Thursday, September 26, 2013


Dear Readers,

It's been a _______________________________________ year.

I left a large blank because I can't even categorize it yet. But my blog writing has taken a hit due to all the changes hitting me over the past 8 or so months. That said, the experiences are marinating, and I hope to soon put fingers to keys and draw some verbal music out of the maelstrom. Also, a newish entry has been posted on my website - some thoughts on creativity and intuition.

Until soon, AE

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Tending

Tend (v):

1. to attend to by work 
or services, care, etc: 
to tend a fire.

2. to look after; watch over and care for; 
minister to or wait on with service: 
to tend the sick.

3. to lead or be directed 
in a particularly direction

4. to be disposed or inclined in action, 
operation, or effect to do something: 
The particles tend to unite.

Having worked with young people on and off for the better part of my life, there is one verb I feel best describes the work of a caregiver, parent, or teacher: to tend.

It is a gentle but profound word.

We tend fires, we tend the sick and dying, we tend our gardens.

And we tend our children.

The fire. The dying. The garden. The child.

All these are potent signs of a Reality that requires tenderness, watchfulness, oxygen - a delicate blend of vigilance and space.

I have seen children who are carefully tended - who are trained and pruned with the greatest love and kindness. These children have a gentleness of spirit fostered by a deep sense of security and protection.

Of course, all parents lose their tempers sometimes. And all children test boundaries. We are learning as we go - and making plenty of mistakes along the way. Fortunately, children are supremely forgiving of mistakes made in a spirit of service and nurturance. And almost all wounds can be healed - as long as children know they walk on solid ground.

This ground is the love, respect and trust they have for their parents, caregivers, and teachers.

I feel the best way to establish this sense of security and confidence is for a child to know he or she is being tended. This includes, but is not limited to, being attentive to a child's needs. Being firm and sometimes unyielding, but also caring and receptive.

Beyond this, tending is a posture or stance we must adopt in every aspect of our lives - not only teaching and child-rearing, but self-reflection and mindfulness. It is an attitude of leadership, directed toward unity and integration. And it begins with ourselves.

We must learn to nurture and nourish both the fire of our spirit and the sick and dying elements of our bodies and souls. These wounded or dead parts of ourselves are not to be feared and shunned, but welcomed and healed. Or honoured and let go.

We must tend our interior garden with constancy and affection. For this is the only garden we can enter without fear of being cast out.

And once we are assured the ground will not give way - that we too walk on the bedrock of our soul's own love, respect, and trust - we will glimpse something hidden in the tall grasses and shy, blooming things.

A child.

This is the child we have so long neglected. The one who can bear too much. We must signal our friendship from a distance. Then, approach.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Dark Privilege

A few weeks ago, I submitted an essay to America Public Media's On Being blog. It was published yesterday. It contains some personal reminiscences of handling the files of roughly 200 Baha'i who were executed for their beliefs following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

You can read the full essay and watch a related video here:


Sunday, May 12, 2013

5 Years Too Many

This month marks the 5th anniversary of the imprisonment of 7 Baha'i leaders in Iran, for no crime other than their belief in a faith deemed "heretical" by the Shiite clerics. This is a faith that teachers the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, universal education, the equality of men and women, and the unity of humankind. You can learn more about the persecution of the Iranian Baha'is here:

In addition to the 7 imprisoned leaders, the Iranian government has also arrested and imprisoned numerous Baha'i professors, educational leaders, and students in a systematic attempt to bar Baha'is from access to higher education. In response, the Baha'is established a correspondence course which over time became one of the world's most successful underground online institutions - the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education - which is now supported by professors from around the world. Yet another example of how suffering burnishes the human spirit into action for the common good.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Daily Byte: "The Benefits of Character Education"

"Character education is not old-fashioned, and it's not about bringing religion in to the classroom. Character education teaches children how to make wise decisions and act on them. Character is the "X factor" that experts in parenting and education have deemed integral to success, both in school and in life."
 - Jessica Lahey

Read Jessica Lahey's article in The Atlantic for an insightful and balanced argument in favour of character education in schools:

Lahey argues that character education and religious education are not synonymous. Instead, teaching character is something that is compatible with secular curricula. Moreover, how else can children truly be taught anything without the character traits of empathy, focus, self-discipline, and curiosity that are the foundation of any academic program?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Daily Byte: Frontiers of Learning

Let's not talk religion, but spirit. Let's not talk dogma, but soul.


The young people in this film address the great spiritual deficit found in so much of education (and society) today, and through new processes of facilitated learning, are reaching a deeper understanding about the meaning of human existence and community service. Even if you take away the religious component, the teaching methodologies are valid in almost any context: dialogue, accompaniment, mentorship, service, family involvement.

We need a new philosophy, not continental or analytic, but perennial. A renewal of the perennial philosophy that teaches young people about the unity of truth underlying culture and context.

If anything, we need to start speaking to young people about more than just academics, careers, computers, and sex. We need to start a conversation about the loneliness, confusion, and anxiety facing so many teens and adults. And we need to do it in a context of love and mutual respect. No prejudgment or proselytizing. But more than just "assembly-line" education.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Kidnappers...

"A country that does not pay its professors well," one of the kidnappers asked,
 "how can that country progress?"

Photo credit: AP via BBC

This quote came from a conversation held by Laureano Marquez with his Venezuelan kidnapper. Marquez, a popular writer and satirist who was recently released from a brief captivity, had the presence of mind to joke with his captors in order to diffuse the situation. He also spoke with them about the state of Venezuela today, where Hugo Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, recently won the presidential election by the smallest margin in the last 50 years. According to the AP, Maduro "faces a difficult economic panorama of rising inflation and slowing growth" caused in part by Chavez's "lavish social spending financed by an unprecedented oil boom."

For me, however, the social and economic ramifications of Venezuela's political history are neatly summed up by this kidnapper's comment. What we value as a society is reflected in the prices we place on goods and services. And Venezuela is certainly not alone in paying people in the teaching profession poorly.

A comprehensive report called PISA, published in 2012, gives data on teachers' pay and a host of other education indicators for OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. The data are interesting if not particularly surprising. For example, Luxembourg pays teachers the most (nearly $100,000 per year), while the average annual pay in the Slovak Republic is roughly $13,000. (These figures, of course, do not capture cost of living differences that clearly exist in these countries.)

In the US, we pay lawyers annually between $120-150,000. Doctors earn between $156-309,000 per year. And yet the average salary for a teacher is $45,000. Surely this is a sign of the lack of rigorous standards combined with lack of equal respect for the teaching profession?

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that professor pay is to some extent correlated with the robustness of a country's political and economic health. In Hungary, for example, Corvinus University is having substantial difficulties fulfilling its salary obligations to professors. Hungary is also dealing with a government in the process of rewriting its constitution and eliminating checks and balances - with little opposition.

Of course, this correlation is not scientific, but I have a feeling that how we treat our teachers and professors is directly related to the strength of our governments and societies. While teachers' unions should not shield its members from the consequences of unprofessionalism or ineptitude, we also need more advocates for high standards + high pay in teaching. Otherwise, be prepared to look for more lessons from your friendly local kidnapper...