My friend Tanika is around 25—

more like exactly a quarter century—

and she says she was born with a silver heart.

That ain’t nothin’ declares Elijah

who says he was born with a gold tooth.

He’s 80—more or less.

She says a gold tooth can fall out

and then what do you got?


He says then the tooth fairy

will pitch it up to shine

among fairy stars that will sparkle

from heaven and reach down to

tickle his mouth until

he can’t help but grin and be happy.

Gold teeth be forever

whether inside or out.

He flashes a smile.

Tanika says some people are born

with a silver spoon but

thieves can steal silver spoons and then

there’s nothin’ left and then you gotta

stir your coffee with your fingers.

No one can swipe my silver heart she says.

It can tarnish with bad hurtin’ air and meanness

but I just rub it

polish it

shine it until folks that fling darts

are blinded.

And you can reflect on that, Elijah.

He threw a smile aimed at her silver heart

and it came back brighter in its reflection.

© Bonnie Schupp

Memorial Day 2009

A cruise on the John Brown liberty ship, led to this article by David Ettlin about a WWII veteran who returns six decades later to sail once again on the ship.

© by Bonnie Schupp)

And here's another perspecitve that goes beyond the usual Memorial Day discussion. Darrel Nash is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis:

I have paid more attention to Memorial Day this year than for quite a few years When I was growing up, all of my family went to the cemetery to watch the American Legion put on a program honoring those that have died in wars.

Fred’s talk [Fred Muir] and Russ’s [Russ Savage] sermon [Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis] got me to thinking about this day more. Then last night we watched the Memorial Day commemoration on the National Mall.

It is most appropriate and important that we honor those that have died in battle and those that are injured and their families sometimes for years, even generations. It was very gratifying to see a large part of the Mall event devoted to the sacrifices of those that have been in harm’s way and were not killed, yet carry the physical, mental, and emotional scars. It recognized the extreme sacrifices of their families whose entire lives are now devoted to the injured one. In Russ’s sermon, he told of the diary his father kept in the midst of battle in Europe during WWII. His is an eloquent testimony to the tragedy and the stupidity of war.

Yes, we should honor those who have sacrificed, yet also recognize that wars at their roots are caused by failures--sins if you will. Failures of politicians. These failures include greed, self-aggrandizement, pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, retribution, unwillingness to accept that there are other valid points of view. And one more. Some politicians like war. Individuals don’t start wars. Those in power at the national level, and now some non-state politicians start wars. A person can drive down the highway with a bumper sticker saying “I love war,” but that is not what starts wars.

Those in power start wars, then they call on those without power to fight them. In order to get citizens to fight, the war must be cast in terms—for the U.S.-- of defending our freedom, protecting those people back home, children, women, elders, etc.

Even public television this week, in honoring the war dead, casts the honoring in terms of the dead of all wars protecting our freedom—protecting America.

This line puts all wars on the same basis, all are justified. Yet, it is hard to say which wars, if indeed any could be said to have the purpose of protecting our freedom. Not Iraq, not the Gulf War, not Viet Nam, not Korea—it was supposed to be to get North Korea back north of the 38th parallel, not World War I, not any of the incursions we made into Mexico—these were to get some territory for the US, not wars with the North American Indians, these were to get some land for non-Indians. So what do we say about these military cemeteries? We need to honor the sacrifices without sending the message that those that perpetrated the wars always did so to protect American freedom.

I propose a Memorial Day for politicians who are peace-makers. Persons that come to mind right away are, Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell, and Jimmy Carter. (I know, they are still alive, so don’t call it “Memorial”) Their impact is beyond imagining. How many people have not been killed, how many families have not lost husbands, wives, partners, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, best friends?

How many politicians in other countries, Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Burma, Iraq, South Africa……. should be honored as peace-makers?

These should be our political models. Those that intercept the idea that the way ahead is not war and violence, but talking and sharing and working toward solutions that all sides can accept. War begets war. Peace with justice is sustaining.

(Thank you Darrell for reminding us.)

Creative Photoshop

Speaking of creativity...

...check out this link that shows some outstanding work in Photoshop with some whimsical creativity.

Example above created by Christophe Huet.
Check out his photo stream on Flickr.

What They're Saying About Creativity

Continuing on my latest posts about creativity, here are some quotations to help you further consider what creativity is:

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. (Joseph Chilton Pearce)

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric. (Bertrand Russell)

Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought. (Albert Szent-Gyorgi)

The diversions are what dial up your ability to see patterns between things. Creativity is the observation of patterns. (Richard Wurman)

The things we fear most in organizations--fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances--are the primary sources of creativity (Margaret J. Wheatley)

Creativity...the power to connect the seemingly unconnected. (William Plomer)

Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature. (Eric Hoffer)

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous. (Bill Moyers)

Clang Delta - Get Creative

Clang Delta

Bonnie's 10-Step Program to Creative Thinking

Create solely for the joy of it.

Let curiosity drive you.

Abandon your need to fit in.

Nourish the child in you and let this child come out to play.

Give yourself permission to be eccentric, even outrageous.

Dismiss the judge in you that sets rules and boundaries.

Experience something new each day.

Look at the world as if you were an ant, egret or alien.

Take time to vegetate without being afraid you are wasting time.

Ask what if.

(Also posted at Will Walnut's site here.)

© Bonnie J. Schupp

Creativity and Education

Last week I attended a seminar at AVAM on Arts, Creativity & Outrageous Education Ideas. It confirmed that much of what I did before retiring as a teacher was effective—when I was given time to teach creatively and include the arts. Here are just two examples:

Music in Language Arts Class

During our 7th grade literature unit that included medieval legends, students were responsible for research and then presenting a special project. Being familiar with Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, I liked to give students choices of how to present their research to their class. With some units, they created games or puppet shows. Other times they created books or posters.

One of the project choices in the medieval legends unit was to focus on medieval music and to present it in some way to the class. In one class, one boy worked on music. He was a problem child in a number of ways. He was disruptive by antagonizing his fellow classmates. The more they tried to bully him, the more he encouraged it. Of course, I tried to stop it in my classroom, but I’m sure things happened out of my sight.

This boy asked if he could bring in his piano keyboard when it was his turn to present medieval music and I said yes. Something happened in the dynamics when he presented. Instead of playing the role of a bullying victim, he became a teacher. He taught them what he’d learned in his research and demonstrated it with his musical skills.

The class was in awe and asked him many questions afterward. One student summed up the changed this way, “I always thought you were just a nerdy loser. I didn’t know you were so cool.”

Who Am I?

Several years ago while I was still teaching, a former student came to me during Back to School night. He asked if I remembered him. This young bearded adult resembled no twelve-year-old I had taught and I asked his name. This I did remember when he told me his name. I remembered also that he had missed a lot of time from school.

That night he told me that he'll always remember my class, that it was his favorite. Since he had failed my class in spite of all the strategies I tried, I was flabbergasted to hear this.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what it was that he remembered about my class. He said it was the hero/monster book project assigned in my 7th grade class. He told me he still had the bound copy of his group's book and that it was one thing that he really enjoyed in middle school.

Beowulf and Monsters 

That year, after reading a modified version of Beowulf, I had divided each class into groups of four for a special project. Each group was responsible for working together to create a book which would have an original hero story that included a monster. Students were given instructions to include specific elements in their story. Besides the illustrations and main story, other elements included book jacket information, table of contents, and an interview with the Grendel’s mother. (Grendel and his mother were monsters.)

This project, truly an activity which reflected the critical thinking that should be taught in every classroom had captured this former student's imagination. I'm sorry to say after that year, I no longer had time in the curriculum to include this project. It took too long and I would not have had time to do the required teaching for the MSPAP tests. I was responsible for teaching the test jargon and strategy, giving practice tests, doing unit assessments for five classes—over and over again until it was time for the test.

Connecting With School

There was no time for the creative book project. And even so, the time it would have taken to work on the group projects and print and assemble the books might have been in vain anyway because my copy allotment would probably have run out with making so many book copies for the students.

There was no time to teach in a way that I knew turned kids on and connected them with literature, writing and school.


Albert Einstein said that "imagination is more important than knowledge" but those who power the educational system policy must not have discovered this yet. Could it be they lack the imagination to envision what the education of our children could be?

The student who visited me years later during Back to School Night understood the importance of imagination.

Creativity - How Ideas Happen

Birth of Ideas

Fertilize the Mind

How is an idea born? Paradoxically, the answer remains an enigma even to those who spend their lives creating ideas.

Designers who talk about their creativity in the book, A Smile in the Mind, by Beryl McAlhone, all work with basic elements of the creative process: fluency, the process of developing a multitude of ideas; flexibility, the ability to see different approaches; originality the result of new combinations; and elaboration, building on these ideas. However, none of these designers can concretely explain how original connections happen. There is no road map, no template to follow. Instead, people use various techniques to fertilize the mental ground where these ideas grow.

Getting Started

Like many designers, Milton Glaser starts with words and, as in any communication process, he begins with what the audience knows. He uses familiar clichés as the medium to establish the context. However, this is only the beginning of the process. "You must use clichés to set the stage and then twist it in such a way to disrupt it." Once the audience recognizes the cliché, the context, then the cliché needs to be "detoxified." Glaser discusses the importance of shaking up expectation. He says the successful execution of wit is the "penetration of the immunity of an audience." When the cliché they understand does not follow through in the expected way, it breaks through the immunity. This wit is what people remember.

There are a number of creative "models" (CPS Model, James Higgins Model, de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, etc.) which attempt to be templates for the creative thought process. Glaser, however, talks about how creativity is not a rational process. You cannot generate ideas if you are traveling a linear path. Often ideas are born not only off the path but also on different levels. Picture an idea as a living thing meandering on a flat piece of paper on a desk. In this scenario, there is a limit to where the idea may travel.

Now picture an idea meandering in and out on the crinkles of a balled up paper, taking flight on a ribbon of steam from a coffee cup, grabbing the sound wave of a ringing phone and then hopping back on the ball of paper. Infinite possibilities abound on this second journey. The important thing is to keep an open mind about how and where ideas may travel.

Be Ready

Some people use certain mechanisms for triggering ideas, such as talking with others, starting something new, sleeping, smelling apples or walking. I find that most of my ideas come while walking or driving. Usually when I walk, I carry pen and paper to jot down ideas before they are lost. On several occasions, while driving I've become so wrapped up in the flow of ideas from so many directions that I have wound up lost in a stranger's driveway. Glaser suggests that ideas happen when you allow yourself, in a relaxed state, to go off on tangents. Most of the designers in this book say their ideas come when they are not thinking about the project. They allow the subconscious to work and make connections. Bill Moyers reminds us that you must "pay attention to your preconscious self that slips messages to you, much as a note is slid under the door."

Glaser says it helps to place yourself in a state of readiness. In order to discover concealed relationships, you must be ready to accept them. This cannot be willed. "Ideas happen when you release your mind from its willful demand for something to happen." You cannot insist on getting an idea, for instance, by four o'clock this afternoon. I've always understood this. As an undergraduate student at Frostburg, I became upset when my creative writing teacher announced that we would take a creative writing exam at a scheduled time. Creativity does not happen by arriving at a two o'clock exam and following a prompt to create on demand. I took a big risk and protested this philosophy. I showed up at the scheduled test time, ignored the creative writing exam, and wrote about why I was refusing to take the exam and how I perceived the flow of the creative process. What I wrote must have made sense to the professor because I received an A for the course.

Filling in the Spaces

Finally, Glaser looks at design as narration and suggests that the most important element is what is left out. It is important for the viewer to complete the communication by connecting with what is not said, with what is not shown. This pulls the audience in as collaborators in the creative process. Many teachers complain about the lack of student imagination and creativity. David Thornburg calls creativity the "new scarcity" in educational institutions and Jonas Salk says our future depends on creativity. Perhaps today's students may not be challenged enough to fill in spaces. Audience participation might also be the reason why reading a book is almost always better than seeing a movie. The reader must fill in more spaces when reading, while movies tend to complete things for the viewer. When the audience participates, there is an intrinsic sense of satisfaction in making the connection. And often this connection does not stop with the "aha" moment. The audience not only remembers the message, but also uses imagination for further elaboration of their own.

It is the process of filling in spaces, putting yourself in a state of readiness and giving yourself permission to meander that fertilizes the mind for creative growth. You may be unable to describe the birth of an idea but you can certainly put out the welcome mat.

© Bonnie J. Schupp

Creativity - AVAM

AVAM, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, is a celebration of creativity. Rebecca Hoffberger, its founder and director, joyously embraces creativity and all those who open themselves to its possibilities. My husband David and I are AVAM members and we share Rebecca’s spirit.

Mind, Brain and Education

Today I attended one of many events at the museum, a seminar entitled “Arts, Creativity & Other Outrageous Education Ideas!” This was in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University School of Education Neuro-Education Initiative and Council on K-12 Education’s “Learning, Arts and the Brain Summit.”

Although I’m retired from teaching and this program was presented to a room full of teachers, I continue to hold an interest in learning and creativity. So I attended and I’m glad I did.

As I listened to speakers Jerome Kagan from Harvard University, Alice Wilder who is producer of Blues Clues, Keri Smith who has written several outrageous creativity-oriented books and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek from Temple University, I felt good about the way I integrated the arts into my language arts curriculum and the reasons for doing this.

Intrusion of Testing and Content Alone

I can’t say that I did much of this during the last two years of my teaching career, however, because teaching by that time was confined tightly to teaching the language of the standardized tests, practicing for the real test over and over again, assessing the practice tests and then taking the tests. There just wasn’t time to do much of anything else. (You can read unorganized thoughts and rants I wrote while teaching.)

Jerome Kagan passionately made a case for teaching the arts. He spoke about cutbacks in recent years and how this has affected us as a society. He said that without the arts, “subjective feelings become subordinate to logic” and there is a “growing reluctance to anger any group.” You see, arts has to do with pushing boundaries, angering people and making us thing. Without the arts, our school children and their teachers live in a small corral with tight boundaries. This is not conducive to learning. It is not conducive to risk-taking, exploring and making new discoveries. “we’ve upset the balance between correct and intuitive.”

Kagan reminded us of the need for a vacation from the correctness and rank that has been imposed on us.

Keys Changing Hands

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple, talked about how the “arts and playful activities create opportunities that are pregnant with learning.” She quoted from Daniel Pink in talking about the future of education, “The keys to the kingdom are changing hands toward empathizers and creators.” Things are changing. Needs are changing.

Hirsh-Pasek listed the skills that will be needed for the future—skills and opportunities that we should be providing for students:

  • collaboration
  • communication
  • content
  • critical thinking
  • creative innovation
  • confidence (to take risks)

Alice Wilder, producer of Nick Jr.’s Blues Clues talked about the importance of engaging children with learning and showed examples through Blues Clues, Super Why, and Think It, Ink It, an innovative approach to help children imagine and write books.

I was intrigued by Keri Smith’s talk. She spoke of her disenchantment with school, while at the same time finding creativity when she stayed home. She told of the rewards of risk taking. She shared with us excerpts from her books, Wreck This Journal and How to be an Explorer of the World—truly wild and innovative approaches to creativity. Check out her website to explore some of her ideas.


If you haven’t seen the latest exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum, it’s well worth spending several hours exploring The Marriage of Art, Science & Philosophy. As Rebecca says, "It is a dance between imagination and reality." She also reminds us to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. You’ll find it at AVAM.