a tapestry is woven as the spider spins

Bird Droppings January 14, 2010
A tapestry woven as the spider spins

“For certain fortunate people there is something that transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is awareness, something which rises from the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games and that is intimacy. But all of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as ‘togetherness.’ This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.” Dr. Eric Berne, Games People Play, 1964

The title intrigued me as I was sitting here 3:33 AM pondering which direction to go in this mornings writing I was thinking about students, parents and teachers and how so often the intertwining of personalities produce the fabric of the day. I recall in a graduate class a professor friend used the term or representation of weaving. Our lives are a tapestry being woven each day as we go. Last night as I checked my email I opened a website I had found several months back of a two scientists enlisted a group of weavers in Madagascar to assist in weaving from the golden orb spider’s dragline silk, the outer strands used in building a web an eleven by four tapestry. Literally millions of golden orb spiders were milked of their silk to produce this masterpiece. It took over four years to collect enough silk and only one other time in history had this been done and that weaving had been lost in a European Museum many years ago. In order to find the story, “Spiders Wranglers Weave” is the web title.

“Each person designs his own life, freedom gives him the power to carry out his own designs, and power gives the freedom to interfere with the designs of others.“ Dr. Eric Berne

Only a few days ago walking down the hall wall I got into a discussion on wool and weaving. For many years I was directly involved in the sheep industry with raising breeding and of course shearing the sheep, and selling lambs and wool. I traveled nation wide photographing and talking to producers and writing about the sheep and wool industry. I met over the years many hand spinners and weavers as I traveled. Some were artisans spinning yarn as fine as silk and weaving literally pieces of art work. Back in the day we had a ewe a Hampshire cross ewe that was “black”, however when you sheared her the fleece was chinchilla gray. For many years back a dear friend would get that fleece each year for her spinning and weaving. Somewhere in a box is a small ball of yarn my oldest son spun one afternoon when he was six with that fleece, my friend showing and helping him manipulates his fingers on the spinning wheel.
Life as Dr. Donna Andrews, chairperson of the Special education department at Piedmont College commented in class is a weaving an intertwining of events and people I recall from many years ago in her class.

“A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else. “ Mahatma Gandhi

One of Gandhi’s methodologies of protest was to spin and weave his own cloth rather than rely on industrial produced material. Many other intricate thoughts were woven in as well; spinning is for many a form of meditation. The process of weaving, creating and designing a piece is literally a painting of a picture with thread and yarn. The spider silk tapestry is priceless and currently resides in a museum.

“A man’s action is only a picture book of his creed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So as we weave our cloth in life we are seen by the fabric, the pattern, and the methods we use to make that work of art or piece of cloth.

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. “ John F. Kennedy

With each progress report we call students parents or guardians to discuss issues and grades. I speak with several parents over the phone and in person with each report. I walked through my room after school every day reading a poster that has been hanging around now on my wall where ever I end up for 30 years or more, Children Learn what they live. My thoughts as I sit today pondering Dr. Laura Nolte’s words on my ancient poster and thinking of weaving. While one weaves silk weaves burlap in life. Silk has many great attributes as does burlap and the applications and uses vary. To spin hemp into twine and weave the burlap is as much a skill as the artisans who weave the silk threads into cloth. The weaving and material made is not the issue but it is that weaving that is occurring. Only in our semantics and perceptions are the qualities lessened between silk and burlap. For it is in that effort that is being made, to produce a life and direction or history that reality is formed.

“Understand clearly that when a great need appears a great use appears also; when there is small need there is small use; it is obvious, then, that full use is made of all things at all times according to the necessity thereof.” Dogen Kenji, Zen master

Recently I used the word direction and drew criticism from a teacher trying to explain that choosing a direction in a journey and not truly having a destination is sometimes a meaningless effort. For some just going is the norm. I actually carry a compass in my briefcase and some would find that odd. Never know when you can help someone find the way. I always speak of the journey being more important versus the destination but there is a generally point to head towards. When building a house first you build walls you determine where doors and windows are needed and add them as you go. A really good builder knows ahead and plans for doors and windows and designed properly a house can have huge windows and great doors and movement in and out occurs continually.
Many years ago I was sitting along side a fence in a field far away from houses and people I watched a spider spin a web. We see webs all around I was told there are thousands of spiders per acre in any field. Many of the spiders are minute and nearly microscopic. Anyhow the spider climbed to a point and dropped leaving a strand of silk climbed and dropped and so forth building a base for her web. Next came the cross lines and soon a web was built over an hour or so in the process. We see webs and easily sweep them away but the design and care in making is engrained in the spider. Life is a weaving a spinning a web of sorts and yes so often is simply swept away. Occasionally someone will stand back in awe of the artistry if only we would take note every time. Please as we partake of this day keep the many who have been devastated in Haiti and across the world all who are in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Whose job is it to open the door

Bird Droppings January 13, 2010
Whose job is it to find the door?

I enjoy arriving at school while the stars are still shining over head provides me with significant quiet time to ponder my day. I was thinking back a few years to when my son would ride to school with me. He was not quite as big a fan of seeing stars as I am, he missed that few extra moments of sleep each day and now in college gets up at eleven or so. On one of my excursions to a Borders book store I picked up a copy of James Bradley’s book Flags of our fathers. The opening quote is a very powerful, what if? James Bradley was a Navy medic who was involved in World War II specifically at the battle of Iwo Jima and the raising of the flag. Coincidentally my father was also on the beach at Iwo Jima as a medic and saw the flag go up. Many stories were told to us growing up of the landing and carnage that happened there during World War II.

“Mothers should negotiate between nations. The mothers of fighting countries would agree: Stop this killing now. Stop it now.” Yoshikuni Taki

I have been in several meetings the past few weeks with students, teachers and parents. I can recall although it has been a few days since my youngest son handed me a sheet of paper to sign up for a teacher parent conference in geometry. All because as children seem to do, he let a test or two slip by. Our school has a mandatory meeting policy when a student has less than a seventy five percent grade in a class and is to have a conference. That is in the school rules and guidelines. As I am thinking about comments from one of my meetings where a mother wanted the school to do what she was doing in keeping her children up with their work, she was tired when she got home from work. “What the hell are teachers paid for anyway?” She was a bit over the edge and distraught that her baby was failing.
Ideally it would be great if each teacher spends time each day with each student and seemingly that is what legislation appears to be trying to do except now we loose days to furlough and or we have larger class sizes. But then you do the calculations, in a ninety minute class with thirty students that is three minutes a piece if there is no start up or down time. That is ninety seconds for each student and that is not enough time for many of them to even get out a piece of paper and write their name.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

This has been a favorite of mine for many years and one of my own puzzles I have been pondering for quite some time and even recently discussed as I looked at containers and sponges only a few days back. However as a parent and a teacher how we make our parenting and or teaching so potent because really this is not a one person show here it involves home as well. How do we, or who should open the door for students and children?

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Could not this person be a parent, friend and or a teacher? A good friend in a discussion led me to bring John Dewey up and I explained quickly his views on education. My friend’s response was why do we not do this? The hard part explaining to folks is we deliberately do not do this.

“John Dewey’s significance for informal educators lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second and linked to this, Dewey’s exploration of thinking and reflection – and the associated role of educators – has continued to be an inspiration. We can see it at work, for example, in the models developed by writers such as David Boud and Donald Schön. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provide a continuing framework for practice. Last, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the associational settings in which informal educators work.” Mark K. Smith 2001

“Problem is the political arena has convinced people that high school is about making better workers…instead of helping the kids to discover what they want to do….” Steve Miletto, Georgia Principal of the Year 2009, Osborne High School, Cobb County

Very often as I sit and think about how we work with kids I recall ideas from John Dewey and from a former principal of mine who indirectly got me back reading Dewey. This passage written by Mark Smith relates four thoughts from John Dewey’s philosophy:

1. Engage and enlarge experience – Draw on what the child knows and has seen and touched, build on that then develop that and move forward with it.

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

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” John Keats

“Common experience is the gold reserve which confers an exchange value on the currency which words are; without this reserve of shared experiences, all our pronouncements are checks drawn on insufficient funds.” Rene Daumel

2. Thinking and reflection – This is that aspect that Einstein refers to that has baffled the sages down through time. How do we get students or anyone to think and then as Dewey teaches to reflect on that.

“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” Georges Bernanos

“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.” Buddha

“Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” The Foxfire Approach

3. Interaction and environments for learning – Providing an atmosphere that students want to be in is a key to success. This could be it at home or at school, if a child does not want to be there it is difficult for them to learn and to function.

“Course content is connected to the community in which the learners live. Learners’ work will “bring home” larger issues by identifying attitudes about and illustrations and implications of those issues in their home communities.” The Foxfire Approach

“For industry to support education and training it must provide a relevant cost benefit to the employer. The content and design of the learning on offer must be capable of not only sustaining the candidate’s willingness and ability to learn but also respond to the ever changing environment within which industry operates.” Mike Goodwin, University of Wolver Hampton addressing the concept of negotiated work based learning

What is the context for the learning? How are we providing rationale and reason for what is being taught? Content is easy it is in the text book but providing context is where doors are opened.

4. Democracy in the class room –

“My own belief….is that a teacher’s stated views – and, more important, the visible actions which that teacher takes during a year in public school – are infinitely more relentless in their impact on the students than a wealth of books of any possible variety.” Jonathan Kozol, On Being a Teacher, p. 25

“Students and children actively involved in their class room changes often the direction and flow of learning “students can be forced to sit through a class, but they cannot be forced to be interested in it, or to do well.” Alfie Kohn

“A visitor then to my democratic classroom in action would walk into a room in which students are working in groups or individually grappling with ideas that will later enrich the classroom. Deliberation and debate would be ongoing as students worked on issues and projects that mattered to them as both a class and as individuals. I as the teacher would not be the center point of the room but would instead be its facilitator and manager.” Ryan Niman

It is up to parents, students, teachers and administrators we each have involvement in a student’s learning. There is no specific script that is better than another I have found as I study and read on curriculum and various learning programs. As I listened to a mother want we the school do take over all she did at home or should do at home. I wondered what you are going to do now, take a vacation as a parent. While she was tired and concerned those 16 hours away from school are as crucial as the eight or so that students spend in school. It is about getting sleep, proper nutrition, care and love and all are integral aspects of getting a child to learn, or to have an appreciation for learning.
So who opens the door is not as important as that it is open and students, parents and teachers can each find their role and build upon what has been brought to the table. It is up to each of us to try and do just a little better each day in all that we do with our children. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Looking for reasons

Bird Droppings January 11, 2010
Looking for reasons

I had a rather exciting weekend as they go. I no longer have to drive down to Macon to pick up and drop off my youngest son at Mercer University, as he now drives himself. He was ready to get back after three weeks home for the holidays. I do miss the drive however even though I am always exhausted afterwards. Many times on my way down I will stop by a garden store that often has really nice plants and shrubs. On my last trip through I had asked about California White Sage and the owner was checking into getting some for me. On my last stop through the owner was splitting wood around back when I found him and as usual we got talking. Seems his nephew is autistic. As my life goes my son called around the time I was to pick him up and forced me back on schedule only an hour late or so. But what a discussion on learning and life I had we the owner. That will be another story along the way. It turned out to be so very cold and yet with so many things going on to keep it exciting between reptile shows and my oldest son getting his drum set out for the first time in awhile the cold was sort of an after thought and a good weekend. It was about children this weekend.

“Come; let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can create for our children.” Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux

Nearly nine years has past since I did a research paper on the causes of issues with children. Many of the issues when I started back to teaching were not all that much different from the early seventies when I last taught. When I wrote the paper I was looking for commonalities among children who had issues in school and in life. I listed drugs use, alcohol use, jail time, probation, age, sex, drivers licenses, wealth, social status, child hood illnesses and whatever else I could find measurable numbers or information on. I did not question the students all the information was in school and the public records. As I looked deeper I came to the conclusion students specifically children with problems were made they did not just happen.
Indirectly we created each of the issues that manifested within the children I was reviewing. In my reading I found a website, Divorce Magazine.com, Help for Generation ex. and the following listed statistics. In 1970, 72% of the adult population was married and in 1999 only 59%. That was a shock in some ways although as I looked further more people are living together for a period of time rather than marrying. Another interesting statistic the number of divorces granted is down per 1000 people but up per number of new marriages. As I researched nearly nine years ago in that group of students I found that two out of twenty eight lived with both biological parents.

“It seems that the divorce culture feeds on itself, creating a one-way downward spiral of unhappiness and failure.” David Brenner, New York, July 14, 1999, Associate director of the Institute for American Values

“There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.” Leon R. Yankwich

I used to prior to being addicted to NCIS found myself hooked on several of the Law and Order series; the TV shows which now seem to run all day long in one form or another. I am captivated by the errors and flaws within our society, perhaps because I work with children who are often a result of those same issues in family and or society.

“Having children makes one no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

As I researched deeper in reasons children have issues often I found issues were learned. The examples were so often set at home, drugs, alcohol and literally any of issues presented had been directly related to home situations. Children learn what they live both positively and negatively as Dr. Laura Nolte writes extensively about and is featured in her Children Learn what they live poster of the early seventies. Yesterday the news was filled with stories of teenagers, young people who had gotten into trouble.
I often think back to an incident in Minnesota several years ago, where a young man killed nine people in a shooting spree on the Red Lake Reservation. Elsewhere drug arrests and gang issues are often the case. I also thought back to a situation nearly six years ago, I was walking outside my room when a student came up sheepishly and hugged me and apologized. “I am so sorry for what happened”. It was only a few weeks prior this student was in a fight with another student in the cafeteria and I was pulling them apart. It was a strange feeling being thanked for breaking up a fight, by one of the parties involved.
Back a few years ago I was at a basketball game and parents were yelling at each other over their kids. This was in front of the audience; to a point a Resource Officer was involved. It really is no different than thirty five years ago when I coached basketball in Macon Georgia and the kids liked this old crude gym better than the new gym. Parents could not fit inside and kids could just play basketball with no parents yelling to be heard. I just found my trophies from 1973-74 over the weekend as my wife and I were going through boxes.

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” Dr. C. Everett Koop

I never met the man but my father always spoke highly of him as he was my brother’s physician in Philadelphia when John was at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. In later years, Dr. Koop was the Surgeon General of the United States. I am always looking for answers midst all the questions.

“Children are curious and are risk takers. They have lots of courage. They venture out into a world that is immense and dangerous. A child initially trusts life and the processes of life.” John Bradshaw

Perhaps it is the breaking of trust that causes issues to arise. Years ago I did a chart on the development of trust. The stages in how trust develops with a child and then into adulthood. We are born with what I called a universal trust, as an infant you instinctually trust, you learn to not trust and eventually come full circle learning to trust again.

“Trust evolves. We start off as babies with perfect trust. Inevitably, trust is damaged by our parents or other family members. Depending on the severity, we may experience devastated trust, in which the trust is completely broken. In order to heal, we must learn when and how trust can be restored. As part of this final step, if we cannot fully trust someone, then we establish guarded, conditional, or selective trust.” Dr. Riki Robbins, PhD, The Four Stages of Trust

I recently started reading a book for the second or third time by Dr. Temple Grantin, Animals in Translation. Dr. Grantin’s unique view is driven by the fact that she is autistic. She looks at animals in a different light than most people do; she operates on that instinctual level without the encumbrances of emotion. She stills functions in a world of trust and maintains trust however that can be defined. In a family setting what more so than parents leaving could displace trust in a child let alone destroy trust, and then we want them to lead normal lives.

“When a parent is consistent and dependable, the baby develops sense of basic trust. The baby builds this trust when they are cold, wet or hungry and they can count on others to relieve their pain. The alternative is a sense of mistrust, the feeling that the parent is undependable and may not be there when they are needed.” Eric Erikson, Eric Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life

Sitting, writing here with my three sons all either graduated or in college is so easy to say we had no problems. Then I click to Yahoo News and see such things as the Red Lake shootings and in our own community headlines of a young man who brutally beat his parents to death for no known reason. Looking at both stories was it this or that as to why a child would kill nine people and himself or kill their parents.

“Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Oglala Sioux, Holy man

In 1972 or so I met a young man in Macon Georgia. At that time he was a year older than me and still is from last I heard. In his Creek tribal name he is called Red Clay; he was and is an artist. My family has many of his pieces of artwork, sculpture, drawings and paintings. In 1975 or so he went through a divorce after his wife lost a baby. Every day that I have known him he was drinking. He was once the most requested teacher in Bibb County now an itinerant carpenter and professional feather dancer. Although I have been told he recently retired and is now a lead drummer in Pow-Wow circles. But a comment that stuck with me and an image. He painted a small acrylic painting that my mother has hanging in her office area. It is of three burial platforms in the prairie. The picture as he explained is the one in front a chief or man of importance, the second his wife and the third a small infant burial platform, his unborn baby from so many years ago. He told me nearly twenty eight years ago he would not live past forty, he has barely but as I look back and think of how we respond and how we set that example for our children.
I started reading Kent Nerburn’s books now many years ago at the suggestion of a friend. Nerburn had taught at the Red Lake High School in Minnesota and when you get a chance please review his writing on his website about the incident there. So today as I wandered in my thoughts, a dear friend’s father passed away and I think back to that moment in my own life only a few months previous and keep them in my heart. I read a new posting from another friend who has beaten cancer and writes eloquently of the details in his own journey. As I think to children who live each day many in harms way not of their doing but simply of having been born into that situation I wonder at our society in all of its greatness have we left something behind. So today please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Is there really friendship

Bird Droppings January 10, 2010
Is there really friendship

It has been nearly four since I was meeting with our builder and realtor doing a walk through of our soon to be new house. We are heading back to the country away from traffic and constant human encroachment at least for now. As I pulled away two red tailed hawks soared from a patch of pines over the field behind our house, a deer ran down through the pasture good omens and a nice start for a new house. Since then I have reported numerous encounters with our neighbor the hawks and more recently a kestrel who sits atop their old dead walnut tree later in the evenings when the big hawks are gone. With all of the housing crisis issues we may be without neighbors for some time as building is at a standstill in our county.
Sitting here on a cold morning in Georgia I was thinking that I often make a general statement that I have few friends. Really no one that I call up and say hey lets see a movie or sit and talk. I am not saying I do not have friends for there are many I consider very dear and close friends.

“A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.” Douglas Pagels

So easily we cast out the word as we walk through life, friend. This person and or that person, they are my friend. We live in a vacuum of self made perceptions and seal it with those we deem necessary.

“A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.” Leo Buscaglia

Looking at how and why we do what we do say what we say I often wonder at that word or term, looking for definitive rationale as to what is a friend. It is so easy to grasp sayings and thoughts of others each idea stronger than the next. As I read each concept and definition is a good one leading to others and more understanding.

“The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” Aristotle

Yet still we question our own understandings and meanings.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen

Even the idea of trust is a loose one, experience and learning play into the mix as well. What is and who is a friend? Although it seems to me few ever ask that question.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Albert Schweitzer

A friend should be a fire starter, that person who can bring spark back to our soul, so often without our knowing.

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” Henry David Thoreau

Simplicity is a badge of friendship even the greats of old always indicate friendship is often just being a friend, there are no prerequisites no previous requirements.

“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Arnold Glasow

Several years ago at our last house back in one of the summer months, a pear tree in my yard snapped from the weight of the fruit. I wondered what if I had reinforced the timbers shoring up the branches or lessened the load perhaps I could have spared the tree another year or another day.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” Elisabeth Foley

Back during the Katrina crisis watching and listening to folks I have not seen in thirty even nearly forty years pull together in efforts for fellow high school classmates who lost all in New Orleans is an interesting experience. Sitting at my table secreted away in a small town in central Georgia many miles from my old home in Pennsylvania watching emails drift by with information and thoughts and concerns the concept of friendship found new parameters.

“One’s friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human.” George Santayana

So many years ago I recall coining a word humanbeingism, it was for a high school youth retreat. That aspect of which makes us human and who we are is humanbeingism.

“A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.” Donna Roberts

My song so many years ago was G17 on the Jute box at the dairy Queen in Macon Georgia in 1974 or so. It was that great song by folk singer Loudon Wainwright the third “The Dead Skunk Song”, ever so briefly at number one. Or perhaps the live version of Jessica by the Allman Brothers band at seventeen minutes a difficult piece to whistle or hum and hard to get the slide guitar parts humming.

”If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.” Samuel Johnson

It has been a few years since my Kastinger hiking boots disappeared and we had shared many a mile of trail in the Appalachian Mountains. They were resoled so many times and chewed on by my Newfoundland puppy those many years ago. I was thinking friendship is akin to my Kastinger boots early on day one they blister your feet while you are breaking them in. Then worn till soles wear through and patched and resoled anew time after time. Many the roads and trail ahead yet always there was solid footing.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” C.S. Lewis

Lewis wrote so much in his time. But this simple statement is a powerful one. We do not need friendship to survive but it gives value to surviving. A monastic life of solitude is fine but how much more can be spun and woven out of life with friends.

”The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” Henry David Thoreau

Henry David I read was a disciple so to say and close friend of my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is meaning that adds credence to friendship not simply the words we mouth and utter in passing. As I start this beautiful day even though it is bitterly cold for Georgia I would like to share a thought from Poet Emily Bronte.

Love is like the wild-rose briar;
Friendship is like the holly-tree.
The holly is dark when the rose briar blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?
Emily Bronte

So weekend near ended and a new week begins and another process of determining friendship and or not. My dear friends please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Digging for gold

Bird Droppings January 7, 2010
Digging for gold

“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” Sydney J. Harris

I recall a story my father told me of his experience in a South African gold mine many years ago. At this particular mine, which also is the deepest hard rock mine in the world, going down over fifteen thousand feet and extending nearly twice that in shafts horizontally another world existed below ground. At that depth the rock face could cook an egg from the heat. When miners are looking for diamonds and gold ore they only dig, drill and mine the vein of ore which could be a hundred feet thick or a few feet. At that depth all effort and time are crucial, if a section of reef (gold bearing ore) is only a few feet thick and mining will center on that vein. It can be more excruciating to hand mine a few foot thick vein of ore than one where large mining equipment can be used.

“The common notion, particularly in our country, that education ought to be painless does not apply to any other area. The athlete sweats and strains, exercises and conditions himself to obtain mastery over his chosen field; the auto mechanic goes back to technical school to acquaint himself with the new electronic gadgetry; the business executive toils amid the increasing complexity of global competition.” Sydney J. Harris

As the miners worked in spaces often simply crawling and removing only that ore surrounding the vein, and in hard rock mining that is very difficult and very dangerous. As it is spending too much time and effort digging more that was needed could result in a disaster either physically or financially. On a side note this particular mine broke all safety and production records for tunneling in a twenty four hour period and won the industries production, quality and safety awards all in one year.

“Why is education the only activity we are willing to spend so much on and resigned to getting so little in return from? No rigger, no miner, no farmer would be stupid enough to make such a bad bargain.” Sydney J. Harris

I have a coring a six inch long two inch wide cylinder, from that mine and from fifteen thousand feet down, it sits on my desk a reminder of the difficult task. As I look at education today after reading the AJC headline where the state education dept. knew the state middle school math tests would be a disaster I wonder seriously. Harris wrote this column over twenty years ago and the words seems applicable now.

“Whatever else educating ourselves may be, it cannot be easy. It cannot be painless. It cannot be spoon-feeding. But it can be a delight, as any difficult challenge can be a delight if we look upon it as an adventure, not an inconvenience or a burden.” Sydney J. Harris

I was thinking yesterday about why students do not like school. Why do some students thoroughly enjoy the efforts and some do not? Learning it seems has been made tedious and cumbersome. I have found if students do not want to be in class teaching them can be minimal at best and they will expend less than more. So how do we get students to want to be there? This is an all encompassing task. In an essay by Alfie Kohn entitled, What to look for in a classroom? Aflie Kohn gives a few tips. Some of those simple tips from his chart are, on the walls; have good signs, have them covered with students’ projects, Have evidence of student collaboration and make sure that any work, signs, exhibits, or lists obviously has been created by students rather than by the teacher.
This is the information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom that is what is crucial. Kohn also has a list of bad signs which starts with nothing on the walls. He states that students will want to be where they are wanted, where enthusiasm is shown, and where they are accepted not merely tolerated. As I look at this, really it is also about any aspect of life. It is just as critical be it as a friend, parent and or not just a teacher. We affect each other by how we interact. In life if we don’t want to be there we get up and leave.
Yesterday a student came to me about his class he was upset and did not want to be there, he left and was referred, and every day the same thing. I am always amazed at how a solution could be so simple. How do we get this student to want to be in class? It has to start with the attitude of the teacher and student. Once that student is in class then education can begin. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

A chill in the air

Bird Droppings January 6, 2010
A chill in the air

For several days the now we have been below freezing totally silencing the crickets and tree frogs who need an ambient temperature in the mornings a bit more warm maybe high fifties low sixties. So for today my orchestra was silent as a freeze not only permeated by encompassed our back yard and today was one of coldest of this year at the house. I keep recalling why I like Georgia it is supposed to be warmer. Last night as I watched my favorite college football team in the coldest Orange Bowl ever lose a battle even when I changed my good luck baseball cap I could not get warm seemed the cold was seeping in the house. Sitting here writing it dawned on me I may have left the dampener open from a fire the night before in the chimney. However over the years I have found warmth in reading and pondering as I call it. It seems I can always find the right words when I turn a page or two.

“A bizarre sensation pervades a relationship of pretense. No truth seems true. A simple morning’s greeting and response appear loaded with innuendo and fraught with implications. Each nicety becomes more sterile and each withdrawal more permanent.” Maya Angelou

Thinking to kids and people in general we balance our lives in a series of trust and distrust often a teeter totter or see saw effect. Often we become jaded and calloused through constant distrusting and soon we respond as Angelou indicates in a sterile manner. About once or twice a year I will pull my old guitar out and play, my fingers at first feel each string and after a while pain will tear through my finger tips from the pressure of strings on flesh. Eventually after several days I will callous my finger tips back.
Legend perhaps even urban rock myth has it that the late Stevie Ray Vaughn during a concert super glued his calluses back on when his fingers began to bleed. As I read this first quote, we can become callous we can become sterile but much more is involved. I also sense a similar relationship to my own use of the Hindustani word namaste, both a sterile hello or goodbye for some and for others one of reverence and humility. It is in the eyes and ears of the receiver and the giver.

“Achievement brings its own anticlimax.” Maya Angelou

“All great achievements require time.” Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou writes of paradox of achievement and anticlimax. As I sit and think achievement is an attainment of a goal and with that attainment is a realization of a new goal a new mountain to climb perhaps it is that awareness of the anticlimax and yes most definitely time is a factor.

“All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.” Maya Angelou

Maybe most men are prepared would be better. There are many who will still sit on their posteriors. Reading Angelou’s thoughts is a series of how to and why’s. I have listened many times to Dr. Angelo read her works or discuss topics on talk shows. Her words while calming are twice as meaningful listening to her speak them. There is a passion about her spirit and soul.

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Maya Angelou

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” Maya Angelou

“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.” Maya Angelou

She is philosopher, poet, writer, activist, educator, humanitarian, civil rights leader, and the list goes on but always children are at the center of Angelou’s thinking and thoughts. Any book that can form a habit of reading is good. What a powerful statement in a society that would ban many books in schools and libraries? While not on the news now periodically we have this or as in a nearby county once upon a time, putting disclaimer labels in science books. I often wonder how when opening a book and a label states what you read in this science book may or may not be true is a good way to start a science lesson.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” Maya Angelou

“Education helps one case cease being intimidated by strange situations.” Maya Angelou

Two words that seem to permeate Dr. Angelou’s writing are courage and education. These two words are constantly mentioned described and eluded to. Perhaps the explanation is in the first of the two statements above, “without courage you can not practice any other virtue”. As I ponder, education requires courage it is that willingness to achieve to go beyond where you are it requires first courage to make that effort and then education to do it.

“I believe that every person is born with talent.” Maya Angelou

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform a million realities.” Maya Angelou

As I saw this I thought of two individuals far apart historically and in many ways yet similar, George Washington Carver and Bill Gates. Both men through vision and fantasy transformed our realities possibly beyond the actually dreams they originally had. My morning would be totally different if not for these two men many of the items used in the kitchen reflect ideas from Dr. Carver and my laptop computer and internet use are directly related to Mr. Gates.

“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” Maya Angelou

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” Maya Angelou

We are the beginning and the end of the circle. How we live and interact with others continues and perpetuates the circle. I have never been able to understand why this is so hard for people in general to understand. We seem to be having greed as a human trait. How sad that is to inherently assume man is greedy by nature. Animals only keep what they need for survival. Man is the only creature that hordes and amasses wealth.

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.” Maya Angelou

Caring and concern begins at home and then spreads out from there. It is not about the face you put on when you need to but that which you truly carry in your heart and live and breathe daily. I enjoy Dr. Maya Angelou’s words. The few times I have watched her on TV and in reading her books that are in my own library. She is a person of concern and of caring. She is trying to do her part in her corner of the world for all of humanity. It is for each of us to try and do likewise where we are in the world.

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” Maya Angelou

And so I end another morning as I have now for some time till everyone listens to Dr. Angelou’s thoughts that ring in my heart today let me repeat this last quote one more time.
“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” Maya Angelou

It brings tears to my eyes as I sit knowing I need to continue ending my daily meanderings as I have for so many years, please keep all in harms way on your mind s and in your hearts.

Getting the passion back

Bird Droppings January 5, 2010
Getting the passion back

When I walked outside earlier to take our Westie for her morning bathroom break I was greeted with a near full moon, well maybe a half moon and a crystal clear sky filled with stars. Thinking to my self I said thank you for being alive and such a wondrous visage in front of me. Over the past few days I asked several friends about passion and obsession and what was their opinion of these words. For example are they similar or are they different. Perhaps there a fine line between the two. I wondered as I went through the day yesterday thinking about a line in a memo from a good friend I received over the weekend. It was about getting the passion back.

“Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it we would become weak and faint. Without love our self esteem weakens. Without it our courage fails. Without love we cannot longer confidently look out at the world. We turn inward to feed upon our own personalities, and little by little we destroy ourselves. With it we are creative. With it we march tirelessly. With it and with it alone we are able to sacrifice for others.” Chief Dan George

It has been nearly thirty years since Chief Dan George passed away. He was in numerous movies playing elderly Native Americans interestingly enough he did not start acting till he was 71. Before his death he was honored by several universities in the US and Canada with honorary doctorates. Dan George was a chief of the Salish tribe of British Columbia and he lived with passion and with a love of mankind and life in his heart.

“We have taken so much from your culture; I wish you had taken something from ours…for there were some beautiful and good things within it. Perhaps now that the time has come, we are fearful that what you take will be lost….I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success: His education, his skills, and society. If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.” Chief Dan George, from a lament for Confederation

I pondered these words sitting here this morning wondering why I almost forgot to get up this morning on time I do not like time changes and was definitely spoiled from a break. I know pieces to my own puzzle are falling in place. I read over and over the last line. “What one fears one destroys”. In the work place so often change creates fear and in that we seek to destroy that which is creating the fear often without truly trying to understand what it is we are destroying.
Yesterday I was in such a dilemma, I worked through ideas and issues only to continually be bound in the superficiality of the events, never able to raise my head up to get a breath. I was drowning on dry land. I looked deeper in and so often we can let our passion lead us into obsession, we can take love and forget for a moment that our passion is driven by love and slip into losing touch with why we were where we are, only to be obsessing. My friends earlier today I wrote obsession is when you lose control; passion is when you put your heart into something.

“O Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds, I come to you as one of your many children. I need your strength and your wisdom. Make me strong not to be superior to my brother, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy: myself” Chief Dan George

I was wandering, thinking of roles played in movies by Dan George and in one of my favorite movies “The Outlaw Josie Wales” in particular. The old man Lone Wattie is constantly being snuck up on. At eighty years old Dan George portrayed Lone Wattie in this movie. Each moment of his life he was involved in passion, in love, in his faith, and in mankind.

The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.
The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning,
the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me.
The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away, they speak to me
and my heart soars.
By Chief Dan George

How do we get back the passion? Jokingly many of the kids will come in and say “Bird I love you” as I think back perhaps that is how and why we do get along there is a love involved, a trust, a mutual respect and perhaps passion. A student I had worked with for four years was to be tested and he resisted finally after several months he said he would only if he could be tested first period. It was a different school psychologist than the one who normally tests in our building that tried to test this student and who was unfamiliar with his case and had a run in with this student.
By agreement and the students understanding since he did not want to miss the classes he was having trouble in was why he wanted to test first period, he was called out of fourth and upset going into testing. I received this email and it bothered me, this person had spent less than two minutes with this student and wanted him suspended and or worse. Not knowing any of the details of four years of keeping him in school and passing, too much work and too little concern took away any passion and any love not to mention respect. We destroy that which we fear.

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.
The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.
The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.
By Chief Dan George

We get passion back by looking for it, by seeking it out, by rekindling the fires in our hearts and souls. We get the passion back by being able to respond when someone says “I love you” without sarcasm but looking at a window of trust and seeing more than words. We can find the passion by being there and here and holding our head up, maybe when we ought to lay it down. We can get back the passion when our heart soars. So for a Tuesday morning that sure feels like a Monday morning and an few hours earlier than I have been getting up please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Reaching Out

Bird Droppings January 3, 2010
Reaching out

` “We may not live holy lives but we live in a world full of holy moments” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

Today is the last official day of winter vacation and or Christmas holidays with tomorrow a furlough day designated by our governor and then Tuesday back to school for this semester. Another fifteen weeks to go or so and summer break again time does fly. I am sitting here sorting piles on my table of my graduate work trying to finish a paper today. There are stacks of books I need to read and emails to answer nd a semester to plan. Maybe I can do it tomorrow. I have been a fan of Kent Nerburn’s since my first suggested read nearly eight years ago by a student’s mother. Today is no exception as I read Kent’s most recent blog on his website. I highly recommend taking a look, kentnerburn.com.
Kent was addressing a letter he received from a student, a fifth grader who was requesting photos of pictures of Chief Joseph. Kent had written an extensive book on the flight of the Nez Perce focusing on Chief Joseph a few years back. As he illiterates when he was searching in his early twenties he had written to Norman Mailer asking could he come work for him and received a response.

“His note was brief. But I still remember his last line. ‘Write more than you have been writing.’ I’m sure it was just a way to finish the response. But to me, so desperate for meaning and direction, it became something of a creative beacon: if Norman Mailer said I should be writing more than I had been writing, then I should be writing more than I had been writing.” Kent Nerburn

As I read this paragraph and Nerburn’s next thoughts it dawned on me how often we as teachers and parents are asked for help and how often we tend to set that request aside maybe not enough time they can do it on there own, why me, all of the so many reasons to not help.

“It is a humbling experience to have a young person reach out to you for advice or assistance, whatever your role or status in life. It means they are open to your wisdom and your counsel. In that brief encounter, you can shape a life. We all get these opportunities, though not frequently. When they do come, they often do so in a clumsy or inarticulate fashion, because the young person who is reaching out has invested so much in the reaching that he or she does not do it with grace. Fumbling words, inappropriate requests, too constant a presence, a transparent attempt to seem worldly or knowledgeable — these are only a few of the ways this hopeful reaching for help and insight can express itself. e need to see past these clumsy efforts when a young person reaches out to us for assistance. We need to stop what we’re doing, open our hearts and ears, and hear what a hungry heart is asking of us.” Kent Nerburn

Nerburn ended his blog with he hopes he can do something for his young writer that will be of value to him. I have been pondering most of the weekend on a direction for a paper for graduate school actually two papers this one way past due and another due as soon as I focus on it.
I keep seeing in my mind’s eye the idea of a funnel how we take children and pour them through a funnel constantly squeezing them faster and faster till they shoot out somewhere in twelve or so years. There is little time to answer questions if there is any time to even propose a question. We have to adhere to our curriculum maps and schedules and get data into those brains for graduation tests and end of course tests and test and more tests. Jamming information and content till there is no room. I once used the illustration of putting five gallons in a liter bottle. Only way is for you to condense it, filter it and you take away what to you as the teacher deem not of importance.
I was grazing through Borders education section and found a book written by a former US Secretary of education no names at this point. He had in his attempt to declare what constitutes a good education made a list of what statements and or quotes should be recognizable by each grade and age. Ten of one list were from the Bible and I thought is now there is an agenda perhaps a bit over stated. In further reading while offering in science that evolution was considered by most scientists as valid it was still a theory and offered choice of schools as a solution since most will teach evolution. However he did offer how intelligent design was a cover up for creationist theories.
But as I think this is funneling providing a list from a high or I should say former high up official of what should be learned by children which actually included Bible verses so non religious children and or other religions would in his scheme of things literally be behind by not knowing. Yet we do this constantly using a list of standards, norms for determining the rightness and wrongness of learning for specific ages and grades. I keep coming back to my idea of Swiss Family Robinson as a curriculum which I proposed once in a paper. Oh yes that book was on list of should read books in elementary school an early nineteenth century book as were many on his list “the classics”.
Harry Potter was not on the list as were few more recent books. This fellow is not alone I have watched counties and schools funnel thought and thinking channeling in directions of what the community and administration think is correct to their students. How many questions get left by the way side? How many teachers even have time anymore to listen to see if a question was even asked? What happens when the funnel gets so constricted that nothing gets through? As a special education teacher I see this constantly and those kids drop out of school and or become problems. Well soon new students and a new week ahead. I hope that I will have a question or two today and that I take the time to answer them from anyone that happens by. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

It is so hard to type 2010

Bird Droppings January 1, 2010
It is so hard to type 2010
I was waiting for the blue moon last night walking out to see exactly what all the fuss is about. Each time while walking dogs or simply peeking out to check there was a near full moon covered over in a light fog and yes it was eerily blue at least to my color blind eyes. As the evening progressed and my wife got home from work we turned in early skipping the ball drop and or peach drop as we do here in Atlanta. Last night was the first in some time our Westie had to sleep alone. My sons when home usually let her sleep with them which she enjoys. It was around three thirty my normal wake up time she got a bit antsy and wanted out. I put some shoes on and walked out with her and off in the pines no more firecrackers going off or guns be fired but the call of a great horned owl calling to the remnants of a moon sliding below the horizon.
“We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit.” Tom Brown, Jr., The Tracker
I listened for what seemed an eternity to the calls so faint yet distinct through the stillness of the morning. It has been several months since I heard a Great horned owl call and in the world so many views of owls. Some will say good and some evil. I liked Tom Brown’s thought on being a patient observer. But the chikadee leads me to my thought for the day. I received a small book for Christmas from my wife a year or so ago, “It isn’t easy being green” by Jim Henson, the son of the great puppeteer. As I looked through this simple book of quotes and thoughts from Jim Henson and Kermit among others the overlying thought is one of positivism and optimism. How about starting the New Year in that thought and what a better a way than on a positive and optimistic note.

“I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.” Jim Henson, page 11, It isn’t easy being green

I started looking at this book last night and of course immediately had several ideas for Droppings along the way hearing the owl added to my ponderings. My wife and I actually went to bed early last night, no party, no celebration; it had been a long holiday and one of many memories. My wife had been working all day at the clinic and with nonstop eating and celebrating for nearly two weeks another sleepless night was not really a good idea. As I cleaned my emails I found several additional thoughts to build on today.

“Because we all share this planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity. We are dependent on each other in so many ways that we can no longer live in isolated communities and ignore what is happening outside those communities.” The Dalai Lama

So often we get absorbed in the now. I recall a few years back seeing a large church along the interstate outside Atlanta called The Church of the Now. We do indeed to pay attention to today yet we also need to take a peek at how we are impacting the future. Environmentalists try to help us focus on the future, some like Al Gore gave it a try and put a bit of fear in us to give us a realization of how we are impacting the earth. Why do children so easily understand life? When I am talking with little children they seem to know how we are hurting the earth and that we should do otherwise.

Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” The Dalai Lama, “Imagine All The People”

I think it is empathy that children have and seem to loose as they get older and as they become educated. Children so often can sense feelings and emotions from others. As we age we seem to put that aside in lieu of learned responses and behaviors. I wonder if as adults we can attempt to be more empathetic. Perhaps feel a bit more with our hearts that with our intellect. Maybe there is even an antidote for losing empathy a vaccine perhaps.

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” The Dalai Lama

So often in life it is our response and our attitude when we face adversity that determines the next step in our lives. Can we learn from problems we encounter and then rise above that issue? It is a matter of cultivation as the Dalai Lama states. Can we cultivate a better attitude and understanding? I woke up this morning early and had the opportunity to see the sun rising. A beautiful faint orange and red horizon greeted me hidden within the overcast sky.

“Indeed one’s faith in one’s plans and methods is truly tested when the horizon before one is the blackest.” Mahatma Gandhi, 1924

For several days we have had rain, and I should not complain since we need the water in the ground and in our lakes and reservoirs so to keep peace with surrounding states and our lake water releases. It is Gandhi’s words of when the horizon is the blackest that our faith is tested. Many the times that I have looked out across the way with black clouds billowing and heaving as storms approach, and changed plans. It is seeing that blackness and believing in your self that is the real test. A new year is ahead and there are so many challenges and so much work to complete, in our country and in the world. Maybe we can all make a resolve for the New Year to see a little different and hear a little better so the world can reach towards peace and harmony.

“General standards of human rights apply to the people of all countries because, regardless of their cultural background, all humans share an inherent yearning for freedom, equality and dignity. Democracy and respect for fundamental human rights are as important to Africans and Asians as they are to Europeans and Americans.” The Dalai Lama, “Harvard International Review,” 1995

Perhaps I have borrowed a bit much from the learned man who goes by the title of His Holiness The fourteenth Dalai Lama, the succession goes back to 1391. This man was chosen in 1935 as a child by Tibetan monks and currently resides in India in exile since the Chinese take over. I have read several of his books and always find his words comforting and enlightening. So for this first day of 2010 as I have for nearly ten years now ended my droppings, please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.