Trying to find where community exists

Bird Droppings October 6, 2015
Trying to find where community exists

It was several months back in my doctorial course work I was in a class on educational communities which featured all total in the two courses fifteen texts. All of the texts have an under lying theme of caring and relationships as a key to education or I should say successful teaching. One of the books from a Georgia Southern course is entitled Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings, focuses on the notion of that a teacher should be giving back to the community. Over the past few years I have heard numerous teachers discuss not wanting to be seen by students outside of school and literally not being a part of the school community. Last week we got into a debate of sorts at school on this concept. Can a teacher be a successful teacher and not be a part of the school community?

On my last trip to Barnes and Noble bookstore a few weeks back I was looking for a book by J. Garrison, Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and desire in the art of teaching. This book focuses on ideas from John Dewey, considered to be by many one of the great minds in educational philosophy. As I went to the bookstore I ran into a student from my high school that had transferred to Georgia Southern University. It seems that where ever I go there are students, former students or parents of students showing up.

“In every integral experience there is form because there is dynamic organization. I call the organization dynamic ….. Because it has growth….William James aptly compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate flights and perching of a bird…. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in which it is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior doing… If we move to rapidly, we get away from the base of supplies – of accrued meanings – the experience is flustered, thin and confused. If we dawdle too long after having extracted a net value, experience perishes of inanition.” John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934

I thought back a few years and many conversations on synchronicity and a trip home from a class actually after a midterm in Advanced Behavioral Techniques; I was hungry since I had not really stopped since early in the morning. I knew one of my former swimmers from the high school team worked at Taco Bell and sure enough she was working and I said hi, coincidently the same student who I ran into at the bookstore this past weekend. As I pulled out of Taco Bell my sweet tooth struck and I ended up at Brewster’s, as close to homemade ice cream as you can get at fast food, sounded good and there were two of my former advisee’s also getting ice cream. We talked for a while about uptight teachers and who was not, an interesting subject. Why do teachers get so uptight or anybody for that matter?

As I talked several more students and former students pulled in I met girlfriends and boyfriends of each and such, coincidence perhaps but an average day for me it seems. So often I mention the word coincidence and try to explain it. Recently in a letter to a friend I used the term of we are where we need to be right now at this moment and when we realize that all of a sudden so much more becomes clear. James Redfield an author refers to coincidence frequently and the idea that when you begin noticing coincidence it happens more often as you become attuned to it. Essentially as you become aware of your place in the puzzle the pieces all seem to fit better and more clearly.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung was of the nature there was purpose in all that happened and he and his former partner Sigmund Freud disagreed to an extent on the whys of this. Jung coined a word synchronicity to explain his thoughts in the early 1900’s. Events and things happening at a specific time, specific people seemingly appear by chance but obviously not.
“His (Jung) notion of synchronicity is that there is a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.” http://

“Some scientists see a theoretical grounding for synchronicity in quantum physics, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. They are finding that the isolation and separation of objects from each other is more apparent than real; at deeper levels, everything — atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, people — participates in a sensitive, flowing web of information. Physicists have shown, for example, that if two photons are separated, no matter by how far, a change in one creates a simultaneous change in the other. “A Wink from the Cosmos, by Meg Lundstrom (Intuition Magazine, May 1996)

How does synchronicity tie into community? Somewhere in and among ideas and thoughts are answers. Some people seek answers through religion some seek answers through pure science others assume there are no answers and sit on a rock. Going back to my first thought I see teaching as a community and that in that community we are integral pieces and do interconnect many times and as for me today and yesterday in many differing places. I find throwing myself into that community as significant as walking into my class room on a school day. Each time I bump into a student it adds to their appreciation of my time and effort and gives me a piece of their puzzle too help deal with any issues that may come up when I have them in class. Just in a staff meeting yesterday we discussed connections.

Each of us can choose our direction and flow as humans, as friends, and as teachers if that is our chosen lot in life. The actual point I was making was when we are aware of our interactions with others that each moment we spend with a person affects not only that person but the next person they see or talk too as we too are affected. It is in this way community is built. I came away that night and yesterday, happy having talked with some folks that I had not seen in several weeks even several years and hopefully they too went away a bit happier. This is how life works and if we are aware of this imagine the effect and impact. If I know I will be affecting people beyond my contact with someone I will be more aware of how I affect them and so forth. I recall many years ago from I believe Dr. Glenn Doman, the old credence of leaving the person you are talking with smiling will affect ten others is true. If you involve the idea of coincidence, fact or fancy who knows but it sure happens a lot. So as I wander today through differing ideas please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Is the seat of the soul in the heart or mind?

Bird Droppings October 6, 2015
Is the seat of the soul in the heart or mind?

I believe I was prepared from childhood to discuss this topic. It has been many years since my first introduction to Native Peoples. I was three or four years old when I first remember my father’s stories of Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle. The term Native American was not argued and the term Indian was not officially becoming politically charged and so we were raised with Indian stories. My father’s stories came from his partly from his background in the Boy Scouts of America; he had been an Eagle Scout, a scout leader and summer camp program director. Indian lore was a major portion of Boy Scouting in those days. From a favorite book on Indian Crafts my father told us of counting coup. W. Ben Hunt explained the word and meaning.

“It was considered a great honor to count coup” W. Ben Hunt

My father worked his summers during college in New Hampshire at Camp Waunakee using Indian Lore as a base for camp activities and he was chief of the campfire. During his military service, as a medic on a navy LSM in World War II, I learned he had spent many hours talking with Navaho code talkers as his Navy ship delivered them to islands in the South Pacific. Through all of those years he would say he was part Indian but it was not until he was in his seventies that his sister uncovered my great grandmother’s lineage, Leni Lenape, a clan of the Delaware tribes and actually confirmed it. To me as a child Indians were special, my father instilled this in us but there was always a spiritual aspect I could not explain. As I was reading for this morning a thought I pulled out of another old book from my childhood days by William Tompkins. My father would use this book to teach us rudimentary sign language in case we ever needed to converse with Indians.

“The originators of the Indian signs thought that thinking or understanding was done with the heart, and made the sign “drawn from the heart” Deaf mutes place extended fingers of the right hand against the forehead to give the same meaning” William Tompkins

As I read this line that thinking and understanding comes from the heart in so much of Indian philosophy perhaps this was what drew me to this group of people. I grew up with feathers, drums, rattles and other Indian paraphernalia always around the house. In my own experiences the spirituality and acceptance of all things as sacred in Native people’s culture intrigued me. As I started into a graduate school program on curriculum theory, it had never occurred to me, how education had been so misused and so often deliberately so in history. Those in power avoided teaching some things; I use the term the fine print, in relation to our indigenous peoples.

The trust inherent in their culture and their understanding of life and nature was turned against them for profit and greed. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a member of the Dakota tribe, a medical doctor and known in his tribe as Ohiyesa is quoted in Kent Nerburn’s, The Soul of an Indian as he addresses a major difference in white and Indian thought.

“Many of the white man ways are past our understanding …. They put a great store upon writing; there is always paper. The white people must think that paper has some mysterious power to help them in the world. The Indian needs no writings; words that are true sink deep into his heart, where they remain. He never forgets them. On the other hand if a white man loses his papers, he is helpless” Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa

In reading and discussing in graduate school not much is different from the many innuendos in today’s education and curriculums of hidden agendas and political maneuvering. Looking back as I progressed in my own schooling I learned Columbus mistakenly called the indigenous people he encountered Indians thinking he had found a way to the Spice Islands of the West Indies. The name would stick until more recently as we became politically correct and use the term Native Americans. Columbus even wrote in his journal of presenting letters from the King and Queen to the Great Khan thinking he was in China or near according to noted historian Ronald Takaki.

As I became older and as I too sought out my own understanding of Native Peoples and my readings went deeper. During my undergraduate years I spent a semester in Texas and experienced firsthand a powerful hatred even then in 1968 for Indians. My own journey very much paralleled my spiritual and educational pathways as with each step my ties and understanding grew. I was looking for answers even back then.

“When you see a new trail, or footprint you do not know, follow it to a point of knowing (introduction).” Uncheedah, grandmother of Ohiyesa

I was searching for answers even in those days. As I finished up my undergraduate program at Mercer University I began to realize why Indians were never taught to read the fine print. In classes and from friends I received books and articles to read adding to my understanding. From one of our course texts, Author Joel Spring points out the concept of deculturalization.

“Deculturalization is one aspect of the strange mixture of democratic thought and intolerance that exists in some minds. The concept of deculuralization demonstrates how cultural prejudices and religious bigotry can be intertwined with democratic beliefs. It combines education for democracy and political equality with cultural genocide – the attempt to destroy cultures. Deculturalization is an educational process that aims to destroy a people’s culture and replace it with a new culture.” Joel Spring

From earlier on there was an effort to assimilate and dismantle the cultures of the Native peoples in America. In the early 1500’s Spanish colonists, were some of the first to deceive and destroy the native people? Several nights ago a recent History channel episode was based on Cortez and the conquering of the Aztecs. A statement was made by one of the historians on the show that in the course of less than two hundred years from that first encounter with Cortez, ninety percent of the indigenous people of the America’s were either killed or died from European based disease and a new world was enslaved by the Europeans.
So many times it was through deception. As the white man pushed into the new world treaties and agreements were signed often with little understanding on the part of the Native peoples. Land was not for sale yet the white man is offering us trinkets. How foolish is the white man? Vine Deloria Jr., states very clearly in his book Custer died for your sins:

“In the treaty of August 5, 1926, almost as if it were an afterthought, an article (III) stated: The Chippewa tribe grant to the government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country. But this grant is not to effect title of the land, or existing jurisdiction over it. The Chippewa’s, in the dark as to the importance of their mineral wealth, signed the treaty. This was the first clear-cut case of fraudulent dealings on the part of Congress. Close examination of subsequent Congressional dealings shows a record of continued fraud covered over by pious statements of concern for their words.” Vine Deloria Jr

I wonder if the Indian agents held their hand over portions of the treaty or wrote in such small lettering that most people could not read. It may have been perhaps using Old English lettering and only having taught in Times Roman fonts, which would bewilder most educated people even today. This concerted effort by those in control throughout American History was even condemned by the US government who were themselves, orchestrating much of it as shown by Joel Spring in his book.

“The US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare issued in 1969 the report Indian Education: A National Tragedy-A national Challenge. The report opened with a statement condemning previous educational policies of the federal government: “A careful review of the historical literature reveals that the dominant policy of the federal Government toward the American Indian has been one of forced assimilation…. Because of a desire to divest the Indian of his land” Joel Spring

In many ways it was a naivety that undermined the Indians in their dealings with the Europeans and eventually US Government. But it was also an inherent trust that bound the various tribes and peoples together. There was no fine print to an Indian, his word was bond. It would be many years and near extinction till Indians realized the treachery. Kent Nerburn writes extensively about Native Peoples Spirituality and offers;

“The rule of mutual legal compact, with its European roots, had no precedent among the individualistic native peoples of the continent. In addition, the idea of land as personnel property, a key principle on which the United States was basing its treaties was alien to the native people. How could one own the land?” Kent Nerburn

Our own current study of curriculum shows many over lapping and residual effects and it goes far beyond just Native Peoples. Those in power write fine print for one reason so that is not read and in doing so essentially control the overall outcome and direction of whatever is in question. My position is we have been as a people continually dealt agreements, contracts riffed with fine print in regards to education and curriculum to a point it has become what we expect.

Even as a teacher our contracts contains numerous areas of extremely fine print. Daily we are being handed fine print in the news and through the medias about Iraq, politics, religion, and many too numerous to mention including our own president elect. Maybe one day we can truly have a democracy in our democratic nation funny thing is educator John Dewey said and felt the best way to assure a democracy was through a democratic class room. So as I set my thoughts to paper and close for this morning please help others read the fine print and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Should children be left behind?

Bird Droppings October 2, 2015
Should children be left behind?

“I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of nature. Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude. But I hear the outcry which replies to this suggestion: – Would you verily throw up the reins of public and private discipline; would you leave the young child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies, and call this anarchy a respect for the child’s nature? I answer, – Respect the child, and respect him to the end, but also respect yourself. Be the companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of his virtue, – but no kinsman of his sin. Let him find you so true to yourself that you are the irreconcilable hater of his vice and the imperturbable slighter of his trifling.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about his idea of education and fortunately for me wrote it down. Over the last fifteen years I have been directly involved in an educational program, Foxfire, which is based around John Dewey’s ideas on education. I was talking last Friday just before lunch with a fellow teacher and a local representative from PAGE, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, about education of all things. We discussed the idea of teaching top down as we in Georgia are being directed to do with new national common core standards. Here is where we are going and now how do we get there? That is more of real questions than why did you not get where you are supposed to be? Interestingly enough this first statement is what Emerson and Dewey were talking about. As we talked I mentioned Foxfire and how it was in effect how good teachers teach without even knowing. Really it is not something new and outlandish it is just putting a name on good teaching habits and providing a frame work of ten core practices to work with.

Coincidently my friend who was involved in the discussion had retrieved from the discard book cart some old Foxfire books. Periodically our media center discards old and or tattered books for teachers to get first crack at before throwing out. It seems that I have built a library on discarded books. My friend had salvaged four old Foxfire books from the cart earlier in the day.

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden. I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form. Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be brought into contact with it without either confusion or distraction; he is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going on, so that he loses his own power of orderly reaction, or he is so stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely called into play and he becomes either unduly specialized or else disintegrated.” John Dewey

Learning is not a time limited, space limited, and or school building limited activity as many teachers think. It is not tied to a specific curriculum and text. Real learning is alive, ongoing, continuous, actively participatory and an integral part of societal involvement. As I looked at the Foxfire core practices it becomes apparent these are good teacher practices, these are good life practices, and this is where learning can truly occur.

1 • From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.
2 • The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3 • The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8 • The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9 • The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10 • Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.
From the Foxfire fund Inc.

What intrigued me from my first involvement with Foxfire was how even the approach to learning our school system is using which is called Learning Focused Schools is within these eleven principles. This past summer in my research I found most good and great educational ideas actually incorporate or parallel these simple practices. Literally hundreds of good teachers in actual practice helped develop this concept over a long period of time. Emerson and Dewey were thinking along the same lines long before most of us were born. This is not a new fad it is simply good teaching. It is interesting, I recall long before I read Dewey or Emerson and or anything about Foxfire which was little more than a mountain word for a glowing fungus on a hillside. I have been in graduate education classes learning from teachers who taught in this manner, and have watched students learning as they were involved in this approach to education. So why is it so hard to get across to teachers of today? Could it be because it takes more work from the teachers to implement? You will see the word rigorous in Foxfire quite a bit and it is. But good teaching is rigorous. It is dynamic not static.

As I am working on my dissertation and researching about The Foxfire Approach to teaching I find teachers telling me they prefer to teach in this manner but often are criticized by peers and administration for not following curriculum maps and guides. An article in NEA’s weekly newsletter pointed to how so many new teachers are coming into the ranks with little or no true training in education and often a point and click mentality is all they have. They are bodies filling a space and pushing kids through. I have met several great teachers who have come through alternative approaches to teacher training, myself sort of although I did have a minor and major in education along the way I just never student taught. I switched my major to psychology along the way at the last minute to avoid taking a foreign language which was required for education majors at Mercer University in 1974.

I would suggest we need to instead of more new curriculums instill more adrenaline in teachers. Perhaps we could install a super energy drink machine outside of each teacher’s classroom and just prior to starting class require every teacher to get a caffeine jolt. Energy can be a very powerful thing in so many ways especially when it involves the passion for teaching. I have wandered and pondered enough for one day and will get off of my soap box for today but please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Who should be determining what it is we should teach

Bird Droppings October 1, 2015
Who should be determining what it is we should teach

“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know — even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction — than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.” Isaac Asimov

It amazes me to listen to students say I am passing I have a seventy percent and that’s good enough. I sometimes wonder if students really learn anything from day one till day seven hundred twenty one or do they simply regurgitate data and information to pass tests. My son commenting as he took SAT’s several times the more he took math classes the better his scores and conversely one semester he did not have an English class and on his SAT score dropped a few points. So even for a good student is school simply a memorizing forum.

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

I found when I began looking for answers learning became easier. When answers were being given to me in a mandatory sort of way such as in going to high school I learned less. Even in college for many years learning was considered mandatory and it seemed a dulling experience. I have observed many students and what they learn if they want to learn a topic the read about it the look up information about it the desire to learn.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

For some time I had tacked this quote on the end of my morning Droppings and have it posted on my room wall. How can we make our teaching so potent? How do we get information we teach to be what students want to learn?

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of face within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity” Calvin Coolidge

“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think back a few days to the concept of a democratic school where students pick and choose topics for discussion and learning each week I have been amazed as I talk with teachers around the country who use this method and are having success. It would be difficult to plan for a standardized test perhaps in that style of democratic class room. In Ashville North Carolina there is an elementary school using The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and they are scoring twenty to thirty points higher on State mandated tests than other schools in their district and even significantly higher compared to state averages.
In Georgia did I mention for example (we had the Quality Core Curriculum which has evolved to Georgia Performance Standards and now evolves to Common Core) where very specific determined material is taught in specific determined ways. For example item number 123 might be the classification of segmented worms and item 123.1 may be differentiation of segmented worms. Somewhere someone determined in Biology that that item was crucial.

It may be a history item about George Washington’s false teeth made from wood or which landing craft was first on Iwo Jima but someone determined it was critical to know in high school and must be taught. Talk about teaching to the test. Combine this with testing companies are textbook publishing companies and the drama and sage is never ending.

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” St. Francis of Assisi

“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.” Sophocles

How would we know what it is we need to know and how would teachers know what it is we need to know in order to teach us?

Using standardized tests provides a vehicle to measure but then we teach to that particular test or do not teach to it. If I know what students need to know before I start the class then I will gear the class to learning what they need to know and even possibly understanding before the test. So in effect we teach to the test. We teach what someone somewhere has deemed necessary for a student in that grade and time and that may or may not be what that teacher or student wants to learn. This is where the issue is. Which then brings back to students tend to learn best when it is something that they want to know and realistically teachers teach far better something they want to teach.

It would be a sad world if parents were told they had to teach their kids so and so today and tomorrow it would be this and that. Now that I think about it maybe that is not so bad. Except that then someone somewhere will be saying what children will be taught and when and how. That system just closed down in Russia a few years back so if our goal is to train social animatrons to fill the factories as Karl Marx once indicated the goal of education was well guess what we are doing that again. Somehow we need to bring back creativity and critical thought and get away from this mass effort of everyone needs to know the same thing.

“If you wish to know the road up the mountain, ask the man who goes back and forth on it.”Zenrim

Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Do we teach or are we taught

Bird Droppings September 30, 2015
Do we teach or are we taught

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein

So many times when discussing students who are having difficult times an individual teacher’s perspective is all that matters. Recently I was about to thump another teacher in the head listening to comments about how if this student had a better work ethic. I have heard work ethic a lot lately. This or that student needs a better work ethic. But what if you really do not like that teacher and or subject and better yet what if you have a disability that inhibits you. Every day I see square pegs hammered into round holes. It is the way our education system works. I am always amused that Mr. Einstein was one who did not have a great work ethic in school. Matter of fact he failed math a time or two and then he rewrote the books.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

We rely so much on prepackaged, prewritten, preformed, precooked, pretested, pre-read, and pre-understood everything that creativity, imagination and uniqueness get left on the shelf. We are giving make up Georgia High School Graduation tests and End of Course Tests over the next weeks in our school. In theory tests of content with a smattering of cognitive questions thrown in however several questions while multiply choice could be answered in numerous ways and here are high school students trying to analysis and answer questions for example science teacher’s question. What if you miss one of those questions and get a 499 and 500 is passing. A good friend who graduated nearly ten years ago had taken the science test four times and failed by a total of eight points and has not graduated. What if each time this person answered that one question the same way a question that is either incorrect or not answerable. This person was an A and B student and after four tries was too frustrated to try again.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

How and why and what should be taught are always at the crux of curriculum and instructional administrators challenges. But one of the most difficult aspects of education is instilling a desire to learn as Einstein states wanting to seek the mysterious. Too few are the students who truly want to learn most and not just simply pass and get on. In fourteen years of high school teaching one of my greatest moments was being asked who wrote the poem when I read Dylan Thomas. I was asked by a kid who most thought could not read and then he read the entire book that weekend. The mysterious is a mysterious thing. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

What can be more sacred than life itself?

Bird Droppings September 29, 2015
What can be more sacred than life itself?

Perhaps having been born on All Saints Day in St. Joseph’s Hospital gives me a better insight into the sacred than most normal folk. Of course then I have to consider that soon after I was born the Church dropped All Saints Day which I hope had nothing to do with me. I could have been born on Halloween. As I sit and ponder here at school before students arrive my thoughts go towards that of a spiritual nature. It has been sometime since walking along a dirt road in the midst of hundreds of acres of pasture listening to buffalo and cattle snorting and waking in the early morning I came to find this outlook on life.

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, singer and song writer, university professor and actually along the way a cast member of The Survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within.” Perhaps this is a good place to stop As a Today Show guest she stated “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I end up with a line from an Aerosmith song as it always seems to fit in.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

I used Dr. Lee’s quote and the preceding paragraph on September 7, 2009 in my daily wanderings. An email earlier this week reminded me of this quote and some thoughts along the way with several books I picked up over the past few weeks at Barnes and Noble, I should get a commission for mentioning bookstores and Quick Trip. I state on my Facebook page my religious belief is that all is sacred. That in and of itself is a powerful statement and one I adhere to or at least attempt each day I live. Many can argue from their own religious perspective and or theological viewpoint as to what is sacred or not. On a recent journey to Macon I went by the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Park. I speak of the place in a reverent manner as for thousands of years many people have held this place as a sacred spot. When I climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound and look to the four directions I imagine what it was like before the Macon skyline was visible to the north or the visitor center to the east.

Sitting on the table as I write is a Bushmen water container. It is simply an ostrich egg emptied out with a hole in the top and carvings of animals and designs etched into the shell and then filled with ash to leave a black line. This egg is over fifty years old and brought back by my father from South Africa many years ago and given to me. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa and to the Sans as they wish to be called, we use the term Bushmen this is a sacred vessel. It is one of many that would be stashed plugged with grass and placed at a specific spot identified by the markings belonging to a particular hunting group it would be filled with water and stored for the next trip through that spot.

Over the past few years I have read many books on spirituality, Native American thought, Curriculum, Education, Teaching methods, Religion, Counseling, Psychology, Herbs, Medicinal plants, Reptiles and Amphibians, and even a few fiction books mainly Harry Potter. One author who has always kept my attention and I still periodically check up on his essays is William Edelen. Edelen is a Presbyterian pastor, former fighter pilot, former agriculture teacher, author, speaker, and free thinker extraordinaire. While his books of essays are not best sellers on a few years back one title was the United Methodist Women’s book of the year, In Search of the Great Mystery. Edelen incorporates many ideas from Native American thought into his writing along with Thomas Jefferson and Thoreau.

“The question I so often ask is this: Why are the vast majority of people so willing to turn over their life, values, priorities, and decisions to such authoritarian institutions? Are they insecure, that fearful, that blind, that they cannot assume personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth? ‘Your own reason is the only oracle given to you by God,’ wrote Thomas Jefferson.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Edelen was addressing millenniums of mass church building and increasingly larger congregations that demand restitution from their parishioners. I always found it humorous that one Atlanta church required a credit report to join.

“People often ask me, “What are you …… what do you believe…. Are you a Christian…. Taoist … Buddhist …. what? In a joking mood I may tell them I am a Taoist, Druid, Agnostic shaman. But when I answer the question seriously, I tell cosmology, or philosophy of life is the same whether one lives in a Taoist society, Buddhist, Christian or secular.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Needless to say William Edelen is a character, he still has many listeners and readers and even in his nineties he still speaks in Palm Springs each week delivering a new essay. There is a website where these are posted. But there are many views of life, spirit and sacred what compromises these. Continuing on today another writer whom has drawn me to them is Thomas Merton. A Trappist Monk he is considered to be one of the foremost spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century. Merton died in a hotel room in Southeast Asia in 1968 protesting the war in Viet Nam.

“To unify your life, unify your desires. To spiritualize your life, spiritualize your desires. To spiritualize your desires, desire to be without desires.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

“Everyone has an instinctive desire to do good things and avoid evil. But the desire is sterile as long as we have no experience of what it means to be good.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Almost John Dewey words in needing to experience good in order to desire to do good. Both Thomas Merton and William Edelen use the concept of opposites prevalent in Eastern philosophy as well as in Native American thought. Merton and Edelen often quote The Dalai Lama in their writings and as he is spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhists, he is respected worldwide.

Over the years I have been a fan of the writings of the Dalai Lama myself, at age six or so he was chosen to be the successor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and left his parent’s small farm to go to the capital of Tibet in Lhasa and here was tutored in Buddhist traditions and writings. He through his young years had tutors from England as well who taught other subjects and provided a world view for this humble boy from a small farm in Tibet. Today he is considered one of the great thinkers of our time and has received the Nobel Peace Prize among other numerous awards. His many books help bridge, and make an effort to provide insight into Buddhist philosophy and understanding of the world. One of these thoughts within Buddhism is the theory of emptiness.

“According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded on the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence in untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things are therefore entirely self-contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact and exert influence on other phenomena.” Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom

I walked into my local convenience store this morning to get a couple of bottles of Smart water; I have switched after years of drinking Evian only. No, it does not increase my IQ by more than a small percentage with each bottle, but it has no metallic taste and it is essentially distilled water with electrolytes added. Another advertising pitch I could make a fortune if I was signed with all of these commercial entities. As we talked with one of my Muslim friends I wished him a Happy Halloween, and it hit me. Halloween was an attempt in the old days of allowing pagan rituals into the Christian domain back in the days of assimilating cultures as you conquer. What was interesting is how it was then followed by All Saints day, which had been today until the holiday was dropped by the Church, to beg forgiveness for the previous day.

But it is always interesting where our traditions and history take us and will take us. Borrowing a line from the Dalai Lama’s above quote. “All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence.” At the time it was a necessary evil to allow All Hallows eve and get the pagans to follow in line. As the day changed and it seemed All Saints day was no longer needed it was discounted as a holy day by the church. It might have had something to do with me being born on that day as well.

“My plea is that we bring our spirituality, the fullness and simple wholesomeness of our basic human values, to bear upon the course of science and the direction of technology in human society. In essence, science and spirituality, though offering in their approaches, share the end, which is the betterment of humanity.” The Dalai Lama

“The whole point of science is that there are no facts, only theories. You don’t believe these things they are working hypotheses that the next bit of information can transform. We are taught not to hang on but to stay open.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I read The Dalai Lamas words it reminded of the passage from Campbell, recognized as one of the leaders in comparative mythology.

“The first fact that distinguishes the human species from all others is that we are born too soon. We arrive incapable of taking care of ourselves for something like fifteen years. Puberty doesn’t come along for twelve years or more, and physical maturity doesn’t arrive until our early twenties. During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological dependency. We are trained as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us to react.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I sat thinking on this passage my mind drifted over to a book I am reading currently Kent Nerburn’s, The Wolf at Twilight, again. Nerburn goes back to the Sioux reservation to help an old friend in a search for his sister who has been gone now nearly eighty years. One of the comments made is in a discussion on hand shakes. Nerburn questioned how they could tell he was unfamiliar with the Sioux ways and they said by the handshake. A white man shakes hands hard exerting force wanting to maintain control, power, be a man. A Sioux shakes hands lightly, softly not imposing their dominance over the person whose hand is being shaken. It is a matter of how we are raised. The cultural biases and societal influences provide the basis for who we are. Perhaps this is where I am concerned in our quest in education and society so often for simplicity and measureable data. Are we leaving out the spiritual and actually leaving science by the way side? We seem to want answers solid data and facts. So many people want laws in science and not theories. So many people want one way in religion and forget the spirituality aspect of what it is they seek.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves…… The connectedness made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as a place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I first read Parker Palmer about thirteen years ago in a book club meeting where our then principal used this book, The Courage to Teach, as one of our readings. Parker Palmer emphasizes in his writing that teachers choose to teach because of heart because they desire to do something for humanity. Many of his themes touch on the spirituality within teaching. It is this idea of connectedness that toes in to my thoughts today and with some of the others I have quoted and used. In recent months I have become a fan of Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, former Department Chair of Guidance at the University of Florida. His books along with his father’s are based on the Cherokee Nation. Many of his thoughts on guidance reflect his own understandings and outlooks based on his Native American heritage.

“Native peoples view all things as having spiritual energy and importance. All things are connected, all things have life, and all things are worthy of respect and reverence. Spiritual being essentially requires that individuals seek their place in the universe; everything else will follow in good time. “Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, Walking in the Wind

I have wandered today and yet perhaps not strayed from where I was going in my journey and will end with perhaps my favorite author Kent Nerburn.

“Spiritual growth is honed and perfected only through practice. Like an instrument, it must be played. Like a path, it must be walked. Whether through prayer or meditation or worship or good works, you must move yourself in the direction of spiritual betterment.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

“It is the sense that comes over us as we stare into the starlit sky or watch the last fiery rays of an evening sunset. It is the morning shiver as we wake on a beautiful day and smell richness in the air that we know and love from somewhere we can’t quite recall. It is the mystery behind the beginning of time and beyond the limits of space. It is a sense of otherness that brings alive something deep in our hearts.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

I had actually started to be rather short and be done with it today but sort of got caught up in my own wanderings and readings. It has been over ten years I have ended my daily thoughts with this phrase and again looking at the news and listening to what is going on in the world I will again close with my traditional last statement. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Answers are on the opposite end of questions

September 28, 2015
Answers are on the opposite end of questions

“In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for Tarawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beast and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and moon should man learn…” Eagle Chief (Letakos-Lesa) Pawnee

I find myself often looking at Native American thought for insight and ideas. Perhaps it is that indigenous peoples were more oriented around the land and survival then we civilized folks are. Many of my lessons learned revolve around learning from nature and the world around us rather than from school or some one person’s ideas. The lessons are often handed down in story form from father to son not printed in a holy book or text that so often lends itself to translation and interpretation. Many the night we as children fell asleep to stories of old that my father would tell us and I have told my sons and now will tell my grandchildren.

“All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly…. We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way; the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.” Eagle Chief (Letakos-Lesa) Pawnee

Dr. Michael Garrett, writer, teacher and counselor discusses a theory of opposites numerous times in his writings within Native American thought. For each entity there is an opposite. As I ponder the concept of soul is there soulless aspect within humanity? Working with adolescents in all honesty I would say I have never met a soulless person, I have come close however. Conduct Disordered children have no concept of right or wrong and essentially focus totally on self. The world revolves around them and anything else is insignificant. A good friend Dr. James Sutton considers and discusses in his writing CDD children as, “more dangerous, deficient in social understanding, and poorer skills in general.” I recall my first meeting with James and how I was informed as a high teacher there was nothing I could do for these kids. He went on to state most about ninety nine percent would end up dead, in jail, used car salesmen, politicians and or evangelists. If this would hold true could be a reasons we have so much difficulty in Washington, no one really cares.

“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.” Mourning Dove Salish, 1888-1936

There are times I find it difficult to say there is a purpose for some of the people I have met but as I think about this possibility of opposites and all things have purpose if not only to give contrast to the good. I was interviewed by a student earlier in the day and a question was asked have I ever intentionally hurt an animal. All I could think of was feeding mice and rats to snakes it was intentional to provide nourishment to the reptiles. But it would a matter of perception as to whether a squeaking rat being constricted was hurting as it dies being suffocated by the snake. I do feed mostly frozen thawed rats and mice however. But it made me think to other issues and how some people see them. So many are concerned about health care reform and yet even prior to legislation nearly four years ago my premiums went up and all I use it for is medicines since I seldom go to the doctor and my visits are often free. I am sitting here thinking that having a wife in health care does have its advantages at times. So we have differing perceptions and some of the people out there could be without soul so how do we continue as a society?

“Soul, the word rebounded to me, and I wondered, as I often had, what it was exactly. People talked about it all the time, but did anybody actually know? Sometimes I’d pictured it like a pilot light burning inside a person–a drop of fire from the invisible inferno people called God. Or a squashy substance, like a piece of clay or dental mold, which collected the sum of a person’s experiences–a million indentations of happiness, desperation, fear, all the small piercings of beauty we’ve ever known.” Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

“I simply believe that some part of the human Self or Soul is not subject to the laws of space and time.” Carl Jung

Whenever I get into individualism and creativity I find myself discussing soul and I always sort of end up with it truly is a definitive aspect of which we are and how we see ourselves. Should soul be or not be an entity or thing and it is far more and less. Soul is a paradox and perhaps like Jung I do see it as not subject to laws of space and time. So with perhaps not a final answer, I should call a friend maybe I will close today with the usual please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)