Just a morning observation

Bird Droppings October 30, 2014
Just a morning observation

“I do not write from mythology when I reflect upon Native American spirituality in this book. In my own opinion, mythology leads to superstition; and superstition has proved fatally destruction to many millions down through time. It is ironic, then that Dominant Society accuses Native practices of being based on myth.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

My wanderings are the expanse of several days of traveling and thinking and observing mankind. Just a few nights ago my son and I walked out to a choir of coyotes just a few yards away deep in the pines. It was literally an opera of coyotes howls and yells. While only a few minutes the sounds were an eerie reminder that even in a civilized world nature was only a few feet away in its wildest. I was walking Sunday morning and being away from my quiet spot near my home in Between Georgia in a small town in middle Georgia sitting on a porch of an old mill house the quiet was over powering along with the gentle breeze and sunshine. Around me birds would occasionally fly into and out of the trees but most of the time without a sound. I was essentially alone sitting listening while everyone else was inside. Only a few hours earlier I had a wonderful experience watching by my own house as the sun came up and starting this particular book Nature’s Way.

Ed McGaa is a Lakota Sioux and an attorney by education. He chooses his words wisely and does not simple offer a book to fill a spot on a shelf. He points to observations as a basis for our spiritual views rather than heresy or simply taking the word of another. This past weekend as we drove home from a quick trip to see my son and his wife and our grandbabies we noticed nearly fifty red tailed hawks sitting on the wires watching as we drove by. If you have ever seen a hawk hunting observation is a key. Every detail is seen as they look for a food item crawling or scurrying along the ground.

“Clearly we are meant to think, analyze, and deliberate. And yet humans seem to have some sort of fear (or is it plain ignorance?) of exercising the simple freedom to think. Why are we so prone to let others do our thinking for us – to lead astray and control us?” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

Only a few years back we have been through one of the most biased and perhaps most sheep lead to slaughter election campaigns I have ever experienced in my life. The negative ads were the vast majority of all from either side. Issues were simply something that would be dealt with after the election and even then that was questionable. Here in Atlanta several of the mega churches are going through serious upheavals with pastors who after years of preaching and blasting various human characteristics and or issues are coming out themselves and in turn being who they preached against for twenty years and built empires against. One of the themes I have seen in politics and religion so blatant in the past year is the “letting of others do our thinking for us”. I received a copy of a book in the mail from a friend in New York after he published. I had known the title for months prior but seeing it and beginning my initial reading the title hit me. “Hustlers and the idiot swarm”, how appropriate is that to our society today.
Opening up Reverend Manny’s book and turning to the very first page there is a quote and thought that permeates our society if even unknowingly.

“For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all experts liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, Ch. X

It was within a day or two of first setting foot in Washington that a newly elected Congressman who ran on a ticket of repealing the newly legislated Health Care bill was upset that his government health care insurance did not start immediately and he had to wait twenty eight days and made a scene in his first official meeting. During the course of the past year lies about the health care bill made headlines more so than points that were significantly important to many families. I grew up in a family with a severely disabled brother who would never have been insurable under most standard insurance due to preexisting conditions. Even more significant is my son still in nursing school who is over twenty five but is covered with new health care law. If not for that not sure where we would be after his accident in May of this year with over three hundred fifty thousand in medical bills that were covered.

I really did not want to get into the idea of politics since reality is not an issue there sadly. I started my thoughts the past few days thinking about how we find our own center and understanding of the world around us.

“The Sioux believe that lies, deceit, greed, and harm to innocent others will never be erased, and neither will good deeds of generosity and caring. Dominant society on the other hand, leans towards “forgiveness” theory which claims that bad deeds can be purged.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, Nature’s Way

As I started getting into this idea of each of us formulating and ratifying our own understandings of all that is about us it became clear this will be more than a quick note. I walked out of the house earlier and had on R. Carlos Nakai on my ear phones and rather loud. The CD is one of Nakai who is a seven note cedar flute master playing with a symphony his various melodies and it was almost haunting as the visage of a clear sky and quiet surrounding the trees. I had to stop listen to the music and see this quiet still image before me. The two interplayed as I got ready to leave the house. As I turned from observing I noticed a flat tire on my son’s truck which brought me back to reality and the moment.

To close this quick dropping and getting on with the day I remind everyone to please keep all in harm’s way on their minds and in their hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

All about how you feed the wolves

Bird Droppings October 29, 2014
All about how you feed the wolves

I walked outside very early this morning to a sky filled with stars and wisps of clouds floating by. Crickets were almost silent chirping slowly in the cool weather. My morning started long before sunrise today and the sounds as I walked to the car caught my attention. Nearby a coyote was calling and an owl’s call added to the moment. A piece of moon was visible through drifting pieces of clouds. I sat my goal to get to school in time to write and think with so many thoughts going through my mind today as I sit listening to an old track on iTunes. Bob Dylan’s, Blood on the Tracks is considered by many to be one of his best albums. I picked up my phone and a note was visible on the lock screen. It was a thank you comment from a former student from eleven years ago what a great start to my morning.

There are times when it is hard to put into words whether it is because of confidentiality or emotions maybe even words truly do not describe well enough and yet pictures are not suited to define or describe as well either. A large display of Georgia Bulldog marketing materials, cups, flags, caps and stuffed bulldogs reminded me of a past trip. It was several years ago I went to Kroger after school to pick up a few things to make spaghetti, the universally excepted meal in our house. The parking lot was packed from one end to the other so I parked about twenty miles from the door. I read that is a good thing to do for exercise adding a few more steps to your day. After finding all I needed and visiting with at least half a dozen friends I bumped into I started up the book aisle which is sort of habit. It was packed and everyone was in line. A rather assorted bunch of folks were standing in what appeared to be a line.

I carefully went back and went down another aisle to head for checkout and as I reached the front of the store there were several men in black suits standing almost at attention beside a table stacked with books. My initial thought was it was Sarah Palin’s book signing but I knew she would have been in a more strategic location than a Loganville Kroger and while she is popular there were a lot of people here. Then I see this old man who is still pretty spry for an old codger sitting shaking hands and signing his latest book. I had forgotten today was Vince Dooley day at Kroger. Dooley is somewhat of an icon in this area. Vince Dooley was the former head coach and athletic director of The University of Georgia Bulldogs. Where else but in Loganville would thousands of people swarm a grocery store to get an autograph from Mr. Bulldog himself. Being an avid Georgia Tech fan I walked by nose in the air and paid for my groceries.

But the events of the week so far and thinking back had me recalling an old email I received nearly ten years ago. The story goes something like this. One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” I received this note from a parent of a former student.

As I thought back and read over this simple story again I was thinking about how children respond to various situations and we adults then commend or condemn them. Those two words are so closely spelled yet so far apart in meaning and understanding. Yesterday morning a young lady came in and was visibly upset but more of a moping kind of upset. Seems her boyfriend and she were sort of at odds. I shared the Thomas Merton quote I have hanging on my wall and have used here so many times.

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we see in them.” Thomas Merton

I asked the young lady to look up Merton and see some of his other writings and who he was which she did before school and then she left with a copy and a Kent Nerburn book, Calm Surrender. As we talked I thought of this quote about the wolves inside of us and how we all are fighting as she told me of conflicts in her life and in her boyfriend’s life as well.
Several days back my wife and I were discussing kids as we tend too and the topic of learned behavior came up. We teach kids through our actions and inactions and yet we then punish them for the same exact thing. An attorney was on TV saying parents who knew kids were drinking at a party at their house should not be held responsible for any actions of drunken teenagers. The discussion was on a point, counter point discussion and then the other side mentioned that the person who was involved in the accident had been arrested previously for DUI and the parents knew that so there was a history established. So I sat listening to this back and forth, an underage drinking party led to a teenage driver killing a child. The underage drinker who was driving had left the party at that particular parent’s home with their knowledge he was drunk and had been drunk previously, both parties were found guilty. On the one hand the defense attorney was saying kids will be kids and on the other a dead child.

So often in life we are faced with what ifs. We have knowledge of behavior that is construed as dangerous or potential dangerous and yet we tend to shrug it off. A headline yesterday caught my eye where industry is turning its nose on incidents that do not cause major damage or injury. Coming from an industrial safety background it was these incidents that lead to major break -through in safety and loss control. A headline down was about women not getting mammograms anymore till fifty and on the news many women were up in arms who had breast cancer and whose family members were saved by early detection. I recall a young man I worked with back in the 1970’s and how on many occasions I had requested an evaluation and was told keep out of it the young man was Learning Disabled only. After I married and moved to Loganville I actually let him spend the summer with me and work on our farm. Sadly a few years’ later things changed and he was arrested and sentenced to three life sentences. He had killed a woman and her two kids wanting to return to Central State Mental Hospital. Commend and condemn so similar yet differing in the meaning.
I look back at the story which wolf is being fed. We are responsible as parents, teachers, friends and we and others need to be more actively involved in keeping such situations from happening. Whether it be teenage love or teenage drinking there is harm being done around the corner and often under our noses. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds 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)
bird

Do we build doors or walls?

Bird Droppings October 28, 2014
Do we build doors or walls?

I enjoy arriving at school while the stars are still shining overhead something about the darkness is peaceful for me. I can remember when my youngest would ride to school with me; he is not quite as big a fan of mornings and pre-sunrise as I am. He missed that few extra moments of sleep each day. Last week while my granddaughter visited we started telling stories and she too got caught up and was adding to the story. I would start a story about who ever she wanted and we would make up things as we went. Grandmommie was first and Charlie wanted to go to Disney Store with Grandmommie so the story unfolded. I was in Barnes and Nobles book store a few weeks ago and picked up a copy of James Bradley’s book Flags of our fathers. The opening quote is a very powerful, what if.

“Mothers should negotiate between nations. The mothers of fighting countries would agree: Stop this killing now. Stop it now.” Yoshikuni Taki

I have been in several I should say many meetings the past few years with teachers and parents. It has been a few years since my youngest son handed me a sheet of paper to sign up for a teacher parent conference in geometry. It appeared that he let a test or two slip by. Any student with a less than 75% grade is to have a conference, school rules. Interesting is that so many students only want a seventy percent. As I am thinking about comments from one of my meetings where a mother wanted the school to do what she was doing in keeping her children up with their work, because she was tired. Ideally it would be great each teacher spend time each day with each individual student. However if you do the calculations at one hundred and ten minutes or so per class and thirty plus students that is less than four minutes apiece if there is no start up or down time. Less than four minutes for each student.

“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

This has been a favorite quote of mine for many years and hanging on the back of my classroom door where I can see it most of the day. As a parent and a teacher how do we make our parenting and or teaching so potent? How do we or should we provide a doorway or open the door for students and children?

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Could not this person be a parent, friend and or a teacher?

“John Dewey’s significance for informal educators lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second and linked to this, Dewey’s exploration of thinking and reflection – and the associated role of educators – has continued to be an inspiration. We can see it at work, for example, in the models developed by writers such as David Boud and Donald Schön. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provides a continuing framework for practice. Last, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the associational settings in which informal educators work.” Mark K. Smith 2001

As I sit and think about how do we work with kids and I recall ideas from John Dewey. This passage written by Mark Smith relates four thoughts from John Dewey’s philosophy engage and enlarge experience, thinking and reflection, interactions and environments for learning, and democracy in the classroom. Engage and enlarge experience: If we as teachers draw on what the child knows and has seen and touched and then build on that and develop so that we can move forward and or sideways or up and down.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley –

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” John Keats –

“Common experience is the gold reserve which confers an exchange value on the currency which words are; without this reserve of shared experiences, all our pronouncements are checks drawn on insufficient funds.” Rene Daume

Thinking and reflection: This is that aspect that Einstein refers to that has baffled the sages down through time. How to get students anyone to think and then as Dewey teaches reflect?

“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” Georges Bernanos
“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.” Buddha

“Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” The Foxfire Approach

Interaction and environments for learning: Providing an atmosphere that students want to be in is a key to success. Be it at home or at school if a child does not want to be there it is difficult to learn and to function.

“Course content is connected to the community in which the learners live. Learners’ work will “bring home” larger issues by identifying attitudes about and illustrations and implications of those issues in their home communities.” The Foxfire Approach

“For industry to support education and training it must provide a relevant cost benefit to the employer. The content and design of the learning on offer must be capable of not only sustaining the candidate’s willingness and ability to learn but also respond to the ever changing environment within which industry operates.” Mike Goodwin, University of Wolver Hampton addressing the concept of negotiated work based learning

Having a context for learning by providing rationale and reason for what is being taught. Content is much easier to work with it is in the text book but providing context is where doors are created and opened.

Democracy in the class room: Students and children being actively involved in their class room changes often the direction and flow of learning.

“My own belief….is that a teacher’s stated views – and, more important, the visible actions which that teacher takes during a year in public school – are infinitely more relentless in their impact on the students than a wealth of books of any possible variety.” Jonathan Kozol, On Being a Teacher, p. 25

“Students can be forced to sit through a class, but they cannot be forced to be interested in it, or to do well.” Alfie Kohn

“A visitor then to my democratic classroom in action would walk into a room in which students are working in groups or individually grappling with ideas that will later enrich the classroom. Deliberation and debate would be ongoing as students worked on issues and projects that mattered to them as both a class and as individuals. I as the teacher would not be the center point of the room but would instead be its facilitator and manager.” Ryan Niman

Parents, students, teachers and administrators each have differing and often specific involvement in that student’s learning. There is no specific script that is better than another. As I listened to a mother she wanted the school do take over all she did at home I wondered, what are you going to do take a vacation? While she was tired and concerned those 16 hours away (sixteen hour syndrome and still no cure) from school are as crucial as the eight or so that students spend in school. It is about getting sleep, proper nutrition, care and love which are all integral aspects of getting a child to learn and to have an appreciation for learning. Who opens the door and who creates the door sort of blend in and are not as important as that it is open and students and parents and teachers can each find their role and build. It is up to each of us to try and do just a little better each day in all that we do and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.
For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

PS – I teach college at night and to culminate my Mondays, I get to class usually a few hours early just to beat traffic which in Atlanta is horrible if you are just a few minutes off. I have a student in my class who is a single mother and always is early to class. She is also ex-military having a medical discharge due to injuries in combat. We sit and talk often about her son who is a middle school student and how I would never teach middle school. She talks about her frustration as a mother of an exceptional child with behavior issues and his difficulties at school. I listen to the stories and wonder where are we going wrong and recall a friends words as we walked to class yesterday. “I am going to have to work on paperwork more and co-teaching less to keep up.” This coming from a teacher I greatly respect and admire. It saddened me that in this crazy world of education we have come to this, paper work first then teach kids.

Searching for answers in reflection and thought

Bird Droppings October 27, 2014
Searching for answers in reflection and thought

Yesterday I was wished a happy birthday by a friend on Facebook and it got me thinking a week ahead that soon I would be another year older. Yesterday was not my birthday and it is coming up far too soon. As I look forward to being another year older and with that many more moments for reflection and thoughts the past week especially being out of school for fall break. On many other years around this time I would go to the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon Georgia and climb to the top of the great temple mound. There is something about standing facing to each direction on such a sacred site. For the last ten thousand years this spot has been sacred and a special place to Native Americans of many tribes.

It has been almost a week since I sat in my class room at school doing some paper work and I was thinking about a mason jar of good Georgia sweet tea from Momma Jean’s at H&H over on Cherry Street in Macon and a couple of Advil for this bug I have been fighting for a week now. It has been an interesting week off culminating Friday night with a Cor Maze sojourn with our grandkids. I seem to find people where ever I go and the Corn Maze at Washington Farms outside Athens Georgia was no different. I seem to walk into conversations with different people, people I never met before. A lady at the counter at the cash register as I bought hot dogs and hamburgers and I started talking about the CCC and job corps of FDR. Her brother had worked for CCC back in the 1930’s or so working for the archeological digging at the Ocmulgee Indian mounds. While I was there an obnoxious man started arguing about smoking in public. Add to that every day at the corner store someone new and interesting.

I went out much earlier today than I have all week taking our new dog for a walk. I was hoping on catching the sunrise maybe I was thinking it was daylight savings time last night. But we still have a week or so. A few sprigs of sweet grass and a sage leave or two help bolster the senses as the smoke rises and wanders across the darkness. Watching a bit of smoke curl up in the morning is an interesting sight. It was cool but not cold as I walked out into the backyard. The grass was damp from a morning light frost. My cricket chorus while subdued in the chill was doing their best maybe two or three were chirping still perhaps up against the house.

As I went through the day today it is always a good feeling to receive birthday wishes from friends and family even though a week early. I was thinking earlier this morning about what direction to go but there were so many thoughts circulating in my head, I was thinking about numerous points of impact in sixty years plus of life. I thought back to one I ponder on quite a bit, especially as recently I found on Facebook someone from the same small town in Pennsylvania that I lived in. The one point that continues to pop up is poking a fellow in the butt with a pencil in East Fallowfeild Elementary school in first grade. While not an inspiring event it has stuck with me for some reason from fifty eight years ago, might be getting hit in the head by my teacher after the fact that reminds me.

On a more dark note I remember being carried through the polio wards in West Chester Hospital when I was three years old or so and seeing kids one day and they are were gone the next. I recall meeting a little autistic boy Artie Cohen in 1970 or so his photo still hangs in my current classroom. I have so many very fond memories of “The JUNGLE”, a small patch of sassafras, honeysuckle and sumac that a few of us literally lived in for so many years. There are many good friends from my graduating class in high school who I still communicate with daily if not weekly. I recall having homemade root beer at a good friend’s house on Caln Meeting house road so many years ago.

It was over thirty five years ago I met my wife to be and all of those thoughts and memories of the births of my three kids are with me always. There are so many moments special to me going through my head. I recall very easily my first day back teaching on September 11, 2001. I have so many folks I have met along the way in teaching and grad school and each a memory worth saving. As I think I have found out how critical it is to reflect and ponder and really seeing as I get older how important this is to the journey we embark on in life.

“Before undertaking a project, ponder what will be gained, lost and ultimately achieved. There is nothing too difficult for a man who, before he acts, deliberates with chosen friends and reflects privately.” Tirukkural 47: 461-462

This particular thought was written nearly 2000 years ago by a master weaver, a member of the lowest caste in Hindu culture and life. Pondering is an old art I found out. Many of you who have taken courses at Piedmont College and or read John Dewey’s work understand the concept of reflection and how it is engrained in further thinking.

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

As I read these two views to start today having read Dewey numerous times he too advocates reflection for teachers and students. As I read his view here is one of frustration in dealing with mankind, for far too often it is too difficult for men to climb out of that rut and to even consider true reflection.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Henry David Thoreau

“The poet’s, commonly, is not the logger’s path, but a woodman’s … there are spirits … to whom no simplicity is barren. There are not only stately pines, but fragile flowers, like the orchids, commonly described as too delicate for cultivation, which derive their nutriment from the crudest mass of peat. These remind us, that, not only for strength, but for beauty, the poet must, from time to time, travel the logger’s path and the Indian trail, to drink at some new and more bracing fountain of the Muses, far in the recesses of the wilderness.” Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods
It has been a few mornings although today as I took out our westie it was a star filled sky and I was remembering back when very close friend Dr. Harold Sweetman, was showing me Cassiopeia for the first time as a high school student in Boy Scouts. It was over my head this morning as I headed out. It is difficult for me to not ponder and reflect on what life presents to me each day. For me each morning as I write it is a clearing, a meditation of sorts, it is reading, finding pieces to my own puzzle to share and meditate upon with others as I can. It is looking at that rut we travel or seeking anew along the Indian trail of Thoreau.

“The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” John Dewey

Knowing and understanding are keys to democracy and to life and moving beyond the rut, looking for the loggers trail or for the pathway of the Indian requires learning and knowledge and that is education.

“I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals.” “I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” John Dewey

I was wondering about the direction of the flow of my thoughts as I read, and pondered I find Thoreau similar to John Dewey both wanting experience to be more than simply taking up time. They both want it to be meaningful learning and for it to move each of us a step ahead. Dewey wants education to be about now as well as providing tools for later. He offers that it should be meaningful, that it has to affect life immediately and currently as well in the future. This is what Thoreau was all about as well. Thoreau quit teaching to become a learner as the story goes and in doing so became a better teacher. The reflections of the master weaver help many to ponder even today and show that rather than simply doing something we need to see the now and then of an effort.
Dewey argued that far too often we in society today only look at the then. Thoreau offered the now and Dewey argued against simply educating for later that there has to be an impact now as well to be meaning and long lasting. Learning has to become part of the life experience of the child.

“It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own. He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before him. His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was connected with Nature, — and the meaning of Nature was never attempted to be defined by him. … His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as with a microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole. His poetry might be good or bad; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility and technical skill, but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual perception.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, a eulogy for Henry David Thoreau

I am sorry I am wandering today but I can do whatever I want maybe it is because I am getting old, between the simple thoughts of HDT and the planned thinking of Dewey. I want you to ponder yourself as the day goes on and the week ahead begins. Where in among the shade of the tress do you see your thoughts going? Is it following the path of the logger or the Indian or is it seeing life as a rut in your journey or is it as a trail blazer seeing for the first time the trail and leaving a path for the next person to see as new. I have for so long been writing that life is about the journey we take. I always seem to find my way to this simple quote.

“And how high can you fly with broken wings? Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

For many years I have been using a line from this song by Aerosmith, taken from the context of the song. “Life is a journey not a destination”, and I think back to when I first saw it posted on my computer after spending the night at The Athens Regional Hospital in Athens Georgia, holding the hand of a sixteen year old young man who had been hit by a semi after doing a u turn on a back road. My oldest son and his band played Aerosmith tunes quite a bit. But this was a line from a song that in and of itself was significant. It was for him and for me at that moment very significant and life altering for me.

It evolved for me as I saw how my own life was a journey. As I looked at each aspect of my own life and see each is crucial to the next. In days prior I had been reading numerous books on the purpose in life or finding Meaning in life trying to find a focus for myself. I was floundering in business and trying to get a foothold back on the day I first saw this quote, a yellow post it note on a computer after sitting with a dying teenager. A life changing or life refocusing moment it would seem. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how profound for my son barely older than the young man who was killed to have found this concept and I had been searching for nearly fifty years and still had not seen.

My own life started to focus and clear and ideas thoughts seemed to flow and make sense. Earlier today I was answering an email from someone I have never met. I was talking with several people yesterday about how we can in today’s electronic age communicate with so many people all in a touch of a computer keyboard. Often with photos and such attached, multimedia is an understatement. Actually we addressed this in graduate school over the past few conversations. But the message is still clear. It is about the journey.

A key element to me is the example we set, the picture we paint for others to see that has significance and meaning as we go through the day. What would a child learn from a teacher who yells at an extremely high decibel other than to cover their ears? What does a child learn from a parent who abuses them other than abuse? What does a friend learn from a friend when they betray them other than distrust? Within the fragility of our experiences we need examples of direction of positive journeying. Each day I wonder why kids come by my room just to smile and say hi. At other times it is to ask for a word or two of advice. Life is about the journey, may we all be cleaning the pathway rather than dropping boulders for others to trip on. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and you know each new day is another step along the way. May peace be with you and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

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

Having heart and kissing frogs

Bird Droppings October 24, 2014
Having heart and kissing frogs

It is chilly out in northeast Georgia with nighttime temperatures still hanging in the high forties or low fifties but rumor of a near frost hanging out there. Many of us gardeners are bringing plants in. We have still a couple more weeks till we are off from school again for Thanksgiving and a fall break. I was watching TV last night and an historical show of sorts a movie about the Pilgrims coming over to the New World is coming back on soon. I find it funny how after that first Thanksgiving relationships between the native Indians and Pilgrims went downhill fast and it was not long till red skinned natives were the spawn of Satan and were to be eliminated by whatever means feasible. Pilgrims were not much different than today’s politicians when land was involved. I found it interesting how things changed so fast. Why is it we only have heart occasionally and some people never do? Maybe Thanksgiving is to remind us about heart?

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha

It has been several months since I was working with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people and seeing how much of an impact that learning styles play on the actual learning of students it amazes me that such a simple thing gets overlooked so often. How we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways visually, auditorally, and kinesthetically, in other words we see, hear or touch. I offer the idea of perception as well and how we hear see and touch along with how we interpret is a factor. The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out currently. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings from 2006. In a few moments about 45 seconds images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us.

Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied significantly. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide and several reiterated the Red Lake Shootings. One however focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self-motivated as so many of us are. He derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself be it passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know or speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher. The idea of disrespect is an understatement but it all is self-focused so to say here I am.

“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” Dictionary.com

For quickness I used dictionary.com and there is defined the word sympathy as an interaction between two people or things affecting both. As I thought back to my self-centered fellow I wondered as he focused all day on himself does he have sympathy? In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects those being charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.

“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker

There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and worldwide is needed often.

“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot

As I searched this morning deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason. Perhaps it is for gain thinking back to the Pilgrims. Is it human nature to be so wary so distrustful of others.

“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity is not enough.” Simone Weil

Several semesters back I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs. It was a reflection on teaching in a way but really it was a reflection on life. My premise being we should all be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the Frog Kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested. All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years to avoid turning into a human being perhaps.

But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students. In reality we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place. As I pondered it was obvious as to where and why teachers quit. I see John Dewey’s ideas and the example of Dewey in the classroom through The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and all these great idealistic thoughts and then they seem to disappear into educational lala land.

What were to be great teachers seem to be eventually lost midst the flow and ebb of educational bureaucracy and never get a chance to be who they are. For many years I have wondered are today’s students and teacher automations doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I recall a Harry Chapin song I use often about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher a hard row to follow.

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha

I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape is translated as charity. In Greek three words translate for love; Eros, Philos and Agape. Agape often is also translated as a supreme unlimited love or God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity, an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action and is a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something and perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again actively involved.

When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. Having a heart as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is active engaging. For nearly thirteen years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind, originally I started with the attack September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart is an action it involves doing not simply mouthing words. I recall nearly eight years ago in the state of Vermont which still operates on a town meeting basis and several towns were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont to the Middle East. Vermont had lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. That is action others are sending cards reminders of home, for some it may be just a thank you as GI’s return. It is about active involvement, kissing frogs, having a heart, it is about voting and sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

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

Should we look within to who we really are?

Bird Droppings October 23, 2014
Should we look within to who we really are?

Amazing what a day or two out of routine will do. I actually did not get on my computer and do anything of a writing sort yesterday knowing with the rest of the coming week off I would be writing in significant quantity. As I look back on my life good and bad I would not change anything of course. So looking back to catching up I was reintroduced to James Kavanaugh in a roundabout way. I recall in the 1970’s having read some of his poetry as he was popular for several reasons in the hippie culture of that period. He was a renegade Catholic priest as he wrote out against the church and was rather quickly no longer a priest in the Catholic Church legal term of the word. His conferences, seminars and books were a cult favorite in the time. He has since passed away this past year.

I began my Master’s Degree Program at Piedmont College in the spring of 2002 side tracking some of the basic entry requirements with a very high Millers analogy score. As I progressed it seems I needed to be interviewed for acceptance into the Education Department which was odd since I was nearing the end of course work for my Masters. I set an appointment and went to my interview. The line was about twenty people who were all there for an initial interview. Here I was already completed and doing an initial interviews sort of the cart before the horse perhaps. I went in and was asked several questions relating to the missions statement of the Piedmont College Department of Education.

“The School of Education’s mission is focused on mastering the Art of Teaching: Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of All Children. Supporting this mission, we strive to prepare reflective, scholarly, proactive educators. These practitioners effectively educate their students to become knowledgeable, inquisitive, and collaborative learners in diverse, democratic learning communities.” Piedmont College Education Department

As I thought about my questions and answered and proceeded to head home I felt good and was ready to finish my Master’s program. A few days later I received a letter stating I had failed my interview immediately I called my advisor who called the Dean and set up another interview with the Dean of the Education Department. So here I am failing my initial interview and I can rub some people the wrong way relatively quickly but I had felt good about my interview back a few weeks and was confused. As I went into the Dean’s office the Assistant Dean was present also. My first question was from the Dean, How do I get on the Bird Droppings email list? I seriously liked this conversation already and proceeded to pass my interview.

I continued from my Masters at Piedmont directly into their Specialist Program and met with the Director of that program to set up my plans for a course of study. It was interesting as the professor who failed me in my interview was by chance one of the professors in the cohort recommended to me by the Director of the program and I was sweating bullets. It was not until a few months later we met and have long since been good friends it seems that one interview day was a bad one for him, a wrecked car, his Porsche on the way among other things. As my Specialist classes unfolded this professor would start and or finish each session with James Kavanaugh as point of inspiration. Within a few weeks I was acquiring copies of Kavanaugh’s work. After nearly forty years again I am a fan. I wanted to share this piece today from his book, Quiet Water, published in 1991.

In the Center of Your Soul
By James Kavanaugh

There is quiet water
In the center of your soul,
Where a son or daughter
Can be taught what no man knows.
There’s a fragrant garden
In the center of your soul,
Where the weak can harden
And a narrow mind can grow.
There’s a rolling river
In the center of your soul,
An eternal giver
With a rich and endless flow….
There’s a land of muses
In the center of your soul,
Where the rich are losers
And the poor are free to go.
So remain with me then,
To pursue another goal
And to find your freedom
In the center of your soul.

I read through this poem now twenty times this morning each time getting a bit more and each time literally another tear. I look into my tiny granddaughters eyes and I see this poem. I have always felt the eyes hold the soul of a person. These are very powerful words for today. I do believe in this day and time we all need to have some inspiration and additional meaning to our lives. You could ask, what the soul is, and go off on numerous tangents and wanderings but for today have the soul be that of who you are. The soul is your essence borrowing from James Hillman and Karl Jung. So many days ago I started asking as I wrote to please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and today is no different with headlines blaring of so many in pain and suffering through the world. Again a very quick reminder search your soul and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

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

Can we find democracy in the classroom?

Bird Droppings October 21, 2014
Can we find democracy in the classroom?

“There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.” Black Elk, Medicine man and spiritual leader Oglala Lakota

A year ago today I was still recovering from a medical procedure and somehow drove up to Piedmont College for a class and back and then dozed off for three hours afterwards. The next day we were rushing around with our heads cut off trying to get into the car and out of here to drive two and a half hours for a grandson’s dedication, baptism, christening, and numerous other words within the religious vernacular. Today is my first day of doing nothing of break so far and I walked out earlier and almost a frost on the windshield of the car although temperature hovered around fifty degrees. A sunrise made its way through the haze and a new day is dawning. As I do often a few quick sunrise photos and get down to writing.

As I do so often each morning as I am looking in one place find another direction another thought. I have many of Dr. James Sutton’s books in my library. Dr. Sutton’s lectures around the country on Conduct disorders and Oppositional Deviant Disorder, an interesting combination and as a teacher I see them all the time. Parents see some and in the work place many corporate issues and political issues stem from childhood issues such as these. I was looking through Dr. Sutton’s book, 101 ways to make your class room special and found a website of Dr. Marvin Marshall Promoting Responsibility and learning, Dr. Marshall has developed a Hierarchy of Social Development. We need to send this to Washington as a reminder.

“A is for anarchy, B is for bullying, bossing around, C is for cooperation, conformity and D is for democracy – Level A is never acceptable, Level B is someone who needs to be bossed, level C is external and D is Internal” Dr. Marvin Marshall

One of the difficulties is many teachers and or leaders are they want their group to be a Level B or Level C because they want the authority and in doing so limit that groups ability for input. Many teachers strive only for conformity and trying to go beyond that level is then difficult and or nearly impossible for the people under that type personality.

“At Level C, a person is not acting from an entirely genuine desire to be kind or respectful, tolerant, etc. Rather, at Level C, a person acts due to the presence or influence of someone else. Although this level is certainly acceptable (and even many adults never move past it in their own development), it is important for young people to understand that this is not the highest level of personal or social development.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

I think we all can relate to this level of socialization. I use a story from psychology where in an experiment a group of monkeys is trained to refrain from going after some bananas. It takes only a short time to have group influence on new members to the group. In the monkey story this is the level the monkeys operated on where the influences of others is the driving force and the limiting force. So often in society we place level C at the top and never mention anything better or higher.

“…it is important for young people to understand that this is not the highest level of personal or social development.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

By not telling and not disclosing an alternative allows for certain types of leaders and teachers to perpetuate their ideas and survive. Watching national politics unfold often the rules are made and remade to keep this type of system going even at a federal government level. When a malfunction occurs we quickly change the rule and always external reasons are the driving force.

“At Level D, a person is kind, (or tolerant, respectful, diligent, etc.), because he/she is motivated INTERNALLY. A person operating at this highest level of development acts kindly (tolerantly, respectfully, with diligence, etc.), WHETHER OR NOT someone is watching or supervising. At Level D, there is no desire to impress, be rewarded, or even be noticed. When operating at this very high level, a person acts in a kind, tolerant, respectful or diligent way without any EXTERNAL incentive to do so.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

I am sitting here sadly most people simply say no way it is not possible. It is way too mushy or no one acts that way. Yet educational leaders keep throwing it out. John Dewey in the early 1900’s proposed democracy in the class room. Back even further Thomas Jefferson wrote extensively on the issue enough that we remade the nickel for him of course on the other side is a buffalo which is a herding animal. Maybe that was the true hero of the coin and going back further to ancient Greeks democracy is a powerful word and tool when wielded. From Dr. Marshall a key thought for educators.

“When operating at this very high level, a person acts in a kind, tolerant, respectful or diligent way without any EXTERNAL incentive to do so.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

“We escape from a discipline driven environment to a self-motivating and stimulating structure. ….a person of the highest character is motivated INTERNALLY to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

“Although Level C operation leads to decent relationships with others, a decision to operate more consistently at Level D naturally leads to EXCELLENT relationships and, additionally, a strong sense of self-esteem. By focusing on the benefits of operating at Level D (the great feelings of inner satisfaction that come from knowing that you are an authentic and genuinely motivated individual), I have found that young people become inwardly motivated to WANT to reach for this highest level of personal development more and more often.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

I have observed many times young teachers and industry leaders come in and feel they can build a level D in their class room and in their job. In a manner of weeks usually within six months they are steadfastly operating at level C. I mentioned fear over the years as a possible cause but it may be deeper than that. It is easier to function at a level C and easier to walk away and go home each night. The parameters are more clearly defined and established I was drawing an illustration from sheep production. I can build an electric fence that will confine my sheep. If I build it right and it will be a deterrent to predators as well so movement in and out will curtail. However what if and this is a big if I develop, train, raise, and or educate self-motivating sheep. Each morning they vote on which pasture to graze and when to return to the barn and on how long to stay out and other sheep issues. We become a level D sheep flock and no sheep dog is needed and many issues involving new sheep training can be done on a basic discussion level, bahhhh! One of the reasons level D is so hard to attain and even consider is so many leaders in the world look at people as sheep and will say they cannot do this so instead the following exist.

“Cooperates – Does what is expected – Exhibits self-discipline, kindness, responsibility, reliance, etc.–when someone else is present to provide the motivation” Dr. Marvin Marshall

Good little children all in a row all are coloring with a red crayon just as I ask. It takes a renegade or an instigator to mix up desks and to offer other colors. But with a little thinking and a little confidence in the resources of mankind it is possible and students employees can achieve.

“Develop self-discipline – Show kindness to others – Develop self-reliance – Demonstrate responsibility – Do good because it is the right thing to do.” Dr. Marvin Marshall

Attaining a democracy is truly not all that hard it takes a bit more humility and a bit more concern for your people or students, “because it is the right thing to do.” Today is a new day a wonderful day I went out earlier and it was still cool this morning although so I did not sit on my porch and listened to the morning crickets as most were quiet and few were out. Today I had to only imagine and sat down to write so 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)
bird