You are Here

Maybe you were thinking about the lake, a summer five years ago, the canoe, water like a mirror
Or the time you sent out for pizza, late fall, and waited by the door
Or perhaps the piano recital where your daughter filled the room with the sound of spring
Or was it the car, the light, a darkness from which awakening revealed only hours of your life…missing?

Or, if not those, you may have been recalling a banana, oatmeal, the blaze of a morning sun through the kitchen window
Or a distant voice in a crowd, that child forever calling
Or an idea that slipped between your synapses never quite touching
Or the spot on your back, just to the right of your twelfth or thirteenth vertebra, an itch beyond reach for years, now gone.

Or you are imagining yourself at a Christmas display, say Strawbridge and Clothier, December 12, 1989, mistaking yourself for the mannequin
Or making peffernüsse with a daughter, your laughter the only sound amidst a cloud of confectioner sugar
Or lounging on a white sand beach in Tobago, steel drums and aloe, manta rays swimming in your dreams.

Or, of course, you could find yourself beyond the garage, walking down the street, turning right, moving forward, the neighbor’s car cruising by, slowly
Or in a race, each foot driving you forward, the pack falling in the distance behind you
Or floating up, endlessly, the earth–that rare device–now a speck in the cold silence.

Or you are here, riding this ship, in a chair, seemingly alone, the wind warm and smooth across your face.

Garreth Heidt, 2016
(“Or” is the word of the day.)
Inspired by the work of Alan Lightman, David Eagleman, Italo Calvino…and others

Image from: Shinya Suzuki / Flickr

Oh Me! Oh School!


This morning my wife and I were at my oldest son’s middle school for a meeting with his teachers.  Nothing deep, just a chance to get to know them and see how he, a 7th-grader, is making the transition from 6th grade and his small elementary school (around 300 students) to the behemoth (approx. 1,300 students) that is one of his district’s three middle schools.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD
homework-anna-gutermuthpretty early on,
just before second grade, and school has usually been a difficult experience for him.  As a middle
school teacher for over two decades, I know how difficult the transition can be for students moving from elementary to middle school.  And the fact that his elementary school teachers in 5th and 6th grade were hell bent on pumping him with homework and letting him know just how much more difficult and hellish middle school was going to be . . . well, that didn’t help.

Turns out he’s doing ok, but I’m still frightened.

I’m frightened because I’ve spent the better part of my 23 years as a teacher trying to figure out why the system does what it does to children, questioning why conformity is such a goal, and wondering why its so hard to get teachers to do things differently, because none of that is what I want for my own children.  In 23 years I don’t understand why pedagogy is so far behind the world in which it exists.

And then one of my students posts this:

Now, my students know we question everything, including the system that supports their teacher.  We read numerous articles about Finland, research from Harvard’s Project Zero, blogs from teachers in other countries, and my classroom has been a laboratory for progressive education for over 20 years.  From The Touchstones Discussion Project, to Design Thinking, to Genius Projects, I’ve endeavored to push the learning in my classroom back to its proper owner, the children in my classroom.

And that video? It just confirms all the things I believe.  And that’s why I’m frightened.

As well, I’m reminded of one of the more famous poetry recitations in the history of American film:  John Keating’s (as played by Robin Williams) recital of select lines of Whitman’s “O Me!  O Life!”  I quote the full poem below:

O Me! O Life!

by Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I had started to revise this poem, replacing certain words and lines to make it more of a lament of a teacher about the current system and what it does to students.  But the more I read it, the more it occurred to me that in its present state, the poem serves perfectly well as a critique of a system that confines students to rows, that rarely seeks to discover innate talent and instead seeks to repair deficits, that reduces humanity to data points and pie charts and in doing so deadens curiosity and drives creativity into hiding.

O Me!  O School!

And yet, in that final stanza…the “answer.”  There is such hope.

Such hope as to remind me of people like Kevin Jarrett, whose students are learning to change the world through design.  People like Aaron Eden and his Eliad group, empowering students to pursue social entrepreneurship.  And people like Dave Burgess, whose swashbuckling ways have sparked a revolution in so many classrooms.

Such hope as to allay my fears and empower my son, my students, and my self, to exert our powerful, colorful, interesting selves upon the world; to take charge of our learning; to educate ourselves rather than waiting for it to happen to us; and perhaps, to change the world.


“Lift Off”: Graduation Speech at Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2016

(Click here to see the spoken-word graduation speech that, admittedly, has been around for a few months but which I just watched.)

I don’t have much to say about this but…Wow!  If all teachers had the passion, the vision of this young man, we’d all be better people.

Consider, if you are a teacher, what you can do to “connect the dots of the constellations in the eyes” of your students, to see them as “comets leaving their beautiful trail” wherever and whenever they go screaming across your skies.

If you are a parent, seek out these teachers, these rare creatures, and allow your children to breathe and live in the beautiful air of their rooms.  Know that their teaching may not resemble what you remember, but that they will leave a mark, indelible, incredible, and infinitely important, on your children.

Something is Missing

Brothers Peace ValleyDid I not know this?  Have I been this callous and self-involved?  Does it even make a difference that I might, now, care?

Yesterday terrorists attacked the Brussels Airport and a Subway stop.  To date, 34 people are counted as the dead.

Today I heard an interview with a brother of a young man who, along with is girlfriend,  had been living and loving in Belgium.  He spoke of his brother, the girl, and of their lives lived so deeply and interestingly.

They are among those not yet accounted for.

Nothing we are in this world is impervious to endings.  We write them ourselves.  They are written by others.  They are purposeful.  They are merely coincidental.  Fated.  Greek.  Permanent.

I have children.  I cannot conceive of their end written by anyone.  I know this fear is not new. But it is  mine.

And while I do not fear terrorists, while they do not inspire terror in me, I wonder what they think, what they feel, and how I might, given the chance, take as much from them.

Poem:  After Two Brothers and Others Unknown Committed a Terrorist Attack in Brussels, Belgium, 3/22/16, Killing 34 people

Here…Let me take       this       from you:

doesn’t matter,

bleeds like everything else,

screams as loudly,

couldn’t do enough,

would never have traded you for           ,

loved you without words or glances,

cried like you when you didn’t know you were crying,

knew more than could ever be said,

used to be your            ,

used to drink all the milk,

used to push you till you broke,

won’t be something you have to worry about anymore.