Definitely teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings August 24, 2016
Definitely teaching can be successful

 

So as I do on many mornings when I get the time I walked out to a quiet corner of my back yard. Nestled in a patch of weeds and brush I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning. It is still too dark when I head to school to glimpse the sunrise or the threads of life as I call them glisten in the early morning light. These are strands of spider webbing that are still hanging connecting everything. The scientist part of me knows that they are simply webs from wandering spiders the previous night out hunting but the mystic in me sees the connections. I do see the interconnections but many do not.
I am concerned about learning not education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal polity contradict and totally destroy the ability to provide learning experiences for children. Yesterday several editorial cartoons were sent through the internet showing a group of students all connected with wires from their heads staring ahead and one trying to climb out a window to the outside and nature. The just of the image was education reform wants us all to be education zombies all learning the same thing at the same time. If we cannot reverse the decline in learning our children will be simply pawns of whoever is or whatever is in power at the time.

 

“The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.” Ted Sizer

 

I received an email yesterday or I should say a response to a Facebook post I shared from a friend. The video clip I shared many months back was directed at the Teach to the Test mentality that is sweeping education due to high stakes testing being mandated by states and federal law. A young man a recent college graduate stated he could not get a job because his method of teaching was more hands on than what administrators were looking for. Daily I see the frustration of my son who was trained to teach in experiential manner and is now limited by what is on the curriculum map today. I am co-teaching with teacher in physics who likes to provide context to the learning. This past Friday one of our physics classes in getting ready to study the concepts of velocity and acceleration did a slip and slide lab to take our data in order to calculate acceleration and velocity. It will be interesting to see if they can make physics come alive for these kids and still comply with the curriculum requirements. If I was wagering I would definitely say they will.

 

“A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk

 

“Too much emphasis has been placed on reforming school from the outside through policies and mandates. Too little has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within.” Roland Barth

Just a few days ago I addressed the fact we are educating more diversified students in the United States than anywhere in the world. I borrowed from Black Elk a Lakota Sioux Holy Man who passed away nearly sixty years ago. Black Elk believed in the power of visions. Roland Barth was a professor at Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. His book Improving Schools from Within, was a best seller in 1991. His latest book Learning by heart, addresses the need for school reform and changes and that they need to come from changing the culture of schools. As I read both pieces and thought a Sioux holy man talking about making a vision real and a renowned educator saying we need to look within in order to elicit change maybe we should be listening to them and not politicians.

 

“Rarely do outside of school remedies work their way into the fabric of the schools or into the teacher’s lives, and more rarely into the classrooms. Therefore they only offer a modest hope of influencing the basic culture of the school.” Roland Barth

 

“Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.” Thomas Sergiovanni

 

“The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way.” Theodore Sizer

 

As I ponder my various authors I am reviewing and borrowing from today Barth, Sergiovanni and Sizer in the quotes above I find continuity. These men are all innovators and have made significant and powerful suggestions about education across the nation. Many school systems use the concept of learning communities that Sergiovanni promotes in his writing. I know that Roland Barth’s ideas are taught and re-taught in graduate schools nationwide and teachers seldom leave college without hearing the name of Ted Sizer. What concerns me is why is it with the potential to change education we seem to be in a rut and really going nowhere different. Why do we continue to know what to do to better educate kids and then do not do it. I wish an answer were simple to place in writing but I see blame as being in the leadership of schools. I see blame in school boards and in state education boards and eventually at a federal level. As the ideology leaves the classroom it goes from being real and meaningful to being business and is it cost effective? Can we afford this? Should we spend dollars on this? Somewhere children get left out and learning gets sat by the roadside.

 

“To cope with a changing world, an entity must develop the capacity of shifting and changing – of developing new skills and attitudes; in short, the capability of learning.” A. DeGues, The Living Company

 

“The challenge of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

 

“You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision…A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops. The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge

Dr. Peter Senge is a professor at MIT and renowned scholar in the field of learning. His books and theories are used in management schools and education studies. The idea of a collaborative effort in learning falls back into many ideas that have been mentioned in previous droppings dealing with Foxfire and John Dewey and the democratic class room. Students learn more when it is relevant to them and they have some buy in. Proust provides that we need a new perception to see rather than using the same old mythology to view education and learning. We have to develop new skills not just use what is available. Although John Dewey’s ideas are still considered progressive at over a hundred years old always strikes me as interesting.

 

“We learn best from our experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shred visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from non-conformity, the ability to turn your back on old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesteryear for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We mist dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara African leader

 

“Schools are among the very few institutions that have remained almost entirely unchanged for most of this century.” Judith Aitken

 

“No other organization institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school.” Peter Drucker

 

“Today’s Schools are not Tomorrows Schools. That’s a fundamental misconception.”
David Lange

 

Author, speakers, management consultants, professors, educational leaders and each of them a great teacher in their own right have been outspoken for years about our schools and learning. Why do we let politicians decide what our students should be learning or how we should be evaluating these students? Why do we put arbitrary numbers on children with disabilities as to who can and who cannot exempt or not exempt state mandated tests. One IQ point separates two students one who because they cannot pass the High School graduation tests is and receives a special education certificate of attendance and is counted as a drop out because they did not graduate and the other by submitting a portfolio of what learning occurred in high school graduates with a legitimate high school diploma and is a graduate. One IQ point separates the two and how they are assessed.

 

“The overwhelming number of teachers …are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do.” Alfie Kohn

 

“It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather… I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Haim Ginott

 

“In teaching students to think the emphasis is not on how many answers they know. Rather, the focus is on how well they behave when they don’t know.” Art Costa

 

I recall reading Alfie Kohn for the first time in 2001 at the suggestion of my principal who had formed a book club. The title of the book is The Schools our Children Deserve. As I read through these authors and quotes last night as I researched for my morning wanderings I wonder can we ever really change the industrial complex that drives education? Can we unseat lobbyists and politicians who seek profits at the cost of our children’s learning? I wonder as I finish up today if we can overcome.

 

“In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shared visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

I started and end with a vision. “A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk The great spiritual leader Black Elk spoke of his visions and Peter Senge offers a shared vision. I was once told it took leaders who had vision to truly lead and I wonder if we can find those people within education who care enough about children and about learning to pave the way to a new understanding and realization of our educational system. 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

 

Culture is far more than just a word

Bird Droppings August 23, 2016
Culture is far more than just a word

 

“Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that thought comes before speech. In the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect. More powerful than words was silence with the Lakota.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

 

Culture is those pieces of which we are that others see when we are in their presence. It is how we eat and what we eat. It is how we honor and respect others and or not respect others. Culture is a combination of learned and practiced behaviors all that come together and make us an individual, family, community and nation. In a world as diverse as we live in now it becomes cultures rather rapidly as the melting pot of humanity that is the United States perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world has attracted peoples from around the world.
My father as we grew up told many stories of the various Indian tribes around the country some of which he heard from Code Talkers that his LSM shuttled back and forth on landings in the South Pacific during World War II. The Code Talkers were Navaho who would use their native tongue send encrypted messages across the Japanese lines and in the years they served in the Pacific the code was never broken. My father became good friends and his stories of Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle have been passed now to his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It has been nearly fifty years since I was first exposed to a hatred I had never seen before. I headed to Texas after flunking out of college my freshmen year. I was trying to not get drafted more so than staying in college, since a student deferment was one of the few ways to avoid getting drafted and I was not interested in getting married. Back in the day Plano Texas was in the sticks about twenty miles from Dallas and really a hole in the wall. We had a pizza place and a Dairy Queen and that was it. So we students who hailed from all over the country would frequent one of the two options on a regular basis. On one particular day I went in and several for real cowboys were sitting there with wads of tobacco in their cheeks and discussing the hated Indians and what they would do if one came in the Dairy Queen. About that time one spit right at my flip flop shod feet. Seems long haired college students were only one step up from Indians in this narrow minded world of Plano Texas in 1968.

 

“His strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling. As a matter of truth, he was the most sympathetic of men, but his emotions of depth and sincerity were tempered with control. Silence meant to the Lakota what it meant to Disraeli, when he said “Silence is the mother of truth, for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

Over the past weeks I have written about illegal immigrants and racists and the entire for me issue of how is it we cannot see others as human beings. Standing Bear makes a statement that hits hard it is the silent man who speaks the truth and the man who was always speaking who needs to be not taken seriously. In a school watching students interact there are those who sit quiet and those who never sit still I was joking yesterday about a student who is more like ADHD on Steroids bouncing off the roof and never still. It is the pondering and reflection of the silence that allows us to draw wisdom to the surface and can provide more meaningful interaction. Far better than the noise makers on talk shows who spout off just to hear themselves speak. Sitting in my car driving around yesterday with R. Carlos Nakai flute music on my stereo and the sounds of running water as the rain came down I am in my sanctuary and comfortable as I sit and reflect about my days thoughts. Perhaps when I clear my head from this cold I can get on a better track in terms of getting my droppings out earlier in the day. I wish we each could remember to keep all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

Bird Droppings August 22, 2016

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

 

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

 

It has been nearly eight years since we moved last and found ourselves in this house.  I wasn’t sure from where to start several ideas have been running through my thinking the past few hours. It has been almost eight years since I read and heard the news on Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s death. As I do my best pondering when alone I went outside thinking and wondering about the shortness of life. I looked about my back yard that I know so well in the dark spending more time here in the early hours than during day light it seems at times even taking pictures by flash of night blooming flowers and tree frogs. We do become attached to routines and people and things and being with new teachers co-teaching has taken a few days to adjust granted I actually do like it and am enjoying co-teaching with the teachers I am with funny thing was I fought the idea of co-teaching for several years and in my first ten years of special education never co-taught a class.

 

On another topic grandbabies, my wife and I have been discussing ideas of rearranging and decorating our official grandbaby’s cave (room). Our sons all are in moved out and or in careers and both our mothers are still with us so it is interesting to be thinking of going to Toys R Us again and colors to paint our new project. I have never planned an endeavor previously in detail and actually thought out why and how but in this additional grandbaby event a big change for us we find new sustenance. I know as the days and hours get closer my sons will all chip in and we will make new accommodations for our grand babies. My wife and I will sort through the preponderance of materials we have collected over the years, memories from raising three sons. I am a pack rat no doubt about it, but I am sure among the boxes there will be items that we might can use. Many times it is hard looking back at those pieces of our lives together good, bad, calamity, tragedy; up lifting experiences somehow it seems there has always been a light.

 

Nearly twelve years ago I recall my first email of the day was from a dear friend, Dr. James Sutton who wrote a beautiful forward for my first book to be of Bird Droppings, A teacher’s journey if and when I finish it. I was opening emails not too long ago and another note from Dr. Sutton.

 

“It’s great to be affirmed. A chuckle: I mentioned in a training session one time that we need to always be aware that the boy in our class who can’t keep his hands to himself may well hold a scalpel someday and save our life. One lady in the audience gasped: ‘Oh my God! I just pictured Johnny with a KNIFE!’” Dr. James Sutton

 

In a Saturday BD a few weeks back I was talking about being reaffirmed as a teacher from a previous students comment. But for Today I go back to words from two songs that have been running through my head for some time now. Both are older songs but to me significant. Country Stars Big and Rich claim to fame is the song; Save a horse ride a Cowboy, not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame. It is another song on that same album which to me is a far more powerful message entitled, Holy water. I heard this song a nearly ten years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. But as songs go I heard them wrong as we so often do.

 

Holy Water

By Big and Rich

Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I use to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now you’d never tell

Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

 

The first time I heard this song tears welled up I was listening to the words of holy water as if the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I used the words in class many months ago. I took the CD in to sort of a listen and translate for students and asked what is this song about and one of my red necked skate boarders piped up and set me straight.   “Mr. Bird she wants to be held like holy water – special sacred.” The old saying could not be truer, from the mouths of babes. How many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water. I thought back to a quote from Parker Palmer from I used a few days ago.

 

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

 

Months back for lunch my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV a Martina McBride music video was showing entitled, God’s Will. It hit me again this time I was in tears and a powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching of exceptional children so many years ago.

 

God’s Will

By Martina McBride

 

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first

His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt

Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood

[Chorus:]
I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will

Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when

Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him

[Chorus]

Before they moved to California
His mother said, they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her, that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you

I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

 

My son asked, “Dad are you crying again” as I watched a powerful music video and song for some of us who are where we are to be. Over forty years ago my brother John was born. My mother was in labor nearly two days and John was born with cerebral palsy, severe brain damage. When he was two while in Florida he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John lived till a few years ago with his family sharing in all gatherings all the time he never spoke a word. He was never toilet trained yet he left his mark on each of our lives. So much of the past two days got me thinking back in time.

 

The impact my brother John had spanned several states as his influence spread. In 1971 or so the city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the teachers of exceptional children who after babysitting or being around John chose this field to teach in this field and in other areas of education including myself, two sisters, my oldest son and several nieces and nephews. My own family ended in Georgia because of John. He is buried on a hill out by my mother’s home in Walton County and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if he had not happened to our family.

 

My mother has answered in a series of poems and thoughts she has put together over the years. Each of my brothers and sisters has responded in their own fashion and me I respond in Bird Droppings. Sitting here thinking of the passing of a good soul in Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and my brother John and thinking of  these two songs maybe we can begin to set aside differences and challenges and calamities and start seeking out each other. Peace my dear friends and thank you all for the support and emails over the years 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

If only we can make a difference

Bird Droppings August 19, 2016
If only we can make a difference

 

I walked out last night to a partial moon it was exceptionally warm with the high humidity which has become the norm. However, between the clouds I did see a jet stream that was perfectly in line with what tiny faint hint I could see of the moon almost as if a line was drawn and the moon was moving along the line among the clouds. When I come out in the early morning hours and look East Orion sits just above the persimmon trees and today the moon was gone but clear as could be was the constellation Orion. I think Orion has been checking out the persimmons or since a hunter watching for the deer that come to feast on the ripe fruit falling to the ground.

 

“The purpose of Living Values: Educational Program is to provide guiding principles and tools for the development of the whole person, recognizing that the individual is comprised of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.” livingvalues.net

 

When I first read the lead line to this website it is too good to be true, someone after my own heart. As I thought it is not just about content but context as well although in public school spiritual has to be a carefully handled word. Yesterday as I do many days I borrowed from John Dewey’s pedagogy, and this is a similar line looking more at the whole person in talking with some teachers during professional planning.

 

“In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war.” Jacques Delors, Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO

 

ALIVE, The association for Living values Education International was founded by the United Nations a few years ago. As I read through the literature the concept of teaching values intrigued me. Is this maybe where we go wrong in public school focusing on the content within the curriculum covered on pages one through five hundred only? Maybe this is where students lose the desire to learn being force fed piles of facts or does it happen elsewhere.

 

“The traditions of our people are handed down from father to son. The Chief is considered to be the most learned, and the leader of the tribe. The Doctor, however, is thought to have more inspiration. He is supposed to be in communion with spirits… He cures the sick by the laying of hands and prayers and incantations and heavenly songs. He infuses new life into the patient, and performs most wonderful feats of skill in his practice…. He clothes himself in the skins of young innocent animals, such as the fawn, and decorated himself with the plumage of harmless birds, such as the dove and hummingbird …” Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute

 

Much of our culture, or who we are, is learned behavior from our community setting. We learn much of who we are good or bad at home. Several years ago I wrote a paper about “The Sixteen Hour Syndrome” that time kids are away from school. As a parent-teacher and now grandparent I see students leave school and go home where any semblance of value and order is disavowed. Students were unlearning  anything that had been taught. Teachers have eight hours of which transportation and breaks and lunch come out of so maybe six hours to try and instill values and information. Some could argue that should school be the place for values to be taught? It is a place, and teaching is occurring so do what you can.

 

“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” Fredrich Nietzsche

 

“You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.” Denis Waitley

 

Students theoretically should bring some tattering of values to school but going back to September 11, 2001 which coincidentally was my first day back to teaching after a twenty-three year break a student informed me he was the first in four generations not to run moonshine. Interestingly enough last night on the history channel a show memorialized moonshiners as an integral part of our history and that we had to have them in order for progression to occur. This was while the host sampled various brews from around the country. If you are raised that moonshining, racism, bigotry, anti-government and a good one today belittling women is appropriate. Now then imagine the impact of those eight hours in school with a female teacher who by chance works for the government and doesn’t drink. After battling with that type of student, teachers are weary, and they are not just in the south. So the issue becomes how do we as teachers even attempt to alter values.

 

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Albert Einstein

 

“Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obstructs your vision.” Hsi-Tang

 

In many societies, the raising of the children is a community effort not just the biological parents. We all need to work together be it in parenting and teaching and in working towards a world we can eliminate the sixteen-hour syndrome, and children can learn to appreciate life and all that could be there for them.

 

“Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.” Thomas Dewey

 

Perhaps that leads to this idea. The other aspect is that in order to open properly that parachute has to be packed correctly folded and arranged so it will open when the rip cord is pulled. Far too many children have not had their parachute folded properly before the jump and will crash and burn. As I look back over the past few weeks of school and writings teachers are expected to check the students parachutes and repack them daily. Teachers are often expected  times to even postpone the jumps till everyone is ready. But in life as in parachuting there comes a time when you have to learn to pack your  chute. When it doesn’t open, it is no one’s fault but your own.

 

“If a man who cannot count find a four-leaf clover is he entitled to happiness? You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.” Stanislaw Jerszy Lec, Unkempt Thoughts, translated from the Polish by Jacek Galazka

 

As I read a few of Lec’s words, this morning many are dark foreboding telling of a time when death was near the doorstep in Poland during World War II. Executioners and death are a major topic looking through Unkempt Thoughts a rather large collection of anecdotes. But when I saw these particular two lines the first is so true of education we pass the child through knowing he cannot “count” are we truly happy when he finds a four leave clover and patience is learned but it does take patience to learn patience otherwise you would have run out of patience. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and please let’s make sure parachutes are packed right for that first jump and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 18, 2016
A spiritual side to teaching

 

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

 

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

 

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

 

I have been back in teaching thirteen years and have watched teachers burn out and simply fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting their all into what they do, and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

 

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

 

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students, you open your heart as palmer indicates, and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer in his writing discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and more critically a necessity.

 

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer
In my  journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural as I am discussing my journeys since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude that for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred, and some will scuff how you can say that, it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

 

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

 

In the several years that I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. I have gone about this through building relationships with students. In my  opinion, that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books, and it is relationships. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience in any way this knowledge. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept that I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead, and few days left in this week the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and 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

 

What is the Sixteen Hour Syndrome and should embrace it or find a cure?

Bird Droppings August 17, 2016

What is the Sixteen Hour Syndrome and
should embrace it or find a cure?

 

I was away from my computer for several days due to a blown fan. Could be the mass production of hot air or downloading some photos from the weekend so I may be a bit wordy today letting it all out. Granted I used a school computer these past few days but just not the same. It has been nearly sixteen years since I wrote about the Sixteen Hour Syndrome in relationship to emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students. The idea developed from my  observations of a group of twenty-eight students in a Georgia high school. At that time, I was seeing the negative aspects that came to school in the form of students too tired to stay awake or too upset to attend even to any lesson presented. While unknowingly in my observing and understanding I was able to be successful with these students. As I read Dr. Alexander Sidorkin’s introduction to his book, Learning Relations I understood all too well what was going on in my first few weeks back in teaching in 2001. Much as he was referring to in his  teaching it could have been mine.

 

“I finally learned how to be a decent teacher, which involves a lot of improvising, paying attention to my  intuition, listening to kids, and trying to take it easy. Having learned to do something is not the same as understanding how it works.” Dr. Alexander Sidorkin

 

Sixteen years ago for me was coming back to teaching after a twenty-three year hiatus and finding very quickly that as a teacher I was in a paradox. We as teachers have the students for eight hours approximately a day during school sessions and are often expected to teach them everything they need according to some parents. However, those same parents and society have those students for sixteen hours to undo and or add to the educational possibilities of the individual student. As I read various books for my graduate courses, I seemed to find an underlying theme in each book, many teachers seemingly never consider this issue of what students bring with them to school.

 

“There is incumbent upon the teacher who links education and experience together a more serious and harder business. He must be aware of the potentialities for leading students into new fields which belong to experiences already had, and must use this knowledge as his criterion for selection and arrangement of the conditions that influence their present experience.” John Dewey, 1938

 

The sixteen-hour syndrome is that accumulated experiences of that student each day out of school and if acknowledged and used by teachers could be an asset and boon to a child’s learning and future. The sixteen-hour syndrome is the family, community, culture, friends, society, and all other variants and possibilities that are actively involved in the student’s hours away from school. I believe and will address the need and importance of teachers attending to and understanding this concept and aspect of a student’s life, the sixteen-hour syndrome.
On many mornings I begin the day walking into the local Quick-Trip and getting my customary bottle of Smart water and two Five-hour energy shots, a shot of caffeine to keep me going through the day. Over the many times, I have walked into QT I have found that of all the stores and retail facilities in the area that perhaps this one place is the most homogenous of all. Eastern Europe represented behind the counter by an assistant manager, Hispanics both in line earlier on as they head to work and a cashier, Afro-Americans in line and working at the store, local born and raised kids and it is almost a rainbow of humanity. As I watch interactions all seem to flow and work. There are foods stuffs and drinks to cover the range of cultures and personalities purchasing in that store, obviously a good marketing plan. Why then is it so hard in education to see and delineate that we have multiple cultures and peoples within our schools. When we look at AYP and discuss this group or that and test scores, we seem to leave the realities on the table in the conference room.
Using as an analogy, the classroom is much like a jigsaw puzzle with numerous intricate pieces, that when placed on the table and worked with they all interconnect often in minute detail. I will often place a jigsaw puzzle out and deliberately turn the pieces over so only the grey back is visible making all the pieces essentially neutral. While looking at the pieces in this color blind manner, it is difficult to truly see where each piece can find its place. Teachers as they scan the room on day one often try and look at grey pieces and miss the fine detail that in reality is there. In many ways, it is a racial starting point, but culture and socio-economics as well provide intricacies we so often overlook as teachers.

 

“While it is recognized that Afro- Americans makeup a distinct racial group, the acknowledgement that this racial group has a distinct culture is still not recognized. It is presumed that Afro-American children are just like white children, but they need a little extra help.” Gloria Ladson- Billings, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children

 

Referring back to my jigsaw puzzle analogy it is when we look at the pieces and investigate that we solve the puzzle. It is often when solving the puzzle like pieces are sorted to one pile often by color. I have watched children look for shapes and corners as they solve the puzzle. It is far too often that teachers in their classrooms feel constrained and or limited and often never get past sorting color or shapes. Dr. Delores Liston in Joy a Metaphor of Convergence offers a rational explanation of this societal impact on teachers and limitation that many feel is imposed.

 

“The Cartesian worldview presents us with the false security of objective truth, but if we accept this view, we also accept our powerlessness to enact change. …. This perspective leads us to say, ‘What can I do? That’s just the way it is.’” Dr. Delores Liston

 

Sadly many teachers succumb and for thirty years wait till retirement to rid themselves of their pieces to the puzzle without ever once seeing the real picture presented by those pieces.
While many parents, school reformers and even society look to teachers to provide during school all the needs of a child which for some includes teaching morality and ethics. These same parents, school reformers and society overlook the impact and consequences of that period a student is at home and out in society that is approximately sixteen hours during the school day. John Dewey is very well represented in my readings and is touted by some of the authors as one of the premier educators of all time.

 

“The development within the young of the attitudes and dispositions necessary to the continuous and progressive life of a society cannot take place by direct conveyance of beliefs, emotions and knowledge. It takes place through the intermediary of the environment. The environment consists of the total of conditions that are concerned in the execution of the activity characteristic of a living being” John Dewey

 

It is the total of our experiences that makes us who we are, and these are not bits and pieces we learn and acquire totally within school and the educative process. These are pieces and bits we bring to school from outside.
Somewhere along the line many of the pieces formerly learned and understood at home were transferred or assumed to be transferred to the school as the supplier of and provider of implementation of various human attributes. Jane Roland Martin views the industrial revolution as an integral part in altering the delineation of various aspects of humanity in her book Cultural Miseducation: In search of a Democratic Solution, (John Dewey lecture 8). Martin views the home and school as separate entities and that students in school “castoff the attitudes and values” from home. I would offer perhaps teachers unknowingly disenfranchise those attitudes and values in light of education and even neutrality going back to my grey backed puzzle pieces and political correctness. There is in effect a lack of understanding in general within education as a whole, and far too often what students could be bringing to the classroom is ignored and or overlooked.

 

“No one asks if the wealth that is not in the schools keep is elsewhere being transmitted to our young. No one dares talk about cultural liabilities are being passed down to the next generation, let alone calculate the intergenerational injustice the older generation is doing by passing them along.” Jane Roland Martin

 

How much is being lost by not seeing the wealth of experiences that students bring to the classroom? So many teachers argue there is not enough time to even consider anything beyond the curriculum. Dr. Delores Liston reviews the commonly held view of curriculum as that of an assembly line in industry and follows with; “This the belief persists that if we can just find the right formula, and clear away all the unnecessary steps in the education process, we will educate more as well as more efficiently. So many teachers view the curriculum, and the teacher’s package of books, manuals, and transparencies as the key to their success in the classroom. Sadly we are no better off than we were years ago.”

How do we attempt to see beyond the facade presented in education? Can we even attempt to do anything different and would that even help at this time? Dr. William Glasser looks to a more recent event that of World War II.

“What is true in our schools, and has been true since the end of World War II when we first began to make a real effort to pursue universal education through high school graduation, is that many students (my conservative estimate is at least fifty percent by the eighth grade) who are intelligent enough to do well, many even brilliantly, do poorly.” Dr. William Glasser

 

Dr. Glasser, of course, sees this as a choice in his writings. However in the pursuit of universal education, in 1974 the inclusion of students with disabilities of all natures placed into the public schools  all children. As this universal education developed could we have overlooked and perhaps passed by crucial elements of whom and what we are as human beings in terms of those students. Have we attempted to provide for and truly recognize the differences in students? I think back to the assembly line mentioned by Dr. Delores Liston in Joy is a Metaphor of Convergence, which is so often echoed through other authors, like how so many administrators and even teachers see education. It has been a few years since I was introduced to the author and educator, Ivan Illich. He was a radical thinker in terms of education and religion and offered a rather grim view of schooling in his book Deschooling Society.

 

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching it is true may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” Ivan Illich
.
Ivan Illich may be a bit extreme but within schools are we missing those experiences that students bring to the classroom that could be integral pieces to the puzzle, the sixteen-hour syndrome as I call it. In Paula M. L. Moya and Michael R. Hames-Garcia’s book Reclaiming Identity; Hames-Garcia addresses the idea of restriction in terms of various groups within society. Hames-Garcia states: “I call the process by which such individuals come to be misrepresented and misunderstood ‘restriction.’” Is it that we as teachers restrict students by seeing only grey instead of what is actually there? I look back to John Dewey and possible solutions.

 

“It is the function of formal schooling to extend, broaden, and improve cultural construction of emerging minds begun at home and in the community.” John Dewey

 

Dewey continues suggesting that humankind reproduces itself in two ways: first biological and the second cultural. In our efforts should we not be addressing what children bring with them in their experiences, which includes culture, race, and socio economics? Can we adequately address the need for understanding and trying to develop in students that knowledge of their  life experiences? Can teachers learn to look beyond the curriculum and reach for a student-centered understanding caring classroom? In her book The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings addresses issues concerning African-American students and the teachers who have been successful with predominantly African-American classrooms. She writes, “this book is about teaching practice not curriculum.” How does this author view a successful teacher?

 

“Teachers who practice culturally relevant methods can be identified by the way they see themselves and others. They see their teaching as an art rather than technical skill. They believe all their students can succeed rather than failure is inevitable for some. They see themselves as part of the community, and they see teaching as giving back to the community. They help students make connections between their local, national, racial, cultural, and global identities.” Gloria Ladson-Billings

 

Making lessons culturally relevant to the students as a key for successful teaching is not only restricted to those teachers working with African-American students, but logically the more we involve the culture of our students the more interested they will be and perhaps Dr. Glasser’s observation will be a thing of the past and students will want to learn.
Looking to at a critical aspect of teaching and getting more actively involved with students is that of caring. In the mid-1980’s two developmental oriented psychologists came at the development of morality in differing ways. Lawrence Kohlberg viewed morality as an ethic of justice, impartiality and fairness and in developing his theory used only white males as models. Carol Gilligan’s approach was one from the point of view of caring and viewed through a female perspective.

 

“A care orientation, according to developmental and educational psychologist Carol Gilligan (1982), reflects the presence of benevolence and compassion. A caring person treats another person with sensitive discernment of, response to, his or her contextually embedded need. Care means liberating others from their state of need and actively promoting their welfare; care additionally means being oriented towards ethics grounded in empathy rather than in dispassionate abstract ethical principles.” Dr. James Fowler

 

Should we be approaching teaching in a caring, compassionate manner? Most teachers would answer yes, but few attempt it. Perhaps it is difficult for some but as I read and researched is not much of what we see as compassion and caring a learned by example part of who we are?
I first read of Gilligan and Kohlberg in a book by Dr. James Fowler, Head of the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and professor at Emory Universities, Candler School of Theology. Dr. Fowler wrote about the development of faith in his book Stages of Faith. In my  studies and in using Dr. Fowler’s thoughts, I viewed the concept of trust as a synonym of faith. Trust has significant application and understanding within the classroom. Fowler in developing his ideas uses some thoughts from Richard Niebuhr a 1950’s theologian.

 

“He sees faith taking form in our earliest relationships with those who provide care for us in infancy. He sees faith growing through our experience of trust and fidelity – of mistrust and betrayal – with those closest to us. He sees faith in the shared visions and values that held human groups together. And he sees faith at all those levels, in the search for an overreaching, integrating and grounding trust in the center of value and power sufficiently worthy to give our lives unity and meaning.” Dr. James Fowler, The Development of Faith

 

We can superimpose trust in place of faith and soon as I look at students coming to my class I see that they either learned trust in the process of growing up and or they perhaps learned betrayal. Just how significant is that piece of information as a child walks in the classroom? In order to be successful in teaching students need to trust their teachers and in return be trusted for a community to develop and hold together.
What should education be about? Should it be as John Dewey discusses a basis for our democratic society and community? Should education be about caring and compassion? An aspect that Dewey is well-written on, and numerous others have addressed community.

 

“For Dewey, the quality of life mirrors its aesthetic depth, understood as the extent to which embodies grace, artfulness, and appreciation, whether in maintaining a home, classroom, business or government. The quality of life reflects its emotional maturity and attentiveness, which Dewey contrasts with sentimentality and superficiality. Moreover, the quality of life displays its moral depth, which encompasses considerations of freedom, justice, compassion, humility and personal as well as social responsibility.” David Hansen, Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice

 

It is about community, belonging and relationships that could be a driving force in education.

 

“My hope is that students will be attracted to schools because of the quality of human relationship, the quality of communal experiences there. In other words, students will want to go to school, not because of what they will do but because of whom they will meet” Dr. Alexander Sidorkin

 

As I looked at how we can piece together all of the information that could come into a room with students my first thought was teachers need to ask questions of students. There needs to be a learning period where teacher becomes the learner and tries to understand all the bits and pieces that their students bring with them.

 

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem-solving, and creative chaos. The connections held by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit, and will converge in the human self.” Parker Palmer

 

Perhaps if we try and learn about our students, and try and understand the experiences that they bring if only a few moments is taken from the day, be it in reflections, journals, discussion and learning community is developed education could be changed. We should be looking to embrace what I once considered a negative, the sixteen-hour syndrome, and weave it within our classroom tapestry. Again as I have for over ten years now ended please keep those in harm’s way in your heart and on your minds and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Now my past studies are making sense

Bird Droppings August 16, 2016

Now my past studies are making sense

 

My head feels like a sponge from even with taking sinus meds. We have hot weather and high humidity and my head always feels it. Perhaps why I was sitting thinking back to a day we as teachers in Walton County were not paid as it was one of our furlough days imposed by our governor and of students were not in school. It had been a teacher’s workday to finalize grades for mid-semester and for training.  I did not sit idle but used time to work on research and papers for my graduate school studies. I am sitting here this morning trying to sort through piles of what needs to go first. School work for which school and when is it due kind of morning. Teaching high school and college and in graduate school and juggling due dates and names and folders. Maybe that is why my head hurts this morning. In less than a month I will be sixty six and that thought has passed through my pondering lately more than once and who knows maybe my brain is getting old and tired.

 

“The more sand that has escaped the hourglass of life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean Paul Sartre

 

As I was looking for thoughts and ideas to start I actually was going a different direction when by accident or should I say coincidence found this quote? As we get older we have experienced more and if we have learned from our experiences the hour glass does clear. However if those grains have been abrasive and scoured the glass as they went through the glass will be scratched and foggy. It is life’s lessons that determine through previous experiences how we have responded and or would respond.

 

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

 

I am not a big fan of fishing as a sport and often draw strange looks when my students hear me say I do not fish. I enjoy the solitude and quiet but not the sitting and waiting. Although once or twice I do have fish stories I could pull out both by chance with my cousin from Florida. One took place in Wisconsin when my father took my cousin and me fishing for Muskie and one in Florida with my family when we came upon a group of mating sharks. But they are food for thought another time and writing.

 

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” W. Blake

 

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” Albert Einstein

 

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Thoreau

 

Choosing to look, to see, to listen and to hear these are all choices we make as we go through life. It is far easier to take ideas and thoughts from others to be subjugated by others. It is so much easier to be what another wants us to be. It is only in hearing and seeing for ourselves we can as Thoreau says wake up to the dawn. We must be awake. As I was reading last night this thought came up and it intrigued me since I started in about using your own eyes and ears.

 

“An anthropologist asked a Hopi Indian why so many of his native songs seemed to be about the subject of rain… he replied: ‘because rain is scarce in our land… is that the          reason so many of your songs are about love?’” from a Hopi elder

 

As I thought is that the problem in our society so easily recognized by a Hopi Indian in New Mexico who had never really been to a big city or “civilized” area of the United States, could it be a lack of love? In many of my readings for graduate school we are looking at whose eyes and whose voice perceives what is occurring in life. So much of history has been interpreted by a limited number of people and in a very select and often biased view. So often it is only the winner’s view of the world we see from history.

 

“Mankind often stumbles upon the truth….but usually picks itself up & goes   along.”  Winston Churchill

 

We so often know the answer and choose not to listen or simply disregard due to politics or popular opinion or majority rules sort of thing. Much of history has been written this way. Many indigenous peoples have been eradicated and literally been the bad guys in history. Their land was taken away and we make them the bad guys. Listening to politicians and power brokers today this is still evident. Calling such endeavors such as bilingual education not in a nice way and or even one of my favorites “voting ghetto” this adds to a couple of the most ignorant statements of recent political gibberish.

 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  Albert Einstein

 

The more I read of his ideas and philosophy the more I like his thoughts. I think it is funny how what we remember him for is more military oriented work on the atomic bomb than his philosophy of life which was pacifistic and antiwar. He loathed the fact that he was instrumental in developing weapons of mass destruction and even at one point said he would give up all if he could take that back. So where am I going today perhaps the following thought will offer some aid.

 

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more   than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position… It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so     aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education… The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our affords are to create.” Bertrand Russell

 

The sad thing is so often we fall victim to 19th century thought and this while applying to education is very much prevalent through all ideas among the “normal” folks.

 

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.”  William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

 

It is so sad to think that we actually allowed this type of mentality to lead our nation at one time. There are many times I wonder if anything has changed as you read headlines and newspaper clippings. We do not want to over educate children they might think for themselves then what do we do. The paradox is that in schools the kids who are allowed to think for themselves excel and often are the pride of the schools. Yet all through their education an effort has been made to suppress them. We cannot seem to understand that the ten year trend of standardized testing has done nothing to improve teacher quality and or student’s abilities other than to take tests. I saw this quote from the late John Holt yesterday in passing on another person’s Facebook page and it made me think.

 

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

 

Holt and I disagree on many points I am sure as he was one of the first major advocates for home schooling however it was not based on religion but on learning. I agree with him that traditional schooling is ineffective. I try and function within and try to provide a slight as much as I can alternative to traditional teaching. I have been a fan of John Dewey and experienced based learning for some time and schools using his philosophy in many ways are not schools but learning environments. I watch current “reformers” trying to even more cubby hole and categorize and traumatize teaching and in theory learning. I am sorry teaching to a test is not anything but rote memory practice. A concerted effort is being made by corporate America to strip away individuality, soul from our youth and make a profit at it.

 

I have used this example before but since it is a good one I will again. My son in eighth grade was told his methodology in a math problem was wrong and he had to do it right, the teachers way. Later in high school during his second semester of calculus he found his methodology was absolutely right and more so interesting what was wrong in eighth grade is so correct in twelfth grade and again in four calculus courses at Georgia Tech. His math teacher in eighth grade did not have an understanding of calculus and therefore could not respond other than to say he was wrong. Sometimes we force children to our terms and we are the ones who are wrong. We need to listen to the children learn from them and before I go too far a last quote to end this Monday morning meanderings. This is from ancient Israel.

 

“A child’s wisdom is also wisdom” Jewish Proverb

 

Well I got a bit carried away but several ideas to mull over ponder and reflect on so be safe this glorious week ahead with projected rain and all, and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird