Saturday, April 12, 2008


I don’t usually respond to “memes” which are little games, a set of questions usually, meant to encourage links among blogs and get people acquainted with each other. The kind of blogging that I do, which is essentially publishing 1,000 word essays, doesn’t really lend itself and I’m a lousy linker, as several complainants have pointed out. After all, a “weblog” or “blog” is supposed to be a summary of visits to other people’s blogs, complete with links. The only person I know of who does this in a pure sense is Michael Blowhard, especially when he makes an outright set of links and calls it “Elsewhere.” I know that many of my readers have come from this list, which are taken as recommendations, I guess.

So this meme comes from Chas, whose blog Letter from Hard Scrabble Creek directed me to in the first place, as well as Stephen Bodio’s Querencia at . (I’ll try to link these as well as printing the url’s since I’m such a lousy linker. (Partly bad eyesight and lack of manual dexterity to say nothing of distractability -- all three not necessarily attributable to old age.) How can I ignore a link from Chas when the link to HIM came from “ambulance driver”, a much-beloved EMT with attitude.

Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

The Boy and his Dog are Thinking.”

Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."

Link back to this blog entry.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008 entry for “Letter from Hardscrabble Creek” See above.

Include links to 5 (or more) educators.
This one won’t work. I don’t think I know any educators with blogs except for Richard Stern at the University of Chicago who publishes his in the rarefied context of “The New Republic,” far over my head. Other than Tim, who vlogs rather than blogs anyway, and whose mention would chase all sorts of coyotes my way. The teachers I know are at the secondary level, which means they are lucky to have time to sleep, much less blog.

So instead I’ll tell you about this photo. It’s Leland, my student in the 7th grade in Browning, Montana, standing beside the dog of the band teacher who has such a dog because he’s on the Blackfeet Reservation and was scared of Indians. (His wife probably was not.) However, Leland knows dogs have always been friends of the Blackfeet and is not intimidated. He sometimes uses his great-grandfather’s name: Eagle Calf. Also, he has been given the traditional name, “Jumps Up.”

The scene is just outside my classroom at the back of the school built by Doug Gold, another highly controversial white fellow. His father was the local Presbyterian minister, a Scotsman, but that is forgotten. Gold is accused of politically incorrect things but was Bob Scriver’s revered superintendent of schools. Gold’s daughter lives here in Valier. For a while it was suggested that this school be renamed for Gold, but the Neo-Traditionalists rose up in horror. It ended up being “Napi School,” which means it is named for a much more indecent and incorrect fellow than Gold could hope to be. (Napi is the mythological trickster.)

Leland is a massive grandfather now and runs a medical supply business out of the house where Bob Scriver was born and grew up. Both Bob’s parents came to the house as newlyweds and died of old age there many decades later. Just a few days ago Leland and his friend came by my house in Valier and helped to assemble the stovepipe on the little wood stove in my garage so I can burn up the sticks I’ve been pruning from my yard trees.

Leland is one of the most curious-minded and reaching-out students that I’ve taught. When he knew me, I was 21 and just forming my two big rules for life:
1. If you must choose between education and money, choose education.
2. If you must choose between adventure and security, choose adventure.

This has brought me near the end of my seventh decade broke but full of wild stories. No regrets. Leland, who was maybe 12 when I was 21, never made such formal rules but has had a similar life. His dedication to Pentecostal evangelism has taken him far to the north. His love of traditional Blackfeet ways, his family, and this place have brought him back here. He has made his living mostly as a hospital accountant, because he loves math. I think we independently reached the same conclusion about what is worthwhile in life. Sometimes a teacher is most effective by example.

Bob Scriver also taught on this reservation and there was a time when we went to events that if his voice was heard, heads of grandparents who had been his students went up, and when my voice was heard, the heads of the grandchildren went up. It was simple conditioning, not any kind of homage. Sometimes they were very angry at us and other times they weren’t. Now when I go to events alone, people throw their arms around me and exclaim, “teacher!” because they came from a time when teachers were at least respected. Often I don’t recognize them because we’re changed by time passing. Sometimes they are people whom I would have cheerfully strangled in the classroom. Other times students I loved have turned away with contempt.

Alvina Krause
, legendary acting teacher at Northwestern University, used to say that both the tragedy and comedy of teaching was that one would never know the results until decades later. Which the rose and which the skunk cabbage? Who would earn the Nobel Prize and who would be killed in a drunken car crash two years after high school graduation? They’ve pretty much sorted themselves out by now.

If I knew a former student of mine who blogged, I would link him or her now. Some became teachers but none became bloggers -- that I know of. But we never exhaust our knowledge of each other. Leland and I have a lot to talk about because we both followed my Rules for a Life and now we’ve become equals. We both like to sit by a warm woodstove and tell stories. Maybe now that Chas is retiring, he'll drop by.


Alice said...

A very interesting essay. I'm glad the "meme" format brought it to mind.

prairie mary said...

There's a meme floating around the Internet. The powerful memes have lives of their own. I did not participate because I'm writing this from the waiting room of a detention facility where my little troupe of performance artists have been detained by the US military for protesting the war in Iraq. I don't have time for a meme at the moment. I can almost hear my heart pounding in my chest like a horse sweats. Yet there's an element in this, too, of the perfectly mundane. The perfectly dull and boring as we wait to be "processed." The hard part isn't even dealing with authority in a waiting room. The hard part is getting coffins to the performance site so we could crawl into them and wrap ourselves in flags and read poems to the dead. For the dead. Someone has to do it.

The meme wants to know what you're passionate about as a teacher and the meme wonders what you might want them to know.

1.) I want them to know in their bones that culture is not sacred.

2.) I want them to know in their bones that culture is a social construct made by human being and by virtue of that fact it's flawed. Yes. Every culture ever contrived. Period.

3.) I want them to know that American culture especially is the culture of death and that American culture has cumulatively ended more lives that all the other cultures in history combined and it has done so in less than three hundred years which on the grand scale of the cultural timeline is nothing. I want them to know that American culture is the cult of death. Even when that culture pretends otherwise.

4.) I want them to know that fate is an illusion. Just like performance art employs illusion to suggest that destiny is real. I want them to know that destiny is created and they are responsible for the history they create.

5.) I want them to know that the inside is the outside, too. I want them to know that the dark side to what exists internally in man exists in the way cultures interact. I want them to know that every piece of art they create, whether it's what they do when they walk out onto a stage, or what they hang in an art museum represents a time, a place, and that none of it is divorced from the history we construct as we live our lives here and now.

6.) I want them to know that what they do never, ever, not even for a fraction of a moment, exists in a vacuum where no one is listening. They are always listening and they are out there even as they detain us as they attempt to understand the symbolism and the power of what we do.

7.) I want them to know that what they do has consequences. I want them to realize their art is worth being detained for. It is worth being put on lists. It is worth the hate scandal could bring them and the love any of their gods might hold. Whether their art is burned at the public stake, or whether their art is seemingly ignored, or whether their art is reviewed with cruelty, or whether their art is in a book that gets thrown across a room, or whether their art causes a scandal, or whether their art and the artist is put on trial, or whether their art causes them to stretch and to see old things with new perspectives, that art will speak to someone, even truth to power, and they can move the world. I want the ones who have no choice to know that life is filled with choices every moment of every day and that by choosing to have no choice except in the making of their art, they choose, and that choice is taking sides. I want them to constantly ask themselves: what side are you on.

8.) I want them to know that the powerlessness they often feel isn't any more real than a painting they might make. The mountain and the river in the painting or the milkmaid or the naked woman on a bed isn't real. It's still a painting. Reality is what we live in and art is a tool they can employ to reshape reality in very powerful ways. I want them to know that when they take cultural icons, even icons created by other people, or people from the past, the dead, or groups of other people, the redefintions they shape and apply reshapes the way those symbols are reacted to, and to expect the unexpected. Culture is not required to love them. I want them to know that the tools they now have at hand to do this work are the most powerful tools man has to date invented. And yet all they have to do is look around them at the art in all the temples of humankind to know the power to move that has preceeded their arrival and that that power has always spread itself before the Gates of Beautiful.

9.) I want them to know that whether they like it or not, they are cultural warriors. I want them to change the world.

10.) I want them to know in their bones that YOU ARE YOUR HISTORY. That is all I want.

Chas S. Clifton said...

"I want them to know that American culture especially is the culture of death and that American culture has cumulatively ended more lives that all the other cultures in history combined and it has done so in less than three hundred years which on the grand scale of the cultural timeline is nothing."


Excuse me, Rev. Scriver? I have a Genghis Khan on Line 1, and a Ioseph Stalin on Line 2?

They both are demanding recounts -- what should I tell them?

prairie mary said...

Tell them that hyperbole is the rhetoric of the living.

Anyway, if you count Indians, blacks, and Japanese... this commenter might be right.

Prairie Mary

Chas S. Clifton said...

I don't know, Mary. Pretty hard to catch up with Uncle Joe. Thirty million at least.

Remember his famous quote.

But if you want to be reflexively Lefty about it, be my guest.

Kind of connected, an interesting essay with a twist.

Your pal Tim with his theatrical troupe would love it, no? I'll bet he marched proudly with his Viet Cong flag.

prairie mary said...

Interesting Mary, Your discussion of myself, except for the fact that my Indian name is Jumps Down or Onookpepe, which is named after a warrior that always got off of his horse to kill his enemy, I was named by my grandfather EagleCalf and everyone else after my sister were named by my Granmother Mary Ground. It is still an honor to be named by people of integrity and importance.

Leland Ground

(I'm relaying some comments from people who don't have blogs, since that's the only way to post.)