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 Answers.com.
“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:” Answers.com
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.

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.