Why Do We Say “Classrooms Can’t Make Men”

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Teach a man, he’ll conquer the world.
What if this man must conquer such world to be taught?
One child in a classroom.
One plus one does not equal two.
As his stomach grumbles with only remnants of last night’s frozen dinner.
“Something ain’t” not “something isn’t” right
As his deep, muddy eyes strain to see scrawlings on the not too distant chalkboard.
Lincoln was Martin Luther King Jr. on that morning at Gettysburg
As he tries to remember the winter morning he last saw his daddy
but can only see those flashing lights
The classroom bleeds onto the streets.
Teachers become brothers.
Grades are issued with the finality of a bullet.
Yet if only this young man could conquer the world.
A world that provides the lessons he must learn to survive.
Then maybe, just maybe the classroom would teach his brilliant mind

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What I Learned about Love from a One-year-old

ImageChildren can teach you many things about life.  Just from watching my young nephews I have learned: snot is always a good and ever-present snack option, milk cures all woes, Daniel Tiger is a boy’s best friend, nap is a very, very bad word and every trip to the park is an exciting new adventure. All extremely important lessons, if one is to take care of toddlers.

At Georgetown, I took a Childhood Development psychology class where we spent a week on every step or progression in a child’s brain and social development from infancy to adolescence.  While we did not learn about the snot thing or that nap is the worst curse word, many of the concepts we did cover are very evident when observing my nephews.

One of these is the idea that young toddlers, when they see sun rays coming through a window, grasp to touch or hold the sunshine.  What a beautiful idea that shows a hope or longing for the beauty of this world.  Yet after a certain age children develop the knowledge that sunshine is not necessarily tangible.  They feel the welcoming warmth of the sun on their skin but they can’t actually grab or hold onto that sun.  No matter how hard they try to grab those enticing rays, the sun will always elude them. But before their brain’s develop and they learn more about the sun, toddlers will continue to try, reach, and strain for the rays despite constant failure.

Part of this instinct comes from a stage of development known as egocentricism.  If you have ever been around a two year old for longer than ten minutes, then you know what I am referring to.  I like to affectionately refer to it as the “me-monster.”  Actually, many adults seem to have regressed to this stage as well.   But anyway for a young child their wants and needs are the center of their world and they lack the ability to put those needs aside for the sake of a more rational end.  When a toddler sees the sun’s rays coming through his living room window, I wonder if his “me-monster” brain automatically thinks, “that’s pretty and I want to have it.”

Therefore, while at the root of this developmental phenomenon there is an innate human longing for beauty and for warmth, the toddler seems to constantly be striving to own or hold onto such beauty in a possessive and egocentric way.  Okay, okay, I will admit that maybe toddlers are just reaching out and there’s no deeper meaning behind it.  I mean, hell, we probably don’t know a quarter of the crazy shit that goes on in those kids heads (which is probably for the best), but stay with me for a minute longer.

As I watched my youngest nephew leaning against the pane of glass as the sunshine poured in, I wondered if we ever really grow out of that innate reaction or desire to own beauty.  Maybe that’s why all of us are so bad at this whole “love” thing.  We see something or someone that brings us warmth, beauty and comfort.  We can usually pause and recognize such beauty and even marvel in it, but only for a fleeting second, because then our first reaction seems to always be “I want that.”

The reaction is innate, evolutionary, and important to survival, but it’s also the very reaction that we have to curb in order to experience true, genuine unconditional love from another human being.  Like the sun rays, which toddlers try so very hard to capture in their small outstretched hands, when we feel that tingle of human attraction or friendship we often try our hardest to cling to it, hold onto it, possess it for fear that if we don’t we will lose it.  I wonder if the toddler, as he watches the sun rise and set each day, fears that one day the beauty will disappear from his grasp, making his effort to hold onto those rays even more fervent and anxiety-laden.

Love, in its purest form, asks us to forfeit that part of us that is so fearful to lose the other that we try to own the other, to make the other ours, or even better to make it no different than us.  Love asks us to enjoy the one we love, to relish in him, to gaze longingly for him, but to always hold loosely and gently to him.  Love asks us to live a life interdependent on the other, like we are to the sun, without confusing the other with our selves.  Once our grip starts to tighten around our love’s beauty or being, love is no longer present.  Love is replaced by envy, jealousy, and greed.  Like I said, maybe that’s why we struggle so much with this whole “love” thing because we are confusing selfless, life-giving, beautiful love with fear-driven greed.

Beauty and love is always around us.  I see it in my handsome nephews and beautiful nieces.  I see it in the steady rain outside that nourishes the parched land.  I see it in my family’s struggle to love each other and remain together.  I experience it in the taste of strong coffee and exquisite chocolate.  I experience it in the warmth of the sun.  We will remain disappointed and discontented with this beauty if we treat it like the toddlers do with the inviting rays of the sun.

Beauty requires a response, but not one of fear or anxiety.  Beauty requires a gratefulness that is only born from a deep and genuine love.  So if my nephew could actually understand anything I just said, I would tell him to never stop reaching out for the beauty of the sun for a meaningful life must contain a desire for such beauty.  But I would remind him that, instead of grasping with desperation, he should pause in silent reverence and appreciation.  That is where love is found, in those silent moments when we are in awe of something other than ourselves.

There Is No Victor: Voiceless in Syria

There is no victor in this war
A boy not nearly twelve
runs down the streets of a village.
Screaming, yelling.
For days now the jets
have haunted his village
his family
his own mind.
This boy’s imagination,
the one sign of childhood still preserved,
has now even turned against him.
Every whistle or change in the wind
carries the threat of danger and death.
Even the loving call of his own mother
startles him from a numbed trance.
For such a call could mean another raid
on the horizon.
***********************
He used to have dreams of being a pilot.
Flying his family to far off destinations
and returning safely home.
But now the faceless, unknown enemy
has captured that vision as well.
Turning his jet into a weapon.
Now even this dream haunts him each night
as he prays to Allah that each sound he hears
isn’t the hum of that now-familiar jet.
***********************
For there is no certain tomorrow in this war
Each day, though, his hope seems to hobble forward
even as his village crumbles
because at least Allah has heard his prayers
and protected his family.
Each new morning he gasps
with his first conscious breath to make sure
in his now fitful sleep
he wasn’t named the next victim.
A moment of relief is all he receives
as he races to the bed of his family
hugging each still sleeping body
with the force of ten men
for he now knows Allah has heard his cry.
**********************
Yet, it wasn’t his imagination that betrayed him today.
Reality,
as much as this scene can seam real in his young mind,
floods in as single tears fall urgently
to the cracked dusty ground.
Even this pure nourishment is rejected
by the parched earth beneath him
for nothing seems to heal this war-torn land.
Today he has lost his family.
He screams and cries
loud enough to block out the thoughts that
maybe Allah had not cared enough to save their lives
and the lasting desire that his life would be taken instead.
************************
But there is no mourning in this war.
Men surround the child
each dressed in fatigues engulfing him in his new reality.
Tears will not bring back his family
and he is asked to quiet his hysteric yells.
His cries for revenge tell the story of this cycle of war.
For the fight for peace and a voice for the people
can rarely be distinguished from the ever-present
hum of the jet engines overhead.
When the mouth of the oppressed tastes despair
that cannot be contained any longer
it will cry forth for more bloodshed
in hope of justice not peace.
For peace will not be found
within this well-known cycle but
beyond its bounds.
For there are no victors in this war.

Wilting Flower

Sticks and stones, sticks and stones
A daughter cries into her soft pillow
in hopes that it won’t turn her heart soft
Words thrown at her with the accuracy
of a NFL quarterback
But on the outside its an incomplete pass
because she shows no emotions
no hurt
Exactly how she’s learned to
Her daddy use to sit her on his lap
coach her about things like that
how emotions are for the weak
and if you have them you best hide.
So that’s what she did.
hide them all inside next to her true self
bitch, whore, slut, ugly…
rang in her ears
but this soldier’s much too tough to show her many tears
that she cries into her soft, soft pillow.
As she cries she envies this soft companion and holds it tight.
Shots ring out from across the hall
bitch, whore, slut, ugly…
Her daddy, her mommy.
How can he tell her to be tough while she sits on his lap
but then hurl bullets that ZING past her unbrushed curls.
But, her mommy plays it right.
A shield of stoicism wrapped around her
blocking even the harshest yells.
bitch, whore, slut, ugly…
When men are taught to shoot
and women taught to hide
We create this internal battle we both keep inside.
All flowers are meant to bloom
despite knowing one day they will die.
Yet with each stick and stone thrown at her growing mind
this young flower hopes for the day she can bloom
before the beauty born within her
slowly, quietly
dies.