In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, originally published in 2009, Donalyn Miller explains her philosophy of teaching, and how she creates a rich reading environment in her classroom with structures, practices and support for independent reading with her students. I appreciated her long-term view of the importance of developing students as readers for life, not just for a test. I respect that the author has endured the test-happy environment in the great state of Texas as a Language Arts teacher.
Miller shows an obvious interest in her students through her support of their interest-based reading. She challenges students to read 40 books in a school year. There is precious little talk of this kind from most pedagogues. It seems everywhere in education the dominant mindset is that students have to prove everything through skill-based activities and multiple choice tests and that we have to hold their hand and spoon-feed everything. Sadly, this is the lowest common denominator and has not improved society’s literacy at all. It’s as if, “If it ain’t on the test then it doesn’t exist.” Getting kids to love reading in this environment is rather like trying to get someone to savor the flavors, scents, and sights of a gourmet meal while the chef is quizzing them about their daily calorie intake.
I recognize that if I am to embrace this kind of approach, then my first step is to contend with my own life as a reader and step it up a few notches. I love non-fiction, and am a self-professed nerd when it comes to reading. I have my own “Miller Mountain” at home of books I want to read. I also like to write, blog and write songs. I primarily “read to learn,” read/write poetry, love philosophy, ancient mythology and stories that connect to the great mysteries of life. But mostly, I love to read non-fiction.
I do want to connect my students with books they love too though, and in order to do that I need to be reading more of those books myself. I have to admit, she shamed me into reading more. My goal this year already was to read 25 books, which I think I will make this goal. But I set that goal before I read her book. To be a better language arts teacher, Donalyn convinced me I need to read more of the books my students will want to read, which I tend to avoid doing during my free time because it feels like “work.” So yesterday I pulled 4-5 titles from my classroom bookshelves that I want to read and who knows, I may make 40 books yet by December. I have convinced myself that it isn’t really “work” if I choose titles I am interested in. I hope I can convince my students of the same.
Are we finally getting tired of “being safe nowhere?” The epidemic of violence in society and what we can do about it.
When violent events such as those in Uvalde happen, it would seem obvious to expect that many children and adults will be more anxious about attending school this fall. Add to this, in our local community, the impact of the tragic events of the Collins family murders at the hands of an escaped convict. The Tomball community and Tomball ISD students and teachers have been directly impacted by these tragedies. Allowing for the expression of grief within the community will be very important in the coming days and weeks ahead and in the coming school year. We need to promote the reverence of life and the solemnity of this moment of loss.
So many types of brutality and violence exist today, from road rage to random shootings, and it exists in so many places: shopping venues, schools, workplaces, entertainment venues, really anywhere. Are we finally going to have the political will to take a tiny step towards what other western societies had the will to fully achieve in the 90’s? Are we finally getting tired of “being safe nowhere?” Even before the days of Columbine we could witness the spreading epidemic of mass shooting incidents. Gun ownership did not help the Collins family. There is a prevalent degradation of reverence for all forms of life. When added to other factors such as the degradation of the environment, the economic hardship of the current times, homelessness, and the prevalence of technology taking over the human quality of all of our interactions in society, then the bleak picture of where we currently stand becomes clear. Add uninhibited, easy access to powerful guns by children, enabled by the exaggeration and aggrandizement of second amendment rights, and you have conditions we currently experience. Columbine, sadly, was only the beginning. We have simply rinsed and repeated for decades and added social media to the mix.
School shootings from a teacher’s perspective
As a teacher executing active shooter drills throughout this time period, I have had to answer the questions from students that naturally come, such as, “What if the shooter comes from this entrance over there, what should we do?” I have had to imagine these nightmare scenarios, trying to assuage the fears of students (and myself!) and assure them of adults’ resolve to do everything we can to protect them. But deep down, each of them recognizes how vulnerable we are. We are sitting targets, whether teachers start packing guns or not. This is truly the gravity of the matter. It makes me want to shout from the mountaintop, “Do something, America!” I could not agree more with the comment made by Lexi Rubio’s parents, victims of the Uvalde shooting, that right now, guns are more important than children in America. Deplorable, but true. We have failed an entire generation of children by perpetuating a lack of reverence for life. Guns don’t make us safer.
As a teacher, I now have to regularly plan my own tactical, defensive responses to potential attacks:
What are the weak points of security in my classroom? How will we respond to get our students to safety? Where are the safest areas to go in the event of an active shooter and we can’t escape? What will I or can I do if we have to stay in place? Lastly, if it comes down to it, how will I attempt to protect my life and the lives of my students if a shooter enters my classroom? I call this plan, “my last ditch effort.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate needing to plan my defensive tactics when I became a teacher in 1995. The only words I can think of are “gut-wrenching.”
While I personally don’t carry a gun, many in my family do, and they do not want to see a complete ban on weapons. Living in Texas, I do respect the prevalent desire to protect gun rights. But, these horrific acts will continue as long we continue to do nothing about the lack of reverence for life. Putting guns in classrooms will open the door for guns to fall into the hands of students who are struggling with mental health. If we lived in a healthy society, then things would be different. In that case, we could all own as many guns as we wanted and nobody would ever get murdered because everyone would act responsibly. In that imaginary world, we would all “be safe,” but that is not the current state of the world. Guns don’t make us safer, friends. Making it harder for the deranged to get access to guns will make it *a little* safer.
Gun Laws and MEntal Health
Sensible limits through gun laws could help in the immediate, short-term. Gun laws have been effective at reducing these kinds of incidents in other countries. This to me, feels like a mental health crisis of the highest magnitude, one that governmental gun regulations will immediately “help,” but not solve. This is a deeper issue of societal mental health.
Along those lines, the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true. For that reason, more intensive mental health measures are needed. We need both. But perhaps like many, I struggle to understand what motivates someone to commit such deeds. This is a very important line of questioning because we have an individual and a societal responsibility to identify people with mental illness who pose potential threats to themselves or others. For us to do our part, gun buyers should have to present three or more verifiable character references in order to process their purchase, or perhaps requiring waiting periods and/or proof of evaluation by mental health professionals for those under the age of 21, or restrict the purchase of guns to 21 and older altogether.
But, I repeat, gun laws alone do not solve this problem. We need better mental health treatment. Early and regular mental health check-ups provided for free as part of preventative health care are desperately needed. Health insurance plans have long been too skimpy in providing for mental wellness. Disorders can be uncovered and treated much earlier and especially at critical points in child development: at ages 6-7, ages 12-13, and the crucial age=17. This would enable a much more proactive approach, allowing greater mental health support for a developing child and for the family as a whole, while something can still be done about it, when the person is young. Additional regular mental health screenings during the mid-life crisis age of 41-43 would also be helpful for many parents, as the early 40’s is also the age of many parents when their children hit those rocky teen years of 15-17. Through studying the profiles of previous mass shooters, identifying the common points, and then screening and achieving early identification of mental health disorders, we can work towards reducing crime and other societal impacts of poor mental health.
Realizing that schools are often the targets of these incidents should also tell us something, namely that society must address the reality that schools are not always the ideal places of actual learning and nurturance that they were intended to be. Often schools are the backdrop for where seeds of violence are planted: child bullying, and in some cases, the worst forms of psychological and physical abuse are perpetrated and perpetuated, whether by other students or adults, tacitly or directly. This makes schools natural targets for such attacks motivated by revenge. Awareness of bullying, who gets it, who gives it, and why, increased throughout the early 2000’s and anti-bullying campaigns were a good start, but it has not been nearly enough to combat the problem in schools.
Schools as the epicenter of violence
From the ages of 7 to age 14, students absolutely need three things that most children are not currently getting:
1. Sufficient daily access to nature and the outdoors with an adequate amount of physical activity to offset the overuse of electronics,
2. a deep bond with at least one positive authority figure outside of the home that they respect (a teacher a coach, or other adult mentor), again – to offset the overuse of electronic media influence, and
3. regular exposure to images of goodness, beauty, and truth – again to offset the detrimental influences of a morally degraded society. Those alone would greatly help the current mental health crisis. Everything about academics would also improve if we focused on these three game-changers and stopped acting as if test scores were the most important.
In future posts I might take each of these three issues point by point to examine more closely why they are so crucial to child health. But these stand out as the most potent. We could also explore and evaluate the effectiveness of previous anti-bullying campaigns and determine why these have failed to address the mental health crisis in schools.
There is perhaps a fourth need that could be better addressed as students mature into middle and high school, and that is providing a relevant purpose for being at school. Most adolescents who struggle, do so because they lack a sense that school adds any meaning, value or purpose for them. Jumping through hoop after hoop merely to pass a test year after year is not enough of a reason to come to school, especially if you face daily bullying. If there is no sense of purpose and you experience physical or emotional bullying as well, then it’s easy to take your own life or easily take someone else’s.
Families and schools need to re-establish the reverence for life as a core societal value regardless of distinct religious beliefs or faiths. All of these issues are addressed through the following principles:
reverence for life as a shared value
Humans consist of mind, body and spirit, and to educate well, all three must be addressed. (Children are not robots.)
Humans develop in distinct seven-year periods that have distinct needs. (Stop treating kindergarteners like college applicants.)
Relationships matter for all phases of development, but between age 7-14, the teacher as the primary AUTHORITY FIGURE for the children in the community/society needs to return. (Communities need to have the backs of teachers, as we have now moved forward to join police officers and other first responders who risk our own lives on the FRONT LINE.)
Teacher autonomy to meet the needs of students, more voice in government and leadership.
Emphasis on the long-term moral development of the student rather than immediate academic knowledge to pass tests, or surface, skill learning. (Stop killing education with overemphasis on test results. We are raising human beings, not making widgets.)
Emphasis on cultivation of social health within the classroom, not just a smattering of anti-bullying campaigns thrown around that come and go with the local politics.)
Teachers that intentionally engage in and are supported by activities that support their own mental, physical, and spiritual health to enable us to do this important, societal work with our most vulnerable population – our children.
Lastly, I see the potential for well-informed astrology to offer helpful insights into an individual’s psychology. Astrology is the ultimate study of patterns. I am not talking about the kind of soda pop astrology most people are familiar with here. I am referring to serious research with the aid of big data. Astrological and statistical analysis could help identify people with greater potential for mental health disorders, thereby helping to prevent murders and suicides through earlier identification and earlier treatment. One team of researchers at Astrology-Zoadiac-Signs.com found that the water signs were the most deadly serial killers of all the zodiac signs, according to their research of 500 serial killers. In another example of astrological research, one British astrologer, who compared Eric Harris’ chart to that of the Dunblane shooter found that both mass shooters had Mars and Saturn in a similar, stressful condition. Harris was one of the Columbine shooters. Read his piece here.
If we were to conduct greater statistical analysis of all known mass shooters on file, would we find more specific markers for mental illness that would enable better identification? How would mass shooters differ from serial killers? There are so many more potential astrological and other psychological and health indicators that could be discovered: early learning disabilities, prevalence of existence of other health conditions, existence of suicidal tendencies, but so much more research is needed in general.
ways we can move forward
Sensible laws, improved mental health screenings for young people, and required character references for any person seeking to own guns, improved methods for identifying those with mental health disorders in general, and improving mental health in schools and bullying will help. These types of endeavors could bring together people from a wide variety of fields and disciplines. When we come together to intensively address the problem of epidemic violence and do more to support mental health in our society as a top priority from multiple disciplines, it can be assured that more ways to identify and treat mental health disorders will be found, resulting in restored reverence of human life and greater wellness throughout society.
Usually Christmas is one of the most profound and beautiful times of the whole year for me. I always look forward to extra time for writing, reflecting, journaling, reading, and a little baking, shopping, and spending time with family. I usually study the star charts for the holy nights and write about the astrology as a way to relax and be creative.
This year I studied the star charts early, during my Thanksgiving break. I thought by doing so that I would free up more time for relaxing and just being present. I was so glad I did that, but no amount of extra time could have prepared me.
To be completely blunt, it was one of the worst Christmases I’ve had in the past five years, henceforth to be called “the year my holidays were hijacked.” My son broke a bone in his wrist skateboarding that required emergency surgery on Christmas Day. We stood in the ER for hours while they dealt with patient after patient who arrived by ambulance. Probably twenty-five patients lined the halls of the ER at the time we arrived. Most of the cases were far more traumatic than ours: one severe motorcycle accident, another a pregnant mother who had been injured by car accident, a gun shot wound. On and on it went. From 8am on Christmas Eve until 1am Christmas Day we witnessed one trauma after another. A father of a young child was arrested and separated from his family. Real life dramas unfolded all around us. It was quieting, sobering, stunning, and shocking.
It may have been an everyday scene to the nursing staff, but to me it provided a rare and unexpected opportunity to witness Christmas in a whole new way I never experienced before. The staff worked diligently and patiently surrounded by the pain, struggle and drama. It was a scene of selfless service and crisis. The nurses were focused, and disciplined. I felt appreciative of their training, sacrifices and selflessness when I am sure they would have much rather been with their own families. By the time I got home, my appreciation for my blessings had increased tremendously. I felt I had been through a significant and humbling lesson. We still got to open our gifts by the tree that day. Thankfully, the gifts were not the main focus, but the love and togetherness we could share. The opening I felt in my heart was the real gift. Had I been willingly hijacked? Maybe.
The week following Christmas we traveled out of of state to visit family. My daughter and I shared a most memorable road trip on the way home. We began at an antique store in a small strip mall in Oklahoma City where we explored and shopped for nearly two hours. We each bought our little things. Then we stopped at Turner Falls near the Texas-Oklahoma border to take in a sunset as our bare toes walked through some waterfalls. I read to her all the way home and we talked and shared stories for hours to pass the time. She successfully navigated as a new driver through “the mixmaster” in Dallas for the first time. At sixteen years old, I know my time left with her at home is coming to a close. I also know the journey ahead may not be easiest part of the path, so I was grateful that we could fill up our emotional tanks as we emptied the fuel tank, mile after mile. The ugly part was that we brought home COVID. For the next four or five days the symptoms made their rounds through everyone in our house and took us out. And so it has been, that for much of January I have struggled to recover a sense of routine and normalcy as 2022 has rolled out. Now I can be a nurse to myself as I care for a stress fracture in my foot by wearing a stupid boot for the next eight weeks. Well, at least there was our road trip.
With all of the challenges of the holidays, I continue to reflect on one idea: the power of reframing things. Like Georgia O’Keefe’s keen photography and her ability to try different frames, or the Wayne Dyer saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
When we returned home, I went on a morning walk and found a penny someone left at the fountain near the Tomball Train Depot. It was New Year’s Day and I made a very important wish and tossed it into the fountain. I recommitted to a higher purpose or calling. In the end its about applying your faith and being present and aware to what you are focusing on, and continually adjusting your lens.
If you love the stars and history, what a sweet little treasure you will find in The Star Tales of Mother Goose. This is a fun read, full of beautiful, playful illustrations and the beloved mother goose rhymes for the little ones. For adults, it is informative and engaging and re-ignites our childhood wonder of the stars. Stewart-Adams explains the history and meaning of each Mother Goose Rhyme for adults and brings it alive with stories.
For example, in the well known rhyme Humpty Dumpty, she explains how the king’s horses and king’s men are the four constellations of the four seasons and that Humpty Dumpty himself is the SUN! Summer solstice is the wall, “the moment when the sun stands still, highest above the celestial equator.” Then the sun falls back down again and Bootes, Hercules, and Perseus are the KIng’s men and Pegasus and Equeleus are the horses. In like fashion, she explains ten different rhymes and their starlore meanings.
She also guides the inexperienced in locating these stars with easy descriptions of how to find them and their constellations without any technical terms. Wonderful for parents and children to watch the night sky together with and dream or just for the young at heart. I highly recommend this book for parents of young ones or to give as a gift.
The birth chart of the school year could be said to be the first day of school, so here I have taken the start date for the first day of school for my locality as August 17, 2021 at 8:00am, Tomball, Texas CDT.
Quick Summary: A positive year for communicating, thinking and learning with a theme of conserving or storing resources for the future and keeping one’s true identity and values foremost in one’s mind as one plans for the future. (See Interpretation Below)
Highlights of this Chart
Mercury is the ruler of the chart
Mercury and Mars conjunct Virgo on the ASC
Sun, Mercury, Venus and Saturn all in Rulership – a bit of a conference
Trines with the Nodes to Venus and Saturn
Moon & Mars in Accidental Dignity
Venus in Libra in the First House, but First House ruled by Mercury
Uranus Rx – Aug. 20 Mercury Rx Sept 27-Oct. 18 Mars in Scorpio on Halloween Pluto direct – Oct. 6 Saturn direct – Oct. 11 Mercury direct and Jupiter direct -Oct. 18 Eclipses – Nov 8, Nov. 19, Total Solar Dec. 4 Mercury Rx – Jan. 14-Feb.4 Venus Rx Dec. 19-Jan. 29 Jupiter in Pisces – Dec. 30 Uranus direct – Jan. 18, 2022 Chinese New Year – Feb. 1, 2022 – Begins Year of the Tiger Pluto Rx – Apr. 29, 2022 Partial Solar Eclipse – Apr. 30, 2022 Mercury Rx May 10-June 3, 2022 Total Solar Eclipse – May 16, 2022 Summer Solstice – June 21, 2022
Interpreting the Symbolism
The 2021-22 school year has a positive outlook. With many planets in air signs, it will be a productive year for learning, thinking, and communicating, which brings some hope for integrating all of that was learned by teachers and all that was not learned by students in schools since the pandemic.
Mercury is the ruler of the chart at 10 Virgo, the symbol for which is a child molded in their parents’ aspirations. There may be pressure to live up to others’ expectations, and a need to go after what you want instead. With Mars conjunct we are given the “oomph” or grit to assert. But, if we cannot accept our true identity, we may be in trouble as our true identity is exposed. We are no longer able to hide or pretend because Mars at 11 Virgo’s symbol is a bride with her veil being snatched away.
Here we can imagine the image of the Norse God Thor, acting the part of Freya with a veil in order to trick his enemies.
If you are the bride, accept the new realities and commit without pretense. If you are the one doing the snatching away of the veil, there may be feelings of violation or a rude awakening to the reality but we need to accept the situation.
This school year may bring a theme of evaluating the changes that took place during pandemic and taking the best of the past going forward. Venus is at 1 Libra, Lynda Hill describes the Sabian Symbol this degree:
“This wonderful Symbol shows a time of new beginnings with an implementation of a brand new order. Often, this shows people being interested in attaining spiritual transformation and attainment. As you change and grow there’s a need to respect the value of what is waning, and to take the best qualities from the past with you into your future. This often shows being within reach of your ultimate potential. Some aspects of society are left behind for a higher, more evolved state. ” – from SabianSymbols.Com
Loose ends from previous experiments need to be tied up, and so it will be a year of trials, creativity, and problem solving. This requires good communication and a back and forth flow of test and revise, and test again until the fine tuning of right solutions emerge. The ASC of this chart is 8 Virgo, an expressionist painter making futuristic drawings.
So with Venus at 1 Libra and taking the best of the past and bringing it forwards into a new order, we can be creative and visionary in drawing up future plans, but we have the danger of being too idealistic as well. We may be living in the mind too much or overemphasizing the future without considering reality of the present. Venus at Libra 1 suggests new beginnings and bringing forward collective wisdom in service to the future.
Two trines exist between two planets in rulership to the north node, Venus in Libra, the MC/Nodes in Gemini, and Saturn in Aquarius. This could bring a creative synergy of ideals and values that align with true purpose.
The Lunar Node is on the midheaven of this chart at 7 Gemini. This is the Sabian Symbol for aroused strikers surround a factory. Social tensions have been high for quite some time, and that is not likely to abate. We still have Uranus in Taurus which might suggest revolution (Uranus) in the realm of physical resources (Taurus). Mercury and Venus near the horizon of this chart suggest embracing one’s true identity. This is also inconjunct to Chiron, at the degree whose symbol is a bomb failing to explode.Note here, this need not be a literal bomb, but could rather a symbolic one and seems to suggest disasters averted rather than things exploding.
There is a back and forth between urgency and fanaticism on the one hand and the need for crowd control, and calm, stable leadership.
The Moon at 19 Sagittarius gives the Sabian symbol of in winter people cutting ice from a frozen pond for summer use. This brings to mind the image of planning ahead and conserving resources, which shows up in a few other symbols for this chart. Where can we be like wise Joseph as Pharoah in the Old Testament, storing grain for the drought?
Meanwhile Saturn at 9 Aquarius has the Sabian symbol for a person who had for a time become the embodiment of an ideal is made to realize they are not this ideal. This repeats the theme of embracing one’s true identity, just as the symbol of the veil being snatched away. Where can we recognize what is and what is not the ideal? How accurate are our assessments of these ideals? Judging things by the level of popular support does not always equate to what is truly ideal or what is best.
The Sun is at 24 Leo is opposing Jupiter in Aquarius. With the Sun in rulership here in the 12th house, we have an image of a large camel crossing a vast and forbidding desert. We may have to carry the load for a long distance for others. The warning here is to prepare for the journey, to collect reserves and resources, and avoid mirages. We may have to push ahead in difficult times, be self-sufficient, have mental stamina and exercise mental self-control on a journey through a desert. This also rings true for the Chinese Astrology for this year – the Metal Ox, next year we move into the Year of the Tiger. This axis shows the polarity of self (Leo) and the collective (Aquarius). There is also this idea of bringing something of value or great importance across an expanse of desert to someone in need of it, in other words, precious cargo that requires self-sacrifice.
The Sabian symbol for 27 Aquarius is a tree felled and sawed to ensure a supply of wood for the winter. It is interesting to have so many repeated symbols for conserving and storing resources for future use. Who is going to need the precious resources and how will we get it to them, who will make that journey or sacrifice to ensure it?
Chiron, Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto are all moving retrograde suggesting consolidation of ground previously covered in the social movements and collective of the day.
Venus is in rulership in Libra and her location in the Taurean house of resources seems positive. At the same time we have Pluto in Capricorn requiring transformation. How can we transform the idea of power based on material resources? Where are we merely creating more waste or peddling our knicknacks and where are we setting a standard for excellence in what we create that is in alignment with values for the future? Since Venus inches near to the second house it is suggesting that we are not quite there yet. Rather than focusing on our fears of what we don’t want, have we clearly defined what we value and what we do want? While our values may not all be the same, where can we find common ground and work together? Here we need a solid sense of identity before entering commitments. Chiron in Aries points us toward being examples of calm leadership. Sharing our values and ideals may be one of the most important creative acts of service we can render because to fail to bring these out, or to hide under the veil is to fail to participate. That is like putting your head in the sand, thereby ensuring common ground will never be found. A move forward begins with conversations that matter and self-assertion (Mars) and revealing our true nature. Having conversations about shared values and conserving physical resources will be relevant this year.
For more information on Sabian Symbols, please see Lynda Hill’s Sabian Symbols.