Trump’s Walls

Trump’s Walls

Trump Was Here

I am a professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Angelo State University where I teach composition, literature, and creative writing.  In my classes, I’ve been employed by the State of Texas to teach young citizens how to improve as readers, writers, and people who can think for themselves and provide evidence to support that thinking.

As I design my courses, I always include a lesson on metaphor and its influence on our thinking.  I provide my students with examples, such as “time is money” and “life is a journey.”  These metaphors are so common we might not be aware of them and the way they shape our understanding of time or of life, but they do have powerful influences on how we think.  And those thoughts can lead to specific decisions and actions.

I selected teaching as a career because I believe in the metaphor “knowledge is power.”  People gain power in a number of ways.  They’ve inherited it through their family.  They’ve worked hard on practicing a specific skill over time, and the performance of that skill gives them power.  Some people gain power by convincing others to give up their power.  Some people gain power by taking it by force.  Some gain power through mutually-beneficial relationships with others.

I teach metaphor to my students because I want them to see the metaphors they’ve selected when thinking about themselves and others.  Do they see their education as a treasure hunt?  A steep climb?  A prison sentence?  A path to celebrity?  A journey to freedom?

I also use examples from contemporary political culture.  And our current President of the United States offers a very interesting example.  While I believe “knowledge is power,” it might be said that President Trump believes “building is power.”  He probably became President in large part because other people also believe “building is power.”  They believe that building a wall and rebuilding the infrastructure and relocating our manufacturing capacities would create more power because we would be more secure and enriched by these building projects.

While President Trump has no experience as a politician, he was probably elected by citizens who preferred someone who has gained power through building.  So, if he is successful in serving our country by building power for others through his building projects, he will be admired and granted even more power to build power for our country.

However, if his building projects fail, then his power fails.  Suppose the wall he wants to build between Texas and Mexico seriously damages the economy of Texas, increases inflation, and fuels more poverty and violence in Mexico.  Suppose the wall he builds between his administration and the press creates confusion about what counts as evidence, knowledge, and truth. Suppose the wall he builds between our country and other countries increases the chances for domestic and foreign terrorism, war, and the death and injury of our loved ones.    Suppose putting America first in the race to build power puts us further behind.

But also suppose the President doesn’t believe in the metaphor “building is power” after all.  Suppose he believes “division is power.”  Suppose he believes “walls are power.”  Imagine for a moment that all he ever wanted was the most powerful building and best-protected walls in the world for himself.

What we imagine next is always dependent on the metaphors we build with.

Illustrating Buddha

Paper Buddha BW

I am teaching an 8 week general studies course this semester on the topics of presence and mindfulness.  I have already introduced these topics in class (we are in the second week), and I have talked to my students about the image of the Buddha and how it illustrates the three basic ingredients of meditation (body [bottom], mind [top], and breath [middle]).  I also emphasized that this image, though still, stands for an activity.  It illustrates the journey and practice of mindfulness, rather than a desired destination or ultimate state of being.  In other words, the image, whether it is a statue or painting or drawing, doesn’t represent an idol to worship or the result of meditation in Buddhism.  It represents the habitual practice of mindfulness, not only in seated meditation, but in every possible aspect of life.

I also asked students to draw with me a simple image of the Buddha in order to get a more personal sense of what this image represents.  I drew it on the whiteboard a couple of times, and then I asked them to draw it a couple of times themselves in their journals.

Buddha Sketch

My wife and I have also begun a meditation practice each morning after waking.  We have mats and pillows and a bench for me set up in our bedroom.  And after we get the dogs settled, we practice for about 10 or 15 minutes.  We are beginning practitioners and hope to build up to more time on the mat.

During my practice this morning, I was reflecting further on this image of Buddha in meditation and how I could help my students experience the patience, presence, and balance that it represents.  I first thought about bringing river stones of various sizes to class and giving each of my 20 students three relatively small stones (one large, one medium, and one small) to stack and balance so they could experience the patience and focus needed to stack and balance those stones.

But then, I thought about having to find 60 stones and carrying them to class for 20 students and the work that would entail.  Next, I thought about using a sheet of paper and making small balls of paper to serve the same purpose.  And here is how it worked out:

Making a Paper Buddha
So here’s what I learned about how to make a paper Buddha. Fold a sheet of paper in half three times to create eight total sections. Unfold and tear in the sheet half. Tear an eighth off one of these halves.  As a result, you have one piece with four eighths, one piece with three eighths, and one piece with one eighth.  Now make tight balls with each. Next, flatten the largest ball, and finally balance the other two on top, medium-sized ball in middle.

I’ll introduce this exercise in presence, patience, and balance to students next week.

And here is how it turned out.

Drawing Attention

Self-portraits on index cards from students on first-day of class yesterday in English 1301: Freshman Composition:

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And from English 2307: Introduction to Literature and Creative Writing:

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I distribute index cards at the beginning of each class and ask students to write their names and the date on one side and draw an image on the other.  These cards have two purposes.  I use them to track attendance, and I use the drawing exercise to help them dispel distractions and begin to focus on the work of the class to come.

As for the images, I ask them to draw all sorts of things, some related to the work of the class or what they did over the weekend or something related to their major or the weather.  What they draw is ultimately not as important as the act of drawing and the focusing of their attention.

At the end of the course, I return all of the index cards from the semester to the students as one way for them to review their journey through the class.