We can’t go back

In the 1590s, Shakespeare penned:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried

Now is 2020: The year of our discontent. Heavy clouds of pain, anger, injustice enshroud our houses, our cities, our minds, our days. COVID-19 cases still spike, yet to reach their peak. Flocking to the oceans no longer makes for a “glorious summer,” with crowded beaches described as ‘Petri dishes’. Many people are still out of work; some have lost their entire livelihood. Stress levels are so high, my dental hygienist tells me, that offices are being flooded with people whose teeth are cracking from grinding and whose joints hurt due to anxiety-induced inflammation. America is a nation, if not indivisible, then certainly fractured, almost soul-split (anyone recall Tom Riddle and his horcruxes?) over the complexities of recognizing and amending institutional racism to something as simple as wearing a mask. We ask: When and how can we go back to school, safely? No one really knows, although plans are being made, submitted, approved. A greater question: How can we go back to school, to life itself, as it was?

We can’t.

We must not.

Now is THE time to be discontent with what was. With what is. A time to break down and a time to build up, to reinvent, redefine, reunite.

In light of everything, a litany:

We can’t go back
to what what works for some but not all
to ideologies and theories
over actual ideas and self-actualization.

We can’t go back
to wearing blinders
to plowing on
in the same mentally-furloughed furrows.

We can’t go back
to resurrect what we’ve killed
on the altar of systemic oracles
on the sudden late revelation
therein lies no salvation.

We can’t go back
from ages and ages hence
to tell the children we’re sorry
and to plead for retroactive grace.

We can’t go back
to repaint our story.
We can only begin
, here and now,
creating an inviolable mosaic
from our broken pieces.

A ‘thought mosaic’ of student reading interests at a Family Literacy Lunch event. Vitally important questions for educators and systems: How are students being honored as individuals? How much learning do students get to “own” vs. what’s delivered to them? Is greater value placed on conformity or creativity? On enduring or endeavoring? On internalizing and imitating, or imagining and innovating? Are students led to believe that their thoughts, ideas, experiences, perspectives, preferences, worries, hopes, and dreams have validity? How often do they get to reflect on these, express these, vs. being confined to and assessed on rubric responses to reading and writing prompts? Now’s the time for examining—microscopically—every standard, curriculum, practice, and program for the seeds they actually are in this organic microcosm of society.

23 thoughts on “We can’t go back

    • I am so grateful to know that you found this hopeful – I hoped it would be. Thank YOU. 🙂
      Oh, and a couple of us have tried to access your post on TWT SOL today – it said we couldn’t because we “hadn’t been invited” – please let us know when it is accessible!

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  1. This whole post crackles with energy and determination. The fourth stanza of the poem, in particular, stood out to me & made me think of the Indigenous (Haudenosaunee) idea of our responsibility to future generations. I am also inspired to action via the questions you pose under the picture. May we take the time to think so deeply and so thoroughly about how we educate all of our students – because we can’t go back!

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    • I treasure your connecting those lines to the Haudenosaunee idea of our responsibility to future generations; I find that to be an absolute truth. I was thinking, as I wrote, how many things chosen for schools (and by schools) don’t live up to their purported purposes any more than “Common Core aligned” did. Some things in the name of equity, for example, are not equitable… everything must be carefully examined as to its real value, impact, and potential counterproductiveness. Moreover – and more than ever, perhaps- kids need to be able to express themselves authentically and often. Listening to each other is going to be a vital part of moving forward. Thank you for your amazing insights, Amanda!

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  2. We can’t go back. We shouldn’t go back. There is change that we cannot deny. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Your poem would be great to hear out loud.

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  3. It helps to think of this time as having possibility within it–as a time to “reinvent, redefine, reunite.” Your poetic litany pulses with honesty and determination. There’s such a call to action in this powerful post.
    Early on in this whole debacle, I heard someone respond to the question of getting back to normal by saying something along the lines of, “Normal!? We need to get much more than normal out of all of this!” Her comment stuck with me. Your post will do the same.

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    • So true – we must do better than “normal” after what we’ve encountered! I do see such possibility, so much good and needed transformation and reform, coming from this time … thank you, Molly.

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    • Indeed, Christine – looking closely at “standard practice” might reveal what is negligibly below standard for our kids – our society – and must, must change. I, too, hope that schools and systems are hard at work on this … thank you, Christine.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this, Fran. For me, one of the hardest aspects of the last few months has been the revelation that much of what was “normal” was anything but “good.” It might have worked for me and mine, but it wasn’t good for so many others. To make things worse, so many are clamoring for a return to that which I’ve seen as less than it could be. May the inviolable mosaic we create be better than what we build it from.

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    • We cannot return to what we know only because it is what we know, if it is “less than it could” and should be. Default thinking, well-captured, Tim. There has to be a better normal – thank you for picking up on the heart of my message and for your words!

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  5. Fran, a litany is well suited to your call to action. Reinvent, Redefine, Reunite is a great mantra. During my online grad school course last week, I asked the teacher-learners to create their teacher philosophy and further distill it into a mantra for easy remembrance. This mantra of yours works well for teachers who are letting go of the old ways, and dipping into actions to promote inquiry, independence and ingenuity. Reunite is a strong word that bears pondering by many as they rejoin the workplace environment. Are we going to turn the pandemic’s woes into silver linings of positivity with our united voices? I certainly hope so. Let’s chant your litany:
    We can’t go back
    to repaint our story.
    We can only begin, here and now,
    creating an inviolable mosaic
    from our broken pieces!
    Another well-written post, Fran.

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    • I still remember my teaching philosophy from an early college course, years ago – it stays with me still and is very much a part of how I function: “A teacher in wisdom and kindness helps children do what they thought could not be done.” Deeply grateful for all your words on the mantra of “reinvent, redefine, reunite” and the litany – thank you, Carol.

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  6. Your poem is indeed a call to action. You are right that we can’t go back to wearing blinders and accepting our broken story.
    Yet, I am not sure I see a clear path out of our murky mess.
    We do need to be screaming for equitable health care, criminal justice,and educational opportunities. We do need to be screaming about our treatment of immigrants, elderly, black, brown, and other marginalized groups. I am looking for enlightened leaders, but I’m beginning to think this movement will need to be from the ground up,,,,,starting with us!

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    • The path isn’t altogether clear, only parts of it are, like the inequities you mention. We can only start where we are with what we CAN see and move forward a bit a time… maybe holding the lantern of wisdom before us not only to illuminate the way but to beckon others to join … it may very well start here with us. Change is ushered a step at time. As we move forward, together, we’ll see more, be able to address more … having courage to toss aside whatever is weighing us down and holding us back, believing that better is possible, working earnestly toward it … so much to do. Thank you for your words, Anita.

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  7. Fran, Your words as always hold such power. These especially feel like the pacific ocean coming down in cold water waves, waking us up again and again through each stanza. Your words hit with reality and call out to wake us, in case we are falling into surrendered complacency. “Now is the time for examining…” I completely agree.

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    • How beautiful and bracing an ocean metaphor, Marina! I will hold onto your words a long, long time. “Falling into surrendered complacency” – so perfectly put – yes, that is what I want to call out and shake off. There’s a difference in knowing what’s not working and what needs to change and actually stepping up and speaking out for it … all the difference in the world. I am so grateful for your thoughts.

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  8. Your poem is one that I’d like to return to again, choosing a line from it each week or month as my intention. The first line that jumped out to me was, “We can’t go back
    to what what works for some but not all
    to ideologies and theories
    over actual ideas and self-actualization.”
    This will be my intention as I think about my instruction with striving readers and my students of color. I hope to set this as an intention and then reflect on it as I begin my work for the school year. Thank you for your powerful words.

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    • I am amazed to think of the poem as one where a line or a stanza could be meditated upon in the name of change for the better … it was written (as you’ve ascertained) from the perspective of educational change. My area is literacy; I think about the disproportionate numbers of students of color identified as needing special services and while this is a known problem, so often the “solutions” are not solving anything. Volumes have been said and written along these lines before (shall we begin with standardized testing? And everything that trickles down from that?) but the bottom line is: What will we do differently in our classrooms, our schools, for the sake of our children? For our tomorrows? It is imperative that we rethink everything in light of what we already know isn’t working, and isn’t truly equitable. It won’t all happen overnight but great change can begin with small changes implemented wisely … as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote: “All things great are wound up with all things little.” In that vein, the poem is about more than school … society, the human heart …

      I am awed and humbled by your words- thank YOU, so much.

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  9. Fran, as I read your powerful words and especially, “a time to take down and a time to build up” I remembered a song, Turn! Turn! Turn!, which was recorded by the band, The Byrd’s in 1965, originally written by Bob Seeger and performed in 1959. Granted, I was only three in 1965, but the recording of Turn! Turn! Turn!, also know as Turn, Turn, Turn!/ To Everything There Is a Season recorded by Judy Collins in 1964 rang a loud bell for me. https://ig.ft.com/life-of-a-song/turn-turn-turn.html

    The words of this protest song that Seeger made, he took from the Old Testament. In 1969, it was recorded by Mary Hopkin, who’s outstanding voice I also remembered hearing. During the 2020 protests many of the songs of the1960’s and 1970’s that I loved have haunted me giving me pause to rethink everything. When I grew up in such a violent time, did I know what was happening around me?

    No, I didn’t know until many years later because news was hidden from us, it didn’t bombard children and teens in the face the way it does now. Was that good or bad? As I relearned history on my own as an adult I felt deprived of the knowledge I could have, should have learned as a student. Today, teachers and most parents know children and teens need help and guidance to understand and process the overwhelming information/news.

    I hear your words and applaud them! In fact, I think more people need to hear them. They would make a good song. Your powerful message makes me think as educators “reinvent, redefine, and reunite” to write “standards, curriculum, programs,” lessons, plans, books… I hope teachers/principals/social workers/leaders can incorporate student’s parents to be educated because often that is the first place children learn racism. Also, to install into parents that their children’s voices need to be heard. Thank you for your inspiring and hopeful call to action, which resonated with me, helped me to process, and heal memories. You are a gift.

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    • Gail – I hardly know where to begin thanking you for this passionate response. First, I am delighted that you picked up on the phrase from Ecclesiastes 3 (on which the song was based; I love the Byrds version). In my mind were – among other things – images of monuments coming down, a literal “time to break down” and even more a figurative “time to build up” by recommitting to one another as a country in healing and moving forward. So much long overdue work to be done. I think of the children first … even if the youngest ones don’t know or understand all that’s going on (as in your own experience), the stresses and anxieties of their families are palpable to them and affect them. I have been thinking about myriad changes needed in schools, especially at the elementary level where I currently serve … I think I’d need another post, or two, or more, to cover it. I see too many things adopted as solutions for problems they actually continue to perpetuate … suffice it to say so much change is needed. It will not occur if people don’t pull together and have real heart-to-heart, respectful dialogue. You’re absolutely right – families must be part. It’s vital. The education of our children is a partnership. Family voices and input in collective conversation on the education of their children can be true implementation drivers. If we can begin rethinking, redefining, and rebuilding here, together … it bodes for better tomorrows. My prayer is for wisdom. Again, I am amazed by your words here in response – and am deeply grateful for them.

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      • Your welcome, Fran. Your writing always stirs up feelings in me and I thank you for that. I had a difficult time narrowing down my thoughts and focusing on what I wanted to say. You’re right that “myriad changes” need to be made at the elementary level. I only substitute at elementary schools. I love the young student’s enthusiasm. I’m not surprised that you “think of children first” and that you could write more posts. Wisdom is a great thing to pray for. Thank you for your passionate response.

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  10. “We can’t go back.” That’s how I feel, too. What is “normal”? What we accepted as “normal” needs to change. I loved your poem for its hope and for its clarity. Your words always inspire, Fran. Thank you for lifting me up today (Friday, as it happens).

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