Doing is the best teacher

Bird Droppings July 31, 2015
Doing is the best teacher

It has been an interesting week. I did my usual going into school and working in my room. I spent a good bit of the mornings taking advantage of weather and light and getting some rather interesting photographs. Later yesterday afternoon after almost fifteen hours of rain I went to start gardening, and it rained again of course. On a different thought, it has been intriguing to me how so many people view education as failing. I wonder as I sit here this morning how many saying such things could pass a high school biology class of today. I was joking yesterday as I helped a friend move into a new room at school how my 1968 college biology was nothing compared to our current text in high school. He mentioned something about how cells were not discovered yet in 1968 alluding to my age.

But it is folks my age who are complaining, and it is not education that is to blame. We live in a culture of and society of having it now. There is little dreaming ahead thinking of the future we are so energized to have stuff now and if you cannot Google it doesn’t exist. I am bad about collecting books and the fifty or so boxes that I put in storage from my previous room will attest to that. In my collection is a 1931 copy of William Tompkins Universal sign language which was my fathers. It is fragile, and I keep it at the house. I have thought it would make an interesting lead into a literature class, and I found a copy of the book in a Barnes and Noble and honestly I have never seen this book previously.

It has been a few days since my sons, and I went to a reptile show here locally and always there are some strange characters about. I had the opportunity to listen to world-renowned reptile and wildlife photographer, Bill Love talk about taking pictures of reptiles. Interestingly enough his comment that stuck was “doing is the best teacher.”

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” Madame Marie Curie

Somewhere along the line the concept of “do a good deed daily” came along, and it always amazes me where and why I choose a particular direction to go in my daily writings. It could be a comment in an email about only living a good life, or comment from a snake photographer both of which kind of sort of gave me a focus today.

“Keep doing good deeds long enough, and you’ll probably turn out a good man in spite of yourself.” Louis Auchincloss

As I read this morning and look through ideas a simple matter comes to mind, and that is that our living as an example, it is a model to go by for others. We are all predominately visual learners, and seeing is believing has been said many times over.

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” Simon De Beauvoir

History is often the teacher, and we can see how and why a particular person developed and in what ways that individual life has affected humanity. For example was there substance to their existence or did they merely take up space occupying air and land.

“The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule…” Albert Einstein

When you look back and realize historically what piece of history this great mind came from and in his development where his philosophy of life evolved it was most interesting. Einstein came from a Jewish background; he grew up in a part of the world where his people were being eliminated from humanity by a single person’s ideology. He came from a country where warfare and weaponry abounded and as he grew older he even asked forgiveness for the small piece he helped to create ushering in the atomic age. He became one of the world’s leading anti-war figures and pacifists and more concerned about service than ruling.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
Looking again at history Mother Theresa, a tiny waif of a woman lost herself in service to the poor of Calcutta India yet as I write being recommended for Sainthood in the Catholic Church. Gandhi could have been a wealthy man yet choose otherwise and served his people of India. St. Francis of Assisi was born into a wealthy merchant family and left it to serve others. As I look at these people finding themselves is that what they were doing or is it just that service to them was the right thing to do. Far too often we consider success to be the accumulation of wealth.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Nelson Henderson

I have several friends who farm trees and planning is so often many years away even with nursery stock. Some rock and roll fans may know the name of a leading keyboardist Chuck Levall. He has played with many bands Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones and James Taylor to name a few, but I first saw his name years ago as the keyboard player for The Allman Brothers Band in Macon Georgia, nearly 35 years ago. Chuck Levall grows trees in Middle Georgia in his spare time. While I have taken a literal twist with a symbolic quote, there is a point when you plant a seed for a tree you plant it knowing the potential and know chances are you will never benefit from that potential, it is an act of service to others.

“The difference between a helping hand and an outstretched palm is a twist of the wrist.” Laurence Leamer

Sometimes there is a fine line between symbiotic and parasitic a twist of the wrist, but who is to say who doesn’t receive help. Several years ago when I was daily involved in feeding families it was much easier to make a mistake and feed a family who may have food than to turn anyone away.

“Give what you have to somebody; it may be better than you think.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I received an email from a good friend yesterday that is so often how we respond in life the fact it is a church is important to the story, but it could be a school, classroom, or a PTSO meeting many will say it is just human nature.

“One day, a man went to visit a church. He got there early, parked his car, and got out. Another car pulled up near, and the driver got out and said, “I always park there! You took my place!” The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated that’s my seat! You took my place!” The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said that’s where I always sit! You took my place!” An email from a friend but many authors have used this or similar as original

Over the years, I have seen many an article of a pastor or civic leader who dresses in rags to see how people think and react. Even local radio hosts, the regular guys, have sent Southside Steve one of their regulars out to get responses, and you know what we always do so well. Seldom are the stories of a person offering to help park the car or offering a seat or offering a slice of bread, sadly ever so seldom.

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” Booker T. Washington

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Albert Schweitzer

So often I find a quote or thought from this man who found his place in the darkest portion of Africa in the 1930’s to be a physician giving up a lucrative career in Europe as a musician and or doctor. As I end today, so many of the people gave up all and that is not the issue it is simply the giving aspect because it is the example we set that is seen not what we say not what we bear witness to, but what we as a person do each day. It is about each moment to set an example and in that way people will learn. 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

In a world of data can we still use intuition?

Bird Droppings July 30, 2015
In a world of data can we still use intuition?

I mentioned to a fellow teacher I can tell when a child has emotional issues most of the time after observing a few minutes and listening. Granted observations are part of most evaluations but I was referring to an intuitive aspect of observation. Something we learn perhaps as we experience and live life. Over the years several children I have worked with I have recommended additional involvement and unfortunately also got to say I told you so in future.

“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” Edwin Hubbel Chapin

As I was discussing the final class debriefing as it is called. A thought hit me as to why some teachers can do more than others. Why some teachers succeed where others flounder, intuition, a simple thought and a difficult concept to teach to another. This is an area most education classes forget. I have for many years considered teaching an art form. There is an aspect of teaching that separates great teachers from poor teachers.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck

“Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has figured it out.” Michael Burke

Knowing what to do at a specific moment intuitively is not easily taught in a classroom it has to be experienced and understood at a deeper level.

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Dr. Benjamin Spock

“Instinct is untaught ability.” Bain

In a teacher training session on grading yesterday I listened to seasoned teachers discuss how they would do this or that and then one said do you have that written down, what is your starting point. How much planning time do you allow and as I watched and heard in disbelief in this situation that was one of a teachable moment go by the way side. The person speaking turned around stunned as I was and said I really do not plan it takes ten minutes to jot down a daily note to my students and each day they experience new things and we build on that.

“Instinct is intelligence incapable of self-consciousness.” John Sterling

I began thinking of key words in teaching, intuition being a good starting point. Always when teaching anachronisms help and I found, IESP, Intuition, Empathy, Sympathy and Perception. These are all aspects of a good teacher and a good parent and a good person as well.

“Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” Dr. Joyce Brothers

In doing research on intuition in years gone by, many psychologists believe we have stored experiences and concepts that we do not even recall that are the basis for intuition.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” Florence Scovel Shinn

There are other researchers who consider aspects yet undiscovered as a basis for intuitiveness and intuition.

“A leader or a man of action in a crisis almost always acts subconsciously and then thinks of the reasons for his action.” Jawaharlal Nehru

So many years ago Nehru was the first Prime Minister of an independent India and as well a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Instinct is the nose of the mind.” Madame De Girardin

I saw this note and it intrigued me. Instinct being a door opener and perhaps starting point, a beginning it could be possibly even one of our senses.

“I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.” Stanley Baldwin

I do not know exactly what this entity is we call intuition. I have observed many teachers and parents, workers and managers. Some know answers and others have to understand and solve the issues. As I was thinking and pondering the past few days I always seem to come back to a favorite quote.

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

One of my red neck buddies responded, “what the h— does that have to do with intuition”? Some of us have a goal a destination but the journey the getting there is as critical and crucial as the end result. Each aspect of the pathway is essential rather than simply the end of the trip. When you are looking as you go you see so much more. I recall a long trip as a child and we would play games looking for animals. If you choose to look only for red tailed hawks, it would be miles and even hours between birds. If you choose birds and how many different ones you can see we up the chances of every few seconds or minutes seeing something. Open that to all animals and now every few seconds and you are looking for details in the road side and trees and grass. Life is so similar some people are looking for specifics so minute they seldom find what they are looking for. Others see every nook and cranny. Intuition is in the crannies I think.

“The really happy man is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.“ Anonymous

I wish I had said that. 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

Just a morning observation

Bird Droppings July 29, 2015
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 the north east quadrant of 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 was 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 last 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 July 28, 2015
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 together chirping slowly in the cool morning. 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 about 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

Should we look within to who we really are?

Bird Droppings July 26, 2015
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 the past two days knowing with the rest of the coming week my last few days 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. I was reunited with some friends from a long time ago just recently on Facebook. I worked at a summer camp the summer of 1970 and had many great experiences. Just a week or two ago I had lunch with the former Dean of education at Piedmont college reflecting on ideas and thoughts over Thai food.

In that process of looking back and 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 a year or two back.

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

Why would some rather send a photo than write?

Bird Droppings July 23, 2015
Why would some rather send a photo than write?

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

In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth grade English Class. The book we were reading was Brave New World, written in 1932. You would think that a book thirty years old at that time would not have been that controversial. However for our class and the reading list we had an English teacher was let go. What amuses me is how these books we read did impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a catalyst for thinking that was developed.

Today in 2015 with a new school year about to start on another hall English teachers use the books my tenth grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list, as do many high schools across the country. These were 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World which were so controversial in their time more than forty seven years ago. Still today these same words can inspire students and adults to think and ponder. I fear the undercurrent in politics in some areas of the country towards education may again squelch such reading.

“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot

“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill

Each morning as I sit down and wonder about the direction that the ideas may or may not flow I try and find a spark a starting point for the day. It is sort of my kick-start to the day to revitalize my own cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier but within the semantics of the word so many limits to the concept of experience. I was seeing a teacher and most as I read were seeing experience as a limit, coming back to a note the other day and actually I used yesterday talking with future teachers, the idea of a container as per students. That was until I read this line from Huxley.

Over the past few days numerous emails from former classmates in high school perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few in Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me nearly fifty years later. But the direction changes as I look, it is through writers and writing that we convey so much.

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton
“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner

Each day I walk outside and look at the sky on clear mornings today a slight mist and cloud cover greeted me. For some the stars and constellations provide direction and as the seasons pass the constellations change which denotes time of day and position in the sky and often as I go out I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky appearing before my front door. If by chance I am writing at home and not at school as I have for a few months now I can go out into the back yard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon and oak trees depending on where I stand much will be obscured and I see only a shrouded sky laced with the branches.

As I read Faulkner’s note so often this is true, we do not think about something till we read what we have written. Many the times I will return to a piece weeks and months later and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at the time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper and until it was returned with comments I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. A journey that began in reading, then in experience and moves through writing for it does take written word to read.

“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

It is as true as I write each morning glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles and emails and any books handy at that moment looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. Often my morning consists more of reading than actually writing words to paper or computer screen. It is so many times a search for an idea a thought that has eluded me.

“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin

“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener

What comes so easy for some it has been said may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails and then go onto class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing, since that makes it so much easier to write. As I think as to where that student is coming from, maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because somewhere, somehow, and or someone did not give them the opportunity.
In my room often it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative. I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked I made an error I had typed “Children learn what they love”. As I thought a bit you know what? That is just as true too. So how do we help children love learning, and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Let’s all set an example today and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts 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

Why not continue the Journey? Freire and Foxfire both start with F’s.

Bird Droppings July 22, 2015
Why not continue the Journey?
Freire and Foxfire both start with F’s.

“So I’d much rather get across the concept of freedom. It’s what’s important to Indian children. The only way you can be free is to know is that you are worthwhile as a distinct human being. Otherwise you become what the colonizers have designed, and that is a lemming. Get in line, punch all the right keys, and die.” Russell Means, Indian Activist, November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012

It was a little over three years ago that I first noticed on various blogs and status updates I follow that Russell Means has passed away. On the Russell Mean’s site statements that he was still alive midst rumors he had passed on. Then reality hit perhaps a day earlier in the morning a post, a very carefully written paragraph from his family that he was continuing his journey and had passed on. It has been some time since I first read about or heard about Russell Means. Having been a college student in the early seventies and activism going on around us we saw AIM and Wounded Knee in the news. Later I watched Means act in several movies most notably in Last of the Mohicans. I have read his words and agree on some points and disagree on others but he died as he lived a warrior.

As I think back over who I am as a teacher and as a person I often wonder as to how I came to be the way I am and why do I take such a differing outlook over so many teachers involved in this endeavor. I recall my father essentially teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. His idea of Tell Show Test and Check was a favorite for teaching a subject or even a skill. I have used the FIDO principle another of his gimmicks many times over the years Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again.

As I attended college and began thinking about teaching as a profession I had courses in how to teach and what to teach to various groups of children and adults. We talked theory and realities we practice taught and were observed by professors. I look back and wonder how is it that a professor who has never taught outside of college level teach anyone how to teach, say elementary school age children. But within it all I became who I am as a teacher, parent and person. I see this enterprise as an ongoing continuum and one that truly is never complete. Going back to an Aerosmith lyric I borrow from time after time, “Life is about the journey not the destination.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who does not know how to read.” Mark Twain

I spend a good bit of my day reading and find it so hard to understand when I see comments of I do not read or I do not have a favorite book written in a Facebook status or autobiography. I may in the course of a day look at ten or twelve books looking for thoughts or ideas for my writings. But to profess to not reading how can you consider yourself even semi-intelligent. For it is through reading that we increase our vocabulary and understanding of the world around us. It is through reading that we develop and progress beyond where we are today. It is thorough reading that we move along the journey.
I was speaking with a fellow teacher yesterday about such things. Why do kids not read for example? Some is a lack of encouragement at home during those hours away from school. Some is the example set by parents who are not readers. But I think a large portion is our current style of teaching to the test. We are teaching kids to pass tests that in some schools impact the teacher’s annual appraisals and in some cases even salaries are test scores based. When we take away significance and choice and mandate specific memorization for test content we lose an aspect of who the child is.

Paulo Freire is a radical in terms of education and his outlook on what teaching and education should be about. Freire was a teacher, activist, thinker, innovator and college professor in various stages if not all of his life.

“As a teacher in an educational program, I cannot be satisfied simply with nice, theoretical elaborations regarding the ontological, political, and epistemological bases of educational practice. My theoretical explanation of such practice ought to be also a concrete and practical demonstration of what I am saying.” Paulo Freire

How much more is gained when you can touch or apply what it is you are learning. There is another side of Freire’s philosophy that interests me as well and that is very similar to John Dewey in that the democratic process is crucial to a classroom and that the teacher is a learner as well as learners are teachers.

“In the context of true learning, the learners will be engaged in a continuous transformation through which they become authentic subjects of the construction and reconstruction of what is being taught, side by side with the teacher, who is equally subject to the same process.” Paulo Freire

An ongoing back and forth process one that provides both teacher and learner with answers and questions. I once considered this process to be symbiotic but as I learned and looked deeper it became osmosiotic. There was a constant flow back and forth between teacher and learner; it was not a reliance on one or the other.

“The teacher who thinks, ‘correctly’ transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.” Paulo Freire

I wonder how much of John Dewey, Freire read. Many of his thoughts run parallel to Dewey as Dewey saw experience as a critical piece so often left out when teaching. All of the experiences brought to the classroom by the students are bits and pieces that can be built on and added to. I am amused that Freire uses quotes around the word correctly. How many teachers are teaching correctly in the world? When you look at how a teacher is evaluated in Georgia with a six or seven question checklist and relatively simple responses and yet the process is one that is complex and not conducive to yes and no check boxes.
“It is easier to stick with what teachers have always done and believed, rather than go about the painful process of changing current thinking about teaching” Charlotte Danielson, from the book, Teacher Evaluation, Discussing why we continue to evaluate teachers in an archaic model

We continue to evaluate and judge teachers based on models that have been used since the early 1960’s and tend to focus on ease and the most simplistic methods. Time seems to be always a factor. I am wandering a bit today as I think about where I am on my own journey.

“There is no valid teaching from which there does not emerge something learned and through which the learner does not become capable of recreating and remaking what has been thought. In essence, teaching that does not emerge from the experience of learning cannot be learned by anyone.” Paulo Freire

I will have to admit Freire does get deep and philosophical at times. But this aspect of doing of experiencing that runs through his words to me is significant. Many teachers try and keep everything to a minimum in terms of how they teach. I was involved in a discussion on a new math program and was informed we only want students to learn function not how it works. So students memorize a line on a graph which is this or that and that gets answers A-D but in effect they never understand or learn what that really is or why. On the other side I have watched a model of a watershed during a graduate class along with an explanation of what was happening when rain or excess water was present and how it impacted the surrounding area. Our lecturer was versed in experiential teaching. He builds on teachable moments and on hands on experience.

As I am thinking back to several summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during regular session and how I taught those summers. My objective was to have them pass a comprehensive exam approved by school and department. We would spend the first hour each day learning vocabulary, doing what I hated but without vocabulary you cannot even read a biology test let alone answer questions. After that we organized and categorized all the trees on campus. We studied hands on ecology and interactions. We watched videos of various settings deserts, (The Living Desert by Disney Studios), Jungles, and the Arctic.

Occasionally we would get out one of my ball pythons and talk about reptiles and amphibians. I have had live animals in my room since I started back teaching. Amazingly all passed the finals and in three years of summer school only one quit coming and it was a family problem. As the system changed and went to seat time as the criteria and worksheets were the lessons I stopped doing summer school. It was no longer teaching simply babysitting.

I wonder often as to the whys and how’s of so many teachers and think back even in our own high school to great teachers and ones I consider great. Those are the teachers who get kids excited about learning and who look for ways and means to bring life to the lesson and who are always learning as well. There are only a handful of teachers I would consider great as I think back and always a story or two. My middle son had biology in ninth or tenth grade and a presentation was made in that presentation a slide was used that he knew was incorrect and waiting till class was over went to the teacher and told her. At first the teacher was reluctant to listen until he said my brother has that animal in his salt water tank and I am familiar with it. She said she would fix it so it would be right. Several years later in an advanced class of Zoology he saw again the slide and again the wrong name and scientific data attached. This time being more mature and angry he stopped the class and said the slide was wrong. So here is a student who tried to help a teacher who was not interested in learning.

“Why not, for example, take advantage of the student’s experience of life.” Paulo Freire

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of the actual experience by environing conditions, but that they recognize in the concrete what surrounding are conductive to experiences that lead to growth.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

John Dewey taught we need to build from not exclude the past experiences in our endeavors to teach children. I have found this in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching to be a critical element.

“New activities spiral gracefully out of the old, incorporating lessons learned from past experiences, building on skills and understandings that can now be amplified.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice Seven

In my reading of one of my favorite authors more recent books, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, the concept of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians is mentioned. This is a key element in looking at how we treat children in schools even today. We make them live by our rules and standards imposing guidelines that fluctuate from class to class often teacher to teacher. Granted the days of the boarding school may seem somewhat at odds with today’s schools but in reality there is little difference.

In a diversified culture we demand language that may or may not be known. Coming from a special education back ground I am always amazed at how we expect children who are poor readers in their own language to read and learn in another. Research shows you cannot in most cases exceed the level of attainment in a second or third language that you have in your first.

So I wandered and pondered this is my reflection for the morning a wondering and thinking about what can we do to truly change education as we know it. Freire points to Critical reflection as a means for educators to learn as well as teach. John Dewey builds on reflection as does Foxfire.

“In the process of ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that critical reflection on one’s practice. Thinking critically about practice, of today, or yesterday, makes possible the improvement of tomorrow’s practice.” Paulo Freire

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

As I read this morning and thought through my various readings I wondered if the commonalities I was seeing in Freire and Dewey were perhaps things as educators we should be trying to attain rather than so often fight against. In Foxfire Core practice nine a thought that has for me been a key element of any teaching I do and that is making what I teach relevant and meaningful and have it be something the child can leave the room with and it makes sense outside of class.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear. “Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice Eight

I just wonder many times what if teaching and teachers would ever catch on and really be concerned more about the kids than the content, more about the community than the curriculum, and more about humanity than the National educational initiatives. So I will stop and 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