What I Teach 3rd Graders
I teach how to shake hands
and raise hands
and clap hands
How to listen
how to wait
how to hold a pencil
(not a gun).
I teach that every sentence
has a subject
and a predicate
(is shooting children)
and some have a prepositional phrase
(in their classroom.)
I teach them to pause
at a comma, to stop
at a period
and a ? means you are asking
(Why? Why? Why?)
I teach them to multiply
legs on dogs
fingers on hands
(not shootings in schools),
and how in subtraction you start
with the bigger number
and when you’re done taking away
you have less.
(17 less in Parkland, 15 less in Columbine, 27 less in Sandy Hook.)
I teach about places
by children murdered at school),
the lives of people
who have made a difference
(not a massacre),
how water can be absorbed
(like blood on linoleum)
and that some words, like repel,
mean more than one thing.
I teach them to walk quietly
in a line when the fire alarm sounds,
to duck and cover
until the earth stops shaking,
and to lay on the floor
(like fish in a barrel)
if a bad man comes.
What I don’t tell them
is in that hellish haze
of gunfire and screams
I plan to toss them like ragdolls
stack them like cordwood
that my only calculation
will be how many can I save,
how many will I leave to die?
So when I rescue
a spider from the sink
scoop it into a paper cup
set it down among green leaves,
they breathe as one, relieved,
because I’ve taught them
it’s wrong to kill
- Lisa Shulman
This review of Bill Ayers' Demand the Impossible: A Radical Manifesto was published today in Popular Resistance.
DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE: A Fire Survivor’s Review of Bill Ayers’ Radical Manifesto
An inferno, painting the skies red and filling the air with acrid smoke, raged down on my neighborhood in the early hours of October 5th. Awakened by my son, we had only a few minutes to consider what to take - a picture album, cell phones, several changes of underwear, toothbrushes, my favorite winter boots, my laptop, a Kamaka pineapple ukelele coveted by my youngest grandson - our cars joining the painfully slow river of evacuees trying to leave the area. The fire was not slow; it jumped around us, lit up a palm tree, leapt over a freeway; our route changed abruptly several times as the sheriffs, gesturing desperately, shouted “Go! Go! Go!”, directing us away from the crosshairs of the blaze.
We reached safety within the hour and by the next day we were sheltered with family and friends, waiting to hear about our home. The ground had shifted under us and, shaken to the core, we imagined what would have seemed impossible the day before – that we might lose it all, the tangible memories, the hours spent working in the garden, the books and CDs, our safe place, stripped down to the clothes on our backs, our dog, and each other.
By the middle of the week we learned that the wind had shifted and spared our immediate neighborhood. Our cat had been found and fed by a neighbor who came back to his house via the nearby creek. He fed our chickens, too. Life would soon return to normal and on the surface, it did. We ran the air purifier 24/7, planted a cover crop and mulched the vegetable garden, raked up leaves, and each evening I read chapters from Bill Ayers’ Demand the Impossible: A Radical Manifesto to my husband.
I read Ayers’ book last summer and was so impressed that I bought three more copies, one for each of my sons. Now, raw from my trial by fire and touched to the core by the suffering and losses in my community, wondering how we can influence the recovery process towards a new vision, one that takes into consideration the looming threat of climate change in its various guises - flood, drought and fire - I turned again to this manifesto, reading it out loud and savoring with Roland its spirit of hopeful resilience in the face of daunting challenge.
Ayers looks unflinchingly at the facts: the unprecedented number of incarcerated Americans, the trillions being poured into the bottomless pit of an aggressive military empire, the militarization of police, the vast financial discrepancy between the power elite and the rest of us, the privatization for profit of our commons, the resulting crises in health, education, infrastructure and general well-being and, looming over everything, the existential threat of global warming to our biosphere. He brings home that this has happened largely on our watch and that pulling the covers over our heads or allowing ourselves to be distracted by the latest scandals promoted by the corporate media are not satisfactory responses. Instead he calls on us to imagine a different world – a world in which our resources are shared to provide for the basic needs of all people, a world that recovers our humanity from the soul-destroying grip of greed and allows us all to find a role in building a better, more just and hopeful world for our children. He describes education as “powered by a precious and fragile ideal: Every human being is of infinite and incalculable value. . . each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral and creative force, each deserving a dedicated place in a community of solidarity”. (pg.161) Ayers exhorts us to “love the world enough to put your shoulder on history’s great wheel” (pg.199) and begin here in our communities, in our daily lives, to throw off the delusion of powerlessness and begin to do the real, messy, engaging work of social democracy - building a healthier, more inclusive, just and sustainable world together.
I love this small book. It sits on my bedside table to remind me of my task as I make the bed each morning. It directs me to look unflinchingly at the ruins and to see them as opportunity as well as tragedy – a chance to do things better through building community and educating each other and sharing our creative talents. It helps me at bedtime when I take a breath after the slog of meetings, conversations and well laid plans gone awry, to remember that, “in our pursuit of a world powered by love and reaching toward joy and justice, imagination is our most formidable and unyielding ally...there is no power on Earth stronger than the imagination unleashed and the collective human soul on fire.”(pg. 196) I think then of my beautiful grandchildren, “each a being of infinite and incalculable value”. They and all children are carrying the seeds of the future in their souls. I want these seeds to be able to blossom after I am gone. This is not a rational process; my skepticism dissolves as an inner voice whispers that the moment of choice is always now. We can be socially isolated victims of the fire, preyed on by disaster capitalists, or we can be agents of change that rise from the ashes with regenerative vision and strengthened community, defying those who would marginalize or divide us by joining hands, standing together and proving that the changes we envision are not impossible after all.
What Are We Going to Learn Today? is reviewed by Bill Ayres, social justice activist, teacher and professor emeritus at University of Illinois at Chicago.
I just finished reading “What Are We Going to Learn Today? How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners” by Anne Cummings Jacopetti. Get a copy; read it; pass it on to teachers, parents, students, community members, and anyone interested in what schools and classrooms could be (and should be) at their best, as well as the challenges we face as we continue the struggle to create meaningful educational experiences for all children and youth.
“What Are We Going to Learn Today?” is an illuminating read, filled with hard-won wisdom from a lifetime of teaching. Jacopetti writes beautifully, and her stories are packed with wisdom about the power of dialogue and questioning, curiosity and first-hand experiences in teaching and authentic learning. She urges us to release our wildest imaginations as we nurture a tolerance for improvisation, confusion, experimentation, perpetual uncertainty, reciprocity, spontaneity, uniqueness, and flux.
And she helps us understand the terms of resistance: education for free people is powered, after all, by a particularly precious and fragile ideal: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a work in progress and a force in motion, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and creative force, each born equal in dignity and rights, each endowed with reason and conscience and agency, each deserving recognition and respect, and a dedicated place in a community of solidarity. We resist anything that dehumanizes or thingifies human beings, all the mechanisms to indoctrinate, inspect, rank, appraise, censure, order about, register, sort, admonish, and sermonize. And we recognize, further, that the fullest development of each individual—given the tremendous range of ability and the delicious stew of race, ethnicity, points of origin, and background—is the necessary condition for the full development of the entire community, and, conversely, that the fullest development of all is essential for the full development of each.
Jacopetti gets it: learning is an entirely natural human pursuit, and we are learning all the time. Curiosity is inherent, living in a wildly complex and diverse human community is all the motivation we need to keep growing and learning.
Wherever and whenever questioning, researching, reimagining, rebuilding, pursuing authentic questions and interests and experiences, and undertaking active work in the community is the order of the day, a spirit of open communication, interchange, and analysis becomes commonplace as an expression of love. In these places there is a certain natural disorder, some anarchy and chaos, as there is in any busy workshop. But there is also a sense of joy, and a deeper discipline at work, the discipline of getting things done and learning with one another and through life. We see clearly in these cases that education at its best is always generative, for teachers and students alike.
Article Published in the Sonoma County Peace Press fpr August
“What a time to be alive!” The opening words of Reverend Sekou’s anthem, “The Revolution Has Come”, have echoed in the back of my mind for the past several weeks. Our long slide down a dark road of oil, war and corporate power has corrupted our political, economic and cultural life and brought us, finally, to the Trump administration. My friends, family and associates are looking hard at how we got here and what we must do now to recover a more just and sustainable future for our children and grandchildren before it is literally too late. The challenge can seem overwhelming.
“RESIST!” shouts the bumpersticker on my Spark EV. The question is how can I keep resisting without becoming exhausted and discouraged? How can I balance resistance – signing petitions, making donations and joining protests– with actions that are energizing and hopeful within our community. Both gestures are essential: blocking soulless greed and ambition and acting creatively and positively to transform the conversation.
For me, positive action is an outgrowth of my reflections about my lifelong experience as a teacher and my relatively new understanding of the principles of regenerative agriculture. In both education and agriculture, we have inherited systems whose assumptions are not life-based, that have forced increasingly unnatural processes on our children and on our gardens and farms. We need more assessments and textbook driven programs to ensure that children are successful, more chemicals and pesticides and GMO’s to ensure that we can grow enough food, so-called experts repeatedly have told us. Wrong on both counts. This vaunted knowledge and hubris mask profound ignorance of natural processes supporting life and our continued survival.
In our ignorance, we have inflicted children with top-down information-based group learning, driven by competition, rewards and punishments, with drugs to control their resulting restlessness. As a consequence, many children are failing and all are arguably damaged by their educational experience. In our ignorance, we have disrupted soil communities by digging and plowing and planting monocultures that have required increasing use of pesticides and fertilizers. Our once soil-rich valleys of California have released carbon to the atmosphere at an alarming rate, increasing global warming, polluting water and contaminating our food. Our soils are almost gone.
I know that children are avid learners; their survival depends on it. But they have requirements. They need strong relationships with trusted adults who respect their needs and encourage them to explore, to ask questions and to learn through experience. They need stories that help them chart their way and understand their place in the community. They need to be held by real communities that provide models of caring, responsible development for them to emulate.
I taught children how plants grow and flourish by performing the magic of photosynthesis – transforming light into food. Plants also have requirements. What I didn’t fully realize is that plants flourish through the support of a diverse and largely invisible community of interdependent microorganisms who live beneath us, invisible to our understanding until very recently. These microorganisms are the basis of all carbon-based life forms, including humans. Plants drip carbohydrates from their roots to attract them and the microbes respond by bringing plants the minerals they need, by forming communication webs that help the plants resist pests and diseases. Healthy living soil is a vibrant community of interdependent beings. It is also a brilliant metaphor for what we human beings have to consciously foster and create –more just and sustainable communities that celebrate and protect our interdependence with the natural world and with each other.
I have written a book to share my ideas for positive change in our public schools, inspired primarily by my experience as a Waldorf teacher and by current practices in Finnish public schools. Our 350 Sonoma regenerative agriculture group has formed a coalition with local farmers, orchardists and grape growers to test the research of Dr. David C. Johnson, a molecular biologist at NMSU, who has developed an effective high-fungal compost (BEAM) that supports soil regeneration and drawdown of atmospheric carbon. BEAM byproducts are healthier food and cleaner water These activities and relationships give me the energy to keep resisting and the hope that, indeed, the revolution has finally come.
Book Review by Betty Staley, published in Renewal, Journal for Waldorf Education, Spring, 2017 edition
Betty Staley has been a leader in Waldorf Education for over half a century as an early childhood educator, class teacher, high school teacher, educator of Waldorf teachers, author, and lecturer.
At a time when teachers are under pressure to introduce academic learning in the earliest years, when scores have become the means by which teachers are ranked, and when teachers are being blamed for children’s low educational skills, How Do Children Learn? by Anne Cummings Jacopetti offers a refreshing views. She incorporates neuro-scientific research in child development and the learning process, describes what it means to be a teacher who respects and loves children, and is deeply committed to engaging in the mutual process of teacher and student learning from each other.
The author draws from her wide experience as a teacher in varied situations to focus on how children learn. Her basic premise is that children are born with innate capacities; and these capacities develop on a somewhat predictable timetable throughout childhood and adolescence. The teacher’s task then is to foster children’s capacities and inspire creativity and enthusiasm for learning.
Jacopetti lists nine key elements in which the teacher can implement this goal: strengthening relationships, building community, using stories as stimuli for imagination and guide to the world, integrating the arts, inspiring learning by asking questions, strengthening learning by doing, reconnecting children with nature, working with the seasons and the role of celebrations, and valuing the importance of play as a catalyst for learning.
She draws many of her examples from her years as a Waldorf teacher and teaching in public schools, as well as highlighting other programs and approaches that recognize and develop these important aspects. She provides examples that teachers in any school can use and adapt to their situation.
She demonstrates her points by including poetry and detailed descriptions of conversations with students as well as examples of student work. In addition to clearly identifying these key elements, she draws the readers in so that we feel we are in the presence of a gifted, loving teacher who is as much reflecting on what she has learned from the students as how she has been able to inspire them to love learning from her.
Whereas each of the areas she cites are important, the beauty of this book is how the teacher can integrate them over multiple years. One of her strongest points is the emphasis on relationship, the bonding of the teacher with her students, an opportunity that is present every moment, every day, and every year as the teacher creates a quality of recognition and respect. Not only does Jacopetti highlight the insights of Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education as her guiding principles, she introduces the reader to the Waldorf approach which is practiced in thousands of schools around the world, and she offers the fruits of this work for any teacher in any school who is committed to teaching as an art.
In order for teachers to implement these nine aspects in teaching, administrators need to offer teachers the same interest, caring and support that teachers are asked to give to the children in their care.
Since the 1980s teachers have not been respected to know how to teach and therefore need to be guided by “experts” such as textbook companies and corporate testing services. Jacopetti states “I believe that such policies are responsible for the poor standing of American students on international educational norms and the exodus of many talented teachers from the public schools.” She cites the Common Core test as an example of an approach that disregards what has been learned through neuroscience about children’s development and instead focuses on expectation of premature analytical thinking which is a cause for increasing anxiety and stress.
Jacopetti’s book, What Are We Going To Learn Today?, offers another way of teaching which brings health to children and inspires them to love learning. For parents and teachers involved in Waldorf education, this book gives an inside view of how to practice this art; how the curriculum addresses the child’s stage of development; how parents, teachers, and children form living and viable communities, how the arts are not an addition to the curriculum, but a necessary means to awaken capacities of trust, enthusiasm, and knowing; why stories are so central a part of the Waldorf curriculum; how learning through questioning and practical experience draw children to awaken their own learning; and how the life of rhythm, celebration, and connection with nature serve to help youngsters connect with the wider community of meaning.
What Jacopetti offers through this book is a gift to all parents and teachers who are concerned about children and their needs, how to counter the materialistic, dehumanizing approach found in many schools under pressure, and how to create a healthy community in which all its members thrive.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-to-teach-kids-about-climate-change-where-most-parents-are-skeptics/2017/06/03/1ad4b67a-47a0-11e7-98cd-af64b4fe2dfc_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_idaho-1118am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.ea74be3a4df1Teaching Children About Climate Change
Join me on Sunday April 23rd, 2017 at 2pm as I meet with former students to share insights, reflections, and stories from our time together. We'll also read a few selections from my book, What Are We Going To Learn Today.
Click here for more details on this event.
I recently wrote an article to reach out to parents as well as teachers and sent it to a popular parent blog that is full of articles like Eight Science Backed Reasons to Let Your Child Play Outside. Perhaps they did not accept this article because I used the term "energy field" in trying to describe the actual experience of becoming bonded to a child. I may yet find a publisher,, but in the meantime here it is:
What Tim Taught Me
Tim and Paul came into my life when I was 28 years old and longing for a child of my own. My husband and I had applied for adoption after many months of trying and failing to get pregnant. I remember vividly the morning the phone rang and our social worker’s voice announced, “Anne, I have good news. I’ve got them for you.” “Them??” “Yes, beautiful three-month-old twin boys. I think you are the right mother for them.”
Four hours later, she put Paul into my arms, and I looked into his big brown eyes and accepted my fate. Tim arrived moments later. “And here is your little worrier”, she said. “Well, why not?” I thought. “Brothers. They will always have each other.” We said, “Yes”, and went home to assemble a small nursery, trembling with the awareness that our lives were about to change dramatically.
As an oldest sister and experienced baby-sitter, I was aware of the work involved in raising young children, so I was not surprised to be plunged into a routine of formulas, bottles, diapers, feedings and naps that swallowed up my days and many of my nights. What I hadn’t thought much about was the process of bonding; I took it for granted that I would love these babies and that they would love me in return. That, I thought, would be the easy part. And, in many ways, it was. They were both very lovable, beautiful, healthy little boys.
Weeks and then months passed in a busy blur with little time to ponder, but I finally admitted to myself that I was worried about my little worrier. Timmy had a very hard time relaxing and seemed to need to cry (at an intense decibel) in order to go to sleep. Rocking and holding did not comfort him and I would often find myself putting him safely into his crib and rocking it instead of him to get further away from the piercing intensity of his wail. Dr. Spock informed me about colic and reassured me that this stage would pass, and I tried to reassure myself that I was doing all that I could to be a good mother
The crying did begin to subside as Timmy learned to scrooch and crawl and sit up and climb. But new situations and people could trigger inconsolable tears, so we stayed close to home for the most part. Then one Saturday morning my husband took Paul for a morning jaunt, leaving me with Tim. Instead of starting chores, I curled up with him in a big leather chair in front of the television. We watched several episodes of Sesame Street, and Mister Rogers had just begun when it happened. Tim gave a deep sigh and relaxed; his little body melted into mine and a deep feeling of relief and joy flooded through my being. For the first time in our six months together, he was safe inside my energy. On the outside, we hadn’t moved. Mr. Rogers was still telling us a story, but inside everything had changed.
Again and again through the years that followed Tim would teach me lessons, but none more important than this first one. I couldn’t become his mother fully, his safe haven and source of ease, until I relaxed and stopped trying to make it happen. He needed the fully relaxed presence of my being in order to feel safe enough to begin to relax himself. It is so obvious in retrospect.
Research into early childhood finds that strong nurturing relationships are the primary basis for learning and healthy development, but the nature of that connection is not always made clear. Bonding is both a process and an incredibly intimate experience. Securely attached infants and young children are literally held within our energy fields and venture bravely forth from this secure base. If this connection is weak or nonexistent, the child’s experience of the world will be inevitably curtailed by anxiety.
In their wonderful book, Hold on to Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté tell us that “the secret of parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child. When a child seeks comfort and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher or a coach. For a child well attached to us, we are her home base from which to venture into the world, her retreat to fall back to, her fountainhead of inspiration.” (Ballantine Books, 2004, 2005, pg. 6).
With some children, particularly sensitive ones that have experienced trauma, this bonding process may take considerable time and patience. But it is an essential process for healthy development, like breathing clean air and eating good food, that sustains us as our relationships evolve, and the children in our care grow up and move with increasing confidence into the world.
Tim’s lesson served me well as a mother, in my decades-long career as a teacher, and in my current role as loving grandmother to ten grandchildren. I still need to remind myself to be quiet, to listen, to wait and to make a space for those precious moments of deep connection. And I am still overwhelmed with gratitude and joy when they occur.
How to "Make America Great": Invest in Its ChildrenFriday, February 17, 2017 By Anne Cummings Jacopetti, Speakout | Op-Ed
There is only one sure way to "make America great": to support the full development of all its children. The National Research Council of the Institute of Medicine's review of the science of early childhood development is compelling and unequivocal:
Relationship is the foundation for healthy development. It continues to be crucial long after early childhood, and plays a critical role during the school years in shaping the architecture and functioning of our brains. The quality of our relationships determines the depth of our verbal, social and mathematical skills, as well as the maturity of our executive functions -- our working memory, attention span and ability to self-regulate our emotions. Children learn enthusiastically from adults they trust -- from parents who make them feel safe and loved, and from teachers who are sensitive to their challenges and respectful of their special talents. Learning and maturation shut down when children feel stressed, misunderstood or judged.
We are all products, for good and for ill, of this complex interplay between nature and nurture. While we may come from different cultures and carry different intellectual and creative proclivities, we all share this primary need for connection, this need to be seen, understood and loved. When this basic need is not adequately met, development is inevitably stunted. When children are not able to thrive, they are unlikely to become wise, resilient adults who can create and maintain the structures and processes necessary for a healthy society.
Although many teachers strive to inspire and encourage their students, our schools are not typically structured to support the strong attachment relationships and safety that children require. Education policy makers, focused on what children need to know in order to meet our society's vision of material success, have also failed to fully consider more basic questions -- how children learn, what activities are appropriate at what ages, and how learning can become an engaging lifelong process of intellectual, emotional and moral development.
What if our leaders and policy makers decided to ensure that every child has the emotional support needed for full and healthy maturation? What would that investment cost and what might be its return? How can we restructure our public schools, in particular, to support healthy development with strong attachment relationships at their core? In this moment of intense social challenge, I can think of no more important questions.
In my recent book, What Are We Going to Learn Today: How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners, I describe what can happen when strong attachment relationships guide brain and character development through stories, the arts and hands-on experience. Having spent multiple years with one group of children, I confidently chart how the connections we forged with each other and with the natural world became bedrock for healthy growth. I recount how these students, as they matured, became creative problem solvers, able to ask probing questions, make connections and assess consequences -- necessary survival skills for citizenship in the 21st century.
The true strength of a society should be measured, not by its GDP and hegemonic military presence, but by the percentage of its children who thrive and become contributing citizens. A society in which many children are not receiving what they need will never be vibrant and sustainable. All children need to be loved and want to learn; their survival now literally depends on it. We must stop letting them down.
Reference: National Research Council, Institute of Medicine. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, (National Academy Press), 2000.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.Anne Cummings JacopettiAnne Cummings Jacopetti is a retired teacher, administrator and writer who lives in Santa Rosa, California. Her book, What Are We Going to Learn Today: How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners, is available through her website: HowChildrenLearn.org and through Amazon.com.