October 29, 2008

Good and Great Leaders

This quote is found on page 2 in the introduction of the Leadership Education book, by Dr. Oliver DeMille we are reading this month:

Separation of intellectual learning from moral development most characterizes the modern conveyor belt educational system - from pre-school through post-doctoral studies. It is precisely this separation that parents and educators of our generation must overcome if we are to educate a generation of leaders with character and competence, who are both good and great.

Today, more than ever we need leaders with a moral backbone. WE are the ones who are educating tomorrows leaders, this is a very exciting but daunting task. I hope you find this book helpful in your endeavour to educate...I can't wait to hear what you think.

October 23, 2008

Seek Knowledge

There are times in my life when I feel as though I cannot get enough information on a particular subject. I am engrossed. I want to read all I can. I wish I could read faster so I could get the information in faster. I inhale the information. In "The Walking Drum", by L'Amour, this is how Kerbouchard seems to live EVERY moment. "Learning to me is a way of life. I do not learn to obtain position or reputation. I want only to know." If someone has a skill he does not, he takes the time to observe and learn or to be taught. He listens to gain knowledge. He reads to gain knowledge. He not only learns because it is enjoyable, but because he wants to be prepared for a future when he may need that knowledge.

"The mind must be prepared for knowledge...a discovery made too soon is no better than a discovery not make at all." This is so true for us and our children. If we WANT to know, we are prepared, it will be enjoyable to learn and we will remember what they learn. The same is true for our children. If we try to teach them things they don't want to know, or don't care about. It's not enjoyable and the knowledge we are trying to impart will soon fade away.

Just as Kerbouchard did, we would do well to use every moment as a learning opportunity. A final quote from the book that gives great direction on learning is, "You are your own best teacher. My advise is to question all things. Seek for answers and when you find what seems to be an answer, question that, too."

October 22, 2008

The Frontier Within

“Our challenges define us, our reactions to them mold and shape us.” (p. 51) I’ve read those words several times, now, but it wasn’t until this most recent reading of Oliver van De Mille’s, “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” that I saw my challenges in a different light. I have a choice, to let my challenges beat me or to beat them. The Lord didn’t send me here to be beat. He sent me here to discover and my potential and reach for it with all my energy. Our challenges are to fight against physical, mental, and spiritual atrophy. De Mille calls this, “the frontier within.” (p. 51) Brutal reality tells me than my frontier has at least three major challenges. First, I need to make the changes in myself that I would like others to make, in this case, my children. Second, as I make changes and begin to really have “aha” moments, I need to share them with my children. And third, I need to practice what De Mille calls, “Socratic self-restraint.” The world will provide my children with enough criticism—I need to be their biggest cheerleader. These concepts, to me, embody the Thomas Jefferson Principle of Inspire, Not Require.

Oft times I find myself expecting my children to have qualities that I do not exhibit. I yell if they do not obey right away, but expect them not to yell if they are frustrated when not immediately responded to. I tell them not to compare themselves to their siblings, but they hear me on the phone comparing them to one another. I apply the “Tough Noogies” rule if we have something for dinner that they do not like, but I refuse to eat Ramen noodles when we have them for lunch. I expect them to write in their learning journals each day, yet haven’t written in mine for over a week. And then I wonder why my children act the way they do. I don’t know who said it, but the saying goes, “Your actions scream so loudly at me, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Since my latest reading of TJEd, I have begun to really examine what my actions are teaching my children. I watch myself, as if an outsider, and ask myself what I would like my children to learn from watching me. I then respond in the appropriate manner, allowing myself to reflect and adjust when necessary.

I often get excited about my “aha” moments, but rarely do I share them with Todd or the kids. I assume that they won’t understand what I’m so excited about, or that they will think I’m silly for my excitement. Sometimes I want so much for them to have the same “aha” moment as I had that I try to plan out the teaching moment perfectly. By the time I actually have a chance to share it, I cannot remember anymore why I thought they would appreciate it. My excitement has waned. My spark is gone. I cannot spread the fire of inspiration without a spark. What is important is not that someone have my “aha” moment, but that someone desires to have their own “aha” moment. I have begun to share my excitement, even if it comes out in indecipherable shouts of sweet success. My family may not know why I am excited, just that because of my hard work and perseverance, I am excited!

I loved the way De Mille used the phrase, “Socratic self-restraint.” He follows with this: “Be positive and use restraint; you are simply a resource, not a critic: Focus on content, not technique.” (p.51) Too often, I have told my children, “Well, that’s great, but it would have been better if …” or, “You’re right about that, but it is spelled like this …” or, “I like what you have here, but don’t you think it would sound more exciting if . . .?” They walk away thinking, “Can’t I do anything right? I’m not good at this. I always mess up. I’m not as smart as _______. I don’t want to show her next time I write something. I don’t think I will try again,” instead of walking away thinking, “My mom loves what I do. I am a great learner. I am a talented writer. My thoughts are worth something. I can produce good work. I want to do it again. I’ll do even better next time. I’ll blow Mom out of the water!” I was glad to understand Love to Learners better than before in this aspect. And because I am in the Love to Learn Phase, I can ask myself the questions, “What do I want people to say when they read my papers? What responses make me want to try harder and keep fighting for a great education? How can I respond to my children in a way that shows my confidence in them?”

These concepts of Starting with Self, Sharing my excitement, and Socratic Self-Restraint may seem elementary. But every concept that it is possible to learn in life has many layers of understanding. They are similar to the Phases of Learning. I have found another layer to the concept of Inspire, Not Require in my own life. True application of this principle is what will boost me to the higher thought processes that I am searching for. Sometimes we think we know where we want to be, but we don’t know how to get there. I still have a lot of questions, but focusing on applying these principles has been revelatory and refreshing to me. My challenges can still be frightening, but no longer are they the enemy.

Honor be to Portia

“It is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.” Shakespeare’s Portia, soon-to-be wife of Bassanio, best friend to The Merchant of Venice, spoke this truth.
I wanted to write about how we often expect things of others—spouses, children, friends, the driver in front of us, our grocery store clerk—and then during poignant times of self-evaluation, find ourselves to be hypocrites.
I wanted to point out that we have no right to put “no-exceptions” expectations on other, especially children, when we ourselves, adults, fail to act in accordance with some or other of those expectations daily.
I wanted to point out that Portia must be quite the flake to say what she said about it being easier to teach twenty what is right than to make herself do what she professed to be right.
I wanted to challenge each of us here to put special effort to having more integrity and living more as we expect others to live—to stop holding back that little nuisance of a flaw that we keep holding on to. After all, perfecting ourselves would finally give us the right to point out others flaws, wouldn’t it?
I have had to humble myself numerous times in my life, but not usually to a made-up character in a play. I have decided that Portia knows more than I do. She has made an honest assessment of human nature. She must have understood that we have each been given flaws in this life that are meant to be challenging to overcome. If it were as easy to do everything right all the time as it is for us to teach others what is good and right and true, we would all be perfect right now, and there would be no reason for us to be here.
So instead of calling us all to repentance of imperfection on penalty of hellfire and damnation, I thought it wiser to call us each on a mission of mercy. If we each gave others the same grace that we wish for ourselves when we err, perhaps there would be less self-pity in our families, perhaps less broken friendships in our communities, less divorce, less suicide, less offense, less loneliness. Perhaps there would be more understanding, more self-evaluation and subsequent motivation to change, more unity, more “whole” families, more self-esteem, more obedience, more kindness, more love toward one another.
It might be the perfect time to remember a couple of things. First, as we judge others, so will we be judged. It is always the right thing to do to be merciful. Second, as we treat others, we are also treating our Savior. The only way to truly show appreciation for our Savior for what He did for us is to treat our fellow men with respect and forgiveness. If we only realized that most of the people we encounter in this life know that they have flaws and are sincerely working on them, we would be more apt to forgive and forget.
Obviously in focusing on mercy towards others, I did not intend that we neglect the pursuit of righteousness. However, maybe finding sympathy and understanding for others is the first step in truly being able to transfer our energy from being frustrated with others to transforming ourselves.
Well does Portia play her part as she forgives Bassanio his parting with the ring—the ring given him by Portia that he swore never to part with.
But is it enough? I have pondered recently on the burdens we carry when faced with the need to forgive. My wounds have been deep, and many turned to scars that I am so used to that I forget that I once was beautiful. Of course I am speaking spiritually. We speak so much of forgiveness, and I do not want to downplay its importance to each of us, but what if we could avoid some of the situations that required forgiveness? What if we chose not to judge others, not to find a reason for feeling hurt by their actions or pushed to change them to be, “more like us,” whatever that may be? What if we loved people where they were at and focused on what they had to offer us—not in a one-sided, usury sort of friendship—but in a way that says to them, “This person thinks I have worth, they are looking for my positive traits, I am comfortable with them and want to be a better person because of their influence on me.”
As our Savior was on the cross, He begged the Father’s forgiveness of the soldiers and the people who had sent Him to His death. Forgiveness is the obvious lesson from this scripture. The hidden one that was revealed to me was this: If we were more like our Savior, we would need to do more than forgive—He didn’t say, “I forgive them,” He said, “Father, forgive them.” If we want to be like Him, we will be advocates with the Father for those we meet who are imperfect. We may need to forgive first, but the extra mile is becoming their advocates. Weren’t we told to, “Pray for them that hate you?”
As Portia would say in our lingo, “Easier said than done.” I think that’s what she meant. We each preach a good sermon, but to really live it, to follow the “path less traveled,” is the ultimate test.

A Tapestry

“How young is too young to begin to discover the power and the beauty of words?” Louis L’Amour answers his self-posed question time and again in The Lonesome Gods. Such discovery, he asserts, has no beginning. Nor has it an end. L’Amour’s bold assertion is that learning is eternal. Further reading exposes his demand that each be responsible for his own education. Thus The Lonesome Gods awakens in us a sense of tradition—a continuous thread, unbroken, keeping the tapestry of time from unraveling. What the past understood, L’Amour desires us to foster; for without nurture, it will fray. Each generation is called to keep it vibrant and whole, then to add its own unique hue to the tapestry.
L’Amour’s favored character, Johannes Verne, lost his mother at age five and his father at seven. Many would declare he had not enough time with his parents to learn much. Yet Johannes reveals as a teenager, “My father had prepared me for marvels.” Pondering the timeline of my own children, I found it impossible to pinpoint the exact time their education began. Generations ago, parents ingrained principles into their children that have since found their way into me. Consequently, even before conception, my choices, formed by those endless principles, affected each of my children. Their formal education began the first time I smiled and said, “I love you,” to the warm bundle handed me. Children learn more from what we as parents are than from what we profess to teach them.
Johannes learned from his father’s words as well as his example. He shared, “My father always said that was the wonderful thing about learning, that there was no end to it.” Speaking of the desert, Johannes’s father, Zachary Verne, said, “[It] is a book of many pages, and just when you believe you know all there is to know it will surprise you with the unexpected.” Does this hold true for the desert only? No, but for marriage, parenting, industry, business, art, language, people. And of those things that seem concrete, tangible, or quantifiable, L’Amour teaches, “Nothing remains the same. Things are forever changing, and one must understand the changes and change with them, or be lost by the way.” This lesson, no doubt, was one learned by the author himself as he lived through the final stages of the change from the agricultural age to the industrial age, and then saw the birth of another change—one from the industrial age to the information age. We can learn the same lesson if we choose, as we are living to see that change come to full fruition.
Who can see to it that we keep up with the changes? L’Amour holds us accountable. He simply stated, “All education is self-education.” Once read, the words award ownership to the reader. Awareness and responsibility are instantaneous. He continues, “A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you an education.” The obvious point is that we are responsible to initiate the search for truth. The secondary point is that education comes in diverse forms. In addition to books, examples from mentors, living and long gone, are a precious resource for the hungry. L’Amour entreats us, “Do not be like the oyster who rests on the sea bottom waiting for the good things to come by. Search for them and find them.” We are our children’s first mentors, and our parents were ours. To find additional mentors who can stretch us and challenge us is a worthy goal.
Of his young son’s education, Zachary Verne confided, “Perhaps he will not understand, but there is a clash of shields and a call of trumpets in those lines. . .In some year yet unborn he may hear those words again, or read them, and find in them something hauntingly familiar, as of something long ago heard and only half-remembered.” In my personal search for wisdom, I find both comfort and determination in L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods—comfort in knowing that all of humanity has been or will be where I am now—in search of truth, goodness, and mercy—and determination to push through the deserts, Fletchers and Isidro’s of my own. I do not think I can phrase my feelings any better than this very author who wrote, “What I am to be is something I must become. I must create myself from this that I have. We are nothing until we make ourselves something.” To own my future is my gift, my strand in the tapestry.

October 21, 2008

Yol Bolsun! May There Be A Road: Women and A Walking Drum

By Diane (What is the trick to indent paragraphs?)

Mathurin is a lustful youth accustomed to the cultures of his time, yet he treats each woman with the respect she seeks. “This tribute have I always paid to women. I have not forgotten [them].”(188) The village woman, captured by pirates inspired him with her escape and he repeatedly honored her for it. “Aziza…even lovelier than I remembered… had made her peace with her new life and had forgotten...I remembered.”(188) Of the shepherds dark-eyed daughter, he mused “…she was such a woman as could topple kingdoms and lay dukedoms in the dust.”(123)

Disapproval is clear when he relates “With all the talk of chivalry among the Franks, women were considered mere chattels.”(139) Among the “Moslem worlds of Spain or the Middle East [women] were not restricted [in education] and had attained eminence in the field of letters. Many had attended universities…”(139) In spite of these paltry educational freedoms women continued to be bought for politics, sold with a dowry, and beauty was too often a curse. Even those women who obtained a measure of power held their scepters with a shaky hand, their very physique betraying them by simultaneously offering temptation and displaying frailty. L’amour makes it clear that the same creature so easily procured for any harem is also capable of such influence as Helen or Cleopatra.

In spite of the apparently unanimous religious & societal views of women at that time Aziza explains “We manage, somehow. ...some become very clever at politics and intrigue. Some simply find a lover; some sink into whatever life they have with their children, and often they are enough.”(107) Mathurin accepts her statement without question, but later relates that “Women are neither weaklings nor fools, and they, too, must plan for what is to come.”(290)

Mathurin’s praise transcends gender and pits Safia triumphantly against humanity when he relates that “It had taken more courage than a person had a right to possess for her to come to warn me.”(174) “Safia” he explains, “was unreadable, beautiful again, and a mystery forever. She was soft and lovely…yet quiet, with much of the queen in her presence. There was a steel in her, a command of herself and those about her such as I had seen in no other woman.”(188) How easily he could have kept her with him, instead he respects her wishes and bids farewell as she travels her road to Paris. With Suzanne he is playful and taunting but he still allows her freedom to choose or deny him. Of Sundari, the woman he vows to marry, this book says little, but Mathurin prepares to risk everything for her. Finally he had found “Someone more important to me than anyone or anything….”(348)

“[T]here comes a time when it lies within [ones] grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.”(336) Mathruin warns that we must be careful what we wish for as the “woman who wishes to be the equal of a man usually turns out to be less than a man and less than a woman. A woman is herself, which is something altogether different than a man.”(219) Through the character of Mathruin, Loui L’amour subtly encourages all women to recognize their historical importance, find the road that calls, and stride forward with confidence. Woman is not man, she was not meant to be and will find greatness only in being woman. Yol bolsun! May there be a road for the women who wish to exit mans’ marathon and travel a feminine path.

The Dogma of Yesterday

In the book, “The Walking Drum,” by Louis L’Amour, we find the author illustrates the idea that each civilization is always in a state of transition. After Kerbouchard leaves the progressive and intellectual environment of Muslim Cordoba and returns to his native Christian France, he finds his home to be an alien world that he is no longer a part. Kerbouchard declares to a young scholar of Paris, that the “radical ideas of today are often the conservative policies of tomorrow, and dogma is left protesting by the wayside.”(255) Today we are experiencing firsthand the decadence of our traditional family values with the legalization of same-sex marriages. Is the ideal of marriage between only a man and wife going to be the “dogma” that is left protesting by the wayside? Can we progress too far?

In the state of Massachusetts, gay marriages have recently been made legal. Because their state government deems same-sex marriage as being morally equal, they felt it was necessary to affirm these new ideals in the children’s minds through the public schools starting as young as kindergarten. This last January David and Tonia Parker, residents of Massachusetts, were shocked when their five-year-old brought home a diversity backpack that contained the book, “Who’s In a Family,” by Robert Skutch.

Same-sex relationships use to be deemed as “radical ideas,” but unfortunately they are becoming the “conservative polices” of today as declared by Robert Skutches own words, "The whole purpose of the book was to get the subject [of same-sex parent households] out into the minds and the awareness of children before they are old enough to have been convinced that there's another way of looking at life . . . It would be really nice if children were not subjected to the -- I don't want to use the word 'bigotry,' but that's what I want to say anyway -- of their parents and older people.” In their cry for tolerance of same-sex marriage to be deemed equal, they are ironically no longer tolerating traditional family values. Because I uphold that marriage is scared only between a man and women, I am being referred to as a “bigot.”’ This country is starting to feel like a world that I am an alien, and am on longer apart.

The Parkers also felt that this subject was not appropriate to be introduced at such a young age and asked the school’s administration for a parental notification in the future, so that their children could opt out when same sex relationships are being discussed. They felt like the policies were infringing upon their sacred parental duties to teach what they believed. David Parker stood his ground in his beliefs of traditional values and found himself shouting his dogma in jail.

Every great civilization of the world has risen, enjoyed prosperity that soon leads to decadence. Are we witnessing the transition of our society going too far? Kerbouchard declares, “The important thing is to know where you stand and what you believe, then be true to yourself in all things.” Even if you find yourself protesting your dogma by the wayside… I hope to protest until I am hoarse…

October 19, 2008

Who Shapes the Clay of a Man's Life?

There are so many good quotes from The Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour, but I just had to share one that I would love to tell many people I have encountered in my life:
Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him.
Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wished to be.
Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow. The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds.