A Walk in the Park

Our daughters joined me for a walk in the park last evening. Oklahoma summers are really warm this time of year so we wait until the hour before sunset and set off on the trail of one of our favorite parks in town.

It’s a simple thing to do and it costs absolutely nothing, but the gains seem at this moment in my life to be immeasurable. There are certainly the health benefits that are important and I know that, but the conversation and lack of distractions and unplugging of technology while we are on the trail together are exceptional.

We don’t always share deep thoughts or even talk, but the point is we can and we do. We have each other’s undivided attention in a way that I cannot find in most every other area of our lives.

Over the years, a walk in the park has helped us mend some fences, share some funny stories, laugh, sing, talk and listen to each other and the world around us. It reconnects us and it gives our little group a shared path to take and a finish line to help each other reach.

It is truly a walk in the park.

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The Book of Equilibrium

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In a course on family and teacher relationships that I am teaching at our local university this semester, we spend a lot of time talking about the need for equilibrium in the children’s classroom. I often think to myself, if one word could sum up a particular course, what would it be? For this course, the word is equilibrium.

There are too many children living in turmoil – disequilibrium – for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways.

One out of 50—or about 1.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

On any given day – I said day – there are approximately 400,000 children in out-of-home foster care in the United States; annually about 650,000 children spent some time in out-of-home foster care in the United States. Children entering foster care remain there on average for nearly two years.

It is reported that more than 6 million children in the U.S. are referred annually to Child Protective Services, while some 3 million children are investigated for maltreatment and more than a half million of those children…I said children.. are determined to be victims of abuse or neglect.

Most all of these children in these and other stressful situations also go…to school.

Very often, the one and only place of peace is in the classroom of these children’s schools. That is why teachers can and should provide this priceless commodity – equilibrium – in a world so often full of disequilibrium. We often talk in my classroom about the fact that we can change very little in a child’s home and world and television screen outside the walls of their schools, but we can control the world that exists inside their classroom.

I am so proud to see so many young educators entering the field today who truly see that the needs of young students and their families are more profound than ever before…and that they find that challenge so compelling and important. Neither money or fame mean a thing to many of them. They just want to know one thing, “How can I help them?”

Education in America simply is more than high scores and a catering to reach only a certain population of students. We are not teaching robots nor are we teaching people to be robots. We must teach to reach them all. Every student and every family – and every teacher – deserves no less.

P.S. A few great books on the subject of teaching that will make you want to teach: The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, The Hurried Child by David Elkind, and Once Upon An Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton.

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Reading with Jacob

“All I have is a voice.” – W.H. Auden

Jacob Reads 2013

For the past several years, I have had the wonderful experience of teaching a Christian Education class on Sunday mornings at our church.  I enjoy it even more because of my friend Jacob.  Jacob is 32 years-old, smiles often and loves to sing and reads from his heart.  He also has Down Syndrome.

A few years ago, I was putting together our Christmas study series for the month of December and decided to ask Jacob if he would read a particular passage from the Bible that told of the story of Christmas.

As the students and their families settled into the chairs around the classroom, I quieted the group and made a few announcements before asking Jacob to come to the front to read the scripture.  He asked if I would stand beside him while he read, “just in case I get nervous,” he said.

The magic commenced the moment he began to read.  His voice was shaky and quiet, reserved and somehow piercing as he read from the gospel of Luke.  As I looked around, the students were leaning forward, some literally on the edge of their seats, completely silent and completely enthralled by this young man’s reading of one of the most familiar passages in the entire Bible.

After the class ended, I stepped outside the room and into the hall to shake hands and talk with guests.  One particular friend in class had been through an especially difficult year in his home and work and I noticed that he lingered behind as everyone left the room.  “I need to tell you something,” he said as he diverted his eyes to the floor and put his hands in his pockets.  “What’s up?” I said.

“It has not felt like Christmas at all to me this year.  Nothing has proved fulfilling or entertaining or worthwhile at all in my life these past few months.”

He stopped and drew in a deep breath, lost in thought for the moment before he continued.

“I felt nothing at all…until Jacob read.  Something about his voice, about the quiet way in which he related such a familiar passage.  Something about it has brought me peace.  Something about reading with Jacob this morning has brought Christmas back to me.  Tell him thanks for me?”

Reading with Jacob.  If you ever have the opportunity to do such a thing, don’t pass it up.  It could even change your life.