Holding On, Letting Go by Richard Botchwey

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey and I met in Salerno, Italy this past summer when we both attended the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Conference. Poets gathered from all over the world to share ideas, read poetry, and brainstorm how we can be effective agents of social change with our poetry. Richard stood out for many reasons, including his warm and welcoming smile. I immediately felt comfortable talking with Richard and wanted to know him better.  But what made me want to share his voice on my blog is his amazing story of survival and the way he has used his own trials and painful experiences as an orphan to help other orphans.

Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.
Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.

I asked Richard to write a blog post on the theme of holding on and letting go. Here is his take on that topic.

I think what has really kept me focused and always pressing on is this. When my mother was alive, we had no option but to eat whatever food she cooked. And I mean whatever.

Who are you to say that you don’t like something, especially any food on the table? My mother wouldn’t mind you. Who are you to pretend as though you are allergic to a particular food? You will sleep hungry. She wouldn’t waste her precious time pampering you. As a result, none of us ever went to her crying for toys, a particular type of shoes, or anything kids of our present day are zealous for. We wore whatever clothes she bought. We wore whatever shoes, belts, or underpants—anything she would get us. For shoes and clothes, she always bought twice our size for the reason that we would grow into them.

And we went to church and gatherings always looking like some caricatures. We were so embarrassed by our clothes, we felt like we were covered in blisters. 
No matter the number of holes in our clothes, despite their magnitude, we remained calm. We had to remain calm despite the mimicking and mockery because it was insane to cry.

It was suicidal to bother our mother to get us things she had no money for—like toothbrushes, as if without them we couldn’t grow. Kids in our world today ought to be grateful. We never had toothbrushes. Forget about toothpaste. And we didn’t bother Mom. We used chewing sticks, because she and my father both used them. She knew that whether we had toothbrushes and toothpaste  or not we would grow. For her, our growth was more important than things.

When I look back, although Mom died about 17 years ago, I think I’m still angry. We thought she was being so hard on us. We felt she was denying us the joy children expect from their parents. But no. Mom was doing the right thing even though we saw ourselves as victims of pain and suffering, poverty and hunger. She saw us as victors. Now I realize that she was training us to become responsible adults although we saw her treatment to be very brutal.

When I look at children in our world today, I marvel. When I look at American children, European children, Asian and African children—who are blessed with many things—I expect them to be grateful. I expect them to hold their parents in high esteem for the effort they are making to get their children a life they never had. I say, applause for all the moms and dads. And especially for single mothers. They are treasures.

The other day I was at Accra Mall (a mall in Ghana). I saw a scene between a mother and her child that I had also seen while I was waiting to board my flight in the Istanbul airport last year. A little boy was pestering his mother to get him a toy car.  This wonderful mother didn’t give in. She stayed in the queue. When we finally boarded the plane, the little boy was still crying and sniveling. And I could tell that this elegant looking mother was greatly disturbed, because her son’s tears were attention-grabbing and quite frustrating. When we landed at Heathrow Airport, she rushed into a toyshop and bought her son the car he wanted. I didn’t see this mother to be rich. The little boy was just fortunate. As I was passing by, I saw the price tag and I was thunderstruck. £200 sterling? For a toy car? That’s my yearly rent back home.

I have also seen kids crying out loud for pizza in pizza shops. “Mom, buy me pizza.” I have seen children crying for all kinds of things. “Mom, I need chocolate.” “Dad, I need a new iPhone.” “Mom, I want to go to this-or-that University.” If we had said things like that to my mother, she would have given us a reason to shut up, if not a slap.

Sometimes I wish I were in that little child’s shoes. Anytime I see kids—and even some young people—behaving in that same way, it irks me. Sometimes, this feeling makes me mad. It makes me feel like I was imprisoned in my childhood days. It makes me feel like I missed my lucky days. For me, I see it as if my parents ruined my best days. But no. I have come to realize that Mom did her best for me .

And my best days are still ahead of me. So there is no need for me to blame my mother for whatever she did or didn’t do. Because whatever she did or didn’t do, I have grown, and I am still growing.  This realization has helped me to let go of the pains I suffered, the shame that befell me when I was growing up. This realization has helped me to put my past behind me. I used to get mad at my parents for failing to take us to the cinema, take us abroad, or even take us the mall to shop. But my parents never even heard of a mall.

Now that I am a man, I appreciate the efforts of Mom and Dad. They did not harm me. Instead they helped me. And this is why I cannot hold on to my childhood insecurities. Why hold on to those thoughts and feelings when you can let them go?  My past is behind. Today is mine to enjoy. Stop holding on to your childhood setbacks, pains, insecurities. Cut your attachments. When we hold on to the terrible experiences we had as children, we only ruin our future. We become hurtful adults with no sense of belonging. Today, let go.

Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana
Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana

“The place of great promise at times is the place of great pain as well. What you can do is more important that what you cannot do.”

~Richard Botchwey, The Tale of An Orphan: A Lesson to Learn

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey is an internationally published Ghanaian writer, a poet, and a social entrepreneur. His first book, The Tale of an Orphan a Lesson to Learn, was officially published in the United States on April 1st, 2012, by E-Magazine Publishing.  He has appeared on the Pauline Long Show (SKY TV UK) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in United Kingdom as well as several television and radio shows in Ghana. Through his non-profit organization, Orphan Trust Movement,  Richard has helped many young people across Ghana with his amazing life story. He is currently working on several charitable projects and writing his next book, If I Were an American.

To learn more about Richard Botchwey and his work, please visit his website at http://richardbotchwey.com.

Reblogging: Education Alchemy on Privatization

Today I am reposting my friend Morna McDermott‘s blog on teacher appreciation. Moran is a courageous education professor at Towson University in Baltimore and a fierce defender of the creativity and humanity in the classroom. If you want to know some of the more hidden aspects of “personalized learning” and “education reform,” Morna is the person in the know. Moran is also one of the leaders for United Opt Out, a movement to stop standardized testing and to resist the corporate takeover of public education.

Step-by-Step Privatization and Profit: ESSA Delivers Schools to Wall Street with a Bow on Top

Posted: June 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


Social impact bond projects are very definitely privatisation. PFI/PPP projects have effectively privatised the design, finance, construction and maintenance of much public infrastructure. Now social impact bond projects potentially privatise the design, finance, service delivery, management, monitoring and evaluation of early intervention and prevention policies.”

Step One- Curriculum: Common Core standards created one set of standards (modules) (originating from a global agenda circa 1985) For a full history of support for this outline click the link.

According to a promotional flyer created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

“Education leaders have long talked about setting rigorous standards and allowing students more or less time as needed to demonstrate mastery of subjects and skills. This has been more a promise than a reality, but we believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences.” 

So that…

Step Two-Testing: There can be one consistent numerical metric by which to measure student outcomes (PARCC)

So that…

Step Three- We can have modularized Competency Based Assessment: Instruction and ongoingtesting can be delivered via technology ….

Competency-based education has been part of Achieve’s strategic plan for a few years, … states and national organizations that have made this topic a priority: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, iNACOL, Digital Learning Now, CCSSO and NGA.”

Pearson. “With competency-based education, institutions can help students complete credentials in less time, at lower cost.”

So that…

Step Four– We can have Pay for Success (or) Social Impact Bonds (evaluated for their “success” via the competency/outcomes based model) replace the funding infrastructure of public schools….

CTAC, the Boston-based Institute for Compensation Reform and Student Learning at the Community Training and Assistance Center partners with departments of education to develop and promote student learning outcomes (SLO’s). William Slotnik is executive director of CTAC. He advocates for VAM and merit pay schemes. “William Slotnik,… has argued that performance-based compensation tied directly to the educational mission of a school district can be a lever to transform schools.”

According the National Governors Association (NGA): “CBE can be a way for states to pay for the outcomes they want if supported by a funding formula that allocates dollars based on student learning, not simply time spent in a classroom or full-time equivalency” http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/2015/1510ExpandingStudentSuccess.pdfm

ESSA was designed to open the flood gates for neoliberal profiteers to not only profit from public educations services (I,e. tests or curriculum) but to completely own it. See Fred Klonsky who concurs with Mercedes Schneider that “these bonds are an open door for the exploitation of children who do not score well on tests.” Social Impact Bonds have been criticized as a central piece of ESSA as noted by BATS: “‘Pay for Success’ from Every Student Succeeds Act  as it is located in Title 1, Part D, Section 4108, page 485. Social Impact Bonds favor financial investors and NOT KIDS! In Title IV, A in the section titled Safety and Healthy Students, page 797, Social Impact Bonds are defined as ‘Pay for Success.’ Investors are paid off when a student IS NOT referred to special education. ”

The entire system of reforms over the last three decades have been a step by step sequence of actions designed to privatize public education as a for- profit enterprise of Wall Street investments.

Social impact bonds are a development in the mutation of privatization … The new emphasis on financialising and personalising services to create new pathways for the mutation of privatisation recognised that health, education and social services could not be sold off in the same way as state owned corporations. It ensured marketisation and privatisation were permanent and not dependent on outsourcing, which could be reversed by terminating or not renewing contracts (Whitfield, 2012a and 2012b).”

Again, the NGA: “In addition, leadership, promotion, and pay structures might look different in a CBE system that asks educators to take on new, specialized roles. Underpinning many current policies are labor contracts, which specify the educator’s role based on specified amounts of class time. Such policies would not only be unnecessary in a CBE system but would significantly impede the adoption of such a system.”

You dismantle labor unions on a global scale, which was, the goal of ALEC and the World Bank back when they began devising these policies. The following is an outline from the World Bank link on Global Education Reform,  summarizing what they think are key issues:

      • Decentralization & School-Based Management Resource Kit
        Directions in Development: Decentralization Series
    • Financing Reform
      • Vouchers
      • Contracting
      • Private Sector
      • Charter Schools
      • Privatization
      • Private Delivery of Services
    • Teacher Reform
      • On-line resources related to teacher career development
      • Teacher Evaluation as part of Quality Assurance
    • Curriculum Reform
      • Country Examples of Curriculum Reforms
      • Accountability in Education
      • Standard in Education

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

One report I found by Pauline Lipman (2012)  summarizes all of this quite nicely:

 “Under the Global Agreement on Trade in Services, all aspects of education and education services are subject to global trade. The result is the global marketing of schooling from primary school through higher education. Schools, education management organizations, tutoring services, teacher training, tests, curricula online classes, and franchises of branded universities are now part of a global education marketEducation markets are one facet of the neoliberal strategy to manage the structural crisis of capitalism by opening the public sector to capital accumulation. The roughly $2.5 trillion global market in education is a rich new arena for capital investment …and testing is a prominent mechanism to steer curriculum and instruction to meet these goals efficiently and effectively.”

The 2011 ALEC Annual Conference Substantive Agenda on Education shows their current interests:

“…the Task Force voted on several proposed bills and resolutions, with topics including: digital learning, the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, curriculum on free enterprise, taxpayers’ savings grants, amendments to the existing model legislation on higher education accountability, and a comprehensive bill that incorporates many components of the landmark school reforms Indiana passed this legislative session. Attendees will hear a presentation on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ initiative to grow great schools, as well as one on innovations in higher education.”

According to one European white paper: “Philanthrocapitalism is the embedding of neoliberalism into the activities of foundations and trusts. It is a means of marketising and privatising social development aid in the global south. It has also been described as Philanthropic Colonialism … It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity. But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The replacement of public finance and grants from public/foundations/trusts to community organisations, voluntary organisations and social enterprises with ‘social investment’, requiring a return on investment, means that all activities must be profitable. This will have a profound impact on the ability to regenerate to meet social and community needs. The merging of PPPs, impacting investing and philanthrocapitalism would be complete!”

School’s Out, Vacation’s Here!

I love June–the weather, the strawberries, and the end of classes. June has always meant time for lots of reading, swimming, and vacation. And this June, I’ve decided to take a vacation from blogging.

Toad Hall's cabin by the pond
Toad Hall’s cabin by the pond

Since my book, The Altar of Innocence, came out in January of 2015, I’ve blogged every week, with either my own thoughts or the thoughts of several wonderful guest bloggers. Like many writers, I work hard to offer fresh ideas to readers and to engage people on a variety of topics. But for the next couple of months, I will be reposting some of the favorite blogs that continually get lots of readers.  I’ll also post several of my favorite poems for reflection. Then in September, I’ll start back up with blogging again.

Because I’ve been a teacher for my whole career, I’m attuned to the school calendar. So stopping for a break in June and resuming in September feels right to me. I will be working on my new book of poetry, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom, and planning a book launch for the fall. I hope to see many new and old friends at the readings, and most of all, I hope everyone will enjoy reading the new book as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Here’s a preview of my new collection from the latest edition of Dragonfly, a magazine put out by HopeWorks in Howard County. They graciously published three of my poems. I’ll be participating in their launch reading on June 16, 2016, at 7pm at the Owen Brown Community Center in Columbia, Maryland. Come on over if you’re around.

Freshman’s Lament

Because no one saw him steal in the side entrance
and creep into the locker room
that echoed with the silence of steel boxes.

Because no one saw him grab the girl
as she stuffed her blue gym suit into a duffle bag.

Because no one saw him shove her to the floor
and steal her freshman smile.

Because no one heard her cry
echo through the deserted basement.

Because all the mysteries of sex and power were twined for us,
as inseparable as the white laces of our saddle shoes,

we blamed her for what happened. All that year, we whispered and jeered,
smug in our little homeroom cliques.

Who would want to have sex with her?
She’s so plain. And she’s fat.

I wish I could hold her now, apologize
for all I didn’t understand
about violence and force and shame.

I’d sit with her at lunch time, promise to stand by her.
Give her back
her innocence.

Something Tamed, Something Wild: Poetry from Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter is my all-time favorite singer—-I own at least five of her albums. If her albums were paths thorough the woods, they would be well-worn and smooth from all the hours that I’ve listened to them.  Her lyrics speak to me of shared experiences and secret longings, with humor and grace.

Last week when I heard that she had a new album, Something Tamed and Something Wild, I bought it immediately. You can listen to the song and read the lyrics. Enjoy this amazing music!

Something Tamed and Something Wild

Here’s a shoebox full of letters bound up neatly with some twine
Each one was like a diamond, now the jewel is lost to time
My reward is in the knowing that I held it in my hands for a little while

What else are there but the treasures in your heart? Something tamed, something wild?

For every time that I’ve been foolish when I’d wished that I’d been wise The power of regret still gets me right between the eyes
And sometimes I want to weep with nothing but the tears of a little child

What else are there but the lessons in your heart? Something tamed, something wild?

Here’s a map I’ve memorized of every where I’ve ever been
And the faces of everyone I’ve loved and left to try again
I couldn’t make out what they were saying, so instead I listened hard to what’s inside

What else is there but the voice inside your heart? Something tamed, something wild?

Some nights I’m woken up by something stirring in my chest
It’s a feeling I’ve no name for, it’s hard to catch my breath
I’m staring down the great big lonesome as I’m listening for the dwindling of time

What else are there but the echoes in your heart? Something tamed, something wild?

So the things that matter to me now are different from the past
I care less about arriving than just being in the path
of some light carved out of nothing, the way it feels when the universe has smiled

What else is there but the beating of your heart? Something tamed, something wild?

Here’s the shoebox full of letters, here’s the map I won’t forget
The voices and the lessons and the signals that connect us
Manifested to the spirit, way deep down where it goes unseen by the eye

What else is there but the love inside your heart? To a life like a firework’s to a spark
Over and above you in it’s arc
Something tamed, something wild?