Systemic Rhetoric and Schools

As a young child I was taught the concept of head in the sand. At an early age I also realized the adage, never cry wolf, and its impact on our actions and lives. This summer began with an explosive mandate on recognizing racism for what it is and how it affects all of us, not simply POC but everyone. Certainly there are central arguments with the reaction to George Floyd’s death over memorial day weekend, the spark that merits a broader response to the tragedy.

One may realize it is difficult to conceptualize how to make change in the midst of such systemic reaction to racism in our society. One of the issues at hand is these ideals can no longer remain philosophical discussions. There is no time. Our children, students, young minds meant to be most impressionable at this age need to have optimism and hope in their lives. They need to feel heard rather than be subjugated to the same rhetoric following the lives of their elders down to them. Society is speaking loud and clear and we need to listen.

Recent events have shined the focal point of change and awareness upon school districts across the twin cities and country as well as our own in (pick a district). We need to be that change that begins to shed a light upon a privilege that interferes with progress in a far more ignorant manner than people would like to believe. Now ignorance is a powerful word, and its usage is not meant to offend as it is to make a point. If there is not action on an issue that has evidence before our eyes, we cannot get ahead of the crisis, and it eventually becomes yet another lost moment.

A sampling of k12 mission statements across the country speaks to the following: ensure that all students learn; each student continuously achieves one’s highest aspirations; embraces the diversity of the entire community; each student’s unique needs and abilities are merited; providing an equitable learning environment that embraces diversity and individual student needs. In each sampling there is an expressed need to recognize equity and inclusion as we try to move our children forward with pedagogical resource and focus.

The truth is nobody needs remain alone with their own personal response to a need for change. How we address our student needs going forward is paramount. We can believe we have an opportunity to make change only if we are consciously trying. Words alone have brought us to the edge, now it is time we step into the challenge.

These are difficult times, fighting through a pandemic, asking our students to focus on distance learning during a time when educational gaps are obvious, and finally, addressing the need for equity in a diverse community. Which one takes precedent in our mind falls upon a need to know what we value the most in our society. Each suggested problem could argue proportionate value.

The issue of recognizing there is a climate of implicit racism in our world comes to the forefront for me. We need to understand the individuality of our educational policy. Our students need to be able to be called upon as individual rather than being masked as a certain population that affords discrimination. Student voices need to be heard before we can begin to feel we are on the right road toward fair and inclusive treatment of POC and society as a whole.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

Hearing Voices

They are not loud,

in fact,

whispers that catch me,

wondering where.

They are in my head,

reminders

of why it is that way I am

will be my forever.

I sometimes in the silence

can imagine window sills tremble,

the sky is falling

inside my mind.

I wonder if you might know,

this feeling

is more powerful than

anything I will ever know.

Know it is true,

Know it can never go away.

No, no, know.

I Cried Tonight

seniors

photo collage – Lezlie Vermillion

 

While rains fell, I swam in the beauty of a summer shower,

the cloudy afternoon turning toward nature’s setting hour,

I think we all have our own conception of a romanticized storm

with its electrifying resonance, makes us each somehow conform.

 

This year has been a challenge to breathe, only in quiet we grieve.

Stale of a pandemic – a somber reminder of how isolate we believe

our lives would become in a manner of short-lived sordid silence.

We all stayed home together using a prescribed social distance

 

meant to keep alive, those whom we loved, could now only imagine.

We missed the dear lives we grew to know and watched a time taken

away in throes of mortality, the fear, the protective nature we live

only to suggest we are experiencing a historic timeline. We give

 

hope to the many children who walked inside the solace of a stage,

so many years did they play the roles whose time will never age.

I watched upon my seniors today, in pictures, experience in a way,

some tasking for ‘break a legs’ in a world asking survival each day.

 

Tears in my eyes as I live this constant reminder of a virtual  end,

careers, scripted lives, now faithful their realities eventually mend.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020 – the year of the pandemic

Hang Onto Dreams

Oh how we do experience fallout

letting our safer dreams fade into blue

the light of day soon cast away from view.

Eyes begin to lose life tossed about

 

in the mainstream; an acceleration

of a mechanical nature spans time.

(imagine lives driven only by rhyme).

We saviors within our own affliction

 

must then resort, balance upon virtue.

When in the heat of salvaging mind

would battling truth a constant we find,

recall sweet the elixir – living true.

 

Don’t ever let we might somehow release

sweet imagination, a twilight peace.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

The Story of Mak (or Man’s Best Friend)

The year 2020 started off with a bang for me. I was suddenly about to be found swirling in a myriad of life choices, decisions, adjustments and COVID 19. To begin the year, my marriage of 30 years had fallen apart, and I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and take responsibility for my own share of grief and distance in a collaboration that had been failing for years. When I reflect upon our time together there is no question the rock my wife provided me in the midst of years of turmoil with a variety of addictions that helped unravel my world. I am fortunate on many different levels for her support not only in straightening out my own life, in her patience, and as well, our opportunity to share in the wealth of raising two wonderful children.

So the reader might ask, what does any of this have to do with a dog? One common denominator in our marriage was that we always had a dog. We had a cat for a lot of years as well, but that was a different story. We raised three Golden Retrievers from puppies over three decades, the last moving on with her true companion, my spouse. When we split there was no question she would travel on her journey with the companionship of the dog, albeit hers was an ownership I would never argue, given the nature of our circumstance. I began the first month of a separation without a dog and living in a home we had shared together raising our children and dogs for twenty years. There is no question the nights were long with memory and confusion. The one piece missing for me all the time was an animal, a dog to come and lay near me whether I was overwhelmed with tears, or simply wanting a companion to hang out with. The silence was deafening.

Then one day my daughter suggested I take her dog for a few days. She said she couldn’t stand to see me so alone without a dog after seeing us grow as  a dog family all these years. To be clear, I would have plenty of opportunity to see our present dog when time permitted, but being in the early throes of a separation it had been hard to imagine those times. So I gave my daughter an emphatic ‘yes’ and she brought her dog – a golden retriever – over that evening. My world changed in an instant and three days later as I was readying her return to my daughter, I had already begun scanning pages for rescue dogs. I knew I would get a dog eventually, I just didn’t know when I would be ready.

The answer to that question arrived one day in the story of Mak, a Bernese Mountain dog basically given to me out of the kindness of a colleague’s heart. It was immediate love.IMG_0313 Well, the first night Mak chose to lay twenty yards away from me all night, basically just keeping an eye on me, a complete stranger. That first night was a sleepless night for me, not knowing whether this dog would ever acclimate himself with me. Within 48 hours we were pretty inseparable, and that to me is the essence of seeing a man with his dog. This week I am on our last leg of a journey up to the north shore, morning looking at the vast waters of Lake Superior and then later on mini-hikes throughout the day. Mak is such a mellow dog, I was able to let go of the leash and just have him toddle along with me on the path, in fact many times he would take control of the walk by laying down in the middle of the path and giving me a look like, ‘there is no way you are making me keep up your pace’ – break time. Let me tell you it is a rather daunting ask to force a 120 pound animal to move forward until they are good and ready. The hikes were filled with smiles and laughs that serve as a preview for many walks in the future.

He is no question a hiker with a prowess, but right now around 16 months of big baby, so we will take our time readying ourselves for an all day hike – someday maybe, quite a feat, more for me than the dog, but he will push me forward. The last couple of days have been spent just watching the rain outside our window as the churned waves that would crash along the shoreline and then drift out to sea with shadows of mid-day sunlight moving them like surface shadows in a breeze. The magic of the lake was certainly not lost upon either of us throughout our hours together. Tomorrow we will return home.

IMG_0315I have found myself in recent weeks understanding more and more how special this animal is in my life. If I am having a bad morning, I only turn to see Mak’s doe-like eyes waiting for my glance and when we do connect his tail takes off. When in a lighter moment Mak wants to play he will plant his two front paws onto the carpet or wood floor or the grass outside and stretch his body all the way to his back paws and then land squarely on his butt and give me a look like, ‘c’mon man, let’s go!’ There really is something rather special in the affinity a man can feel with his dog. I’m writing this and if I look across the room, I will find Mak in a comfortable posture sleeping the night away. The moment I move a muscle his eyes will be upon me checking my next move. I can only be grateful to have this big guy by my side as we venture into this extraordinary time with COVID 19 starting our year with a pandemic, and now the remarkable early stages of social justice being finally recognized as a purposeful focus in our society. I can only imagine how torn I might be having to face the perils of a pandemic alone, how lost I might feel not having anyone to talk to about my feelings towards social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s incredulous death. To Mak, it is simply another day, but one that will be spent giving me the confidence to know we both appreciate one another unconditionally.

So having met the end of Pink Floyd’s Animals, the twilight out my window as Lake Superior slaps the rocks nearby with a gentle breeze, it is time to retire for the night. I see his tail wagging as he caught my glance, knowing something is up. Ah, the sweet peace of a man and his dog as we venture forth in these our early days of summer.

IMG_0310


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

summer on Lake Superior with Mak

Truth

I wonder if it is true

people have epiphany

while sitting by the lake

I wonder if it is true

a life can only become

consumed with happiness.

I wonder if it is true

civil disobedience

may change our lives.

I wonder if it is true

no matter what we do,

there will always be need.

I wonder if its true,

every step we make

will leave an imprint.

I believe it to be true

no matter acerbic nature

we all belong together.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

Predictable Love

Hurting people line the streets tonight,

much like any night across America,

many years,

so many lives lost,

waiting to be heard,

always

a slamming door,

the same is ever preset

yet people tonight are saying

this time is different,

this ‘is the season’ says the reverend,

Al Sharpton stirs the world

acknowledges his verbosity

in getting his point across,

says he doesn’t mind,

(LIFT YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECK)

has a lot to say,

and tonight we listened,

we all listen

George Floyd

George Floyd

George Floy …

wait a minute we must

say his whole name,

always and forever,

forgotten in the wind,

a night breeze

a full moon

watching over us all

wherever we stand

is the simple truth,

watching over us

George Floyd



Rest In Peace

© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

What Happened in America?

In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department – more specifically an individual in the police force, rhetoric is being tossed around with ignorance and thoughtful dialogue. The unfortunate nature of protest has turned ugly after the sun goes down across the country slowly burying the original narrative – the death of a black man under the blatant force of a white police officer.

When does the abuse stop, or when does the courage to speak of the need for reform begin? How do we keep a momentum necessary to pursue the ideals of social justice long after the dust settles? I’m already worried. The instituted curfews and the greater presence of police, national guard, state patrol is quite evident and their job has occurred in a swift fashion. But when the streets clear of an angry, frustrated, oppressed population in our city and across the nation, what happens next? Who wins, who loses? The adage that I’ve grown up with my entire life is that POC will continue to be the forgotten population, the discriminated presence, the victims of a systemic flaw in our society.

Every day people stand with each other on Lake street participating in the clean up. Society is standing with one another rather than excluding themselves or segregating their lives because of lethal differences with one another. This appears to be an optimistic gesture of people coming together as one, but it needs to last beyond the final dustpan carrying the soot of loss to the city dump.

Conversations have to begin and they have to be maintained to become a stronger precedent than simply patting ourselves on the back and saying we participated, and now let’s get on the lake with our boat and go fishing – go ahead but keep the conversation happening.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how to write about this since the day George Floyd lost his life, and our horizon and the narrative has changed so dramatically over the course of a week. At first I would have suggested that the violence and looting were indicative of years of oppression, and to a degree I still support that thinking. But the uglier violence has not only buried part of the ideal of protesting the scrutiny against Blacks, it has also given people an opportunity to not concern themselves about the oppression of the Black community.

The one piece that I have heard throughout social media is the need for White people to start listening rather than continually verbalizing their angst. Allow yourselves to realize you may very well be experiencing anxiety and confusion, but rather than speak what you believe a powerful diatribe of the problem, instead, take a moment and listen. We live in a society that scrutinizes people’s ability to listen rather than speak. We live in a society that is bent on believing they need to be heard and known to be saying the right thing. The problem is we don’t.

We have no idea how the Black experience is in contrast to our own White privilege. That’s where it begins. “In a contrary movement, the modern world transforms the person who listens into an inferior human being” (Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence). We need to allow people to listen. We need to suggest people listen. I’m writing what I believe in this essay and I could criticize myself with the hypocrisy of what I am saying in light of what I suggest, in that I just need to shut up and listen.

Our society has an opportunity in respect to the tragedy of George Floyd losing his life in a violent matter. We have seen it time and time again, there is no disputing that the horrific nature of George Floyd’s death is another in a long string of incomprehensible treatment of people of color. The action itself continues the systemic nature of a broken society, and this week’s protests were an inevitable reality that needed to happen and needs to be the catalyst towards strong conversations ahead.

We need to allow ourselves to be further educated than believing the myths we live.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020