Summer Reading the Word and the World: Preserving a spirit of hope and inquiry


My mind and soul feel like they are on fire right now.  This summer has been an interesting and fresh balancing act of attempting to disconnect and focus on quality time spent with my family and friends, while simultaneously struggling to stay focused and motivated to confront all of the realities of tragedy and despair that have become (or maybe more accurately have always been) “las noticias de hoy.”  It has been surreal and at times I have felt the despair set in.  Every time I feel this happening, I have to grab hold of something, a book, podcast, television show or documentary, album, ANYTHING that can jar my mind back into accepting the reality that the world is a beautifully harsh place, that can indeed be transformed through collective effort, into a more just and peaceful planet.  In trying to continue to be a student of life and all of its instructive stories, I have found it difficult to force reflection on some of these more difficult realities.  Yet I know that this is absolutely necessary for true understanding of what the hell is actually happening.  And so this is my attempt at a reflective synthesis.

In preparing for the upcoming fall semester at CSUMB, I have been reading Antonia Darder’s The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  In redesigning my class for novice teachers to be able to rise to the occasion that, now perhaps more than ever, demands we teach for “liberation” and not merely for content mastery, I chose to use this text to help unpack Freire’s original influential text.  It is here that I have been prompted to think more deeply about what a liberatory and critical pedagogy actually mean.  Reminding myself of the necessity for time set aside for direct and intentional theorizing and abstraction, but never sacrificing action.  It is serendipitous that the new History and Social Science framework is intentionally focused on “civic action.”  Never mind that many history and social studies teachers are not yet fully aware of what this actually means for their classroom instruction, the architecture is now there to spark an authentic dialogue (which is another fundamental aspect of Freire’s text) amongst teachers who are in the position to have tremendous impact on the patterns of thought and eventual action of many young people.  On this note, I have been simultaneously excited and nervous to begin my new job as a curriculum specialist, which will help experienced and veteran (some expert) teachers collectively consider the implications for a type of instructive pedagogy that has civic action at its foundation, in particular at this moment in history. This text also reviews the history of many schools of philosophical thought and more importantly the historical context of authoritarianism, which is as stark a reminder of our current national and global epoch.

Aside from professional reading and pondering, I have been personally immersed in stories of the day that force the full act of humanity, that is to say I have been  intentionally reading, watching, and listening to things that recognize and acknowledge the human suffering of our brothers and sisters all the world over. It is not always easy to stare into the eyes of human suffering, but I know it to be necessary if I truly want to be part of movements designed to lessen and eventually end such oppression.  Enrique’s Journeyhas been an emotional slog for me. In the context of the mass separation of migrant children from the parents, this powerful narrative ha also harkened me back to the stories of so many of my students, undocumented minors both in Los Angeles and here in Salinas, who’s own journey’s were comprised of similar trials of tragedy. It also reminded me of many parents I have had the honor to work with, attempting to repair the often strained relationships between themselves and their children.

The Intercepted podcasthas been a summer staple, providing much needed journalistic context for the litany of crazy that is our current events. Two episodes that have had a lasting impression on me this summer have been these two. The show is unapologetic in its “speaking truth to power” style but what I appreciate even more is their journalistic commitment to contextualizing the stories of today through factual history, with a depth necessary for authentic understanding. Also appreciated is the hopeful chord always struck by interviews with activists and resisters. It has been on of my “go to” podcasts since the election.

Despite my steady summer media diet, which has also deviated into the realm of indulging pure entertainment in my attempt to not go insane, it was last night’s episode of Treme that really “struck a chord” in my soul. I have waited until this summer to watch this series from the beginning, knowing full well that I missed the metaphorical train on this. Truth is, I have not been ready until now. I remember the summer Katrina hit. I stood in disbelief as the events unfolded, the human callous out doing Mother Nature’s stormy onslaught. I remember feeling petrified, afraid of how I was reduced to a mere spectator from afar, gazing daily at the suffering of mainly black residents of New Orleans and the blatant disregard of our government. This feeling could not stand, so I along with my friend Daye and my future wife, signed up for a “disaster relief” course from the Red Cross. We were prepared to go to New Orleans and help in any way we could. In retrospect, relying on an institution to grant us “permission” and “training” to go help our brothers and sisters was unnecessary and ultimately futile, for it was not to be. The Red Cross said that there was a diminishing need for relief workers, as so many folks around the country had already been actively engaged and sent down to New Orleans. Historical hindsight being what it is, I never felt quite ready to see the deliberate destruction and designed despair that was to be the “re-building” of New Orleans. The neighborhoods left to rot while others were rebuilt. The closing and “charterization” of the entire public school system. I guess I was only ready to see this story dramatized on screen after the sobering reality of yet another disaster, Hurricane Maria, instructed me as student of history… this is the way of our world right now.

That is of course, unless we are called to action. And this is I guess the main struggle of my summer. The continuing questioning of action. What can I be doing? Am I doing enough? There is no one answer. On any given day, at any given moment the answer, for me at least, can change from the negative to the affirmative. These are often questions of focus. As someone who often lacks focus, who wants to pretend to concentrate on everything, I have had to remind myself of a previously stated intentionality of focus at this time in my life: family. My wife is my daily reminder of the importance of parenting to any movement related to social, political, or economic justice. How we raise our children will indeed have impact on our future circumstances. No matter how many times I have marched, or contacted my representatives, or voted… there is nothing as powerful as cultivating the imagination of a child towards empathy and reflection. Reading my daughter’s book is just another reminder that my focus has to be on my children right now. And all of the other things we know we must do to stay vigilant in these times.

Organizing the Outrage 101

In the face of the atrocities that grow daily at the U.S. southern border, there is confusion about what we as the public can and should be doing. When those in power blatantly abuse their power only to demonstrate cruelty and the “checks” on that power in this “democracy” fail to even be acknowledged… what is a populous to do? Where is the resistance and outrage? To be sure it is there but what is missing is the mobilization. And this is the key problem.

Teachers and students across the country are out on “summer break” but it seems as if we might have to gear up and hold summer school for the nation. The mandatory course section our nation should be enrolled in? Organizing the Outrage 101. In our profession, as demonstrated by the recent waves of strikes in different states, teachers are constantly put into positions where we have to organize our colleagues, our communities, and now our entire nation. For those of us who have grown old and tired, we need to step into the instructor role of guide on the side, allowing for our students to remind us of the youthful energy often needed in defiance, as demonstrated all throughout history with student generated movements against war, state sponsored violence and neglect.

Other professions could aide even further in a mass mobilizing of the nation’s outrage and horror against this administration’s deliberate policy decision to monstrously and callously separate young children from their parents and hold them in detention center while mocking this very policy they are complicit in.

As Naomi Klein recently reminds us in her latest documentation of what she terms the Shock Doctrine, capital organizes much more quickly than people. The film industry could mobilize a mass of wealth and fame to go down to the border and confront these atrocities, using their bully pulpit to document, bring the mass corporate media with them, etc. God knows (as do you and I) that Congress should already be down there in their entirety, having cancelled their own “summer break” demanding that this practice cease immediately. But we also know that this won’t happen.

So it looks like it is up to us, once again. Teachers and students showing the nation what it looks like for truth to be spoken to power. While they organize and demonstrate their cruelty, we should all be organizing the nationwide response. Our unions should be contacting our members and rallying the war cry, the war for nothing less than the soul of our nation, which may very well already be lost. But that is not a reason to disengage. As teachers and students we know that to engage is to define the human spirit.

I am not sure that this will happen. And so I too am lost in confusion at this moment in time. But I am quite sure that this is entirely possible. And so I will write it as if it is so. To enroll in your mandatory summer course, please spread the word to your fellow classmates, the nation.

“Sell your cleverness…”

Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event.  I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six.  As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time.  I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory.  I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky.  The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness.  One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?”  I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.

No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while.  This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to.  I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame.  His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays has been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year.  But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment.  This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning.  How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things?  Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder.  How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day?  How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?

I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky.  I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing.  I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera.  I walked away in awe and also distress.

Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late.  I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world.  From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war.  But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place.  And I don’t just mean for people.  There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life.  And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.

And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism.  We all are supposed to die.  All life leads naturally to death.  It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily.  Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives.  And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction.  Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi

In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life.  The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it.  This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!

The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.

These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.

Re-entry… 2017

2016 didn’t see a lot of public writing from me. The various factors adding up to the sum total of struggle. Last year was definitely challenging on many fronts. As an educator (shout out to Katie Nisa), a parent (shout out to my wife Parisa) and as an overall human being (shout out to all of those who acknowledged on a level greater that their previous level of consciousness that humanity has a lot of work still to do.) From the deaths of iconic childhood figures, to the vitriol obsessed media coverage of just about everything horrible, suffice to say it was hard for me to focus on reflective writing.

This post, and hopefully others to come symbolize my re-commitment to this very important practice. I didn’t realize how important it actually was until I was presented with the possibility of losing all of my past entries, over a decade of reflections written down, in moments of pondering, responding, and at times reacting to the world around me as well as the one within.

As far what else this year and the near future have in store for all of us working towards education for change, I think it is safe to say that we have a serious fight on our hands. Last year around this time, one of my only posts to begin the new year was welcoming my last born child and only son into this world. I did so with a mixture of joy, concern, and uncertainty. A year has brought us closer to some of those concerns and has definitely presented us with much uncertainty in many different realms. One of the driving questions that has been occupying much space in my mind as of late is the question of action. What will be my course of action? How will others around me organize ourselves towards action? While many different people involved with many different organizations ask themselves different variations of this same question, for my own part I feel it important to reconnect with the practice of studying. Attempting to make more time for reading and hopefully discussing with others ideas that will help us face whatever uncertainty with dignity and action.

As we begin the next phase of American democracy and the educational system that has been an integral part of both sustaining and repressing democratic principles and practices, I keep my mind set on these few things:

Reading
Reflecting
Writing
Discussing
Dignity
Action

2017, here we go…

Terrorism is Winning: Thoughts on Chicago and Minneapolis from LA

this morning i was listening to Democracy Now cover the unbelievably “non” shocking story about another young black man, Laquan McDonald, who was shot by police over a year ago. what was slightly more surprising was the level of cover up the city engaged in to keep this out of the mainstream media and public’s awareness that this was an execution style response by police officers, responding to a crime by committing more. As journalist Jamie Kalvern puts it:

So, at every stage I mean, I think what we’re going to start talking about once we’re past the video is really how the institutions of the city have responded to this event. That at every single stage, at every level of the city from officers on the scene as Laquan McDonald was bleeding out on the street to the mayor and the senior officials in the city, the dominant controlling impulse has been to circle the wagons, has been to contain information and suppress public information about this crime. And, really, to maintain and enforce an altogether false narrative that they had to know from day one was false.

and only 4 days back from my Minneapolis trip, i was further disheartened to read about the shootings of protestors in front of the police department, exercising their constitutional right to free speech and public assembly, only to be targeted by the warped and racist interpretations of the second amendment by cowards emboldened by the tragically comical but all too serious candidacy of he who shall not be named on my blog.

to right my mind and spirit around such hatred and ignorance i happened on the two great examples of music and art.

the first, from the musical that was recommended to me by the great Daye Rogers is lighting up Broadway, Hamilton:

the second, a heart felt track by Mos Def, off the Black on Both Sides Album… i remember running to buy this album on the day it came out with a friend. we were both so excited, much anticipating the sequel to the infamous Blackstar album. my friend was disappointed, not understanding the anger and passion this album came from… here we are almost 20 years later.

if it is still unclear to see the institutional systems and structures that are built from white supremacist ideologies, that differ from Hitler’s Nazi only in the notions of time and scale, then you are willingly trying NOT to see it… because it is all too real. and has been for far too long. here’s to more of us shining our light on this world… solidarity with all those in Minneapolis and Chicago.

Summer book report… I know it’s Fall

Book reportIt has been awhile since I have written a book report. What used to be the bane of my existence in elementary and middle school English classes. I realize now why, having always enjoyed reading but never fully embracing the reporting out on what you read.  Partly because the book report models I was forced to use never really prompted me with an inquiry of any depth and meaning. They were summaries of plot and never really asked for critical literary analysis or personal meaning making. But more than that they were assigned at such a rapid rate that they rarely gave a student a chance to digest, reflect, or contemplate any deeper meaning. A reflection of our consumptive educational models set to the Reaganomics era of the 80s I guess. 

I half joked with teachers in welcoming them back from summer break to begin our fourth year of the Augustus Hawkins Schools for Community Action startup adventure, that I had finally finished a book for the first time in years (I’ve started quite a few) and was very excited about the connections I saw to our small schools missions and the curricular direction of educating young people towards a sense or urgent agency, critical thinking, problem solving revolutionaries. And what better project to tackle than climate change?

Hence my book report on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism. I’ve been reflecting on this very powerful read since I concluded it the day before school started. I’ve had the time to process and connect some of the ideas in the book with my own ways of thinking about parenthood, teaching, organizing, and just living as an individual human being connected to so many other individuals and systems that are continually facing the threat of true violence at the levels of extinction; permanently altering all ways of life that have come before us, before now. 

I began this book on a plane ride to Denver, attending a conference engaging in similar dialogue. Writing this post at 40,000 ft. and having the imagery to support some of the walk aways from the book helped to inspire a semi comprehensive share out of this very important piece of writing. 

First off I was impacted greatly by Klein’s framing of the entire book around her experiences and struggles as mother, sharing a solidarity with Mother Nature that I could never fully realize as a man, but have on numerous occasion attempted to relate to, a communion with and within nature that helps me understand the deep interconnection and pure magic of the life giving and sustaining force we are all part of on this planet. Her honest, personal reflection and cathartic sharing of the insights of multiple miscarriages resonated with me as well, having similar experiences with my wife. Thinking about what mothers go through, as I fly towards Portland to reunite with my pregnant wife and daughters (who took this same trip days before by themselves… Imagine that scene for a moment; single pregnant mother with two toddlers navigating LAX) and looking down at the islands, farmland, oil rigs, wildfires and ocean… The power of Naomi Klein’s words settled in a little more. 

Klein begins with honest admittance of her own denial to face the reality of climate change head on, and articulates the moments of clarity and transformation that led to her book with a refreshing and very relatable view. She breaks down the psychology behind all of our collective denial in the Global North/West through a blistering and critically comprehensive unpacking of the history of our global economic model and its current day presence as the largest obstacle the planet’s life systems have ever faced. 

Her chapters on billionaires and their disingenuous claims of environmental heroism and hope, juxtaposed with chapters on the environmental movements own complicity and direct involvement with life extinguishing capitalistic practices painted the clearest picture I’ve come across, showing in one volume the interconnected ways humans are involved in our own demise. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the Nature Conservancy star in these instructive and enraging sections. 

Her chapters on debunking the mythology of quick and easy solutions to the biggest problem our species and all others have ever contemplated also extends to a dialogical confrontation of scientific and technological world views that continue the western centric cultural model of dominance over people and places not western and rich. Her exposure of geo-engineering projects to “dim the sun” offer sobering  look at the power of our “most powerful and talented” minds examining the problem from the wrong end of the equation and proposing grandiose solutions left unscrutinized by any percentage of the populist worth deeming their ideas “peer” or people reviewed. 

It’s worth the wait of the last chapters to feel, as I did, thru the disillusionment and despair, a growing sense of rage mixed with hope. Both feelings were present from the beginning. Klein’s thoughtful ethnographic style research and storytelling puts the voices of indigenous communities and the most hard core climate activists front and center. Entire chapters are dedicated to the clear message that there are many (way more than we think) people dedicated to the daily war against corporations hell bent on ignoring or actively lying about their destruction of our planet in the pursuit of profits. She offers many examples of how this daily war is waged, from the revisiting and utilizing of treaties signed by generations past, to the divestment strategies of educational institutions, to the direct tactics of native communities and climate activists engaged in an all out “Blockadea” movement (while I was in Portland, the repelling Greenpeace activists were in the middle of their direct action to block Shell from sending their ice breaker to the Arctic… they were forced to move by the time I had left) to disrupt the supply and distribution chains of energy multinationals. She takes this contemporary hope and harkens to the history; the great and revolutionary struggles of the abolition movement in the face of a global system of human slavery, making it very clear that despite not having a precedent of human resistance on the scale that will undoubtedly be needed to make the necessary changes in time to avoid catastrophic global impact, abolitionism was the closest thing to a mass mobilization and resistance worldwide. If we are to have a chance to slow down the warming climate and all its consequences, both projected and unforeseen, then we MUST engage this type of defiance, refusing to accept that the current corporate and capitalistic model is the only way to live… for it is surely not.

This is easier said, obviously, than done… particularly for us in the global north. Yet it is a parameter for the continued global life systems that are under such stress, many of which are unable to adapt to the changing climate in time to avoid collapse. And what is clear at the conclusion of this must read book is the notion that if we are to rise to the greatest challenge to ever face humanity, we will have to change everything… but perhaps more comprehendible and less daunting is to realize that we will have to change… ourselves. The universal inevitability, we have the potential to do always. My hope is that we do this using our “response” ability rather than blind reaction. And that we do this in time.