Practicing Patience

Bird Droppings February 26, 2010
Practicing Patience

It has been nearly thirty five years since I first went to Hemmingway’s just off the interstate in Decatur Georgia. It was a favorite local entertainment establishment. My wife and I would go prior and after our marriage primarily to listen to a local singer who with his band provided a fantastic evening of music. I recall my cousin Bill sending up a napkin with a Deep Purple song written on it numerous times. Ron Kimble and his band tended to cover southern rock and country songs more than anything else so it was always a big joke when our hard core metal cousin would pass the napkin up to the front. But one night Ron took the mike and said we have received quite a few requests for this song seems to be all in the same handwriting though and they cut loose on that song.
So here I am at three thirty in the morning sitting and listening to a song written and sung by Ron Kimble. Ron is a big man by most standards and his voice even bigger. The song is entitled, My little granddaddy, it is a story of his granddaddy telling stories and always having a “sweet tater” for his grandson. Seems every time I listen to this song I obsess and play two or three times and after a millions plays still a tear trickles down my cheek. It seems it has me thinking to my own dad and granddad to my sons and how he rode around on his golf cart with a load of grandkids telling stories about World War II and about the local hermit that lived in the woods below his house or about Little Strong Arm a Native American chief. I miss my dad and my wife misses her dad and as I talk with people who have lost parents over the year little things remind us as we go through our days. It for me could be picking up a piece of blue lace agate or gold ore at school but for now I sit and listen to a simple little song and a catchy little tune and thank Ron Kimble for it and giving me a tie to my father.

“Now, there are many, many people in the world, but relatively few with whom we interact, and even fewer who cause us problems. So, when you come across such a chance for practicing patience and tolerance, you should treat it with gratitude. It is rare. Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful to your enemy for providing that precious opportunity.” Dalai Lama

Over the past few days I have been working on getting annual Individual Educational Plans completed for my case load at school. It seems that on top of the stress and emotions of dealing with parents and kids trying to come up with how we should as a school provides an education for this child the kids this week after a break are wound up as well. I was talking with a dear friend a day or two back after finishing class that it is more exhausting some tomes practicing patience than getting upset. It takes effort to contain oneself rather than blow up. I have come to find that when kids are agitated there is a reason and far too often it has nothing to do with us but something from home or outside school compounded by whatever issues that particular child is involved with as well.
As I read the statement from the Dalai Lama and how we should be happy for the people who provide us with the opportunity of practicing patience it can be hard to at first understand what this man is saying. But as I ponder and I do a lot of pondering this tie of day I am thankful for the week trying as it may have been and all of the people that added to and provided me with an opportunity of being patient. It is within these difficult relationships and interactions that we can practice and hone our skills at being patient. It is Friday and this week while perhaps it has flown by has seemingly dragged on for so long in other ways. So as I close today and as I have for many years now my dear friends please keep all in harms way on your mind and in our hearts.

A chilly morning for so many reasons

Bird Droppings February 25, 2010
A chilly morning for so many reasons

I was huddled in my blanket as I went outside to sit and think a bit earlier granted I was barefooted. The air was still except for a slight rustling in the branches and pine needles with the breeze. All in all it was so very quiet this chilly morning even my dog was silent this morning sitting on the porch waiting for me to let her back in while I was there staring at the sky thinking. It might have been to cold for my dog to bark and yap as she does most mornings.

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” Sitting Bull

A good friend once emailed about a conference he is holding in Georgia. It is funny how ideas often co-mingle in the cosmos. At that same time I had a mother and co-teacher needing help with a son and she had been finding answers in my friend’s books. Along with that several students I was working with at the time needed assistance. But as I read this note from the great holy man and war leader of the Sioux nation so many years ago I was intrigued. Sitting Bull wasn’t looking at the now he was looking ahead, “What life we can make for our children”. His own was cut short as he held his grand child’s hand. Legend has it as the Native American marshals were arresting him for instigating a ghost dance ritual they thought he was going for a weapon and shot him. As the story goes his grand child dropped a toy and he was picking it up it was not a gun.

“I do not wish to be shut up in a corral. All agency Indians I have seen are worthless. They are neither red warriors nor white farmers. They are neither wolf nor dog.” Sitting Bull

It was many years later that Kent Nerburn wrote a book borrowing from this comment entitled, Neither Wolf nor Dog. The book was the editing and recording of the words of an elderly Sioux man who felt the need to relate the Native American view of reality and life for others to read.
In recent days as End of Course tests and Graduation tests results have been published and passed out and as I deal with children who have issues we tend to look at test results based on norms. As it is I love bell shaped curves sarcastically, we want everyone to fit in this percentile or that. But the interesting thing about a bell shaped curve everyone does not fit in on both sides there are extremes and such endeavors as No Child Left behind does not allow for that 12.5% on each end who are on the extremes of the curves, that is twenty five per cent of the population. There is no magical cut off point. This child is in and this child is out yet we have imposed these boundaries through legislation.
We have stripped away individualism and seek to make all children equal and fit in the same mold, and the same parameters. Recently I saw an entrance requirement for a class in vocational studies requiring a certain level of math. Many students who could have benefited are now out. The funny thing I believe it was back in Germany when specific requirements for existence be it hair color and skin color became issues for international debate and war and history and yet we now are instituting educational cleansing by weeding out children who cannot pass tests.
I know a student now a mother and in the work force five times she took the end of course test in science and missed passing by a total of ten points and several of those times by only a point. By chance I read graduation tests for some special education students and for instance question seventy on the test used a few summers back was of a nature no answer was correct technically. The answer was essentially to be a logic oriented response yet hidden within was an answer that in actuality was correct but only if students watched a Disney movie on Desert Life made in 1963 they would know the real answer. Semantics played in and what is so sad the question was probably worded wrong. I questioned the testing board and the question is not out there anymore. But what if that was one of the questions the little girl missed who missed five times what if she failed to graduate because of a faulty question no one caught five times? We have normed out of parameters so many children.
In recent months I have watched students withdraw because of tests or because of standards. I have watched select students get credit and others not for the very same issues. Perhaps we are practicing educational genocide maybe somewhere there is a conspiracy to eliminate from the gene pool students who can not pass this test or that one. A school I have great faith in has recently dropped its undergraduate special education major. With current laws for highly qualified most special education teachers are being delegated to assisting regular education teachers. We are setting aside disabilities and or assuming they are not there and working on deficits only, the symptoms. It is funny how it may be the disability that caused the deficit, albeit educational genocide. Sitting here playing with NCLB, Norming, Children, Leaves the Best, what a society we have.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing” Chief Joseph

Watching critiques unfold of recent test results and listening to teachers criticized for low test results it is sad that we put so much emphasis on a paper and pencil operation. Teachers are facing many of the same situations Native Americans faced hundreds of years ago be it treaties, or laws and many are literally meaningless. We won’t use test results and yet teachers are being called to account and only test is taken into account the demographics of group of students is only looked at after publicly posted test results are out.

“It does not require many words to speak the truth” Chief Joseph

It did not take long for the great chief of the Nez Perce to understand and realize talk from Washington was often meaningless and only fulfilling for those that initiated the talk generally those in Washington and or their friends. In 1974 we passed laws to allow for mandatory education for all children and now we are saying all children should be educated exactly the same and all children should pass the same tests and all children will be the same by 2014.

“You might as well expect rivers to run backwards as for any man who is born free to be penned up” Chief Joseph

For most today may be meaningless gibberish as I wander about today. I recall my first visit to a residential treatment facility in 1969 or so. Of that I recall the smell first, then the hollow gaze of residents who had lived their lives in isolation and away from normal society. It was several years later I did another internship this time from a spiritual aspect as part of my seminary experience in 1974 and 1975 again at a residential facility and while in another state the smell and gaze were the same. It has been many years since big cats were at the Atlanta Zoo and back in the day, the Cat House, held numerous species of large cats from around the world and all had a gaze about them as they paced steel cages staring off into the distance. I wonder as we commit educational genocide are we pushing back to days gone by in the name of progress taking us back to 1974 and before when we only took children who would be able to pass tests got into schools and programs. I truly wonder sometimes. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.


Bird Droppings February 24, 2010

“We taught our children by both example and instruction, but with an emphasis on example, because all learning is a dead language to one who gets it second hand.” Kent Nerburn, The Wisdom of the Native Americans

I have over the years looked to the wisdom contained in Nerburn’s writings many times. In a recently completed graduate school project I used a similar wording, we teach by example and using Dr. Laura Nolte’s words “children learn what they live”. They learn not only subject matter but attitude and character from teachers as they observe and watch the ebb and flow of life about them. I grew up in a household where what we saw in our parents and grandparents, was for us how life was to be lived. They set examples for all of their children in how they should treat others and how they in turn would be parents. As I watch now a third generation of great grandchildren starting school I see that they were successful.

“Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library.” Luther Standing Bear

“Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.” Tony Buzan

As so often happens when several educators get together the discussion on differing views and philosophies of education does come up and with me often at family gatherings as many of my immediate family are in education the topic will become education and learning. Several weekends back one afternoon while sitting in my mother in laws house we were talking about teaching and working with special needs children. In a society so filled with appliances and contrivances that aid us in doing every little detail sometimes we forget that simple things can aid in how to learn, how to study, and how to open our eyes to that which is around us.

“Learning hath gained most by those books by which the printers have lost.” Thomas Fuller

So much research has been done on learning and on how the mind works. Many are the great thinkers that have built entire schools of knowledge named after them based on ideas of learning. Developmentalists have written and been written about and numerous other philosophies constructivism, modernism, and many other isms make it an interesting field.

“Learning is constructed by the learner and must be a social experience before it is a cognitive experience” Max Thompson, Learning Concepts, the creator of Learning Focused Schools

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin

We have to want to learn and I have found that apathy is a really hard part of our society today in education to deal with. So many students are apathetic toward life, learning, and even their own existence. It is difficult to learn if you chose not too and conversely it is ever more difficult to try and teach a person who chooses not to learn.

“Research shows that you begin learning in the womb and go right on learning until the moment you pass on. Your brain has a capacity for learning that is virtually limitless, which makes every human a potential genius.” Michael J. Gelb

Sitting in with a group of students who deliberately chose to be ignorant is an interesting situation and I find myself often in that situation with the particular students I work with. Just yesterday afternoon one of my students rationalized since he would fail anyway why do any work. Trying to unravel that logic is rough. Even though in recent days his grades were improving and he actually did his work over a break he decided to quit and not care. Asking why is even more interesting.

“What good is it?”
“Ain’t gonna do me no good outside of school”

These answers are always so eloquent and thought out that I am sometimes amazed. Students think about why they shouldn’t have to learn and they actually put effort into coming up with reasons why education is stupid and or not needed. Sadly pieces of their logic is, dead on. We have taken curriculum in schools to a level where often a good bit is meaningless to some students. It is hard for me to recall any time in my life I have ever used trigonometry. We have stripped away so many functional courses and provided in return college track sciences and math’s that can be over whelming and often frustrating for some students along with then exit tests that have to be passed.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer

Several years ago in YAHOO news, an article caught my attention and as I read I realized I too have used similar analogies. In some dictionaries McJob has been described as a meaningless job, a job with no direction and very little in requirements and McDonald’s has sued to have it removed stating that jobs at McDonalds are meaningful and do have direction. I do know of a young man who started working at McDonald’s and is in Business School now and owns his own Starbucks. Ray Kroc many years ago before he passed away got his start selling milkshake machines to restaurants when he met the McDonald brothers who had a restaurant selling hamburgers. Ray Kroc’s widow in her will did leave, one and a half billion dollars to charity all based on working in McDonald’s. Ray Kroc founded the McDonalds franchise with literally nothing but an idea and hard work.
It was not apathy that built McDonalds and it was not ignorance and lack of learning that contributed. I often wonder if the self empowered ignorance of modern man is boredom.

“Observation was certain to have its rewards. Interest wonder, admiration grew, and the fact was appreciated that life was more than mere human manifestations; it was expressed in a multitude of form. This appreciation enriched Lakota existence. Life was vivid and pulsing; nothing was causal and commonplace. The Indian – lived in every sense of the word – from his first to his last breath.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

Each day as I observe students and teachers existing for lack of a better word, I see people who often are not experiencing life. They are simply occupying space as I say. I use a testing tool in my room, the Miller Analogy Test which is used often in graduate school programs for entrance. I explained how difficult the test is and how some I had data for graduate schools showing scores for acceptance and I made it very clear this was hard. Within every class I do this with one or two heed my warnings and quit right off the bat. Several however who actually have difficulty reading the test and I will read the questions to. Some completed the test. The actual grades on recent semester report cards were very bad yet in a class where the average reading level is extremely low over half the class had scores of 30 or higher. Granted this was not a valid test in the manner I gave it and only for fun. However imagine the self esteem building when I explain several local universities use 30 as a minimum for acceptance into a masters program and 45 for their Specialists programs and I had three students go over a score of 45. I also said there are teachers in this school who only scored a thirty as well.
I am always amazed when challenges are thrown out how some people except, some dodge it and some quit. Earlier in my writing a passage from Kent Nerburn’s book The Wisdom of The Native Americans. “We taught our children by both example and instruction, but with an emphasis on example,…”, and as I thought back to my assignment of a test far beyond most capabilities they had taken the MAT it was in how it was approached no pressure applied you could or could not take it. I casually mentioned how hard and difficult but continually also mentioned I thought they could do it.
SUCCESS is more than simply doing something success is Seeing, Understanding, Commitment, Consideration, Education, and Satisfaction and of course Self. A simple concept but so difficult to teach when students have been beaten down all their educational lives and careers. Children Learn what they live is on my wall every day a giant black light poster from 1972. Keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts as our efforts to bring peace in the world become more difficult with each moment it seems.

Saying goodbye or is it hello?

Bird Droppings February 23, 2010
Saying Goodbye or is it hello?

It might have been the fact I had never pulled out my Eagle Scout card from 1967 in class before that got me thinking back. In today’s hurried and rushed society it seems fewer children are involved in Scouting. By chance two kids in one period were both active in troops in the area and asked me if I had ever been and it was a chance to talk Boy Scouts and I carry my worn and tattered Eagle Scout card in my wallet from so many years ago. It seemed almost yesterday however that it took me back about three years to preparing for my fathers funeral July 1, 2007. It was exactly seventy years ago that day the first National Boy Scout Jamboree started in Washington D.C. and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an official invitation to Boys Scouts’ nation wide. My dad was the Boy Scout of the year in New Jersey that particular year and of course going to the Jamboree. I had pulled out dad’s 1937 Jamboree neckerchief and his merit badge sash for my mother to put out at his service.
I have written so much on curriculum the past five years as I work on my doctorate in curriculum studies. William Pinar is a leader in the field and addresses curriculum from its root “curre” which he loosely translates as to run the course. I have written on curriculum several times that it is our life, piece by piece, much more than simply a track of lesson plans as so many teachers have been told.
My grandfather was an engineer in New Jersey and in one paper I even used the analogy of a train track. We stop here and there visit a bit a move on to the next station. My father all through his life would borrow from Native American lore and mythology. We grew up listening to stories of the great chief Little Strong-arm and numerous other stories from his experiences and imagination. In my own search in life I too have been drawn to a culture and faith in life that permeates Native American thought, one of sacredness in all. Many years ago a Sioux Holy Man had a vision which was recorded in the book by John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. 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 1863-1950

I wonder as I sit this morning pondering that day nearly three years back and celebration of my father’s life. My father’s friends literally came from around the world to say their goodbyes. As a family we looked through thousands of old photos the night before sitting around remembering stories and events that had significance to each of us. I recalled my dad wanting buffalo which fascinated him and how when presented one Christmas with a buffalo robe he sat wrapped up watching TV for several days warm and cozy inside of his robe. We eventually had buffalo on the farm and so many fond memories of my father taking bread out to feed his buffalo. Living deep in the farm at the time Crowfoot’s message and thought was real for myself and my family growing up as we had buffalo grazing in our yard and during the night you could hear the great bull walk about guarding his cows and calves sniffing and snorting till he felt safe to rest.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

On that day in July three years back we gathered as a family and with our friends to say our goodbyes but I truly believe it is only a minor station in my father’s journey. For many weeks after stories and memories flooded the mail, email and phone lines from his friends and our families as they recall trips and lectures and articles all of which made him who he was. So while we say goodbye on one hand we embraced a hello to a new journey. Sitting here in the wee hours of morning it is amazing what thoughts a tattered Eagle Scout card will invoke. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.


Bird Droppings February 22, 2010

Perhaps after a week or so of break I am ready to get back into my normal school routine. We are all creatures of habit and routines I am finding many times even totally predictable. I was thinking back a few years to a day my wife called to me in the wee hours of the morning as I was starting to write, our son was sick, a virus had struck hard but non the less he was a very sick fellow. I had written about an hour and was near finished as we went into action. After running her to the clinic for medicines and such and the store for fluids I went back to writing and in between I lost what I had written. I really wasn’t very happy with my situation although in researching I found an interesting author Donald Schon, so all was not lost.

“We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.” Donald Schon

About five or six years ago our school had been audited and reviewed by the SAC’s committee. It was a several day process as reports were prepared. We are every so many years getting ready for a review as all public schools do and all through the school various committees and groups would be getting paperwork in order. As I look at schools however I do not see as much perhaps of a change agent as Schon would demand. Yet schools constantly will follow whims and fancies of authors and researchers, this reading program or that writing program. Program writers make very large sums of money as do the consultants that recommend various products designed to help you stay and meet accreditation and NCLB standards. I have found that in many schools there is a comfort zone and many teachers will fall into that be it habit and or routine. It is not about a continuing transformation as Schon outlines.

“A learning system… must be one in which dynamic conservatism operates at such a level and in such a way as to permit change of state without intolerable threat to the essential functions the system fulfils for the self. Our systems need to maintain their identity, and their ability to support the self-identity of those who belong to them, but they must at the same time be capable of transforming themselves.” Donald Scion, 1973

How do we keep a self identity and still be able to change? How do we make our routines work for us?

“The need for public learning carries with it the need for a second kind of learning. If government is to learn to solve new public problems, it must also learn to create the systems for doing so and discard the structure and mechanisms grown up around old problems.” Donald Schon

I was thinking as I was writing about a former student who had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD. Everyday it would be a challenge to deal with this fellow when he went on an OCD roll. One of my favorite memories of him on a particular morning he started in with asking repeatedly. “Can I hold Stevie?” Normally while not a serous matter I would let him ask and I answered as I do almost every morning. “No not just yet.” For those of you who do not know Stevie, she is the wonder snake, a ball python about 50 inches long and 21 years old. She has been at the school as long as I have. Anyhow each time he would ask I would answer almost like a tape recorder.
Finally a student who was talking with me and not in my classes says Mr. Bird that was 52 times he has asked. She proceeded to tap the young man on the shoulder and said “I loveeeeeeee you!” as smoochy and little girlish as could possible be done. My little OCD fellow took off across the room. In some instances letting an OCD individual run their course is fine and I am in a world of my own on planned ignoring other times it takes a change a sudden change of thought processes and OCD stops abruptly. As I was reading Schon again this incident popped in my mind. Sometimes it is the way the problem and or habit or routine is done that is the issue and a new way is needed sometimes abruptly. Often as in this case it happens suddenly but many times we do have time and as I do every day often reflection can be a tool for change.

“In every case of reflective activity, a person finds himself confronted by a given, present situation from which he has arrived at, or conclude to, something which is not present. The process of arriving at an idea of what is absent on the basis of what is at hand is inference. What is present carries or bears the mind over to the idea and ultimately the acceptance of something else.” John Dewey

We can review and reflect on our days and using past and present knowledge build our next day and get ideas from that. We can illicit change through careful and calculated refection.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Every once in a while an Einstein quote really sounds good he was a very smart man I am told. Sometimes we need to change our direction our point of view in order to move on. Some might view the young man asking 52 times as stubborn and or I for not stopping him and letting him go on as stubborn. But I watch teachers and parents do this day in and day out and they are not being treated for OCD they are caught in a rut. For too often they continue day by day doing the same thing knowing there are better ideas and directions. Take a few moments and think are you locked in or if provided with information could you make a change. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.


Bird Droppings February 21, 2010

For many of us in graduate school and in our general course of doing things reflection is an integral part. It has been nearly ten years since I began putting my daily sojourns in life on the internet and sharing with others.

“Collaborative reflection can have a greater impact than solitary reflection because others can push you to look deeper and harder; to go places you may not think about or even be willing to think about on your own. When you tell others your story — when you share with others what you did and why, what happened as a result, why you think it happened, and what it might mean — several things take place that do not happen when you process your thoughts alone:” Hal Portner, Teachers as Learners

So often In the midst of researching and thinking an idea comes forward and or is found that can truly change your course and direction. Recent bits and pieces in my own life have left me thinking and wondering. As I ponder several years back there was a Foxfire course in teaching using Foxfire’s Core Practices, and then Piedmont College’s Education Department and their attitude toward reflection which very much impacted me. I was working with a student recently and developing ideas on how to use digital imaging, we all see so differently. Perceptions vary so much person to person.
Many times when I am taking pictures I will end up with reflective images views of lakes, streams, images reflected from cars windows and such even at a past homecoming dance an image in the lobby of the high school at night as I was photographing students coming in and of me in the circular lobby reflected in each pane multiple times. I recall an image from years back and was using it to show students effects that can be had with careful viewing. A large alligator was laying along side its pool in its enclosure; it was parallel to the pool so the image reflected in the water was literally a duplicate of the great alligator. Was it one alligator or two it appeared that there were two alligators lying together touching toes?
My students came back with images that made me proud literally a camera filled with reflections, one viewing the other as the picture was taken so both photographer and model are in the reflection almost as if standing next to each other. These were powerful images from a couple of novice teenagers. Many schools began banning journaling sites on the internet. In one county several arrests were made directly from information from a particular website.

“Collaborative reflection can have a greater impact than solitary reflection” Hal Porter

I was reviewing sites earlier today trying to see if any were available anymore at school as I am limited in computer capability as far as filters go here. The journal writing on many of these sites are reflections of individual’s lives, in many cases a reaching out for others opinions for approval and for social interaction. I realize there often is a dark side and have read many times where individuals tear each other apart. I respond daily while at home to many of my past and present students recently to a former student currently away at school that left a note on my own site. I hadn’t heard from them since graduation four years ago, reflection time for sure. My daily sojourn into my own contemplation has been a public display for many years both in my email list and on my several networking sites. For me reviewing and pondering as I say the day previous has helped me find answers as I read, as I write, always looking for others views and ideas on that subject even though it may be only a quote or thought.
My students who turned reflection as they photographed into art or into contemplative images perhaps have taken a different approach as they view the world much in a similar manner. The do perceive not perhaps, not directly and in living color but in a mirror image with filters and screens or is it us as adults we who see through filters and sun screens and image enhancers and miss so much of what really is there.
Life is moving, flowing, transgressing, and always alive whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. I begin a new journey soon moving from one course of thought to another trying as I can to pass pieces to my students offering bits and pieces as I go.
Years ago I recall my dad getting a small weekly booklet “Bits and Pieces” full of thoughts and inspirations and it is the bits and pieces we share as teachers that add seasoning to the lessons, it is here we add context. Perhaps in my reflection today is a good analogy to teaching. Many cooks (teachers) simply throw the meat on the flame and cook. Others will marinate, season, carefully monitor the internal temperature, and even carefully select the cut and quality of the meat before cooking. As I ponder there are so many similarities to teaching. Far too many times I have watched teachers throw the meat out often even without cooking seeing their students as simply savages who can eat it raw. Some others just seer the edges a bit and unfortunately there are some who over cook and burn the meat, I am bored is heard through the room.
I tried an exercise many days back I made a referral sheet for students to refer teachers and then proceeded to make a teacher evaluation sheet for students to grade a teacher, a rubric of course. It was an interesting idea and came out as they had a hard time with why they were bored. Students say it but cannot pinpoint a specific reason many times. Maybe bored is an over used word and as in cooking maybe bland is better. Perhaps a tad of seasoning added would change everything. Many tears ago I had a history teacher who would walk in never look at the class never take roll and set his book on the podium and begin reading the book. We all had the book and literally could follow or read on our own soon people stopped coming as day after day he read from the book. Within a few weeks less than half the class was there, those that came slept since it was 8:00 class. Amazingly nearly everyone failed and he had covered the material in minute detail he read every single word in the book, but bland was an understatement. Did I mention he was monotone as well?
A few Fridays back I tried a bit of an experiment. We did essays on, how do you know if a teacher is good or bad. Midst the turmoil and we actually had some pretty in-depth answers and then came the gem. This essay was coming from a kid who is pretty much a parasite on humanity and the educational system. After two paragraphs of whining and complaining he had an epiphany, you look for wrinkles to determine a good or bad teacher. If there are 50 or more that person is a bad teacher. He surmised that wrinkles are caused by being stressed and if a teacher is stressed they are not enjoying themselves and if they are not enjoying themselves in what they do they can not be a good teacher. I thought to myself, from the mouths or should I say fingers of babes. Today please consider peace as an alternative and please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Pondering so many things on a break

Bird Droppings February 19, 2010
Pondering so many things on a Break

Last night I read through numerous posts from an old graduate school online class site. We had a reading from a paper on a program that was developed in the mid 1980’s in California. The program with one teacher in one school was so successful they as a school board decided to implement across the district. Some saw the AVID program like so many great efforts becoming a packaged canned program for anyone to implement. As I read the article and thought in terms of my own long range plans.
I want to teach college down the line and train teachers in my later years. One question that has perplexed me is how we teach a student in an education program to teach for example, this AVID program. We can provide all the tools, forms, calculators, notebooks with cool logos, a special room, and anything else needed to implement the program. My question is will it work? As I read my own posts and many of the others I found myself commenting on a singular attribute. We can emulate the program and replicate a million copies of notes and details but we can not emulate the passionate teacher who developed the program. How do we get new teachers to emulate the great ones and as well be creative and imaginative in there own right?
I thought back to an incident in 2003. I recall very clearly how my son just went to bed after working on his computer all night and was telling me to get more sleep as I was getting up, it was about 3:30 AM. The previous day as I gave out an assignment one of the aspects in the assignment was to ask five questions about the topic that was chosen and proceed to answer them. One particular student, who happened to drum in a band, thought he could choose something he “knew about” and be done. He of course chose drums, I should have known and the question was where did drums originate? His answer was so simple he thought, Africa.
I asked questions him a few questions to get him going, when, what country, how long ago, what were they made of and are you sure it was Africa? I was being a bit mean as he had spent at least four minutes on just topic and questions. He proceeded to change his topic because drums were too hard. This was not a dumb kid by any stretch of the imagination but extremely lazy. Each time his one word answer would be met with additional questions as I explained you are answering a question but not really answering it. More often than not I explained when giving a simple quick answer it only gives a very limited piece of information. For example Africa is a huge country. I went a different direction for a few minutes with him. Where did the light bulb originate? I said answering the United States leaves so much out.

“The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow.” Norwegian Proverb

As I thought about my student and readings and pondering I often wonder what makes us so lazy, myself included. Why do we have to have a quick solution or answer? Why can’t we look deeper anymore and it seems we live so superficially much like believing we can replicate a program by simply copying the notes. So much is missed by skimming along and only trying to finish or duplicate. For nearly twenty three years I worked in reproducing manuals for training programs, it is easy to produce a thousand manuals I used to be able to get a page count, binder size, number of tabs and if any four color was involved and how much and give a production time to the minute. But I also was on the development side and recall months of research and effort put in to provide the original manual.

“Man wants to live, but it is useless to hope that this desire will dictate all his actions.” Albert Camus

If we could channel energy used for selfish means and redirect perhaps changes could be served. Camus brings up one of the basic motivational premises of man survival. Many psychologists, authors and others have all started at this point. But what separates us from the lower primates? Watching high school students I wonder many times if survival is even a factor.

“Each today, well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life.” Sanskrit Poem

When we can finish a day and look back and say well done the feeling and attitude that prevail can lift us into another. I am working on an idea which works around a behavior premise of antecedent, behavior, and consequence or more simply ABC. In all that we do behaviorists see an antecedent which leads up to a behavior but the behavior is also predicated by what will be the consequence. I raised the question to a friend of what if we could have ABABABAB where the antecedent leads to behavior which leads to a higher function of another antecedent and so forth almost in a way what I was trying to get my drummer to do. Socrates did it well answering questions with questions.

“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” Lao-Tzu

“A bar of iron costs $5, made into horseshoes its worth is $12, made into needles its worth is $3500, made into balance springs for watches, its worth is $300, 000. Your own value is determined also by what you are able to make of yourself.” Source unknown

As I look back at the student seeking a one word answer for a life long question this quote came to mind. How often are we content to simply have the five dollars instead of a little work and the Three Hundred Thousand dollars? One aspect of learning and teaching is getting students to view effort as a positive thing not just work. Many teachers have not learned to recognize effort which often negates that attribute in some students.

“In this world, in order to enable society to develop, all its members have to assume responsibilities and make their contribution. If we do not make collective contributions then there will be no development.” The Dalai Lama, speaking to the Tibetan National Assembly in Dharamsala, May 1989

Each of us lives in a society, and or a community and as much as we choose so often to be individuals as well as we are members of and interact within that group. It is the vitality of that group the development and growth that is so intertwined with contributions physically, mentally, and spiritually of the members. Society exists because of interactions which going back to mentioned AVID program and or for example in my own experiences with Foxfire that makes these programs succeed.

“Compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves, or in pulling in different directions.” Henry George

We have to be working together moving in some direction and as humans do so often much time is wasted fighting, and arguing among ourselves and motion and growth is limited.

“The greatest difficulty with the world is not its ability to produce, but the unwillingness to share.” Roy L. Smith

Watching high school students form clicks or groups and adults forming clubs and social groups we tend to be a selfish animals. We look so to ourselves and what benefits us, limiting friends and such to a degree we box ourselves in. We may be sharing a simple task but so often it is really a distant one. TV humor even plays on this subject several times in old Seinfeld and Will and Grace Sitcoms, giving is a chore, a burden and the characters are literally parasitically instead of symbiotic. As I looked for quotes and thoughts this one popped up.

“Societies that do not eat people are fascinated by those that do.” Ronald Wright

Wright was actually speaking literally, yet interestingly enough we of modern society while we do not literally eat people, we still psychologically, emotionally or sociologically destroy them. As I look at how we respond to others so often it is how we see ourselves indirectly.

“The most difficult thing we do is to not deal in facts when we are contemplating ourselves.” Mark Twain

In a recent project assignment several students simply “completed it” they did not finish the task but answered what they thought was the question, they just wanted done. Whether it was right or wrong, good or bad was not the issue it was over with.

“Until you value yourself you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” M. Scott Peck

I read this quote and saw an answer if you truly do not appreciate your self your time has little if any value even when you are self absorbed in using it frivolously you simply are taking up time not using it. Guessing at answers to a test to simply get done or rushing through just to be over, still you wait just as the rest do so is there really any benefit. I am always amazed at how this always elicits my favorite catch phrase “I don’t care”. I think it should in bold letters read “ I really do not care about myself” As we enter the end of a week break from school our world is troubled and sore we are able if we try perhaps to make a difference even if in a small way. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Why do we give homework?

Bird Droppings February 17, 2010
Why do we have homework?

For the past nine years I have avoided giving homework. Basically I did not like it when I was in high school and secondly if kids can not get it done in class it can wait till tomorrow. Far too often if it is not done in class and they do not know how to do it what good does it do to do it wrong and have to do it again.

“If children are not required to learn useless and meaningless things, homework is entirely unnecessary for the learning of common school subjects. But when a school requires the amassing of many facts which have little or no significance to the child, learning is so slow and painful that the school is obliged to turn to the home for help out of the mess the school has created.” Parents magazine, November 1937

Alfie Kohn author and educator addresses the myths and fallacies of homework in his book The Homework Myth. After thinking for a few days about remarks in a recent article on the closure of our county Career Academy I ended up speaking with our principal at the high school this morning. In numerous papers and presentations I have used the fact kids will learn when they want to be there and secondly when it is relevant to them.

“Education means all round development; it is best obtained through action. Education has to be through a craft, not merely through books and abstractions. The basis of true education is character building; an educated person should become an ideal citizen. Education should be self-supporting as far as possible and also equip the pupil to better his own economic conditions. Education should be based on non-violence and should work for communal harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi, Basic Education 1954

I wonder if Gandhi read John Dewey. Many of the premises Gandhi uses are almost directly from John Dewey’s thoughts and writings. The idea that comes from Dewey is of experience and in Gandhi’s writing a craft which was also a way for Indians to get away from relying on British industry and goods. Gandhi felt strongly it took education to create a citizen of society which is what Dewey wrote about in promoting Education and democracy. Both men were against war.
“Society exists through a process of transmission quite as much as biological life. This transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger. Without this communication of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, opinions, from those members of society who are passing out of the group life to those who are coming into it, social life could not survive. If the members who compose a society lived on continuously, they might educate the new-born members, but it would be a task directed by personal interest rather than social need. Now it is a work of necessity.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916
I wonder if either of these great thinkers would give homework. As I spoke with my principal earlier I wondered given our discussion if he would give homework.
“Finally, we know that the better our students become at connecting rigor and relevance, the deeper the learning, the greater the retention, and the overall sense of accomplishment for them.” Mark Mitrovich, superintendent of Naperville Unit District 203, Chicago
Research backs this up and not just one study but numerous research projects and in my own case over the years making the material relevant to students brings a new dynamic to the classroom. Kids want to be there and want to learn. Going back to statements from kids at our Career Academy relevance was a key issue.
“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.” Donald Quinn
I would add to the list of professionals, politicians. Maybe if they saw what it was like to try and teach they would legislate in a meaningful way. Quinn mentions kids who do not want to be there and as a teacher I can say I have had some of them. Over the years many motivational approaches and many ideas have been tried successfully and unsuccessfully. As I got older and watched however it was not the tricks and crazy ideas that were working but my own demeanor and example the kids saw. I treated them as people. Children I have said many times are taught to not want to learn.
“Children come into the world with a desire to learn that is as natural as the desire to eat and move and be loved, their hunger for knowledge and for skills, for the feeling of mastery as strong as their appetite. They learn an amazing variety of things in the years before they enter school including, miraculously how to talk in the native language.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Learner
I recall many years ago learning about a language acquisition factor and that children through age four could theoretically learn many languages fluently if taught during this period. Why do they stop wanting to learn. Over the years I have had many chances to have our Early Childhood Education class come by my room for field trips. I will get out Stevie the ball python and show the kids other animals in the room and they will ask questions. Much the time their questions will be stymied by their high school students who are their teachers. The four year old asks a question often what is considered silly to the high school student. How does a snake go to the bathroom? It takes a time or two of telling high school kids to not under no circumstances stop a small child from questioning. This is where we as teachers kill the desire to learn. We stop the questioning. There is not enough time, that is a stupid question, ask you mom, and we need to move on now are all standard responses from teachers when kids ask questions. Teachers kill the desire to learn. We all have done this somewhere along the line and we need to address this. Instead of homework which often gets copied from someone else lets re-instill the desire to learn. We might be able to get one up on our kids by saying no more homework you guys got everything done in class.
As I sit and wonder about why we do this and why we continue in education to do the same things with differing names year after year when answers have been there all along. Build in relevance and build in a desire to want to be in the class. You as a teacher want to be there and show that to your kids it truly makes a difference. As the sun has set and dinner over I offer solutions are in our hands and it is not more money and research and new books or programs it is simply setting thee example and as Robert Fried says being passionate about learning. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

How do we teach?

Bird Droppings February 15, 2010
How do we teach?

I have been in graduate school now since 2002 and earned two degrees and a third on the way. I will admit an increase in salary was a significant factor although for my master’s degree it was for initial certification. As I started teaching and then also on the side was being a student I found the two very much paralleled. While learning I was better able to teach. I borrow from Thoreau his idea of quitting teaching to be a learner as he tramped around New England. He also found he was a better teacher. Bill Gates Foundation has put out over three hundred million dollars in grants to improve teacher’s effectiveness and evaluate teachers.

“If you do not act now, you will be picking up the pieces of a broken school system and failing children who desperately need your help.” Governor James E. Doyle, Wisconsin

Here in Georgia we are faced with the possibility of a large number of schools that cheated on mandated tests. Evaluators used the number of erasers from wrong to right as a checking point and found 198 elementary schools that far exceeded the norm. Georgia requires testing of students at the end of the year in various subject areas in elementary school and then uses that data to evaluate teachers and schools. The problem is the students come into a school and a teacher gets this group of students and even if significant improvement occurs and test scores are low that teacher is deemed unworthy. In a new round of legislation within Georgia the idea of pre-testing students and post-testing students is being considered and that would give a much better picture of improvement.
In our county we are closing for next year what is called a career academy. The academy is a school where technical and perhaps what some might call off the wall courses are being taught in a charter school setting. Behavior is not an issue because students with behavior problems can not go. Students have to be academically at a certain level to attend and many courses require an entrance test. So to start with a select group of students attend the academy and most classes are significantly smaller than standard public schools classes. Teacher’s attitudes are different as many courses are dual enrollment and students are receiving college credit and being treated as college students, young adults and not just numbers on the attendance form.

“At the base high schools you are just another GP, a face in the school.” Senior at WCA

“I used to not really care about school that much. This changed the way I thought about school.” Senior at WCA

This is all focused around cuts in budgets and spending by state and federal departments which directly impacts local school boards. My own county faces a five and a half million dollar budget cut this coming year and closing the WCA (Career Academy) is only a two million dollar chunk. Other cuts are pending. More students in classes hold off on buying textbooks, computers, and other equipment. Recycle old school buses and reduce transportation and number of days of school have all been thrown out. For some they look around and have a difficult time understanding what is going on nation wide. My wife and I purchased a new house with a value at the time in line with housing in the area. We felt a good deal. My last tax assessment devalued the house to less than what we owe on the mortgage. My neighbors are in the same boat. But the difference in terms of education is from our part we are paying nearly a thousand dollars less in property tax. When multiplied by the numbers of house in the county in the same situation that equates into millions of dollars less the county has for schools. Compound with state budget cuts and it is serious.
So where do we start in trying to provide a higher quality education that is being demanded by legislation and yet do it for less money than five years ago. I always fall back on teachers. A good teacher can teach most anything. A quality teacher can teach from a peach basket and kids will learn. Perhaps we are looking at the wrong set of results as to what kids are learning. As I mentioned far too often the only thing looked at is that end of course test. We should be better reviewing what kids know coming in and what they leave with and the difference being the true indicator of learning. We continue to get away from some of the simplest ways of improving education and students learning. Just by chance I am working on a dissertation on the Foxfire Approach to teaching. While not a cure all by any means it is a tool that can change the attitudes of students. IN looking at interviews with students from the closing WCA program all were saying that they learned more in that environment. If you ask a bit deeper and you might get that what they learned was relevant to them. It had significance and they wanted to learn.
Tomorrow I am going up to the Foxfire property in Mountain City Georgia to meet with Dr. Hilton Smith liaison with Foxfire and Piedmont College. He is talking to a group of Gwinnet county teachers. Piedmont College has a unique philosophy in its education department and it is very oriented around John Dewey’s idea on education. Some think how can an educator from the early 1900’s even have anything of importance to me an educator a century beyond. Fact of the matter is Dewey was right with his progressive ideas and sadly we still teach on the most part in a traditional way going back to the early 1800’s. Renamed and repackaged but it is still for the majority traditional teaching. The ten Core Practices of the Foxfire Approach offer a glimpse at how this methodology works. The ten Core Practices are from the Foxfire Fund website.

1 • From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.

2 • The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.

3 • The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.

4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

8 • The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.

9 • The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.

10 • Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

Most teachers might flinch a bit when talking about a democratic class room or experiential learning let alone reflecting on your thoughts. What I find amazing is we do this in AP courses, Advanced courses and in the case of our now closed career academy there as well. Granted these teachers may not be using the Foxfire Approach in detail but have been teaching using a philosophy that is considered progressive. When legislators design law and granted we elect these officials most are lawyers not educators and they are more adept at law making than at educating children. But it does not take much to know far too often they do not know what they are talking about.

“In my view there seems to be a distinct disconnect today between politicians and public school officials.” Jesse Bradley, Griffin Spalding school system retired superintendent

I wonder if it is being off from school that got me thinking about all of this. Several newspaper articles and my weekly National Educator Newspaper maybe lead me to these thoughts. It is on the news with here in Georgia teacher mandated furloughs and cutting of education budgets. For many of you this is not even important but as a parent and a teacher I find that it is education that will make a difference tomorrow. So for today take a look and question and as always please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Greed could be our downfall

Bird Droppings February 11, 2010
Greed could be our downfall

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” Henry David Thoreau

We watch the news and heads of states and heads of companies fall midst the economic crisis. All the while wealth is disappearing I am told. I recall back in 2008 somewhere along the line our then president made a statement that trillions in wealth has been lost. I was curious what the internet definition of wealth would be and looked to
“An abundance of valuable material possessions or resources; riches., The state of being rich; affluence., All goods and resources having value in terms of exchange or use., A great amount; a profusion:”
What I am amused at as the stock market is not mentioned. Goods, resources, material possessions, valuable material, and other words are physical items. While it can be argued at the stock market is only paper, it is fictitious in so many ways, I would say it is not real and yet we treat it as if it were and have made it such. A stock is worth what someone is willing to pay not necessarily what that particular company or product is actually worth. In effect we created this great house of cards and a stiff wind blew it away. We still have the original deck of cards however.

“The future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaninglessness and hopelessness that characterizes the thoughts of men today.” Albert Schweitzer

I am not a banker but when the multibillionaire King of Saudi Arabia is upset because his oil is selling for fifty four dollars per barrel and not one hundred and forty five and he wants seventy five dollars, I kind of like my two dollars and a half for gas per gallon right now. Why is it that so many wealthy people are upset? Yes there is a trickle down and the housing market is a critical one in our area. Construction workers who had it made building spec houses all over Georgia and now we have thousands of houses sitting vacant. Why are local banks closing and again a few months back in a local newspaper story a local banker lost eighty percent of his net worth? Who is really hurt in this case is a local food bank that received a substantial monthly donation from the bank and local schools that were partners in education.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi

I am not an expert and by no means could claim to be but I see such excess and wonder is this right and just. Listening during the last elections to multimillionaires argue tax cuts for middles class and even the whole Joe the Plumber fiasco bothered me. Most politicians are living in a world apart from we mere mortals. We do not have ten million dollar bar tops in our fifty six million dollar yachts and seven houses and twenty cars. Most of us are looking for how to pay this month’s house payment and tuition for kids in college. We are looking for deals at the grocery store not having a cook and shopper who goes and does that.

“The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.” Thomas Merton

Merton was a Trappist monk and lived in poverty as one of his vows and yet was a best selling author, lecturer and poet. He died protesting the war in Southeast Asia. I was thinking of play-dough as I read his line. If the wealth of the world was play-dough and as you squeeze trying to get more it is all pushed out of your hand and you are left with nothing. An interesting thought as it seems in trying to get more many lost everything.

“Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed.” Albert Einstein

We live in a world of such excess and seem to simply allow this to take place. Watching reality shows even based on all of the excess. I joke with my wife about the show “Atlanta Housewives”, in which group of ex-sport figures wives and or girlfriend of extremely wealthy married men flaunt their wealth. Greed is a simply word and it seems entrenched in our mind set and being sadly.

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Henry David Thoreau

“Possessions are usually diminished by possession.” Frederic Nietzsche

“Purposeless activity may be a phase of death.” Pearl S. Buck

We are in a difficult time as we head into a year of many politically motivated programs and undertakings by government to stem our financial crisis. Hopefully we can sustain our society in this economic downturn and hopefully we have learned from it. I wonder listening to the news and job forecasts and other indicators if we could be in for more. As a teacher should I not be trying to encourage students to pursue education and going beyond where they are? Many the day I wonder or should I be simply getting them ready to be consumers in a society that focuses on spending and greed. It really makes me wonder as I head back to my classroom this morning what should I as a teacher be doing? But as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.