Connecting Education to Home, School and Community

Good Afternoon

I am from the government and I am here to help you.

Let’s begin our brief time together bringing each other a little peace. In the chaos that is our world today it is to the counselors to bring the gift of peace to the organizations in which we find ourselves. Together let’s try to put our phones away and turn them off and together let us exercise our vagus nerves.

In an article in the New York Times last Sunday, Your Phone Vs.Your Heart, Barbara Fredrickson a clinical psychologist explains the following. “Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase our capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers.

So the next time you see a student, a coworker or a family member spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him/her back to the world of real social encounters.” You can bring people peace simply by saying hello and reconnecting them to one another.

Let’s disconnect our phones in an attempt to connect to one another. Thank You.

I am a counselor who happens to be in elective office. I am here to tell you that politics and counseling are pretty much the same business. In the final analysis politics is always about relationships and in the final analysis counseling and education are always about relationships.

There is an ancient curse that condemns a person to live in interesting times. I would suggest that these are such times. It is an era where the pace of change can barely be recorded fast enough. There are monthly advances in nearly every field of scientific inquiry and endeavor. A startling statistic is that nearly fifty per cent of the items that you will use on a daily basis in the year 2020 have not yet been invented.

In the midst of this whirlwind lies the political structure and the educational institutions that we find ourselves; both of which at times seem grossly inefficient given the pace of life. Yet, in a culture that is addicted to many things, but especially speed, perhaps our role, in part, is to function as a leveling wind against the excesses of the time.

Our culture demands instant solutions. Life’s problems have to be identified and resolutions implemented in the time frame of a one hour TV show.

Politics like counseling often does not lend itself to quick fixes.

I would assert that both government and education at any level have at least one common moral imperative. It is a duty that requires a society to measure the quality of its communal life, not on its ability to ensure survival of the strongest, but on how it nurtures the survival of the weakest. I would assert that the politician and the counselor bear the same burden and must carry the same torch. A torch that I will refer to a little later on.

I believe that both politics and counseling are about providing leadership. It is the root of the word education, that is, to lead and guide.

There are many issues that demand the attention of the political process. Many of them are as perennial as our summer heat; children, healthcare, education, planning, growth, economic development, taxes, crime and safety to name a few.

All of these issues are linked. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss one without highlighting its relationship to another.

Each of these issues reach crisis proportions at one time or another. All crises are fraught, of course, with danger and opportunity. Our tendency is to focus on the danger and solicit and promote quick fixes that are often shortsighted. Politics should focus on the opportunity in these crises, and while it needs to respond in a timely fashion, it must also look to the long run when developing and implementing policy.

We are guilty in both politics and education to be “short on the long and long on the short” of things. Meaning, we often get bogged down in the current crisis, find and execute the quickest often cheapest solution and then fail to plan ahead for the long range ramifications of our short term decisions.

Children should be our first priority and commitment. In Arizona, a state that ranks close to the bottom in nearly every aspect of child health, welfare and educational opportunity, we must commit our resources to their well-being.

Can anyone be so foolhardy as not to see the connection between good healthcare, education and economic development? A ‘hand up’ at the right time pays dividends for decades. We know indisputably that early intervention and prevention, whether in the form of pre and peri-natal care, childhood vaccinations, early childhood education or mental health care have enormous positive effect on the trajectory of human lives. These principles apply throughout the lifespan. Counselors know this, politicians should.

Of all of the duties of government, perhaps the most compelling is providing for the education of its citizens, young and old alike. The state’s responsibility is to set the stage for learning to occur in environments that are safe, nurturing and have high behavioral and academic expectations. Additionally, the state cannot have any investment in a system that promotes inherent inequalities in the allocation of public resources. It is ludicrous to conclude that children in lower socioeconomic districts can break the cycle of poverty without adequate resources.

Despite our clamoring for objective tests to measure academic achievement, it is more important, in my humble opinion, that we create and sustain learning environments that promote character, the mastery of self-discipline and good citizenship. These are things that probably can’t be measured on any AIMS or PARCC like test.

They are qualities that are developed through the connection between a teacher, a counselor and a student who are given the time and resources to develop a relationship where learning is nurtured, where skills are identified and opportunities are developed.

When the individual needs of children are not met, especially at an early age, those children become disabled in regard to their capacity to contribute effectively to society. They eventually stumble into the work force ill prepared to reach their potential. The burden of educating them then falls to business in the best scenario and to prisons in the worst.

The central issue of our time is the same as it was in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. When God asks Adam and Eve, Where are you? God is not asking where they physically are but She is asking where are they in the context of relationship with her? It is the question we have to constantly ask ourselves, “where are we” in the context of relationship with one another or more scientifically is our Vagus nerve being adequately and frequently exercised.

The issue in counseling and in politics is always relationship; that is what politics and counseling are all about.

We, politicians and counselors have difficult and often frustrating roles to play in life. It is not infrequent that we will see our best laid plans to help a student or a constituent fall apart as quickly as we can snap our fingers.

A young, somewhat ne’er do well, business man turned Trappist Monk named Thomas Merton cautioned people in the helping professions with these words which on first reading you may find depressing or disheartening at best.

But, listen closely, that is of course what counselors do, listen closely.

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on…you may have to face the fact that your work may at times be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite of what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

“It is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” One more time, “it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” Focus he says on the “value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”

You see, sometimes we have to put the phone down or shut the computer off and step back from the fast pace of things and focus on the “value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself” that we do. That vagus nerve, that connection between heart and brain must be activated and we must first and foremost bring peace to those we serve.

Margaret Wheatley, a Harvard educated management consultant says, “Merton spoke truthfully.” Contrary to all that you hear in the education profession these days, “it isn’t outcomes that matter. It’s people, our relationships, that give meaning to our struggles” and ultimately to our profession. “If we free ourselves from hope and fear, from having to succeed, we discover that it becomes easier to love. We stop scapegoating, we stop blaming, and we stop being disappointed in each other. We realize that we truly are in this together, and that’s all that matters.”

Let me illustrate this notion of focusing on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work itself. Think of the parents in this story as the counselors whose job it is to prepare their students for the world they will face.

Airports have become such dreadful places. Simply trying to gauge when to get there has become traumatic. Too early, and you are confined to the most uncomfortable chairs ever made. Too late, and you are inevitably trapped in the security line behind an 85 year old wheel chair bound great grandmother who is being frisked for weapons.

Yet, even amidst the organized chaos of an airport there are lessons to be learned.

An older couple is seeing their daughter off at the airport. The new security rules prevent people from saying goodbye at the gate, so this ritual must be played out in huge lobbies before large crowds.

Their young daughter, perhaps in her late teens, has experienced some type of trauma in the recent past as she has a neck brace. She is weighted down with carry-on luggage. It also appears that it is painful for all concerned, particularly for the mother who cannot contain her angst.

For the next twenty plus minutes this long goodbye plays out. Mom and dad cannot mask their fear. They strain to give their daughter last minute instructions and pensively watch her make her way through the security system. They seem convinced that this is going to be a bad experience for their daughter and their anxiety and sadness are clearly evident. They reposition themselves constantly for the last gaze, the final wave; eventually surrendering to the inevitable. Their daughter is gone from their view and, it would seem, more painfully, their protection.

Father, who has heretofore been steady and strong in support of his wife and daughter, now leaves weeping, his arm wrapped around his wife who is sobbing with no thought of disguising her pain and grief.

This is a sad and heart wrenching scene to have witnessed. Yet, on reflection, this has also been a refreshing and cleansing episode. We who were witnesses had in some way a singular honor. A much needed reminder about what really matters.

Here in the hustle and strain of an airport where the concern of most people is to get this over with as quickly as possible, three people who need each other immeasurably tell us to stop. They force all present to focus on the most important purpose in this life, that is, to love one another. Love is the only thing that can bridge the barriers created by time, distance and circumstance.

These parents were simply obeying the law of love. They wanted to be with their daughter, go where she is going, do what she is doing. They were, of course, paying the price of relationship and although their hopes were thwarted, their love was not.

Now on her own their daughter is not left unprotected. Along with her baggage she carries with her the power of love. She is not alone.

In contrast, I could not help but think of the many children that you serve. Long before they came to you many were so sadly and so often left at the gate alone, there was no one to comfort and guide them, to worry about them or miss or crave their presence.

It takes special people to come forward and grab the luggage of their trauma, the baggage of their pain. So desperately they need someone to take their hand and guide them through the gate to a better life.

This is another way to look at your role in the lives of the children you serve. You are the privileged guides and guardians waiting at the gate, preparing to send your kids off to a new life. It is important to make sure they know that they will be missed and that you will anxiously be waiting for their return.

You counselors are the cardinals of the education system. That doesn’t mean you run around in a red cap or that you play football or baseball. The word cardinal literally means hinge or connector. So when I say you are the Cardinals of the education system I mean you are the connectors, you are the hinges that hold a complex system in place and in spite of itself bring it meaning.

As the theme of your conference clearly states you are the connector, the cardinal, that brings education to school, home and community.

You, the counselor in this role bring meaning to an often frustrating, difficult to understand and convoluted educational system that is literally spinning in circles trying to figure out how to reward what it tests but not necessarily testing what it truly values. It is you the counselor, you bring the value, the rightness and the truth to the children you serve. Without you this entire structure will crumble under the weight of so called accountability and at times dubious performance measures.

As I noted earlier you bear the torch, the flame of which is the cardinal virtues that your children must come to know if they are to have any chance of success in life.

Those cardinal, those connecting virtues, are Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Courage

You are the keepers of the flame.

Practicing these virtues, keeping the flame shining brightly, is difficult, because they are unrelentingly tedious and perpetually demanding values.

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern a true good and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” It is not to be confused with timidity or fear. It is called the charioteer of the virtues; it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience.

Justice is the moral virtue that seeks to make things right for one’s neighbor and the community. Justice toward others disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.

Courage is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. Courage enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.

You are the heroes of the educational system. Thank you very much for standing up for your kids. Thank you for teaching them prudence. Thank you for instilling in them the courage to face a newer world. Thank you for bringing them justice.

I hope that your conference has been fruitful, more importantly as you progress in your careers I wish you success. Don’t forget to keep exercising that Vagus nerve and remember to stick together as you face the challenges of your profession in the months and years ahead. I hope you can look back on your career by not making the mistake that the counselor in this parable makes.

There was once a man who found himself seriously injured by the side of the road. Many people passed him by, thinking him to be responsible for his own difficulties and therefore not worthy of any assistance.

In time a counselor sees the man and assists him in getting help and ensures that he is able to take care of himself.

The man is most grateful, so much so that the counselor is just hoping to get on with her journey. But the man, who appears to have only meager resources, insists on giving the counselor something.

He tells the counselor to pick up as big a handful of rocks as she can and to put the rocks in a pocket. The counselor initially refuses but the man keeps insisting so, in order to placate him, the counselor picks up a handful of rocks and places them in a pocket.

The man smiles and says to the counselor, “the next time you reach into your pocket you are going to initially be very happy and then on reflection you will become somewhat sad.”

The counselor goes about her day and it is not until late at night that the realization comes that she has a pocket full of rocks that she completely forgot about.

The young counselor reaches into her pocket and pulls out the contents and discovers that all of the rocks have all turned into solid gold.

And the words of the injured man come to mind, “you will be both happy and sad.” And sure enough the counselor is both; very happy that the rocks have turned to gold, but very sad that she did not grab more of them.

And hopefully it is so with your careers, as you look both back and forward at the same time. You should be very proud of the good work that you do and even when it seems that your work is in vain at times remember always its value, the rightness and the truth of the work itself. Take care of one another, bring peace with you wherever life takes you. When all is said and done be sure that you leave no stones behind, grab them all and finish with no regrets.

Finally, as prudence requires, I hope to enlist your guidance and counsel in the coming months and years ahead. As justice beckons, let’s work together to make it right for the children that we mutually serve. As temperance guides, let’s not succumb to divisiveness, sophomoric labeling of each other or interminable screaming. As fortitude demands, let’s never give up working for the values that we share and hold sacred.

David Bradley
State Senator District 10
Tucson, Arizona