Tag Archives: school

Love Rules

YOU CAN’T SAY, “YOU CAN’T PLAY.” (Vivian Gussin Paley, 1993)

It is true that I never had an opportunity to attend kindergarten. In fact, I never attended a school stratified by age until I was a teenager.

I grew up and learned within a family structure—at home and at school.

As the youngest of a farm family of six children, and the youngest by a few years, I was always included in the family activities. My brothers and sisters just took me along. It seemed natural to me.

Only once in my early life, as I recall, was I excluded from play. I believe I was told that there was one too many people in the sand box, and that that one was me. I did not understand.

This kind of thing did not happen in my home. It also did not happen at Sanborn Hill School. Everybody played—boys, girls, first graders and eighth graders, fast and slow.

Apparently this is not true in most kindergartens. As described by the author, children frequently told other children that they could not play. Some children were excluded from a lot of games and activities. It occurred to this veteran teacher that such exclusion seemed too harsh and not acceptable.

She made a rule that you can’t say, “You can’t play.”

Before installing the rule, the teacher discussed the rule with not only her class, but several other classes up to fifth grade. The children did not think it would work.

Here is the scary part: Older elementary students thought it might work for the little kids because they were nicer, but it wouldn’t work for the older kids.

My first conclusion is that children know that it is not nice to exclude people because you don’t like them or because they are not your friends.

My second conclusion is that children believe that they, themselves, are not nice—even though they were nice when they were small. There is a kind of fatalistic attitude of moral decline that the children see as outside of their control.

Parents, teachers, grandparents, this is our job. Children need the gift of rules. People need the gift of rules at any age. The big question becomes who shall make these rules?

Not children and not old people who act like children.

Vivian Gussin Paley’s experiment with this rule in her kindergarten class went well. Children loved it. Many continued the rule into adulthood.

There was a relief from the tyranny of exclusion, not only for those excluded, but for those who felt they had an obligation to exclude non-friends from activities with their friends—a palpable feeling of relief is how I heard the author describe the classroom after the rule came to be.

We can study and postulate social theory, but I think it is quite simple: Love feels good.

We all want to be good, kind, nice people. We just don’t know how. We don’t know the rules, or we are too weak to enforce them upon ourselves. True freedom in the form of individual agency depends upon a socially responsible ethic.

So, like me or not, “Do you want to play?”

Careful Caring

My memory is vivid of one of the saddest high school freshmen girls I had ever seen entering my classroom on the first day of school and finding her way to a seat in the far back corner. She looked so depressed that I feared for her safety. Through two semesters, I watched her gradually relax and open up to some classmates. She had made that difficult transition to high school.

During the next year, about once every couple of weeks, she and another friend used to stop by my first period classroom before school for a few minutes—just to say hello. It was always a good way to start the day.

In late winter, the time when students are signing up for classes for the next year, they came with a serious question. They asked if I taught Biology.

I said I did but that I would not be teaching it next year and I asked why.

They were hoping they might get me as their Biology teacher. I asked why. The formerly sad girl said, “Because you are my favoritest teacher.”

Again, I asked why and she replied, “Because you care how we feel.”

After a quarter century of teaching, I believe that is still my best compliment.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Dr. Hart, who donates his time for our Combat PTSD Aftercare Group (for those who have gone through his year-long program of individual and group therapy), refers to being gentlemen. Basically, that means behaving as though we care how others feel. Most of us claim to not be gentlemen and to not want to be gentlemen.

But we are. Within the group, we obey a few simple rules about caring. We do not discuss war stories, politics, religion, or professional sports. And we do not carry weapons. Within this group, we usually behave as gentlemen.

We care how others feel.

We can identify with each other. We understand what PTSD feels like, and we know some things that trigger the worst episodes. We don’t wish those on anybody.

Some of us have had long marriages, but many have had more than one. Relationships are not easy for us. Long marriages for Combat Veterans seem to require spouses who learn how to care how we feel. I don’t know just how that works, but I do see good recovery from many of our symptoms among those with long marriages.

Funny thing about caring: While caring spouses seems to work for some of us, I think the opposite is much more important. What helps us recover is caring for others.

Could it be that simple?

The love that heals us is the love we feel for others?

I have always learned more from my students than I feel I taught them, and these young ladies taught me something very real. Yes, my caring about how they felt did provide some comfort and support during the raw years of high school. My caring about them also abated some of my symptoms for many years—until I retired from teaching.

With caring for others comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes threat of self. With threat comes PTSD.

But, with caring for others comes opportunity for recovery. The D in PTSD can stand for Dilemma. We feel the need to be very careful about how and for whom we care.

We need help. We need safe places and ways to care for others. We need you.



Support Troops After Return. Yellow ribbons, parades and medals are all appropriate ways of honoring and supporting our troops; however, they are not nearly enough. Not nearly.

They put their lives on the line for us, facing conditions most cannot imagine, and they will live with the personal consequences the rest of their lives. Will we? Or, will we wave a flag, wear a ribbon, and turn back to our own lives, leaving them to bear the pain of their wounds, visible and invisible, with no further thought or care from us?

There is a hard reality to combat trauma: It changes people. It changes the structure and function of brains, and it changes thoughts and behaviors. It changes people and relationships. It changes the way our troops view the world and the way the world sees them. The least we can do is face this reality, to make it our problem, not just theirs.

Our troops need educations, entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs. We cannot give these. They must earn them; however, we can help. We can participate in ownership of the problem and search for solutions.

There are many ways to approach the needs of our returning troops, and each of you has some special quality, some expertise, some talent to contribute. You have something special and unique to offer. Will you share?

I have made a lifetime of school, and I have studied learning. This is what I have to offer.

Our troops are coming home with world views that make learning more difficult. I don’t want to label these as disabilities or disorders, for most are not. They are challenges. Learning new concepts, skills, and techniques will be necessary to rejoin the civilian world. Learning is necessary but difficult, more difficult for our returning troops than before their service, more difficult than for the average citizen, more difficult because of changes to their brains and behaviors.

Here’s where we come in. We need to learn, too—families, friends, employers, venture capitalists, schools—we need to know how to help our Veterans learn their ways out of the pain and confusion. That is the point of this blog series.

All I am saying is, “Give them a chance.” Invest enough time and energy to learn about Combat PTSD and other challenges for our returning troops.

Would you care to help? You can begin by going to the link below and giving me some feedback on this blog. You can download a teaching evaluation form in Word, complete it, and send it to the email on the form as an attachment. This will help me learn how to help our returning troops through this blog.


STAR—Support Troops After Returns.

Seasons of Sorrow

Science of Joy III: Public Rug

How do we teach joy inside and outside of our institutions of learning?

I left for college in 1964 and never went back home other than short visits. I even worked during Christmas break cleaning dorm rooms. Still, I remember spending time with family during the holidays with a cloud over my head. The semester did not end until January, and I had final exams to take. While this insanity of school calendar seems to have passed for most college students, it remains in many public high schools. We place an academic damper on the joy of our students.

Winter holiday time is stressful; evidence abounds in suicide rates. I wonder why that might be. I have heard some speculations about seasonal affective disorder, expectations of failed expectations, people missing family, and so on. While all of these may be true, I suspect the root cause is much simpler. We do not teach our children how to be joyful. It is not part of the curriculum. I suppose schools are leaving that up to the family.

Our larger institutions seem to lack joy, as well. Especially when Christmas comes during campaign season—and that seems to be every year, recently—we are inundated with everything that is wrong with our country, real and imagined. News cycles focus on tragedy, conspiracy, and calamity.

Fear is not conducive to joy.

We seem to believe we can buy joy.

Science seems to indicate otherwise. The more stuff we accumulate, the more we seem to fear losing it, and the more we seem to believe we need. We teach our children by our actions. Gluttony of mammon is an inherited disease, and there is no joy in it.

Grim post, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. This is the season for giving. Giving without any thought of thanks or reward is a certain pathway to joy. There are other avenues, but all have one thing in common: humility in diminution of ego. Sorry, I don’t have scientific evidence at hand to validate this claim. Do you? I would love to read your comments.

Maybe we need only remind ourselves to enjoy what we have. Certainly, material security in air, water, food, and shelter is important. Joy, however, comes not from our security or other blessings, but in our opportunities to share. Isn’t that the real message of the Season of Joy? Let us teach this to ourselves, families, friends, and strangers through our actions.

All I want for Christmas is time to share a little joy.

Whatever your faith, I hope you enjoy the journey.

Joy, Sex, and Rage

Science of Joy II: Mind Wind

One story lead this week claims that brain chemistry during meditation is similar to brain chemistry during sex.

Note to self: Meditate more often.

Perhaps schools should be teaching meditation rather than abstinence.

Nah. This requires discipline because we lack a meditation drive. A quarter century of teaching teenagers has taught me a couple of things: 1) Many lack discipline (much like the rest of us); 2) Many are creative enough to try both at the same time (along with other joy-simulating stuff).

A quick look at the history of sex reveals that many cultures consider it a spiritual activity. Furthermore, a recent news story covered a therapy program teaching people how to avoid STDs and the complications of dating by using visualization (meditation) as an alternative. But, this post is not really about sex. It is about joy.

Science can and does study joy. We observe physical (electrical) and chemical (e.g. neurotransmitter) changes associated with feelings or states of joy. These can be identified, qualified, and even quantified in some cases.

The winds of my mind tell me we spend a great deal of our lives seeking joy through chocolate or cognac, success or fame, love or security, status or stuff. We are often deceived. Like the habitual body gyrations of a batter at the plate, we go through a dance of drink and song, food and fashion, job and hobby, all to recreate a feeling we had—that’s the key—had, in the past.

Perhaps we could apply some principles of science to establish causal relationships between our activities and our feelings. We can study them. Others have. We can learn from their joy and pain.

Follow your bliss. Find it. Seek it. It may be on the other side of effort or even pain. Do the work. There are no short-cuts.

Note to self: Hard physical work often is followed by a feeling of joy.

I cannot end this post without mentioning PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. Stress can change our physical brain structures and our brain chemistry. Production of joy-stimulating chemicals is diminished so that a nagging feeling of dread is common. Furthermore, it becomes more challenging to find activities that produce the chemicals of joy.

Another complication is adrenalin. The ability to catabolize stress-response chemicals out of our system is also diminished. This leaves us with a prolonged stress response in the form of rage that can last acutely for days. It also persists in chronic low grade. Rage is not only a substitute for the high of battle, but it masks our feelings of vulnerability.

Rage becomes our substitute for joy.

Recovery from combat PTSD (www.ErvBarnes.com), and probably other forms, can be as simple as a journey of learning how to enjoy life, again. It becomes imperative that we learn how to follow our bliss. Science is beginning to help. Hurray for science.

Enjoy the journey.

Public Rug: Learning Duty

In the spirit of Veterans’ Day, I will focus my comments on the positive contributions toward educating our young on the nature of duty. That will be the focus, but first I indulge my critical nature. When it comes to public education within and without the walls of institution, we do a lot of things wrong.

As a society, we tell young people their duty: sit quietly in school, volunteer to answer questions, complete homework on time, prepare for and strive to perform on tests, and successfully compete with peers by doing better than they do in school. Kids know that is a lot of bunk. They can feel it in their guts. They know intuitively that what they believe is their personal business. Because we cannot really teach duty (or much of anything else) by telling others what to do, we end up confusing them about the nature of duty. Thankfully, many of our young citizens and future leaders do learn lessons of duty at home and around the community—by watching how we appreciate those who have done and are doing their duty.

Sometimes our schools also do this very well. For many years, our Beaver Dam High School Senior Speech Class, taught by Mrs. Jeri Kimmell, presented a whole school assembly in honor of our Veterans. Local Veterans were invited to participate in the audience and join in social activities hosted by the students. Aging citizens came face-to-face with beautiful young people, and the students looked into the eyes and shook hands with genuine heroes. Every veteran on staff and from the community were given boutonnieres in honor of their service. The students dressed in their finest appropriate clothes. It was one of the best school-community functions I have ever been privileged to enjoy.

On some occasions, I was honored to speak at the assembly. I stood on stage in front of more than a thousand people to share a little of my experience as a veteran. That is a very scary proposition for a bashful boy, but I am extremely grateful for the experiences. Besides giving me opportunity to serve my school and community, it required me to process, and make some sense of, my combat experiences. Thank you Senior Speech students of the past, Jeri, and BDHS.

I remember on one occasion, I began by saying that the only good soldier is a reluctant soldier. I expressed my feelings about wishing to avoid war, to avoid the stains of blood, to avoid the sadness and guilt that follow us forever after. I remember seeing the faces of Veteran friends in the audience, including my wife, Nancy, and recognizing their understanding, empathy, and pride as I spoke. It is a very good memory for this tired, old, reluctant soldier.

On another occasion, I began by reading names of fallen soldiers on The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall. I read them slowly and then reported my calculations on how long it would take to read them all. I suggested that if we were to include all the names of Vietnamese and the Cambodians lost in the Killing Fields after we left, we might need fifty walls. Having been a military advisor, I had many real friends among the Vietnamese and Kmer people.

On this second occasion, I also shared my first real spiritual experience at The Wall, an event that moves me even twenty three years later. You might not be surprised to learn that this is one personal experience that found its way into the fictional story of my novel, BEYOND THE BLOOD CHIT. You may read the first three chapters by going to www.ErvBarnes.com.

BE. After all these years of teaching and studying, that is still the summary of my theory on education. If we wish to teach duty, we must do our duty. If we wish to teach value for duty, we must value others who have done or are doing their duty. If we would wish our children to be dutiful, so we must be.

I am neither hero nor victim. Very, very many have sacrificed much more than I have. Today is just one day when I remind myself to honor them—to honor you, each and every one who performs duty in and out of uniform. Thank you for your service, and welcome home.

Mind Wind: Courageous Choices

News in requiem for Steve Jobs this week included stories about some of his decisions and his approach to making choices. He was a man capable of making tough decisions, and many of them seemed to be good choices, at least economically. How did he do that?

Well, first of all, he did it. He chose. For some of us, choosing is often difficult and sometimes almost impossible. We get tangled up in fears of consequences. Will I lose money? Status? Face?

One story claims to reveal how Apple came to be a household computer term. Steve and his partner were working on their project in a garage. They decided it was time to name their company but struggled with the choices available. Steve was eating an apple, so they decided that if they could not come up with a name by some time (maybe, 5?), they would just call it Apple. Done. Choice made.

Another story in video reveals Steve’s approach to making decisions after his diagnosis. He said that making choices became easier as he remembered that he was going to die, soon. I guess it sort of puts things into perspective. How important could this decision be compared to the grand scheme?

I marvel at the ability some people have to make decisions that affect lives and property. I watch our presidents face crises and stand up to make these decisions. Without prejudice of politics, they put me in awe. President Bush (W) faced the world after 911 and made decisions with faith, and America stood with him. I believe he put those huge decisions into perspective. President Obama faced decisions of economic and natural disasters; an oil spill, wars, secret missions, and citizen discontent. Any one of them would have made me physically ill. I’m glad some people volunteer to serve in such capacity. Decisiveness, as I recall from 1969, was one of the fourteen leadership traits of the U.S. Army Leadership Manual.

There have been some claims about how many decisions a teacher makes in one day. I don’t know the number, but I recall being required to make several before every class. “Can I go to my locker? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I go to the office? Can I sit back there, today? Can we have work day? What are we doing today? Can we have the test tomorrow?”  Then class starts, and while I am directing students’ attention to some important topic, I am making decisions
about how to deal with somebody talking, somebody else wandering around, one student poking somebody, and/or another sleeping. Maybe one of the students is crying or just very sad, today. Maybe one has fresh cut marks on her arm or bruises on his face.

Decisions are difficult for me. Sometimes they are overwhelming. I have chosen to put my writing into print for all the world (okay, a few people) to see. Will they approve? Will they like it? I know it’s a good story, and I also know that it is not crafted with the mastery of literary greats. A friend asked me this week, “Do you feel naked?” Yes, I do.

There have been many very big decisions in my life. Each has affected my whole life. Here are a few: Go to the University of Wisconsin. Get married. Major in Genetics. Join the Army. Go to Infantry OCS. Become a Green Beret. Serve with Special Forces in Vietnam. Go back to college. Stop with a Masters Degree. Take a job in Agronomy at UW. Get divorced. Go back to school for teacher certification. Take a job in Beaver Dam. Get married, again. Okay, that’s enough, and we only got to 1980.

I formed a couple of rules about choice early in life and have tried to follow them. First, don’t choose until necessary so I can gather adequate information. Second, try to make choices that open doors rather than closing them (but, it’s relative). Third, work the problem to make a rational choice. Fourth, ask advice (but make my own choice). Much later in life, I decided on another rule, and I was happy to hear something similar from Steve Jobs: Follow my heart. Yeah, that one is really difficult, sometimes. It takes discipline and practice—and, in my case, a special kind of prayer. I guess there is one more rule I use: Accept the gifts. Sometimes one choice seems to be placed right before me, rather like a sign.

I could not choose to not teach. I kept getting teaching opportunities—laboratory teaching aid as an undergrad, teaching assistant as a graduate student, and Academic Staff teaching in Agronomy. I could not deny that I enjoyed the learning I experienced as a teacher.

I don’t believe I could choose not to write. When feelings build, I have to do something, and I never learned any other art form. Writing is therapeutic as well as educational and fun. I have to do it. I don’t know if I have to share it, but that is my choice.

Usually, my angst over a choice is inflated beyond reason. At my age, I know I am going to die relatively soon, maybe ten or twenty years, and most of my choices won’t matter much. Besides, I am not nearly smart enough to anticipate all the consequences of any choice. But, some choices do matter very much. I always worried about the effect some stupid thing I might say or do (inside or outside a classroom) might have on others. That’s how I came up with my class rules, Care, Think, and Be. They were for me as much as for the students, reminding me to care, to think, and to be as nice as I knew how to be.

I guess there is one more rule for my choices. They are mine. I am responsible for making them, and I am responsible for the consequences. I own them, and that is real freedom, perhaps the only freedom.

Public Rug: ‘Teaching Time’

There are many things I miss about teaching high school, but those damned clocks and bells are not among them. Every room and hallway had a clock with some attached bell. And, the clocks in our school all had sweep second hands. In motorcycle and drag racing vernacular, many students were adept at executing the holeshot.

Have you ever wondered what our schools teach young minds about time? Let’s think about it. First of all, if you have the notion that curriculum lives in textbooks, lesson plans, or some elaborate documents collecting dust in district offices, you are missing the obvious. Curriculum is only what the students experience, and every day they experience many lessons on time.

To begin with, the concept of curriculum is based upon a race. Chariots drawn by two or four horses were raced about a course, frequently a closed circuit inside a stadium (not really unlike NASCAR). The chariots were called curricles, and the racecourse was—you guessed it—the curriculum. Did you really guess it?

Here are a few more lessons:

  1. Head Start;
  2. Head of the Class;
  3. No Child Left Behind;
  4. School Year (say, 180 days);
  5. School Day (say 7:47 a.m. to 3:23 p.m.);
  6. School Class Period (say 47 minutes or 90 minutes);
  7. Passing Time (say 4 minutes to pee, stop at your locker, and get to your next class two hallways over);
  8. School Career (say 13 or 14 years not counting college!);
  9. Due Date (say Nov 20th at the BEGINNING of class);
  10. Late Work (sorry, not accepted).
  11. Tardy!
  12. Detention.

So, young people quickly learn a few things about time. First, they learn to bide it. The clock will turn and freedom will be theirs pretty much regardless of their actions. Hey! I’m not saying that’s the way things should be, but for many students, that is reality. Oh, they also learn that if they hurry up and finish assignments, they get free time to do whatever. So, some hurry through distasteful activities (such as tests) while others race against a clock to finish a job well (such as tests). In brief, they learn that time is either too fast or too slow depending upon attitude and intention. It tends to make one change attitude and/or intention. That could be called learning.

Just a suggestion based upon personal observation: Choices made in high school often depend upon naïve, quiet, subconscious choices students made about time way back in elementary school or (shudder) at home. Habits developed by high school are very difficult to break later. This is the nature of our magic carpet that flies our young people toward the American dream, the rug under which we sweep our social embarassments–our “Public Rug”.