I would like to remove some rocks from your field so that you can plant more wheat.
And those hills I see that are part of you, I have some trees in mind for them
and flowering grasses, so that you won’t erode when the elements pour.
Are we not lovers? Cannot I speak to you like this?
Do I need to ask your permission to hitch up my ox and sing to him as I improve your vast terrain?
The title to your heart came to my office. In looking at it a great interest in your soul developed.
The care of your soul became mine.
So I would like to remove some stones from your meadows, then an orchard you could grow,
and the world, and the world then, will come to taste your riches.
So You Can Plant More Wheat
A poem by Hafiz
Translation by Daniel Landinsky
As I have been grieving and holding tenderly the deaths of the young people and those who cared for them at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have found myself contemplating the reactions of those who are directing their attention toward ending the proliferation of assault weapons, increasing school security or even suggesting teachers carry weapons in the classroom.
Just a few weeks ago, right after the completion of an Imagining Learning Listening Session (that we are conducting with teens about change in education), a student spoke before her class saying, “We can’t even open our windows and breathe fresh air. We can’t go in or out of our school without going through security. It’s like we are in prison.”
I have heard this many times from students during our Listening Sessions. In one of the visions, another group painted a cage and beneath it wrote, “I know why the caged bird sings,” referring to their experiences with their school’s security. I am concerned that this latest tragedy will cause us to introduce even more restrictive security and further increase a sense of student confinement.
I do not write this lightly, for what would we want for our children other than to have them safe? I join the voices calling for national introspection and legislation on assault weapons.
But within that introspection, let us also acknowledge that the presence of security in our schools is an admission, to our children, that we are not dealing with the core problems within the communities around them.
In the Listening Sessions, we hear, over and over, that they are visioning safe communities in which to live – outside of school, as well as inside. One of the themes that comes from the Listening Sessions is “safety”.
In another of the paintings by a group of students, they envisioned a learning experience based upon a “Foundation of Love.” Many of the paintings have the word love, or bright colored hearts in them stressing their strong desire to go to school surrounded by Love. Almost all of the paintings have a word or a symbol for care. Living within a loving and caring community is a theme across the board.
“THE CARE OF YOUR SOUL BECAME MINE”
Isn’t this commitment by Hafiz, the promise we have made to our young people who have entered in their innocence into our schools? Do we not – as adults – not just educators, but as adults – have the sacred responsibility of creating spaces for our children that are vibrant and nourishing? Spaces where they can grow without fear and from which, ultimately, “the world will come to taste their riches?”
If we truly could come to a place in our hearts where “the care of their souls became ours,” would we hold the current situation differently? How would we interpret the numbers that tell us the state in which so many of our young people in public schools find themselves? How would we hold that 25 to 42% of the bright lives in school drop out each year? How would we hold a 33% engagement rate? How would we hold the “classroom to prison” pipeline? How would we hold those who are so deeply wounded and troubled that they cause disruptions in learning, they bully or even create irreversible harm?
How do we turn the mirror on ourselves and face the reality that it is us? It is not a time for blame or judgment.
It is a time to shift our attention and recognize that the many issues, both tragic and critical are not just “problems” to be solved, but also messages from our young people of the deep harms that they are facing as they are growing up.
In this moment of grief, let us take the time for deep and serious reflection. Let us ask ourselves the questions that Hafiz has written of in his profound poem.
What are the rocks (the issues) that we should be removing from the fields (their lives) that our children must walk through each day, so they can plant more wheat (live in a state of thriving rather than surviving?)
What are the trees and the flowering grasses that we would plant, so our children could withstand the elements when they come (so they become more resilient, resourceful, and flexible)?
How would we create learning journeys that honored “their vast terrains” (inwardly, our children are much more than what we usually see)?
What is the fruit that would come from the orchards our children would grow? (given a chance for full expression, what possibilities could they create in our communities and other’s lives)?
In Listening Session after Listening Session, we hear answers coming forward from young people (ages 13 – 19). They are possessed of a profound wisdom that in most cases we have not heard and we have certainly not acted upon collectively. Not only are their young hearts telling us of their problems (through the behaviors we turn into statistics), but, when given the invitation, they offer a visionary understanding about how to change.
Looking at the statistics and seeing them as problems to solve, can limit us to looking at symptoms only and often lead us to solutions that, over time, continue to compound the problems. Let us open spaces to listen to our young people. The “solution” lies within them.
Why not begin with a National Day of Listening to Young People? Let us begin that day in an inviting but neutral space, not wanting to fill it with our own ideas and beliefs, but instead asking their beautiful voices to fill the space within us with their visions of a future that they would fully embrace. If we stand in curiosity, genuine openness and authentic respect, they will respond.
How will we balance the need to keep our children safe today with the knowledge that increased security measures lead to an increasing sense of disconnection and separation from what our young people already feel? Will we work to solve the deeper systemic issues or build ever-greater walls of separation in the name of protection? Let us begin by listening.
Hafiz’ poem is a song of belief. It is a call to Love. Let us work together with our children – in partnership, in peace and from our hearts – to move toward creating communities and educational systems that will ultimately demonstrate that The Care of Your Soul Became Mine was the principle from which all of our decisions flowed.
Charles Kouns is the Founding Steward of Imagining Learning, an educator and the father of three. Imagining Learning is creating a national collective voice of the wisdom of young people about how they would transform education. Kouns leads Listening Sessions across the country with teens, ages 13 – 19. Listening Sessions are appreciative visioning sessions where teens co-create their vision for the transformation of education through painting. Their visions can be seen at http://www.imagininglearning.us