Be a Bright Spot During a Dark Time This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving3

This year will mark the fact that I have had the opportunity to live through 56 Thanksgivings. I was born on a Sunday, November 24th, 1963, two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Thanksgiving occurred on November 28th that year, the same as this year. It was a time, not unlike today, filled with political uncertainty. My mother told me I was the only child born that evening. Nurses and doctors were still in shock at the Kennedy assassination, but my birth was a bright spot during a dark time. I have always loved that story.

Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of our republic have designated days of thanksgiving and fasting. The Thanksgiving we celebrate annually in November was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941. It is rooted in a 1621 event where Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgivings.

Rather than allowing fear and trepidation to dictate our state of mind here on the cusp of 2020, we should look at the great hope our country provides to the world. This Thanksgiving we need a more civil, honest discourse among ourselves, as families, friends and as countrymen. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was no stranger to political conflict in his day.  King reminded us, “Hate is always tragic. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. It distorts the personality and scars the soul.” Hate breeds more hate, but love conquers all.

Rock singer Bono said in a Rolling Stone interview: “I don’t fear politicians or presidents. They should be afraid. They’ll be accountable for what happened on their watch.” Bono added, “It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead, it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.”

Poor and starving people are not particularly appealing news stories, but fighting poverty is and should be a moral imperative for citizens in our cities, state, and nation. Teachers are often on the frontlines fighting battles with children who go to bed hungry and wake up starving. Theological apathy, just like political apathy, is not an acceptable excuse. Yes, “the poor will always be with us.” However, Jesus, in his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessing in our lives. And just as in years past, we should seek with grateful hearts the political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible. However, we must recognize what is truly essential: faith, family, and friends. Embrace others. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. If you want to touch the heart of God, take an interest in the things that interest God. Let God love others through you.

Every great nation should include the recognition that every child is created in the image of God, and that fact means we will use our resources to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, especially the vulnerable. Think of those less fortunate this year before your Thanksgiving prayers, remind yourself of those in poverty whose plates are often empty. We are incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty without all of us working together to address poverty and hunger.

We must endeavor to understand our nation’s place in the world. And while some Americans may believe we have lost some of our luster, the truth is that we are still the greatest beacon of freedom on the planet. We do not get our rights from the government but from God.  The government exists to protect our rights.  I would remind people, don’t fear the politicians. Hold them accountable.

Our nation is an exporter of dreams, and we must cast a vision of an exceptional America to the world. Do we have problems as a nation? Yes, we do. So does every civilization that has ever flourished. This Thanksgiving let us count our blessings, and be truly grateful for an opportunity to be alive at such a time as this and call ourselves Americans. The most important thing you can do is be a bright spot this Thanksgiving for someone going through a dark time.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

 

Labor Day Thoughts

This article originally ran in 2017.  This year another Hurricane Dorian threatens our country.  

labor

My ancestors migrated here, including my Native American relatives, and in their own way they have contributed positively to the development of the county. They have been soldiers, teachers, preachers, farmers, bankers, builders and the list goes on. Our nation was formed out of the fires of Revolution –that cost lives, possessions, and even a way of life. America was built on the backs of immigrants, including those forced by slavery to come to our shores.

Labor Day has many meanings, but one meaning is that we must recognize the incredible effort it took to build this great country. We must remember those men and women who came before us and sacrificed for all of us on this day.

President Barack Obama said in his first inaugural address about our settlers: “It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.”

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it is true that there no longer seems to be a consensus about what it should mean. Our evolution from the margins of society to the forefront of political change is all the more remarkable when we realize we are a melting pot of cultures. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display not only in our urban communities, but increasingly in our rural communities as well.

Today, our country is divided politically. We see conflicts, in our streets and in the media. We see the “us versus them” attitude that prevents us from collectively working to improve our communities, our state, and our nation. Rather than compromise, we choose to not collaborate on hard issues and pass along our problems to our future generations. Lack of leadership, whether at the local, state or federal level, means our problems only grow larger. Anytime a voice is silenced, it eventually finds a place where it can be heard. Unfortunately, too many voices drown out those who offer attainable solutions to real problems.

However, it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize that despite those differences, we have more in common than we can imagine. Nothing brings us closer together as a nation than we face adversity, whether it is a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. “What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” as John F. Kennedy said. Our great strength as a nation comes in our unity, which is the critical component of America’s perseverance.

While we watched Hurricane Harvey batter Texas, Louisiana and other parts of our country, residents continue to struggle with rain, flooding, and destruction. The damage is still not fully comprehensible, and another Hurricane, Irma, is also threatening.

We can see that many American’s have already lost everything – their homes, cherished items and some their very lives. However, the amazing efforts of volunteers have been an incredible sight to witness. We notice the generosity of the American people to give and share with their neighbors. The way we respond to these tragedies is what makes our nation great.

We will work to repair those areas impacted by natural disaster. The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey will take years to restore. It is a quintessential American trait that our citizens are dedicated to ensuring those impacted by natural disasters have the support they need to rebuild. History teaches us we will come back stronger than before, as long as America’s men and women today have the same courageous vision, the same audacity and indomitable spirit that made us a great nation in the beginning.

The majority of Americans still want what those first Americans wanted: a better life for themselves and their children. We must commit ourselves individually, and as a nation, to pass the baton of liberty to the next generation in this melting pot of cultures we call the United States of America. This Labor Day, I am reminded of the true value of freedom, the unique heritage of our nation and the effort so many people who came before us put forth so that we could enjoy the fruits of our labors. Happy Labor Day.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Dream On

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multi-million-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education re-imagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.

To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

Dream On

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Dream On

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education reimagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.  To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.