Dr. Seuss – Zen Master

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“So please, when you step, step with care and great tact.

And Remember that Life’s a great balancing act.”

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!  –  Dr. Seuss

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Read across American month began this week with celebrations all over the world of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Dr. Seuss would be delightful to read even if his books were just pure fun. But, there is more than silliness under that tall striped hat.

In The Uses of Imagination, Bruno Bettelheim states that “The child intuitively comprehends that although fairy tales are unreal, they are not untrue.”

This is the nexus of the genius of Dr. Seuss – His ability to create whimsical characters with wild hair, gangly bodies, and furry feet that touch our heart with their humanity.

Dr. Seuss, born Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904), was an artist, an intellectual and a seeker of knowledge. His very first children’s book  And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (rejected twenty seven times by publishers) encourages using one’s imagination as a way to see the world in many different ways. He poses the question: What is reality?

But Mulberry Street didn’t sell well and his career as a children’s author seemed doomed when Life Magazine published an article in 1954 that exposed America’s children’s poor reading abilities. John Hersey (author of A Separate Peace) was quoted in the article as saying that children were illiterate because the primers in school were so boring and that authors like Dr. Seuss should be writing them.

Shortly after, Theo was approached by a major publishing house and asked to create a primer using 220 vocabulary words. The result , The Cat in the Hat, made him a household name. Fame brought lucrative offers by corporations eager to exploit his popularity. The ever unconventional Geisel turned down every proposal. Even when he was wooed with an unprecedented amount of money just to use a short unpublished verse on a Christmas billboard, Theo, showing unusual moral fortitude, refused, stating that he did not want to be associated with products for sale.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store

What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

 

And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,

That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss

Throughout his career as a children’s author, Dr. Seuss emphasized the importance of integrity, caring, tenderness, courage, and the interconnectivity of all creatures.

He held his head high and he threw out his chest

And he looked at the hunters as much as to say

“Shoot if you must but I won’t run away.”

I meant what I said and I said what I meant…

An elephant’s faithful One Hundred percent!

 Horton Hatches the Egg – Dr. Seuss

 

In The Sneetches he addresses the absurdity of prejudice, and in Oh! The Places You’ll Go! he gives us, in classic Seussesque style, both warning and encouragement:

You’ll come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly there darked.

But Dr. Seuss reaches a lofty zenith in his darkly beautiful and profoundly environmentally aware treatise The Lorax, who “speaks for the trees.” The author’s brilliance lies in his ability to show us a believable glimpse of a tree’s soul – albeit one with a small orange furry body and a ridiculously large yellow moustache.

Teach your children to be on the look out for them.

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“When I let go of what I am I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” Tao Te Ching

 

“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along

and you’ll start happening, too.” Dr. Seuss

 

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Consider The Source

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©W. Eugene Smith     –     Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath – 1971

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Birds fell from the sky, fish floated dead in the sea and Tomoko floated in her mother’s womb when she was poisoned by the highly toxic chemical methylmercury released into the Minamata Bay by the Japanese Corporation, Chisso. The attempt at covering up the factory’s fouling of the waters went all the way up to The Ministry of International Trade and Industry and The Japan Chemical Industry Asociation.

The photojournalist Eugene Smith, in covering the story, was beaten so brutally by several factory workers hired by Chisso that he lost some sight in one eye, and never fully recovered. His heart breaking photograph of Tomoko and her mother helped bring worldwide awareness to the plight of victims of industrial waste pollution and helped save thousands of unborn children from short lives wracked with physical and mental deformities.

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My father was a journalist. He typed his stories on a Remington Typewriter, always making a carbon copy. He would often advise me, “Consider the source.” when I came home from school with fantastical stories. Historically, journalists have stood for the truth. Honor bound to get news that governments, corporations, or individuals do not want revealed, they often risk savage assaults, kidnapping, prison, or death.

As of late they have been at risk of another, more insidious, peril. Being labeled as “the enemy” by the President of the United States of America. Every authoritarian regime has silenced the press and taken over broadcasting, turning it into a vehicle for propaganda. It is a standard fascist maneuver.

Journalists have always worked hard to earn the right to write for an established and reputable news agency. Any falsehoods could jeopardize not only their job, but their reputation and entire career. Now, anyone with access to the internet can spread outlandish rumors with the push of a button. We are all familiar with these at best silly, and at worst grotesquely racist and sexist stories. From the never ending gossip about celebrities, to the deadly serious lies spewed from the alt-right press corps, people can choose what they wish to read from an exhaustive list of sources.

It is now more important than ever to “consider the source”. Journalists, such as those that work for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, NBC, CNN, and the BBC have all been harangued by our current president and his staff, while outlets such as Breitbart, Fox News, and The Gateway Pundit are lauded. http://tinyurl.com/jcvokve

We must ask ourselves why.

The most important move a dictatorship must make is to control the news. This is not easily done. One cannot storm into their offices in Manhattan and throw everyone out. Another tactic needs to be taken which makes force unnecessary, a tactic well understood by those closest to Trump. To stir up havoc and distrust, to demonize and belittle the press at every opportunity, and to create confusion about what is truth and what is not. Using words such as “rigged,” calling press members “the opposition party,” citing the phrase “fake news” frequently to discredit any coverage not agreeable to them. Each time Trump mentions The New York Times, arguably one of the greatest news outlets in the world, he tags them “the failing” New York Times. Why does he do that?

Hitler said, “If you tell a big enough lie often enough, it will be believed.”

The bullying manner toward the press that was bantered about during the Republican campaign for presidency served the current administration well. Emboldened, they do not worry about making snide and demeaning remarks about journalists. Stephen Bannon, White House chief strategist and member of Trump’s National Security Council stated recently that, “The press should keep its mouth shut.”

Our right to hear the truth and speak the truth without fear is fundamental to our freedom, and we cannot and will not accept anything less. We owe our children this noble legacy. Be aware, call and send emails to the White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call  march, sign petitions – do whatever you can do to lift your singular voice. There is an encroaching shadow over our land that we must neither ignore nor fear. Hope is a courageous emotion. It is also one that increases incrementally when shared. So, be hopeful. Speak out. Resist. Fight for the freedom that has been so dearly earned over the generations.

“No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.”

Edward R. Murrow

Acclaimed journalist who faced up to McCarthyism

Over 1,200 journalists were killed in the last 25 years, less than half covering wars, the rest covering politics or corruption.

Not The Enemy

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Words Matter

img_1197©donnaesgro  –  Women’s March 1/21/17  Los Angeles, California

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“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

George Orwell – 1984

 

On Sunday January 21, 2017, I, along with millions of others around the world, lifted my voice in protest against a new era of strange and dangerous politics.

To lift one’s voice is one of the most patriotic acts a citizen can make. It is practicing freedom of speech-a constitutional right that has been a cornerstone of our democracy since its inception. A right that Donald Trump negates, telling journalists on his first day in office that “they are going to pay a big price” (for “lying” about the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration). Later in the day, he sent Sean Spicer, his press secretary, to further admonish and threaten the media. Spicer advised journalists that “the new administration would hold them to account”

Since then Trump’s rapid fire muffling orders are of major concern for all citizens of the world. In his first few days of office Trump has excised all mention of climate change from the White House website, silenced the National Parks Service, and instituted a complete media blackout of the Environmental Protection Agency. These authoritarian actions, coming from a U.S. President who believes that the despot Vladimir Putin, who controls all news outlets in Russia, is “a smart man”, are chilling. Words matter, as Putin so cunningly knows, and this is precisely why the voices lifted on Sunday can never go silent.

When Kellyanne Conway, Trumps councilor, can announce that the president’s statements are “alternative facts” we are entering a doublethink twilight zone of distorted reality that poses a grave threat to our freedom.

http://tinyurl.com/hmab53j

 

Trump recently compared the CIA to Nazi’s, then a few days later told them that he “loved” them, unless those two things are not mutually exclusive to Donald Trump, one of them is an alternate fact.

Donald Trump, throughout his campaign, has steadily undermined the press in a transparent effort to intimidate and weaken their power, making such statements as, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when (journalists) write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” and more recently, “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

In his first week in office, Trump has wreaked havoc. So it may seem that the focus on freedom of the press is of lesser concern than lack of healthcare, deportations, denial of environmental protections, barring of immigrants, and other humanitarian rights and causes that Trump has slashed his way through. But, I believe strongly that if we loose our voice these other pressing matters cannot be addressed. That if we loose our freedom of speech, our ability to both hear the truth and speak the truth, we loose our ability to mobilize, organize, and resist; our ability to make change.

Remember, this is the man who believes in punishing and criminalizing citizen dissent. Less than two months before taking the solemn oath of office to the presidency, inspired by the act of a anti-Trump college protester, he tweeted that burning a U.S. flag should be punished by “perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail”

Because the White House has been compromised, and the Supreme Court, the historically staunch supporter of the sacrosanct U.S. Constitution, is in peril, all of us have now become personally responsible for upholding our countries principals. Pay attention, speak up, do whatever is in your power. Those of us who believe in liberty and justice for all are many and strong. To be silent is to be oppressed.

170125-greenpeace-resist-banner-ok-1059_8e9531022931864de559c802600b9aa0-nbcnews-fp-1200-800© Saul Loeb/AFP-Getty Images – Greenpeace protesters at work 1/25/17

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The Goal of True Education

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“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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From the time we first encourage a toddler to share his toys we begin the process of building social emotional skills. In truth, it begins before that-with the first touch, the first eye contact, the first whispered words…building intelligence and character begins at birth and follows us to our last day on earth.

Education is not just about schooling-but as children spend most of their time at school from an early age, school is a vital part of their foundation. The task is: How do we, as educators, create schools that teach children to think intensively and critically-schools that build character?

I believe it begins with respect. When we respect the child and, at the same time, model respect for others, including the immediate and extended environment, we create an atmosphere of love and trust. We must not forget to respect ourselves, as well-use our time wisely and live healthily, both in body and mind. It follows that if adults eat junk food and watch junk television children will see this as the ideal.

A focus on testing rather than true understanding of materials is detrimental to thinking critically as it programs a child to memorize, repeat, and forget. In order to foster an ability to think intensively, subjects cannot be taught superficially. Teachers would be better served to delve deeply into less subject matter, rather than race to complete an established and expected curriculum.

I know children who have gotten A+’s on their Native American unit in fourth grade without a clue as to what the Dakota Pipeline Access is all about. We must make our teaching relevant!

As a society, it is important that we place a high value on education and strive for an elevated quality at every grade level. Our modern schools have not changed much since the Industrial Revolution, although our society is changing more and more rapidly. Our children will inhabit a world that we cannot entirely imagine. It is, therefore, of extreme urgency that we nurture creativity and innovative thinking. But creativity without compassion is a hallow achievement.

Experts in the field of human development tell us that empathy is a wired emotion, part of our instinct for societal survival. Yet why is there such an arc of empathy in any one particular classroom? Although certain emotions are part of our DNA, these emotions have a plasticity that is subject to changes that are environmentally dependent – in the same way that a child with a high IQ is not necessarily going to do well in school or beyond. Compassion, like any instinct, such as the ability to walk and talk, must be practiced, refined, and nurtured.

I liken it to a seed with the potential of becoming a tree. The seed will not reach its limbs to the sky, its roots will not dig deep into the earth, branches and bark will not become home for hundreds of creatures, the tree will never bless us with its life giving oxygen, if the rain and the sun and the fertile ground are not present. We must be all of that for our children, not just as parents and professional educators, but as a society. We must embrace all children as our own.

Let’s go back to the teacher explaining to the toddler that she should share her toys. A situation faced millions of times a day in every school throughout the world. How does the teacher communicate to the child? Does she explain that the other child is sad? Does she use a gentle and caring manner that reflects compassion for both sides of the argument? A child cannot develop empathy if the child does not have an understanding of how others feel.

I have seen, in the classroom, how compassion fosters compassion. Yet, it is not enough to teach our children to feel. Just like the toddler unselfishly handing over her toy, we all need to take action on our feelings. By taking personal responsibility we show our children that it is possible to make changes, both small and large.

When we develop a caring attitude about each other we listen, and in this listening we begin to see the world through prisms other than our own. This is the key to true understanding-the kind of understanding that grows as the child grows, developing not only deeper cognitive abilities but the kind of benevolent character traits that will be essential for the survival of our planet.

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The Adaptation of Children’s Literature

“Words are a net to catch beauty.”

Tennessee Williams

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Publishers who abridge, adapt, and condense children’s literature use the classics as a commodity. Although the expressed intention is to introduce these writings to a younger audience, this is not a enterprise done with love of prose in mind. These summarized novels are more like CliffNotes in terms of their inability to bring depth and understanding of the original works to children.

I was working with a fifth grader this holiday season and suggested that she read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. She pulled a paperback down from her shelf and told me, listlessly, that she had already read it.  I glanced at the book and saw that it was an abridged version.

A Christmas Carol is a novella, short in length, but opulent in sensual imagery and fervid emotions. Books, unlike films, do not need to fit into certain time frames which necessitate condensing. The only reason, then, to abridge the work is to “dumb it down” so that the young reader has less work to do to get through what often is fancifully arcane and luxurious language.

But, isn’t that one of the gifts of reading the classics? To allow words to transport us, to give us the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes of exotic places and to teach us, through this process, that human needs, fears, passions, cruelties, jealousies, hypocrisies, insecurities, and reckless braveries have always and will always be a part of the elegant tapestry that makes us human.

By reading only the adapted version of A Christmas Carol, my young friend missed such stunning passages as:

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling, “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Instead reading:

“You are tied in chains, tell me why.” “I am a prisoner of the chain I made for myself during my life. I chose to wear it.”

I don’t blame any child for not being impressed with such insipid language. I suppose ”fettered” and “forged” are considered to be too archaic? The lyrical rhythm of the language, the repetitions that bring the readers’ attention to the importance of the ghost’s statement, have disappeared in the effort to be economical and simplistic with words.

Our children are more capable than they are often given credit for. A fifth grader should be able to read Charles Dickens without it being predigested for her.

Begin the process of introducing the sometimes odd, yet lovely language in classic children’s literature to your child when he is too young to read the originals himself. Resist the colorful Disney paperbacks of Winnie the Pooh or the Fairy Tales and instead read A.A. Milne and Hans Christian Andersen. Trust that your child will listen, and in this listening, not only become enchanted, but begin to build an understanding of the unique experience that reading can be.

A Christmas Carol was written almost 200 years ago, yet the story, because it is based on essential truths, is immortal. Don’t be a part of the wrong thinking that believes that the rewriting of the classics for easy consumption is a gentle introduction.

These works are a precious legacy from a passionate group of writers. Each carefully chosen word should be valued and respected.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) said about his writing,

“I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.”

And Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) stated:

“Words are a net to catch beauty.”

Every word in a classic book, whether it be War and Peace or  The Little Prince, is vital. You might as well take the “excess notes” out of Mozart, Bach, or Vivaldi to make the melodies easier to follow.

We live in an age of sound bites and texts. It is healthy to balance this diet with something that demands an exacting focus. Better to read less dense classics such as as Charlotte’s Web or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory unabridged than to give your child an abridged version of Treasure Island, Peter Pan, or The Secret Garden.

Reading more difficult text builds both critical thinking (which stems from analyzing, predicting, and imagining) and self esteem (which builds as the child succeeds at tasks that at first seems arduous). When your child feels an eagerness to get back to the characters in a book and a vague sadness when the story has ended, that’s when you know that the bridge between learning to read and becoming a reader has been crossed.

If your child begins to read a classic and then discards it as being too hard, please help her manage, as you once held the back of her bicycle when she went from training wheels to two wheels. Read aloud to her. You may only need to read the first few chapters before she is pedaling on her own.

In the chaos that our modern life so often is, there is nothing more meditative than learning to turn to a book to remind you that although turmoil has always existed, so has abundant spiritual generosity and unbounded love.

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May Our New Year Shine Gloriously Bright with Hope.

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The Theater Must Always Be A Safe Place

imagesWoody Guthrie – This Machine Kills Fascists

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 “We have art in order not to die of the truth.” Nietzsche

After a performance of Hamilton (a Broadway musical based on the story of one of the United States’ founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton) the lead actor, Brandon Dixon, formally addressed our future vice president, Mike Pence, from the stage. He began by thanking Pence for attending the performance and stating that, “ We hope you will hear us out.”

“We sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

This respectful and thoughtful delivery was attacked by our president elect the next morning via his favorite form of communication, Twitter: “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” In a second tweet Trump stated, “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

On the campaign circuit Trump repeatedly belittled the press and the first amendment, even suggesting that he would like to change the law to make it easier to sue his critics. Trump, with these comments, has made it clear that he does not believe in political expression (unless it is favorable to him) and would use his power as president to silence the press through legal actions. In his tweets he clearly states that Dixon and the cast of Hamilton were wrong to lawfully and nonviolently exercise the power of their constitutional right of freedom of speech.

Since ancient times, art has served as a powerful method of challenging the status quo and inspiring social change. The Roman goddess of poetry was also the goddess of wisdom. Art has the unique power to open our eyes to another way of seeing-the beginning of wisdom. Historically, art has been a vehicle for social change, justice, solidarity, and raising consciousness-a formidable weapon against violence and oppression.

“Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.” Shakespeare/Hamlet – 1602

In Sophocles’ Antigone (441 BC) the heroine defies the King’s command, even though it means certain death, because his orders are at odds with her conscience.

From the satiric plays of Shakespeare and Moliere with their wry mockery of the pompous noble class, to the searing work of Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee and their brutally honest unveiling of corruption in society, the theater has been a forum in which artists are able to lift their voices for those without a voice.

The Novelists Emil Zola, Victor Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck have all written from an urgent sense of need to expose hypocrisy and reveal the tender and human faces of the dispossessed, the lost, the lonely, the hungry and the homeless – as have poets and songwriters Garcia Lorca, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a precious few.

We have been warned by passionate artists such as the novelists George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, and film makers Fritz Lang, Jean Cocteau, and Terry Gilliam, to lift up our heads and see what the future may hold, if we are not mindful.

Goya’s wrenching paintings continue to shock us more than 200 years after they were painted. There is intense pain, and compassion for that pain, in each of Kathe Kollwitz’s works, while Picasso’s Guernica (1937) has become a metaphor for the brutality of war.

The photographs of the victims of the Dust Bowl were instrumental in bringing relief to thousands of suffering  families and Nick Ut’s heartbreaking Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, “Napalm Girl” is said to have been the final statement that ended the Vietnam War.

The list of legendary artistic luminaries is endless, with more creating works each day. The arts give society depth and provide inspiration for personal, social, and spiritual change. But when the individual with the highest power in the land sends tweet after tweet designed to create fear of personal expression it casts a chilling shadow.

Art is a life line to freedom. As funding for art and art history in our schools, already threatened to extinction, continues to decline, we cannot leave the holistic education that we want for our children entirely up to government funded schools. It is our moral  and ethical obligation as parents and educators to bring this trove of knowledge to our children.

Trump may believe that art should be a “safe place”, a comfortable fantasy outside the realm of politics, but, should he build his wall, may artists everywhere be inspired by those such as muralist David Siqueiros (1900’s) and the guerrilla street artist, Banksy, and paint Trump’s infamous and infernal wall with the vibrant colors of all the rage against injustice and abundant universal love inherent in the human heart.

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The Surviors – 1923 -Kathe Kollwitz