How do we know if we are still human?

Bird Droppings January 27, 2015
How do we know if we are still human?

Perhaps it is from growing up in a situation where we were daily aware of special needs children and adults from the birth of my younger brother till his passing almost eighteen years ago. Those in my family have had connections with exceptional children directly or indirectly in our careers and life’s endeavors ever since. A number of us went the route of teaching and even there most are in Exceptional Education. Several are in the medical field and several have gone into psychology. My brother linked us as a family to the humanness of mankind.

“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Albert Einstein

Over the years in my undergraduate and graduate studies, internships and various clinicals I have experienced situations many will never know exist. I recall walking through wards in a state institution where tiny infant appearing patients lay in bassinets connected to tubes and not moving. Some were born with no brains and kept alive by feeding tubes and respirators. I asked one of the attendants during a walk through in 1968 how old was this one particular infant. I was informed this was not an infant but probably older than I was I being twenty and the baby at twenty three. The attendants turned the children to prevent bed sores and occasionally would talk to their charges. Later as I worked on finishing my psychology degree at Mercer University I visited several more units very similar at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville Georgia once the largest mental hospital in the nation and at a Regional Mental Hospital in Atlanta. These units were filled with fifty to sixty patients each. Central State Hospital had more than one ward.

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our society exists through a historical development from a time when the first humans began living in villages and using commodities as exchange for other goods. Many historians and anthropologists will offer that society and civilization began when this early bartering started and a value was placed on a particular thing. A goat is worth a bushel of wheat or rice and banking began. Soon more precious commodities were found, metal for weapons and tools, precious stones and gold for adornment. Granted this process happened fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of things and soon someone decided they could get more for an item since they had most of it and price gouging was begun. It was in these days that an imperfect infant would be tossed off a cliff or fed to the sharks.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
However that idea that got me started on the idea that maybe we are losing or have lost our humanity is rampant in our society today. Over the years I will get in discussions and some get a bit out of proportion and over board and some I will walk away from but when we look at cutting programs that provide housing and food for people who do not have anything I take issue. I take issue with the greed that drives bonuses and profits that tax most families to a point of frustration all in the name of capitalism. I get upset when education is first on the chopping block not because it could impact my own pay but because it is through education we can possible regain our humanity.

In a recent discussion on drug testing those on Medicaid, Food stamps or any Federal assistance because all on welfare are on drugs and using welfare money to buy drugs I asked what do we do and was suggested I use my own money if I think they need help. Almost immediately in curiosity I should have questioned what religion are you? A legislator from Kentucky wants to cut nearly every federal program. I find it ironic that down through history men and women who try to help others find themselves hated by those in power and usually end up dead.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Credited to Jesus Bar Joseph, known to many as Jesus the Christ, Mark 10:42-45

So how is it in a religion based on self-sacrifice is it that the people are so greedy? How can the image of a religious leader driving a Rolls Royce and living in one of their many multi-million dollar homes be comforting to anyone? How can anyone say it is a federal healthcare bill that drove up there insurance when a CEO of a health insurance company is making over one hundred fifty million dollars a year and can deny a claim or treatment due to cost at any given moment? I recently watched the leader of the majority in the house of representatives roll his eyes at comments the President of the United States as he spoke in his State of the Union Address. Of course those are the images the media flashes over and over again as well.

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.”
Parker J. Palmer

Having worked in service oriented jobs, pasturing, teaching, and counseling I have seen with my eyes people who do not wish to be poor. It is through no choice of their own they have a congenital heart defect and cannot stand for longer than a few minutes let alone try and work. I have seen mothers whose husbands left when a baby was born with severe birth defects and the child requires constant care so the mother does not work and cares for the child. I have seen families torn apart by mental illness and these mental patients with budget cuts pushed out into a not so caring world to fend for themselves only to end up homeless and destitute. These are not unique cases but when we cross the country and multiple they are many thousands of times the situations that occur. I have still heard the stories of that famous welfare mother with six kids driving to family and children’s services to pick up a check in an Escalade or Mercedes. First off checks are no longer mailed they load to a debit card. Not all on welfare are using the system and not all on welfare are using drugs. Is our system is not perfect by no means but it is the lack of human civility that bothers me. It is how we can say we are of a religious persuasion and literally live an entirely different life when not in church.

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Black Elk

In most Indian societies all were taken care of and provided for. I am not promoting a return to the primitive but to a more natural view of life. Indians held all as sacred and in doing so would not demand or extract more than was needed from the land or from another person. It was a very humanistic world view. We stripped away the sacredness of the land and used the resources till they were gone in the name of progress. We do not as a society want to help others is the sound board of many people. I was informed last evening if I want to help others use my own money to which I replied I do. I have for my entire teaching career given to a local charity a portion of my paycheck a very small portion yet it amounts each year to nearly ten percent of the giving from the teaching staff at my high school and I am less than one percent of the staff numbers.

“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.” Tecumseh, Shawnee

Our dominate society has all but eradicated the indigenous populations of the Americas from the first slaughters by Cortez’s men in Mexico to cutting of funding to the reservations. Suicides and infant mortality in Indian societies is considerably higher than dominate societies around them. It has only been a few days since I watched the movie about Wounded Knee and slaughter of unarmed Indians the last major Indian war battle even though only one sided. Around the world natives peoples are eliminated for wealth and power.

“I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.” Mahatma Gandhi

In a recent set of materials given to me by my mother on the Bushmen of South Africa who call themselves the Sans I noticed the date on the literature and it was pre-mining leases in the Kalahari. There were beautiful pictures of hunting and villages moved as they would follow the herds of animals. Today much of the Kalahari Desert has been sectioned off into diamond mine leases and the Sans moved to concrete buildings on a reservation. They are a people losing their identity and culture so greed can fill the void.

I have started watching again this year’s American Idol and I am enjoying the softer image. Still harboring within the midst of us is hatred rampant and rancid that keeps rearing up. A young man drove his mother’s car to school with an OBAMA bumper sticker which was torn off in the parking lot and replaced with a derogatory note and the extra addition of never park here again or it will be worse. We have come so far to be so lost. I wonder if it is with a deaf ear I offer each day 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

Counting knuckles

Bird Droppings January 26, 2015
Counting knuckles

On Friday a student asked what day of the month next Friday would be and I responded January 30 and just as quick another said he thought it was the first. I said no it was the thirty first and he proceeded to count his knuckles, “a knuckle has 31 days”, he said. He figured it was the thirty first. Later on last Friday I watched as we did math computation tests and he was using his fingers as a portable calculator, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was that I also knew the personality of this student and how he comes off as being such a bad dude that intrigued me. But in a lighter moment with no planning his other side comes out. It is sad because this side of him actually does try to succeed. However so often even for me he will shut down and sulk away to where ever he chooses and vegetate. I am not listening, you cannot make me listen, or I don’t care and best of all just give me a zero, will spill from his mouth.

I was thinking how great if you could plan your day around the moments a student is willing to count fingers and knuckles maybe call it “knuckle time”. Those moments when being embarrassed or ashamed of your own capabilities are gone and you can move ahead even if only in micro steps. We all experience this at some time or another. As I watch and listen to students I see pieces of myself in others. How we go about our days those little things we do to survive the onslaught of society. Some of us have enough to make it throughout the day and others have only counting knuckles and when the task goes beyond that capability then frustration and defeat self-imposed. “Give me a zero”.

I used a trick of sorts to get extra time out of students the other day. Biology questions were two to three per page and very simple with tricks so to say true and false sort of questions at times but answers might alter true and false to false and true. So the student did have to read and think about questions and answers. Some students made it through level two others to level four before difficulty set in. Today we will do more and the goal is for students to be successful throughout the process, till they reach a level of discomfort and then set up the programming and planning of lessons accordingly. Unlike many situations these students face adjustments and or modifications and they can be made.

So often in school we want every child to fit parameters we establish as teachers and further up the line as curriculum specialists. All ninth graders should do this and tenth graders this item. No child will be left behind who does what we want should have been the legislative name of the bill. NCLBWDWWW might have been too long of an acronym so they shortened it. However what about the exceptions in life? Years ago I found myself as an exception. It was in fourth grade and I was sitting getting my paper back and the teacher had given me a C on my paper in which I had four wrong. One of my friends next to me had four wrong and an A so definitely I was confused. Day by day this continued and I asked my mom about it. She went in for a conference and the teacher told her I wasn’t working up to my potential so she graded me differently. Guess what happened I quit. No more extra reading for school work although I did still read volumes for fun, no more extra credit. I got left behind because a teacher failed to see I wasn’t fitting into her parameters.
I once saw a peg board with round holes and all the pegs were square and did not fit. Children would try and then after hitting did not work finally quit. The demonstration was actually a psychological test with young children. Funny thing is we do this all the time in school and on the job as teachers. We want people to fit our standards our peg board.

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” Erik Erikson

I watch the paradoxes of our federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, where frustrated kids quit school because of so called graduation tests. It is where frustrated teachers are leaving due to being judges on students taking standardized tests. What about being the teacher of a math class where your entire class failed the prerequisite for your class and now is in your class since prerequisite is no longer offered and you have an end of course test that measures your teaching ability and sixty seven percent fail. No one looks at pretest scores and posttest scores and significant improvement and learning that occurred. All that matters is that end of course tests score and the failure rate shows you are not teaching. A whole class and teacher get left behind.

I found this quote well over three years ago and thought it would be a good one to toss out. I think someone retrieved it from his trash can since he has proven he really does not believe this.

“I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, and look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan

As I watch how politics interferes and then create havoc in education and in so many areas I wonder why we have politicians at times. It makes me want to count my knuckles and see if the answer is correct and that is knowing I do not have enough knuckles for this problem.

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” B. F. Skinner

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Maybe we forget this, maybe we want education to be this neat package we can take off the shelf and spoon feed to our students and the students get or do not get and we go on leaving behind the ones that don’t get it. What about the kid with three knuckles? My son had a friend who lost a finger in childhood he would be at a disadvantage counting knuckles.

“Every acquisition of accommodation becomes material for assimilation, but assimilation always resists new accommodations.” Jean Piaget

I wonder if we did pretests and posttests in congress and in the Senate on ethics and on performance if our elected officials would pass the grade or be left behind. No Congressman left behind now that is a bill I could get behind. 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

Can we define our own success?

Bird Droppings January 25, 2015
Can we define our own success?

Friday in a teachable moment I drew upon my experiences and while discussing the phylum arthopoda and one of my favorites the black and yellow garden spider, Agriope aurantia, or writing spiders. I then proceeded to offer a Creek Indian view of early morning. Few see this unless you go out early in the morning. I will often go and sit watching the sun rise in the east. If you look carefully through the weeds and grass in the wee hours of morning you can see gossamer strands of spider silk literally touching everything. Creeks will call this the web of life where all is connected and as I told the story for my teachable moment this group of ninth graders all were silent listening.

I left school Friday with several critical calls to make, errands to run and several feelings of people I needed to see and or talk with. As I traveled about going to a meeting a day late for a former student to start there were quite a few people along the journey. I spoke with a retired Air Force electronics expert who had two years ago undertaken a vision quest with the Blackfeet tribe in the western US. I ran into several former and present students, parents and friends of mine. I would consider yesterday very much a success. As I went through the day yesterday I thought about what is it the idea of being successful? Is there some magically way we can tell if we are successful in what we do?

Going deeper in thought I would like to consider myself successful at what I do and I think most people would want to feel this way. Wanting to be successful however has its basis on how you define success. It has been nearly twelve years since a fellow teacher handed me an article by Sydney J. Harris, a prolific writer and columnist from thirty five years ago. Harris at one time was syndicated in over four hundred papers.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris “Success is just a little more effort” from his column Strictly Speaking

As I read this passage I realized how true it is. So often it is one more step, another few words, fifteen more minutes that make the difference between success and failure or in being just average. In high school it is sadly getting seventy percent and passing is considered successful by far too many and some do not succumb and try to attain better. It is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much work or effort. This is not strictly limited to students teachers as well fall into the taking the easier road syndrome as well. If a teacher choses to only do seventy percent just what is needed and is working with seventy percent students that equates to about forty nine percent of what should have been learned and is a failure in most societies. I often wonder and I am a procrastinator myself what constitute too much effort or too much work.
“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

Being of a monastic nature I find some days this to be difficult, to include others. However we need others to succeed in life and to move ahead if only to provide support. Succeeding is more often than not an effort of a group rather than just one person.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last two lines; it becomes so significant that success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society of excess and greed.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Victor Frankl

Seeing ourselves clearly, honestly, and learning to like to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people down through history. Many wealthy people defined success in terms of accumulation of wealth and yet others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons that are available as I looked, accomplishment, outcome, and achievement were all listed as definitive words for success as I read.

As I think back to two of the quotes I used today Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key, this man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates defines success as that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define. It is about your impact and difference you make on others and success is not measured as much in volumes as in quality. If we take quality as defined by Phillip Crosby which is exceeding expectations and draw a loose simple parallel. Then success is exceeding others expectations. A week is drawing to an end and as I have for many years now ended my daily entries 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

We need to be examining the threads of life?

Bird Droppings January 23, 2015
We need to be examining the threads of life?

“Man did not weave the web of life he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, 1854

It has been a few years since I read a National Geographic article where the lead in photo was a superimposed image of goats hanging from spider webs. Genetic engineering was in the process of producing in goat milk the proteins from spider silk webbing. Spider web silk happens to be one of the strongest natural occurring fibers known to man. The biggest problem being there is not much of it. On some mornings as I go out to sit and think many issues are pressing it may be a busy day ahead, or a paper due later electronically, or papers to grade. I generally start my morning listening through the darkness I could hear my dog rustling as he does through the bushes trying to find the elusive chipmunks and whatever other great creatures he hunts in our back yard. A car alarm broke the semi silence and was quickly silenced more than likely someone rolled over and as I do often accidentally hit remote panic button.

Rain has returned to the area and although warm temperatures my aching body can feel the weather change. I seem every morning to check for a sunrise to the east today I was alone and the center of my world. On some mornings when temperatures allow silken strands find their way from grass stem to weed stem literally covering hundreds of feet. It is an interconnecting web of life. Perhaps that is what drew me to this statement from Chief Seattle. So often we go about life as the center of the universe only seeing that all revolves around us. In medieval times this was the cause for much debate being that to them man the center of all that is. I find it amazing that civilized people have a difficult time with this. In most indigenous cultures more primitive people see themselves as merely a cog in a great machine of life.

“This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected” Chief Seattle, 1854

There is much controversy as to actual words spoken by Chief Seattle. Some say the translation written by a friend was not truly what was said and since recording devices were in their infancy and only transcribed translations are available we are left with the words as they are. It is said many were moved to tears as he spoke these words. So many times as I sit outside my room observing students and teachers pass by I see many view life from the center not as a part of all that is.

“That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.” Chief Seattle, 1854, these lines are attributed to early 20th C. historian and ethnographic writer, A. C. Ballard added after many years

I was intrigued as different versions of Chief Seattle’s speech seem to be recorded. There is one version that has even been suggested as having been written for Hollywood and a movie. I read the end of the speech which is the line above and perhaps Mr. Ballard did add these lines many years later but the last line interested me. “The end of living and beginning of surviving”. How far have we come in civilization to go from living off the land to trying and surviving on it? Back in the day not that long ago a family could live and do well on a small farm raising what they needed how fast quickly things changed. I recall a scene from a recent movie “The Missing”. A farm family in the west raising horses and cattle the oldest daughter goes to town to see all the new-fangled contraptions to make life easier, at a fair. Perhaps it is here we changed from living to surviving. Was it when we stopped making what we needed and started buying things to make life easier?

Soon we needed things to do with time freed up and leisure become a major part of our day. Interesting how we now need to make more income to enjoy our leisure and surviving becomes more than just food and clothing but being able to afford having a “good” time. The film was about a clash between old and new in some ways in old faith and new science. There was the under lying clash of change from living to surviving and from freedom to dependency.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Mother Teresa

It is hard to feel at times that what we do is of significance perhaps never noted in meetings or from friends but each step each whisper each smile is carefully noted down by someone and it is meaningful to that person as they go through life. How many thousands of times did Mother Theresa feel like that drop in the ocean as she held the hand of a leper in a back street of Calcutta. How much easier and safer is it for some of us to live our lives as we do not paying attention from one point to another.

“Oneness is all inclusive. Nothing nor no one is exempt; that is the way it always has been; that is the way it is; and that is the way it always will be.” Chief Seattle

We are all connected, intertwined and each a piece of the web, a thread, a drop and yet all meaningful pieces to this great puzzle of life. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

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

A wondering of the moment

Bird Droppings January 22, 2015
A wondering of the moment

Nearly eleven years ago I received this email from a dear friend. I met Frances when I was a new staff member at Loganville High School in 2001. Frances had been teaching English and had worked with our then principal at the time at a previous school and did teacher and student workshops. Over the years we have continued communication and occasionally have had a spot of lunch. But as I read headlines today and news commentary Frances came to mind and an email from my files so many years ago. I had written a Bird Droppings using several illusions and references to circles as I do often just like the other day.

“Dear Bird, The circle may have more to do with the philosophy of letting the river flow. I think our culture is more involved with the spiral in the up direction. We have a hard time revisiting, editing, honing, or learning from experience – all involve the circle.” Frances Friedman

Frances and I have a dialogue of sorts ongoing with thoughts and as I read this I recalled a bowl of objects in my room, and a Shel Silverstein book, The Missing Piece meets the Big O. Most of us are familiar with river stones, pebbles and rocks worn smooth with the flow of the river or stream. In Africa some of the hardwood trees have wood so dense it sinks to the bottom of the stream. As chunks are chopped or cut off the resulting pieces of these trees will fall into the river or stream and much like river stones tumble and spin and soon have a round smooth look like a river stone. I have a bowl of river stone wooden rocks in my room.

The story of Shel Silverstein’s is of a missing pie shape piece is sitting waiting for the right piece, someone who might be missing also a piece to come by. The piece sits and sits finally after many seasons and many pieces a BIG O tells him you are your own you can do what you want and the piece begins to flip flop and such and soon as the edges wear down begins to roll. It is its own piece a simple child’s story but maybe in a world where we all search for identity a more accurate description of who we should be like.

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

So often we wait, wanting only to be that which we are not. We are not willing to learn to change to grow. A piece of wood lying on the bottom of a stream in many parts of the world would float away and simply be gone. But as my pieces sitting on my desk attest to some will roll and tumble smooth the edges round off and soon be as the river stones. Just as the missing piece learned sometimes you have to move, adjust, and begin to roll and sometimes even change or you can simply sit and wait. As Thomas Carlyle states what will you miss.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frances mentioned how so often we forget to learn from experience so often in our hurries we are not watching, looking, and seeing. A few days back I was driving from Macon Georgia and thinking about memory. On my drive I was seeing in front of me and forgetting so to see everything behind. How often do we actually do this as we pass through life? As I prepare for my classes I have been working on the concept of SUCCESS. Many of the people I know and students can relate to failure but not success, it is a new concept. Come to think of it this was mentioned in the last State of the Union Address by President Obama in relationship to schools. It is a new experience but hopefully they will learn through and of experience and move beyond failure.

“When I hear somebody sigh that ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” Sydney J. Harris

Contrast and compare, Harris is a thinker that many may not know. He was writing from 1944 through his death in 1982. A teacher friend nearly fourteen years ago shared several of his articles with me and his columns are intriguing reading, Strictly Personal is a site containing many of his articles, essays and thoughts and some good reading. As I look back in my own life and times and see where and when corners were round and I learned and succeeded and failed many times I also see other people who were affected by that moment and hopefully they have affected positively and grown as well. Yesterday I was in the guidance office and a little boy was sitting on the floor his dad is still overseas and I was forced to think a moment 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)
bird

Can we as teachers daily find the right words?

Bird Droppings January 21, 2015
Can we as teachers daily find the right words?

On days when my wife is out of town I can go out and take sunrise photos and wander about as I do with few time restrictions. This past weekend sunrises were very subdued and I was able to sit and watch for nearly thirty minutes as they passed through their cycle. I went out very early on Sunday morning to sit and give thanks. I had many things on my mind and was looking for a reference point. Something I could sort out my thoughts from the fog and focus upon. I sat for only a few minutes as I had business at school to get too and finish up. But for me to listen for a few minutes to a silent world adds to my day. I wrapped myself in a buffalo vest and as the embers of sage, cedar, ursa, and willow bark smoldered away decided the chill was a bit much. I went in got dressed and got to work.

Maybe as later today the day progresses before classes change and the sun is not fully up I can join the sunrise today. Sunday a beautiful red band lay across the horizon. I stepped out of the car usually on my excursions I just open a window especially if it’s cold. I took quite a few shots and headed back to the warmth of my running car. The door was locked I must have bumped the lock getting out. After about forty minutes of walking home looking for the spare and lifting the lock with a coat hanger the sun was in full glory and I got some great shots. My little episode with the door gave me time to think and freeze my hands.

“The farmer channels water to his land. The fletcher whittles his arrows. And the carpenter turns his wood. So the wise direct their mind.” Dhammapada

Many years ago there was a folk song entitled, If I were a carpenter, as I read this passage this morning from a Hindu text that song popped in my mind. Many folk artists have covered the song. The song was written by folk singer Tim Hardin. It was a hit in 1966 recorded by Bobby Darrin, who after letting two other songs slip by that became number one hits for The Lovin Spoonful, grabbed onto this one. A few years later the song was covered by legendary artist Johnny Cash and again a hit. As I think back there was a similar passage that I used many years ago from another great thinker of our time.

If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?
If a tinker were my trade
would you still find me,
carrin’ the pots I made,
followin’ behind me.
Save my love through loneliness,
Save my love for sorrow,
I’m given you my onliness,
Come give your tomorrow.
If I worked my hands in wood,
Would you still love me?
Answer me babe, “Yes I would,
I’ll put you above me.”
If I were a miller
at a mill wheel grinding,
would you miss your color box,
and your soft shoe shining?
Music and Lyrics by Tim Hardin

I have read these words and listened to many singers sing them. Some will say it is just a song of a blue collar worker a common man who is in love with an upper class woman. Will she still love him even though he is merely a carpenter? Some argue it is about Jesus Christ who as stories go was a carpenter in love with a lady. But as I read and reread the words this morning so many more thoughts and understandings. I recall a passage from a speech given by the great civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the folk song era of the 1960’s although sitting here pondering it probably in some circles still exists, especially around my house anyhow many songs were written to add credence to various social efforts of the time. Pete Seeger would sing songs borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s hobo and dust bowl travels, the songs of the depression. As he traveled the country he sang at union, environmental, and civil rights meetings, including for Dr. King He would borrow from many and various other sources for his songs.

One song was made famous outside of folk song circles by a group “the Byrd’s” was “Turn, turn, turn” a song that received its words from a book in the Old Testament Ecclesiastes to be exact. “To ever thing there is a season, ……a time to be born a time to die” As I sit here writing this morning flags are still flying from telephone poles, draped over tables, still a few emblazoned on T-shirts and paper cups celebrating our nation. Just last night our president gave the State of the Union Address and I am reminded of what and who we are as Americans. It is not our differences but our similarities that make us who we are. It is our desire and passion for freedom.

By the constitution of the United States all people are equal and all are entitled to certain liberties and the pursuit of happiness whether they are carpenters, millers, tinkers, lawyers or folk singers. As we go about today remembering and watching the few remnants of our real heritage we need to also think of in being free and being able to speak, and worship freely we should not impose our own ideals and beliefs on others. That is so easy to say but I was reminded of a moment so many years ago of the innocence of youth, as I sat at lunch with my youngest son at a Chinese Buffet in Loganville Georgia a few years back. The owner I have known for many years and she had her three boys there with her, it was late afternoon we had been working at the High School working in my room. Her boys were sitting playing at the next booth, some was in English some in Chinese as they chattered back and forth and giggled playing games as small children do, the boys were between three and five years old. One of the boys using his fingers to pull his eyes slanted said I am a Chinese boy now. As I sat and thought so many possible meanings to that, I know his family, mother and father both are from mainland China and very active in cultural awareness programs in schools and the community. Was this an example of an innocent child’s color blindness or was it a slight to his heritage imposed by others?

Yesterday a young mother mentioned how her son was thinking about Martin Luther King Day and was trying in his first grade thinking to understand racism. In his family which is multiracial it is never an issue. His young mother was wondering how to approach it. “There is a time to ever season” we cannot choose the road of our genetics but we can choose the directions and pathways we take with it. We can choose the words and actions. In a cultural awareness class a few years back as I wrote the word black, indicating race I was reminded that it is politically correct to say Afro American. I wondered at the response, yet I am still called a white person not a Welsh, English, German, Irish, Native American, Hebrew, Scottish, Amish, person. Although WEGINAHSA would work now that I think of it. I wonder if I called someone a Weginahsa, would they be upset or if I could get that listed as an ethnic group or racial group. I could list it under other, I am a Weginahsa pronounced, Wee – jean – A – house – a. I am no longer just white I am a proud weginahsa, if I can spell it correctly and pronounce it the same twice in a row.

I read a thought from a fellow teacher yesterday in reference to a friend who passed and daily I received from another friends words of wisdom from the North Georgia Mountains.

“My grandmother taught me that you can never say I love you too much as by saying it often, when the day comes that they are no longer with you, you will not have to ask yourself if they knew or if you had said it to them enough.” Mountain Wisdom

We choose the roads and pathways we choose the words and implications of those words and the attitude that formulates them. MLK as he made the comment about a street sweeper it is our choice as to how great or how little we are and it is our choice whether we truly are free or not. Today is the time and the season for us to be whom we are Americans and we are able to think act and be free 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

Are you at the center of your universe?

Bird Droppings January 20, 2015
Are you at the center of your universe?

“Tung-shan was asked, ‘The normal mind is the way; what is the normal mind?’ He replied, ’Not picking things up along the road.’” From Teachings of Zen, edited by Thomas Cleary, © 1998

One aspect of the Zen teachings is the process of thinking that often is involved in sorting out the statement to begin with. Many times a day I am faced with defining what is normal versus what is not. It may be working with children and or adults who in some situations who often skirt around what many normal people consider the parameters of normalcy. Sometimes I sit back and wonder who is really normal. Who is out there that can truly define normal. When I read this approach earlier I was thinking about High School students and towards teachers. How easy to define simply those persons who pick up trash alongside the road are they normal if you saw them waking along bag in hand cleaning up after others. Conversely obviously if you throw trash out alongside the road you are definitely not normal. I am amused as I think to how so many just treat their surroundings as disposable maybe that is the point of this statement treating the earth well. It is not just dumping but picking up after others is what should be normal, concern for others.

“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” Confucius

“Human history is the sad result of each one looking out for himself.” Julie Cortazar

Several friends are teachers, who also coach cheerleading, which more often than not is predominately girls. Several years back I placed on my door to my room a sign stating as a parent I have only boys. I had been joking with the coaches at how girls can be so difficult at times. There seemed to be a civil war over a boy going on within the ranks of the cheerleaders, accusations back and forth, parents involved to a point of a restraining order. Yesterday in Yahoo news an article about Lovesickness is physiological as well to add to the fray.

“If we were not all so excessively interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.” Arthur Schopenhauer

“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.” Carl Jung

I often wonder working with kids with disabilities if at times ego is not a factor as so many are depressed. Some children have a poor self-image and for example many ADHD and more overt children have inflated views of themselves. One in particular as I think when talking is totally absorbed in herself. Sitting here thinking many high school students tend to be this way even those without recognized disabilities. I would say a vast majority sadly are self-focused, self-involved and easily could say self-centered. Alas the majority would not pick up alongside the road conversely then normal is in retrospect not the majority as so often thought.

“Egotism is the art of seeing in yourself what others cannot see.” George V. Higgins

“The nice thing about egotists is that they don’t talk about other people.” Lucille S. Harper

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.” Frank Leahy

We all tend to become self-absorbed. The past few weeks I have been fighting with a cold, when you are ill you tend to become more self-involved, it is so much easier to ask for a drink or blanket when you cannot breathe or have a running nose. But even with a cold I would still pick up from the side of the road and do my best to avoid saying something bad about my neighbor.

“Loving is the only sure road out of darkness, the only serum known that cures self-centeredness.” Roger M’Ckuen

“The one who overcomes egotism rids themselves of the most stubborn obstacle that blocks the way to all true greatness and all true happiness.” Coltvos

Often I will search the internet when I find a quote or saying to use to see who this person was and why they said what they said. Both of these authors have wonderful words in their quote yet neither is to be found outside their statement. As I sit here this morning wondering at this phenomenon of self-centeredness of egotism, I wonder could we train students to be more aware of others to be less self-centered, to pick up alongside the road.

Years ago I remember a family moving across country and we were driving south to Naples Florida to visit relatives. This was long before interstates and all roads to Florida were two lane and periodically crossed rail road tracks. This family evidently had been pulling a trailer and it was hit by the train and scattered everything along the road for what seemed like miles. I am sitting in the car my dad was concerned about anyone being hurt he was the first aid guy back home. I just remember seeing all the debris and the road was a litterer’s paradise and out of the wood work came people walking up picking up a piece here and there and as we watched the road was being picked up, sadly for today’s quote most were gathering for their own use literally stealing away this family’s belongings as they sorted through the pieces.

Perhaps I recall the scene as this was about the time of Lady Bird Johnson’s plea for cleaning up the roads. It used to be you had a coke bottle and were done you threw it out the window no thinking involved. As I think to the first statement of the morning perhaps that is the tie in, normal is picking up no thinking involved, no Lady Bird Johnson to plea and no reminders just it is what we should be doing. So a new morning a new day and which direction will we take. Please keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind and to always give thanks namaste.

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