Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

To Resolve Better, Forgive Better

Coming into 2019 everyone is thinking about how they are going to change, including me. The problem is not the goals: they are all terrific. The problem isn't even motivation: initially that is the easy part. The problem isn't even habit, although to be sure, changed habits change lives.

The problem is forgiveness.

As a parent, as a teacher, I always tried to be the President of the Infinite Chances Club and tried, imperfectly, to forgive all of my students and restart the clock as often as necessary. With myself: not so much.

Going into any new project, personal or professional, I now understand absolutely that privately I am more likely the President of the Dumb, Fat and Ugly Club than of the Infinite Chances Club. To change this I must change my internal dialogue from acidic self-laceration to something that approaches the gentleness and forgiveness I can often find for students and others. I am learning to tell myself that the imperfect mess that I make is not a reflection of the imperfect mess that I am but rather a reflection of the imperfect mess that is process itself. To remind myself over and over again what I teach and what I even wrote in my book: failure is only failure when we quit: until then it is just process.

Process is a mess, and usually needs to be, but what it does not need to be is a miserable mess. The new mantra, the new internal dialogue I tell myself, and keep telling myself is a notice read on a teacher’s door and have been using in teacher and administrator trainings ever since. It read: In the end everything will be ok; if it is not ok, it is not yet the end.

Forgiving others is hard but often not as hard as forgiving ourselves. Since I now know that in the end everything will be ok, in 2019 I am going to resolve to be more forgiving of myself, for the mess that I am and for the mess that I make…that, and maybe lose 10 pounds. I invite you to make the same resolution. That is to be more forgiving of you. You don’t need to lose the weight. You are just fine the way you are!

Headlines Can Be Misleading

Much of the news grabbing reactions extolling the actions of Kim Davis is prefaced by a direct quote from Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he explains the difference between just and unjust laws. In his letter he states, quite directly that a "just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law."

Of course to stop with the 'headline,' as many commentators seem to do, allows a simple acceptance of a single interpretation of what King meant by "God's Law" that can end up being a misinterpretation, 

Good writers understand that it is the clarification of abstractions that matter, and good readers often hang around for the deeper explanation.  This is a part of the actual interpretation that King wrote that follows the above referenced quote.  I suggest that anyone, who after reading, this who thinks Reverend King would support Kim Davis' discrimination against Gay persons seeking to legally marry should take some reading lessons and read it again.

"A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful."

The complete text can be read here: Letter From a Birmingham Jail

What Never Again Really Means

Ugly immigration orders from the White House are unfortunately part of long history of ugliness and fear toward immigration. Always the excuses are the same: there is always a because, always some critical difference between the ones that came before and the ones that want to come in now.

It was exactly the same ugliess in the Twenties and Thirties. That fear (expressed in the belief that Nazis would have secreted spies amongst the Jews begging to come to the US, or that the Jews themselves would subvert American democracy and American values) led to the United States closing its doors to Jewish refugees. This is the same horseshit that is being exhibited toward Muslims...the same, exactly.

Current immigration vetting has served us well and there is no need to have an immigration moritorium or to exclude anyone on the basis of faith, or unsubstatiated fear. As the child of immigrants, as the child of Holocaust survivors, I am deeply saddened that we have devolved into a society that is so fearful that we are willing to give up our values to give in to it.

I am posting a photograph that I have posted before. The taller man in the hat is my Grandfather, Samuel Heisler, on the day he arrived in Auschwitz in 1944. Perhaps if our country had not been riddled almost century ago by the same kind of fears that we have today, that was then directed toward Jews, this might have been a photograph of my Grandfather on the day he arrived safely in The United States instead of a photograph of him in the selection line of Auschwitz on the day before he was murdered.



The Last Brother

My Uncle, Edward Heisler, who died today at 89 years old, was not just my father's brother, they were each other’s best friends. They survived Auschwitz together to build a new life in America together, each absolutely certain that it was the other who saved him. My father, Jack, often said he would never have survived without Eddie but Eddie scoffed at such a claim. It was, Ed was absolutely certain, the other way around. (Ed Heisler didn’t much like being called Eddie but, of course, my father could get away with it and I suppose, because I was Jack’s son, I mostly got away with it too).
My father tells an extraordinary story about their last few days in Auschwitz. With several fingers and toes severely frost bitten and completely wasted from starvation, the harsh treatment and a long winter, my father was weak and deathly ill but through a kind intervention was allowed a bunk in the ‘hospital’ lager, a slightly better but hardly hospital like barracks. With few guards left Eddie was able to sneak in to join him there and Dad made room for him in the narrow bed. A day or so later, the camp was suddenly abuzz with rumors of an impending abandonment of the camp. The few remaining guards ordered a march of those who could still walk to another camp (Buchenwald). There was talk that after the march out Auschwitz would be blown up to burn and bury its’ crimes. 
Ed tried to convince my father to go on the march, he begged my father to go, but my father would not. He was deeply in pain and weak and felt he had nothing left. While he really wanted Ed to go my father had decided that he was at the end of the trail. However the future would come to him, whether it would be death or salvation, my father was prepared to receive his future only in that bed. Eddie tried again to convince him but my father, not normally a very intransigent man, would not be moved. So Eddie did the only thing he could do: he crawled back into bed with my dad.”If you die here,” he told my father, “I die with you” and that was that. They were liberated just a few days later.
Samuel and Sarah Heisler had 10 sons and daughters in Bilke, CZ. They were: Necha, Mendy, Leona, Bernard, Ethel, Rose, David, Mariam, Jack and Ed. They were an extraordinary generation of siblings, unusually accepting, unusually compassionate, unusually bonded and deeply loving with each other and with others both in an out of their extended families. But the bond between Ed and my father was just a little more extraordinary, their love and commitment to each other just ever so slightly more powerful. Of this extraordinary group, Ed Heisler was the last, and his passing is somewhat sadder because of it. I already miss Eddie; I will always miss them all.