Having heart and kissing frogs

Bird Droppings October 23-24, 2013
Having heart and kissing frogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should we look within to who we really are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Center of Your Soul
By James Kavanaugh

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

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

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

Can we find democracy in the classroom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why would some rather send a photo than write?

Bird Droppings October 17, 2014
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 and 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 2013 on another hall in our school 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 such books as 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World which were so controversial in their time more than forty five years ago and still today 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?

Bird Droppings October 16, 2014
Why not continue the Journey?

“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 two 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 my Aerosmith 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

Taking small steps

Bird Droppings October 14, 2014
Taking small steps

“Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

How many times are we told “take your time”? So often in life we are anxious to get the job finished or to get to the top today. We often forget there are many steps along the way; many puzzle pieces needing to be placed in order to see the whole picture. For many months a student I used to work with had issues with sleeping in class and at one point was suspended for three days. I have tried to get his family to get him to the doctor due to large doses of medication and combination of meds he is on. His sleeping is not typical teenager tiredness.

Walking through the meat section of Kroger I ran into his mother and his doctor had called back with blood work his level of one medication was three times what it should have been and the doctor was amazed he could even walk. One thing that so often happens in life is we want everything to be what we want now, placing a random puzzle piece on a table does not represent where or how the puzzle will turn out. It takes numerous more pieces till we see a bit and we assume to know the whole far too many times.

“It is very strange that the years teach us patience – that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.” Elizabeth Taylor, A Wreath of Roses

A good friend asked me the other day about a job opening at another school. It happened to be in EBD, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. He asked what or could he succeed and what was key to my success. Unfortunately he asked as one of my students was for first time this year making a scene. I emailed back that evening the following. If you can trust the un-trustable and be patient with those who would drive you crazy, EBD is no big deal, they soon will do what you ask. Force them and you are in a fighting situation and ISS and OSS are not meaningful consequences. Building to intrinsic consequences is far more powerful, taking a kid off the computer and or me just being mad at some of kids bothers them more than ISS or OSS. Sometimes little pieces work better than big ones. Solving small issues will eventually accomplish big goals if there is plenty of time.

“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” Dutch Proverb

“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you, so in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.” Leonardo da Vinci

“There will be a time when loud-mouthed, incompetent people seem to be getting the best of you. When that happens, you only have to be patient and wait for them to self- destruct. It never fails.” Richard Rybolt
A simple word is patience. Often I wonder what might be one of my major attributes and in one word I would say patience. Yesterday a student was asking what would it take to get me mad, calling me names etc. I said it takes a good bit to get me mad and name calling wouldn’t do it. He proceeded to try and after a few choice words actually he wasn’t upset just wanting to prove me wrong. I said first I know the statement to be false and secondly I know the person saying this to be ignorant and or stupid for saying such things. He sat back and said, well I would be mad if somebody said that to me, and I told him that is your choice. Puzzle pieces forever falling in place is my motto. Patience has kept that kid in school versus an alternative setting and is taking a piece one at a time rather than trying to solve a puzzle in one fell swoop.

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Saint Augustine

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering you own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them every day begins the task anew.” Saint Francis de Sales

A monk can address patience but they have to it’s their job. But monks too are alive and human and the frailties we face they too face or have faced. Breaking a task into manageable pieces often aids in completing the task.

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” Victor Hugo

“How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” William Shakespeare

Looking back on my own life it has been one of pieces falling in place slowly. One portion of my journey was twenty three years in the making. I left the teaching field directly for twenty three years all of that time in graphic arts and publishing for the training industry still indirectly in education. Coincidently during that time having delivered training manuals to most of the buildings at Georgia Tech which is where my son is now graduated from what a small world. It has been so long in coming and even now I know this is only a portion of the puzzle, more is yet to come. In life I have found you savor each moment each second enjoy the cool breeze if only for a moment. Pull off the road if you need to view a rainbow or sunset and truly bask in the magnificence but that is another day. 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

It takes more than one strand to make a rope, in life and in education.

Bird Droppings October 13, 2014
It takes more than one strand to make a rope,
in life and in education.

“You cannot contribute anything to the ideal condition of mind and heart known as Brotherhood, however much you preach, posture, or agree, unless you live it.” Faith Baldwin

Each day as I talk to my students I try and set an example and not every day am I successful. But as I think this beautiful fall morning getting up somewhere in South Carolina on my way home from visiting our son, his wife and our granddaughter. We still have about three hours of driving and in the old days that would have been easy last night but now relaxing for a few minutes and getting a good night sleep rates higher. So I am sitting here trying to decide if I should work on grading papers or be to be lazy I thought I would take a few moments to write. Since I have been lazy about writing for a few days writing wins out. Many of the children I talk to everyday stand alone, often due to their own choosing.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne

It has been several years since I did an experiment with a group of young people using sewing thread. I had a thread for each person and then I asked each of them to break the thread which of course was simple and easily done.

“The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin

After breaking the threads I gave each of them another piece of thread and one by one we joined the threads together. In the end we had a thirty strand piece of string/rope and we twisted it slightly to keep threads together.

“In union there is strength.” Aesop

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” Alexander the Great
Amazingly enough no one could break the new combined rope even when several folks pulled on each end it would not break.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Bahá’u’lláh
I still carry that piece of string/rope in my wallet. It surely does make a great example when talking to students.

“I look to a time when brotherhood needs no publicity; to a time when a brotherhood award would be as ridiculous as an award for getting up each morning.” Daniel D. Michiel

It has been a few years back that I attended a demonstration up in Mountain City Georgia. The lecturer at the Foxfire Museum was using a couple of folks in the group and had them twisting and turning six strands of twine into a rope.

“Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.” Mahatma Gandhi

Real unity, that is the question, and in today’s politically charged atmosphere unity is not to be found. I had shown my students so many years ago that even though having multiply strands of thread all together in a bundle was significantly stronger each time you cut a piece it weakened Exponentially .

“In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Booker T. Washington

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

Each day as I sit outside my door at school I witness differences in attitude and differences in brotherhood. Many are similar and in a high school that old cliché of school spirit is generally a good indicator of a semblance of brotherhood, a joining force in a body of humanity. But still there are strands of thread dangling outside weakening the whole.

“Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” Virginia Burden, The Process of Intuition

I will never say everyone has to be identical. I like Booker T. Washington’s statement of each of being a finger yet still being able to be a hand. I use to think it was cool when I would see a six fingered person and in my old stomping grounds of Lancaster and Chester counties often you would see an Amish fellow with an extra finger. There was a recent ad where everyone was upset with Joe who had extra fingers because he could type so much faster and then do so much more, the ad showed him typing away and multi-tasking with his extra fingers. But the ad was also about change and new equipment equalized the office space. So often we cannot accept the differences.

“I have often noticed that when chickens quit quarreling over their food they often find that there is enough for all of them. I wonder if it might not be the same with the human race.” Don Marquis

In life far too often we spend our time fretting over differences and not looking for similarities. How can we work as a group a team? I was watching college football Saturday for a few minutes along with a jubilant football throng at the Washington Oregon football game. In the end teamwork makes all the difference in a win or loss. The winner is not always the better team. Always better teamwork will win and it can be only a minute difference, a single strand could change a game and or a life.

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Kenyan Proverb
Interesting while I was writing about unity and I still believe in individuality and it is a difficult task. I come back to Booker T. Washington’s quote; I can be a thumb and still work as a hand when needed. It is in believing and in trusting we gain that unity and that brotherhood. Watching the rally yesterday one thing kept coming up why all the negative why not work together the problems are here and solutions can be had if there were teamwork. 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