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Superintendent's Blog

  • Learning

Despite the era of my birth, my parents were not hippies. In fact, minus the pearls and high heels, my mom was about the closest thing to a June Cleaver-television-housewife as it got.  My mom worked inside the home, and I mean worked. A white glove test would not have produced a single mote of dust. Pot roast simmered on her stove. She stopped the washing machine for a fabric softener rinse. She oversaw the lives of her three children. My dad worked outside the home. With one income, our lifestyle was modest; at times money was a concern, but we were rich with love.

Last week, while attending the virtually-held winter meeting of school superintendents across Massachusetts, I heard the keynote speaker remind us: “Love is a verb.” It got me to thinking about my own simplistic and fortunate childhood...and then this: a little love wouldn’t hurt right now--locally and nationally.  And I mean “verb love.” Fabric softener love.

What’s “verb love,” you ask? Verb love involves action--not just saying we care for others. But rather “verb love” constitutes the subtle ways we show we care for one another. 

In my years as an English teacher, I so relished teaching “Those Winter Sundays,” a short poem by Robert Hayden. In the poem, the speaker’s dad gets up early--even on Sundays, and “puts his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather [he restarts the fire to warm the house.] No one ever thanked him.” That’s “verb love.” The stuff we do, sometimes over and over again, expecting no thanks, out of love for one another. The sacrifices we make. The things that aren’t as easy as a Hallmark card. 

“Verb love” means action. Showing, not telling.

The Hopkinton community has endured varying degrees of “shutdown” since March 10, 2020. We’re creeping up on a year of mask-wearing and hand-washing. Standing 6 feet apart--no matter where you go. We have been rewired, resocialized. Working from home is normal. Staying home all weekend--except to go to Price Chopper--has become the routine. Taking walks...standard. House parties. Um, what’s a house party? House parties existed in a previous age. In addition to being resocialized and largely isolated, we’re psychologically altered. Someone sneezes in a Zoom session; we ask, “Have you been tested?” Fear lingers. For many, evolving science does not dismantle fear of contracting the virus. People are weary and tired of being pent up. Emotions are high. Fuses are short. 

A vaccination is here. Or is it? Phase I folks have been inoculated, but news outlets report delays in Phase II supplies. It feels like a punch in the gut. We’re not talking about unfulfilled promises of ice cream but rather a dose of a vaccine that purports to save lives and restore life to closer to what it once was.

Hopkinton, not unlike many other American cities and towns right now, might be in need of two inoculations: one to build immunity to the Coronavirus and another to fortify our human compassion.

What would happen if we all started to think about love as a verb, not just at home but in the community. When we think that way, we’re bordering on an inquiry into our familial,  civil, and moral obligations. What can we do to exemplify our love, to exhibit our basic human kindness for one another? It sort of means that we go out of our way to do something thoughtful. Maybe it means we do something simply because we know it will bring another person joy or peace. That other person doesn’t have to be your spouse whose coffee you brew every morning. It might be your neighbor, whose driveway you snow blow all winter long. Or a complete stranger, who you let cut in front of you because she has only four items, and your cart is full. You don’t have to do these things. But you can do them--that is, if you wish.

Take the time to stop the washing machine to throw in the fabric softener. Get up early to put coal on the fire. While these are gigglable, last-century examples, I use them to spawn our collective thinking about the stuff we can do out of love for one another, the sacrifices we can make, the times when, out of kindness, we can put others ahead of ourselves. 

Now you might not believe this, but it's true. Driving home last night, while turning this blog content over in my mind, I stopped to pick up Chinese take-out. After dinner, I cracked open a fortune cookie. I dusted the crumbs off the tiny strip of paper, which read: “At the end of each day, think, ‘What has this day brought me?’ and ‘What have I given it?’” 

Verb love.

  • Holiday

 

Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and others particularly in India but also worldwide, begins tonight, Friday, November 13th. Because the actual holiday falls on Saturday this year, you won’t find it in the Hopkinton Public Schools calendar; however, you will see it starting in 2021!

Diwali is India’s major holiday. Still, many Americans know little about it. The name “Diwali” comes  from the  Sanskrit word, Deepavali, or “deep,” meaning  lamp, and “avali,” meaning row. Thus, the translation is a “row of lamps.”

 The holiday symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. The festivities are marked by lighting oil lamps, hanging lanterns, making colorful patterns on the floor called rangoli, preparing sweets, and most importantly, coming together with family and friends to express gratitude. Diwali represents peace, truth, and love, which are shared goals across our community, our country, and the world, as these are beliefs that can unite us in our humanity. 

I’m including a PDF (see below) created by the South Asian Circle of Hopkinton (SACH), whose website is accessible at www.SouthAsianCircleofHopkinton.org. 

And, here is a video entitled Diwali: Festival of Lights produced by National Geographic that highlights in a quick three minutes some of the ways in which people in India celebrate Diwali over the five days of the festival.

To those in our community celebrating the holiday, I wish you a Diwali that brings happiness and prosperity.  And may the lights of Diwali bring brightness and cheer to our whole community.

South Asian Circle of Hopkinton (SACH).pdf

  • Learning

I’m not sure how everyone is feeling, but after months of receiving politically motivated phone calls and after nearly a week of watching states change colors, I might be feeling a little election-fatigued, if not downright weary. (Oh, and did I mention there’s a pandemic on?)

But I’m not weary. Not weary at all. 

Last week, I think it was Wednesday, I had gone down to the Elmwood school to talk about some COVID-related matters with the head nurse, who also happens to be the nurse at the Elmwood School.  During my visit, quite unexpectedly, the Assistant Principal, Jason Dimen, turned to me and asked, “Are you busy right now?” He indicated that he had something he thought I might like to see. Dutifully, I followed Mr. Dimen out of the main office and down a short hallway to the great outdoors, where I found myself in the traffic circle. 

It would soon become clear that I had not donned the appropriate footwear for our mission. Walking on the balls of my feet so that my high heels wouldn’t sink into the soft earth, I found myself in the grassy clearing surrounded by trees just beyond the parking area at Elmwood. There, about a dozen third graders and one paraprofessional sat 10 feet apart with their masks off in concentric horseshoes, facing the music teacher who stood in the center behind an electric keyboard.

The students were diverse. They were of different colors, different sizes, different shapes, and different abilities. Regardless of differences, they came to sing. 

In observance of Veterans Day, their teacher, Mr. Fontaine, had chosen a few American-themed songs. When I arrived, the kids were getting a mini poetry lesson on the lyrics of Woody Guthrie. Shortly thereafter, they moved on to My Country, ’Tis of Thee. Embedded in that music lesson was a mini math lesson. We learned that the date of publication was 1832, almost 200 years ago. We learned that by the time that song would be 200 years old, the kids sitting in the grassy area would be 20. (And if you’re wondering, this music teacher got those kids to a place where they could do mental math!)  Their music teacher also asked the kids,  “Who lived in America before the pilgrims arrived and even before Columbus arrived?” After a few guesses the kids settled on Native Americans. With poetry, mathematics, and history lessons behind us, we began the singing part of the lesson. We practiced saying (and summarizing) the words first. We listened to what the music sounded like. And then? We all began singing: twelve 3rd graders, Mr. Dimen, a paraprofessional, the music teacher, and I in the woods on a 65° day in November. Just singing. And singing with the cool breeze tousling our hair and caressing our hearts as we honored the country.

And that’s when I experienced the joy of what it means to be educated in an amazing community in the United States of America. These children sat outside on a warm afternoon--when warm afternoons shouldn’t be a thing. And they sang. We sang. I got a little teary when in their voices I could hear their pride, their innocence, their eagerness, and their potential to become fully human in this great country.

On Veterans Day, we think about the ultimate sacrifice, we thank veterans and their families, and we hold hope in our hearts for the continued freedom that allows for school children and their teachers to sit on the edge of the woods in Hopkinton, Massachusetts--and elsewhere!--singing songs that express gratitude for our freedoms.  

However you enjoy American freedoms, please thank your veterans for their service. 

 

 

 

 

Human Beings Are Challenged by a Paradox

It has been some time since I’ve put together a blog post. Given that the schools are up and running (I hope you just knocked on wood), I’ve got a few minutes this morning to put pen to paper. I’ve been eager to do so, as I’ve started reading Elena Aguilar’s Coaching for Equity, and I wasn’t past the 4th page when I found something worth sharing.

This won’t be earth-shattering. We all sort of know it in the backs of our minds. Yet, somehow it’s nice to mull over things. Aguilar writes: “Human beings are challenged by a paradox: we are social animals wired for connection to other humans, and we are wired to sort people into categories, withdraw into our groups, and fear what seems different from us. We ache to be seen in our full humanity, and fear of what we don’t understand pulls us back from seeing the complex humanity of other people.”

Let’s go back to that first line about sorting people into categories. Here’s a challenge to each of you: over the next week, try to count up the number of times you or someone around you uses a categorizing term. By way of an example, consider the typical school classifications: nerds, jocks, dweebs, hipsters, punks, preps, brainiacs, mean girls...you get the idea. If you take this challenge, I bet you’re going to be surprised by how frequently--and unwittingly!--we do it. (True confession, just the other day I myself described someone as pretty “earthy-crunchy.”)

You’ll also notice that some of these categories flatter those who belong to them. Personally, I wouldn’t mind belonging to a group of people labeled “brainiacs.” But when you hear other labels, I’m pretty sure you’ll cringe, as labels can also discriminate, limit, alienate, and divide. For those of you who are old enough to remember the Armour Hot Dog commercials of the early 1970s, think back to the jingle: we learned that “fat kids,” “skinny kids,” “tough kids,” and “sissy kids” liked to eat Armour Hot Dogs. Seriously. You cringed, didn’t you. I debated for a long time whether or not to actually use this example in this piece.

Anyway, while watching for labeling will seem to you like an exercise that might range from entertaining to enlightening, I hope it illustrates just how frequently this categorizing happens. In a world that has grown highly politicized, increasingly diverse, and more economically disparate, the categorization of people can be more hurtful now than ever before. The weight of this challenge just got heavier. As we (yes, I’m going to undertake it, too) complete this exercise over the next week, I hope that we learn more about the struggle inherent in the paradox of our humanity: we desire interconnectedness, even while we instinctively push away those who are different.

Aguilar suggests that in order to bring individuals together, we must notice the ways in which we label ourselves and others. Only through acknowledging how we label do we recognize what we value (and devalue) as well as what we fear. Once we know those things about ourselves, we can begin to face those fears and question those values. Through conversations in our school community as well as our broader community, our fears can be quelled and our differences made less so. As Aguilar writes, “conversations are the way we’ll get there....you’ll feel hopeful that healing is possible and you’ll see how we can transform schools [and communities] into a place of liberation.”

OK. You’ve got your challenge. See how it goes.