This post will not be similar to my others. I have written a novel, which is not yet published, and I would like to use some background to it, some character development that is not in the novel, to illustrate many of the things that I have written about over the past few months. After all, I wrote the novel to have my truth in story form, because stories produce a more powerful impression with more varied applications. Stories give faces, voice, and action to philosophy.
I am going to share the little trailer for The Fellowship of the Heart here, and then I am going to share some character development that helped to create the story. I hope you understand. I should mention this is set about twenty years in the future and Holographic Communications produce holocoms, the iPhone of their time. Here is the trailer:
Have you ever questioned who you really are and what your life purpose is? So have Eric and Anne Lafarnge, and as they awaken to their authentic selves, they are aided by their own hearts and a mysterious mentor from Cornwall, England. Opposed by conspiracies on their journey, they encounter an ancient Celtic tribe in a strange vision and discover secrets of the fellowship of the heart.
And here is the scene, a dialog between two antagonists, Jack Actov and Peter Colboard, who are the founding partners of the law firm where Eric Lafarnge works. Duplicity and conflict is brewing before the novel even begins.
Peter: Jack, why are you so bothered by the request from this Brit, this Alaun Cadeyrn?
Jack: Peter, you know me. I’m not bothered; I’m furious. Why in the hell does he want Eric on his case? Who does he think he is to make demands like this?
Peter: Because Eric is our best, especially when it comes to poking holes in faulty legislation. This Cadeyrn has done his homework.
Jack: Yes, he has, but that doesn’t mean that he is going to tell us what our actions will be. We make the rules; we play the game and we win the game because we make the rules.
Peter: Jack, you and I know that, but this idealistic Brit doesn’t. In fact, only a few people in this firm even sense it.
Jack: Which brings me back to my anger. Eric Lafarnge is one of those who can see what is going on here — at least he’s on the verge it. He knows how to break the rules that work against us and make new ones.
Peter: You know what, Jack? You’re absolutely right. He systematically destroyed that flimsy bill written by the speaker of the house to win that wrongful death case against the state.
Jack: Really, that was a masterpiece. Representative Harper and his committee ended up running off and licking their wounds. It was almost comical to see them leaving the courtroom, huddled together with their shoulders slumped.
Peter: Jack, look, why not use this Cadeyrn character to our advantage.
Jack: What are you…wait, I know, but I’ll let you say it.
Peter: Offer Lafarnge a partner position.
Jack: He wants it, I know. I’m pretty sure he’s ripe for it. I have noticed that he’s getting bored, at least he seems to be. In fact, what time is it?
Jack checked his holocom, saw the time, and hit a button that turned on the video monitor in the plush, private room. A few adjustments later, they saw Eric leaving the building.
Jack: He’s been doing this at lunch for a week or so now. He would never leave his office before unless business dictated it.
Peter: It’s a done deal. He gets rid of this pesky Brit and his progressive education ideals, and we offer him the partnership.
Jack: I have read this Cadeyrn’s material. He knows his shit, in fact, too well. Those fucking reformers jump all over this anti-test, pro-thinking shit. The difference with Cadeyrn is that he has a coherent philosophy, not just spouting ideas to sell a book or program.
Peter: What, exactly, do you think he wants to do, Jack?
Jack: I am pretty sure that he basically wants to act as a consultant with one simple book and some supplemental materials. He really knows how to re-train educators.
Peter: Why is that such a threat?
Jack: Because he truly wants to redefine education, turn it into a process that produces kids who know how to get whatever they want?
Peter: You know, I need to read his stuff more thoroughly. We have dealt with this for years; we want graduates who wait to be told what to do. And we get to engineer that end of things.
Jack: Yes we do. And we need to protect that, at all costs — no footholds, no new thoughts if we can stop them.
Peter: And we can. It will be a whole lot easier with Eric’s participation.
Jack: You know what I think would get Eric thinking straight? One of those new Predators — a little business car, a perk, a reward for the work he’s done and clients he has brought in.
Jack poured a shot of 25 year old Laphroaig scotch for each them; then, he turned off the monitor.
I understand that my philosophy of education, of what teachers are, of how learning occurs, of what classrooms should look like or not look like, and corollary ideas are somewhat radical and idealistic. When it comes to big life issues, idealism should initiate practical thought, especially as regards our children and youth.
My “Manifesto of a Teacher-learner” forms that idealistic core for me. I am not naive about the implications of my philosophy concerning the bureaucratic, organizational structure called education, district, school, whatever. To me, that has little to do with true education; however, I want to address the bureaucracy a bit, a very little bit.
One aspect of the organization that has produced quite a bit of problems for true education is accountability. I am not sure if I would classify this as irony or synchronicity: I wrote my Morning Pages built around accountability this morning, and this evening, I see articles from newspapers and hear the same story on local news that the former superintendent of a school district has “iffy” expenditures of over $100,000 in just a two year time span. In terms of accountability, this is a joke. Students and teachers are held to certain stupid standards, but these indiscretions that may produce criminal charges could not be questioned by anyone without fear of losing jobs — literally. Witch hunts were initiated seeking out teachers who had any criticisms.
In addition, every administrator in that central office knew exactly what was going on. If they claim they didn’t, then they are too stupid to be paid what they make or to keep their jobs at all. In fact, a number of them are gone, having been forced out along with the former superintendent. The ones left have no more credibility or smarts to be there than the ones that are gone. Accountability is not understood, evidently, by the local folks in that district.
Accountability was evaded because the dependence was on a legal, bureaucratic system that is rigged for authorities to circumvent this artificial form of it, although, ultimately and thankfully, the system was finally used appropriately when ONE man called for a state audit. (I can’t imagine the politics that went on to bring that about). Moral and grassroots accountability was threatened, which brings me to my point.
This whole accountability thrust for public education did not occur until the mid to late 1960’s with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 (ESEA-later). This initiated standardized, high stakes testing, although the original Nation Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only useful standardized test now because it is not associated with any individual student, teacher, district — which is the way it should be.
The rest of these tests, though, derive from this accountability act. Can you guess what the three guiding principles were? Those would be rigorous academic standards, measuring student progress against those standards, and consequences for failure. Do they originate with students? Do they account for individual curiosities? Do they say anything about student-generated curricula? No, they were determined by politicians who neither understood nor valued true learning. It was a nationalistic, ego-driven response to perceived competition from other nations — too much to consider here.
Here is the tie between the two vignettes I have given: How easy is it if you have the power to manufacture the standards, establish the failure concept, and then say WE have a problem! This puts the students and teachers at fault and allows the perpetrators to know how to skirt the issues that their ilk have created.
Consider a few quotes from Diane Ravitch, a lady who understands true education, taken from her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, in which she considers, in part, the effects of ill-conceived accountability.
“Accountability makes no sense when it undermines the larger goals of education.”
“What matters most is for the school, the district, and the state to be able to say that more students have reached ‘proficiency.’ This sort of fraud ignores the students’ interests while promoting the interests of adults who take credit for nonexistent improvements.”
Accountability starts with the manifesto that I wrote yesterday. It works up from the student and not down from ego-driven directives. This means that it will be organic as a result of a grassroots movement initiated by students and teachers in the classroom.
Education’s primary directive should be to draw out of students all of their unique talents and abilities. Skills, concepts, and disciplines are the domain of the educator-learner, who must ensure that students obtain those through their inquisitive searches and that they create new knowledge, useful, relevant knowledge. Accountability starts there, and it should end there. Fortunately, that makes a lot of funding and insensitive “educators” irrelevant.
We are all accountable to our youth. When that accountability is abrogated, I feel absolutely no personal responsibility to any other, and I effectively minimized as much of that destructive bureaucratic responsibility as I could.
After all, that’s what administration taught me to do.
When I teach, I stop being a teacher. I become a learner because I am a friend to my students; I become a learner for my students, a learner with my students, a learner to my students.
When I become a learner, I ask questions, curious, probing, insightful, relevant questions — questions designed to guide my search for knowledge — not information, which is incidental to knowledge. I put my questions out there for all to see.
When I become a learner, I collect knowledge, think about it, and ask more questions, questions about how new knowledge relates to me, my wisdom, my heart, my passions, and my world. And I ask more questions. I refine questions; I analyze knowledge; I make connections.
When I become a learner, my new connections help me draw conclusions, form opinions, propose hypotheses, design plans, synthesize ideas, inspire action, and produce new knowledge. I connect all, compare all, evaluate all that I can in the light of nature.
When I become a true learner, I am inspired.
When I become an inspired learner, I develop ways to communicate my new knowledge. I create — create message formats, presentations, and products which affect others and influences my world. True creation brings value to life.
When I become a learner, I become a teacher of enthusiasm, love, compassion, miracles; I become a teacher — no curriculum, no administrators, no workshops necessary.
When I become a teacher, I draw out the very depths of the Universe from the hearts and souls of fellow learners, and we become creators of new worlds, creating together a mindset on this planet that allows us to know peace, harmony, progress, appreciation, and love.
When I teach, I become a learner.
The power of questions, I think is greatly underestimated. If that wasn’t the case, then we would have fewer misunderstandings in many areas of life. When I taught, I tried to help students think in questions, big questions, little questions, specific techniques of questioning.
Questions aren’t everything in education, but without questions to approach life, a life of learning, discovery, and understanding, education is pretty meaningless — true education, at least.
I always sought to show how the skills and concepts that we developed in class — everything from note-taking to creative projects — could be useful for far beyond the classroom and for a long time after leaving formal education.
One technique that I envisioned I never used in high school because of the crunch of curriculum time restraints; it would have been artificial and truncated. However, I know it would be great with younger students and could be adapted for use by older students. I would like to have had small groups of three to six students and give each group some object — common, exotic, comical — and assign each member of the group one or two of the 5 W’s + H questions (who, what, where, when, why, how). I would have them ask only questions and then share the questions by passing them to one another and answering them. Then, I would have them develop a story or situation or event around the object — anything.
If you are reading this, right about now you may be thinking so what. This is what: the project is all about seeing things from others’ perspectives. What sorts of questions do they have about things? What answers to those questions are available? How can the development of a story occur? Think more advanced things like a scenario from history before wars — cultural, social, political, or otherwise — begin. What sorts of questions might have been in the minds of the stakeholders? What answers might they have considered? And could a group of adults do this and formulate questions and possible ways others might be thinking before spouting off some nationalistic bullshit? This would have worked wonderfully with students — adults, probably not so much because ego and society have trained too many exactly what to think.
The technique that I did use all the time consisted of my scheme of literary analysis. My kids probably got sick of it. I presented it to them as an outline in all question form.
I. What is the primary purpose of this piece of literature? (Can you answer this before you read analyze the literature?)
II. What tools are used to discover this purpose?
A. Who wrote this piece, and what characterized this person? When did she/he live? What was going on in the world at the time?
B. What tools of thinking, writing, and literary devices and elements did the author use? How do those work in communicating the message? Why are they effective — or not?
C. How do we (personally or as a culture, subculture) relate to this, and how does it relate to us?
That was it. Asking these questions and searching for their answers will yield a relatively thoughtful conclusion about some specific aspect of the literature. But what if you substitute some specific issue or aspect of government, society, or economy? What is the primary purpose of immigration policy? Who have been main players in it? When and how was policy formed? What tools and resources inform decisions about policy? How does it affect us, and how do we feel about it? Get it??!!
Questions engage portions of the brain that operate on a higher level than simple memory. When they are asked in a brainstorm type setting, as I mentioned yesterday, they also may help bypass ego — not as much time to rationalize.
We always choose our life filter, but we have to make the conscious choice to operate according to our hearts. Hearts love questions, and mine often challenges me with really difficult ones. Ego is the default setting, and when folks don’t ask questions or won’t consider anyone else’s questions, then that is the ego working overtime.
I choose my heart, and I delight in questions and the learning, exploration, discovery, and growth that they produce. That’s what I wanted for my students; that’s what I want for my readers.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.” Albert Einstein
I think that quote puts the value of questions in an unequivocally clear category. I valued questioning as a primary tool in the classroom. No, not me asking questions and waiting to get pre-programmed answers. I tried to train my students to ask questions. How, you ask? At least I hope you ask!
On several projects every year I would do fun things to generate ideas for them to develop. One of the techniques was the good, old 5 W’s and H reporter questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Oh, no, I didn’t just tell them to think about those in writing some paper. I would instruct them: “Whatever it is you are considering, I want you to ask about anyone involved in any way to your topic. So, for two minutes, I want you to write Who questions as fast as you can — just questions, no answers. Ready, set, Who.” I used a stopwatch to time them. I would go through each question like that — 20 minutes tops for all. It worked in generating ideas, giving full pictures and abundant details.
Another technique that I used several other times throughout the year involved some questions that I borrowed from Michael Bugeja’s The Art and Craft of Poetry. Three questions helped students — really anyone— to put some of their lives in perspective. The questions certainly could produce powerful emotions resulting from memories, ideas that served well for poetry focus. I would time them again, for three minutes over three different questions: What are the high points in my life? Low points? Turning points? Not explaining each of those here, but once again, the combination of forcing the brain to work quickly helped to bypass a lot of ego in these initial personal stages, and the questions forced some deep ideas into the light.
Questions, valuable questions, quality questions. So critical in life. If we can’t ask great questions, we are going to live others’ answers to their own questions. If students don’t learn how to question, their education is compromised, and this provides one way of controlling knowledge by a relatively select few. Teachers get trained, somewhat, on how to question, but not on how to train their students to do the same. Just making the point here that questions unlock not only our brains and all they contain but also unlock the Universe to us. To some, that’s a challenge to their authority.
One of those tenets that I refer to about the Romantic Period authors and thinkers is that they question authority. Now, that doesn’t mean unbridled rebellion against authority just because it exists; it means to question it — smart, thoughtful, useful, productive questions. If reason exists for continuing to do things as they are being done, peace! If not, see ya! Nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred if it cannot stand up to probing, thoughtful questions. Leaders or authorities who do not allow questions are tyrants and dictators — no compromise.
And the questions that we ask ourselves, our own hearts, are the ones that we had better listen to very intently. That’s another benefit of being a great questioner: it makes us great listeners, which makes for a person of value, a person who is valued and valuable.
In my upcoming novel, The Fellowship of the Heart, the self-awakening that occurs in various characters like the Lafarnges happens through dialog with their own hearts, questioning and listening. That process does present a challenge to the authorities in their lives.
I cannot emphasize enough how critical learning to ask questions and to listen for responses truly is. If you’ve never thought about life from this specific angle, why not take a few minutes to use either one or both of the questioning techniques I used with my students, and I still use with myself. The 5 W’s and the H works for almost any challenge or needs you might face — times where you might need ideas — while the high points, low points, and turning points can give you real insight into yourself and open a meaningful dialog with your own heart.
I can honestly say that I had not planned on the direction that this article has taken. Perhaps, though, it will be significant for you. It has been for me, even as I questioned myself as I began this.
How are you doing?
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!