Sacred is more than just a word

Bird Droppings October 31, 2009
Sacred is more than simply a word

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr.Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, singer song writer, and a university professor and actually along the way a cast member of The Survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within.” Perhaps this is a good place to stop today Guest states “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I end up with a line from an Aerosmith song as it always seems to fit in.
I used Dr. Lee’s quote and the preceding paragraph on September 7, 2009 in my daily wanderings. An email earlier reminded me of this quote and some thoughts along the way with several books I picked up this week at Barnes and Noble, I should get a commission for mentioning bookstores and Quick Trip. I state on my Facebook page my religious belief is that all is sacred. That in and of itself is a powerful statement and one I adhere to or at least attempt each day I live. Many can argue from their own religious perspective and or theological viewpoint as to what is sacred or not. On a recent journey to Macon I went by the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Park. I speak of the place in a reverent manner as for thousands of years many peoples have held this place as a sacred spot. When I climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound and look to the four directions I imagine what it was like before the Macon skyline was visible to the north or the visitor center to the east.
Sitting on my table as I write is a Bushmen water container. It is simply an ostrich egg emptied out with a hole in the top and carvings of animals and designs etched into the shell and then filled with ash to leave a black line. This egg is over fifty years old and brought back by my father from South Africa many years ago and given to me. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa and to the Sans as they wish to be called, we use the term Bushmen this is a sacred vessel. It is one of many that would be stashed plugged with grass and placed at a specific spot identified by the markings belonging to a particular hunting group it would be filled with water and stored for the next trip through that spot.
Over the past few years I have read many books on spirituality, Native American thought, Curriculum, Education, Teaching methods, Religion, Counseling, Psychology, Herbs, Medicinal plants, Reptiles and Amphibians, and even a few fiction books mainly Harry Potter. One author who has always kept my attention and I still periodically check up on his essays is William Edelen. Edelen is a Presbyterian pastor, former fighter pilot, former agriculture teacher, author, speaker, and thinker extraordinaire. While his books of essays are not best sellers on a few years back was the United Methodist Women’s book of the year, In Search of the Great Mystery. Edelen incorporates many ideas from Native American thought into his writing along with Thomas Jefferson and Thoreau.

“The question I so often ask is this: Why are the vast majority of people so willing to turn over their life, values, priorities, and decisions to such authoritarian institutions? Are they insecure, that fearful, that blind, that they cannot assume personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth? ‘Your own reason is the only oracle given to you by God,’ wrote Thomas Jefferson.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Edelen was addressing millenniums of mass church building and increasingly larger congregations that demand from their parishners. I always found it humorous that one Atlanta church required a credit report to join.

“People often ask me, “What are you …… what do you believe…. Are you a Christian…. Taoist … Buddhist …. what? In a joking mood I may tell them I am a Taoist, Druid, Agnostic shaman. But when I answer the question seriously, I tell them I live within the historical stream of mysticism, and that orientation, world view, cosmology, or philosophy of life is the same whether one lives in a Taoist society, Buddhist, Christian or secular.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Needless to say William Edelen is a character, he still has many listeners and readers and even in his nineties he still speaks in Palm Springs each week delivering a new essay. There is a website where these are posted. But there are many views of life, spirit and sacred what compromises these. Continuing on today another writer whom has drawn me to them is Thomas Merton. A Trappist Monk he is considered to be one of the foremost spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century. Merton died in a hotel room in Southeast Asia in 1968 protesting the war in Viet Nam.

“To unify your life, unify your desires. To spiritualize your life, spiritualize your desires. To spiritualize your desires, desire to be without desires.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

“Everyone has an instinctive desire to do good things and avoid evil. But the desire is sterile as long as we have no experience of what it means to be good.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Almost John Dewey words in needing to experience good in order to desire to do good. Both Thomas Merton and William Edelen use the concept of opposites prevalent in Eastern philosophy as well as in Native American thought. Merton and Edelen often quote The Dalai Lama in their writings and as he is spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhists, he is respected world wide.
Over the years I have been a fan of the writings of the Dalai Lama myself, at age six or so he was chosen to be the successor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and left his parent’s small farm to go to the capital of Tibet in Lhasa and here was tutored in Buddhist traditions and writings. He through his young years had tutors from England as well who taught other subjects and provided a world view for this humble boy from a small farm in Tibet. Today he is considered on of the great thinkers of our time and has received the Nobel Peace Prize among other numerous awards. His many books help bridge, and make an effort to provide insight into Buddhist philosophy and understanding of the world. One of these thoughts within Buddhism is the theory of emptiness.

“According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded on the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence in untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things are therefore entirely self contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact and exert influence on other phenomena.” Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom

I walked into my local convenience store this morning to get a couple of bottles of Smart water; I have switched after years of drinking Evian only. No, it does not increase my IQ by more than a small percentage with each bottle, but it has no metallic taste and it is essentially distilled water with electrolytes added. Another advertising pitch I could make a fortune if I was signed with all of these commercial entities. As we talked with one of my Muslim friends I wished him a Happy Halloween, and it hit me. Halloween was an attempt in the old days of allowing pagan rituals into the Christian domain back in the days of assimilating cultures as you conquer. What was interesting is how it was then followed by All Saints day to beg forgiveness for the previous day.
But it is always interesting where our traditions and history take us and will take us. Borrowing a line from the Dalai Lama’s above quote. “All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence.” At the time it was a necessary evil to allow All Hallows eve and get the pagans to follow in line. As the day changed and it seemed All Saints day was no longer needed it was discounted as a holy day by the church. It might have had something to do with me being born on that day as well.

“My plea is that we bring our spirituality, the fullness and simple wholesomeness of our basic human values, to bear upon the course of science and the direction of technology in human society. In essence, science and spirituality, though offering in their approaches, share the end, which is the betterment of humanity.” The Dalai Lama

“The whole point of science is that there are no facts, only theories. You don’t believe these things they are working hypotheses that the next bit of information can transform. We are taught not to hang on but to stay open.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I read The Dalai Lamas words it reminded of the passage from Campbell, recognized as one of the leaders in comparative mythology.

“The first fact that distinguishes the human species from all others is that we are born too soon. We arrive incapable of taking care of ourselves for something like fifteen years. Puberty doesn’t come along for twelve years or more, and physical maturity doesn’t arrive until our early twenties. During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological dependency. We are trained as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us to react.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I sat thinking on this passage my mind drifted over to a book I am reading currently Kent Nerburn’s latest, The Wolf at Twilight. Nerburn goes back to the Sioux reservation to help an old friend in a search for his sister who has been gone now nearly eighty years. One of the comments made is in a discussion on hand shakes. Nerburn questioned how they could tell he was unfamiliar with the Sioux ways and they said by the handshake. A white man shakes hands hard exerting force wanting to maintain control, power, be a man. A Sioux shakes hands lightly, softly not imposing their dominance over the person whose hand is being shaken. It is a matter of how we are raised. The cultural biases and societal influences provide the basis for who we are. Perhaps this is where I am concerned in our quest in education and society so often for simplicity and measureable data. Are we leaving out the spiritual and actually leaving science by the way side? We seem to want answers solid data and facts. So many people want laws in science and not theories. So many people want one way in religion and forget the spirituality aspect of what it is they seek.

“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 connectedness made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as a place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I first read Parker Palmer about nine years ago in a book club meeting where our principal used this book, The Courage to Teach, as one of our readings. Parker Palmer emphasizes in his writing that teachers choose to teach because of heart because they desire to do something for humanity. Many of his themes touch on the spirituality within teaching. It is this idea of connectedness that toes in to my thoughts today and with some of the others I have quoted and used. In recent months I have become a fan of Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, former Department Chair of Guidance at the University of Florida. His books along with his father are based on the Cherokee Nation. Many of his thoughts on guidance reflect his own understandings and outlooks based on his Native American heritage.

“Native peoples view all things as having spiritual energy and importance. All things are connected, all things have life, and all things are worthy of respect and reverence. Spiritual being essentially requires that individuals seek their place in the universe; everything else will follow in good time. “Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, Walking in the Wind

I have wandered today and yet perhaps not strayed from where I was going in my journey and will end with perhaps my favorite author Kent Nerburn.

“Spiritual growth is honed and perfected only through practice. Like an instrument, it must be played. Like a path, it must be walked. Whether through prayer or meditation or worship or good works, you must move yourself in the direction of spiritual betterment.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

“It is the sense that comes over us as we stare into the starlit sky or watch the last fiery rays of an evening sunset. It is the morning shiver as we wake on a beautiful day and smell richness in the air that we know and love from somewhere we can’t quite recall. It is the mystery behind the beginning of time and beyond the limits of space. It is a sense of otherness that brings alive something deep in our hearts.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

I had actually started to be rather short and be done with it today but sort of got caught up in my own wanderings and readings. It has been over ten years I have ended my daily thoughts with this phrase and again looking at the news and listening to what is going on in the world I will again close with my traditional last statement. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

There may be side roads in life more of the Journey part 4

Bird Droppings October 30, 2009
There may be side roads in life more of the Journey part 4

I wandered about a bit yesterday morning, running errands trying to get caught up on a few things. As I went from one errand to the next a Barnes and Noble bookstore was in my way conveniently and so I stopped. I did by chance stop in and purchase a few books. Those could be the focus of tomorrow droppings as I get into them. My droppings yesterday brought a response from a friend who teaches gifted sixth and seventh graders and also has been a part time college professor. I mentioned how professors of education should have taught first. I consider the doctor would you want a brand new out of school doctor working on you with no experience and yet in teaching we see a new teacher the same as an experienced one, both are expected to do essentially the same tasks and job. When I started in education as a freshmen in college I was side tracked for a bit along the way. You might say I took a few side roads but in doing so I became a much better teacher.

“We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory.” Bern Williams

I was reminded recently as we searched the area several springs ago for flowering plants; the object was the plant had to be flowering at the time of collection. This was my son’s botany project. It was as interesting as we found plants that contained flowers far more beautiful than many commercial flowers but tiny literally microscopic as we searched. As I look at the statement above, what is it really that Williams is referring to? Is it the times we over look something when we are so intent on a specific goal. So often in education we only see the pass or fail score of the standardized test not that the child made great strides in learning.

“I consider a goal as a journey rather than a destination. And each year I set a new goal.” Curtis Carlson

“You are not likely to get anywhere in particular if you don’t know where you want to go.” Percy H. Johnson

Sometimes as we search, as we wander in life, along the way there is still so much to see and to learn, one goal will lead to another. But having a goal, keeps us motivated to attain. So many people do not even have a goal and stumble around, floundering.

“Set your goals high and don’t stop until you get there.” Bo Jackson

Just a reminder to Georgia football fans there is always next year and the possibility of a national championship well maybe the year after that.

“When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.” Greg Anderson

“The person with a fixed goal, a clear picture of his desire, or an ideal always before him, causes it, through repetition, to be buried deeply in his subconscious mind and is thus enabled, thanks to its generative and sustaining power, to realize his goal in a minimum of time and with a minimum of physical effort. Just pursue the thought unceasingly. Step by step you will achieve realization, for all your faculties and powers become directed to that end.” Claude M. Bristol

So often as I have experienced for myself, I recall a year or so ago on a Saturday a good example as I went out feeling some driving purpose to the day beyond rather than simply driving to Florence South Carolina, nearly three hundred miles away. Not truly knowing what it was that was on my mind and anticipating each moment and each contact as I went about the day. I had a goal to get my son an apartment and hopefully see as much of Florence as I could and yet under that was a search a constant looking for more meaning to the day. In my looking I found so much, I completed my goal and we looked at several apartments but all were older and some what not what we hoped to find.
As we headed back to the property rental office to return the keys I noticed a flyer on the counter for a new property. A quick question and we were on our way to look at and eventually get that apartment. We were so focused at first on what we had been told and our own goal of finding something Saturday we nearly missed the new apartments. In the process of the day we each had so many encounters and pieces to our puzzles in life. It might have been locking the keys in the car, seeing my sons chemical plant, seeing Florence and Lake City where he will be working, and spending many hours together.

“There are those who travel and those who are going somewhere. They are different and yet they are the same. The success has this over his rivals: He knows where he is going.” Mark Caine

“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I read an article while morbid in a way; it is also very true when speaking of goals and how so many people lead their lives. As we became more technologically advanced many human skills gave way to technology. In Viet Nam marksmanship gave way to weaponry that could fire numerous rounds per second and kill ratios were one kill per thousand rounds of ammunition and marksmanship was lost. Recently in an article on the National Sniper championships, snipers have been attaining kill ratios of 1.3 rounds per kill in theory; I do not think they use live targets in championships. While a morbid comparison so true in our society that rather than focus we scatter our dreams our goals and hope for the best or that common word used far too often creeps in “whatever”.

“Concentrate on finding your goal, then concentrate on reaching it.” Michael Friedman

“The goal you set must be challenging. At the same time, it should be realistic and attainable, not impossible to reach. It should be challenging enough to make you stretch, but not so far that you break.” Rick Hansen

In a few weeks we will give out transcripts and new schedules for a new semester coming up. Some students will be fine and others will complain and as I plan ahead some will continue to complain even after the semester starts. I was looking at attendance the other day and one student said no way that had he missed so many days. I explained, four teachers had the same information and his response was “whatever”, they are still wrong. Then he began whining, “How am I going to get into college?” I sat there looking at a transcript of a second year ninth grader who was failing because of attendance and not due to ability and being asked “how was I going to get into college?”
I sat back and said first simply passing as you strive to do, will not get you into college I knew this student would get a good SAT score but that alone will not get a college acceptance. A high school transcript of seventies and failures just doesn’t look so good. As we talked I wrote of a piece of paper 70% and 100% and asked “you go to find a doctor since you are talking of medical school, and you have in front of you two doctors, one learned 70% and one learned 100%, who do you want as your doctor?”. Guess who he picked? I hope his eyes were opened.

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things — to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals.” Sir Edmund Hillary

A few years ago Hillary passed away but last Saturday in my crazy search for purpose I was driving. It so happened that Saturday morning as I was gazing east there was a glorious sunrise. I actually was thinking what it might have been like for Hillary to be standing atop Mt. Everest that first time looking over a world not just looking down Interstate 20. He attained the highest point on earth yet considered himself a common chap.

“Goals are dreams with deadlines.” Diana Scharf Hunt

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” H. L. Hunt

“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin” Benjamin E. Mayes

Every day I talk with students whose only goal is now this minute, trying to guide them is difficult for in that self centered world there is no direction, no plan, and no pathway. I can show them a road map and point them in the right direction but sooner or later they will have to take the first step. All of us have been there and may be again so watch for travelers who need help and always offer a hand. Trying myself to get back up to speed and back in a routine after several days of being lazy, I still end today with please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Continuing the Journey Part 3

Bird Droppings October 29, 2009
Continuing the Journey Part 3

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 than so many teachers to my endeavor. I recall my father essentially teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. Tell Show Test and Check was a favorite of his for teaching a subject or even a skill. I have used the FIDO principle 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 does 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 quote from yesterday, “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. 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 today 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 school 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 Dewey that 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 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. Even thinking back to summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during regular session. 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 can not 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 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 baby sitting.
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 Zoology 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

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 7

In my current reading, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn. The discussion of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians 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 some what 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 can not 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 ones 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 8

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 harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

The Journey Part 2

Bird Droppings October 28, 2009
The Journey Part 2

I had the opportunity to visit and observe in a class room this time last year. To actually visit and see this particular class had been a dream of mine for some time. I have been a fan of Foxfire for many years now probably since I first picked up Foxfire 2 in 1973 and actually sort of used Foxfire ideas in my own teaching for many years even before I knew it was an actual teaching method. Foxfire has been a class at the Rabun County High School for over forty years continuously. The current class has continued the tradition of producing the semi annual Foxfire magazine of articles and lore of Appalachia. After my visit last year I went to lunch with the liaison between Foxfire and Piedmont College and then on to the Foxfire museum to research my dissertation which of course is about Foxfire.
Years ago as I did writing and research on hand spinning and sheep production in Georgia I had the opportunity to meet many of the folks that the magazine has written about over the years. Needless to say it was a busy day and a heart felt and great time for me as I photographed and wandered about North Georgia. If all goes well this week I will be heading back up later in the week for another visit and hopefully as next semester comes round quite a few visits.

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

For so many years I have seen a line from this song by Aerosmith, taken from the context of the song, “Life is a journey not a destination”. I think back to when I first saw it posted on my computer after spending the night at the Athens Regional Hospital in Athens Georgia holding the hand of a sixteen year old young man who had been hit by a semi after doing a u turn on a back road. My oldest son and his band played and covered Aerosmith tunes quite often at the time and he was very familiar with the music and words. But this line was from a song that in and of itself was significant for him and for me at that moment in our lives.
For me it evolved as I saw how my own life was a journey each day and each moment. As we see each aspect of life crucial to the next and that one to the next as pieces fell into place. In days prior I had been reading numerous books on the purpose in life and or on finding Meaning in life, trying to find a focus for myself but also as I engaged teenagers this is always a topic that comes up. Back when I first saw this quote I was floundering in business and trying to get a foothold and a yellow post it note on a computer after sitting with a dying teenager came to be a life changing or life refocusing moment. My blurry vision seemed to clear.
It was perhaps a moment to piece together the few days before. This young man was a clown, the life of any party, a real character and all felt that way about him. I knew him from a youth group at a local church where my own children were involved and I helped out periodically. The weekend before the accident we had all been tubing in North Georgia. As we do we stopped for dinner after being on the river all day. I think it was a Colonel Sanders fast food sort of place. As we were getting ready to leave this young man walks up extending his hand to me as he always does and always at the last minute he pulls it away and makes a joke just not fast enough Mr. Bird or something along that line. But this time the hand doesn’t move no laughing and no jokes he commented to me “not this time”. We shook hands for a longer moment than normal and it did not sink in as that was the last I saw him till I sat with him at the hospital.
That was a number of years ago and when I returned to the house to write as I do every morning a small yellow note attached to my computer read in my son’s handwriting “Life is a journey not a destination”. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how profound for my son barely older than the young man who was killed to have found this concept and I had been searching for nearly fifty years and still had not seen. My own life started to focus and clear and ideas thoughts seemed to flow and make sense. Earlier in the week I was answering an email from someone I have never met. I was talking with several teachers, professors and students in my visits how we can in today’s electronic age communicate with so many people all in a touch of a computer keyboard or mouse click. Many times that message includes photos, graphs, power points and such attached, we are into multimedia. But the message is still so clear, it is about the journey.
Another email answered was “If you believe in God respond” sort of if you do not you are going to hell. As I read the note and thought how easy to respond one way or another perhaps in a theological dissertation on ramifications of believing or not and or of what it is you do or do not believe in. It was then the journey hit me again it is about the journey not the destination. So I offered the writer it is so easy to say you believe in God or the tooth fairy it is far more difficult to live the life you say you believe in but this is what is seen and felt by others. For it is others who see your journey not your destination. So I wrote on and wandered as I do I tried in several previous quotes I had used about out the journey, parents, teachers, friends and that it is the example we set that picture we paint for others to see that has significance and meaning.
What would a child learn from a teacher who yells at an extremely high decibel other than to cover their ears? What does a child learn from a parent who abuses them other than abuse? What does a friend learn from a friend when they betray them other than distrust? Within the fragility of our experiences we need examples of direction of positive journeying. I am still fascinated with a friend who had been doing work with eldering, helping young people along the pathway in life.
Each day I wonder why kids come by my room just to smile and say hi and other times to ask for a word or two of advice. Thinking back nearly a year now as I addressed the Foxfire class I asked how many of you want to be in this class right now. All raised their hands and I said when students want to be in a class they learn and can not help it. It is those who do not want to be in that class that makes it hard for everyone else. Even staying in Loganville I journeyed yesterday and every moment was a new experience. Life is about the journey and may we all be cleaning the pathway rather than dropping builders for others to trip on. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

The Journey Part 1

Bird Droppings October 27, 2009
The Journey Part 1

I borrowed yesterday from John Dewey and had a response on my facebook site sort of how most administrators and teachers really do not want to allow students to have said so and input into their education. The post actually used South Park and Family Guy as references and how in many situations children are more intelligent than adults and it is we who should be learning from them not the other way around. In many ways I agree but as I am reading a book by Kent Nerburn, his latest dealing with his own journey with a Sioux elder. There is also that aspect of wisdom that comes with age. Although Dan the old man Nerburn is journeying with, mentions to Nerburn that wisdom is not related to age but to how you see things.

“Who, then, shall conduct education so that humanity may improve?” John Dewey

A very deep and broad question, I was thinking back to my own community and associations. We elect school board members who hire teachers and principals. This group decides on schools to build and places to build them and rules to govern the schools. So in effect we select peers from the community although they are not educators at the time. They could be former educators retired and now involved in political endeavors. I am curious as to how does Dewey the great educator answer his own question?

“We must depend upon the efforts of enlightened men in their private capacity. ’All culture begins with private men and spreads outward from them. Simply through the efforts of persons of enlarged inclinations, who are capable of grasping the ideal of a future better condition, is the gradual approximation of human nature to its end possible…. Rulers are simply interested in such training as will make their subjects better tools for their own intentions.’ Even the subsidy by rulers of privately conducted schools must be carefully safeguarded. For the rulers’ interest in the welfare of their own nation instead of in what is best for humanity, will make them, if they give money for the schools, wish to draw their plans.” John Dewey

We are manipulated maybe educated as pawns in a society for the societies own good. There are times when I believe that in watching new teachers come and teach it is in a manner that has been that way for a hundred years. We develop curriculums that are what was, and will always be education. Occasionally there is a bright note, a light on the horizon, a student of education or two sees a different view a different point and follows a different path. Here I am thinking and the routine keeps popping up, but an alteration to my daily routine and it bothers me. We want things to be smooth to run efficiently and effectively and OUR way. Sadly the further up the chain of command the bigger the OUR WAY is.

“The new idea of the importance of education for human welfare and progress was captured by national interests and harnessed to do a work whose social aim was definitely narrow and exclusive. The social aim of education and its national aim were identified, and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of a social aim.” John Dewey

Teachers and administrators like routine, sameness it is easy to can and bottle. Going back and borrowing from Sydney J, Harris, it is “easier to stuff sausages”. The student effectively gets lost in the mandated and regulated manipulations of society.

“Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted?” John Dewey

I find irony in the concept of a democratic classroom which I do believe can be successful. I find paradox in our efforts to be so democratic in our own country and yet we tend to bow to where the majority wants even at the expense of free thought. We say individualism on one hand yet want the majority to rule and to dictate. Going back to watching the first election process in Iraq, one faction won and another literally did not vote in protest.
As I look at education and our own country how often do we do this and then when that which we did not elect nor even cared about happens we whine. We complain and we are faced with a journey with provisions we do not want nor need. Far too many times we are on that journey in a wrong direction for several years till another changes path. Far too often we dictate direction in a top down scenario. On the path, the one on the journey is being told go this way and go that and should be the one directing the effort. Maybe students should be running the schools.
It is so easy to raise an issue following through with ideas is the more difficult aspect. Where in should the direction be set? I approach students in a manner that may be contradictory to some and way wrong to others. I offer here is where we need to go and ok class how do we get there. At first that is a difficult proposition many want a map, a guide, or a compass at least and the teacher can be that, facilitating in a guiding manner. However for learning to happen students have to be engaged and interactive in the journey each day.

“To get where they’re going, navigators first need to know where in the world they are.” Miami University, Dragonfly project

If we substitute educators and or students for the word navigators in the quote above it presents an interesting situation. Any journey needs a starting point and how we find where that is often is the hard part in education. A journey starts at the beginning, where it is going is wherever and when ever but it does start somewhere. As a teacher I help student’s find a starting point then provide tools to navigate the journey. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Time an elusive quarry

Bird Droppings October 23, 2009
Time an elusive quarry

Lately and through most of this week I have been getting home later than ormal from the high school. It has not been for lack of things to do but that during homecoming week there are extra things and actually I have missed a few sadly. I did not make the bonfire last night. I Have found sleeping very easy and my alarm clock did go off yesterday which never happens. I sort of always wake up around three thirty each morning. It seems we blame time however there is never enough to do what we want to do.

“If we have…presence of mind then whatever work we do will be the very tool which enables us to know right and wrong continually. There’s plenty of time to meditate, we just don’t fully understand the practice, that’s all. While sleeping we breathe, eating we breathe, don’t we? Why don’t we have time to meditate? Wherever we are we breathe. If we think like this then our life has as much value as our breath, wherever we are we have time.” Ajahn Chah, “Taste of Freedom”

I was asked yesterday, when I have time to write, to read, to do the numerous extra things I do. I jokingly said, I don’t sleep that much and so I sit here this morning writing and reading emails at four o’clock in the morning. I have found we each have things we do that perhaps could be done differently and given a moment here and there may could do a bit more. Years ago I chose to get up early in the morning; it is quiet, very little interference and even outside noise is minimal. I found I gained a few hours a day. Instead of staying up till midnight watching TV, I was getting up earlier and reading and writing and thinking. The compromise has worked for me over the years.

“You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” Charles Bixton

“Until we can manage TIME, we can manage nothing else.” Peter F. Drucker

It always seems after the fact folks realize how much time they have wasted. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to plan ahead to allocate a bit here and there and who knows, that moment or two for thinking, for writing, for reading, will be there.

“Anything that is wasted effort represents wasted time. The best management of our time thus becomes linked inseparably with the best utilization of our efforts.” Ted W. Engstrom

“If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.” Benjamin Franklin

We live in a world of an ever increasing capability of managing our time, new gadgets and electronic devices; keep us in tune with all around us. Palm Pilots, iphones, Blackberries guide our days or day timers and or computer assist programs nearly everyone or I should say most everyone has a calendar handy when asked.

“Put that on your calendar” – yet we seem forever losing time not having enough to do these things we need to do or want to do – “The biggest difference between time and space is that you can’t reuse time.” Merrick Furst

“All time management begins with planning.” Tom Greening

“We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess, “We have left undone those things that ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Charles E. Hummel

An interesting author Hummel’s book “Freedom from the tyranny of the urgent” is an interesting concept. I so often we end up losing and or wasting time over priorities that are mixed up. Hummel offers, getting ducks in a row, setting priorities, learning to set priorities and doing those things that need doing first and work through the list. Interestingly enough soon all will get done because the inconsequential becomes left by the wayside and soon there is time. We are free from the tyranny of the urgent.

“If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.” Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca is a man who knows priorities and who could set them and move on them and literally turn companies around. That aspect of giving it all we got is the key.

“Heck by the time a man scratches his behind, clears his throat, and tells me how smart he is, we’ve already wasted fifteen minutes.” Lyndon B. Johnson

“The idea is to make decisions and act on them — to decide what is important to accomplish, to decide how something can best be accomplished, to find time to work at it and to get it done.” Karen Kakascik

Amazing how sometimes that little extra bit of planning that seems to be a waste at the time ends up saving vast amounts of time.

“Write down the most important things you have to do tomorrow. Now, number them in the order of their true importance. The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on an item Number 1, and stay with it until completed. Then take item Number 2 the same way. Then Number 3, and so on. Don’t worry if you don’t complete everything on the schedule. At least you will have completed the most important projects before getting to the less important ones.” Ivy Lee

So often in teaching, things change. It could be that this student does that or this, and the days plan gets out of sorts. In business it is no different. So often things happen unplanned for things, a piece of equipment goes down and an assembly line is closed. I recall years ago listening to my father discuss the concept of Loss Control with a plant manager. I was auditing in industry and for example when my father would first walk into a plant he would go to the maintenance foreman first. Many folks would laugh and ask why not go to the president to see where problems were, he is the boss. My father would answer that the maintenance man sees it first and always is an indicator of issues that so often get over looked by the higher ranking management. Be it time or property, often by getting down to the nitty-gritty we can find time to get things done. It seems over the years I have found not having enough time is never a good excuse; it is only that, an excuse. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

The measure of a man

Bird Droppings October 22, 2009

The measure of a man


I was exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally as I walked in the door at our house last night and directly headed to bed. It had been a long day to say the least. So many various things going on that could drain a person, with activities at school and in life that require the totality of my being and I am getting far too old for this. I had been taking pictures literally all day and my right arm was numb from holding the camera and flash unit. My arthritis in my shoulder was not subsiding with a good dose of Advil. I left school around nine o’clock after watching and photographing our annual homecoming Mr. LHS contest. A combination of talent and humor the audience was brought to tears laughing several times with the antics of our students. I was proud to be a teacher as I sat and watched the show and looked across the crowd at student some of whom I have known since kindergarten.


“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”   Samuel Johnson 


As I think back to previous writings, several times I have pulled this quote out the past eight or nine years and each time it offers a bit more to me. It is a good one, a philosophy of life that truly presents a universal truth in a sense. When social status has no significance and means nothing to someone to a degree they will not let that be an issue in life nor is it simply treating people as you would like to be treated. This statement however may sound familiar to many and has been used by literally every major religion in one form or another. This philosophy is so often running through the religious guidelines and canons. I find that to be an interesting concept as so often we go to war over religious ideology down through history.


“Ah, when to the heart of man was it ever less than treason to go with the drift of things to yield with a grace to reason and bow and accept at the end of a love or a season.” Robert Frost 


“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


It is far too often we sit back seeing and knowing what is right but not saying anything. We know we need to treat people differently than we do and just cannot seem to take that step and climb up and do it. Each day I see and hear people profess to a creed and yet never even attempt to live that way. I found it interesting as I mentioned a few droppings back where Dr. Ed Dobson a former CEO and founder of Moral Majority in walking the way of Jesus for a year changed his life’s philosophy and outlook. He left the ultra conservative views and in the last presidential election voted for Barrack Obama because he felt his views more emphasized what the true meaning of his faith was about.

I looked up at that first quote today and remembered a comment thrown at me only a day or so ago. I questioned the greed of Wall Street and Health Insurance executives and was literally chastised for being too socialist. I just found humor in the fact the discussion started on increased health insurance costs. I am not a mathematician but a twenty percent increase in salaries and also in cost of insurance kind of seems too coincidental.


“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest. It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mahatma Gandhi


As I sit thinking reading through various writers and thinkers I always seem drawn to Gandhi, a simple man who in his simpleness changed a nation. From his thoughts sprang new ideas and determination with Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent approach to Civil Rights. I can recall vividly images of people in protest being beaten with night sticks and the news coverage of the search for Civil Rights activists slain and buried in a construction site by Klu Klux Clan members. That was less than fifty years ago in our country.


I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. “ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


I have been trying for this school year to come up with something along that line in terms of how can we judge mankind that is to truly judge man. If we can devoid ourselves of senses sight hearing and smell can we judge a man, purely on character.


“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. – When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” Helen Keller


I have always felt strongly that of all the famous people I have read about perhaps today’s youth need to read more about this remarkable woman. I recall just a few weeks back in advisement when no one knew who she was out of a group of twenty eleventh graders. She stood out among people and was recognized as a great individual of character and will beyond the fact she had overcome so many obstacles.

Helen Keller spoke in front of the powers of the world in her time and yet never saw them or heard them. For those of you who do not know Helen Keller, at a very young age due to illness, she lost her sight and hearing. Her life was later described in detail in a book and later a movie, The Miracle Worker. Essentially the story goes how a teacher would not give into a child who without sight or hearing had basically become a spoiled uncontrollable brat. It was with that great effort of teaching a great mind was opened to the world and, “we can never know what miracle is wrought in our life, (or more importantly) or in the life of another.”

  So many things on my mind and in my thoughts today as I venture out into the world. I am behind where I like to be probably due to leaving my computer at school last night in an effort to head home. Take a moment this morning and review where you are in time in life and step forward boldly offer a hand up if needed and do not be afraid to ask for that hand if you need it. Keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts. 



Frank Bird Ed.S. D.D.

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