How Did This Happen? Whose Interests Are Served by the Divisiveness in the U. S. Today?

How did politics in the US get so bad? Why is there such divisiveness? Why are Democrats seemingly so ineffectual and the GOP so ready to support whatever T does, even when he puts Russia before US interests, and dictatorship before Democracy? Why does the GOP walk so much in lockstep, ready to stomp on the humanity, rights, health care and income of so many in the middle and lower classes?

 

Pew Poll shows that we are more divided now than in the early 1990s. Despite living through Joe McCarthy and the struggles of the fifties, the great turmoil, assassinations and political changes of the 1960s, and then Nixon and Reagan, our political situation today feels worse than anything I experienced before, largely because the future of democracy has not been so threatened before by our own President.

 

And the lock stepping of the GOP is not just an example of politicians afraid of their base or afraid of losing their position, as many in the centrist media portray it. The base of the GOP itself is something relatively new in US politics, even though it has been developing for years. Since Reagan, the GOP has become increasingly intransigent and devoted to only one small group of people—the white super-rich. T is also something relatively new, but he a poison in a garden that was already laid waste by politicians unable and unwilling to halt the pressure by specific members of the super-rich to undermine any restraints on their power.

 

One book I’ve been reading to help me gain some clarity is Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System by economist George Tyler. This is an important book to read. It talks not only about how democracy has been hijacked, but how to take it back. In 1980, according to Tyler, the richest 0.1% contributed less than 10% of all campaign contributions. By 2012, their share increased to 44%. In 2016, it increased to about 66% of contributions to Congressional candidates.

 

Along with this trend in political contributions is a trend many have noted in wealth controlled by the top 1%. In the 1920s, before the depression, the top 1% owned 44.2% of the wealth. During the depression, and even more, during the war, the taxes on the rich were raised to 94% for top earners, and the percentage of wealth owned by the rich by 1945 was down to 29.8%. By 1979, the percentage owned by the 1% was down to only 20%. Thanks to Reagan, the percentage of wealth owned by the super-rich went up. By 2013, the top 1% owned 36.7% of US wealth. The top 20% of the US population in terms of wealth owned 89%, leaving only 11% for the remaining 80% of people. In 2017, the top 1% owned 42.8%. It has been increasing by 6% annually since the mid-2000s. (See my chart on the last page.) And the GOP tax cut is only making income inequality worse.

 

According to more recent data, a study by researchers at the Federal Reserve showed that in 2018 the richest 10% of householders in the U. S. owned 70% of the wealth. These increases were mirrored by decreases for those households in the 50-90thpercentiles of the wealth distribution.

 

America’s wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than the bottom half the population, own more than 152,000,000 people combined. And among the Forbes 444, only 2 are African-American….

 

*To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

 

**This is an update of an earlier piece that appeared on this website.

Feeling Stressed and Out of Time: Ending A School Year ⎼ Or Anything

For many years, when I was a teacher and the month of May rolled around, the end of the school year would feel like a surprise. What once seemed like a tremendous length of time was now only a few weeks long. Earlier in the year, I had to plan extensively to fill each class period. Now, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it. The once lengthy year was over too quickly.

 

I remember vacations I did not want to ever end, or conversations, concerts, a sunset over the Caldera in Santorini, Greece.  I felt this moment might never come again and I wanted to hold on tightly. Or I felt I had missed something, or I preferred where I was to where I was going next.

 

Understanding the passage of time and ending anything, whether it be the school or a calendar year, a project, a vacation, or a job can be difficult, painful ⎼or exciting. Just saying the word ‘ending’ can sound dramatic and consequential.

 

We might like what we are doing and not want to let it go.  We might resist what is new because it is threatening or scary or maybe something from the past is still calling us. Or it might be difficult to accept the end because we never fully grasped or embraced the beginning. To begin something new we need to let go of something old.

 

 

Compassion Can Transform the Energy of Stress into Helpful Action 

 

A school year or a work project is never just about the work. Relationships are formed. A community, maybe a family, is created. When the work is completed, the community ceases. This must be recognized, reflected upon, celebrated. The other people must be honored. After all, you came together, learned together, struggled through time and tasks together, and hopefully cared for each other. You pay a price if you forget this basic fact.

 

The fact of this community ending is part of the stress you feel. Some years, I created interactive final demonstrations for certain classes. For example, students had to discuss, in a small group, pre-selected essential questions related to the class subject matter and then answer follow-up questions posed by other teachers and university professors.  We did this at my home or at night at the school, so we did the work and then shared a meal. Years afterwards, former students have told me they remembered the event and had found it meaningful….

 

To read the whole post, please go to MindfulTeachers.org.

Befriending Yourself And Creating A Mindful Learning Community

One of the most valuable lessons a teacher can teach is how to be a friend to yourself and to others. You teach this when your classroom functions as a mindful learning community and when students cooperate in their own education. It needs to be taught both through modeling by the teacher as well as through designed lessons.

 

Before giving these practices to students, practice them yourself. They must be real to you in order for you to make them real to others. And then close your eyes and hold in your mind and heart an image of your students doing the exercise. Notice if you feel comfortable leading the students. If you feel discomfort, is it because you are not yet ready, or the students?

 

For too many of our children, unconditional love, and a sense of security and safety, are more of a yearning than a reality. They need to learn how to be kind, compassionate and non-judgmental to themselves so they can more easily show it to others, and the classroom provides a golden opportunity to practice this.

 

A Classroom Practice of Mindful Questioning and Inquiry

 

After you enter the classroom and greet students, you might ask:

 

What do you want from a friend? What does the word ‘friend’ mean to you? 

 

Then ask students if they would like to go deeper with this question. If they answer affirmatively, ask them to sit up comfortably and close their eyes partly or fully. Then:

 

Gently, place your attention on your breath. Breathe in, letting your body expand, be nourished by the air. Then breathe out, noticing what it’s like to let go of the air, tension, and settle down. Do that for another breath or two.

 

Then think of the word ‘Friend.’ What words describe for you what being a friend means or what marks a person as a true friend? What thoughts, images, feelings? Simply notice what arises and move on to the next word or breath.

 

Think of any books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen that describe a good friendship.What characters come to mind? What makes him or her a friend? How does one friend treat another?

 

Take one more breath and then return your attention to the classroom.

 

Write down what you heard or saw in your mind.

 

With the whole class, or in small groups, let students share what they feel comfortable sharing about the experience. List on the chalkboard the words that students say they associate with being a friend.

 

What marks someone as a friend? Did honesty come to you? Care? Stimulating conversation? Loyalty?

 

Loyalty can be a mixed bag. You don’t want yes-men or women. You don’t want fakes. Do you do want someone who values who you are, not who they want you to be? Do you want someone who will think of your well-being as being as important as their own?….

 

To read the whole post, go to Mindfulteachers.org.

 

Exploring Our Humanity with Mindfulness: What Our Bodies Can Teach us

How can we, as teachers, use mindfulness, visualization and inquiry practices to study history and what it means to be human? One way is to look clearly at our own body and the way our mind works. We often overlook the obvious. We are our own most direct example of what it means to be human. And what could be more important in this time of high anxiety and threat than a better understanding of our shared humanity and ourselves?

 

Ask students: Did you ever consider that inside yourself might lie answers to some of the deepest questions about human history and what it means to be a human being?

 

Standing Practice:

 

Ask students to stand up from their chairs and stretch. Raise their hands over their heads, rise up on their toes and reach up to the sky. Then drop their heels and stretch to one side and the other without getting too close to their neighbor.

 

Say to them: Now stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, hands resting comfortably at your sides, eyes partly or fully closed. Put your focus on your breath. Feel how your body breathes in, and then out.

 

Put your attention on the area around your eyes and feel what happens there as you breathe in. Do you feel a slight expansion in the area as you breathe in? Then breathe out, and feel how that area breathes out. You might feel a release of tension, a settling down. You can feel the same in your jaw as you inhale, and exhale.

 

Then put your attention on your shoulders as you breathe in. Do you feel your shoulders expand as you breathe in? And as you exhale, feel how they contract, pushes air up and out.

 

Then put your attention on your hands. They, too, breathe. As you breathe in, feel your hands expand with the in breath—and let go, settle down with the outbreath.

 

As you breathe in, feel the air with your whole body. Feel the space around you, in front, behind, at your sides. And as you breathe out, just allow your attention to take in how it feels to stand there, strong, relaxed, and attentive.

 

What does standing upright like this enable you to do? Dogs or cats are amazing beings. They can leap, twist, and run for a short distance faster that you. They can smell and hear better than you. But not see better, not see over the grass or tables as well as you. A dog or cat uses their paws to run. But by standing upright, you can walk for long distances and free your hands for other activities. What else does standing enable you to do? What are the limitations of standing?

 

Now slowly breathe in. And as you exhale, open your eyes and come back to the room, noticing how you feel.

 

Sitting Mindfulness, Visualization and Other Inquiry Practices:

 

Choose and combine practices from those that follow, which fit your course material, age and interests of students. Have students sit up comfortably, breathe calmly, and close their eyes partly or fully. Then ask them to:

 

*Rest your hands comfortably on your lap or desk in front of you. Feel how your hands feel resting where they are. Move your fingers and feel their dexterity and strength. How many species are there that can do that? How are your hands different than a paw, your fingers different from a claw?…

 

To read the whole post, go to MindfulTeachers.org.

 

Relieving Student Apathy: Apathy Is A Symptom of Greater Societal Problems

Recently, I read a discussion on a FB page for educators and social action (the Bad Ass Teachers) that hit home for me. The discussion was about the omnipresence of student apathy and the expectation that teachers were responsible for entertaining and freeing students from this curse. I remembered this exact feeling from 20-30 years ago. Not only did I have to shape lessons to fit a wide variety of student ability levels and interests. I felt I had to be as clever and exciting as the tv or movies they were used to watching. (There were no or few cell phones then.)

The situation has become even worse today. One teacher-author, who had written a post about the situation, spoke about teachers being expected to “be all things to all people” and students have become “consumer learners.” She described a workshop where she was encouraged to design her teaching to be like a video game. How else could she expect to hold student attention? She questioned if a video game is the best model for how to shape a lesson. 

Teachers face a long list of problems every day the corporate and media attacks on public education, the detrimental effects of standardized testing, the tremendous inequality in school resources and funding, the poverty, homelessness and increasing anxiety and depressionexperienced both by young people and adults, etc..  And, of course, let’s add the addiction to drugs or digital devices. But should we also add apathy to this list?

Student apathy is not the main problem. It is but a symptom of all the problems listed above all of which can reach deeply into a child’s psyche. Many students can’t find the motivation to engage in their own education because they can’t find themselves. They don’t see themselves in their own lives or are afraid, or too traumatized, to do so.

They have been taught to think their emotions come from someone or somewhere else, not themselves. When they feel anger, they think the object of the anger is the cause of it. Or they experience love or jealousy and feel the object of their love is in control, not them. When they get bored, they think someone other than themselves is responsible. They do not understand how their emotions arise

Students feel apathy and boredom when a wall has been constructed between what they feel, think, or yearn to engage with and what is presented to them as the possibilities of their life and education. They have been conditioned to not let anything too real get too close¾or their lives have been too real and frightening, and they can’t or don’t know how to face it. This might help explain why one of the biggest concerns for young people in this nation today is safety….

To read the whole blog, click on this link to the Good Men Project.

Are We Undermining Our Children’s Education? A Mindful Use of Digital Media in the Home and Classroom





How difficult is it nowadays to engage the whole family in a talk? Or if you’re a teacher, how difficult is it to engage a class of students?

 

There has been much debate in the last few years about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face discussions at home and in school more difficult. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture.

 

I find this frightening. How can anyone learn well, or engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text? To say, “nothing can be done about this situation” reminds me of the discussion of bullying 20-30 years ago, when people said, “It’s just the time of life when children bully.”

 

Self-Reflective Questions for Parents and Teachers About Media Use

 

Teachers and other adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. We can all benefit by increasing our self-awareness and asking ourselves:

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

How do you feel when you see your children on their phones when you are trying to talk with them? How do you think they feel when you are on the phone when they are trying to talk with you? Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

Did you want to stop reading this post as soon as you realized what it was about? ….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to Spirit of Change Magazine, which just published the piece.

Using Mindfulness and Empathic Imagination in Teaching the Story From Day One





I’d like to share with you what I learned from teaching a middle school class called “The Story From Day One,” which integrated mindfulness and visualization exercises with the language arts curriculum.

We often teach myths as merely literature, divorced from the cultural, spiritual, and historical context. But we pay a price for this approach. It limits the depth of meaning students can derive from their study.

Combine this with the narrow focus on the now that social media can foster, and students easily feel isolated on an island of self, cut off not only from their contemporaries, but from a sense of the continuity of life. They have little grasp of how their lives today emerge from yesterday.

 

Suggested Myths to Teach in Your Class

 

In my Story From Day One course, we read several myths from around the world, of creation, of tricksters and of heroes, including:

 

Integrating Mindfulness with Academic Content 

Start lessons with a mindfulness exercise so students can calm and clear their minds, better understand how their inner lives affect their outer ones, and notice how they respond to words, stories, and other people.

After mindfulness practice, ask questions that challenge assumptions and reveal what was hidden, so each lesson becomes the solving of a mystery. For example, before teaching a class on language or vocabulary, ask:

 

How can words (mere sounds or collections of marks on a page or device) mean anything?

Do words have meanings, or do people give words meanings?

Imagine a time when words were almost magical, when to give your word was deeper than a legal contract today. If you felt your words were like magic, how would that change how you spoke? (Share this old Eskimo poem.)

 

To read the whole post, please go to Mindfulteachers.org.

A Mindful Use of Digital Media





How difficult is it nowadays to engage students in a deep discussion? Or if you’re a parent, how difficult is it to engage the whole family in a talk?

 

There has been much debate about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face in-school discussions more difficult in the last few years. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture. She said parents added to the problem by wanting 24/7 access to their children.

 

I was as frightened by this situation as my former colleagues were. How can anyone learn well, and engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text?

 

In our world today, we are all bombarded with messages to keep up with the latest technology. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation that we are valued and important. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected means being less valuable. They fear what they might miss (FOMO), even to the extent of keeping their phones with them at night, which can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety, depression and possibly narcissism.This serves the interest of big corporations whose primary interest is in turning children into malleable consumers; it does not serve the interests of educators and parents interested in their children becoming clear thinking adults.

 

Self-Reflective Questions For Teachers

 

Adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. Ask yourself:

 

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to mindful teachers.org.

Beginning The School Year —or Anything—With Mindfulness and Compassion





There is nothing like a beginning. Imagine a beginning from your past. First meeting someone. Building your own home. Starting on a vacation. Doing something new, unknown, exciting, scary yet filled with promise.

To start the school year, or anything, it is obvious that we must make plans. We need to determine where we want to go, what we want to accomplish, in order to fulfill those objectives. But we often ignore the emotional side of getting ourselves ready.

No matter what you are beginning, take a moment to feel what you feel and notice your thoughts. Only if you notice your thoughts and feelings can you choose how and whether to act on them. If you’re a teacher, start with understanding what beginning the school year means to you and what you need. Then you can better understand what students need.

Many of us plan our classes or other activities so tightly that the realm of what is possible is reduced to what is safe and already known. It’s not a beginning if you emotionally pretend that you’ve already done it. Take time daily to strengthen your awareness of your own mental and emotional state.

Starting the morning

When I arrive at school energized but anxious, I get out of my car, stop, look at the building and trees around me, and take a few breaths. Then I am in my body, present—not driven by thoughts. After greeting myself, I am more prepared to greet students.

Practice SBC: Stop, Breathe, Notice.  Periodically stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, take 3 breaths and notice your thoughts and feelings. Notice how it feels after such a break.

You can do this with students to begin each lesson, or in the middle of a heated discussion….

 

To read my full post, click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Mindful Teachers: Mindful Listening In A Noisy World





What happens to your thinking when you feel surrounded by noise? This is a particularly relevant question in schools today. The noise can be external—car horns, fire engines, people screaming in the halls outside your classroom. It can be your own internal voices, dictating what to do, or passing judgment on your character. It can be a combination of the two, as when you spend hours on social media or listening to news where there’s more yelling and attacking going on than listening and understanding.

 

When you hear noise, you are not just hearing a sound you find unpleasant. You are hearing a sound with baggage. You are hearing dislike, resistance, or a threat. It’s difficult to think when there’s noise because noise is a signal that your thinking is impeded or you feel under attack. And what’s attacking you is not necessarily someone external to you, but internal. Something is demanding attention, but it’s not simply the sound….

 

To read the rest of this post, go to Mindful Teachers.