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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

We Could Use a "Teddy Bear" this Christmas!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that our Senior Class asked me to play Teddy Roosevelt at our "Night at the Museum Party." It was not until I tried to come up with a plausible "outfit" for that night, that I realized, I was nearly the same height, weight, and age of TR when he left the White House in 1909. Hmmmmm. A year after his 8-year presidency, TR traveled to Europe and Africa for 18 months.

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1910, while visiting France, former president Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech on citizenship in a republic. The speech is sometimes called "The Man in the Arena." As a college freshman, I memorized the most-quoted paragraph for a speech class. It reads as follows, but it is important to remember that these words were a SPEECH and not an editorial or written document. To fully understand the power of his words, it may help to listen to his voice on the brief video clip below before reading some other interesting passages from that speech.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Here are some unbelievably prophetic extended quotes from that 1910 "Citizenship in Democracy" speech:

On National Defense:
"There are well-meaning philosophers who declaim against the unrighteousness of war. They are right only if they lay all their emphasis upon the unrighteousness. War is a dreadful thing, and unjust war is a crime against humanity. But it is such a crime because it is unjust, not because it is a war. The choice must ever be in favor of righteousness, and this is whether the alternative be peace or whether the alternative be war. The question must not be merely, Is there to be peace or war? The question must be, Is it right to prevail? Are the great laws of righteousness once more to be fulfilled? And the answer from a strong and virile people must be "Yes," whatever the cost. Every honorable effort should always be made to avoid war, just as every honorable effort should always be made by the individual in private life to keep out of a brawl, to keep out of trouble; but no self-respecting individual, no self-respecting nation, can or ought to submit to wrong."
On Definition of Marriage and Sanctity of Life:
The first essential in any civilization is that the man and women shall be father and mother of healthy children, so that the race shall increase and not decrease. If that is not so, if through no fault of the society there is failure to increase, it is a great misfortune. If the failure is due to the deliberate and willful fault, then it is not merely a misfortune, it is one of those crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk, which in the long run Nature punishes more heavily than any other. If we of the great republics, if we, the free people who claim to have emancipated ourselves from the thraldom of wrong and error, bring down on our heads the curse that comes upon the willfully barren, then it will be an idle waste of breath to prattle of our achievements, to boast of all that we have done. No refinement of life, no delicacy of taste, no material progress, no sordid heaping up riches, no sensuous development of art and literature, can in any way compensate for the loss of the great fundamental virtues; and of these great fundamental virtues the greatest is the race's power to perpetuate the race.
On Not Being Swayed by Gifted Speakers (or teleprompter readers):
It is highly desirable that a leader of opinion in democracy should be able to state his views clearly and convincingly. But all that the oratory can do of value to the community is enable the man thus to explain himself; if it enables the orator to put false values on things, it merely makes him power for mischief. Some excellent public servants have not that gift at all, and must merely rely on their deeds to speak for them; and unless oratory does represent genuine conviction based on good common sense and able to be translated into efficient performance, then the better the oratory the greater the damage to the public it deceives. Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand. The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic, and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong to the republic.
On Individuals Doing Their Part for a Greater Good:
In short, the good citizen in a republic must realize that they ought to possess two sets of qualities, and that neither avails without the other. He must have those qualities which make for efficiency; and that he also must have those qualities which direct the efficiency into channels for the public good. He is useless if he is inefficient. There is nothing to be done with that type of citizen of whom all that can be said is that he is harmless. Virtue which is dependent upon a sluggish circulation is not impressive. There is little place in active life for the timid good man. The man who is saved by weakness from robust wickedness is likewise rendered immune from [more robust] virtues. The good citizen in a republic must first of all be able to hold his own. He is no good citizen unless he has the ability which will make him work hard and which at need will make him fight hard.
On Equality Being an Ideal (not a Socially-engineered Outcome):
Abraham Lincoln, a man of the plain people, blood of their blood, and bone of their bone, who all his life toiled and wrought and suffered for them, at the end died for them, who always strove to represent them, who would never tell an untruth to or for them, spoke of the doctrine of equality with his usual mixture of idealism and sound common sense. He said (I omit what was of merely local significance): "I think the authors of the Declaration of Independence intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal--equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all -- constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, everywhere." [Abraham Lincoln...Now back to TR] To say that the thriftless, the lazy, the vicious, the incapable, ought to have reward given to those who are far-sighted, capable, and upright, is to say what is not true and cannot be true. Let us try to level up, but let us beware of the evil of leveling down. If a man stumbles, it is a good thing to help him to his feet. Every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. But if a man lies down, it is a waste of time to try and carry him; and it is a very bad thing for every one if we make men feel that the same reward will come to those who shirk their work and those who do it. Let us, then, take into account the actual facts of life...."

On Patriotisim, "One World" Government, and Globalism:
I am no advocate of a foolish cosmopolitanism. I believe that a man must be a good patriot before he can be, and as the only possible way of being, a good citizen of the world. Experience teaches us that the average man who protests that his international feeling swamps his national feeling, that he does not care for his country because he cares so much for mankind, in actual practice proves himself the foe of mankind; that the man who says that he does not care to be a citizen of any one country, because he is the citizen of the world, is in fact usually an exceedingly undesirable citizen of whatever corner of the world he happens at the moment to be in. ... if a man can view his own country and all others countries from the same level with tepid indifference, it is wise to distrust him, just as it is wise to distrust the man who can take the same dispassionate view of his wife and mother. ...Now, this does not mean in the least that a man should not wish to do good outside of his native land. On the contrary, just as I think that the man who loves his family is more apt to be a good neighbor than the man who does not, so I think that the most useful member of the family of nations is normally a strongly patriotic nation."

And that is why, one hundred years later, I say we could use a Teddy Bear for Christmas. (Like this one made in 1908--just after the cartoon above began the craze.) What I mean, of course, is we could use a dose of Teddy Roosevelt's common sense!

This is not exactly a "holiday post," but I thought it might give reason to "be of good cheer" in a political season that seems to have forgotten what it means to be a useful citizen in a republic or a defender of "right over wrong" in a fallen world.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I know it's a song written by human hands and sung by human voices, but hearing it in such a public context made me whisper aloud, "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and my all of your shopping put a song in your heart!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Something About a Child's Voice

My daughter Natalie was playing Christmas music at the piano tonight, including the song called "Lucy and Linus" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." That song is harder to play than its simple notes suggest. The rythym of the left hand is quite different from the right, but she was getting it. That song always makes me smile.

Sitting there in the room behind her, it occurred to me that we will be seeing that Christmas special soon. I love the part where Linus recites the story of Christ's birth from memory (in King James English), and then at the end he turns to his friend and says, "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

There is something about a child's voice telling a wonderful story. Enjoy the following recitation.

I am assuming that the three kids behind this little girl still have to get up and do their part of the program. They seem to be in another world--probably thinking, "Why didn't we save this kid for last. She's killin' us. Please just let us go back to our seats when she is done. I can't even remember how my story starts." 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just Another Night at the Museum

In the previous post, I explained that education is more effective when the lives of students, parents, and teachers overlap like Venn diagrams. Friday night was just one of the many examples of this at our school.

 [Double-click on photos to enlarge. Kala M.was a WWI nurse.]

Way back in 2002, we had our first Sadie Hawkins Party. These are thematic “costume” events where the girls ask the boys (although, the vast majority of students just go as groups of friends). I remember that first year because Emily asked Keith—five years later they were married. Wow! Some party!

[Hey, that's the nick-name of one of our foreign-exchange senior from Korea, enjoyed her role as Sacagawea. She was one of the  seniors who organized this evening.]

Anyway, the theme that year was true to the original Sadie Hawkins (i.e. L’il Abner) and the kids dressed up as hillbillies. Other themes through the years have included: “Old West,” “Lord of the Rings,” Hoe Down in a Barn,” “South of the Border,” Fifties “Sock Hop,” “Roaring Twenties, “Mystery Dinner Theater, and so on. But this year’s theme, I must say, was pretty clever.

 [Mr. and Mrs. C. were Grant Wood's "American Gothic." I caught myslef singing that old New Country Corn Flakes commercial from 1967.]

It was “A Night at the Museum,” based loosely on the Ben Stiller movies, but some of the kids broadened the concept to wax museums and came as famous people who were not in the movie.

[Mr. and Mrs. W. were Bonnie and Clyde. Grand Haven was the scene of a famous bank robbery in 1934, but it was not Bonnie and Clyde.]

The Senior Class organizes the event, and the details are usually kept secret. They typically start at the school and go from there to an unknown destination. This we booked an actual museum in Grand Haven.

[Mr. and Mrs. S. were lumberjacks.] This area of West Michigan experienced its greatest growth in the late 19th Century lumber boom. Most of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the great fire came from West Michigan. There were more great costumed characters than I have photos to show, but all of the students also came in historic costumes.
We called several museums, but most were not too keen on the idea of having 60 high school kids, parents and, teachers take over their historical displays. So we were thrilled when the curator of the Tri-Cities HIstorical Museum okayed the idea.

[David E. ran a 19th Century mercantile clerk.] Each museum character had clues and puzzle pieces that prompted nine teams of students through the whole museum.

The teachers and seniors dressed up as historic people and took our poses before the bus arrived. Once the students arrived, a variety of scavenger hunts and other games began that allowed the posed characters to come to life and join in the fun. I was Teddy Roosevelt.

I painted my beard with cover-up make-up and darkened my mustache. From a distance it looked okay. Up close, it looked weird, but it was fun.

[Ben S. and Mitch N. were Lewis and Clark.]

Three hours later, the curator came back. (Yes, believe it or not they trusted the whole museum to our care. Of course, there were security cameras all over the place, but honestly, the students showed respect throughout the evening and meal.)

One of the adults, said as we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave. “It’s great to see kids who know how to have good clean fun.”

Thank you Tri-Cities Historical Museum!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


At its day-to-day level, education is a service enterprise—not a production industry. When those involved forget this, they begin to see students as products and the K-12 years as an assembly line: Mix, heat, mold, extrude, pass on down the line. Pause at quality control; check the specs, separate irregularities, send the others down the line. The last month of 12th grade adds a coat of paint, some packaging, and voilà! The product turns its tassel on cue and steps into the world.

But no. Educators are not foremen on an assembly line; they are service providers. As such, the teacher-student relationship is more accurately depicted in a Venn overlap than a line graph. "Life prep" education must intersect with students beyond books and lectures. The Venn crossing points bring texture to subject matter and add context to the character, knowledge, and judgment modeled by educators in and beyond the classroom.

Teachers enter a classroom with "positional authority," which comes with the title, but they must earn "relational influence," which comes with time. These are not mutually exclusive terms.Though the latter is perhaps more endearing, the former should never be abandoned. Exemplary teachers know how to maintain their professional role while fostering appropriate, professional relationships with students. The greater the Venn overlap, the easier it is to maximize each student’s learning style and personal gifts. Such teachers soon elevate process over product, the means over the end , their outpouring into lives over the immediate student outcomes.

While it is true that teachers are influencers and role models for students, if those students are considered merely products, and if the process is only data-driven, and if evaluation therefore focuses only on that which can be objectively measured, then in time, students mistakenly believe that a person’s worth is measured by numbers on a transcript. When, in fact, by the time graduates enter their careers, their potential employers look beyond transcripts in search of employees with integrity, values, good judgment, a teachable spirit, personal responsibility, team approach, strong work ethic, and the ability to do one’s best for a greater good beyond one’s self. Such students will always be in demand because such citizens are the strength of communities and the American work force.

In the 80's educators called it O.B.E.--outcomes-based-education. The intention was not bad, but the scope of outcomes often overlooked the most important aspects of personal development. The student is not a collection of papers, not a string of letters in a grade-book-—he is the person behind the eyes at each desk. The papers and worksheets and letter-grades are means to an end—and not the end itself. Grades merely reflect the more measurable elements of the process. While it is true that measurements help us evaluate that process, those measurements should never be considered the “product” or most important outcome of education.

Tests and measurements are merely an attempt to motivate effort; reward achievement; identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and assess improvement. For college-bound high school students, grades, rank, and GPA provide helpful though imperfect points of reference for colleges, etc., but such data should never be seen as the outcome of education. Perhaps the most important evaluation in a school is regular assessment of the services rendered, the character and virtues modeled, and the exemplary relationships formed.

Grades and GPAs tell only a portion of each student's preparation for life. The truest outcomes of education reveal themselves over time.

Ideally, parents and teachers understand that they, too, are not “finished products.” They are people in an endless formative process. They have “become” teachers and parents, but they are not done “becoming.” They are life-long learners who have not arrived but are further along in the journey, and therefore, better equipped to help students become what they will someday be more clearly becoming. Becoming...becoming. At our best, we are all still “becoming” our best. And it is very becoming of educators when they realize that they and their students are still works in progress.

Or as I once wrote to a very memorable English class back in 1986:

I owe you
not in dollars and cents
(though, in a way, that’s true).
I owe you
I owe you in the sense that
every day every dayevery day
we meet,
and I say, “Listen…”
and at the various levels which you do,
I owe you
for it’s a costly thing
to be paid ATTENTION
a single time more than I’ve earned it.
Open eyes and ears keep book—
and surely after all this time
I owe you
Not just in dollars and in sense,
but in reflections
..........reflections...of Him who created
time and space and you and me
and mixedtheminto… NOW…
which we occupy together.
He holds the true account,
and His grace provides the balance
I owe you….
© Copyright 1986, TK, Patterns of Ink

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