Trying to find peace

Bird Droppings August 8, 2010
Trying to find peace

Earlier today I was sitting in my reading area and the concept of a just war popped up and how we will be fighting the “Just War” for ever. That concerns me as a father and as a human being. I was looking at how we were building permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Huge facilities and the largest embassy we have anywhere in the world. These are long term operations that bother me with the political rhetoric of we will be leaving Iraq. How are we leaving any time soon when we are building long term fortresses? Still timetables and troops seemingly are leaving although the numbers go up in Afghanistan.

“If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day.” Alex Noble

We all need to start with seeking peace within ourselves first before we can seek peace on any other level. I called a former swimmer from my swim team from nearly eight years ago it always amazes me when catching up. One of her friends is in the reserves and I got talking about several kids just graduating who were going into the military.

“There never was a good war or a bad peace” Benjamin Franklin

Watching the news I find it harder and harder as I grow older to except war in any fashion. I was once asked to be a sponsor of a politics club I first declined and finally after another teacher said he would if I would, we were both at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Each session was one of bashing the other views, after four meetings I was weary of ignorance and the bliss of ignorance and stopped going stepping down so to say. As the school year wound down and one of the main instigators was near graduation I told him all your bravado 35 years ago would have you in a war in a few weeks. Today we have a volunteer army and many young men and women are applying for war. An ad last night as we watched TV focused on young black men and promises of college and training and work by joining the Army. How appropriate and interesting as we are discussing racism politically on a daily basis.

“Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” “They have not wanted Peace at all; they have wanted to be spared war — as though the absence of war was the same as peace.” Dorothy Thompson

I always find my researching interesting as a quote will catch my eye and soon I begin tracking down the author and seeing why this person wrote what they did. Dorothy Thompson was a writer and reporter in the 1920’s-40; she was adamantly against the rise of Nazism and was expelled from Germany in 1938. One of her last major pieces was after WWII was over she wrote about the disaster of peace. It was about how the end of the war was handled. I find it funny how a woman in that time who was so vocal got lost in the shuffle. However most will recall her Nobel Prize winning author second husband Sinclair Lewis.

“In peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons.” Croesus

A few words from the Greek king 2500 years ago, still profound and still hard to bear. Watching daily new broadcasts of suicide bombers it is difficult being a father or a mother. Many years ago a folk singer and staunch peace advocate Pete Seeger put music to an Old Testament bible verse.

“For everything there is a season, And a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to seek, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate, A time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

During the Vietnam War a rock group, The Byrd’s made this song a hit entitled “Turn, Turn, Turn”. I sit here writing with quiet music playing. Much earlier an owl called out as I went out this morning just before sunrise. There is much to do in this place and time and we seem to forget that as we scurry about. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Truth a myth or reality?

Bird Droppings August 7, 2010
TRUTH a myth or reality

“Your search among books, word upon word, may lead you to the depths of knowledge, but it is not the way to receive the reflection of your true self. When you have thrown off your ideas as to mind and body, the original truth will fully appear. Zen is simply the expression of truth; therefore longing and striving are not the true attitudes of Zen.” Dogen, “The Practice of Meditation”

It is always good to start deep and work back to shallow when thinking and pondering. Knowledge is not necessarily truth I have found and searching for knowledge in Zen is not then an expression of truth. If you have to search for it maybe it is not there. Zen is a way of questions and then more questions. So many educators along the way have found this method of learning to be most successful.

“That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were truths and they were all beautiful.” Sherwood Anderson

“One universe made up all that is; and one principle of being, and one law, the reason shared by all thinking creatures, and one truth.” Marcus Aurelius

Several weeks ago I was asked about absolute truth. I argued that there was no absolute truth and that culture and society dictate truth. In his time Aurelius was in the supreme civilization of the day and time and to date according to many historians, The Roman Empire, this was truth to him and to them.

“It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea: a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth… and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below.” Francis Bacon

“It is unfortunate, considering that enthusiasm moves the world, that so few enthusiasts can be trusted to speak the truth.” Arthur James Balfour

As I sit reading this quote I am drawn to our concept of politics, basically you say what people want to hear. While I cannot argue the tremendous boost to morale a visit by the President, Senator, Congressman and or any other high ranking official makes I am sure contained within half truths secrecy and deceptions was an under lying political agenda. Local politicians own land and serve on committees that determine land use and it takes another county to stop a very controversial use of that land. Even our newest high school was held up by politics and greed over land sales. Interesting how truth varies county to county especially when politicians and former politicians own the land.

“Nothing is poorer than a truth expressed as it was thought. Committed to writing in such cases, it is not even a bad photograph. Truth wants to be startled abruptly, at one stroke, from her self-immersion, whether by uproar, music or cries for help.” Walter Benjamin

“Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.” William Blake

Defining and clarifying truth as I read is not so simple.

“Truth lies within ourselves: it takes no rise from outward things, whatever you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness and to Know rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape than in effecting entry for light supposed to be without.” Robert Browning

We search for truth yet hold it within. We seem to be trying to find something outside of ourselves perhaps denying its existence so as to not open the door. Truth is a part of us.

“The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it.” Clarence Darrow

“There is no such source of error as the pursuit of truth.” Samuel Butler

We always hear of pursuing truth searching for truth seeking truth and back to Zen “When you throw off your original ideas as to mind and body the original truth will appear.” Funny how truth was there all the time.

“Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Benjamin Disraeli

“All these constructions and the laws connecting them can be arrived at by the principle of looking for the mathematically simplest concepts and the link between them. Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.” Albert Einstein

Finding truth is an individual thing and it exists within a certain context and within that context truth is what you determine it to be. In trying to apply your truth to another’s truth it often creates conflict.

“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As usual Emerson’s thoughts cut to the chase. It is all in what someone wants to hear; sort of a stage and we are actors playing out a play. If it is happy people want happy, sad and then they frown. As I was sorting through the debris, the lines and adlibs to find where the story began is often difficult.

“Say not, I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth.” Kahlil Gibran

I read this and as often just as I was asked about absolute truth perhaps this idea is closer to reality a truth rather than the truth.

“The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public; he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin — and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.” Vaclav Havel

“Respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality.” Frank Herbert

It has been many years since I first read Dune, Herbert’s science fiction novel and then a series of books. Truth is only one aspect and then it is respect for truth. Havel indicates standing up for truth is paramount to humanity. As I read this morning I see paradoxes within how we all see truth.

“Learn to see things as they really are, not as we imagine they are.” Vernon Howard

Rose colored glasses some will call it. We live in a society where half-truths and mistruths and no truths prevail. Advertising and politics present concepts in part but it is only that part that will seal a product or idea that we see. Drilling in the wilderness of Alaska will provide 3% of our oil needs for a few months versus several people who make Billions of dollars in profit, versus wiping out breeding grounds for caribou and destroying a wilderness area we cannot repair. I recall not too many months back a New York City former mayor coming on record that we need more drilling off the Florida coast for oil and Florida politicians saying we have a tourist industry and do not need oil spills. It has been a few months since I stepped over oil pipelines along the Florida Atlantic coast going to the beach. Beyond that what about alternative energy sources we have barely even scratched the surface of because funds for research come and go. This game of deception has been played out through history.

“Truth, after all, wears a different face to everybody, and it would be too tedious to wait till all were agreed.” James Russell Lowell

“The more abstract the truth you want to teach, the more thoroughly you must seduce the senses to accept it.” Friedrich Nietzsche

We live in a world of deception marketing is designed to arrange the pieces to present the picture that this is truth and in so many situations we buy it literally and more often than not give it as a present to someone else all wrapped up.

“You’ll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you have said, and you never forget what you have said.” Sam Rayburn

“As a matter of truth, he was the most sympathetic of men, but his emotions of depth and sincerity were tempered with control. Silence meant to the Lakota what it meant to Disraeli when he said ‘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

“It does not require many words to speak the truth” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce –

I have been writing for some time wandering thinking and as I get to this last statement it is so true. When we have to explain and elaborate then the truth is lost. When it takes many words maybe it is not true. A new week ahead, a new month, a new year perhaps we will find in then the truth. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

PS – ‎As I was reading this morning this short Native American Prayer was in front of me and I have seen it read it many times over but today it stuck with me.

“Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we
share the Earth: Four-leggeds, two-leggeds,
…winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers,
plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.”

Native American Elder

Translating and communicating

Bird droppings August 6, 2010
Translating and communicating

In about ten days I will have students in my class room again. I will be walking down hall ways and talking with students and teachers and I wonder will anything be different than when I left. I wonder if teachers have studied how to be more effective and if students read and became more scholarly over the weeks of summer. Some teachers have attended graduate school and many will have attended leadership training programs teaching them how to better manage teachers and students and move them through the processes of education so that required tests get passed. A few may have opted for philosophy, literature, psychology, social studies or numerous other more liberal arts courses.

“An effective teacher is one who is able to convince not half or three quarters but essentially all of his or her students to do quality work in school.” Dr. William Glasser MD.

Dr. William Glasser goes on in his book, The Quality School to explain his ideas. I found it interesting one of his first references is to Dr. W. Edwards Deming who revolutionized industry in Japan. A US quality expert who the US industry barely recognized was contacted and contracted by the Japanese to improve quality and in a few short years they over took and surpassed US industry in production as well as in quality. I can recall only a few years ago when a certain US car company used the slogan of “Quality is job 1”. A good view of quality is resale value of cars and trucks. Amazing how nearly all of top ten best resale vehicles were Japanese for the longest time but now maybe US car makers have finally after twenty years caught on as Ford has several in top ten.

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.” Dale Carnegie

Carnegie provides a quick guide to life for teachers, parents, students, and children. I have always felt example is the key, in almost any aspect of life. I wish it were not so but how we look and or are perceived is often how we are judged first in life. What we say can affect those around us and how they determine whether or not to believe us or not and always how we say it. What do we mean, looking at Carnegie’s words I wonder if some where there is more to communication?

“A world community can exist only with world communication, which means something more than extensive short-wave facilities scattered; about the globe. It means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals.” Robert M. Hutchins

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

Nearly opposite yet both hold elements needed but in order for people to communicate around the world even in another town a common language a common set of words and ideas is needed to initiate thoughts. A critical aspect of this is also knowing that each person may see the world different and be able to work around that and through that.

“The higher you go, the wider spreads the network of communication that will make or break you. It extends not only to more people below, but to new levels above. And it extends all around, to endless other departments and interests interacting with yours.” Donald Walton

I went by Wal-Mart a few days back looking for a very specific item a movie my son and I wanted to watch, no luck, but as we were walking out he and I had both been thinking the same thought. This store was a mini cosmos for this community; the very societal different people were not just shopping, but walking about looking, talking communicating every where. Wal-Mart had become a focal point for this town. I had been to a Wal-Mart Sam’s club recently talking with a manager and other staff. There is a network of communication.
Yesterday as I emailed back and forth with several teacher friends we discussed building a network of teachers and working with that network. As we communicated I could not help but think that wouldn’t this potentially build a powerful teaching tool. What about a parent network where issues could be in the open immediately and clarified and discussed rather than become a sore and fester. Communications such a crucial item in today’s fast paced world and so over looked. Today is a day where a week is nearly over please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

A bit of editorializing – Sorry

Bird Droppings August 5, 2010
A bit of editorializing – Sorry

I was reading in the National Educators news letter several key articles both of which dealt with assessment. I have for many years tried to reflect on my own progression in terms of assessment. During the past eight years while studying under and with a group of professors who very much exemplify the values of education touted at several Georgia Universities and Colleges, is a rather interesting discourse. I have watched in my own views and attitude of what is effective and ineffective assessments grow and evolve especially in the past few months.
Trying to develop a concept of assessment and effective assessment has been in many ways an obsession. Since 1970 I have been thinking about and planning how to assess and evaluate teachers effectively. I have been trying to develop an assessment tool that could effectively measure and quantify the ability of an individual to coordinate and assimilate material to a group of students. In a seminar I got into a discussion with Max Thompson founder and CEO of Learning Focused Schools fame during a training session brought up this fact:

“In Georgia a teacher could teach to an empty room and still have an excellent score on GTAP, the Georgia assessment for teachers.” Max Thompson

Why because you are only in this assessment tool measuring delivery not affect or results of the teaching. In assessing students how often are we doing this? Literally all the time we do this with students as well.
In being a student as well as a teacher and currently looking at how I am assimilating information it is interesting to then apply that aspect to my own students. Many summers ago I would use mnemonics driving to Athens to memorize definitions for a Reading course. I never read the book, which I should not say and since I was teaching summer school 7:30 – 2:30 and in class in graduate school 5:00 – 9:30 each and two hours of driving time each day I had little spare time. I would copy key words this was after knowing how the teacher tested and then write cards of definitions in mnemonics. On eight quizzes seven were prefect scores of one hundred percent, after doing mnemonics. Only one quiz was a lower a seventy five percent, which was the first quiz strictly from memory alone. Do I remember today that information probably not? So was the tool used to assess poor or were the students the issue.
A good point in looking at assessment is: When is the student the issue? I have spent the better part of ten years now in the classroom literally round the clock as a student and teaching. I have seen teacher’s assessments in all fields as I teach summer school and do some tutoring as well. As a teacher how do you blame the student for coming up with a good grade by innovative systems we actually teach them in class such as mnemonics? Are students the reason for problems in assessing? Students do not develop the tests, in most cases so how can they be the issue. Students are an issue if the teacher is unaware of their particular needs and abilities.

“Many times teachers are unaware of abilities through lack of training or simply not interested in finding out and students then suffer. With current trends in education and such terms as Inclusion teachers need to investigate and try and understand the student population they are teaching.” Exceptional Children 69, Barriers and facilitators to inclusive education

I have seen teachers frustrated because they will not make an effort to know their students. Many teachers look at the class through a card board tissue tube. Their view is so narrow it loses focus for its own focus. Sadly this is many teachers. Conversely then to compound the problem many students are looking back again through a card board tissue tube.

“Many teachers have lost their passion for teaching.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

I have discussed with teachers and have had numerous teachers tell me they design tests for failure. That intrigued me. Why would a teacher in designing only provide an assessment tool for failure? A tool to show how much of what wasn’t learned or taught as a test for a class you teach, the amazing logic somewhat eludes me in that case.

“The word assessment is a noun and goes back to 1534. It is defined as the act or instance of assessing or the amount assessed” Webster Dictionary

Defining the word assessment presents a similar issue to Thompson’s example of being evaluated for teaching on simply the process. Is assessment simply the act of assessing? Is the tool merely a process? Somewhere along the line I understood assessment a bit differently. Assessment is a tool a teaching tool. That tool can be used to show where weaknesses are in subject matter so far presented. It can be used to see what information has been exposed and evaluated and assimilated by students. It can be used as a tool to reinforce key ideas and information. Many years ago Mr. Frank E. Bird Jr., my father used the term FIDO as an acronym in teaching a subject.

“The FIDO principle, Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again provides a simple tool for teaching a subject.” Frank E. Bird Jr. and George L. Germain

Current trends in schools are being focused around assessments and many schools are focusing a staff member simply on testing as Federal and State mandates become stricter and tougher with the federal law, labeled “No child left behind”. Within our own school system we have been trained in Learning Focused Schools, a research based program.
Looking at assessment has become an interdependent aspect of each teachers planning. Developing a pre-test and post-test now is required. Georgia Graduation tests and even State mandated End of Course tests are a reality. Within local school systems federal and state authorities are labeling those systems poor schools that do not meet standards in assessments. A clear result as well is testing cheating by schools pointing at one hundred and nine schools in the Atlanta Schools district that have been now investigated for inappropriate testing issues.

“Assessments are being developed to evaluate schools and schools effectiveness in providing for the educational well being of students.” The United States Department of Education

Looking at the last quote are schools and teachers effectively being assessed by an end of course test. A test not developed by the teacher and the teacher is aware of what is on the test but not construction and actual questions. So in effect a teacher is attempting to teach students to take a test they are directly not involved in and will be evaluated on. Perhaps I am a bit overboard today as I sit and write. I was reading earlier an article about children in India, China and US and a movie made about them, Two Million Minutes. The movie was focused on these seniors in high school and their differing views of life and reality. As I think further how can we compare students in India, China and US, the differences in culture alone are a major factor. The apathy within the US in regards to education and the approach used by government to try and play catch up, mandating all children will be at grade level by 2014 according to NCLB is ludicrous. There is never a look at how our culture impacts motivation and learning. Perhaps that is an argument for another morning. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Small is many times BIG

Bird Droppings August 4, 2010
Small is many times BIG

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

It seems like yesterday that I was looking at some power point slides as we waited between committee meetings at Piedmont College. It was my Capstone presentation for my Masters Degree that was the culmination of nearly two years of studies. As I looked at the slides one set of slides is of my son’s old ten gallon aquarium, a nano reef, a mini reef for those less verbally aware. The object is you can have a beautiful salt water aquarium in a small space with smaller creatures. The up keep is actually significantly more than a larger tank because there is no margin of error in a small tank, but when you start looking at these tiny almost insignificant creatures they become breathtaking. In the space of ten milk cartons an entire world exists from a two and a half inch pistol shrimp that lives in a burrow with a three inch blenny a small fish to numerous corals and anemones. Interesting the blenny is very wary and the shrimp is blind, when trouble is coming the blenny pulls the shrimp back in the hole and when a tasty morsel is coming the fish encourages the powerful shrimp to grab it. Life in that tiny burrow is about two tiny creatures working together.
Last year a few days before school was out one of the teachers brought in a tiny green tree frog they had caught we arranged a little cage for observation. Over the years I have found the world close up can be more fascinating the great big world we live in. So often pieces are revealed that may other wise go unseen and life takes on a different aspect and perspective. This morning as I walked about the house the dew was so heavy from the humidity that all of the spider webs were very visible. I ended up taking photos of several with tiny dew drops hanging on each nearly invisible thread.

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it creative observation or creative viewing.” William S. Burroughs

So often we miss the small pieces always intent on seeing the big and little bits of life will pass us by. I recall watching my sons nano reef explode when he would drop in a feeding solution of microscopic particles of plankton and algae it was amazing. I do not even see what the tiny corals anemones and polyps can sense in the water. When they are closed up and appearing dead the animals open into beautiful living things seeking their prey when a food source is available. Nearly eight years ago I was handed a small piece of paper with my name on it written in blue ink and the word in capital letters PASS, written on it as well. That tiny note was the closure to two years of study and a door to another journey as my graduate school continued to unfold. So amazing a small piece of white copy paper can be so significant, for eight years now it has been in a frame in my classroom as a reminder. Please keep all in harms way on you mind and in your hearts.

Rising to the possible or to get the banana

Bird Droppings August 3, 2010
Rising to the possible or to get the banana

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility! “Soren Kierkegaard

The great existentialist Kierkegaard offers a word or two of wisdom in this quote. It has been nearly seven years since in a graduate school class in our groups we were asked what three wishes would we ask of a genie. It was a simple group exercise and had answers that ranged from the obvious to more than obvious. In even that not one wished for “the passionate sense of potential”.

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid of as to getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.” Soren Kierkegaard

Perhaps in life we so over whelming try to avoid what our potential truly is we procrastinate, we deny, we walk away and we literally do all we can to not attain our potential. It could be that we may be afraid of failure. Some may simply not want recognition and others choose to languish for languishing sake alone. It may be that others may bask in obscurity a few honestly may be lost in their journey.
Since I first read and learned of B.F. Skinner many years ago sitting in those hallowed halls at Mercer University in Macon Georgia, behaviorism has been a part of me. While I do not consider myself a true behaviorist I daily see the implications in advertising, in family settings, and in schools. In a graduate class an article was passed out no author could be found and this morning as I do I researched several hundred hits on the internet and found the story but at each try only vague connections to psychology 101. I would like to share this story that shows in life how we stifle each others potential and becoming.

“Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result — all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because that’s the way it’s always been around here.” Author unknown

One internet hit even had he could find no reliable research to prove this in his reading however in life we see this sequence continually. I offered up in a graduate class many months ago that in the teaching field new teachers come to school on day one and are passionate and ready to take on the world and by the end of the first semester they tend to be holding the new monkeys back at the bottom of the stairs. I know water hoses at least at my school are not used. What is it that creates that stagnation in the zeal and passion of teaching? What is it that strips away that search for and desire for “the passionate sense of the potential”?
It is not only in the teaching d field in so many jobs and workplaces. I rationalized all the way home from my graduate class on how this scenario could be changed many years back. You could add a bigger stronger monkey to the group. But in the end that monkey would be worn down more than likely as well and even the water reintroduced as a possibility. Although as I watch in my own school I have never seen any water so far in any way shape or form. Is it removing all the conditioned monkeys I watched that happen and saw it taking place a few years ago and often in the end that too fails. Could it be politics and such as they are in our world? What about making the incentive worth the effort, worth being hosed down even when it is only a glimmer in the training memories of a few? What if the incentive was worth the chance?

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.” Soren Kierkegaard

Anything is possible and it is perhaps challenging us to that end. Since the early 1900’s there has been progressive thought in education. My old friend and mentor John Dewey had great ideas in the early 1900’s. Carl Rodgers, with so many more great ideas, again called progressive which implies a forward thinking movement. Yet one hundred years later what amuses me is John Dewey is still a progressive because tradition won then and now. Recently I read in a journal on education an article on how we need to keep education simple, reading, writing, and arithmetic. We need no change even as federal and state mandated testing demands higher scores and such we struggle with progress in thinking.
In looking at ideas of how to do education, they are there. Our schools use a concept called “learning focused schools”. I watched briefly, very briefly Larry the cable guy on comedy central a few nights back. I could see him borrowing that line “learning focused schools” well what should we call it “failin focused schools”. Ivan Illich writes about “deschooling society” that we have become too institutionalized, too focused we hold each other back. We limit ourselves habitually and often unknowingly. I often fall back on the illustration of an experienced teacher panicking over not finding the masters and overheads for a subject they claimed to have taught for thirty years. Illich points out we have become so institutionalized we see experience the time on a job and certification as the keys never looking at job performance.
We institutionalized the concept and become so limited and what we see is to keep the monkey at the bottom of the stairs rather than let anyone get to the top. We stifle creativity, limit mobility and soon even monkeys who know better that have read Dewey, Fried, Rodgers, Kohn and others have learned the fear of water even though there has not been any in years. Amazing it is behaviorism at its best.

“This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness… they live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die.” Soren Kierkegaard

I wish I started today with a wish by Kierkegard, a wish for “the passionate sense of the potential”. What if we could instill that wish in our children and students and break the cycle of holding each other back at the bottom of the stairs. It may take a few more bananas but even in today’s economy they really are cheap. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Listening to a child

Bird Droppings August 2, 2010
Listening to a child

It has been some time since I was sitting in my class room when a friend came by with her baby brother about six weeks old at the time. There is something about newborns that is so special as she left another group of folks came by and with this group a small child maybe five or six with them. Looking into my room he saw my snakes moving and said he was afraid of snakes, but curiosity soon over came him and he came inside the door as did his mother and sister. The little boy’s mother was drawn to a feather on my desk and soon an hour long discussion ensued.
The interesting part and for me intriguing was each few minutes the little boy would ask a question. I answered many but soon he was interrupting my talk on Native Americans and feathers and I was trying to avoid his questions as I do like to talk. Today as I sit writing listening to Carlos Nakai and watching the sun come up listening to the sounds of the incoming morning it hit me how often we turn our ears away from children when it is them who we should be listening to.

“Head and heart listening requires that we attend to more than mere words. To understand the full meaning of what a child is saying to us, we have to “listen” to tone, inflection, feelings, and body language. By truly listening, we are saying to our children: ‘You are a person of worth. I love you, respect you, and want to understand you.’ Unfortunately, we are often so eager to get our own point across that we interrupt our children with our own ideas and don’t pay enough attention to their thoughts and feelings.” Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Who and where do we find answers from, I think children. We tend to know what is right to do, to learn, to teach and we do it but as I listened to this child a few days ago filled with questions I was too busy to answer and sadly we do this every day. My mother called me a few hours ago and we were talking about my little nephew. He occasionally talks to pop-pop, my father who passed away a little over a three years ago. He really never knew him as he is only about four years old. We so often put aside little children questions, thoughts and dreams and leave them with little more than our own.

“What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” Henry David Thoreau

Yesterday as I finished my day I sat and was thinking about various forms of curriculum and education and as I was reading and jotting notes this Thoreau passage came back. So often we want to simply make everyone like us. Embrace the questions; listen to the words, the thoughts, and emotions. Borrowing from a line I used the other day let us approach education One Child at a Time. We can learn so much from children. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Finding the gem

Bird Droppings August 1, 2010
Finding the gem?

With a little over a week of summer vacation left before reporting for teachers preplanning many differing ideas have been bouncing around my head. I am punishing myself for so little effort in my own writing and reading. While I consumed numerous books and papers and wrote literally daily for hours I am not where I wanted to be. On the bright side I have made many new friends intellectually and been introduced to many possibilities and developed some very concrete directions for my writing effort to flow. MY gardens have done well and I have many new plants sprouting or flowering. I enjoyed the summer intensely but always in the back of my mind could I have done more. It has been several years since I first read this little paragraph.

“Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia, once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The following was one of the winners. As I was driving home from work one day, I stopped to watch a local Little League baseball game that was being played in a park near my home. As I sat down behind the bench on the first-base line, I asked one of the boys what the score was. ‘We’re behind 14 to nothing,’ he answered with a smile. ‘Really,’ I said. ‘I have to say you don’t look very discouraged.’ ‘Discouraged?’ the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face. ‘Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet.’” From the writings of Leo Buscaglia

Over the years I so often am interacting and talking with children and the innocence contained within them is always amazing. Sometimes it the optimism, which we hold onto till somewhere as adults but it is stripped away because we let our guard down or we become discouraged. It is our job to try and maintain that youthful zeal that outlook that lets us see opportunity in the midst of seeming defeat. Maybe we could package a bit of that zeal of youth and make a fortune. Capitalism seems to always creep in. Maybe we could just give it a way and change the world. I like that approach better now that is ethical capitalism.

“I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.” William Faulkner

Sitting here today thinking over events of the past few days I can understand Faulkner’s quote we are a resilient lot and no matter what is thrown at us we can prevail.

“There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.” Rusty Berkus

Too often we find the opportunity of defeat but when expectations are high and when we are expected to succeed more often than not we do. Many years ago I learned to expect the most out of students and that is what you get will expect the least and you will get that as well. This can be said for teachers as well. If students expect the most from a teacher and you may be surprised.

“Rough diamonds may sometimes be mistaken for worthless pebbles.” Sir Thomas Browne

The star of Africa the largest diamond ever found may have been looked over as a large (the size of a baseball) piece of quartz if the miner did not know what he was looking for.

“The greatest waste in the world is the difference between what we are and what we could become.” Ben Herbster

“What you can become you are already.” Hebbel Friedrich

So often we limit ourselves. For some time now I have been thinking about and discussing at what stage in teaching do teachers become stunted I use the term anally retentive loosely as a pun. Interestingly enough I had a teacher asking what I meant. Someone quickly next to me said when you become a little box with no room for more ideas or thoughts, when your vision is so narrow minded and limited you see as if looking through a toilet tissue tube.
I thought maybe there was a class like Limitations 101 or Boxing up of ideas 102 being taught in education departments around the country. But you know what it isn’t just teachers, students too limit themselves. Goals and parameters become fixed so tightly and confined that new and creative opportunity becomes overshadowed by those limits and in an instant we are simply cloning not creating. The potential for greatness is there it is the greater amount we need to see.

“It’s not what you’ve got; it’s what you use that makes a difference.” Zig Ziglar

With a name like Zig Ziglar, you had better be good. I had the great opportunity to hear Zig and read several of his books over the years but nearly twenty five years ago I heard him speak for the first time. His entire talk was about unleashing potential, about seeing beyond limitations, and rising up over the mountains. Dynamic and up lifting as he spoke of selling your self as well as your product in his motivational program. The greatest idea in the world is only an idea till it is used.

“Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.” William James

I am reminded of an old ad for Comcast Cable. In the ad a man in a hospital room with a broken leg is being wheeled out and realizes he will lose his cable. He escapes from the nurse rolling in his wheel chair in front of a truck in which he in the next scene is lying in bed again watching cable with the doctor stating sir you have broken every bone in your body, except for his remote finger as he channel surfs. I laugh as I think how true as so many of us become restricted through our habits.
I recently I received an email from a last years high school senior that questions I had asked were the first time she was challenged to think not since another teacher in ninth grade. Thinking is what this is all about not merely waking up, punching a time clock and returning home. I had a conversation with a student yesterday and that student did not want to be in school. I asked where you would prefer to be. The answer was at home sleeping. So I had to say, what you would accomplish by sleeping. I would be getting rested to get more sleep was the answer. Sadly I have heard this from more than one student and here I am feeling bad when after a twenty hour day yesterday I slept till eight this morning way past my normal wake up normally.
Do we tend to limit, box up, and lose vital sight of tomorrow, of something more than the air around us? Do we get in a habit of simply channel surfing using one finger, one button and blipping through life? When I was a child we had one, maybe two stations and channel surfing was more simply turning on and off the TV as it was. We now have more opportunity and less effort, you had to get off the sofa in the old days to press the on and off button at least. Think for a minute, open your eyes to what is around you try and see the gem inside the rough stone. Do try not to be boxed and labeled and blinded by limitations and lessened expectations as you should not limit those around you. But most importantly keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.