Saturday, January 15, 2011

On Teaching

I came across these words by Lao Tzu in the book "The Enlightened Heart". This captures what I hope to be as a teacher.

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

~Lao Tzu

Thursday, January 6, 2011

House For ....


Here's the deal - I have a house in San Antonio.  When I left San Antonio to go to the Clinton School I put the house on the market.  I was hoping to sell it to help pay for school.  You may have noticed that the housing market isn't so good for sellers these days.
I bemoaned the current economic situation and its detrimental impact on the sale of my house many times.  It's felt like a huge financial anchor weighing me down.  On my most recent trip back to San Antonio for the holidays I decided to stop worrying about selling it.
It's a "fixer-upper" for lack of a better term.  I put some work into making it rentable.  I might as well make a little money while it's sitting on the market, I thought.
Then I had another thought, What good could I do with this house?  Is there some way to not just make it less of a burden, but to use it to help others?

Here's where you come in.  I need ideas and help answering those questions.  I need suggestions for question: What's the most good I could do with my house?

This is the only example I've come up with so far.  Imagine the unfortunate, but very possible circumstance that someone in San Antonio loses their home to fire or other natural disaster.  Could I offer them my house for whatever they could afford to pay while they get their insurance in order and try to find some stability?

If you're out there and reading, I'd love to have more ideas for the most good that could be done with this house.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Updates from the Negev

I hope I'm not violating any copyright laws by reposting this article from "The Media Line" sent to me by some of the folks I worked with in Israel.  I just thought you all might like the update.

Anti-Polygamy Activists in Israel Run Into Islamic Opposition
Written by David E. Miller
Published Thursday, December 23, 2010
Negev clerics and politicians infuriated by women's campaign
A women’s group campaigning to stop polygamous marriages among Israeli Bedouin is running into strong resistance from Islamic groups and even some politicians.
The organizers of the "No Excuse for Polygamy" campaign, launched at the end of November, have been called infidels in newspaper editorials and accused of serving the Zionist agenda by limiting the Arab birth rate. Last Friday’s sermon in a mosque in the Bedouin town of Rahat warned worshippers to protect their wives and daughters from the women's movements.
Even heads of Negev regional councils representing Bedouin towns have publicly denounced the anti-polygamy campaign.
Safa Shehadeh, director of Ma'an – the Forum for Arab Bedouin Women's Organizations of the Negev, one of the groups behind the anti-polygamy campaign, said she expected traditionalists to push back. But the reaction has been more aggressive than she had expected.
"There were no personal threats against us," Shehadeh told The Media Line, "but some of the articles published by members of the Islamic Movement and municipal leaders included tacit threats."
In Islam, a man may marry up to four wives on condition that he provides for them equally. But in most Arab societies the phenomenon is frowned upon and in Israel polygamy is illegal, punishable by up to five years in prison.  Nevertheless, the custom is deeply rooted in the culture of the Bedouin Arabs who traditionally were tent-dwelling nomads but who have gradually been settled in permanent towns like Rahat.
Husbands will have their polygamous marriages sanctified religiously but not in the government marriage registrar. Indeed, many second, third and fourth wives are officially listed as single parents, entitling them to allowances.
Since polygamous marriages aren’t recognized by the government, no official statistics exist. But the Research and Information Center of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, estimates that somewhere between 20% and 36% of Bedouin households in the southern Negev region, where most of Bedouin live, are polygamous.
The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues (WGEPSI), which organized the campaign against multiple marriages, believes the number is at the high end of that range.  It blames a lack of education and an undeclared Israeli policy of legal non-intervention as the main causes.    
Primarily a media campaign using posters with women's testimonials, the "No Excuse for Polygamy" initiative also holds meetings and seminars aimed at educating single women about the price of polygamy. The campaign defending polygamy has been more visceral.
A menacing red and black advertisement published in Al-Hadath, a newspaper published in Rahat, urged women who had failed to get married by age 30 to find a husband to share.
"What is the solution for 7,513 unmarried women in the Negev over the age of 30?" the advertisement rhetorically asked. "Polygamy -- a shariah-sanctioned solution!" it said, answering its own question by defending the practice as approved under Islamic law.
Heba Yazbak, WGEPSI's activities coordinator, said she was heartened by the counter-measures.  "This proves that our campaign has really destabilized them," she told The Media Line. "Many men in the southern branch of the Islamic Movement are married to more than one woman, so they have a personal stake in this."
Yazbak noted that the counter-campaign calls itself the Committee for Women's Equality in the Negev, a name similar to her own organization. It also copied the logo and poster design of the original anti-polygamy campaign.  "It seems that our campaign threatens everyone," she said.
Sheikh Hammad Abu-Da'abes, head of the Islamic Movement's southern branch, said the women's movements had no answer to the growing problem of spinsterhood in a fast-urbanizing Bedouin society.
Some 200,000 Bedouin live in Israel, mostly in the Negev desert. With an annual growth rate of 5.5%, Israeli Bedouins are one of the fastest growing populations in the world.
"Women are the greatest beneficiaries of polygamy," Abu-Da'abes told the Israeli-Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab. "Spinsterhood has reached 25% in Arab society, and when we fight polygamy we shut the door in the face of many women who wish to marry half a man due to their inability to marry a full man."  
For that reason, Abu-Da'abes criticized Arab men who take foreign women in addition to their Arab wives, saying he would like to issue an Islamic legal opinion, known as a fatwa, against mixed marriages.  
Yazbak dismissed Abu-Da'abes’ argument, saying polygamy causes poverty and dissolves the family structure. She asserted that Israel’s policy of non-intervention was part of a larger strategy to keep Arab society in Israel impoverished.
"Israeli law is not applied in the Negev," she said. "This is a marginalized and neglected part of the country."   
Shehadeh of Ma'an said the opposition to the women’s campaign won’t sway her from fighting polygamy.
"They tried to question our legitimacy, our credibility and our patriotism, but this is a human rights issue,” she said. “We don't even go into the religious question of whether it's permissible or not."        

Copyright © 2010 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Process of Elimination

One of the central questions I've been trying to answer during my time at The Clinton School of Public Service is this:  How do I use my specific set of gifts and talents to benefit the most people?

This has been a tricky question to answer because, like most folks, I'm not fully aware of all of my gifts and talents.  Most of us don't realize our potential.  To me that's one of the strongest arguments for programs that emphasize field service.  Nearly twenty years ago, the full year intern teaching experience provided by Trinity University helped me enter the classroom more prepared and now my three field projects at the Clinton School are helping me understand public service in more depth than I would have from pure classwork.

In some ways it's been a two-year process of elimination.  From my time in Israel, I've realized that I don't have the gift of linguistics.  Being in a country in which I couldn't read or speak either of the two primary languages showed me clearly that learning a new language doesn't come easily to me and; therefore, limits my ability to make a difference.  I'm certain I did some useful work in Israel, and I'm very glad I went, but I think my impact could have been greater if I had a better ear for languages.

From my current experience in Canada, I can safely rule out 'professional researcher' from the list of future service careers.  Apparently I'm more of an extrovert than I thought because sitting in a cubicle for hours at a time has taught me that I really need human interaction. 

About a month ago, I escaped from my cubicle for an hour and wandered around the nearby neighborhood.  I found a local branch of the Toronto public library.  On the bulletin board inside I saw an advertisement for "English Conversation Circles". This program offered weekly meetings for people interested in improving their English. "I can speak English," I thought, "and there are no cubicles involved!"  So I volunteered to help.

The Roots of Empathy folks gave me permission to take two hours every Friday to be a part of this program.  It's been one of the highlights of my week for the past three weeks.  I've met and talked with people from Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Somalia, Malaysia, and China.  I love it!  While "Professional researcher" and "Linguist" may have been eliminated in this process, I think "Conversation facilitator" has found a spot on my list of gifts and talents.  Now the question is: How do I use that skill to have the biggest positive impact?

I'm open to suggestions.  And job offers. :-)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Research Karma

Dear Former Students,
Do you remember research assignments?  Do you remember writing annotated bibliographies on community service issues?  Do you remember summarizing current events articles?  Do you remember trying to find international organizations dealing with the service issue your group had chosen?
I do.
And I remember you not liking them very much.
Good news for those of you who thought ill of me for giving you those assignments:
This cubicle is my world during the workday.  And in that world there's only one thing to do.  Research.  That, my friends, is karma. 
Fortunately, I believe strongly in the mission of the organization I'm doing the research for. Roots of Empathy has the potential to make a major positive impact on education for kids, teachers, and parents everywhere.
Hopefully when your kids are in school they'll be benefiting from this research.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waiting for SuperSubstance

I had the good fortune to go see the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" a few days ago at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  After the film, there was an on-stage interview with the film's directors, one of the film's stars, Geoffrey Canada, and educational philanthropist and billionaire, Bill Gates. (pictured to the left)

  In a nutshell the documentary is about the current state of U.S. public education, the reasons for its recent decline, and some hopeful solutions for its future. As a former teacher, I was very excited to see this movie because I thought it would bring to light many important issues and be a catalyst for conversation and change.  Two of the people featured in the movie are Geoffrey Canada, whom I'd read about in the phenomenal book "Whatever It Takes," and Michele Rhee, whom I'd seen speak at the Clinton School last year.

The film does do a good job of raising some important issues, but it left me more disappointed than anything else.  I've thought about it for a couple of days now, and I think the directors just bit off more than they could chew with this one.  It probably would have been a better movie if they'd focused on either Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, or Michele Rhee and the DC public schools, or the KIPP charter schools.  Instead the movie looks at all three, and throws in a few more charter schools, and tells the story of several children going through the lottery system to get out of the public schools and into a charter school, and gives a history of public schools, and throws in the obligatory barb at George W making a grammar mistake.  It's too much.

In order to pack in that many elements corners had to be cut.  Unfortunately, those corners included an in-depth look at any of the problems, and the voices of teachers.  I agree with some of the points in the film - the tenure system is horribly flawed and does more harm than good; there is a significant degree of fiscal waste in the public education system; and great teachers have an enormous impact on their students to name a few.  However, I was disappointed by the portrayal of teachers' unions as complete villains.  And I was most disappointed by the absence of the voices of teachers.

The film makes the following logical links:  Great teachers = Good education.  Good education = Highly educated citizenry.  Highly educated citizenry = Necessary for national security.  Therefore, Great teachers are vital to our national security.  Another fine point that I agree with, but then the movie NEVER DEFINES GREAT TEACHING.  The two most significant clips that I can recall with teachers include a teacher teaching math by rapping and the U.S. Teacher of the Year explaining the cumbersome and ineffective process used to fire bad teachers.  Granted great teaching is really hard to define, but if you're making a film that is going to influence the national conversation on teaching, don't you think you explore those muddy waters a bit?

Despite my disappointment, I would encourage you to see the film.  Then I would encourage you to read the book "Whatever It Takes" because it does a more thorough job of delving into some of the issues more deeply.  I would also encourage you to read up about the adventures of Michele Rhee.  Then maybe you'll have a more complete picture and can have the informed conversation this movie is hoping you will.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brought to you by the letter...


The first chapter in my time in Toronto stands out because of the following E's.

Empathy.  That was the easy one.  I'm sure you saw it coming, but it needed to be said anyway.  I had high hopes and expectations (bonus "e") for the Roots of Empathy (ROE) organization and they have been exceeded (and another!).  ROE's commitment to their mission is deeper than I honestly thought possible in the modern business world.  Every decision they make has to meet the standard of promoting their goal of developing empathy and changing the world one child at a time.

Next - English.  After spending the summer being illiterate because I didn't know Hebrew or Arabic, my brain is both relieved and excited to read and hear English again.  Even better is that the English in Toronto is flavored with accents from all over the world.  And occasionally I get a little break from English because so many other languages are spoken in Toronto too.  I LOVE the diversity of this city!

Finally - Eye contact.  This one surprised me.  I didn't experience much eye contact in Israel.  I'm not sure why.  Even while I was there I didn't fully appreciate the distance created by the lack of eye contact.  Many people in Toronto will make eye contact while walking down the street or riding in the subway.  I enjoy the connection it creates between other people even if it's brief.