we do count on much from our senior uniformed officers and our senior jurists, whom we want and need to believe are men and women of honor, keen intelligence, and genuinely patriotic selflessness.  We surely expect and need much from President Obama.  Not for four decades have the American people felt so much excited hope for the presidency, and for the president himself.  Agree with him or disagree with him, President Obama has seemed to a large majority of American people and a massive majority of international citizens to be a genius of politics, an intellectual of major importance, and a spiritual presence of the greatest significance.  To a great many people at home and abroad, President Obama has seemed to be a noble human being.  It was for this reason that the American electorate elevated to power.

The broad perception of our president’s distinctness and distinction has not emerged by accident.  President Obama campaigned magnificently for election.  He deployed his extraordinary talents to this purpose, and he did so with unprecedented effectiveness.  He presented himself splendidly as the being whom the world has come to believe he actually is:  a man of the highest intellect and most decent, righteous spirit who acts from his lovely heart.

Where is President Obama’s mind these days?  In what does he believe?  What are his ideals?  What does he seek?  A kaleidoscope of least common denominators, parsed in secret through heinous compromises with ward bosses, venal interest groups, and their wee minions? 

This potentially very great leader was elected to end now a tragic and terrible national tendency toward reductiveness and violence in our foreign policy.  He was elected to end now mindless class conflict and parochial sectarian quarrelsomeness in our domestic affairs.  He was elected to dialogue and discourse with us all on the most elevated plane of reasoned passion.

Yet, two disgraceful wars continue.  The war in Iraq is utterly mindless, and always has been.  The war in Afghanistan is neither sustainable nor winnable.  The cost of these horrid, unnecessary, and unjustifiable battles in lives, welfare, and national treasure is disastrous and heartrending.  And a new war in Yemen is undeclared, and is rapidly spawning. 

Domestic political affairs remain paralyzed in provincial polarity.  Angry unfelt prating passes for dialogue and discourse.  Selfish careless extremism masquerades as thought.  Implacable biases and loud orations impersonate as actions. 

Our economic woes, awful as these are, are but epidermal.  Our nation and many of our people are spiraling into ever more perilous states of confusion, emptiness, and anger.

Where is our president, who believed himself to be and who genuinely was the leader for our times?  And what union was he describing last week?  What state did he believe he was naming, and what conditions did he imagine he was healing?  “It’s not my fault” is a locution that belongs to adolescents.  Tossing imaginary sums of money aloft into the ether is a tactic that belongs to demagogues and miscreants.  Reading a committee’s clichés and inanities from a visible teleprompter is the error of incompetents. 

What has gone wrong? 

Our president has become captured.  He has become incarcerated by his deputies.  He poignantly if subconsciously signaled his awareness of this predicament when, after his speech, as he passed slowly through a throng of acolytes, the network microphones picked up his sad question to the Senate and House ushers:  “Which way am I heading?

A great leader surrounds himself with advisors of exceptional ability and experience.  He listens to them.  He savors learned astuteness.  But he does not yield his essence.  He does not cede his spirit, core, soul, and true meaning.  He remembers, always and deeply, that he and he alone was elected to leadership by the entire nation in its peopled wisdom.  

A great leader seeks mentors.  He convenes counselors, he hears them, and he esteems them.  Then he takes himself away for a swim, a walk, basketball, Camp David, am entirely private congress with his sensate self.  He thanks his head very much, adjourns it, and turns to his heart. 

A great leader knows his heart to be his compass tried and true.  He knows his heart’s voice, as no one else does.  He listens, ultimately and finally, to this voice alone.  He hears in its teachings his counselor supreme.  He sees in its teachings his highest truth and his most correct pathways.  He articulates the truths and pathways of his heart to his deputies, and to his fellow-citizens.  And he, they, and we joyfully join minds and souls and follow – into the desert, to the moon, across impossibly yawning crevices and chasms, straight through the most daunting obstacles, clear around and beyond even the most onerous challenges.

President Barack Obama is a person of rare and wonderful brilliance.  He was born to lead himself and our nation well beyond norms now ossified, far above worn destructive paradigms now prevailing.  He has had only one year in presidency, and he visibly has learned much.  He will find his way.

This may be the redeeming gift of his purely terrible first State of the Union address to the Congress and the American people.  Our president’s eyes and his body language expressed palpable anger and marked impatience with himself.  He knows what has gone wrong.  He surely will discover how to relocate his heart, and how to heed it.  This man is a very quick study, and he leads from his heart.

He had best hurry.  The State of the Union is severely imperiled.

Ecole Haiti

 

The terrible tragedy in Haiti cannot be accepted, and it cannot be redeemed. 

The only use the tragedy can have, the only gift it can confer, will be if the calamity leads to fundamental change in the people’s consciousness, capability, and control of their nation.  This can only occur only from upon a platform of universal, locally supported, locally meaningful education.

This site is written by an experienced educator with many trusted friends in key professional fields.  We will use the gifts and experience we have been given in life to create Ecole Haiti.

Ecole Haiti will have many branches, linked to orphanages that own student-developed and student-maintained farms and fisheries.  

In the beginning, there will be no traditional western grade levels or curriculum.  Everyone will live together, study together, work together, and advance together. 

Students will study only what most matters for Haiti’s circumstances and needs.  Initially, remedial literacy in English and French/Creole, foundational mathematics, science principles linked to health, wellness, agronomy, husbandry, and fishery, and essential life skills.  As learners advance in confidence and capability, emphasis will be placed on advanced language, mathematics, science, and history; leadership in community-building and nation-building; business and other life skills; and university readiness.  At all stages, learners will study Haitian heritage, culture, and faith traditions.

Ecole Haiti will operate on an all-year basis.  At the end of the instructional day, students and staff will maintain the school’s farm and fishery.  The yield will feed the community.  Excess production will be sold.  

The schools will operate with minimal equipment in inexpensive, earthquake-safe, easily maintained tents with locally managed electric and septic resources.   

Students will pay no fees.  All staff will be volunteers who will receive compensation only if the school’s finances eventually permit.  Retired international teachers and other retired or active professionals will be welcomed as faculty.

There will be no capital drive plan, although successful athletes and entertainers from Haiti will be encouraged to help.  The Divine will provide.   

A detailed plan design follows in PowerPoint format.

Ecole Haiti.ppt

Signs of the Times

Carlyle-seated 

– There is still a real magic in the action and reaction of minds on one another.  [Thomas Carlyle] 

 

In 1829, a young man from Scotland published an essay entitled Signs of the Times.  Carlyle was unknown, and seemingly ill-equipped for consequence or celebrity.  Yet the essay seemed to all who read it utterly original, acutely prescient, and powerfully persuasive, and it launched a career in authorship of the utmost significance.  Carlyle went on to write numerous essays, biographies, and volumes that strikingly analyzed and influentially criticized the culture and society in which he lived.

1829 was an important year in England and Europe.  A lengthy era of rural, agronomic civilization was changing precipitously.  Opinions and beliefs that had seemed fixed certainties and were almost universally shared became broadly challenged.  Profound changes in science and technology fostered and fueled stunningly swift changes in the ways in which multitudes of people gained their living, organized their lives, and conducted their experience.  The basis of human existence began to shift from farming in village, estate, and family constructs to working for hire in impersonal, often inhumane factories and cities.  Stratification and conflict replaced previously prevailing systems of seemingly synergistic cooperation.

The preeminent constant in human life was becoming change itself.  The preeminent value was becoming personal gain, measured principally in cash money.  Previous ideas and imaginations about coherence, community, and holism were fracturing.  Beliefs about and communions with God were becoming far more questioned than most individuals could comprehend or readily countenance.  Philosophies about and comfort with society and government were becoming rooted in angry or aggrieved consciousness of economic class, rather than a common awareness of pleased citizenship.  On every front, ideas and ideals seemed under siege, altering, vanishing.

For some, this made a condition for excitement, hope, and confidence.  Perhaps, the optimists believed, human beings now had it in their power radically to improve their existence.  For others, the evolution into the industrial age produced suffering, woe, hopelessness.

Carlyle was one of the first thinkers to recognize and react to the phenomena of change that were transfiguring the polities and psyches of his age.  His generation of contemporaries passionately respected his brilliant analyses of and fervent replies to the transformational changes in human experience and sensibility that characterized his times.

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We inhabit a similar moment in history.  We,too, are living during an era in which a multitude of changes, all mighty, none minor, are altering profoundly the fundaments of human identity and the terms of our existence.  Science and technology have discovered more during our generation than, arguably, all previous peoples ever have learned.   Since 1989, the geopolitical and economic architectures of the world have changed almost entirely.  The mechanisms, modes, and imprint of communication have become revolutionized.  Throughout much of the world, demographics are altering rapidly.  Politics and their poetics are shifting swiftly and unpredictably, with sweeping import.  Many people’s viewpoints and values are undergoing momentous modifications.  Individual and group behaviors are enduring historic adjustment – perhaps actual mutation.  Substantial, seemingly intractable conflicts are appearing among multiple social groups within individual nations and across crucial cultures. Most informed scientists believe our species’ attitudes and behaviors are changing, potentially irreversibly, the nature of nature.  We may well have imperiled the planet that houses and nurtures us.

For some, as during the age of Carlyle, this topos of extraordinary change makes a condition for excitement, hope, discovery, and creation.  For others, the contemporary era is producing disturbance, dislocation, economic and emotional distress.  For a vast, largely inarticulate mass of the earth’s population our times are generating despair.

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For all peoples who ever have lived, reasoned conversation among persons of good mind and good always has been important, lively, and lovely.  In eras such as Carlyle’s and our own, reasoned conversation is essential to our power to understand our conditions, and vital to our ability to choose courses of thought, principle, and action in response to them.

This essay is a greeting, and an invitation.  Let those who feel interest in the spirit of our age talk together about the signs of our time and their meanings.  Let us laud what we find praiseworthy in our age.  Let us object gently to processes and products we find dangerous to our dignity and damaging to our happiness.  Let us create means to resist and refute the broad and powerful tendency of our times to isolate and alienate.  Let us embrace our unparalleled opportunities to speak with one another across the reaches of space, time, culture, and generation about our shared humanity, our fondest hopes, and our highest aspirations.

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This is the first of a series of ongoing observations and reflections that I will publish about the signs of our times.  I will organize these essays around such key subjects in contemporary life as:

  • Health & human welfare in the modernist era
  • Education & learning in the age of science & technology
  • Parenting in the 21st century
  • Economics & geopolitics:  thought, policy, & judgment across cultures
  • Celebrations of transformative leaders & works in the modernist civilization

I’ve chosen this means of publishing because, in common with so many other paradigms that once seemed absolute, inevitable, even idyllic, we now know that traditional print, television, and radio media are severely compromised and increasingly inaccessible.  The instrument by which we here may speak with one another is owned by no one, is open to all, and need satisfy no imperatives other than candidness, clarity, generosity of spirit, and hunger for truth.