August To June. Teach Our Children Well



AUGUST TO JUNE Excerpts for “Teach Your Children Well” presentation

August To June, Empathy And Education; The Union

As Presented at Temple Beth El, Boca Raton. Community Forum on Education; “Teach Your Children Well”

I wish to thank Rabbi Brockman, Debbie Block, and each of you, for this opportunity.  May I also offer my sincere gratitude to my mentors, Amy and Tom Valens, the makers of August To June.

You have just seen a lesson the two illustrate so well.  “One Class” plus “One Year” equals more than the sum of these parts.  Through twenty-six eight to ten year olds, and a Teacher, the Whole Child concept is understood.

Other persons who offered this lesson are here among us.  In spirit my very, very, very young cousin, at the age of 93 is with us, as are you.  I will share Alvin’s wisdom as I go on. I experience that yours is ever-present in our travel together this evening.  For now, I will merely say; Alvin does, as I trust you will tonight; teach me.  I have faith that your every word and deed will inform my own.

That is what human interaction does for each of us; it edifies.

Even an encounter with our own thoughts teaches. Thus, I suspect this evening, you will teach yourself.

Let us begin to learn as we look beyond the limits and the labels.

What we saw on the screen only moments ago were the words, “One Class” and “One Year.” We also glimpsed into the lives of an extraordinary Teacher and her exceptional students.  Parents too, while less prominent in this particular clip, are everywhere in the full-length feature film.

There is much that makes up a Whole Child, a Whole Classroom, and a Whole Life. I think of Alvin, his 93 years on this planet.  There is not a day that goes by without Alvin discovering a new fact or fiction.  The same is true for me, and you!  Yet, others wish to reduce each of us to descriptors.

You are a professional person, a parent, a Mom, or Dad. He or she is an “At Risk” Student, a “Highly Qualified Teacher,” or a “High Performing Pupil.” “Dropouts” too abound or did before they were left behind.  Each spends most of their days in a “Failed School.”

That is what people do; we categorize, characterize, and calculate the numbers.

We place labels on all that we see.  Rarely do we ponder as Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard did near two hundred years ago.

“Once you label me, you negate me.”

Thankfully, my cousin Alvin had thought that notion through.  Alvin taught me decades ago . . .

“No two people, places, experiences or emotions are ever the same.  They are similar, but never the same.”

Let us consider this thought as it equates to education.  If you are not as I, and he is not as she, why would we think any of our children are identical or that they learn in identical ways?  Is it even possible that two students might interpret a test question in the exactly the same manner?  I doubt it.

We see the similarities and differences in children. We heard and felt these while in Amy Valens’ classroom.   I saw vast variances in students I have worked with. You too may have caught a glimpse of this veracity in your own lives.

As we looked and listened, we learned.  Ultimately, as Alvin also frequently articulates, much of what we discern was not taught in a formal lesson.  Alvin says on education . . .

“More is caught than taught.”

I invite you to reflect on your reality as it relates to this thought. Who was or were your best Teachers?

Did you encounter your mentor, your Muse in a classroom between the months of August To June?

Was he or she; were these Teachers, the embodiment of Empathy And Education?

If so, was it an understanding relationship that truly helped advance your knowledge?

Were you as Amy’s students obviously were, happy to have a caring Educator at and on your side?

Please ponder the Instructors you have had, be these classroom Teachers, Moms, Dads, siblings, Grandparents, and or a person you merely encountered in your journeys.

How did each affect your learning?

Did a grade or a test determine how much or how little you learned?

Could any of what you gained be calculated in a single moment or on a particular exam?

Could a supposedly “objective” observer have understood who you are, what wisdom you acquired in school, or in your life?

Perchance, we might assess as our current system does.  The structure that we the adults, Administrators, and policymakers put in place looks only at the labels.

Assumptions are made. Too often your child is viewed as the sum total of test questions. “One Class?” “One Year?”  We define a Whole Child by his or her test scores secured in a single week.  Then, sage as we are, call that a comprehensive assessment.

Statisticians conclude that the results of high-stakes assessment tests taken over the course of a few days, correctly characterize the complexity that is your child.  Someone who has never seen or spoken with your tot, teen, or tween determines the wealth of knowledge he, or she, has acquired.

This person will not consider that perhaps, on the occasion of his or her testing, the young one was ill.  Nor will a group of examiners be made aware of his or her circumstances.

It might be that little John or Jane just discovered plans of an impending divorce, a death in the family, or Juanita and José learned that a friend had moved to parts unknown.  Will these events be reflected in the final test scores?  Absolutely! Labels do not distinguish.

All are created equal, even when they are not.  Indeed, as Alvin expounds . . .

“No two people, places, experiences or emotions are ever the same.  They are similar, but never the same.”

This is why I say to you, what you saw on the screen minutes ago was not “One Class,” “One Year,” or an extraordinary Teacher with her exceptional students.

August To June shows us the many who learn daily in our schools.  It also bears witness to the countless ways in which each discovers new knowledge.  On the screen we observed you and me . . . all learners, unique beings that we each are.

This film is not a prescription for a standardized proposal.

In August To June you heard Amy reflect a more real profundity . . .

I don’t know what will become of the children in my classroom.  I may think I have glimpses of their futures, but there are so many influences that I can’t see, can’t imagine. What I can offer is a solid beginning, giving them tools they can use in many situations, and opportunities to use them.

Just as my cousin Alvin, Amy does not pretend to know which pearls of wisdom thrown will be caught.  Instead, Educator Amy Valens speaks to the similarities that are never the same.  In the vernacular of today she reflects on the reality, we are all “Whole Children,” Teachers, and Students too.  We are more than “One” Score in “One Class” in the course of “One Year.

Every one of us, regardless of our age looks, listens, learns, teaches, and then learns anew.

We are never authentically “One.” We are a collection of emotions, experiences, lessons learned and the effects of these.  We do not discover the wealth of our knowledge in “One Year.” Nay express all that we unearthed in a single examination.  Teacher Amy Valens stated as she strolled through the backyard . . .

There isn’t one right way to teach, but whatever the method, the “whole child” is there, waiting, and needs to be addressed.  If we stay mindful of that, and are not constrained by one size-fits-all solutions, we can create joyful, respectful environments that fit the children we’re teaching.

Let us Bring Life to Schools.  It is time that we more authentically assess and teach.  Rather than repeat the problems as Administrators, policymakers and parents do, let us do other than adopt unsubstantiated solutions or accept statements proven false. Think of your own life and your child’s. Students held accountable do not necessarily succeed.

Teachers paid more for higher students’ test scores fare no better.

Measurements do not move minds Nay Mountains.

Test scores are not the best determinates for future successes.

Failure is not only an option; it is what these practices yield.

It is these narrow approaches, the labels we purposely impose, that have led us to be  “A Nation At Risk!” We never were or will be “One Class,” “One Year,” or achieve “One Standard” that truly serves our students well.  We are more than the sum of these parts.

I offer a thought Malcolm Gladwell articulates in an article titled Teachers and Quarterbacks . . .

You discover that the psychological situation facing gatekeepers…is identical: that confronted with a prediction deficit, the human impulse is to tighten standards, when it fact it should be to loosen standards.

Let us invest in The State of the Union, Empathy and Education. Let us embrace the “Whole Child.”  After all, Education and Empathy affect us all. From August To June, and in the Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall we learn, grow, and can glow greater if we choose.

Let us Bring Love Back to Learning and Life Back To Our Schools.

I thank you my mentors.

Resources . . .

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Face of the Enemy



Faces of the Enemy

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

Today, Americans walk it back, Belatedly, and too late to bring home American and Allied troops who died in battle, government officials released recordings.  The media distributes and discusses these en masse.  Those prominent in the Press and Public Office say “the people have the right to know,” exactly what the tale that could have been told decades ago.  Osama Bin Laden was never more than human, a tragic hero, a comical character, just as you or me.

He had a home, a family. Osama sat around and watched television.  This man, like any of us might, searched for recognition. He sought attention in ways that made sense to him.  Osama Bin Laden had beliefs. He expressed these.  Gratified, when an audience showered him with praise he did more of what yielded greater acceptance.  

Bin Laden came to understand that when he spoke, people listened.  Many appreciated his message.  For good or bad people looked for the hidden meaning.  Countries made deciphering his every word their mission.  Americans and Allies invested trillions of dollars in troops, tanks, and translations all to quell the force of the man known as Osama Bin Laden.

“We did it!” Americans clamored. Some say we “captured” the man we slaughtered.  People poured out onto the streets to celebrate the “mission accomplished.”  We, the Americans are “victorious.” Caught off-guard while with his family, this man was assassinated, Americas rejoiced.

“Ding dong the witch is dead.”  Which “witch” will be next?  Might it be another average guy with ill-intent, or will powerful persons declare it is you or me?  You might say that would never be, but.  .

A week after the massacre, it is now revealed that the real Osama Bin Laden is but a sad and sheltered figure. Past the time when it might have helped save the lives of millions of innocent Iraqi and Afghani people, those displaced, dismembered or just dead, United States Leaders show the people that Osama bin Laden was never more than a mere mortal.  We are now allowed to see that the “enemy” who the world sought and feared, is but a man.  Bin Laden, scruffy in appearance, today, is cast as a megalomaniac.  Americans are told he had an inflated ego. What human would not think him self significant having been given center stage?

When three Presidents, each of whom represents the most “powerful nation” on the planet, formally declares you as “Enemy Number One” might you not consider your forcefulness grand?  To know these Heads of State publicly express the need to have you in their sights how can you not think that you, as an individual must be truly important?  Indeed, anyone with that much command must be a force to be reckoned with.  Given the floor, by those who later would execute him, Osama Bin Laden took it!

Early on, like a character in a book, Bin Laden was assigned a role.  Later, when his performance was recognized a brilliant Osama became more prominent.  The Actor was elevated to the stage.  Broadway beware.  This man mesmerizes. His skills as a speaker, a preacher, a Teacher allowed audiences’ world wide to suspend disbelief.  People forgot that a man has no power beyond what we give him . . .  and oh how we did.  Osama Bin Laden, with our assistance became the “face of the enemy.”

He became larger than life. Feared. Jeered.  “Wanted” “Dead or alive.”  Osama Bin Laden was designated the enemy.  Thus, this human became a faceless monster, an inhuman demon.  Artists, Authors, or perchance more accurately, Administrations painted his picture for us.  “He is a barbarian, an aggressor, a liar, madman, a vile animal that can be exterminated without regret.  Before we make war, even before we make weapons, we make an idea of the enemy.  Every society has its official image of the enemy.”  For Americans and Allies it was Osama Bin Laden.  Tomorrow might it be you?

Follow the Fear Resources . . .

A Day That Lives In Infamy

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copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

On this date, May 2, 2011, my thoughts are with those who lost a loved one in war.  Brutal battles cause such harm. Yet, curiously the seem never-ending.  It would appear that humans forget their history.  When attacked, people frequently attack back.  With a loved one lost in war, or other destructive engagement, rather than relate to the pain of another who has experienced as they do or did, a pained person often seeks revenge.  Combat starts a cycle; however, once commenced, it does not cease.  Perchance, we might ponder the past and the people the circumstances of those who are no longer with us. Instead, today, as the headlines herald Obama Calls World ‘Safer’ After Pakistan Raid and Osama bin Laden Killed by U.S. Forces countless celebrate in glee.

This much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation,

and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.


~ Robert F. Kennedy

copyright © January 7, 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

It is the seventh day of the month, a date that now lives in infamy.  On this occasion, she passed.  She was killed by an attack that was all too sudden.  Her physical presence on Earth did not end in the month of December 7, 1941.  This year is not that one.  The events at Pearl Harbor did cause my Mom’s heart to stop.  Indeed, she only ceased to exist in a form that I can see with my eyes or touch with my hand, less than a decade ago.  Truly, it feels as if Mommy just took her leave.  Today, I think of what it must feel like to all those in the United States and Middle East who are now characterized as the dearly departed.  To have lost their lives in the throws of war must  be awful.  

There is no time to prepare or to feel as though you had an opportunity to “properly” say your good-byes. In the instant that a loved one is brutally taken away, rarely is family there.  To know that someone so special was slaughtered in battle, or was a victim of “collateral damage,” must make a family member cringe.  The declaration of death must feel as a new unwanted beginning, not an end,

I know for me, in every second, Mommy is still with me.  All these years later, I mourn my loss.  Oh, if only I could bring her back.  She enters into my dreams almost daily.  Since childhood, I knew, if she were gone, I might not be able to go on.  Today, on the anniversary of her bodily discorporation, I mourn, as I trust she would, the casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Israel, and anywhere that war delays, defers, or denies family time, space, and a proper setting in which to grieve.

Unreported by United States Armed Forces, the Bush Administration, or the American free press, it was estimated that since the US-led invasion began, as of September 2007, over a million Iraqis were killed.  Opinion Research Business, a prominent British survey agency, approximated 1.2 million Iraqi residents violently realized a horrific conclusion to life.  At times, entire families were among the fatalities, survived by only friends, and relatives who lived.  That does not negate the notion, that someone, somewhere, suffered a loss when each one of those individual lives was snuffed out.

Unlike in my situation, those who loved the dearly departed Iraqis, had no warning.  The persons who live to lament were not able to visit their beloved before their final breath.  Opportunities to say good-bye were few, if they existed at all.  The bombs blasted.  The bullets pierced the delicate flesh of the persons now fallen.  Survivors were left only with their sorrow.  Sadly, some probably regret they could not save a cherished soul.  While I might relate to that feeling, at least I know my Mom passed quietly, safely at home, in the company of those nearest and dearest.  She went to her rest in peace.

In Afghanistan, the challenges are equal to those in Iraq.  Homes sit snugly in a war zone.  Soldiers, who are suspicious of Afghani natives, surround local communities.  Troops are also found within indigenous societal circles.  Weaponry is wielded.  No innocent man, woman, or child is out of harm’s way.  When a friend or family folk is maimed or murdered, neighbors may wish to send condolences, as those close to my Mom did.  Colleagues may yearn to congregate around a casket and cry.  People may seek closure.  Cremations, with a chance to offer ceremonial respects, might be as is customary.  Yet, again, since American and allies attacks commenced, citizens of Afghanistan cannot do as my relatives, and I had done when Mommy departed.

No one is certain how many have passed in the roughed terrain of Afghanistan.  The Pentagon does not release statistics of the insurgents killed.  Nor do they dare calculate the numbers of blameless civilian losses.  The United States Armed Services applaud the accuracy of air strikes.  American military speaks of the smart strategy.

(F)or all their precision, American bombs sometimes take out the wrong targets.  As U.S. air strikes doubled from 2006 to 2007, the number of accidental civilian deaths soared, from 116 to 321, according to Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon targeting chief who tabulates civilian casualties for Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent research group.  By his count, the death toll among civilians so far this year [September 2008] is approaching 200.

The military dismisses such tallies as exaggerated, and their provenance is often murky.  . . .

Whatever the tally, officials both inside and outside the U.S. military say attacks that kill civilians occur with distressing regularity; they generate headlines only when dozens die.  Afghans vividly recall the July 2002 bombing of a wedding party–celebratory gunfire led to retaliation by an AC-130–that killed up to 48 civilians and wounded 117 in Oruzgan province; many were women and children.

This past July, 47 people were killed and nine wounded on their way to a wedding in eastern Afghanistan.  Among the dead were 39 women and children, including the bride-to-be, Afghan authorities said.

What of the families, and friends, of those who survived?  How must they reconcile the loss?  Joyous, the beloved went to a celebration.  Yet, they never returned.  They cease to exist, taken down by a missile.  How must the living feel?

For the people who were close to these sweet spirits and lived, July must be as January is for me, a reminder of what was, would have been, and will never be.  The difference is, for all the persons, perhaps hundreds or thousands in Afghanistan who were touched by those who perished while at a wedding in 2002 and on their way to nuptials in 2007, they know a life was cut short by unnecessary combat.  Beautiful beings were blow into oblivion.

Yet, all the while, people in the States, those who purchased and produced the deadly artillery, pay little attention to what does not affect them personally.  Indeed, on this January 7, 2009, the death toll on foreign shores mounts, and many in America think that fine.  As long as it is not their Mom, Dad, son, or daughter, citizens in this “civilized” country will continue to plan inaugural parties, propose to escalate combat in the Middle East, and sanction the strikes that ensue in Gaza.  

Oh, some may protest.  A few will state they cannot endorse the murders.  Others; however, will justify the cause for they will speak of Hamas as the enemy, evil, just as they do of those in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Justice is served, the American Administration will assuage, as they offer a convenient truth; terrorist must be eliminated.

In truth, as long, those who inhabit the world’s superpower do not suffer, do not experience the loss, the United States will do little to interfere, to impede, what through their dollars, and decades of support, they have endorsed.

Perchance, my Mom, today, yesterday, and forever gave me a gift that gives even when she is far away, one I wish every American might receive.  Mommy taught me to empathize, to truly place my heart in the being of another.  She modeled what most dare not muse.  

Mommy, who never wished to hurt any one or another entity, understood how bereavement affected me.  She knew; when the soul of someone is lost to this world, I ache.  Hence, she stayed on Earth so that I might see her one more time, hold her hand, and say all that we might.  When she knew I could, and would not regret, my Mom wished me well.  “Have a good trip,” the lovely Berenice Barbara said as I left her physical presence.  “You too,” I replied.

It was January 7th, a day that lives in infamy for me, and one that I trust will be tarnished for those in foreign lands who lost a loved one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, or anywhere on this globe.

May we all rest in peace.

References and Resources for Reflection . . .

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