Saturday, December 11, 2004

Wonder if I ever posted these song lyrics?

It was an important symptom of my gradual rebellion at a point when Bill was taking the Werner Erhardt EST course in San Francisco, and I was refusing to become a part of what I saw as regimentation on the Left. I'd attended the orientation with him and the roaring chants and hands raised in unison in that huge auditorium felt Hitlerian to me. I wrote this song for an annual church revue, "The Hungry U" a takeoff on the San Francisco's Hungry I where Mort Sahl had his beginnings. The lyrics will mean little to those who missed the Human Potential Movement, but if you were there and remember -- the language will take you back. For others, I've italicized the cliches:

A Teacher's Lament

First verse:

Was a teacher of grammar, of this I was proud -- in the classroom effective they say.
to increase sensitivity I joined the activity to learn about
games people play
encounter, gestalt, reality, bio-energetics, all that ...
and it shakes my foundations when I hear myself utterin' --
this is the place where I'm at!


Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz -- and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today had I ne ... ver encountered you

Verse 2

I was doing my
thing at Esalan, all decked out in my smile and my skin--
had my oily massage -- all the epiderm glistenin' ... the baths were about to begin ...
As I sat on my rock ... displaying my ... freedom ... when much to my utter dismay
from behind crept this kitty cat -- licked the end I was sittin' at
slip and slid clear to Monterey Bay!


Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today had I ne ... ver encountered you!

Verse 3

It was
lifting time -- my group gathered 'round estimating (non-verbally) my weight
As I peeked through my eyelids I felt myself frown as I saw the men step back to wait
So I tried to be
cool while four girls lifted effortlessly, I felt myself soar with the action
and just as -- emphatically -- I
flew most ecstatically!
The left lifters slipped -- I'm in traction!

Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz -- and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today
this impossible
room with no view ...

I'm giving myself full permission to say from this gut level place
Screw you!

Sacrilege? Yeah, right. That was about as irreverent as one could be at that time in our circles, but I did get to sing the song for the noted psychologist, Dr. Rollo May, at a party in Mill Valley one evening -- and loved every minute of it. It was delicious! He was a good sport but I wasn't too sure that Bill saw the humor -- though he covered nicely as I recall.

In looking back now it looks like that incredible hard swing of the pendulum to the permissive end topped in the Eighties and over the next few years the balancing drive toward the equivalent of the Victorian period at the end of the last century was unstoppable. It looks like that hard swing to the Right may be topping off about now with the era of the Super Christians in full flower. If social change takes many decades as Bill insisted, then I've surely seen at least one complete cycle that proves his point.

What was symbolized by the Haight-Ashbury Love- and Be-ins with the free love and turning away from hate and all aspects of war may be now finding its balance in the Bush years.

The Religious Right may believe that it has successfully put a cap on humanism and secularism and the movements toward gender equality and a woman's right to choose -- but a few more years will surely see the pendulum swinging back toward the center and then to the Left in a natural reaction to the extremes. We've always corrected our course over time. This period of regression will fade away, though I don't expect to witness the next cycle.

The complication of a possible ecological catastrope due to global warming and the return to the Doomsday Clock mentality can make all of this moot, but I'm too optimistic by nature to not believe that something will pull us back from the edge in time. But we won't be saved without an all out effort on the part of us all -- and that thought keeps me in the struggle for survival.

I guess I'm hopeful that there are enough of us left over from the last Love-in period who remember well enough to welcome the first signs of the resurrection. The seeds are out there waiting for the re-birth. Our natural heirs are the Women in Black, Veterans for Peace, those wonderful young people at MoveOn.Org, People for the American Way, AirAmerica, the Pacifica Radio Network, Code Pink, etc. My heart was warmed to know that Teri Sendgraf - the artist responsible for those wonderful performing artists on stilts seen in the WTO demonstrations -- once worked with Project Community. And WavyGravy is still running his clown camp!

There's hope. They're all out there and with the Internet as the connecting link, we have counterparts throughout the world and we can reach out to them in ways never before possible. We simply have to find the ways to keep the embers alive until that pendulum gets far enough to our side to continue the world's unyielding march toward a state of permanent peace.

I trust the truth of that. It keeps me alive and continuing to reach for the stars, even when I'm being irreverent.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Hopped on BART this morning with two friends

to attend a meeting of (more) educators. This time the participants were directors of afterschool programs in San Francisco. The title of the two-hour workshop was "Youth Voices" and consisted of an evaluation of the Beacon Programs (a project of Stanford's Department of Education), plus a panel of 5 remarkable teens who were either participants in or graduates of Beacon's programs.

These were pretty typical teens; a young woman from Pakistan, 2 African American high school boys from Oakland; a generously body-pierced gay young woman who serves on the S.F. Youth Commission; and a very articulate male student graduate of Beacon who is now a member of faculty. They were all well-spoken and fine examples of kids who probably would have survived under whatever system they'd found themselves in; but this may be an unfair assumption.

Very soon it all began to sound very familiar. One of the disadvantages of being older is that so little is new anymore. The program description sounded like one of the many versions of Project Community, the research experiment my late husband developed out of Tolman Hall at UC. Berkeley 30 years ago with Dr. Shelley Korchin. This was where Bill and I met. I was an administrator. He was the principle investigator.

He'd come to the coast from Washington shortly after the Kennedy assassination. He'd worked as a part of a think tank associated with NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) under the Johnson administration. In the Sixties he came west to do a study that would look at the Flower Child phenomenon in the Haight-Ashbury. He would develop a drug prevention program at Cal. He'd arrived at UCB with grant in hand and about as exciting and timely an assignment as one could have in those days, if you were a research psychologist.

Bill was a part of that wave of scholars,educators, adventurers, and experimenters who arrived here believing they were in the world's most permissive and liberal place -- and made it so by so believing. That group included Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, Dr. Stan Grof (of the LSD experiments in Bethesda), Charlotte Selvers, Fritja Capra, Isaac Asimov, the founders of Esalan, Fritz Perls, Rollo May, et al. It was a heady time. Berkeley was radiating radio waves that were being felt around the world! The Zen Center was coming in to being. There was Green Gulch and Tassajara. Ken Kesey and the Pranksters were exploring and inventing new edges from their bungalows at Stanford. People like Uri Geller, Peter Coyote, WavyGravy and the Pig Farm were feeding the multitudes. Rupert Sheldrake (the Hundreth Monkey),Toni and John Lilly (of the earliest dolphin experiments) were emerging and changing the spiritual and psychological defaults! A succession of refugee Tibetan Lamas began to set up centers for studies where -- with a growing community of New Wave western scholars -- would explore the places where western physics and Buddhism converged. Out of their studies would come the books and papers that would change the way we all viewed at the world. This was the birth of the human potential movement -- and I was living right in the middle of it!

It was only natural that Project Community would draw on all of those influences, and it did.

The program at first drew its students from Berkeley's only high school. It was an afterschool, evening, and weekend program that was arranged so that groups of randomly-chosen small groups of kids met twice weekly with a team of graduate students from the school of psychology in intimate group sessions. In addition, each youngster also participated in what in a regular high school might be considered an elective. Here in Project Community this was the heart of the matter -- that which provided the alternative to the drug experience. They were invited to be "high" on life.

They did rock-climbing on Indian Rock high in the Berkeley hills with Lloyd. This providing rapelling as a way of learning trust. There was movement with Carolyn and meditation with Wendy. They traveled down to the Emeryville mud flats to create sculptures of debris that washed up on the shore from the bay. They took field trips to the wilderness where they did "Soloing" - where they were dropped off in a very large circle with the leader stationed at a campfire at the center - ever within reach in an emergency but unobtrusive, and never interrupting the "alone" experience. They returned jubilant or crushed, but with much material with which to work toward new goals discovered in the dark of night, alone.

In the years that followed, I've seen many fragments of Bill's work expressed in other programs. It was a groundbreaking format at the time. Youngsters stayed for a year or so in the program housed in our old frat house on the northern edge of campus, but the experiment had to move out of the Berkeley schools after a time because of the many kinds of exposures students were being impacted by at the time. Due to the tumult on the UC campus, it became impossible to determine how Project Community, alone, was impacting their lives. reliable measurements were impossible to achieve.


For the final 3 years of the 5 year experiment, we worked on 5 high school campuses in 2 counties; Napa and Contra Costa. We moved our work into two continuation schools and 3 regular high schools. The test results were far easier to track now, but it was those test results that eventually proved too difficult to interpret for funding justification.

The pre- and post-testing reversed the expected outcomes. The test results indicated that the comprehensive entrance survey suggested that kids were in a better shape when they entered than when the program ended. Strange, right? We could see quite clearly that they'd made great strides in both behavior and attitude. What had changed was that these free-spirited kids were entered as guarded and mistrusting . Over time they'd become close to their leaders and to one another and had developed a pattern of openness and integrity for the first time -- but at the end of the program! It therefore appeared that their behavior had deteriorated over time and that the program had actually done them harm!

That, and the fact that it is impossible to prove that something didn't happen because of what you did. I suspect that programs developed later found ways around this one, but I'm not sure how.

Small wonder that I'm so leery of standardized testing. Maybe we can't have standardized testing until we can produce standardized kids to whom we provide standardized resources!

(I think now of my recent visit from little Emily Fox with whom I lunched last summer - she's now living in N.Y., -- Emily -- and beautiful swarthy strongman-bottom-of-the-pyramid Jef Raz, who went on from Project Community to become a member of the Pickle Family Circus -- one of the earliest versions of Cirque de Soleil, or so I believe.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Having such a long view on history makes for some disturbing conclusions.

Been thinking a lot about the state of the system of public education over the past 24 hours, and what comes up for me is discouraging, indeed.

Wonder if anyone else sees the complete time line -- from Brown vs. the Board of Education to today? When integration was forced by the courts in the southern states by the Brown decision, public schools were quickly abandoned by white parents and a system of academies were created into which those children were enrolled. The public school system in the south was left largely to black children. The academies were funded largely with public funds and the re-segregation of the schools was well on its way within a few short years.

Meanwhile, the education of black children had been judged to be substandard with teaching often in the hands of caring but inadequately-trained African Americans teachers (in comparison to whites) and -- where they existed -- nuns from teaching orders in parochial schools. With school integration, a good many of those hardworking African American teachers were displaced as not qualified to teach in schools other than those created for black children, and with no way to follow their students into newly-desegregated schools. Chaos reigned in black educational institutions. Little was made of the value added by having people who looked like themselves guiding their lives in settings where families could be easily integrated into the learning process with them. Much of value was lost to black kids since the culture that had been transmitted -- generation to generation -- and learning became more generic and standardized with few recognizable clues as to how one lives a life or navigates the pathways to jobs and economic stability. Role models were gone now, and with them any glimpse of what a future might look like except for those images available from endless hours on television that held their attention and created their wish list.

After 60 years, those "academies" have spread nationwide -- and are now called charter schools. The move to vouchers was the first volley in the battle to replace public education as we know it. Many are publicly funded and corporately run. A lot of good people without links to the recent past have embraced this deceptively attractive alternative and in many instances have used the model well. But if it were possible to emulate in the public schools what is being afforded in the charters, similar successes would ensue. Smaller class sizes and specialized learning opportunities in magnet programs would enrich any child; a no brainer.

The innercities have been abandoned to the poor, largely minority, and re-segregated by virtue of persistent and more subtle forms of discrimination in housing patterns. Many public schools are a disaster with high drop out rates and metal detectors at every entrance. Instead of an on-site counseling staff, there are on-site policemen standing guard. I've visited schools where all of the windows have been painted over in order to shut out distractions so that children can be better "controlled." I cannot imagine what is would be like to be a child and not be able to see the sky ... .

However, a trip to the nearby suburbs -- to visit the public schools in Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek, or Danville (all in the same county but in affluent school districts), and the differences would astound you. Those programs and services stripped from urban schools are largely financed in the suburban districts by parent groups who've set up foundations to supplement the state ADA allotments. A choice not available to low income communities. By the way, California's once excellent school system now ranks 48th in the nation, behind Guam and Mississippi, in resources expended per child.

In Richmond teachers are unable to assign homework without copying pages for kids to take home because there are few textbooks (at $75-$85 each, small wonder). And many of those textbooks are so old that the USSR is still united and the moon-landing still somewhere in the future. One might wonder why an ordinary bestseller can sell from $25-$35 in any bookstore, but the texts used by children cost 3-4 times that price. School textbook publishers have some of the most powerful lobbies in the state and the nation, and little is done to rein them in.

In two such elementary schools in the district where I live, there have been 4 principals in 5 years. In one, the first year that I was assigned to observe (ever watchful for possible new legislation) -- of a teaching staff of 13, 9 were new that semester. Many were conditionally credentialed, and most were marking time until they could move into better schools where the problems appeared more manageable and parent participation more available. All were white. Only one was male. There were no operable drinking fountains and the only grassy area lay behind a tall fence and locked gate. The children were forced to play on hot asphalt day after day, except for the brief periods when one imaginative and caring young teacher conducted a gardening program on a borrowed strip of land adjacent to the classrooms. Ninety-eight percent of the students qualified for the free lunch program. A great many of the kids were from undocumented immigrant families. Many were Southeast Asian refugees (from 5 different language groups). Perhaps 70% percent were African American children from very low income families. The profile of this school is more or less typical of what what one finds in West County -- and all of the West Counties across the nation.

When all of this is considered, it isn't hard to see that many of our public schools have become predicters of the numbers we see in the statistics of prison populations. At their worst they've become the breeding ground for hopelessness, crime, and desolation. It isn't too much of a leap to the assumption that -- after a long and steady campaign, the gains made by the Brown decision have been negated, overturned, and defeated by the likes of those throngs of angry stone throwers who guarded the gates of Central High in the turbulent Sixties.

It's ironic to sit with groups of those blessed with short memories who haven't had the longevity or the experience to connect the dots -- and who innocently join the forces now moving to dismantle our system of public education and unwittingly opt to accept the privatization under corporations with an allegience to no one but their stockholders.

Around the turn of the century (1900) the goal of public education was to educate the upperclasses to colleges and universities and the lower and middle classes into the crafts and vocations. It worked well as the separator of the social system. The goal of present day education is still to act as a separator -- but now that consists of universities for the upper classes (leadership) and the armed forces and the service sector for everyone else. Dropping out of inadequate and dangerous schools and into the underground economy fueled by the drug trade has offered yet another alternative; one that tragically makes sense to those with little chance of making it anywhere else. There is then the direct line into the prison system. One might think it was planned that way, right?

The corporate model for public education will secure those goals and guarantee the survival of white supremacy.

The schools haven't failed; WE have.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Phone rang early this morning ...

The call was from the city councilman with whom I was to have lunch and chat about joining his staff soon. "Last night was our swearing-in ceremony and many of my relatives came from elsewhere to join me in celebration. They're still here and I'd like to re-schedule our lunch 'til next week, if possible, Betty." "Of course, but I'll want to know if there is some question about whether you're interested in my being considered for the position." "Oh no! That's a given." So that's where we are at the moment, and we'll meet next Wednesday to work out the details.

I like him. He's been a public servant for some years, serving on the Peralta Community College Board and serving well. It may mean another couple of years of civic involvement before the lab gets the remains! He will have some interest in education.

Last night I attended a meeting of an ad hoc group of educators who've been studying the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation. It was spirited and revealing. It's been some time since I've met with educators -- not since leaving my position of field rep for Assemblywoman Hancock. It takes a different set of ears when you're participating as a member of the public. A lot more freedom is involved. No need to censor myself.

Learned that this legislation is not new at all but is simply the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in the Sixties which gave us Title 1. When that bill came up for reauthorization in 2001 (I believe), it was renamed NCLB and (supposedly) was enhanced with some "strengthening" measures. The irony was that it had worked to empower many minority students before -- when fully funded -- but under the reauthorization became little more than an unfunded mandate.

The passion expressed last night by concerned teachers and administrators (largely Latino, female, and/or African American) was unbridled. Their frustration at the conditions under which they're working was clearly moving many out of teaching in the public school system, and into either charter schools or out of teaching altogether. What a sad state of affairs. What a tragedy that we've allowed one of the best systems of public education in the world to fall into such chaos! What is obvious is that the schools are being privatized at such a fast rate that it's all happening under the radar of most parents and -- except for alert educators and a few concerned legislators -- it may already be too late to save them.

Found myself thinking last night that the only possible answer is the massive withholding of the source of revenue, ADA (Average Daily Attendance) by pulling children from the schools in a general strike of unity. That may be the only way to slow down the juggernaut and give us the time to correct our course.

One of the many speakers was Dr. Kathy Emery, the co-author of "Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?" It says on her book jacket, "...Kathy Emery has taught high school history for 16 years, has a Ph.D. in education from the University of California at Davis, and is currently working with Teachers for Social Justice and the San Francisco Organizing Project. Her dissertation, on which her book is based, can be found at

Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools writes of her book:

"Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian have written a magnificent, carefully documented, and high-voltage manifesto to confront the degradation of our nation's schools by powerful corporations whose self-serving motives and assaultive tactics have developed into a relentless and dehumanizing juggernaut. Steam will be coming out of your ears by the time you finish this extraordinary book. It should be a wake up call to all who care about the future of our schools and all who truly value children."


Bought a copy after hearing what she and the others had to say last night. It all fit closely with the facts as I'd been able to glean them from five years as a field rep in the county and the district. I knew that 49% of Latino and African American children drop out of school by the tenth grade -- according to state figures, and that I was unable to direct any attention to those shocking figures while working in the field. And, knowing that these were state figures, we can be fairly certain that the local figures were far higher.

The predictability, the drawing together of these facts with those of last Friday's meeting in Oakland last week (900,000 young men of color incarcerated) made my teeth grind!

And, how on earth will my next round of career moves impact this problem?

Will attend the school board meeting tonight when some of the teachers will be testifying. Maybe I can glower from the audience! Can't think of a single thing that will help when what I really want to do is work to convince every parent to remove their kids from the schools in a show of determination to save the system from a predictable fate. The schools will be taken over by private educational enterprises, sold, made into charters, or simply closed. That's a certainty, unless ...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Where does the time go?

Already it's Tuesday. Time has taken on a new quality that was imposed when I stopped working (formally). The days tend to run together without the glue of regular commitments. Today I found myself having to hunt up a calendar to make sure that it was Tuesday. I don't think I could live comfortably if I had to string together the weeks and months by irregular markers on my calendar having to do with doctors appointments and the occasional family birthday celebration. Til now the days have been separated by staff meetings and a to-do list that might bring a thirty-year-old to her knees! I miss the predictability that comes with following out a career and get disoriented when the days begin to look and feel alike. Maybe that will be the most difficult aspect of retirement.

Tomorrow I'll meet for lunch with the civic leader who may be my next career move and I'm excited at the prospect of what the meeting might bring. If that doesn't pan out, I'll continue to patch together my datebook entries from a variety of volunteer programs that need those of us with enough juice left to give to whatever cause they're pursuing. I've met so many wonderful people in such groups and they're always so grateful for extra hands to lighten the load. That may be a more realistic view of what the future holds, and that's certainly nothing to scoff at.

Realized that I may have been quietly waiting for a very long time to feel that light tap on the shoulder from my replacement. Haven't felt it yet, and am not sure that I'd recognize her if she showed up tomorrow. Maybe I need to begin to scout around. I may simply not have noticed in the busyness that makes up my life. Maybe she's been here and gone -- feeling rejected by my lack of attention.

Then maybe I've not yet adequately passed on enough of what I've learned. Maybe that's what it takes to let go -- the feeling that one has released into life all that has been earned, learned, and whatever has been one's unique gifts to give. Not sure... .

Maybe I'm simply being philosophical in preparation for the fact that tomorrow I may learn that the time has come to step away from the crowd, out of the arena, off stage, and trust that the world can take care of itself. I know that I've had the feeling since resigning last February -- that I'd entered a new phase of life and that fulltime employment was over for all time. And I felt okay about that. There has certainly been enough places to spend my energy, and it's been a good year, as these pages attest. The new position came out of the blue long after I'd accepted a new format to live by.

Maybe I'll discover tomorrow that I don't want to jump back into the fray after all, and that I can simply be more watchful about identifying my replacement and passing the torch. We'll see. I suspect that, either way, Thursday will be interesting to anticipate, and the weekend will bring the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts (EBCPA)"Sharing the Spirit" annual holiday festival -- and my darling granddaughters, Alyana and Tamaya will be dancing!

Maybe grandmothering will now be my fulltime position; and that wouldn't be a bad fate, would it?