A Time for Reflection

Carol A. Hand

A time
for solitude
and introspection
To continue blogging or not – that is the question

I’m drawn to a memory of long ago

and playing beside a stream
Surrounded by forest – a safe place to dream

It’s clear that life has changed me since those innocent days

I feel
such deep sadness now – a sense of hope lost
The price of what colonials see as “progress” – a burdensome cost

The forested sanctuary of my childhood gone – now a suburban development

Crafting blog posts
though an important expression
Deflects me from my work to describe the roots of continuing oppression

Perhaps I need to grow silent for a while to be able to look for peace and hope within




This is the second anniversary for my blog. It was created on February 12, 2014. Today, I face an important decision point.

So many things have changed since I began. Many members of the original blogging community who greeted me have gone on to other things. And my life has changed as well. Thanks in large measure to the blogging community, I have found my voice and the courage and persistence to begin a project I dreamed of when I worked too many hours during my many careers.

I’ve begun working on a book about Ojibwe child welfare survival stories. Finally, I know how this book will end even though I’m only half-way through. And I’m eager to finish. I have tried to blog and write at the same time, but there are just not enough hours in the day to do justice to either.

I haven’t been able to visit other blogs recently. I miss the beauty and knowledge your work brings into my life and the comforting sense of community. So I’ve decided to let my blogging voice be silent for a while so I can finish this book. It will give me more time to visit your blogs, too.

I send blessings to all.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Reflections About the View from the Margins

Reflections from a year ago …

Voices from the Margins

Carol A. Hand

Walking in two worlds may mean feeling one really doesn’t belong anywhere. Yet, it’s liberating in another sense. It provides an opportunity to experience other cultures and settings from the margins. After sharing memories with a colleague about our past adventures working with elders, I suddenly understood the value of living on the margins. During my lifetime, I have lived in many places and worked in many fields and settings. I entered each setting as an outsider, a space that gave me a unique vantage point to see things differently than those who “belonged.” I could think critically about what I saw and envision not only “what was” but also “what could be” based on the expressed purpose that each group or organization publicly espoused. I could also assess my “fit” with group or organizational cultures.

maui 1998 horseback

Photo Credit: Another Pacific View –…

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“Yoo – Hoo”

Carol A. Hand

Do you ever awake, reluctant to rise
Wrapped in soft piles of blankets
As winter sun glows through still lidded eyes
Grateful for comfort and relative peace
Yet mindful that others are suffering
In a world where both wars and wonders never cease

Finally afoot as I greet the still frigid morning
A single chickadee calls out – “Yoo-hoo
“Drink your coffee, breathe deeply and heed my warning
“You may not have much time – there are things you must do
“It may not make a difference but you too have a voice
“Send it out as I did as a blessing or not – it’s your choice

chickadee w

Image: Black-capped Chickadee (Wikipedia)

So I send out blessings and another silly poem
To share the chickadee’s message – heart-felt and deep
It’s our job to help chickadees care for our shared home
We all have work to do – and voices – and promises to keep


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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It’s Only a Photo

Carol A. Hand

Another funny photo frozen in time
I have years of picture IDs
To preserve these memories of mine
Of bad hair days and silly expressions
So much for first and lasting impressions


Image: Ahma – Ava’s Picture (5)

I don’t have the newest copy yet
So it’s not available to share
But when it arrives I know I’ll laugh
I’ve grown too old and wise to care

I prefer my granddaughter’s pictures, a better me
Images that preserve through time a loving legacy

ava picture of ahma 2

Image: Ahma – Ava’s picture (7)

This is an ode for the DMV employee who asked if I wanted him to take another photo yesterday. He was incredulous when I thanked him but said “no.” And then he smiled.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Reflections about Social Control

Carol A. Hand

My career as an academic came later in life. It wasn’t something I had ever envisioned myself doing, but teaching seemed like an important way for me to share what I had learned. It was a natural progression from my work as an advocate with systems change initiatives for elders, tribes and marginalized communities.

Fortunately, I had the benefit of working as a teaching assistant for my graduate advisor. He was a charismatic Chickasaw scholar of international acclaim, an award-wining “master teacher,” and a kind, ethical, and humble man. He allowed me the freedom to do things my way as long as I followed the rigors of critical thinking and supported my work on the basis of empirical objective evidence. With a model like his to follow, it’s not surprising that I choose to teach from a foundation of liberatory praxis, or critical pedagogy. I have described this approach in other posts, but honestly it’s now become cumbersome for me to try to find them on my own blog.

The word “liberatory” is easy to understand without much of a definition. But as Freire (1998, 2o00) argues, to be ethical and effective, our efforts to improve conditions in the world need to be based on knowledge and respect for others and what they already know – praxis. Simply put, teaching from this foundation means meeting people where they are to engage in dialogue about the systems that oppress us all. Rather than forcing students to blindly memorize and regurgitate existing theories and beliefs, liberatory praxis provides students with opportunities to look at taken-for-granted circumstances and asks them to think critically about meanings and alternatives.

Yesterday, I was reminded of a framework I used in the past to teach social welfare policy. I had to renew my car registration and driver’s license, an unappealing annual task that required visiting two separate drab bureaucracies. As I waited in line or at the counters, I listened and observed. And I imbibed the depressing atmosphere, aware that staff were doing the best they could to function kindly despite the constraints of social control that the rules of their positions demanded. Again, I wondered about alternatives.

Social Work Frameworks

Image: Policy Alternatives (C.A. Hand 2008 PowerPoint Slide)

Intuitively, many of us sense that the policies and institutions that constrain our lives limit our freedom. And they do so in ways that makes us feel shamed, demeaned, devalued, or judged as inferior on some dimension. It shouldn’t be surprising. The values and assumptions built into many social welfare policies in the United States are based on sixteenth and seventeenth century British Elizabethan Poor Laws. These laws were meant to control people who were disinherited and displaced as the feudal system dissolved during the era of industrialization. Tenant farmers and artisans who were evicted from the land and their homes flocked to cities in hopes of finding some way to support themselves and their families.

“… Few of this population had the skills to earn a living wage, and as their numbers increased, pauperism became a national problem. The first attempt to correct this problem was the enactment of voluntary alms to be collected in each parish. When this enactment did not alleviate the problems, an act was passed that required severe punishment for vagabonds and relief for the poor. This act led to an attempt to discriminate between the criminal population and the poor. Finally, the Poor Law of 1601 provided a clear definition of the “poor” and articulated services that they were to receive. This legislation is the foundation for the current social welfare system existing today in Great Britain.” (Source)

Notice how even this historical overview of the context of massive displacement and human suffering fails to mention the profit motive behind the plight of those who found themselves without the means to survive because they had been separated from the land and labors that had been theirs for generations. Notice also the ease with which the blame for their circumstances has been labeled as an individual deficit, “pauperism,” rather than a critique of the system that forced them to survive in whatever ways remained open.

Following is a brief overview of the major provisions of the law that codified these assumptions and the punitive measures that were imposed in response.

elizabethan poor laws

Image: Elizabethan Poor Laws (C.A. Hand 2013 PowerPoint Slide)

And consider the mechanism for enforcing these laws. The “Overseers of the Poor.”

“The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 required each parish to select two Overseers of the Poor. The Overseer of the Poor was under the supervision of the Justice of the Peace. It was the job of the Overseer to determine how much money it would take to care for the poor in his or her parish. The Overseer was then to set a poor tax and collect the money from each landowner. The Overseer was also in charge of dispensing either food or money to the poor and supervising the parish poorhouse. While this may sound like a great job, these Overseers were actually unpaid and generally unwilling appointees.” (Study.com)

What a great tool this was to control the rabble in the old and “new” world! As in Britain and elsewhere, there have always been far greater numbers of people who are poor and propertyless than there have been among the propertied ruling elite. These assumptions about human worth – who is worthy and who isn’t – are built into the institutions, policies, and more importantly, the unquestioned values people are socialized to see as right and normal.

Some of our social welfare policies were grudgingly enacted to ameliorate suffering. But many have been eliminated or significantly reduced of late. The oppressive net has been becoming ever more controlling and deficit-focused in recent years, and sadly, those who are next in line to be displaced have internalized the same assumptions about the individual-deficit causality of poverty.

childs pose

Image: Dancer 1 (by C.A. Hand)

Shame is a powerful way for the few to rule the many.

These were among the thoughts that flowed through my mind as I watched well-meaning staff refuse to help people who couldn’t produce the required documentation to prove they were who they claimed to be. It would mean they couldn’t vote, or get jobs, or travel as they chose. I watched as some grew angry and others walked away with shoulders hunched. But I repeated my mantra, “be patient, be kind.” As I neared my turn, I added a new refrain. “See if you can brighten the day by helping these poor staff smile.”

But social control is never a laughing matter. We have choices. I have seen the hope and excitement that is possible if programs are based on a foundation of life enhancement, using liberatory praxis as a method to open up possibilities. The powerful transformations that can and do happen in people’s lives have been profound.


Image: Dancer 2 (by C.A. Hand)

Works Referenced:

Paulo Freire (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Paulo Freire (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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The Winds of Winter

Carol A. Hand

Greeting the morning while shoveling new snow
Fine frozen flakes swirl and dance through the air
As blustery northwest winds continue to blow
Re-filling the path as if no one had passed there


Photo: February 2014



Photo: February 2016

I wonder if this is a metaphor for life at its best
The things we say and do travel as they will
We have no control where they finally come to rest
Or what legacy we may leave when the winds of life grow still

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“The Committee Decided…”

Carol A. Hand

Life always amazes me. I try to postpone some of the tasks I agree to, like writing recommendation letters. I think it’s because I really do want to help but I’m not confident that I will find the right ways to encourage employers to hire a former student or colleague. I’m afraid that the things that I value most – self-directed inquisitiveness, critical thinking, passionate compassionate hearts, and radical views – are not necessarily seen as assets by potential employers. So I procrastinate. Whether I have a month or a day, I still wait until the last moment. The only thing that changes is the length of time I feel guilty for not completing this task sooner. I do care about the people who ask for my help. I feel a sense of obligation to honor their vulnerability and trust.

This time, there was only a couple days’ notice. Monday was the due date. The draft was sent off to the person who requested a recommendation. I try to always give people a chance to provide feedback before letters become “official,” tucked into sealed envelopes with the obligatory signature over the glued or taped flap to authenticate its origins.

This task, like many others these days, required travels into the past to recover details. Interestingly, the memories uncovered were about a class I taught when I first met the former student whose letter I just drafted. Social Work Macro-Practice. It’s not a favorite topic since most social work students want to work with individuals as counselors. Few want to work as change agents in partnership with organizations or communities.

Many tenured faculty who teach macro-practice classes have never done this kind of work. They rely on textbook authors to provide necessary knowledge and foundations for students – only because accrediting bodies require this subject even though it is now viewed by many as a shibboleth – a useless custom from the past. Therapists don’t need to know this stuff. Decontextualized, ahistorical psychology will suffice in a corporate-controlled dystopia. The only skills needed are those that help people accept and adapt to their circumstances. I call this assimilation, a euphemistic term for eradicating cultures that were defined as shibboleths. It’s a process Native Americans know all too well.


Image: Drawing by C. A. Hand

(based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault)

But I digress. Change is fact of life that all cultures face. People, organizations and nations can attempt to build walls, but change will come any way. What does stop when we try to wall out the inevitable is our ability to adapt in visionary, constructive ways. Turning inward ensures stagnation, the path to a slow and painful death.

“According to the second law of thermodynamics, all systems tend toward entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder or a measure of the energy in a system that is not available for productive work. In essence, all closed systems tend to break down. The principle applies not only to physical systems but also to individuals and organizations.

“People tend to progress and then plateau. At first, the plateau provides time for consolidation and recovery. Later, it becomes a zone of comfort. In our comfort zone, we know how to do the things we need to do. They become routine. And as long as nothing changes, we can be successful.

“The problem is that the universe is an ever-changing system. From the external world, we receive signals suggesting the need for change – the need to grow beyond our routines and move to a higher level of personal complexity. We all tend to deny these signals. Usually it is not until we are jolted that we are willing to make a significant alteration in who we are and how we do things.” (Quinn, 2004, p. 18)


“The failure to change is a process of closing down, of ceasing to respond to the changing signals from the world around us… In organizations [communities, or cultures], the same dynamics come into play. We all spend most of our time unconsciously colluding in our own diminishment and the diminishment of the organization. We collectively lose hope, turn to self-interest, and experience increasing conflict. The organization becomes more disconnected and loses more energy. At both individual and organizational levels, we tend to choose slow death over deep change.

“This slow death is the consequence of remaining in the normal state. To be in the normal state is to be externally driven, internally closed, self-focused, and comfort centered.” (Quinn, 2004, p. 19)


“After a time, the implicit assumption is that the system cannot be fixed and no one expects it to be fixed. We accept that life is supposed to be toxic. We accept the fact that each person’s role is to pretend to care about the system, while in the privacy of their own minds they tell themselves that their first priority is their own welfare. At this point we come to know for certain that the world is a Darwinian place where only the strongest survive.” (Quinn, 2000, pp. 93-94)

We blame others for the problems around us, defining ourselves as victims, expecting others to save us. Our humanity and communities are dying a slow death. This is something I witnessed directly in many of the settings where I worked, not only in the Ojibwe and Euro-American communities I studied in 2001-2002. Clients and community members blame bureaucracies, line-staff blame administrators, and citizens blame “the government.” We become fearful, angry, and hopeless that anything will improve so we hunker down and grab what we hope will protect us from the disaster we fear will be coming.

I agree with Quinn. I believe that the only alternative to slow death is the willingness to engage in the processes of deep personal and organizational change – to face our greatest fears and find the strength, vision, and integrity to live our own truths. But there are no easy answers. How many of us are willing to walk away from the illusions of comfort, security, and predictability to embrace the unknown?

“When we commit to a vision to do something that has never been done before, there is no way to know how to get there. We simply have to build the bridge as we walk on it.” (Quinn, 2004, p. 9)

The major obstacles for initiating and sustaining the ongoing transformation of ourselves and our institutions and cultures no longer come primarily from outside (Quinn, 1996). And it isn’t only Native Americans who have been assimilated throughout centuries. The systematic capitalistic cultural ways of seeing the world are already part of the person most of us have been socialized to become.

In my experiences, only organizations that were undergoing a state of crisis for survival were open to deep change. Most organizations greeted any suggestions for change with a universal refrain – but THE COMMITTEE DECIDED…” Keep in mind that the committee consisted only of those who had gained admission because they agreed with those in power, assuring the continuity of hegemony and homogeneity from one generation to the next.


Image: Exclusion (Microsoft ClipArt)

Introduce someone from the margins who sees the world from a different perspective, and things become interesting. It was in one of these contexts when I first met the student who recently requested a recommendation letter.

Here’s a bit of context for those years. It is drawn from reports I had to write to justify my tenure-track position in the university my former student attended.

Teaching Philosophy and Accomplishments
Libertory praxis remains the philosophical foundation for my approach to teaching. During the past few years I have had an opportunity to read more broadly and reflect on the cultural fit of this egalitarian, dialogic, and consciously modeled approach for working with others who have less power in a given socially constructed community or institution.

It is my belief that social work educators have an ethical responsibility to teach students the knowledge and skills they will need to work respectfully and effectively with diverse clients. Unlike other disciplines, social work educators have an additional responsibility to model strength-based, empowering practice in their pedagogical approaches with students.

We know that students do as we do, rather than what we tell them to do.

Macro practice courses are often challenging to teach because the majority of social work students are interested in working with individuals and families. Because this was the first time I had taught this particular course, I relied on prior syllabi to plan course assignments. However, based on student feedback and my own critical analysis of the most effective ways to approach macro-level assessment and change from a liberatory praxis paradigm, many assignments were refined as the semester progressed.

The following discussion highlights four development areas: 1) strategically chosen texts and articles to provide a range of different perspectives, 2) new sequencing of assignments, 3) accommodating travel challenges, and 4) student engagement in developing a new assignment.

First, the readings that formed the foundation for the class represented both essential social work perspectives and new ways of looking at assessment and planned change at organizational and community levels drawn from other disciplines. For example, students looked at the seminal work of Lisbeth B. Schorr (1997) regarding the seven attributes of highly successful programs, the best-selling work of business leader Geoffrey Bellman (2001) focused on “getting things done when you are not in charge,” and the appreciative inquiry model grounded firmly in a strength-based macro practice (e.g., Cooperrider & Whitney, n.d.).

Second, the sequencing of assignments was refined to follow a more logical implementation sequence as well as to accommodate the competing responsibilities of students in the graduate program (full-time employment, family responsibilities, and geographic dispersion). All assignments were based on applying the principles of organizational and community analysis and planned change described in the readings to their practicum agency.

This was a challenging set of assignments. However, once students graduate from an MSW program, they are typically hired for, or quickly promoted into, management positions. The types of skills applied in the course assignments are essential for effective supervisors and decision makers. Yet the rigor also reflects a compromise reached with the students.

Third, the difficulty of the above assignments reflects a dialogue and consensual agreement with students. In order to accommodate a difficult winter for students who drove long distances to classes three nights a week, we met every other week. In exchange, students agreed to more difficult assignments. During alternate weeks, the class used online blackboard to address questions, they met or communicated on group assignments, and emailed weekly practicum logs. The quality of research and critical thought in written work was excellent, as was the dialogue during classes.

Fourth, the refinements made to the class schedule and assignments also provided an opportunity to work with students as partners (liberatory praxis), increasing their engagement in the course. Using group work techniques that were described in the readings for the course, one assignment was completely revised with student input as they interwove key concepts from two other texts in relation to their practicum experience.

The macro-practice lab was integrated into the modifications made to the class schedule. Students applied the principles of effective group work and group decision making as members of one of three teams, largely structured around geography. The focus of the work was to explore the feasibility of incorporating distance learning into the MSW program, the resources within the region that could be used, and a recommended plan of action.

Clearly, this was a challenging amount of work for a one-credit class. The final written reports from each of the three groups were shared with social work faculty and decision makers.

The following figure was developed to facilitate critical thinking and discussion. The figure employs the ecosystems framework to illustrate how socially constructed models are reflected by each author of required readings for the course. The social work text that is most widely used around the county, Netting, Kettner, and McMurtry (2004), is firmly nested within a problem-focused approach for community change. Other authors stretch this limited paradigm, reflecting more of a strength-based perspective that is more in line with liberatory praxis. The figure also incorporates important dimensions to consider in macro level assessment and intervention.

macro practice

Image: Macro-practice Graphic (C. A. Hand)

I plan to focus on exploring the use of technology for distance education. It will become increasingly important in an era of increasing costs for fuel and the need to reduce pollution. I am currently taking a course to learn more about distance learning technologies and plan to incorporate approaches at both the MSW and BSW level. This will take time and a lot more learning on my part, yet I believe it is essential to assure access to education for students throughout the region.


The student I recommended was involved in this experiment. The three groups that assessed the potentiality of distance educations developed crucial analyses of existing resources in the state and feasible suggestions worthy of further explorations. I shared their assessments and plans with the FACULTY OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE. The COMMITTEE’s response was the development of policies to limit further faculty innovation without their explicit approval. They chose to put up walls in hopes they could continue teaching with what this student described as “yellowed transparencies they have used unaltered for the past 25 years.”

Of course, there are always ways around obstacles, but I would much have preferred to be part of the exciting process of system transformation. Sadly, it didn’t happen for this department. I wasn’t willing to stick around for the death process that would ultimately follow. Shifts in the larger socio-political context intensified COMMITTEE control and the precariousness of their continued vitality and survival.

Still, I will always wonder what could have been if only THE COMMITTEE had been willing to listen to the voices of students – the people they claimed to serve.


Image: Inclusive Community (Source)

Works Cited:

Addams, J. (1961). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York: Signet Classics.

Bellman, G. N. (2001). Getting things done when you are not in charge (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Cooperrider, D. L. & Whitney, D. (n.d.). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. Retrieved from http://appreciative http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf on August 30, 2008.

Homan, M. (1999). Rules of the game: Lessons from the field of community change. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Kaner, S. (2007). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making, (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Netting, F.E., Kettner, P.M., & McMurtry, S.L. (2004) Social Work Macro Practice (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Quinn, R. E. (2004). Building the bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change. San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.

Quinn, R. E. (2000). Change the world: How ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary results. San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.

Quinn, R. E. (1996). Deep change: Discovering the leader within. San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“The Pedagogy of Steel” by Brazilian Poet Pedro Tierra

I am sharing a post as a reblog from Rosaliene Bacchus’ blog, Three Worlds One Vision ~ Guyana – Brazil – USA.

I would like to thank her for giving me permission to do so. This morning, she shared this crucial context for her post, “The Pedagogy of Steel” by Brazilian Poet Pedro Tierra.

“I was living in Brazil during the 1990s and watched with horror the national TV news reports of each of the four massacres. Brutal violence. As Pedro Tierra notes in his poem: “Life is worth so little / from outside the fence…”

“To learn more about “the never-ending global atrocities that greed-fed imperialism has fomented,” I recommend The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, published in 2007. She reveals a shocking view of our world. Nothing has changed. It’s only transformed into other forms of chaos.”

Thank you for the crucial work you do to raise awareness, Rosaliene!

Three Worlds One Vision

Memorial of Massacre of Eldorado dos Carajas - 17 April 1996

Memorial of Massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás – Pará – Brazil
Photo Credit: Globo (Glauco Araújo)
Learn more about the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST)

My Poetry Corner February 2016 features the poem “The Pedagogy of Steel” (A Pedagogia dos Aços) by Brazilian poet Pedro Tierra, pen name of Hamilton Pereira da Silva, a politician and Secretary of Culture in the Federal District.

Born in 1948 in Porto Nacional (Tocantins), Pedro Tierra abandoned his studies to join the resistance movement to overthrow the military dictatorship (1964-1985). In 1972, he was arrested and tortured for his subversive activities. During the five years he spent in prison, he lost several of his companions.

To survive and maintain his sanity, he began writing poetry. Adapting a Spanish pen name deterred exposure. He smuggled his poems to friends outside the prison, keeping them informed of life in captivity.

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Deciphering Meaning

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I reluctantly emerged from a hypnagogic state. I wanted to remember my strange dream. It was laden with meaning that I knew would escape me as soon as I awoke fully. Yet the early morning sun streaming through the eastern window and singing parakeets called. It was time to get up. Still, I lingered a few moments and then scribbled what I could remember in the margins of the cryptogram puzzle book by my bedside – the only paper available.

I saw a word floating in the air of my dream – shibboleth. It seemed important, but it’s not a word I ever remember using. I’m sure I’ve read it and looked it up more than once. I’ve probably written it many times before in the margins of some of the obscure texts I was trying to decipher. I have a habit of sitting with my unabridged dictionary on my lap at such times, scribbling words and definitions in the margins of my texts. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to keep writing definitions than it is to find the ones I’ve already written many times.

Does this word offer a clue to help me continue working out a tricky transition in the book about Ojibwe child welfare I’m working on?

Shibboleth – (noun shib·bo·leth \ˈshi-bə-ləth also -ˌleth\) – an old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue; a word of a way of speaking or behaving which shows that a person belongs to a particular group. (Merriam-Webster.com)


A shibboleth, in its original signification and in a meaning it still bears today, is a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups. Within the mindset of the ingroup, a connotation or value judgment of correct/incorrect or superior/inferior can be ascribed to the two variants.

In contemporary usage the word has acquired an extended meaning which is often cited first (and sometimes even exclusively) in shorter dictionaries, namely, an old belief or saying which is cited repetitively or unreflectively but which is, or may be, fallacious or untrue… (Wikipedia)

What does the word shibboleth imply about the liminal space between the Ojibwe and Euro-American settler cultures I studied years ago and continue to ponder today? Certainly the past continues to influence the present.

“I understand what you want . . . from the few words I have heard you speak,” said Chief Flat Mouth of the Pillager Band of Ojibwe to a group of U.S. government officials in 1855. “You want land.” (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Ojibwe US 1855 meeting11_12_statements6

Photo: President Andrew Johnson and American Indian delegates – 1867. (NEH)

I honestly don’t know what to make of a dream where the word shimmered in the air just as I awoke. The notes I scribbled in the margins of my cryptogram puzzle book don’t seem to offer much.

All people create separate worlds in the past where they can revisit. [I think this is what I was doing in my dream.] Some get caught there, and others are stuck halfway in-between. The worlds we create can tell us a lot about who we are and the things that matter most to us.

I couldn’t even remember how to spell shibboleth when I awoke, so I gave it my best guess and Google did the rest. Honestly, this is something I will need to think about more. In the meantime, the final cryptogram puzzle I solved before going to sleep last night reminds me of one of the pressing tasks I need to do today.


I welcome any thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth, or solutions for the cryptogram puzzle. (I do remember one of my virtual friends hates word puzzles. I hope he doesn’t feel obligated to comment, although I do welcome his thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth. :-) )


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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A Magic Morning

Carol A. Hand

The magic of the morning quickly fades
As reality intervenes
Ice to clear from sidewalks
Animals that need attention and care
Letters to write for former colleagues


Photo: Another Snowy Day – February 2014

Yet the glow of a beautiful story
Remembered as I opened my eyes
On this day of sunny promise
Will remain in my heart as a guide
Even though the tasks before me
Require only simple love and kindness
Not noble deeds to save the world

Perhaps it is the simple everyday things
That collectively build a foundation
Of a lifetime well-lived

Dedicated to family, friends, and all of my blogging tribe – you all bring joy into my life.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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