Mature Leadership: On Bending the Arc

By | LwCH, Politics, The Long Road | No Comments

Shortly after Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa caucuses, I wrote a blog post entitled Toward a Mature Politics that began with the Kantian idea that enlightenment requires us to relinquish our self-incurred immaturity. Then, as now, I associated petty hyper-partisan politics with adolescence; and I saw in Obama’s candidacy the possibility of a more mature politics.

As President Obama returns again to his role as citizen, I want to pause a moment here to reflect on an aspect of his legacy that has meant a lot to me as someone who has sought over the last eight years to chart path to leadership: his maturity.

Although Kant connects the maturity of enlightenment with the capacity to think for oneself, maturity of leadership involves much more than independent thinking.

Mature leaders are able to listen attentively through the noise of the moment so as to discern how best to put values into practice; they are able to distance themselves from their own cathartic reactions in order to consider what the situation requires. There is a stillness in maturity, a groundedness that anchors the courage to enact a more just and beautiful world.

A model of mature leadership is what I yearned for in Obama then, and what I am grateful for now.

The change we believed in at the time remains most palpable to me today when I look back to see how much our kids have grown.

Less obvious, however, is the distance each of us have travelled over the past eight years. For me, it has involved the decision to put my educational commitments to the liberal arts endeavor into practice through administrative work first at Penn State, and now as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State, our first two land-grant universities.

This decision was informed in no small part by the hope of which Theodore Parker first spoke before Martin Luther King, Jr. refined it and Barack Obama wove it into Presidential politics. Parker, a 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, put it this way:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but a little ways; I cannot calculate and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice. Things refuse to be mis-managed long.1

Taking up this idea, King distilled it to its essence when, in his 1956 Statement on Ending the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, he said:

The arc of the moral universe, although long, is bending toward justice.2

Expanding the idea yet further in an April of 2008 speech entitled “Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Obama emphasized that the arc of the moral universe does not bend on its own:

You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. But what he also knew was that it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because each of us puts our hands on that arc and bends it in the direction of justice.

These three articulations themselves arc over a 150-year history that ties the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to the election of the first African-American President of the United States.

But even as we celebrate the justice toward which this arc undeniably tends, maturity requires us to remain vigilant, for the facts of the world teach us that the bending is not as smooth as the eloquence of the formulation leads us to believe. And yet, without the eloquence and the hope that a more just world is possible, maturity, for all its sobriety, will remain unable to chart a course toward a more perfect union.

So, if “things refuse to be mis-managed long,” mature leadership will be needed to bend the arc yet further. A commitment to that endeavor is the most enduring of Obama’s legacies, and the most urgent of our responsibilities.

Inhabiting a Liminal Space

By | Education, Living, LwCH, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 3 Comments

With the announcement that I would be recommended as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, Val, the girls, and I entered a liminal space.

I have long be drawn to the idea of the liminal, that dynamic space of ambiguity characteristic of transitions, but to conscientiously inhabit a liminal space is an altogether difficult endeavor.

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Anticipation

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Excitement abounds here in the Long household as preparations are made for the arrival of Santa.

At 9- and 8-years old, the girls are at that prime age when Christmas is long anticipated and full of magic.

This morning snow fell lightly coating the ground in white after a week of rain.

These are the moments for which I am grateful.

As the girls grow, the excitement of Christmas will change.

But for me, it will be forever marked by the spirit of anticipation and hope these two little girls have always embodied.

Here they are at 3 and 2 in 2007:

Anticipation from Christopher Long on Vimeo.

Evening Sledding

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | 4 Comments

It was dark before I got around to shoveling the walkway.

The girls were excited to be outside, but I had a chore to complete. They wanted to go sledding, so they started down the hill toward the fields where there is a nice slope. They were sure I would tell them, “No, it’s too dark, and I have to shovel snow.”

But I decided to let them go themselves.

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DancinGirl Turns 7, Ponders Finitude

By | LwCH, The Long Road | 2 Comments

DancinGirlTurnsSevenAs we pulled into our driveway after running errands preparing for her Monster High birthday party, DancinGirl, who was generally excited about the day, announced that she has been thinking a lot, recently, about death.

“I wonder what happens after we die,” she says. “I don’t want to be stuck in the ground in a graveyard the whole time.”

At such moments of truth, I consider very carefully my response – I don’t want my anxieties to eclipse her genuine attempts to come to terms with her own finitude.

Val and I look at one another, we’ve been here before: both ArtGirl and DancinGirl consider the question of death on a regular basis. In fact, just last year, ArtGirl, gave a beautiful account of how difficult it is to live with unanswerable questions.

We offer an agnostic response, affirming how difficult it is to live with the knowledge that we really just don’t know what happens when we die.

DancinGirl knows what she wants though: “I just want to keep on being as I am.”

I want that for her too and for her sister, because there are no two beings more beautiful in their being than these two quickly growing little girls.

So on her seventh birthday, my wish for DancinGirl, and for Val and ArtGirl and myself, is that she keep on being as she is and that she continue sharing her beautiful self with us as long as we are here together.

Happy seventh birthday, DancinGirl.

Literacy in Bloom

By | Education, LwCH, The Long Road | 3 Comments

DancinGirl has fallen in love with words. Actually, she has always loved to play with words, singing, rhyming, mimicking.

Literacy in BloomBut now her love of the verbal has exploded into literacy.

She is reading voraciously; book after little book, she reads, sounding out words she does not recognize, learning the joys of story. There you find her, in a chair in the spare bedroom, on the floor in her own, on a sofa, with a book.

She is always under the caring tutelage of her mother, well versed in the ways of Vygotsky, who makes sure she has a book just challenging enough to push her, but not too challenging to frustrate her.

Tonight, however, the reading inspired writing. She had recently read in school a book by Kevin Tseng entitled Ned’s New Home, and she took to the chalkboard to write.  She spent almost an hour writing her story, after which time, she read it to us.

Here is DancinGirl’s version of the Kevin Tseng story with, as she said later, a few words of her own: DancinGirl Reads Her Version of Ned’s New Home

To listen to your daughter discover the beauty of the written word is awesome.

Complementarity

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LITCHFIELD, SC – Vacation can be a time for moments of insight and tenderness. One such moment came this week for me at a restaurant here in South Carolina called Studio Café. (You can see my Yelp! review here).

SC MarshThe restaurant is also an art studio and the owner, Pat Ghannam, both shows here work there and serves tables when they are short staffed. She was serving us that day and she mentioned that the chef was her husband and a co-owner of the restaurant.

At few minutes later, when other members of the table were engrossed in conversation, ArtGirl (7) came to sit on my lap. She had something she wanted to tell me; it was a revelation she’d had.

This is what she whispered in my ear:
ArtGirl: Daddy, I think when you decide who to marry, you should try to find someone who makes you better.

Me: I think that is a great way to think about it, Sweetheart. But how come you are thinking about that now?

ArtGirl: Well, it’s like the server. She is an artist and a server, but her husband is the chef who makes the food for the restaurant. Neither of them could do it alone, but together they can.

And it’s like Mommy and you. There are some things Mom does to make you better and there are some things that you do to make her better.

Me: You know something, you are a very wise person.

And think about this: when you have that sort of relationship, it can also happen that you might just have a daughter, and maybe even two daughters, like you and [DancinGirl], to make your whole family better.

Then we hugged and went back to lunch.

For DancinGirl on Her First Day of Kindergarten

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Dear DancinGirl:

Gotta DanceDo you know why I call you DancinGirl when I write about you here?

It is because, from the moment I met you, now almost six years ago, you were dancing. At first, it was with hands and feet wriggling every which way, then it was the inimitable way you crawled – a sight to behold! – and eventually, as you learned to stand and walk and run, you danced and danced and danced.

Always, you danced.

I love the way you dance. There is a spirit in it that is uniquely you.

You have always moved through the world in a way that is all your own. It is one of the things I admire most about you.

As you start Kindergarten, and the long and wonderful journey that is your formal education, my greatest wish is that your creative, dancing spirit is nourished along the way.

There are so many ways that educational institutions and the culture of schooling dull the very spirit of creativity and imagination on which all real education depends.  But there are also so many people who can and will help cultivate your dancing spirit.

On this, your first day of Kindergarten, may that dancing spirit be magnetic: may it attract others who recognize the beauty of your dancing and who can dance with you; and may the life of education and learning on which you are about to embark enrich the way you move through the world.

Love,
Dad

The Untimely Death of a Preschool

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St. Andrew’s Preschool

Originally uploaded by cplong11

It happened without warning, without any hint that the end was at hand. Suddenly, there it was: May 27th, the day after the last day of the preschool year, the announcement that St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church would close the Preschool that was born, lived and thrived within and around its walls over the past 40 years.

Death often comes that way, unbidden, suddenly. But we expected more from a church that had until that date, served as a caring site for an educational community that nurtured generations of young State College students. 

In their June 9th letter to the Centre Daily Times, Carl and Melissa Anderson captured the sense of anguish and betrayal many of the parents, staff and teachers associated with the preschool felt upon hearing the news.
Both of our daughters began their lives of formal education in the nurturing environment of the St. Andrew’s Preschool. There they first learned to trust adults outside their family; there they were encouraged to express themselves artistically and intellectually; there they found friends and loving teachers and a sense of wonder for all the world has to offer.
The spirit of the place is what drew us to it; for the teachers are dedicated, conscientious and caring; they developed a curriculum that struck just the right balance between guidance and play, structure and exploration. And this spirit has taken root in our daughters as they move out into the world, as it has for generations of students who attended the St. Andrew’s Preschool over the years. 
That spirit will set no future generation of thoughtful, caring young people onto the path of lifelong learning. 
And what makes it worse, even tragic, is that the church handled the demise of the school without even a modicum of the grace, care and sensitivity the Preschool and its teachers embodied over the course of its 40 year life.
====
There has been some interesting and moving historical testimony about the Preschool on the St. Andrew’s Preschool Facebook page.

Beginning in Wonder

By | LwCH, The Long Road | 7 Comments

Aristotle, of course, famously said: “For it is by way of wondering that people both now and at first began to philosophize …” (Metaphysics, I.2, 982b13-4).

Tonight, ArtGirl began to philosophize.

She wondered so eloquently that I had to record it. As we were preparing for bed, she began to consider the beginning of things.

In this short audio clip recorded on the spot, she beautifully articulates a poignant sense of her own finitude, and she does it in a remarkably matter of fact way.

The Big Oh-Five

By | LwCH, The Long Road | One Comment



Little Girl by a Little Girl

Originally uploaded by cplong11

Today is DancinGirl’s birthday and it has been a day of well, dancing. And on Saturday, at her princess dance party, we will dance some more.

In case you are not familiar with the sort of dancing this little person does, here is a taste of some of her work a few years back.

Last night when Val was saying goodnight to our four-year-old for the last time, we were a bit wistful. After Val suggested that we might just try to hold onto her being four years old a bit longer, DancinGirl said:

“Only if we take a very long trip to Never Never Land.”

So it is with her and so it has always been: she is who she is, she is where she is and she is fully present to those who encounter her. I admire that, and learn from it each day.

As I watch her grow, I am amazed by the way she inhabits the world. Some people resist the rhythms of the earth, the seasons and the recalcitrant firmness of things. Some of us lack a degree of flexibility and nimbleness in our dealings with one another. But DancinGirl moves fluidly and with a peculiar and endearing grace that is all her own, as she enters into the lives of those she meets.  Because of this, people seem to be moved by her and move toward her, for they, like me, feel somehow affirmed simply by being in her presence.

Last year, I did a little interview with DancinGirl to capture something of her four-year-old self.  This year again, we took a few moments to consider things as she now turns five:

DancinGirl Turns 5

I wish her a very happy birthday today.

Letting Jelly Dog Go

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | 2 Comments

On Sunday, ArtGirl stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. I noticed two things: she seemed bigger to me and she was not holding her favorite stuffed animal, Jelly Dog.

It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.

For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.

Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.

To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first “tasted” by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly’s mouth before eating it herself; every drink was “sipped” by Jelly before she drank it herself.

During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:

I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real.” Or: “What will happen to Jelly when I die?” Or: “I don’t want Jelly to die.

So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was … and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.

She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.

All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.

During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant, and remarkable things.

She said:”It doesn’t feel right with him, but it doesn’t feel right without him.”

She said: “I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again.”

On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that “going cold turkey” was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.

ArtGirl told me: “Cold turkey is not for me.”

But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said: “I do want you to get him, but I don’t want you to get him.”

Jelly Dog with his FriendsI understood perfectly and suggested that perhaps she needed a little back scratching to help her fall asleep tonight. So there we sat, me scratching her back, her missing Jelly, me thinking how I admired her process, and her falling asleep.

We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.

And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.

We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.

Now She is Six

By | LwCH, The Long Road | 6 Comments

Today is ArtGirl’s birthday and I am feeling the need to mark the moment with a few reflections about some of the things I admire about my daughter.

She questions with assiduous tenacity and refuses to accept at face value an explanation that does not square with her sense of things.  Yet even as she champions what is reasonable, she holds herself always open to the possibility of a bit of magic.
She cares in earnest about others, and with a deep-rooted empathy.  Yet her empathy comes at a cost, for she feels for others and is now beginning to learn (in ways I wish I could have her avoid) that others often don’t feel for her.  Helping her come to terms with this hard reality without diminishing her own ethical imagination is something her mother and I consider one of our most important responsibilities.
She sees the beauty in things and makes things beautiful.
She laughs with abandon and invites others to abandon themselves to laughter.
Written words are beginning to release their hidden meaning to her.  Reading is a joy she is happy to share, but also proud to do alone.
She is becoming a good athlete because she pays attention and works at it.
She is mature and generous in ways that continue to surprise me … and this from when she was very young.
She has always been just who she is.  She has a good heart and a deep sense of justice.
So, in the spirit of our nightly ritual in which we say what we are thankful for, I will repeat here the words she articulates almost every night: “I am thankful for the time we have together and all the ways we are blessed in our lives.”
Happiest of Birthdays.

Living the Contradictions of Disney

By | LwCH, The Long Road, Travel | 2 Comments

ORLANDO, FL – My first visit to Disney World surprised me. Before I had two girls, I never thought I would be interested in visiting a place that stood, in my mind, for all that was wrong with American culture: traditional gender roles, naive optimism, obsession with spectacle over substance… And yet this, as with so much else for me, changed when DancinGirl and ArtGirl entered my life. Watching the Disney stories through their eyes brought another dimension of Disney into sharp relief: the power of imagination, the importance of narrative and the recognition of the force of the bad in world and the need to combat it with intentional, decisive action.

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Embracing Different Voices

By | Academic, Education, LwCH, Technology, The Long Road | No Comments

After talking to trusted people, thinking things over and otherwise working through the transition I am making to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts, I have decided to embrace the model that Dean Chris Brady uses over at the Schreyer Honors College at PSU and tweet in two voices. So, you can now find me at: http://twitter.com/LAUSDeanLong And, as always, you can still follow me at: http:/twitter.com/cplong

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For Hannah on her Fourth

By | LwCH, The Long Road | One Comment

Dear Hannah:

Today is the day we have been talking about since the summer – finally, it’s your birthday!

Today we celebrate you and the way you have celebrated us everyday since you arrived four years ago.

I have always admired the way you inhabit the world. You bring a sense of joy to everything you do and to everyone you meet. You have your own way of moving through the world that makes me smile.

And when you dance, it is something to behold…

Hannah Dancing in WoodsSo on this day of celebration, I have produced a little recording base on our discussion about your fourth birthday.

The two pictures here mark the day of your birth and the weekend before your fourth birthday.

We all wish you a very happy birthday and look forward to being with you as you grow into your fourth year.

Love,
Dad

LwCH 1A: First Snow 2009

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TreeSplit.jpgWe woke this morning in a cold, dark house as our power had gone out early in the morning. As we made our way downstairs, we began to realize that the power outage was only the first of our morning surprises.

During the night, the heavy snow from the earliest snowfall on record in State College had caused a huge tree in front of our house to fall on the beautiful maple tree that sits in our front yard. The tree that fell was split at its base, having collapsed under the weight of the snow.

In falling, the tree not only crushed the maple, but came within about 10 feet of hitting the roof of the house just above the girls’ bedroom. After taking stock of the damage, the girls and I returned to the house to check on Val who has not been feeling well for the past few days.

TreeDown.jpgSchool was canceled, because State College Area School District was without power as well. Without heat or power at home, we did our best with breakfast and, making sure Val was tucked warmly in bed, we ventured downtown where I was schedule to receive a flu shot.

By the end of this strange and somehow beautiful day, we found ourselves at the doctor’s office with Val, where we thought we would try to capture something of the day’s events using my iPhone as a voice recorder.  Here is the podcast we recorded.

LwCH 15: Summer in PA '09

By | LwCH, The Long Road | 2 Comments

LwCH 15.jpgI just completed Life with Chloe and Hannah episode 15, which focuses on the first half of our summer in and around State College, excluding the 2009 Stone Harbor experience, which was captured in LwCH 14

In it you see footage of Chloe’s birthday, including a visit from cousin Vaughan and the tea party, our visit to Reptiland and the events here in State College around the Fourth of July and Arts Fest.  There is much dancing, of course, and great fun all around.

To watch LwCH 15: Summer in PA ’09, click here to go to my MobileMe web gallery.  I continue to post movies there because the quality is higher than on YouTube.
I hope you enjoy and I welcome your comments.

LwCH 14: Stone Harbor 2009

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | One Comment

OC Merry.jpgI have finally processed the footage from this year’s vacation in Stone Harbor and produced a video available here:

In the video you will see much splashing in the pool, reminiscences of last year on the Outer Banks, NC, a few birthday wishes and a photo slideshow of our time in Stone Harbor this year.  I think it captures something of the wonderful time we had this year. 

Life with Chloe and Hannah 01 – Early Snow

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I have posted Life with Chloe and Hannah, episode 01 below. It is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing collection of podcasts that capture something of the daily life of my daughters, Chloe and Hannah.

The idea of the podcast is to focus not on the big events–birthdays, holidays, vacations, etc.–but on the beautiful little events of daily life.

The podcasts are produced in the spirit of that Hasidic Jewish tradition of hallowing the everyday. The format is to allow Chloe and Hannah to speak, as much as possible, for themselves, although at the beginning at least, there is much prompting from their father.