Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cookie Monster and the Loss of Passion

I remember when I was growing up and Cookie Monster LOVED cookies. He ate piles and piles of them on screen. When they weren't around, he asked for them. In this one sketch he went into the library and asked for books about cookies...well, he asked for cookies a bunch of times before he was informed that they do not serve cookies in a library. But to me, it is one of the earliest examples of someone really following their passion.

In later incarnations, with Americans more concerned about obsesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and just plain old good eating habits, Cookie Monster was...tamed. He now says that "cookies are a sometimes food". While I understand that this is a children's program and we want to set a good example, I'm truly disappointed. In fact, a part of me wishes they had retired Cookie Monster like they got rid of cigarette commercials on television. They made Cookie Monster less than what he is by doing that.

But it brings up a larger point. How many of us are really passionate about something for a long time, and then we let the "real world" overtake us and we just let it go? We stop doing what we love because it seems inconvenient or doesn't "fit" with the rest of our lives. About certain things, like all-night drinking binges, I can understand letting them go. But all too often we let it happen with the things we really enjoy that aren't eventually going to kill us.

So I urge you to be Cookie Monster when it comes to what you love. Don't let time, energy, or convenience stand in the way of your passion. And share it with others as often as you can! I may not know much about a topic, but I love to hear people who truly love something talk about it. And you can just tell by the way they describe it. The energy is infectious.

Sing it with me..."C is for cookie, that's good enough for me..." :)

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Hierophant and Teaching to Learn

People often ask me why I've chosen the Hierophant as my business name and my email address. I explain to them that the Hierophant is the spiritual teacher. If you want to find out more about the Hierophant, you can check out my blog on him here. Hierophant is also the Greek equivalent of the Latin term pontifex, which is used to designate the Pope of the Catholic Church.

But to me the Hierophant is more than just the teacher or spiritual leader. He's the one front and center on the card, but let's not forget about the two people that are on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck whose faces you cannot see. They are the adepts, the acolytes...people who have chosen to follow him. And it is those who often go unnoticed that I would like to focus on today.

Did you ever think about why people teach? Well...they certainly don't do it for the money, at least in the public schools. Those individuals have my total respect and admiration, because they're doing a job that is often thankless for barely enough pay. Administrators, parents, and students fight them at every turn, and they're constantly told their charges are not measuring up on ridiculous standard tests that are used later to determine which teachers should keep their jobs. Who in their right mind would want THAT job?

Imagine if you had 25-30 individuals watching you ALL DAY LONG. I'll bet you that you'd be surfing the internet less and not taking long lunches anymore. 
And they say teaching is the world's second most private act! 

If I had my way, I'd double their salaries immediately and try make it a much more attractive profession. In my humble opinion, it's one of the top ten most important jobs in the world. Children who cannot think become adults who cannot think, and for the world that is a really bad thing. But I digress.

So I didn't answer the question. Why do they do it? Ask a teacher that and if they're a teacher worth having, s/he will say, "I do it for the students." It's not for money or fame or accolades. It's for the students.

Good teachers remember what it was like to be a student, one of those faceless people in a crowd watching a teacher do their work. They have to know what they're teaching inside and out, because students can spot a fake a mile off. They have to make it more exciting than technology or having a private conversation with a friend. And they know how to connect with their students, to get that message across in the hopes that even a fraction of it might sink in.

The Hierophant is a reminder to me that I can't just sit on my ass and expect my students to blindly follow me. I constantly think about what my student persona would say to my teacher me, and I try to act accordingly. I try to never stop learning and growing, because as soon as I say "I'm done," I'm done as a teacher, too. How can I expect my students to aim high if I stop?

More than leading students, though, I try to remember the lessons my students teach me every single class. I've learned more about my craft and myself in a classroom than I have from any book, and from any other person, except for maybe three or four pivotal people in my life. And to me, that's the way it should be, and the way I hope it will be until I stop drawing breath.

So next time you think of the Hierophant, think about your role as both the teacher AND a student. It may help you be a little more patient or compassionate when the next "student" in your life asks for your time, attention, or help.

And me? Why do I do it? For my students, of course. And I'm a better man for it. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lessons from the Story of Brandi Blackbear

So I read an interesting article today about a high school girl who was supposedly suspended because of her Wiccan beliefs and practices. Take a look!

Note the date on the story. This is making its way around Facebook, but it's not new. This happened quite a while ago. 

Anyway, while you can read it for yourself, the crux of the matter is pretty simple: An Oklahoma middle school suspended a student for 15 days when they suspected her of casting a spell to make a teacher sick. Of course, the parents, the administration, their lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union got involved. The school district was forced to defend its actions--namely, suspending Brandi twice in 1999--in Federal court. 

Eventually, the court found in favor of the school, and the 2002 story here suggests that there would be an appeal, but I haven't gone digging for additional information yet. 

According to the second story, the judge in the case did not believe that Brandi was a true Wiccan practitioner, and thought that the whole religious aspect of the case was played up so there would be more media attention surrounding it. 

Stories like this are challenging, because many Wiccans get very strident about voicing their 1st Amendment rights, and a story like this just stokes the flames. But I think it's important to take a step back and look at exactly what happened, based on the information that is presented to us, before we go running off saying that the school was at fault. 

Actually, for me, the whole thing is just sad, and there is blame on both sides. 

Here are few things that struck me as I read these articles:

1) Brandi had claimed to be a witch with the power to harm others with spells

Two students came forward saying they were afraid of Brandi for this reason. This was the reason behind Brandi's first suspension. The job of the public schools often rests on the principle of in loco parentis, a "parental" role in which one of the school's main jobs is to keep the students safe. In this age of people walking into schools and offices with murder on their minds, they are right to take that role seriously. Imagine if Brandi had been an actual threat and the school had done nothing; the school would have been in serious trouble. 

With that said, I'm balking a little bit at the 19-day suspension that was imposed here. With the understanding that I'm not aware of all the circumstances, isn't 19 days a bit...well, harsh? Would the message have gotten across with 10 days? 5 days? 

2) When Brandi was suspended a second time, after the teacher had become ill, she had been questioned about her beliefs in Wicca by the administration, her notebooks of horror stories she had written were confiscated, and she was forbidden from drawing or wearing any signs or symbols of the Wiccan faith. 

I side with the family here to a certain extent. The administration seized her stories, which, truth be told, could have been her plans to kill people, so if they saw her as a threat they would have done so. Also, if she was writing them at school instead of doing work, I could see taking the notebooks, too, provided they were returned to her at the end of the investigation. 

To question her about her spiritual beliefs, however, is ridiculous. Were they really that scared that a girl could make a grown man sick? Just the fact that they would even consider this possibility is crazy, even in 1999 Oklahoma. 

And real Wiccans don't use their power to harm; Brandi would have taken on a serious karmic debt had she actually done that, anyway. 

And until everyone else in that school had hidden their own religious items--including crosses--I disagree that the school had the right to ask Brandi to stop drawing or wearing Wiccan symbols to school. The fact that she was interested in Wicca, and by her own admission had read a book in the school library about it, is meaningless. She should not have been questioned about it. 

So where does this leave us? Well, I'm reminded of some very important points. 

1) Words have power, so be careful how you use them. 

In both the mundane and magickal world, words have a lot of power. Don't claim to be something you're not, and don't threaten others with any power, magickal or otherwise. 

2) The US Constitution may give us the freedom to practice Wicca/Witchcraft, but you can't legislate respect. 

There is a difference between tolerance, respect, and acceptance. Practicing Wiccans and Witches will find people who wholeheartedly accept them and their spiritual path. They will also find those who will generally be respectful without accepting who we are, and that's fine, too. There are people who will tolerate our spiritual practice to varying degrees, and some who rail against it. We are allowed to practice it by law, but if you expect everyone to be thrilled about that fact you've got another thing coming.

My community and I have experienced various displays of discrimination and intolerance directed our way, and while it's sad, it does happen. We have to take the high road, report it to the appropriate authorities when it occurs (if applicable), and do our best to take it in stride when that's all we can do, with the understanding that these incidents are not truly frequent. 

3) Know what you are taking on when you call yourself a Wiccan or a Witch. 

Some people may never be "out of the broom closet", a term we use for a Wiccan or Witch who practices openly. I leave that choice to each individual person. With that said, practicing Wicca openly in some countries could get you killed, quite literally. 

If you choose to practice openly as a Wiccan or Witch here in America, remember that your example has an effect on all of us. While we are one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, we still have a lot of obstacles to overcome before we are fully accepted by American society. Is it sad? Absolutely. But it is also the truth, folks. I take my "Blessed Be" bumper sticker off my car when traveling through certain areas of the country myself; it's just common sense. 

Every religion has its crackpots, but our reputation takes a serious hit when stories like this make their way around the social media circles. So please don't act like a crazy person; choose to be an informed, balanced, empowered, responsible Wiccan or Witch. And a part of that responsibility is withholding judgment on stories like this one until we get all the facts. 

We're fortunate in this country to be able to believe and worship as we choose, and I think that's something we all can agree on.