Being human

Bird Droppings September 19, 2010
Being human

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Mother Teresa

Such a simple opportunity for us as humans and we have been given that with recent events be it floods, earth quakes, mining disasters, poverty, and so many more events world wide that impact feeding people. We live in a time when we have plenty often so much more than we need so evident with the greed that has permeated most of our society and extravagances that seem to be on nearly every channels reality shows. I have been watching news stories where entertainers and business people offer a million dollars here and there I am sure Mother Theresa would smile at that. But I am also sure that those of us who only have a dollar would garner just as big of smile from this great humanitarian in her time if we gave our only dollar.

“Abandon wrongdoing. It can be done. If there were no likelihood, I would not ask you to do it. But since it is possible and since it brings blessing and happiness, I do ask of you: abandon wrongdoing. Cultivate doing good. It can be done. If it brought deprivation and sorrow, I would not ask you to do it. But since it brings blessing and happiness, I do ask of you: cultivate doing good.” Anguttara Nikaya

I was going through my files when I found some photos from several years ago. I was taking photos of new construction at our school and as I walked out noticed a plowed spot that had been simply a barren piece of ground it was being cultivated and of course a few more photos. It made me think back in my own life years ago when we moved to a piece of land where over many years nature had reduced the land to patches of cultivatable land between kudzu and over growth. We spent the better part of two years clearing debris and scrub. So that where there was a few acres of cleared land we then had pasture and trees growing. I did allow hedge rows and areas for quail and wildlife however after consulting with my extension agent it was definitely not a clear cut operation. However the old cars and tractors and old buildings covered in kudzu were removed. As humans we need to cultivate our own lives as well through reading and thinking.

“Self-discipline motivated by concern for others: this has been the standard of conduct which I have attempted to reach.” Roger Barnes

Looking at this short statement it is a simple thought yet very deep. So often we focus solely on self and forget there are many others we come in contact with each day.

“So I vowed to keep myself alive, but only if I would never use me again for just me — each one of us is born of two, and we really belong to each other. I vowed to do my own thinking, instead of trying to accommodate everyone else’ opinion, credo’s and theories. I vowed to apply my inventory of experiences to the solving of problems that affect everyone aboard planet Earth.” Buckminster Fuller

This is a big IF ONLY what if each of us adhered to Buckminster Fuller’s adage and tried to solve the world’s problems and not simply our own.

“The charities that soothe and heal and bless are scattered at the feet of man like flowers.” William Wordsworth

Often I have used the illustration of translation and perception with a simple word from The New Testament, Agape. In Greek agape translates as a supreme love, a love of Gods. All with agape, Eros and philos are each aspects and definitions of love. When translating the word in the early days of the Church of England the word was translated as charity in the King James translation. As I read Wordsworth it struck me is not our highest form of love that which we can show towards another at no desire for return a totally one way love a giving.

“Man is harder than rock and more fragile than an egg.” Yugoslav Proverb

“That in man which cannot be domesticated is not his evil but his goodness.” Antonio Porchia

“Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” Albert Camus

Is it who we are? Is it what we are? Is it why we are that causes the difficulties? I have watched the most callous person cry and adorable little girl veer into a banshee wail at the drop of a hat. I have observed human kind in its depravity and in its charity. One day that has stuck with me was walking through the prison ward of a mental hospital. Bold yellow lines separated us from them but the stares went to the marrow of our bones. These were men who had killed raped and pillaged society and were deemed to sick mentally to stand trial and or were sentenced to this place. At one point in their lives each started as a fragile baby, each at one time was innocent.

“A human being: an ingenious assembly of portable plumbing.” Christopher Morley

“The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.” Bertrand Russell

“Ocean: A body of water occupying two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.” Ambrose Bierce

“Man is harder than iron, stronger than stone and more fragile than a rose.” Turkish Proverb

Pieces of a puzzle thrown in a box jumbled mixed up swished around and then scattered about that is the summation of life. We search and search and slowly unravel and discover each piece each facet and as we slowly regain understanding. We find we are little more than when we started if at all, if we are looking for the destination. If we are looking at the journey than each piece each nuance has significance and reason and purpose.

“Man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, and then steps in it.” John Steinbeck

We are the varmint and the trap and the bait which is interesting. Can we change this can we escape this inevitable circular motion that is self perpetuating.

“In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with humans it is the other way around: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.” Anton Chekhov

As I sit here having pondered and wandered this day and ending on a riddle of sorts I do believe we do escape even though rarely. We can regain that butterfly. We can make are way back and not fall victim to our own bait and trap. We can answer the questions and solve the mysteries. We can walk unimpeded midst the yellow lines and stare back. We can if we choose to and if we choose to feed that one instead of waiting to feed a hundred and never feeding any. If we choose to keep in our thoughts those who need our understanding and giving and if we choose to look beyond the caterpillar and see the butterfly in others we can make a difference. But most of all we do have a choice. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

I can’t do it

Bird Droppings September 17-18, 2010
I can’t do it

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi

I was giving a make up test in a literature class yesterday when a student asked why he should even take the test he was going to fail whether he took the test or not. My response was so if you already know you are going to fail at least try and get the best grade you can rather than a zero. Not sure how he did yet but he did finish the test. I came in the school this morning thinking about the attitude of this student who is not alone in today’s increased rigor across the country. How do we encourage kids who are so lost in education?

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. “ Albert Einstein

I wrote several years back about funneling where a teacher picks the key aspects of a lesson in order to teach a topic rather than teaching everything. In Georgia we have the Georgia Performance Standards which is what children are to learn in specific subjects and grade levels. All standardized tests then in Georgia are oriented to the GPS. So teachers know what is coming on End of Course Tests and various other check points and teach accordingly. Teach to the test is the mantra of those of us who have issue with standardized testing as a means of accurately assessing students.
Sitting here listening to students discuss what was in class today or what is coming and most are unaware that anyone is listening. Always amused at how kids can assume only kids hear kids talk when in a room with many people like a class room. I was joking around with my first period co-teaching class about sign language and how back in the day when I taught deaf education for a couple years my students would sign instead of talk. Most were profoundly deaf with little if any residual hearing and speaking was difficult and often hard to understand when they and they would get frustrated since signing was quick and easy for them. It turns out two of the kids in the class knew sign letters and started messaging back and forth.

“The limits of our cognition are not defined by the limits of our language.” Elliot Eisner

Back a few months ago when I completed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate one of my questions was based on Eisner’s ideas on education and art. Eisner looks at education as needing the contextual implications of creativity and imagination to spur on critical thinking and fix the understanding in the student. As I think about my deaf kids from nearly thirty years ago and ninth grade lit kids using sign language I wonder as I read again this thought from Elliot Eisner does language limit us if we let it? I think the confines of a magnetically tracked test scoring grid presents a limit as do machine scored tests. Obviously makes grading easier and of course more measurable. But do we lose something in that simple process.
I went out early this morning as the sun was rising to get a few photos and to sit and watch the smoke rise from a bowl of sage and red willow bark at my feet. An occasional fan with a red tailed hawk feather kept the embers smoking and the light wisp of smoke would glide along the ground in a slight breeze. As I sat in my quiet spot looking east towards the rising sun the fine lines of web from numerous spiders was clinging to the blades of grass and weeds in front of me. Without the sunlight being just right I would never have seen them. It was as if everything was tied together in webbing a line here and there intertwining everything. One of my favorite t-shorts on the back states “we are all connected”. For me this brief moment ion time is meditation, it is prayer, and it is solitude for me where I can clear my head and soul.

“We have inadvertently designed a system in which being good at what you do as a teacher is not formally rewarded, while being poor at what you do is seldom corrected nor penalized.” Elliot Eisner

Eisner hit a nail on the head with this statement and so often it is true. Looking around in schools I have been in it is not how effect you are that matters. Politics, test scores, brownie points are the driving factors for being considered a good teacher. A friend was recently chosen teacher of the year which is an honor since it is selected by the teachers and staff. In her job she touches so many kids’ lives. The impact is what should be a measure of how effective you are as a teacher. When that kid comes back after five years or ten and says what you taught me is being used everyday thank you. That is what really should be the measuring stick of teachers. But it is hard to keep track for a year let alone five or ten. Amazingly enough facebook has been a good tool keeping track of kids I have taught people I have met along my life’s journey. I missed a day yesterday and started this early in the morning as I wandered between schools but by the end of the day my head cold got the better of me and I succumbed to rest. A new week ahead and a week gone by please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

You can wait a minute

Bird Droppings September 16, 2010
You can wait a moment

“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” Franklin P. Jones

I have yet to understand impatience as I experienced a situation yesterday with a teacher that made little sense. I understood what was going on yet within that moment also saw why so many students get frustrated with education. A teacher gave a zero for a paper being after the bell by five minutes and a major paper at that. The student was ready to quit since their grade dropped from a 98 to a 44 in one swoop. So was this teaching a lesson in responsibility, as I sat back and tried to grasp the significance of this moment?

“Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” George-Louis de Buffon

I have watched this same student deal with inept teachers in gifted classes and patience ruled yet what signal are we sending when a student is so destroyed. When you get in the work force things have to be on time or else. Also in the work place printers go down and such as well.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I thought and pondered this morning it hit me why we have so much stress we learn it from teachers. I recall many years ago in fourth grade I was sitting looking at my test paper and the one next to me. I had two wrong and a C and my neighbor had three wrong and an A. I asked what was going on and was told I could do better. My mother questioned the teacher and found I was being graded harder since I was supposed to be smarter. Guess what it back fired my grades in school never recovered. How do we learn patience learn to wait

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” John Quincy Adams

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” St. Augustine

So often references to patience are references to monastic orders and famous monks sitting in silence for many hours or in the case of a holy man from India for 27 years he held his hand aloft without moving in honor of Vishnu. For 27 years when a bird nested in his hand he felt he had reached Nirvana however his arm was atrophied and useless other than for a bird nest but he was happy.

“How poor are they that have not patience!” “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” William Shakespeare, Othello, 1604

Wait a minute perhaps over used within our society is the statement, give me a second I’ll be right with you. Several days ago as I was doing bus duty a parent came up the side of the buses and wanted to turn between moving buses to get their child to school. I do believe several state and federal laws were in jeopardy passing unloading school busses and dodging between and honking at a teacher who is in place instead of a traffic officer the person in charge. Patience is a powerful word and a powerful teaching tool if only we could bottle it and market it.

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” Chinese Proverb

Why can’t we wait at times when appropriate there are times when immediacy is needed but each moment is different as well as each child. How we deal with and handle is different as well this is where patience becomes so critical in each individual moment and each child.

“Experience has taught me this, that we undo ourselves by impatience. Misfortunes have their life and their limits, their sickness and their health.” Michel de Montaigne

“The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I am closing the day again a bit later than normal with a quote from Chief Luther Standing Bear. I have found his words often very profound and current though spoken nearly a hundred years ago. As I reviewed the news today and saw story after story of people doing harm to others I am reminded why I have ended this way for so many years, please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

So much difference in perceptions

Bird Droppings September 15, 2010
So much difference in perceptions

“The delineation of the difference between modern (secular) society and traditional (Sacred) societies and their competing views of land and nature helps to explain the persistence of severe conflict between such societies. Unlike secular societies – where land signifies property, property signifies capital, and capital signifies wealth, status, and power – land in sacred societies signifies connection to family, tribe, and ancestors. Land is furthermore thought of in connection to sacred sites, burial grounds and medicinal plants.” Sandy Grande, Red Pedagogy

Sometime during each semester I get out the toilet tissue tubes and go about demonstrating how perception changes in how we look at things. I once did a poster actually took a picture through a toilet tissue tube and then the same picture with a wide angle lens. It was amazing to see the difference. We each come into the world with previous experiences and understandings. These tend to provide us with the information that we form our perceptions with. Sadly many are very limited in their views. I often wonder how some people walk around seeing so little of the world.
Having grown up in the secular society and spending most of my life following along the pathway that is so narrow within this point of view it is often hard to step off the trail and to see that even another perspective is out there. It has been many years since I walked along trails in North Georgia alone and listened to nothing but the sounds of nature. Today as I left my home this morning and walked to my car the silence was amazing as most air conditioners and other human contrivances were quiet. We had a cool night and above my head looking to the east was the constellation Orion. I listened for several minutes before driving to school.
Commuting back and forth from two schools this semester essentially has me planning twice. I go into my office and room early to get ready for first block and then have a second planning getting ready for third and fourth blocks. By evening after being awake for nearly eighteen hours I am weary. Earlier this morning I released a small ground scorpion that had been captured in the school a few days ago. I took it to a safe place and let the little critter scamper into the rocks.

“Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather; it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent.” Vine Deloria Jr.

I wondered as I first read this statement by author Deloria. Looking back in history it has always been those in the know who held the control literally till the dawn of the printing press. As more information and understanding became available more people were able to ponder the wonders of reality. In my readings of various indigenous peoples a man of knowledge is always held in high regard and honor. In our society as we merge knowledge and power men of knowledge are often construed as bad men. Far too often those who unravel the wonders of the world get greedy and use their knowledge to their own gain rather than of mankind’s.
“Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.” Vine Deloria, Jr

So often we get tangled in the day to day and lose track of and perhaps sight of where and how we are in the world. As I sit listening to the sounds of running water and cedar flute music sometimes it is easy to drift away in thought. Being tired from being up long before most normal folks even consider getting out of bed to try and get ready for the day. Although today perhaps it was a bit too much to stand and look at the sky above me in the darkness lit with stars. I was listening to the quiet of a cool morning. Crickets and tree frogs like it a bit warmer although a few secluded sounds could be heard. Each day I wonder have I done what I could to better this world.

“But the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux

I listen to each student as they talk and ask questions. I try and be civil rather than look down upon often childish questions. I try to hold the words of the young ones as they seek to know. How simple is life if we allow the natural flow of all to travel through us and with us. A little friend of mine just came by to check on the animals. She goes around my room talking to each of the animals and checking if everybody is ok and right now talking to a rug made from the pelt of a timber wolf my father gave me many years ago. I always am amazed at how close small children are to nature. They have not grown weary of listening and ask questions unhesitating one after another until somewhere an adult forces them to stop. Then what was an open zeal for learning becomes in some cases a hatred of school and even reading. Today is a sunny day a cooler day than it has been and most of all a first day to walk a new road if I choose. For over ten years I have closed with please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

The puppy ate it

Bird Droppings September 14, 2010
The puppy ate it

“A new position of responsibility will usually show a man to be a far stronger creature than was supposed.” William James

While on one hand I am an avid fan of not having homework there may be times when it is appropriate and it is those times that so many issues of responsibility pop up and excuses arise. In ten years back in public school teaching I have heard my favorite actually numerous times. I am a big fan of this excuse and always question deeper, the puppy ate it routine. That is since in my own life as a parent one of my sons actually had that happen and we sent the evidence shredded notes and his project in a zip lock bag as evidence. We did not follow the puppy around checking for residue in the droppings however but I have had students suggest that they could bring in the final evidence sadly they don’t know who they are messing with when I say sure just to prove you right go ahead bring it in.

“Mistakes fail in their mission of helping the person who blames them on the other fellow.” Henry S. Haskins

Puppies seem to be number one on the blame list then parents and then friends and or friend’s lockers and of course the car is on the list near the top. I have never quite figured how a car grabbed a homework sheet out of a backpack and hid it under the seat. It always seems there is someone else to blame in this world no matter what the problem. Watching politics currently over taxes and how no matter what way tax cuts go both sides will blame the other.

“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” Booker T. Washington

I have had other teachers walk in my class room and observe students who have been trouble in their other classes and in my room sitting doing their assignments often from another room. Trust is a powerful word but it is also a two way street and one must trust to be trusted and conversely it is reciprocated. I hear far to many teachers say they demand respect or trust from students and that is a sure sign that it is not happening in that room.

“We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until… we have stopped saying ‘It got lost,” and say “I lost it.’” Sidney J. Harris

It is a powerful moment when students begin to trust their teacher and in turn when a teacher begins to trust their students. Miracles begin and do occur in learning when this relationship is attained. Difficulty is when those students do not trust everybody else as trust is not always generalized. Far too many people do not provide the ground work for trust and in effect provide a negative setting which in and of itself promotes a lack of responsibility and trust.

“It is easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of action.” Stanley Milgram

Children learn from example and watching adults who themselves are not trusting and or responsible only promotes that same behavior in children and or students. I always come back to Dr. Laura Nolte’s poem from early 1970’s “Children Learn What they live”. That reminds me to look across my room at my faded hippy day’s poster. I should probably get a black light to bring out the colors.

“When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself.” Louis Nizer

This last quote is perhaps one of the oldest illustrations yet still is so profound and so true. This is definitely one to think about as we go about our day please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Humanistic Capitalism

Bird Droppings September 12, 2010
Humanistic Capitalism

“Corporations must assume an active responsibility for creating a healthy society and a habitable planet—not as a gesture to improve corporate image or as a moralistically undertaken responsibility, but because it is the only reasonable long-run interpretation of ‘good business.’ In the end, good business policy must become one with good social policy.” Willis Harman, Humanistic Capitalism: Another Alternative, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 1974

Is this even a possibility that a corporation would deliberately work to benefit its people and the environment? Would it be possible that a company would not solely operate to generate grossly inflated profits for its share holders who have nothing to do with the company other than buy stock which is purely speculative? As I sit here on a bright Sunday morning wondering after thinking about the idea of could there be ethical capitalism. I may have come to this discussion in talking with my son about a local company in his town that left when the employees unionized and moved the facility to another state leaving one thousand people unemployed. It could have been perhaps a conversation starting with a one hundred fifty million dollar bonus and salary to my health care insurance company CEO did nothing for my own health care except raise my premiums and I was called a socialist for not excepting capitalism. I am amazed at how we have allowed as a society this to happen.

“And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.” Andrew Carnegie

I actually started looking at Social Darwinism that states a similar line to Carnegie. No one else matters but the winner. As I looked deeper in my research and found a few more of Andrew Carnegie’s thoughts it was more of the same.

“Do not look for approval except for the consciousness of doing your best.” Andrew Carnegie

“Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something.” Andrew Carnegie

I have written numerous times about how greed seems to over power and take control in a society gone totally oriented around money and power. Reality shows add to the confusion as kids grow up watching rich teens squander money and very rich adults buy fifty million dollars worth of imported marble for the bar in their hundred foot yacht. It would be easy to say not having a lot of money makes one angry but the point for me is when is it enough. I have helped feed hungry families and house homeless families and seen how far some of our neighbors have had to go to survive. I have helped the disabled apply for and hopefully receive benefits while some people complain about entitlements should be cut and some say even banned all together.

“A second characteristic of the process which for me is the good life, is that it involves an increasingly tendency to live fully in each moment. I believe it would be evident that for the person who was fully open to his new experience, completely without defensiveness, each moment would be new.” Dr. Carl Rodgers

While Rodgers is controversial as I read tonight trying to write read and watch “Date Night”, with my family this thought is significant to me. I thought about how a recent talk with a parent about listening to a coach of six year olds yell and scream at these little kids during a t-ball game and then the parents ask for him to be removed as coach a bit refreshing.

“Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and the older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right. Expressions such as “excuse me,” “pardon me,” and “so sorry” now so often lightly and unnecessarily used, are not in the Lakota language. If one chanced to injure or cause inconvenience to another wanunhecun, or “mistake,” was spoken. This was sufficient to indicate that no discourtesy was intended and that what happened was accidental. Our young people, raised under old rules of courtesy, never indulged in the present habit of talking incessantly and all at the same time. To do so would have been not only impolite, but foolish; for poise, so much admired as a social grace, could not be accompanied by restlessness. Pauses were acknowledged gracefully and did not cause lack of ease or embarrassment.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

It has been so many years since I coached basketball in Macon Georgia and one of the facility’s we played in was an old school gym. The gym was small and had no room inside for parents to sit. Instead they would have t stand outside to yell and scream. This small gym was where all the kids liked playing the best. We instill so early this idea of competition and winning at any cost. Sadly it reflects in all we do and literally infects all phases of our society.
“Just Enough Profit is defined as: Profit that is gained honorably, respectfully, and preserves human dignity; the purposeful distribution of a company’s profits to: promote a higher standard of living for employees, create fulfilling jobs, reduce prices, encourage shareholder philanthropy, and spawn other types of pro bono contributions to society. It also promotes financial openness and transparency.” JEP Foundation
I wonder if one day we could get away from seeking the American dream of Andrew Carnegie since he was only interested in reaching it for himself and anyone in the way was defeated through survival of the fittest.

“With Just Enough Profit, there’s an appropriate balance between three components: consumers and customers come first, employees are second, and the owners and shareholders come last. With this model, everyone wins—customers receive a better product at a lower price, employees receive a fulfilling and rewarding place to work, and shareholders lift humanity and make the world a better place to live.” JEP Foundation

Idealistically perhaps as I read about humanistic capitalism I am wandering into an area that while to me holds some merit will not fly with those who seek to have everything and all at once. I talked with a friend about what about going back to subsistence living and get away from the craziness of our societies grab for greed and power. I am on my way at least with herbs and medicinal plants. It has been an interesting day news wise and around the nation we have various groups trying to grab the spot light from each other. I wish there was a way of removing the greed gene from human beings. Please my friends keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Thinking about where I am going

Bird Droppings September 11, 2010
Thinking about where I am going

“Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path… this is what I must do; this is what I’ve got to have. This is who I am. It’s important to ask yourself, how am I useful to others? What do people want from me? That may very well reveal what you are here for. “ James Hillman

One piece of my day is that I am always wondering am I where I am to be at this particular moment. Each day’s various coincidences lead me to say yes on an on going basis. In a casual conversation I found out one of my students in my new adventure in co-teaching I knew from ten years ago. Having been back in teaching now for ten years I can honestly say I am where I need to be right now.

“Just stop for a minute and you’ll realize you’re happy just being. I think it’s the pursuit that screws up happiness. If we drop the pursuit, it’s right here.” James Hillman

I remember not that many years back when I closed a business, one I had been in for twenty three years and never thought I would be doing anything else. My business failed and I had no other choice but to close. Thinking back I recall trying to find similar work in the publishing trade and being turned down and or not able to get in due to being overly qualified. At one point I actually went to work for eight dollars an hour at a copy shop as a customer service representative.

“I don’t think anything changes until ideas change. The usual American viewpoint is to believe that something is wrong with the person.” James Hillman

“As Plotinus tells us, we elected the body, the parents, the place, and the circumstances that suited the soul and that, as the myth says, belongs to its necessity.” James Hillman

James Hillman has come up in my readings over the years. I was reading, Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore nearly ten years ago and he referenced quite a bit of Hillman and it turns out that Moore studied under Hillman and of course Carl Jung is referenced by both and Hillman studied under Jung and actually was in charge of the Jungian Institute for a period of time. Author James Redfield references all three in his writings as he developed the Celestine Prophecies. The over riding question is, do we have purpose and I have found we ponder this question over and over. For many years I have searched in my thinking, research and reading that there is some grand plan and then I find it could be just that smile in the morning when the students first walk and it brightens their day.
I spent yesterday and some of today pondering thinking about school, an email from a friend who is teaching in Korea, another from a parent of an autistic child and my purpose in life. Each moment all through the day yesterday and today each aspect of my weekend seemed directed. Be it mowing grass, trimming the bushes, watching the Tech football game reading for grad school and in all I pondered purpose. Today is an anniversary of so many things for me including coming back to teaching. It is easy to remember the bad things this date brings forth but a true memorial is looking at the positive. As I am listening to various news stories and interviews while the destruction of the Twin Towers was a horrible event and one I wish had never happened it has created and evolved all of us into who we are now. Nine years ago I started teaching again after a twenty three year lay off

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Charles A. Beard

I do recall that first day of class five years ago as much of it spent in lock down and most of us were confused as to what was really going on. It was many days later I really thought about what day I came back to teaching. Charles Beard was a historian and often a controversial one at that. Commenting that Roosevelt brought the US into World War II for economic recovery was a pretty strong statement in its time. Interesting historically that has been the case several times over. When I first looked at his quote I was thinking about little children being afraid of the dark and night time and several times when out with youth and trying to ease fears of darkness I would use stars as a focal point and it does have to be dark to see the stars. But in life so often we lose sight of the stars until trials and tribulations show in contrast and we again can view our own stars. Folks they are there today with all going on it is often hard to see the shining stars but rest assured they are there and they will be shining when we need to see them.

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

Sometimes it does take shifting gears, so often I watch parents and teachers simply approach an issue just as it occurred sort of like fighting fire with fire and generally the flames just get bigger. Technology is a great tool and many teachers are still fighting to avoid or to prolong their lack of certification in technology.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

As I talk with teachers it is not so much the task of manipulating a digital camera or power point but the imagination that is required to put it into action. How can I use this in class? Is the most asked question. How can you not should be the real question?

“Men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.” George Orwell

“Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute.” J. G. Ballard

It was not that many years ago some teachers argued against white boards versus black boards and for a long time chalk dust ruled. We have access to tools for education that can enhance and multiply learning often simple tools.
I had a student who is functionally illiterate yet could in a few moments generate powerful PowerPoint presentations on most any subject pulling from his own stash of photos and knowing where to go to find more. I have had several teachers argue is he really learning? I recall many years ago I had an essay as an assignment 250 words he stopped at 181 and asked if that would do. When I first met him years ago when I first asked for an essay his two lines of type were a different language. He could read it back to me which was strange in and of its self and for a while I found I could decipher his words but we worked on it. He found to get to point B on a computer you had to be able to read this essay of 181 words I read and anyone could have read and I still have it filed away to remind me that maybe I am in the right place. I credit his reading teacher as well who had been working with him but now reading has context for him.

“However far modern science and techniques have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson: Nothing is impossible.” Lewis Mumford

Years ago I recall my father telling me if we could think of it, it was possible. We need to embrace that notion in education and in learning because it is true. Limitations often our simply those placed on a child by a teacher some where along the way. They can’t do it is a challenge or should be to prove that person wrong.

“To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle.” Confucius

“Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

We tend to allow others to provide our own interpretation of the world albeit teachers in a class room. Teachers need to be the most imaginative and open people alive. I enjoy this quote of still waters reflecting. Often I refer to setting the example, students can become a mirror image of what they see and hear and can limit there own intake of reality on what they have been shown and seen.

“The way we imagine ourselves to appear to another person is an essential element in our conception of ourselves. In other words, I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” Robert Bierstedt

I hear fifty times a day; I am stupid in my class room and or in the hallways. Even in the lunch room occasionally you will hear that statement. Many times students feel that from teachers. My immediate response is generally since when or as compared to whom. Then I get serious and ask why they think that. Several years ago during a summer school session one student caught my attention. For several sessions and during regular school classes I had emphasized vocabulary in the science classes I taught. The goal of “the not yet” program was to get 60-69 percent grade students passing in two weeks of intense classes. They had one class mine and only could get to a 70 percent on their transcript in this program. But they would get credit and not have to retake the entire course. All students took a pretest and post test which was each of the various departments’ final exams. In three years everyone passed who my attended classes most with very good grades and we concentrated on vocabulary. Every day I would do a pretest of that days words and every afternoon a post test.
In four years never a student who did not improve till this one he would get a 20 in the morning and a 21 in the afternoon everyone else would average about 80. I tried talking and he had a very low self esteem about school. I tried different approaches and one day technology using a LCD projector and a power point of our vocabulary words. That day he looked at power point several times when he had a chance and his after noon quiz was a one hundred percent. Each day there out as I used power point as a tool for him all other grades went up as well is that a simple solution, but perhaps in how he sees or perceives that bigger version made a more of an impression.

“Pictures help you to form the mental mold…” Robert Collier

Each person is unique in how they perceive and see the world

“I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream. I can remember this very clearly.” Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Grandin is considered to be one of the leading authorities on animal handling in the world. She has designed and engineered 75% of the commercial livestock handling facilities for commercial packers in the United States. She has been recognized by animal rights groups for her ethical treatment in design and development and has written college texts on animal science. She also is considered a world leader in autism as Dr. Grandin is autistic herself.

“People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet. I was very lucky to receive very good early intervention with very good teachers, starting at age 2 1/2 years. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher. A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. Some teachers just have a knack for working with autistic children. Other teachers do not have it. If you find a good teacher, hang on to him or her tight.” Dr. Temple Grandin

Going back to my student who through Power Point learned vocabulary, it is using ideas and imagination in dealing with students. It is about opening doors finding that one thing that works in that one instance and looking for other solutions as well constantly. “There is no single magic bullet” as Dr. Grandin states. But if we keep are eyes and ears open we can find another and another and all children can have the opportunity to succeed. So as I search for my own purpose in life and we remember all those who lost their lives this day I ask as always to please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Culture is far more than just a word

Bird Droppings September 9, 2010
Culture is far more than just a word

“Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that thought comes before speech. In the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect. More powerful than words was silence with the Lakota.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

Culture is those pieces of which we are that others see when we are in their presence. It is how we eat and what we eat. It is how we honor and respect others and or not respect others. Culture is a combination of learned and practiced behaviors all that come together and make us an individual, family, community and nation. In a world as diverse as we live in now it becomes cultures rather rapidly as the melting pot of humanity that is the United States perhaps more so than any where else in the world has attracted peoples from around the world.
My father as we grew up told many stories of the various Indian tribes around the country some of which he heard from Code Talkers that his LSM shuttled back and forth on landings in the South Pacific during World War II. The Code Talkers were Navaho who would use their native tongue send encrypted messages across the Japanese lines and in the years they served in the Pacific the code was never broken. My father became good friends and his stories of Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle have been passed now to his grand children and great grand children.
It has been nearly fifty years since I was first exposed to a hatred I had never seen before. I headed to Texas after flunking out of college my freshmen year. I was trying to not get drafted more so than staying in college, since a student deferment was one of the few ways to avoid getting drafted and I was not interested in getting married. Back in the day Plano Texas was in the sticks about twenty miles from Dallas and really a hole in the wall. We had a pizza place and a Dairy Queen and that was it. So we students who hailed from all over the country would frequent one of the two options on a regular basis. On one particular day I went in and several for real cowboys were sitting there with wads of tobacco in their cheeks and discussing the hated Indians and what they would do if one came in the Dairy Queen. About that time one spit right at my flip flop shod feet. Seems college students were only one step up from Indians in this narrow minded world of Plano Texas in 1968.

“His strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling. 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

Over the past weeks I have written about illegal immigrants and racists and the entire for me issue of how is it we can not see others as human beings. Standing Bear makes a statement that hits hard it is the silent man who speaks the truth and the man who was always speaking who needs to be not taken seriously. In a school watching students interact there are those who sit quiet and those who never sit still I was joking earlier about a student who is more like ADHD on Steroids bouncing off the roof and never still. It is the pondering and reflects of the silence that allows us to draw wisdom to the surface and can provide more meaningful interaction. Far better than the noise makers on talk shows who spout off just to hear themselves. Sitting in my room at school with R. Carlos Nakai flute music on my stereo and the sounds of running water I am in my sanctuary and comfortable as I write out my days thoughts. Perhaps when I clear my head from this cold I can get on a better track in terms of getting my droppings out earlier in the day. I wish we each could remember to keep all in harms way on our minds and in our hearts.

Our wonderful world of paradox and confusion

Bird Droppings September 8, 2010
Our wonderful world of paradox and confusion

“What can we surmise about the likelihood of someone’s being caring and generous, loving and helpful, just from knowing that they are a believer? Virtually nothing, say psychologists, sociologists, and others who have studied that question for decades.” Alfie Kohn

Yesterday in my co-teaching class we were discussing what was the first thing you ever were afraid of? The idea actually tied in with the short story, The Birds and one or two of Edgar Allan Poe’s that were in the lesson. One little girl very calmly said her first great fear was in church. The pastor was yelling about going to hell if you did not believe. I recall a meeting while in seminary so many years ago while doing an internship at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville Georgia. At that time Central State was one of the largest mental hospitals in the country. Having worked with severe and profoundly disabled children and adults and having been a liaison between our camp program and the State Hospital in Pennsylvania one summer I had been in wards several times of all sorts.
One of my associates in my seminary discussion group was literally in tears that he could not save the souls of so many children. I was curious fortunately I was younger and l was less experienced or I would have called him a fool. He had been in a ward of severely brain injured and in some cases brain less children. Most were kept alive through tubes and ventilators at the request of parents. Some were twenty years and older and looked much like infants as they lay in clear plastic tubs. Each had a series of wires and tubes keeping them alive and they were turned every so often to prevent bed sores and bathed and diapers changed. My group member seeing these children was taken back and in his mind since they could not ever accept his believe they were doomed to hell. Over the years I have thought back to that scene so many times. Not once were the nurses and doctors who cared for these children mentioned. How difficult is it to work in a ward such as that one?
I hear the news each day of churches wanting to burn the Quran or church protesting gay rights and picketing military funerals. In all honestly I see a great bastardization of what this faith had started as so many years ago. Somewhere along the line religion has a way of like so many things simply becoming a business.
“These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection.” Vatican News Release
Historically the church took over during the middle ages controlling the written word and most of the civilized world. Wars were fought in religions name and fortunes made as the wars raged. Sort of sounds familiar. It took some rather intelligent folks to put religion in its place as the constitution was framed. A total separation of church and state became law. There are days I wish there could be a separation of education and state and get politicians out of educational doctrine. Sadly I think the issue runs far deeper as I look again at Alfie Kohn. In his writing Kohn addresses parents and teachers and stresses that it is not about the rewards that we seem to often provide as a means of getting children to do what we want.
“You have to give them unconditional love. They need to know that even if they screw up, you love them. You don’t want them to grow up and resent you or, even worse, parent the way you parented them.” Alfie Kohn

It has been a few years since I wrote about unconditional trust. Very people ever get to that point in their lives. Most people can only talk about it but as I read Alfie Kohn’s note we do not want them to grow to teach like how they have been taught. So I am sitting here ending a day battling a cold that according to kids in my co-teaching class is bubonic plague please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings September 7, 2010
Teaching can be successful

“The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.” Ted Sizer

I received an email yesterday or I should say a response to a facebook post I shared from a friend. The video clip I shared was directed at the Teach to the Test mentality that is sweeping education due to high stakes testing being mandated by states and federal law. A young man a recent college graduate stated he could not get a job because his method of teaching was more hands on than what administrators were looking for. I am co-teaching with a new teacher in Literature for ninth grade and it will be interesting to see if we can make literature come alive for these kids and still comply with the End of Course Test requirements of the State Standards and County guidelines.

“A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk

“Too much emphasis has been placed on reforming school from the outside through policies and mandates. Too little has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within.” Roland Barth

Just a few days ago I addressed the fact we are educating more diversified students in the United States than anywhere in the world. I borrowed from Black Elk a Lakota Sioux Holy Man who passed away nearly sixty years ago. Black Elk believed in the power of visions. Roland Barth was a professor at Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. His book Improving Schools from Within, was a best seller in 1991. His latest book Learning by heart, addresses the need for school reform and changes and that they need to come from changing the culture of schools. As I read both pieces and thought a Sioux holy man talking about making a vision real and a renowned educator saying we need to look within in order to elicit change maybe we should be listening to them and not politicians.

“Rarely do outside of school remedies work their way into the fabric of the schools or into the teacher’s lives, and more rarely into the classrooms. Therefore they only offer a modest hope of influencing the basic culture of the school.” Roland Barth

“Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.” Thomas Sergiovanni

“The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way.” Theodore Sizer

As I ponder my various authors I am reviewing and borrowing from today Barth, Sergiovanni and Sizer in the quotes above. These men are all innovators and have made significant and powerful suggestions about education across the nation many school systems use the concept of learning communities that Sergiovanni promotes in his writing. I know that Roland Barth’s ideas are taught and re-taught in graduate schools nation wide and teachers seldom leave college without hearing the name of Ted Sizer. What concerns me is why is it with the potential to change education we seem to be in a rut and really going no where different. Why do we continue to know what to do to better educate kids and then do not do it. I wish an answer were simple to place in writing but I see blame as being in the leadership of schools. I see blame in school boards and in state education boards and eventually at a federal level. As the ideology leaves the classroom it goes from being real and meaningful to being business and is it cost effective? Can we afford this? Should we spend dollars on this? Somewhere children get left out and learning gets sat by the roadside.

“To cope with a changing world, ant entity must develop the capacity of shifting and changing – of developing new skills and attitudes; in short, the capability of learning.” A. DeGues, The Living Company

“The challenge of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

“You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision…A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops. The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge

Dr. Peter Senge is a professor at MIT and renowned scholar in the field of learning. His books and theories are used in management schools and education studies. The idea of a collaborative effort in learning falls back into many ideas that have been mentioned in previous droppings dealing with Foxfire and John Dewey and the democratic class room. Students learn more when it is relevant to them and they have some buy in. Proust provides that we need a new perception to see rather than using the same old mythology to view education and learning. We have to develop new skills not just use what is available. Although John Dewey’s ideas are still considered progressive and over a hundred years old.

“We learn best from our experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shred visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from non-conformity, the ability to turn your back on old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesteryear for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We mist dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara African leader

“Schools are among the very few institutions that have remained almost entirely unchanged for most of this century.” Judith Aitken

“No other organization institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school.” Peter Drucker

“Today’s Schools are not Tomorrows Schools. That’s a fundamental misconception.”
David Lange

Author, speakers, management consultants, professors, educational leaders and each of them a great teacher in their own right have been outspoken for years about our schools and learning. Why do we let politicians decide what our students should be learning or how we should be evaluating these students? Why do we put arbitrary numbers on children with disabilities as to who can and who cannot exempt or not exempt state mandated tests. One IQ point separates two students one who because they cannot pass the High School graduation tests is and receives a special education certificate of attendance and is counted as a drop out because they did not graduate and the other by submitting a portfolio of what learning occurred in high school graduates with a legitimate high school diploma and is a graduate. One IQ point separates the two and how they are assessed.

“The overwhelming number of teachers …are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do.” Alfie Kohn

“It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather… I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Haim Ginott

“In teaching students to think the emphasis is not on how many answers they know. Rather, the focus is on how well they behave when they don’t know.” Art Costa

I recall reading Alfie Kohn for the first time in 2001 at the suggestion of my principal who had formed a book club. The title of the book is The Schools our Children Deserve. As I read through these authors and quotes last night as I researched for my morning wanderings I wonder can we ever really change the industrial complex that drives education? Can we unseat lobbyists and politicians who seek profits at the cost of our children’s learning? I wonder as I finish up today if we can overcome.

“In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shared visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

I started and end with a vision. “A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk The great spiritual leader Black Elk spoke of his visions and Peter Senge offers a shared vision. I was once told it took leaders who had vision to truly lead and I wonder if we can find those people within education who care enough about children and about learning to pave the way to a new understanding and realization of our educational system. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.