Is it about content or context

Bird Droppings February 8, 2010
Is it about content or context?

“The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” John Dewey

As I look around the world few world powers exist without good educational systems. In countries where dictators rule education is at its lowest level for it is through lack of education dictators stay in power. Another aspect is where religion is directly involved in education since fundamentalist religion of any sort often can maintain a strangle hold on education as well. I am always amazed at Dewey he wrote many of his thoughts in the early 1900’s and they are more pertinent today than even when he wrote.

“Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.” William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991

When I walk into a school building and wander midst the throngs of humanity all the varying aspects of human kind can be found. One group that can be found in our school is in all black clothing and has as many piercings showing as the school will permit or they can get away with. Another current popular trend among our teenagers is wearing large rubber bands or plastic bracelets in quantities of fifty or so sort of a primitive thing. Always in most high schools the letter jackets and popular name brand clothes stick out among a certain crowd. Being a former rural county another genre is jeans and various asundery attempts at showing off Confederate flags be it belt buckles, necklaces, and or t-shirts. Are these teenagers’ different species perhaps or just differing views?
Just a few days ago as I walked around the school I wondered what if all were in red polo shirts and khaki pants as was one time recommended? I jokingly offered my thought to a nearby assistant principal and the response was within two or three days shirts would be short and pants would be baggie and studs would be in khakis and we would be right back to where we were.
We are a nation build on democracy that is on choice. But as I look at William Commanda’s statement I think I too would choose the slower path if I could choose again. I went to my class room after a teacher training recently ready to not be teaching frustrated by the lack of vision in education and focus on what will be remembered in ten years not what will be known but remembered.

“When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. … The White people pay no attention. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.” Wintu Woman, 19th Century

I drove by several construction sites yesterday entire forests were removed to put up houses – it is easier to build with trees gone. An ancient oak tree was being sawed up into fire wood out of pieces of log three to four feet thick. They were being split as I thought about the time that tree took to grow and how easily it was destroyed. Piles of dirt and rock pushed around and relocated where it was needed to grade and level lots. As I thought I was pondering our approach to education. So often it is trying to get five gallons into a liter bottle an idea I had several years ago in a symbolic way. That idea keeps coming up as I think of NCLB legislation that states all children will be at grade level by 2014 and that thought of what will be remembered in ten years.
It has been nearly forty years since I left high school and what do I remember from then? A few teachers names, a few bits and pieces and as I look back no one aspect really comes to mind I see that process as a stepping stone. Those pieces led to new pieces and in that process literally the pieces are lost that were the basis for the direction I went. It isn’t about what we remember in ten years from high school but that a foundation was laid that can be built on. Ideally it will be a base that balances the technical and the spiritual. It will be a base that guides us to dig smaller holes when we can. It should be a base that helps us shift through five gallons of material and find that liter of essentials.
After thinking this morning it is about the example we set as teachers and as parents that is far more remembered and modeled than any amount of content and material handed out. So today set an example, try and model what it should be like and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

The paradox of democracy

Bird Droppings February 5, 2010
The paradox of democracy

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

An interesting statement, from a great anthropologist, Mead observed mankind in both civilized and very primitive states. I find this statement striking in our day and time. It is a statement that can be taken in so many different directions. A small group of powerful people can easily sway society. We see this daily in the politics and happening in industrialized society. We see it daily at the price signs of Quick Trip and other gasoline suppliers around the country. But through history ideas have always prevailed over the powerful.

“When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong.” Eugene V. Debs

Debs was the founder of the American Railroad Union and American Socialist party. I am by no means a socialist yet this statement rings with truth. How many times have the majority been wrong in society. A handful of people stand up for a cause only to be squashed by a majority rule and then come to find those people were right. So often we get caught up in literally mob rule. The loudest most pervasive speaker gets the nod and people follow.

“The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry.” William F. Buckley

The late William Buckley was the founder of The National Review, the lively and respected journal of conservative thought and opinion. A radical departure from Debs yet so close in thought. As I watch our current political drama unfold we see more people getting involved, an assertive citizenry, while coming from the other side of Buckley’s beliefs and views. We see evidence that the majority was wrong back a few years ago when we as a nation we were led to chose war to end terror.

“Nor is the people’s judgment always true: the most may err as grossly as the few.” John Dryden

“Everybody’s for democracy in principle. It’s only in practice that the thing gives rise to stiff objections.” Meg Greenfield

John Dryden came from a Puritan background to become one of England’s eminent poets and essayists and Meg Greenfield former managing editor of Newsweek was considered to be one of the most powerful people in Washington and here in slightly different words a woman of the twentieth century and a man of the eighteenth express very similar thoughts. We banter this word democracy about, what is it we are really trying to say as current already politicians are planning for the next election and future candidates for president try to gather political momentum not a popular vote. Politicians go to states where one vote could give 25 votes an interesting concept, I am being sarcastic yet in some situations and systems this is nearly true with our electorate system.

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools? I think we can agree it’s the fools, no matter where you go in this world, it’s the fools that form the overwhelming majority.” Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen is not a politician nor government official but a playwright from Norway. He saw life as it was lived and then translated to the stage. I get news on my computer daily about ignorance and fools who hear a comment or bend a word or as politicians say spin an idea to alter the definition and meaning. Ignorant people believe it. In my local paper an extremely right wing editorial is featured from Michael Reagan who feels his father should go down as the greatest president ever. At my favorite store in the world Barnes and Noble, a book by Anne Coulter labeled public school teachers as soldiers of Satan. Ignorant people do not have to be stupid. Recently a fellow teacher made a sarcastic remark to a female student who had been late to school because of a Gardasil vaccination at her doctors. The fact that her family has a history of cancer did not come up in the conversation.

“Chinks in America’s egalitarian armor are not hard to find. Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism.” Florence King

“Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions — it only guarantees equality of opportunity.” Irving Kristol

King a novelist and former History teacher and Kristol the “godfather” of modern neo-conservatism present an interesting concept. The contrast of an active democracy, paradoxes would be more like it.

“This is one of the paradoxes of the democratic movement — that it loves a crowd and fears the individuals who compose it — that the religion of humanity should have no faith in human beings.” Walter Lippmann

Lippmann a Harvard graduate and the ultimate liberal he opposed the Korean and Viet Nam wars and McCarthyism, writing and speaking in favor of socialism he edited the Harvard review and was a columnist for the New York Herald.

“A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.” Norman Mailer

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.” Ralph Nader

The ills of democracy are self fulfilling; it is the citizenry who fail it by becoming simply votes. Nader’s point of citizenship and activism is a key one for a democracy to be truly successful. Democracy requires action, involvement, and interaction, be that letters to congressman and senators or even running for office. It could be getting involved in community affairs or even in a political action such as a campaign or promotion.

“Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.” Plato

“Freedom without obligation is anarchy. Freedom without obligation is democracy.” Earl Rainey

Listening to all the hype and smoke as the politicians banter about views of the same subject, arguing and consoling all in one sentence it is little different than a toy train huff and puffing around a circular track. Often appeasing this side and offending this other side. It is right versus left and left versus wrong. We go back and forth in and out and funny thing is nearly 3000 years ago Plato was dealing with the same issues. Perhaps as geneticist Dean Hamer has indicated in his book, “The God Gene” that we have a genetic make up, a gene for faith. Perhaps we also have a gene for politics for the craziness that it brings, but as we sit here comfortably and wonder about the words and issues please keep all in harms way and many times are not the voters who elect the officials, they are still out there, on your mind and in your hearts.

Writing as opposed to sending a photo

Bird Droppings February 4, 2010
Writing as opposed to only sending a photo

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

In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth grade English Class. The book was Brave New World, written in 1932 and you would think that a book thirty years old would not have been that controversial. However for our class and the reading list we had an English teacher was let go. What amuses me is how these books we read did impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a catalyst for thinking that was developed.
Today in 2008 on another hall in our school English teachers use the books my tenth grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list as do many high schools across the country. Such books as 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World which were so controversial in their time 50-70 years ago and still today can inspire students and adults to think and ponder.

“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot

“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill

Each morning as I sit down and wonder about the direction that the ideas may or may not flow. I try and find a spark a starting point for the day. Sort of my kick start of the day to revitalize my own cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier but within the semantics of the word so many limits the concept of experience. I was seeing a teacher and most as I read were seeing experience as a limit, coming back to a note the other day and actually I used yesterday talking with future teachers, the idea of a container as per students. That was until I read this line from Huxley.
Over the past few days numerous emails from former classmates in high school perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few in Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me nearly forty five years later. But the direction changes as I look, it is through writers and writing that we convey so much.

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner

Each day I walk outside and look at the sky. On an almost clear morning like today stars greet me spreading through the sky constellations and for some they are beacons of direction and purpose. As the seasons pass the constellations change as to time of day and position in the sky and often as I go out I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky appearing before my front door. If by chance I am writing at home as I have for a few years now I can go out into the back yard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon and oak trees depending on where I stand much will be obscured and I see only a shrouded sky laced with the branches.
As I read the Faulkner note so often this is true, we do not think about something till we read what we have written. Many the times I will return to a piece weeks and months later and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at the time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper some time ago and until it was returned with comments I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. A journey that began in reading, then in experience and moves through writing for it does take written word to be read.

“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

It is so true as I write each morning glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles and emails and any books handy at that moment looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. Often my morning consists more of reading than actually writing words to paper or computer screen. It is so many times a search for an idea a thought that has eluded me.

“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin

“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener

What comes so easy for some it has been said may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails and then go onto class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing, since that makes it so much easier to write. As I think as to where that student is coming from, maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because somewhere, somehow, and or someone did not give them the opportunity.
In my room often it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative. I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked I made an error I had typed “Children learn what they love”. As I thought a bit you know what? That is just as true too. So how do we help children love learning, and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Let’s all set an example today and keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Words or lack of words is wisdom

Bird Droppings February 3, 2010
Words or lack of words is wisdom

“He believes profoundly in silence which is the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Sioux

Trained as a physician Dr. Charles Eastman was also a profound and eloquent speaker for the Sioux nation. So often when we speak it is only words spilling out a barrage of often meaningless dribble that just is there waiting to explode. Hello how are you, how’s the family, the job and numerous other familiar little blips we tend to throw at people that we meet. Many times it is simply a societal politeness or we think bantering on as the person we are addressing is trying to find a way to not listen.

“Silence is the mother of truth, for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

“In my opinion it was chiefly owing to their deep contemplation in their silent retreats in the days of youth that the old Indian orators acquired the habit of carefully arranging their thoughts.” Blackbird, Ottawa

So often in our haste we blurt out words that become meaningless simply because we feel we should be talking. As I look at the words of these great Native American orators often it was in their silence and reflection that wisdom has shown through. There was not a hasty response that was spontaneous and not thought through as each word was carefully chosen so as to impact and bring the point to the listener. For many words were sacred and a privilege to use and to speak in the culture of these people.
I was thinking wouldn’t that be great if every ADHD child thought before they spoke which of course would negate some of the rationale for the diagnosis. We would not need, In school suspension anymore perhaps. There would be les numbers of bars of soap sold as parents would not have to wash any mouths out with soap. Although thinking back one of my favorite movie lines is still from the Christmas Story and soap blindness.

“You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into out hearts” Cochise, Chiricahaua Apache

Known as a great warrior as well as spokesman for the Chiricahaua Apache, Cochise was feared and revered by many. So often listening to the fabrications of teenagers as a teacher you do enjoy silence and or truth. So many times exaggerations flow like water each telling of a story that embellishes on the next and so forth till some where perhaps reality really did occur. A student yesterday posted on Myspace how she hates it when people lie to her and yet in less than two days sitting by my door at school I watched and heard her lie and or tell stories more than four times. This was in the limited context of a small section of my hallway and I do not even have her in class we seem to lie almost instinctively.
“Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

Growing up I recall stories of Chief Joseph and how his people avoided the army and won numerous skirmishes in their attempted flight to freedom in Canada. After being rejected by the Canadian Government they had no alternative but to surrender and Joseph’s speech has been quoted by many ever since. Sadly as Joseph was near death he was refused passage to his beloved sacred lands in Washington to die as our government in Washington felt this old man was still a threat to society.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.” Chief Joseph, NezPerce

I watch our politicians talk out one side of the mouth and down the other. It is like going to a used car lot and watching used car sales folks at work. What do you believe? Watching news today is not really watching news it is more like ok what do I believe and what is fantasy. Extremists on both sides spin and garble the truth till really nothing is coherent. Papers on the rack at grocery stores alter photos so we see what the story implies. I was thinking back a few years to the investigators trying to blame someone with the misinformation on Iraq that lead to the war. Few people noticed the last of the Iraqi oil fields have been leased for production and that conveniently all are under US and allies companies. The third largest oil reserves in the world and billions of dollars in profit cost us how much in American lives and dollars. We now know most of what we were told was lies yet we are told the people lying were only misinformed.
It becomes confusing as I am sure years ago when the soldiers would explain peace treaties with numerous lines of fine print. A favorite line has been for me, as long as the buffalo roam. That line to a plains tribe who lived off the vast herds of migratory buffalo numbering over fifty million on one count was forever. But it only took sharps rifles and a healthy trade in hides to quickly reduce the herds to a handful and we said as long as the buffalo roan and they are gone so you guys need to go to now. We do this today in politics, in schools and in life getting commitment based on something we already know will be gone or never was there to begin.

“I would have been better pleased if you had never made promises, than that you should have made them and not performed them.” Shinguaconse

We so often tell little stories to a point it becomes a habit and soon we are caught up in our little stories with no returning to truth. The little girl I mentioned previously I ran into last night at a basketball game and she made it through the day with her stories and really it was a silly thing but how often they are not silly things and how often are they life changing events and yet the truth is vague or nonexistent.

“Always tell the truth – it’s the easiest to remember.” David Mamet

Thinking as I go that simple statement by Mamet imagine if we only took our own advice. Just tell the truth and you do not need to have anything to remember correctly. There will be no stories to get straight and no hoping you don’t get caught. So for another day please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Do you have imagination?

Bird Droppings February 2, 2010
Do you have Imagination?

It has been just a few Saturdays back when I went by the high school to check on my menagerie and clean up a bit that as I went in I realized there was something going on in the gym. It turns out that the high school dance team was doing a dance camp. Thinking back about two years to a similar day and I had forgotten that I had said I would take pictures of the program. Fortunately I was at school and had my camera so an easy thing to take care of. The dance camp was girl’s ages five or so through maybe ten except for a two year old who was allowed to come because her mother was a friend of the teacher who was coaching the program.
I was up in the upper part of the gym taking photos looking down when I noticed this little girl walking from the other end of the gym to where I was up above. I took a few pictures and moved around the gym trying to get photos of al the dance team members and campers. As I finished up I went back to my room and printed off a proof sheet and group shot for the kids and their teacher to look at. As I stood with their teacher the two year old came over with her hands out reaching up, wanting to be picked up. It is so hard to pass up picking up a two year old. As I did she hugged me and bent over towards my ear and started to whisper. At first I was not sure what she was saying and it dawned on me she was telling me what she wanted for Christmas. She thought I was Santa Claus.
Well I have had a beard for many years and yes it is white through most of it but I was in jeans and a sweat shirt and Jackson Fresh Air Bar-B-Que baseball cap so no where near being dressed like Santa. I often comment to our Early Childhood Instructor and her students how four year olds are like sponges soaking up everything, questioning constantly and wondering about the world around them. Most of all I am always amazed at the imaginations of children and all that they can see and believe.

“Imagine yourself as a child lying on your back, gazing up into a cloudless sky, and blowing soap bubbles through a plastic ring. As a bubble drifts up into the sky, you watch it rise, and this brings your attention to the sky. While you are looking at the bubble, it pops, and you keep your attention right where the bubble had been. Your awareness now lies in empty space.” B. Alan Wallace

Many the times as an adult not only as a child have I sat blowing bubbles into a cloudless sky. Watching them drift away and up it only takes a few drops of glycerin and they last a long time. Sometimes it takes a bubble to draw our awareness to the sky and for some that awareness is so intent on the bubble when the bubble goes we cannot focus beyond and the hole where the bubble was makes no sense.

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.” Muhammad Ali

Sometimes it takes a little imagination and creativity to span the moment and bridge the gaps when then the bubble bursts.

“I noticed an almost universal trait among Super Achievers, and it was what I call Sensory Goal Vision. These people knew what they wanted out of life, and they could sense it multidimensional before they ever had it. They could not only see it, but also taste it, smell it, and imagine the sounds and emotions associated with it. They pre-lived it before they had it. And the sharp, sensory vision became a powerful driving force in their lives.” Stephen Devore

Almost in a conversely reversed situation I am so often amazed at the lack of imagination and creativity I see from people in general. It is so much easier to have a finished program, a cheat sheet or template and so much quicker to use preprocessed, prepackaged, procreated, and or pre-imagined anything. It is ready to go and just fill in the blanks and rock and roll. This is how publishers make fortunes and actually often politicians keep their hands in education requiring researched based materials being used in schools. Sadly the only researched based materials are produced by large corporate publishing houses.

“Perhaps it is that curiosity takes time or that kids have been encouraged by busy adults not to ask questions, but to sit passively, connected to TV or internet and receive and record. It is the job of school to wake up the synapses.” Frances Friedman

Our school system uses as a base what is called The Learning Focused approach to teaching. This involves questions, essential questions, and so many questions basically because we learn in the process of asking questions. Years ago I used to feel like taping mouths shut when I would go to the zoo taking my sons and their cousins. “Uncle Frank what about this or Dad what about this” and now one son in nursing school one nephew in medical school two of my sons with science degrees and a nephew working on graduate psychology degrees among them and I never really said shut up even when I was close to pulling out my duct tape.

“We live by our imagination, our admirations, and our sentiments.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many years ago as a child, now we are talking back in the dark ages, in days before Nintendo, Play Station, Xbox and such we did have TV but only three stations. Our games took form in our imaginations. We would play in an area of weeds, shrubs and over growth we affectionately called the jungle. As an adult several years ago I went back to the jungle and what was once a immense wilderness and trackless in its venue and is now only twenty small trees and fifty foot by twenty foot in the corner of a field. It is an interesting side note, a child hood friend many years after my father sold that piece of property and we moved to Georgia from Pennsylvania bought the land to be sure the jungle stayed there, it is all about imagination.
I was thinking back to several years ago my youngest son is twenty one now and when he and his brothers would have some of their greatest play time it would be along our old drive way in a spot they appropriately named paradise. It was a slab of rock and stones among several trees and many the castle and fort built there and hours spent all contained in a spot less then a hundred square feet.

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” Napoleon Hill

So often we as adults stifle imagination as my dear friend and teacher workshop instructor Frances Friedman states by being too busy to answer and stick the child in front of Nintendo or TV. The child asks us and we chose the option not to answer them. It does not take long and soon habits form and an imagination grows stunted and or is lost.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.” George Bernard Shaw

Having visited Edison’s winter home in Fort Myers Florida, his gardens, house, work shop are all littered with imagination. As you walk midst the banyan trees and flowers everything is oriented around thinking, ideas, imagination, and creativity.

“Anything one man can imagine other men can make real.” Jules Verne

Long before anything nearly close was invented Jules Verne had imagined entire worlds and machines. Once as a child my father paraphrased Jules Verne “If you can imagine it, think of it, it can be done maybe not today but soon” Never stifle a child’s thoughts or creativity, channel them, direct them, assist them but do not push the TV or Nintendo over in front when a question is asked. Please as always keep all in harms way in your minds and in your hearts.