A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jean-Marie Bukuru, Political Refuge from Barundi

On Thursday evening, at my father's invitation, with Mabel at our feet, I had a conversation with Jean-Marie Bukuru of Barundi, a man of science, a truly noble, uncorruptible man, the kind of person who risks his life to take a stand of generational consequence on behalf of his nation, based on logic and reason. As Jean-Marie shared with me details of how corruption works, I began envisioning the possibilities of an epic movie based on the true story of a man who refused to accept even a watch during a high stakes negotiation.

Because Jean-Marie, in his position as lead negotiator for
Barundi, as Head of Land Planning and Development, Ministry of Water, Environment and Land Planning, forcefully defended Barundi's upstream water interests along the Nile in international courts, ceded by his country to Colonial powers to benefit Egypt at Barundi's expense, because Jean-Marie persuaded Barundi's President to sign an agreement which allowed Barundi full rights of access to the Nile, including for the purposes of irrigation and hydroelectric power, and because Jean-Marie pointed out the logical flaws in the argument that Al-Shabab, at the service of Mubarik, posed a realistic military threat to Barundi, Jean-Marie was made an assassination target by foes within his country who had been corrupted by Egyptian agents.

Jean-Marie left his wife and ten children behind in Barundi, becoming a political refuge, escaped certain death, and eventually found his way to my parent's home in Arlington, after the expiration of his 2014-2015 Humphrey Fellowship. Today, Jean-Marie is seeking urgent funding for the introduction to Barundi of kenaf, which is in Jean-Marie's estimation as an agricultural scientist, the ideal cash crop for Barundi, based on Kenaf's of it's unique properties:

  • 6' taproot, which enables it to thrive with minimal rainfall.
  • Can be harvested 3 times per year.
  • Used in bioreactors to generate electricity
  • Used as an insulation product in automobiles
  • Inexpensive and easy to grow
Below is Jean-Marie's statement, which I have taken the liberty of posting on my blog, as I am sure Jean-Marie would not object:

Statement of Jean-Marie Bukuru
(May 20, 2015)

I am Jean-Marie Bukuru from Burundi. Because of the current political crisis in Burundi, where I am considered an opponent of the current President Pierre Nkurunziza, I am seeking assistance to relocate myself and my family out of Burundi, until the democratic political process is restored.

My background is in Agricultural Engineering. I have worked as an official of the Burundian government with various international development institutions including The World Bank, the European Union and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved with poverty reduction, human rights, water supply, water productivity, food security, rural infrastructure development, wetlands management and climate change adaptation projects.

Today I am in the US as a Fulbright scholar and Hubert Humphrey Fellow, having recently graduated from a one-year professional development program at Cornell University in Agricultural Economic and Rural Development.

Officially my Hubert Humphrey Fellowship will be completed on June 12, 2015 after I finish my professional affiliation at the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) and Equity Expansion International (EEI). I am supposed to return to Burundi to implement the professional and leadership skills I have learned in the US.

Unfortunately, there is now a political crisis in Burundi caused by the current president who wants to run for a third term, in violation of the constitution and Arusha peace accord. He has been the President of Burundi for the past ten years in two consecutive, five-year terms from 2005 to 2015.

During his second term, President Nkurunziza has acquired a widespread reputation for nepotism and corruption, assassination of innocent people, suppression of free speech and the private media, and establishment of an authoritarian regime.  By seeking to change the constitution in order to run for a third term, he has provoked protests by opposition parties and other civil organizations. Using police acting under his militia name “Imbonerakure,” the President has recently jailed more than 500 and killed more than 20 peaceful protestors. He has rejected advice not to run for the third term from the US Government, European Union and African Organization Union.

As a founder of Burundi Sustainable Development, Agenda 21 (a Burundi non-profit organization opposing all human rights violations, corruption, lack of leadership and bad governance), I fear for my life if I go back now to Burundi, because I am considered part of the opposition to the current President.

I have been a political target since 2011, when I fled Burundi and became a refugee for 2 years in Sweden. At that time I was a Technical Advisor and Committee Member in charge of the Nile River Initiative Program for Burundi. I was responsible for negotiating a new Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) on the Nile River. The purpose of the new CFA was to create a program which authorizes all countries sharing the Nile River to develop rational use water programs for the benefit of all member countries including Burundi, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

On May 14, 2010 Egypt and Sudan (“downstream” countries) refused to sign the new agreement, and tried to influence other “upstream” countries like Burundi and DRC by bribing officials of those countries not to sign the agreement. The result of this would have been to deny the right of upstream countries to develop their own irrigation and hydroelectric systems connected to the Nile River.

In January 2011, I convinced the protocol chief of the current President of Burundi who persuaded the President to join other countries in signing the CFA. Because I didn’t support the high-level Burundian officials who had been bribed by members of the Egyptian government (under former President Mubarek), these corrupt Burundian officials accused me of acting against the institution of the Burundian Presidency. One colonel named Leonard Ngendakumana, a former Director of Burundi’s Intelligence Agency, threatened me with imprisonment. I decided to seek asylum in August 2011 and lived in Sweden for two years.

In January 2013, I decided to go back home because the current President invited all Burundian refugees to return home, following his promise to the international community that he would establish peace and human rights, and that no returning refugee would be mistreated. But when I arrived in Burundi, the Minister of Water, Environment, Land Management and Urban Affairs refused to let me return to an appropriate professional position, even though I had brought home new skills in urban and land use and environmental planning.

I was sent by the Government to work in the countryside near the Tanzanian border. I was given an office without a chair, desk, computer or telephone, to make it clear to me that I would not have essential resources to perform my responsibilities, and that I should quit my work. Instead, I decided to create the “Burundi Sustainable Development, Agenda 21,” a national association dealing with human rights protection, fighting corruption, evaluating projects and programs affecting the Burundi community, training people in leadership and good governance, empowering thinking for change, and promoting broad-based ownership opportunities among people who want to be the pioneers of market-based economic democracy in Burundi.

Our Association, which operates with an all-volunteer staff, received its authorization signed by the Ministry of Interior Affairs on June 14, 2013. This was at the same time I was applying to the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program for 2014-2015.  I was selected among 176 qualified candidates out of 3,500 applicants from all over the world who applied to this competitive program.

Today I am a Fulbright scholar and Hubert H. Humphrey fellow in Agricultural Economics and Rural Development. I am seeking help so that I can provide leadership and exercise my professional skills within my country and other countries in Africa. Additionally, I need to be able to support myself and my family outside of Burundi, until I can return to my country to implement the knowledge and skills I have gained in the US from Cornell University and other institutions of learning.

Jean-Marie Bukuru, CESJ Research Fellow
Center for Economic and Social Justice
4318 North 31st Street, Arlington Virginia 22207
Tel: 540-449-9067 

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Moms around the globe
nurture good feelings,
light candles of hope.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


JV is okay.
Sitting on the bench just sucks.
Hit, pitch, field, compete!

Last night, Joe battled. While the score was 11-2, and he was the pitcher of record, with 3 runs scored in the 1st inning, 2 runs in the 2nd, and 2 runs in the third, the scoreboard didn't tell the full story.

The maple trees have shed their helicopter seeds, which litter the ground. The cars are covered in pollen, and Joe, who has a difficult time trusting that I, especially, or his mother know anything about anything, has refused to do anything about it, Allergies have been kicking Joe's butt, but he has refused to take any of the antihistamines or decongestants that we have offered him -- his sinuses are all inflamed, his head is pounding, and he probably now has a sinus infection.

One day last week, on Teacher Appreciation Day, with an Honor's English presentation due on Ibsen's The Doll House due, Joe tried to play his allergies and not feeling well into an excuse for an absence. While Joe was playing possum, Karen and I together reinforced the expectation that the only excuse for an absence was if he were barfing, bleeding, or dying. I played my X-box card, and threatened to get rid of it until he moves out of the house if he didn't either go with his mother to the doctor or make it to school. When Joe went to print out slides, as I was checking to see whether he was lying about having completed his presentation after I had been able to prod him until he had dragged himself into the shower, I found that Joe's computer had locked up. I was able to open Power Point and retrieve the last autosave from 30 minutes before he finished, so it was not a total loss. Joe arrived a little late, but was able to present. His X-box is still in it's hiding place, so I suppose I will have to release it back to him eventually.

Last evening, Joe played down with the JV team, and was the starting pitcher, and when he was done pitching, he got to play center field. I don't enjoy going to varsity games with my son sitting on the bench and only occasionally pinch running, so I rarely  go, but last night, I knew Joe would be at the top of the batting order, and I knew he would get a chance to play in the field, but I had no idea he was pitching. Last night, it was a perfect evening for baseball, hot dog aromas filled the air, and I was the proud papa. Joe was complaining about how poorly he felt from the moment I got there, and he had not eaten all day. He was visibly on edge, leaning against the fence or whatever would prop him up, partly from the stress of pitching, and hitting at the top of the batting order, partly with the stress of other players looking up to him, and partly because he just felt awful. Joe would come to me at the fence at the end of every inning and tell me how badly he felt, but knowing that playing is a privilege and that opportunities are as fleeting as dust in the wind, I kept pointing toward the field, grinning, and growling at him to get back out there and tough it out.

Joe's velocity on his pitches was in the high seventies to low eighties, which seemed at least five to ten miles an hour faster than the other pitchers. He had command of the strike zone, and he was going after hitters, even though he wasn't mixing his speeds and locations as much as I remember him doing the last I watched him pitch, and was mostly throwing heat. The three runs in the first inning were unearned, because there were a number of fielding and throwing errors, but Joe held it together as hitters worked the counts full by staying alive with foul tips. Balls that were hit managed to find gaps. With the score 7-2 in the third inning and the bases having been loaded through a combination of bloop singles, and a few well hit fly balls, Joe went after the hitter with a pitch that went a little high and inside, which led to a passed ball, and Joe came to the plate to accept the throw from his catcher, which led to a run down, and Joe easily caught the runner.

At the plate, in his first plate appearance, Joe ripped a ball straight to the 3rd baseman. On his second opportunity at the plate, Joe hit a textbook single up the middle, just like his coach Chuck Hoyle has trained him to do, he stole second, was advanced on a fly to deep right, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Last night, the team hit the ball well, but most of the Atoms' hits found gloves, while most of the Titan's hits found gaps. That's just how it is in baseball sometimes. After the game, I talked with a father of a senior, whose son was hammering hits to the fence all night, but was only able to drive in 2 runs. Parents were enjoying watching their upper classmen, who perhaps felt a little like they were from the island of misfit toys, play JV with 9th and 10th graders.

In center field, Joe covered a lot of ground and was able to hold runners. During the fifth inning, Joe caught a long fly ball and threw the ball all the way over the catcher's head. If only he had been able to gun down the runner ...

After the game, Joe wouldn't eat his customary pizza. He ate chicken noodle soup and curled up on the couch. That Capitals allowed a goal with less than 2 minutes to play and lost a heartbreaker in the Garden in overtime. His mother covered him with a blanket because he felt cold.

Blue Bell Trail

Mabel's blue bell trail
winds along Accotink Creek --
Beltway blues flow past.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

No excuses, no regrets

I have often said this year that, despite his role in the Special Ed. Mafia that George is a redemptive character. It's not my place to condemn anyone. I therefore avoid doing so. I do my best not to harbor any grudges and leave the door open. Occasionally, I go unpunished for my open door policy -- my Uncle Harold loved to share these words of wisdom, "No good deed goes unpunished."

Today, George returned from his time in in-school-suspension, having missed Monday and Tuesday's lessons on coordinate points. After George began to bellow in frustration about not knowing how to plot points, I calmly gestured for him to step into the hall and reminded him that, as a result of his own decisions, he had missed lessons where I had introduced the parts of the coordinate plane, and modeled how to plot points. I asked George to please try to be patient and pay attention while I reviewed the parts of the coordinate plane and how to plot points before moving forward with a lesson on how to graph shapes on the coordinate plane.

George asked if he could come into my room during the Enrichment and Remediation period for which I do not hold a class, As my door is generally always open, I helped George point by point, line by line until he finished. Proud of his accomplishment, George asked if I would hang it up. He wondered about the red circle T, "Is that an F?" he asked, whereupon I explained that the circle T meant that the work had been done with teacher assistance, so I could not use it as an assessment. George seemed to enjoy hanging up his kite next to Suzette's Circle Graph.

"That's all I have ever wanted from you, I could hug you -- but I won't," I exclaimed.

Students have been responding to my no excuses, no regrets invitation to come to my room up to 5 days per week after school until May 22, the Friday before the state test. Some of those invitations have been made over the speaker phone, in conference calls with parents. Others have been made with just the suggestion that, perhaps, a call needed to be made.

Today, I helped somewhere around 10 students with their SOL prep packets after school. What I've been telling students is that, up until May 22'd I will do everything I can so that I will be able to end the year knowing I have done everything I could to make myself available to students, and would allow students to make corrections with my help until then, for full credit, because I did not want to end the year with any regrets, and did not want students to have any regrets. After the 22'nd I concluded, there was nothing I could do, because if students had not prepared themselves by that time, there would be no way for them to be ready by the 29th.

Yesterday, I learned from another student that, during lunch bunch, without my permission, Allen had grabbed an answer key so that he could "self-check" his work. I promptly began circling all of his problems for which he had shown no work and told him: "That's all right, I will mark any problems for which work is not shown as wrong, even if they are correct," This morning, I mentioned to him that I was planning to call his mom, not because he was in any trouble with me, but because I was disappointed about his decision, especially since he knows full well that I would allow him to make corrections up until the 22nd, and all I care about his that he understands what he is doing. Allen agreed to work with me after school on Friday, which is a reasonable consequence for him pretending to know something when he really did not know what he was doing.

Allen, who has been hearing my warnings all year not to be "Mr. 399, the kid who fails the test by one point," heard my no excuses, no regrets message loud and clear.

Today, there was buzz in the office about a parent of one of my students who wouldn't leave before he met with Dr. P. I was asked by another teacher if there was any problems that I was aware of. I replied, "maybe it's a good thing, because Mr. Hamza is very happy" with the progress his son has made, both academically, and socially.

Still haven't notified Mr. Farmer of everybody on my F list. Need to sleep, wake up, and grade. Tomorrow night, after the Friday after school session, I will rush over to watch my son play down with the JV team, since for once he won't be sitting on the bench. There is no slowing up.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Appreciated -- 
You don't know how much you are --
You make our world spin.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Same starting place, different outcomes

Rick Wormeli recently held an workshop at my school entitled, "Fair is not always equal," for which Dr. P came to my door after I had not responded to an email from Ms. Hendrix, his secretary, and personally invited me to attend, to my great surprise. School leaders have begun rolling out a new no zero grade book policy, as the grade book becomes increasingly transparent, with the parent portal set to open in September, and the necessity of communicating how students are doing goes real time.

My dad is convinced that Dr. P is an authentic leader, who would understand the Just Third Way if I presented it to him, and would see how it would enable students to feel invested in their own education. Dad frequently reminds me, as he did the other day, how Dr. P was willing to take a chance on me, despite a somewhat checkered past, largely because I tend to view education differently that many of my colleagues, having become an educator relatively late in life, and because of my unique background, which enables me to relate to students who want to lift themselves up. Being included by Dr. P in the Wormeli workshop sort of confirmed that I am there because I am a little different, and that my unlimited retake policy is aligned with best practices, though out of the mainstream.

The reason I hesitate to share big ideas such as the UAP Party Platform to my colleagues and to my administrators, to my father's disappointment, is that, frankly, I have always felt extremely vulnerable as an educator. For one, I am still learning my craft, and my work through lunch with students, work everyday after school with students, including Fridays is viewed by my colleagues as a sign of weakness. For two, I work with certain students who could be considered "career killers," students who have been unsuccessful in an academic setting for their entire life, who in 6th grade cannot read, write, or do math at grade level, and out of utter frustration, seem to have decided to do everything that they can to take everyone around them down with the full weight of their negative gravity as a sport, both students and teachers alike, as comedian thugs-in-training, as tyrannically ignorant members of "the Special Ed Mafia."

For students like George, a 6th grader who wears a plus, plus, plus-sized black tee shirt with skulls and the word "Sinister" on it, who has a habit of shaking down normal sized students for their lunch money and their snacks, who has never learned to modulate his voice in class, who finds it hilarious to sit in the teacher's chair and not get up when asked to do so, or put his finger in the teacher's face, who disrupts lunch bunch sessions and after school study sessions alike, learned helplessness, i.e., being "stuck on the escalator" has become a running joke on teachers. George knows that teachers are fully invested in his academic success, but he is not and he and his fellow members have made a game of it, so the other day when George asked where the materials for the lesson were, when he knew they were were materials for the lesson always are located, I refused to play his little game. Instead, I began walking George towards the room of Ms. Jay, the 6th grade disciplinarian, where I ran into Dr. P and Mrs. England and asked, "Do you remember, 'Stuck on an escalator?' Dr. P acknowledged that he did.

I replied, "This one is stuck on the escalator" and preceded to explain how George was acting as if he did not know what to do, when we have a routine and everybody knows the routine. Mrs. England made a polite suggestion to George and me, I smiled, and George and I returned to class. I went to the table and handed George his materials, and returned to the lesson on identifying and classifying quadrilaterals, whereupon he promptly threw the materials on the floor, explaining, "Oh, I already have that."

It's that time of year and we were recently asked to make our Student of the Year selections, In the hall, I was asked by my Instructional Coach how I was doing, and in reflecting, I was able to find great joy and pride in the growth of certain students who have accepted my unlimited retake policy, but frustration about those I have been unable to sway, Patty, for example, and her brother Tarsus, both started the year in self-contained classes, but their outcomes could not be more different.

Patty, who had been retained sometime when she was in elementary school, has failed almost every quiz she has taken on the first try. Despite her frustration, Patty throughout the year kept coming back to make corrections, one question at a time, and her work spaces show evidence that she is starting to get it,

Tarsus, on the other hand, started the year probably a little ahead of his older sister, but Tarsus has allowed other students to call him "Training Wheels," seems to have accepted the identity of somebody who wears a stupid grin, is always joking around and rarely asks questions, and never makes corrections,

Patty, unlike her brother, decided that conditions in a self-contained class, where she was surrounded by a bunch of numskulls, was unacceptable to her. Patty asked to be moved into Mr. Lee's class at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, and despite my concerns, the move was made. On Thursday, we did a lesson on Circle Graphs, which provides a culminating activity that shows understanding of fraction, decimal, percent relationships, or what Wormeli would say demonstrates "proficiency, not mastery." Patty's work with Circle Graphs was a clear demonstration of proficiency. On his Quarter 3 District Test, Tarsus did not even write on a workspace, which demonstrates a total lack of respect for the process. I explained to Patty why she was my choice to become my Student of the Year, and in my explanation compared what she had accomplished to what her brother has done, i.e., essentially nothing all year. Patty asked me to call her father and explain to him what I had just told her. As I had throughout the year, I called Patty's dad and once again we had one of those heart to heart conversations and both commiserated.

In a funny way, Wormeli explained that current grading policies are ineffective at best, and at worst, morally bankrupt. I reflected that students like George are byproducts of a defective, developmentally inappropriate system which enabled him to progress into the 6th grade math, despite a lack of proficiency with 3rd grade concepts, despite an inability to make socially appropriate contributions to a classroom community.  Wormeli explained the moral imperative that justifies standards based grading, and the paradigm shift that needs to follow, with urgency, because the loss rate of potentially contributing members of society is unacceptable, and too many students are checking out instead of digging in.

After I formally wrote up George for spraying Windex in his friend's face upon entering my classroom, Ms. Jay expressed her concerns with me in the hall that I was using words like "infuriated," and in the process was "giving all the power" to students like George whenever I showed frustration. She also cited the three year burn out syndrome and asked whether I needed a day off to to cool off. I was reminded to keep it light.