Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Poetry Slams
     The power of words

Introduction to Youth Speaks.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

Not thinking about what does not matter
     And inviting what does

Daffodil in front of tulips and hyacinthA garden is quite civilizing, in the sense that it invites attention to the sort of slow knowledge easily forgotten in the zany precincts downtown. An hour or so after work wandering from beauty to beauty, thinking about light and composition in the context of life cycles and compost is sure to leave all those tense puzzles that characterize modern bureaucratic schools seeming more what they are, little puzzles that matter less than they seem, whether they are solved or not.

When I was a very young teacher I argued in various places that as we more and more thought of teaching using metaphors of war—objectives, tactics, strategies—we would lose touch with the central wonder of it all, which we remember best when we think with metaphors drawn from gardening. We cultivate and we nurture, but most of what happens is beyond our understanding. I can garden daffodils but I could never design one. Most of what it does it does because that’s its nature.

New tulipsMy students today in seventh period were particularly beautiful, in that inattentive and careless way that is part of youth’s charm. We were discussing chapter fourteen of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, where the young scholar demonstrates to the old professor how he can make sense out of an ancient text using modern methods. 

It’s dangerous. The new method may, eventually, dissolve the old certainties. We risk getting lost in the chaos. And yet, the young scholar has learned enough to love order, and that’s what he’s looking for. A greater order.

I was more conscious than usual today that I can’t stop the kids from going where they will choose to go, and I don’t have much control over what they will learn either. I can, however, make it clear what I have come to love, which are mostly old truths about keeping promises, working hard to smooth the way, studying to get better at untangling knots.

The big news in education this week is that a study has found that Reading First doesn’t seem to work, and all those careful objectives and tactics may have led to a billion dollar boondoggle. As daffodils start to look a little ragged, young tulips are getting ready to open and peonies are making large round buds and lupines are starting to rise in a slow, implacable jostle for room in the sun. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

Nez Perce Aesthetic
     Rare beauty

Nez Perce dressPrairiemary (AKA Mary Strachan Scriver), blogging from Valier, Montana, invites us to see the sophisticated and subtle beauty of an ancient buckskin dress, probably of Nez Perce origin. She explains the Japanese concept of “Shibui”, which refers to “the type of beauty that doesnt need announcement; its quality speaks for itself.” The Japanese think of beauty in levels—"from blatant, brash, and bold to the ideal of beauty: Shibui.” The hallmarks of this level of aesthetics are “understated elegance, utility (each piece serves an important function), rare beauty, and unobtrusive sophistication.”

She nominates a pre-1820 dress from North America as an illustration of “Shibui.” Patched and fringed with pale but not white buckskin, the top is banded simply in black and white stripes, “lazy stitch.” which means that a short string of beads is not then tacked down bead by bead, but left to be a little fluid. These dresses are really two deerskins, one as the front and one as the back, pieced at the hem, with the tail (hair on) of the deer folded over at the top under the chin, pinned down with beading. The stripe at the top of the arms alternates black, white and red.

Prairiemarie mentions DNA evidence linking Plains Indians to peoples of the High Mongolian prairies centuries ago. There is a timeless quality to the dress, which for me evokes those moments when we glimpse eternity through the fecund undulations of time.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

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