Horses and Trains and Learning

Bird Droppings April 18, 2010
Horses and Trains and learning

It has been many years since I last rode on a train. I mean a serious train going more then the distance between concourses at an airport. Years ago when I lived in the Philadelphia area, we all used mass transit to commute, to go “downtown,” to get around and to even travel a long distance, say to Florida. Trains are not quite what they used to be. Many of the true passenger trains are now extinct and the only other trains seem to be rapid transit within big cities.
It has been nearly fifty years since diesel engines replaced the giant steam locomotives that plied the tracks from Scranton, Pennsylvania and the rich anthracite coal regions to New Jersey and New York, hauling the fuel of the times on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. I have long been fascinated with the great trains of the past and perhaps because Mr. Frank E. Bird Sr., my namesake and grandfather was an engineer on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coal trains from 1900-1946.
I do not remember much of my late grandfather, even though we traveled from our home to see my grandparents as children many years ago but the images of his being an engineer have stayed with me.

“One returns to the past, to capture it as it was and as it hovers over the present” William Pinar

The past is part of who we are and within us in the present in our imaginations and memories.

“Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods” James Hillman

As children we are fascinated with trains and even now in this day and age of digital everything and computers we still have trains at Christmas time. There are still electric train sets for sale it amazes me. I always wonder at the fascination so many people have with trains. What is it that intrigues us so about trains? When the giant steam locomotives pulled massive freight trains cross-country the enormity of the engines and power were drawing cards. In literature trains always are featured. In our English class we are reading, listening too, and have just watched the new movie of John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men”. In the movie the story starts and ends with George’s reflections as he rides a freight train to his next town.
My early interest and fascination grew as a child and in 1954 I woke up to a Christmas morning and a circular track of a model Lionel O gauge steam engine and train set around our Christmas tree. It became a family tradition and that set was a family fixture for many years. When I had children of my own it was pulled out again and set up nearly thirty years later although this time it ran its circle around the dining room table trying to give a piece of my childhood to my children.

“Memory is an aspect of who we are” Dr. Marla Morris, GSU

“Memory is the raw material of history, whether mental, oral or written, it is the living source from which historians draw” Dr. Marla Morris, GSU

I was trying to share my past with my children as my father had passed down to me. When I was a child my father would often tell stories of my grandfather and the great steam locomotives he would pilot. Occasionally he would pull out an old engineer’s cap or lantern of my grandfathers to add some visual excitement to the stories. Still sitting on my father’s shelf at his home is my grandfather’s kerosene lantern from the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.
There is a surreal aspect to these massive metal machines, intertwined with our music and imagination trains are a fascinating piece of our being. Trains are an element of the industrial revolution yet linked metaphysically to us, it could be the size and power, the getting us from point A to point B.
I will wander a bit and take my morning thinking away from the subject of trains, and to another mode of transportation but still in line with my thoughts. It has been a few years since we sold our draft horses Rick and Blue, a team of dapple gray Percheron horses. Each horse stood over six feet at the shoulder and weighed in at well over a ton. Rick and Blue were big powerful animals. They could pull anything. I was asked to talk to a group of parents one night at a function and needed a visual aid to get my point across. An aspect of that discussion was narrow mindedness. I brought along the harnesses from Rick and Blue.
The massive leather harness’ weigh over 85 pounds each and include a set of blinders for the horses. The blinders kept the horse from being distracted and only allowed the horse to look forward. I used that example to show how so many people can be like the draft horse and get stuck only seeing one thing, one direction at a time and are unable to look to either side or to see anything new or different. Granted there are many ADHD students I wish I had blinders for.
So am I really wandering today or what does a set of horses and trains have to do with one another? They are both big and powerful and trains much like Rick and Blue go in a straight line down the track no side trips no going off the tracks. I was talking the other day with another teacher about taking a journey on a train and how that train goes from point A to point B. We then pick up what we need along the way. I ended up comparing the journey to education and to learning.
As I thought of the train tracks and how so many of us get stuck simply following the tracks I thought of all the knowledge waiting sitting along the way but off the tracks. This knowledge could be away from the tracks and or hidden from the straight and narrow. I wondered what it be like if tracks were flexible and we weren’t limited by that straight line. We could go where the best ideas were and the best methods and we could really load the train full instead of simply picking up what load we can along the tracks.
Several years ago my oldest son, the night after a very dear friend was killed in a car accident left a sticky note on my computer. It was a simple line actually a quote and yes I have used it for a quote of the day. It is interesting how we also have this quote on the wall out side the cafeteria. The note was a line from an Aerosmith song, a Stephen Tyler original. “Life is about the journey not the destination”. We get so caught up in the destination, for example getting to the end of the tracks following the curriculum to a T or the “TEST” at the end of the semester that we lose sight of all around us, we lose sight of the journey. Our journey and our students is teaching them to think and if they think they will learn
So how to we get to point B and really still get there with as much as we can possible load on the train. We travel and we gather as we go but we are fortunate we can leave the tracks if we chose. We can go side ways. We can go back. We can go forward. One thing that is so crucial is we all need to remove our blinders and see all that is around us and live each moment of the journey.

“Piercing through the illusions of modern life is extremely difficult, given a culture where advertising and other media forms are organized so persistently to produce mass public deception” Gerald Smith

Smith points to an ongoing issue we have in finding who we are and why. The illusions Smith points out, “obliterate the lines between fact and fiction”. We get so caught up in what we are being told we are and why we soon fall on the straight track or go through life with blinders on. In order to dig deeper into we have to understand who we are as an individual and how we translate and comprehend our realities and how people see us.

“Freud, Jung and now Lang (among others) were digging underneath the surface of their lives, trying to uncover the roots of what is experienced on the surface” Gerald Smith

“Maybe this is the time to embark collectively on a new long journey inward, not for the purpose simply of celebrating our personal or collective subjectivities, but for the more noble one of laying down the outward things that enslave us.” Carl Jung

I have wandered a bit today and maybe a bit too deep into ideas and thoughts that I find intriguing and puzzling. I once referred to the term of herding instinct that people tend to herd, want to be in groups. We so want to take the easiest route. I looked at apathy yesterday. We live in a time where we want things to be simple and easy. I want to simply get to point B not have extra sight seeing along the way. Sadly so many people live life that way. They live with blinders or follow a pre-laid out track and never get to know there is so much more. A student asked a question this several days ago dealing with biology. The question was about global warming and how some people say it is not occurring and yet so many are saying it is. There are folks who will never admit to and or even suggest some ideas have truth. They are caught up in there veil of ignorance. Watching the news and the impact our current war is having on veterans, the number of those in harms way is growing daily. Please keep them all on your minds and in your hearts.

Habits or routine

Bird Droppings April 16, 2010
Habits or routine

“Habit is an effect of repeated acts and an aptitude to reproduce them, and may be defined as – a quality difficult to change, whereby an agent whose nature it is to work one way or another indeterminately, is disposed easily and readily at will to follow this or that particular line of action” New Advent Catholic encyclopedia

I need to determine if my Westie waking at 1:23 is a habit or routine. My wife argues I taught her to do this rising early for so many years. The sharp barking just is not pleasant to wake up too but I cannot figure why I am the only one who hears her. We do enjoy our walks in the morning darkness listening to the sounds of nature and early morning and it seems always something catches my attention. Habits occur and we establish various actions and or ideas and then we repeat them, these practiced actions and or ideas become difficult to change. Habits so often follow us through our lives as I observe both teachers and students young and older. We often are not sure when and where they started and assume they will be there for ever. Conscious effort is needed to overcome habits that we need to or want to change. As I look there good and or bad habits and for the most part and these can vary for the individual.

“A habit is the usual condition or state of a person or thing, either natural or acquired, regarded as something had, possessed, and firmly retained.” Wikipedia,

Looking deeper into what is a habit as I said it can be either good or bad. It could simply be a way a person walks or just as I immediately thought of, smoking is a habit for so many people. But is routine the same thing or it an aspect of habit.

“A routine can be any activity that recurs.” Wikipedia

“The less routine the more life.” Amos Bronson Alcott

I wonder is Alcott stating that routine interferes with or perhaps makes life less meaningful. As I ponder does making a day a strict schedule take away from the flow of our journey and take away the spontaneity. This is a serious thought in a world of where every minute is often planned and logged on some form of electronic devise.

“It is not labor that kills, but the small attritions of daily routine that wear us down.” Roy Bedicheck

“My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Sitting here this morning reading these words from great thinkers and writers it is interesting how they see routine as debilitating and as a handicap. Yet we all fall creature to habit and routine even the greatest of thinkers. We all can be found rising from sleep at a specific time, putting on shoes in a certain order, and even eating certain foods for breakfast at a specific time. Arthur Bedicheck, stated it is “the small attritions of daily routine that wear us down”, is it those simple pieces each day that take their toll. We so quickly get locked into those patterns.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” Henry Van Dyke

“So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in retrospect, that the amount of each person’s genius is confined to a very few hours.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wonder if Emerson spoke to Thoreau in this way. It was Thoreau who broke away from the routine of daily life to live among nature on Walden Pond. Even his good friend Emerson considered him an eccentric however which I find interesting. It seems we all become victim to routine to habit but it may be to what extent and as Emerson mentioned hopefully our genius is not confined to only a few hours. Thoreau found his way in leaving the routine of life and walking about each day anew.

“Without the element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even, the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine, and eminently unsatisfying.” J. Paul Getty

“A child must feel the flush of victory and the heart-sinking of disappointment before he takes with a will to the tasks distasteful to him and resolves to dance his way through a dull routine of textbooks.” Helen Keller

It is the special time the time we break away from routine that makes the day yet as Helen Keller points out perhaps some of the daily routine is needed. As I think how much more effective if that needed aspect is not just routine but becomes more spontaneous. Perhaps with some students there never is a flush of victory and they never learn to dance through the dull routine of textbooks. I think as a teacher this is occurring daily in most high schools.

“Hire people, who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.” David Ogilvy

“The disease which inflicts bureaucracy and what they usually die from is routine”. John Stuart Mill

Studying this morning it seems we have two sides to a coin, routine has its place in society yet must be tuned and not allowed to become habit. Yet on the other side as I thought and read routine can become the basis for thought and thinking looking from a stricter more controlled eastern view. When routine becomes tradition and tradition then becomes common place we have what Mills is relating to and why we have so many issues with politics.

“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” Shunryu Suzuki

I wonder as I begin to end this week which direction should we go, try and be more spontaneous or try and focus on that daily routine. I recall another Zen saying however and I have never found an author for this one. “You can never step in a stream the same way twice”. Perhaps I will make my day a bit like stepping in the stream and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Around us

Bird Droppings April 15, 2010
Around us

“I am not concerned that I am not known, I seek to be worthy to be known.” Confucius, BC 551-479

At 3:19 AM I woke up to a creak in the house, just a small sound, perhaps the anticipation of our dog waking up but something caught my attention. As I woke several days of observation struck me as well. It seems I do a lot of observation which is a critical part of the kids I work with. A colleague at work, a quick flash and explanation of happenings of the past few days, perhaps a great desire to talk with this colleague as soon as possible on the issues at hand. I focus so intently on students and issues with them I forget teachers are human beings as well and signs of clinical depression which I see so readily among students often get masked in the guise of “a teacher”.
I lead a very monastic existence in many ways; I have my room and haven which seems to be that for many students as well. I do little if any socialization with colleagues often avoiding it yet many times suggesting it, an interesting paradox. One of the problems is I want to socialize to discuss to talk to open doors and windows not just blow off steam. I want growth and fertilizer not just having group interaction and fun. When I read this quote this morning it was interesting so often people strive to be known to be seen to be set apart from others. Watch the fashion statements in a high school.
Many keep everything secreted behind facades of societal domains and norms. On my high school class web site recently secrets from the past many simple little innocent events are being dug up by former class mates. Good stuff like who dated who first, little events from high school many never knew of yet each day we do this as we go through our daily processes. Every moment we establish new secrets.
I sit each morning and write detailing for myself and literally the world where and why and many times my wife tells me to be careful what I write about since she often reads BD. “You said what”? But we each have our methods of conveying inner desires and needs and formulating those for society to see at some point. It has been many years since I had tried to be on any band wagon by wearing the right clothes or going to the right church or listening to even the right music. Yet each day I analyze others as they walk by not on fashion and cultural norms but on what is happening inside.
I use the term loosely as I talk about empathy. A few years back one night one of students called he was on a conference call with another student and joking and talking about how he could dip Copenhagen and I couldn’t do anything, how right he was at that moment. He laughed and the other student laughed but then he used a racial slur indigenous to his own ethnic group and said you know what I can say —— and repeated over and over that same slur. I said “you know what I can hang up”. Several times he had reminded me I could do nothing.
The next morning he showed up smiling and came in my room to sit down and I offered him the door. “But I always come in before school” I said “you used to come in my room before school”. I can do something no more using my room as your rest spot, hangout and locker. As of now you can only come for class. My student looked at me and walked away, in shock. When his period came he sulked back in and sat down didn’t say a word, then he apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again.
It is so interesting how life goes. I have skirted around where I was going far too often we do what we need to get from point A to point B and then stop. We see others as we journey they too are traveling along. Sometimes we wave and smile letting social niceties peak and other times we simply pass by. As I look back within my own workplace how many times have I let human suffering pass by without reaching out? I was trained for years as a life guard and to see signs of struggling before it occurred now as I walk through my building and see signs I think, an adult, not my business they are a teacher. “I am OK they are OK” and keep going.
Today I woke up and this vivid image of all I had seen with this one person over a few weeks kept coming back, symptoms, issues, comments and events, as I ran through my checklist mentally that I would with one of my students especially in a crisis situation I kept coming to thoughts I did not want. This was far more serious than I had been thinking. So where to go what to do, I could not get another moments sleep and I get up early as it is. Are we not our brother’s keeper that is written somewhere I think? Should we interfere with another person’s life?
These are serious issues in a day and time when so often we lock ourselves away and lose the keys. As I thought we have crisis intervention for students but not faculty who deal with students daily. A good teacher is empathic; a good teacher is a sponge and soaking up emotions daily yet so often with no outlet no sounding board for that emotion. Add to that stress from other issues at work and I am still trying to figure why Postal workers get stressed, it is just mail.
So I go to school today and hope for the best. I will try and seek this person out and see if and hope my fears are unfounded. Watching puzzles unfold the pieces seem to be falling in the wrong places. It has been a few weeks since I presented a paper on teacher student feedback and how empathy should be an integral part of education for teachers. It should be an integral part of everyone’s life experiences for that matter. So today consider being more observant and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

All in a name

Bird Droppings April 14, 2010
All in a name

On February 3, 2003 I officially started titling my daily emailing, Bird Droppings. I went back in my files and pulled up a few old thoughts and ideas. Along with my new name in 2003 some other bits and pieces as I was reading, the local paper today a street poll was included asking locals about gas prices. I found another email from my mother about starting a gas war. It was a forward from my uncle to my mother. A simple concept we as consumers stop buying gas from two biggest gas companies and only buy from smaller ones which will drive pricing down. Idea was emailing to 30 people this idea which gets mailed to 30 more, sort of pyramid gas war tactics. As I turned the pages of my old Bird Droppings from 2003 one caught my attention. It was a quote from my middle son about my former principal. He had interviewed him for the school newspaper. I ended up giving my dear friend and former principal a call last night.
I t was in 2001 or so roughly I started using the name Bird Droppings and put out several issues of newsletters under that name and sitting here this morning with my Quick mouse in my hand actually it is sitting on the table beside me as I am typing an email out. I thought at the time back in 2001, Bird Droppings, that is a good title and subject for my daily meanderings. Looking back to that day in 2003 much was occurring around the nation as NASA tried to pick up pieces of a space shuttle and sort out the disaster that happened over east Texas. These explorers chose their profession and knew the risks one crew member being remembered by a cousin said she would prefer to die in space doing what she loved. Space was a passion for each member of the crew; it was about the searching and inquiry.
I can remember the Challenger accident nearly 25 years ago before some of you were even born. It was a shock just as this tragedy in 2003 was. But as a brother of a Challenger crew member said the morning after “their work continues”. Often events in our lives make no sense at that point of happening and later clarify as we go further in life. There is really no solace to a family when a loved one is lost even when you knew the risks they were involved in. Reading today’s headlines of the services and memorials for the miners who perished in the West Virginia coal mine. It is the thoughts and assurances of friends and family that can make the pain bearable.
A number of years ago my brother died during the night in his sleep. When I received the call at work I was in shock and hurried to my parent’s home. Within moments calls and emails and faxes began to arrive from around the world from my parent’s friends and family. That support made that moment so much easier to bear. More recently with the death of my father in-law and my own father the support of friends and family eased the pain and passing. I recall that day back in February 2003 and was running a bit late that morning as I listened to the news and watching a nation morn seven heroes.
Today I found a quote that for some may it not apply and for others who knows as I do each day. Many years ago I read a series of books written by a socio-anthropologist about his studies of herbal medicine among the Yaqui Indians of Northern Mexico. He eventually found his way to a medicine man that used the Anglo name of Don Juan. After a number of trips and many years he had become an apprentice to Don Juan in his efforts to become a Yaqui Medicine man. Carlos Castaneda wrote of the trials and tribulations of his adventure and studies and his books are used in many classes as case studies. Today there are many skeptics about the writings and reality of Castaneda’s work. Many claim it was purely fiction albeit an elaborate fiction.

“We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.”
Carlos Castaneda

One of the simple truths he found in his studies under Don Juan was how much we ourselves are directly involved in our own situation. That sounds simple but so often we blame the world around us for our plight. A student of life can only blame themselves for all choices made as they are ours and no one else’s to make. So in effect we make ourselves happy or sad and only we can redirect the pathway. Those heroic astronauts who gave their lives over seven years ago, they could have chosen another path a simpler path and less risky path, but they wanted and chose the direction that they were on and where they were to be. We now can choose how to continue their journey ending in a crash or building upon that and going beyond the stars. Remember the families of those brave men and women who have died serving our country and nation and keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and always seek peace.

Getting back the passion

Bird Droppings April 13, 2010
Getting back the passion

It is not just in teaching but in life we need to seek passion. Passion in life is about looking for that sunrise and or sunset, savoring the colors as they melt into night or change to day time. It is that passion about lifting your child from the crib or that first word or step seeing those first pictures for the hundredth time today. It is that passion of knowing what you did was the best possible at your work place and or something you would be proud to have your name on.

“Nobody can be successful unless he loves his work.” David Sarnoff, CEO of RCA

“You never achieve success unless you like what you are doing.” Dale Carnegie

“I can’t imagine a person becoming a success who doesn’t give this game of life everything he’s got.” Walter Cronkite

As I sit thinking about how we can inspire others to seek passion in life I am wondering how it can be contagious. Our society tends to stifle such endeavors. We seem to seek the quickest and easiest way and program children and each other to that extent. I often fall back on Thoreau leaving teaching to be a learner and that impresses me. His passion to learn to seek knowledge and to seek understanding was in effect contagious as he found he was a far better teacher while a learner.

In the center of your soul
By James Kavanaugh

There is quiet water
In the center of your soul
Where a son or daughter
Can be taught what no man knows
There’s a fragrant garden
In the center of your soul
Where the weak can harden
And a narrow mind can grow
There’s a rolling river
In the center of your soul,
An eternal giver
With a rich and endless flow.
There’s a land of muses
In the center of your soul,
Where the rich are losers
And the poor are free to go.
So remain with me, then,
To pursue another goal
And to find freedom
In the center of your soul.

We walk out so many times only wanting to get to tomorrow. It becomes about simply marking time a tick here and there. I have observed students and children watch adults in their world and try and mimic and be punished for doing what the adults do. Funny how we live life. How many times have I heard and overheard, “Do not do as I do, do what I say”. So seek passion, try and lift your life past that stumbling block, over that bump in the pathway that limits and confines you. James Kavanaugh acknowledges our center to our soul as a special place where we can be who we truly are. As I think we all need to be learners and seekers of more than where we are.

“We must remind ourselves: Learning is one of the most fascinating and rewarding activities for human beings. The desire to learn, to discover, to figure something out, to be able to do something well enough to proclaim it as ones own, must surely be as strong as any impulse within the human soul.” Robert L. Fried, The passionate Learner

I wander about often first thing in the morning trying to see new things and to hear new sounds. Many times it is often a tree frog when weather permits or a bird. Many times an owl will call while I wait for a new sound. As I listen new events and new wonders unfold. I look and see stars, the smile of the moon, neighbor’s lights and trees lacy in the darkness. So many aspects of life we often miss without passion for life.

“Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So many times I have heard students say a class is boring or a teacher is boring. I have heard some folks even attribute boredom to their own lives. With this I get confused. Perhaps it is not looking deep enough or long enough or listening beyond the awareness of what others want you to hear. Sometimes we do not hear the back ground music only the noise at hand. Nietzsche so often in pessimism hits the nail on the head how can we ever get bored with life. Many years ago I used a set of mule blinders to make a point. So many people travel through life with blinders on, only going in that straight line or where they are pointed. Life is far too grand to limit ourselves with blinders or to not reflect and wonder. I highly recommend my pebble trick. Try tossing pebbles in a pool of water and watching or reflecting on the ripples as they dissipate it is amazingly relaxing and there in a sense of freedom as well.

“Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. It’s about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.” Richard Leblanc, York University, Ontario

The word teaching could be substituted for life or any other profession. This is what it is all about getting up in the morning and being excited about the next moments, about each moment and embracing each precious second. I have been sharing a little book “Live like you were dying” by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman with family and friends over the years.

“Life is a spiritual journey and sometimes all you have to do is show up and have a little faith that something completely amazing is possible any day.” “I’m beginning to suspect that the moment we have been waiting for doesn’t require waiting and the things we’ll remember most won’t be things at all.” ”May we live like we were dying. With passion and purpose and mission and meaning…and with a little abandon. With no forgiveness withheld and no anger held within.” Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman

I have read over and over this little book and listened to the words sung by Tim McGraw and each time another thought or idea comes to mind. Passion we need it to wake each day and use it through the day. You know what it is also reciprocating I have found and contagious so for this wonderful morning please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts. My first email of the morning was from a proud new father at 3:15AM photos of his new baby as his wife just gave birth during the night that is passion.

A rock flower and song

Bird Droppings April 12, 2010
A rock flower and song

A journey begins with a step and apathy begins with turning your back and saying I don’t care. Yesterday afternoon my laptop was acting weirder than normal all of my school email jumped to my personal outlook account and then disappeared all my address book all of several months of writing in limbo. I came home still the same on my home Windstream account and my email for school was not there and went back to school logged on again and everything came up. Something about was not working my pass word was wrong according to my computer then I checked and caps lock was on, a simple fix. Then suddenly as if by magic my personal account was gone again which was very frustrating not understanding electronics and computers at times. It seems they were doing server work at school unbeknownst to most of us since it was a holiday.

“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” Benjamin Franklin

Just as I did this morning it is so easy to get caught up in ones self and our own little troubles. The following are the words to a song sent to me many years back by the mother of a teenage daughter. I remember the song from many years ago. My friend said her mother enjoyed this song which was recorded by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmy Lou Harris among so many others to use the words as I sit here I wonder how many folks will remember them and or the song.

By Dolly Parton

The hills were alive with wildflowers
And I was as wild as, even wilder than they
For at least I could run, they just died in the sun
And I refused to just wither in place
Just a wild mountain rose, needing freedom to grow
So I ran fearing not where I’d go
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow

And the flowers I knew in the fields where I grew
Were content to be lost in the crowd
They were common and close, I had no room for growth
I wanted so much to branch out

I uprooted myself from home ground and left
Took my dreams and I took to the road
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow

I grew up fast and wild and I never felt right
In a garden so different from me
I just never belonged; I just longed to be gone
So the garden, one day, set me free

Hitched a ride with the wind and since he was my friend
I just let him decide where we’d go
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow

So often poetry and songs have meaning hidden in the words, it might be in the way they play out and many times in a song the melody adds to the feeling and attitude portrayed by the words. As I was reading this morning so many teenagers feel as did this wildflower wanting to be free. Yet as I read the songs words an image of a wild rose growing in a sidewalk crack in New York popped in my mind and a line from another song made popular in early 1970’s.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They took paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell

In the past months I have addressed apathy and a recently dear friend in a teachers meeting in Conyers was discussing apathy with teachers and how we can combat it. I was thinking about that all night, first apathy is like a virus it replicates rapidly and soon over whelms. Soon it takes over but what does apathy look like and feel like. There are key words and phrases, such as whatever, because, no reason, I’m passing, I’ll do it tomorrow, everybody else is doing it, it’s not mine, and a good one let me copy your homework. The list goes on and on apathy, procrastination and not caring can be rampant.
I am reading again a book, Neither Wolf nor Dog, written by Kent Nerburn about Native American Spirituality. The Introduction to the book is a few pages long telling of a motorcycle ride into the plains and of a large rock considered sacred to the Sioux. It is called the buffalo rock. A rather simple large boulder situated in the migration path of the buffalo that looked somewhat like a buffalo. Today it has a plague on it telling its historical significance and an iron fence around it to protect it. Nerburn writes of how he was taken to tears looking at this ancient symbol caged as he wrote and as he walked around pondering the thousands of years of people who would touch the rock for luck in the hunt or simply honor and respect as they rode by this rock in the plains of America. As he walked about sitting on top of the rock very carefully placed a crumpled cigarette not snuffed out by a careless tourist carefully crumpled and the tobacco spilled out onto the surface of the rock. Tobacco is sacred to the plains Indians and someone had carefully honored the rock and memories. Someone still cared.
As I look at schools and look at the concept or possibly illness of apathy. I wondered first is someone caring enough to seek a cure. Second could it be possible to weed out teachers who teach and lecture apathetically which then causes apathy in students. It is not just a school thing for many students learn apathy at home. I remember many years ago a professor who would walk in never address the class, go to his podium and start reading the book and when the bell would ring stop, leave the room and that was it. In a semester he never addressed a question a student had, an issue was never brought up, he gave a final and who knows if anyone passed. Was his class or was it his classes that were apathetic. Most assuredly he had some symptoms and from there the degree of apathy can vary, although I would say it was serious with him.
Apathy is much like a vacuum however once the seal is broke once learning is allowed in it fills rapidly. Curing apathy however often reguires others to lend a hand. Begin a new day with a new thought reach for the stars as last night with a clear crescent moon and stars. I read if you can see more than eleven stars in the constellation Orion you have a clear night, I saw twenty eight earlier this morning. Seek out something new, wonderful, and interesting. Apathy breeds within itself and upon itself. It is thinking and learning that keep apathy away. Another wonderful day for each of us please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts. I will end with one of my favorite quotes borrowing from the Governor of California, “I’ll be back”.

Finding solutions in all the right places

Bird Droppings April 11, 2010
Finding solutions in all the right places

I had a few errands before sitting down to write today and still had time to stop at Quick Trip. The friendly smiles and hellos make me keep coming back. Actually so many mornings my sojourn to the local QT is filled with coincidence and synchronicity. It was only a years ago today as I went in and picked up my paper I put my paper on my arm so I could get a drink and in doing so had my Atlanta Journal turned upside down. Foxfire magazine caught my attention. The real title for the article is “All mountain man wants is burial in dirt plot; teens will see it through” simple direct and all about Foxfire.
Foxfire began nearly forty three years ago in Rabun County as a teacher’s way of reaching kids. Borrowing extensively from John Dewey’s ideas of experience as a teaching tool the Foxfire founders built a program that immersed students in their own culture of Appalachia. The Foxfire magazine is still a nationally recognized student publication and the Foxfire 13 book just recently was published. The program is about providing context to the academic content of education. It is still in operation at Rabun High School.
The story in that old paper was of an old mountain man Sammy Green who had been interviewed by the Foxfire students for a magazine article as part of their endeavor to capture the lore and stories of Appalachia. As they finished off the record the elderly man who had no family and no money to bury him was concerned about cremation. Which is the method used for indigents. Like many church going mountain folk he believed he would be doomed for eternity in hell if he was cremated, according to rural tradition your body at the second coming will be resurrected as you were in life and buried. All he wanted was to be buried in a pine box in a plot of dirt.
Joyce Green was the Foxfire facilitator several years back and was pleasantly surprised as students took the project upon themselves to provide for Sammy Green when he passed away. The group organized money making projects, put change bottles around to collect for the project, they received a donation of a plot at a local church, another donation of services from a funeral home at cost and ninth graders in shop built a pine casket. This group of students have completed an elderly mans wish. Sammy was in hospice care collapsing from pneumonia when this article was written and he knew his last wish will be carried out thanks to a group of young folks in Rabun County.
It has been a few months since I was last to the Foxfire museum up in Mountain City Georgia n Rabun County. Actually tried to go on a snow day when I had an off week of school back in February and roads were closed in Rabun County due to snow. Hopefully if I can get busy on a grant and my class comes through I will be teaching in a Foxfire teaching method next fall. I have taught and assisted in several courses in graduate schools during the summer teaching the techniques of Foxfire. As I read the article and thought what a powerful statement for today’s youth in a world where most teenager news is so negative.
I recall having two fellows in my first period class who both were seniors and both were going into the military when they graduate and would be chatting about life. I recall so many years ago when I was debating for the war in Viet Nam in a public speaking class. I sort of cheated bringing in an eight foot red tailed boa in a gym bag and building up about how communism could be among you and you never know it. As I ended my speech I pulled the snake out and my debate foe fainted and I won debate by default. As I look back and wonder facing life these so many years since, how my views have changed as to my own personal take on war and on life. I often wonder looking back have they truly changed or have I come to understand better what I did not fully understand at that time. I had always been against the war in Viet Nam and I was not a student of politics or news. It felt wrong to me and I daily would see in our local paper friends and relatives of friends killed during the fighting. At last count seven I believe from my high school graduating class died in Viet Nam. I have several friends from our high school graduates who used to come by my room years back now in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in particular in a hospital wounded we communicate through facebook. Back in the day communication was days and weeks from reaching home not seconds.
Every day I try and make a point of acknowledging that there are people through the world in harms way. I recall only a few years back here in the US at Virginia Tech and again in the Georgia mountains in a small rural community an elderly man emotionally torn about his own end is aided by a group of high school students. I wish this war all wars would end right now and greed and all the ism’s that drive wars would vanish from the world. I also thought as I have been reading a book by Parker Palmer that it is as teachers and as facilitators which is how Foxfire considers teachers is where change can occur.

“To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced.” Parker Palmer, To Know as we are Known


Trying to Understand

Bird Droppings April 10, 2010
Trying to understand

It has been an interesting spring weather wise. I have been battling allergies and sinus issues daily between cool weather, hot weather and rain and then not enough rain to really wash the pollen away and then more pollen. When I woke up this morning later than most days but I am still on spring break I had been thinking about the many years of daily writing and journaling of my ideas and thoughts. Many times as I have written over the past years the word perception has come up. Not too many nights back as I was writing and posting I was posting on our discussion post for graduate school as friends and fellow graduate students involved in the discussion we were discussing the concept of critical race feminism. This idea ties in sex, race, culture, and ethics and to some extent then into education. The idea of perception was brought up numerous times as in this course of study for many it has been an opening of eyes that had been closed.
I am an observer by nature and many the times as I walk into someone else’s office or study I immediately peruse the books and items on shelves and desks. I see the papers, the order of items, or lack of order and the amazingly you can quickly make assumptions about that individual. In my own case if someone walked into my writing hovel they would see animal books and magazines as my oldest son also stacks various reading material among my own. There are many years of theology and spiritual matters along with numerous translations of religious texts, and bibles. In stacks many informational texts, child craft, notes from graduate school, and psychology texts scattered among the piles and shelves. Numerous links to my fascination with Native American thought as various artifacts from over many years and numerous books permeate my shelves and table.
An individual’s personality exists within the piles and various items or at least a perception of who they are. In my case in a quick look you would see several books, Spirit Dance by William Edelen, Red Pedagogy by Sandy Grande, The Passionate Teacher by Robert Fried, Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, a book on Great quotes, The purpose for your life by Carol Adrienne, The Handicapped child in the classroom, Ten Stupid things men do to mess up their life’s by Dr. Laura, A passion for excellence by Tom Peters, Control of Human Behavior, Safety and the Bottom line by Frank E. Bird Jr. It is these books that are on top of piles or on my shelves by my writing table and desk. I always wondered could a psychological analysis be made of me from those texts that are sitting out perhaps recent readings or reference sources. Something could be said; perhaps a perception, an opinion, or an assumption could be made about the person.

“Except for the still point there would be no dance ……. And there is only the dance.” William Edelen starts his book Spirit Dance with that line from T.S. Elliot

I sit thinking about that line do we have a still point. Last night as I was reading comments as fellow teachers and future teachers discussed their views and realities, we are trying to finish out the year working with students who are waiting for the last few minutes of the last day before summer break. We are using the word senioritis as we address the seniors here in high schools that seem lost in oblivion as their last year of school winds down. It can be a teenager in the last thirty seconds of school or a graduate student in the last thirty seconds posting before break. “And there is only the dance”
I looked through my book of quotes a little collection of quotes from my first year back teaching containing poems from myself and others and photos of students school etc. sort of a mini yearbook, always coincidences. I found a Garth Brooks song lyric. The song is The Dance written by Tony Arata, who just by chance was my brother in laws room mate in college at Georgia Southern many years ago.

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain but I’d of had to miss the dance.” Tony Arata

Thinking about the dance in reference to Elliot’s line and Arata’s line it is about who we are inside and how we see the world. So often in life we want to avoid problems. I am finding as I grow older it is the problems and tribulations that give us the pieces of who we are. It is all of this history that gives us our out look on life, our perception as we view the world. Wandering to back to my graduate school posting discussion as we learned over the semester everyone has a history and it is within that history we can only get a true understanding of who they are. Not really knowing a person history can alter your perception of them.
As I paged through my little book I had copied nearly six years ago I found a note I had written evidently this book was for one of my students. The student had wanted me to write a personal note so I kept the book and then school was over and she never picked up her book and I wrote a second note. As I look back it brings a tear. It seems she quit school with graduation test difficulty found a new boyfriend fiancée and got married and pregnant, sort of all in one fell swoop. Was this a success or failure from a teaching standpoint, did we reach that child. I am sure some would say no.
It has been nearly thirty years since I first started teaching. A few years back I had a professor who was ten years old in public school in Macon Georgia when I moved to that town in 1971 or so. Back in the day special needs kids were not all being served in public school IDEA legislation went into effect in 1974. One of my first jobs in education in Macon was a child find. Thirty five years ago there were not IEP’s or mandatory education for all children. Many disabled students often just stayed home since there really was no place for them in the schools at that time. We found 278 children and adults in less than 90 days who were not being served and we were looking for 50 to start our program.
In those days 1970 – 1973 it wasn’t about curriculum or text books or even lesson plans it was simply students who had never been served. In and among those students was a young black Down’s Syndrome fellow, Sammy Jones age 24. He was friendly clean cut and always fixing his hair, checking his shirt to be sure it was tucked and adjusting his belt always making sure every thing was just right. He would be a poster child for correct dress code, always immaculate. Sammy would always somehow bring up “big momma”, seems he called his mother “big momma”.
I remember one day after we started up our daily program and Sammy was in “school” his excuse to not do work would be “big momma said I don’t have to do that” when he didn’t want to do something. I recall Sammy’s favorite class was nap time. As I think back to my first days teaching in Georgia it has been some time since I really thought about Ms. Rawl’s and Lucky Duck nursery where my late brother John attended school when we first moved to Macon. A matter of perception perhaps it seems the promised school to get my father to move his business to Macon never materialized and my brother became the token white boy in an all black school. My brother John was “bussed” in.
The funny thing was Ms. Rawls, my mother and I ended up writing the federal grant that got initial federal funding in Macon for disabled children. There was a significant clause, the schools had to integrate. A coincidence perhaps, but as I think back and remember driving across town to that old school to pick up John at Lucky Duck he wasn’t a token child he was a child at a school and for him every day he would be smiling not one time did John get upset about his school I never remember my mother complaining about where he was going to school I do remember Ms. Rawls and how much concern she had for John. Maybe our perception was different back then. As I think back my mothers and my own I do not think changed significantly but many others did.

“No one would have ever crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off in the storm” Charles Kettering

It takes getting across the sea to arrive at the other side when the storms get rough quitting is not an option. So many people when times are rough choose getting off in the storm but far too often the waves and turmoil do them in. It is about in life how we perceive and how we see the world around us. Just before school was out several of us were talking in the hall and a student mentioned she paid a hundred dollars for a pair of jeans that was a mass of holes with some denim attached. Our discussion went to how people are paid to make holes in jeans which are then sold. Perception, I have jeans with significant holes in them each earned and remembered. Sadly so many youth want to skip the aspect of earning the holes in the jeans if they have money why not buy them and avoid the drudgery of failure and work. A wonderful day, a quiet day but out in the world around us turmoil and strife so please keep all in harms way on my mind and in your hearts today as the bombings and such continue in the middle east let us strive for peace.

It is not always who we think we are

Bird Droppings April 9, 2010
It is not always who we think we are

We all think we are always right as we enter into conversations, arguments, maybe even discussions. Our egos tend to override rational thinking and cloud our perception. We seem to assume in this effort everyone else is wrong as well. Myself I never do this or I should say I do this fifty times a day. When we communicate with others that persons life history is the basis for their perceptions and beliefs. So often we tend to forget there are reasons for and why a person believes and feels what they do.

“To admit you were wrong is to declare you are wiser now than before.” Unknown

When I saw this I had many flashbacks to arguments over the years. One of my favorite was about copperhead eggs. But that was many years ago (copperheads do not lay eggs per say they give live birth, although a good friend advised the eggs develop internally) A UGA vet student could not be persuaded otherwise and I knew that fact from about second grade maybe even first grade. Anyhow as we journey through life admitting you were wrong is probably one of the hardest and most difficult tasks we could ever undertake. Even when it is only a silly argument or discussion on copperhead eggs or who was the best baseball player, letting go of ego is difficult.

“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.” Karl G. Jung

I do think Jung may have over did it a bit in his idea but ego is such a hard task master and so often in life we all sooner or later fall victim. Watching the political dramas unfold and the figures that rise in their own ego building Jung may have nailed this one pretty good. This may have been the falling out with Freud, Jung and Freud worked together for some time, as Freud put so much emphasis on ego. I work daily with self esteem and trying to encourage students to think better of themselves.

“If someone is blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?” H. Ross Perot

Looking back on my own life and I was never really a Ross Perot fan but I happen to like this thought. The metaphor of a barn and how we or a barn build up manure and other debris is a good one. I recall an old barn out on our farm back in 1978 or so that had never been cleaned in thirty years or so. The old mule in one of the stalls had to step down to get out of the stall as the three feet of old mule manure had accumulated. In life who but ourselves is there to clean out the barn of our lives.
In my travels and journeys, I found a sign with the word EGOS in bold lettering on it and then the red circle for NO across it. I placed several up around the school the only one that survived was on my door; the others were torn down very quickly. I really think people in general do not want to be wrong or questioned.

“If you think about yourself then you’ve lost sight of the ball.” Mike Willesee

Ever you ever wondered how a pro basketball team either succeeds or collapses. All in all most pro teams are very close in ability it is dealing with egos that makes or breaks a team being able to de-egoize a team is a true sign of a great coach. I was talking with a couple of students the other day and was amazed that the young folks do not know the name of one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time John Wooden. Recently on one of the movie channels I watched several times the movie about Texas Western College and the NCCA finals game with Kentucky and the then all American player Pat Riley, more famous now as an NBA coach again another who can de-egoize a team…

“A particular shot or way of moving the ball can be a player’s personal signature, but efficiency of performance is what wins the game for the team. “Pat Riley

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

“Nothing will work unless you do. “John Wooden

Many of you never may have heard of John Wooden perhaps the greatest College basketball coach of all time, he won more NCAA championships than any other coach and more games in a row. Some of the greats of NBA fame played on his teams at UCLA during his tenure. What impressed me about this man was his simple philosophy of life.

“You cannot attain and maintain physical condition unless you are morally and mentally conditioned. And it is impossible to be in moral condition unless you are spiritually conditioned. I always told my players that our team condition depended on two factors — how hard they worked on the floor during practice and how well they behaved between practices.” John Wooden

A few months ago I found an article on the sports page by former UCLA John Wooden player who did not get to play much at UCLA, interviewing Bill Walton. Walton is now a sports broadcaster and a former great of UCLA’s glory days under Wooden. The player who did not play much had the same respect and love for Wooden as did Walton, both carried Woodenisms in their wallets, still twenty plus years after college. Being a good example was the key to Coach Wooden’s philosophy of life. Live the life as well as play hard. EGO had no place on a Wooden team and if an ego cropped up you probably will be sitting on the bench or playing at another university.
Wooden was successful because he did not skirt the edges so many in the other schools have done. He won through practice (players were glad to get off his team when they graduated because his practices were so hard) and behavior between practices. Imagine a world where the aura was gone from Pro sports and players played because they wanted too and not for the millions of dollars. Imagine where newspapers would have to print about the team getting all A’s rather then team members were arrested for shop lifting and sexual harassment. A recent article rated college football teams on most arrests and crimes by players. EGOS can destroy not only an individual but a team and a society.

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

I will close with that last statement from John Wooden; it is about in life not just sports that character will keep you there. A good thought to remember and please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Sometimes in a crash

Bird Droppings April 8, 2010
Sometimes in a crash

I am always amazed at how we can be redirected many months ago I wrote for nearly an hour and a computer lock up froze and stole my notes. Several really good thoughts were in process. It has been over a year now since I got home after school and sat down pulled up the internet and poof it was gone. My first check was did I pay the bill which I had, I checked and the phone out as well, not a good sign, suddenly a knock at the door and a dirt covered construction worker asked if I knew what this cable was they just cut, need I say anymore.
He said it looks old probably not anything. I informed him our phone and internet just went out and walked over to see a one inch cable in two pieces. I was in the middle of writing about Neil Young and rap music, of differences in styles and speakers and amps and ambiguity of rap and stepping stones and the Toccoa creek and stepping stones and getting wet falling in the stream.

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein

I have written about Albert numerous times and how this man is known for his theories more than his words amazes me, yet most average people do not even know what his theories mean or imply. It has been an interesting week so far. Generally at the end of the year special needs students have IEP’s which is a lot of paper work. Each day a new pile of folders and forms and choices about what direction to send a student.

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” Henry Ford

Several summer ago I had a student for biology. The young man who I was working with that summer would try and try and could not pass quizzes and tests. He would try but nothing seemed to work he kept having problems with tests and quizzes. It was a note from a professor and a bit of pondering that came up with a simply answer. What about not using paper and pencil tests. I set up quizzes in power point and flashed them on the wall nearly eight foot tall. First quiz he had 100% on vocabulary. This was in comparison to 20% he was getting on standard quizzes. For the rest of summer school I would scan and put work on the screen and he passed with a good solid B.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Alva Edison

I recalled a sign in Fort Myers Florida at the winter home of Thomas Edison out in his work shop there is a display of a trash can with hundreds thousands of trashed light bulbs and in the display the one that worked. It isn’t the failures we need to look at but the successes; it is about what worked with that light bulb and with this boy. Solving problems we often look at failure for answers and that is why we continue to fail.

“You can never cross a stream the same way twice” Zen saying

Somewhere I have a picture of my son stepping stone to stone in the Toccoa creek as we climbed up toward a water falls. However as you look at the photo you see a fellow trying to step to a stone to keep from falling and getting wet yet in reality he was soaked already having been in the creek numerous times. But it is that moment of success that we see in the photo. It is not the thousand failures or ways that didn’t work Thomas Edison is famous for but the one idea that did light up our world. It is about that one success. –

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Jimi Hendrix

In my writing that froze and is locked somewhere in posterity I started with a line from Neil Young and another from Jimi Hendrix. Today as I finish up I am leaving with this one, and with Neil Young playing in the back ground it is hard not to pull a line from his melancholy.

“In the field of opportunity its plowing time again there ain’t no way of telling if these seeds will rise or when” Neil Young

As I sit writing thinking all we can do is try and make an effort to use those times and things that do not work as tools to build and answers will come. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.