Longing for the simplicity

Bird Droppings December 17-18, 2010
Longing for the simplicity

My reading and writing has taken a beating with the getting ready for the end of the semester and three trips to Florida to see a grandbaby. Of course nothing would have stopped me going to see our grandbaby. But I am looking forward to my son moving back this way and having three weeks of catch up. I have much gardening to do and a lot of research and reading and writing to catch up on. It is always that I find solace in my Indian readings and in their understanding of life and reality. Perhaps it is my great grandmother’s influence that draws me to this and various other bits and pieces of my life’s journey along the way. The air is not as cold as I walked out into the early morning hours a few minutes ago silent as it still is a bit cold for tree frogs and crickets.

“For the Lakota there was no wilderness, because nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly, Lakota philosophy was healthy – free from fear and dogmatism. And here I find the great distinction between the faith of the Indian and the white man. Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

After a week of testing for End of Course tests here in high school, teachers are on pins and needles and with student’s grades in classes counting on a passing grade on the test tensions run high. Teachers too are reviewed based on these batteries of standardized tests. Sadly Georgia may go soon to a standard that twenty five percent of a student’s course grade is the EOCT in those classes with the tests. The subject knowledge of students will be focused on their capability of taking a computerized test not truly on whether they know the material or not. Content not context is the rule of thumb in political arenas. We as a dominant society continually have to prove our worth be it through conquest in olden days or testing as it seems now. A constant struggle to show we are the best.

“There is no ‘happiness index’ for the children in our public schools, and certainly not for children in the inner-city schools where happiness is probably the last thing on the minds of overly burdened state officials.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young teacher

A good friend using a combination of context and content achieved very well with his students on the Biology EOCT. His combination of hands on and relevant experiments in his biology class provide so much more than a cramming for the test that is down in many schools and in so many classes. Several times during the semester he will bring his students by to see various animals as they are studying or grab a beaker of algae water from my turtle tanks. I think as I read the quote from Jonathan Kozol I was thinking of Foxfire and kids wanting to be in classes and teachers that kids want to go see and classes they want to experience. Many the times, I will have kids walk in my room and ask what class do you teach I want this class. Although I am tired right now and my exuberance is exhausted as we wind down these last few hours before the holidays I am still pondering next semester.
As I was getting ready to leave school yesterday a former student stuck his head in the door. “The room has not changed much”, as he peered around checking every nook and cranny and in my room there are many. We held a nice polite conversation catching up for several minutes and I was amazed while still hyper and fidgety he was calm. The inner anxiousness was gone. No one can ever say he is not hyper active but the sadness that permeated his day seems to be at least in a major way lifted. He was smiling from ear to ear and telling about college and a possibility of four A’s and art work he was working on including one of me holding my grad daughter. We walked over to see another teacher friend of his and talked the entire time catching up on five years he had been my student and a year now in college. A simple visit and my day was made. He photo hangs in my room one of him walking across the stage and the other showing his award from the state department of education for his award winning essay last year. I have shared with many his poignant essay of getting read y to go to his brother’s funeral. In showing to hundreds of people many who did not know him always a tear is shed.
As we talked I shared with him a discussion with another visitor just before he arrived. She is heading to Spain and Italy for spring semester to study abroad. Another favorite student although she was never in my class we talked often and we spent ten minutes talking about her up coming trip. As I talked with her I mentioned seeing “the Pieta”, carved from marble by Michelangelo. In 1964 which was one of the rare visits out of the Vatican for this work of art when it was displayed at the New York’s World Fair. I waited in line nearly an hour to see this magnificent piece of work. As I walked by I explained my feeling to these two students visiting at t=different times yesterday. I felt warmth as if you were waiting for Mary in white marble to breath. I wanted to touch the hand of Christ to see it was soft rather than cold stone. I had never been moved by a piece of art work as much as this had touched me.
Somewhere along the line I have heard art, real art is when you can convey a tiny piece of what you felt and saw as you created the work. Not just show another version but allow an individual to see a portion of what the artist saw as the stone was chiseled away. It is said Michelangelo could see his work in the stone. The quarrymen would call for him as a particular piece of rock was unearthed and quarried. Some he rejected but when he chose a piece of marble the creation was not to make a something for others but to reveal what was in the marble. I thought back to my friend and his essay and how he conveyed a tiny portion of what he felt to everyone who read that story. Perhaps the reason he seems happier is that he has allowed us after so many years to understand a small bit of who he is and why. My morning is closing about me and there are many things to do to get ready for my grand baby’s arrival so please this holiday season keep all in harms way on you mind and in your hearts.

Words can be significant and or meaningless

Bird Droppings December 15-16, 2010
Words can be significant and or meaningless

We seldom when we open our mouths to speak really think about what it is we are going to say it sort of just spills out. Occasionally we wonder I wish I could have held on to that word or used a different word. Others often do not hear the word the way it is intended or perceive the thought in a similar vein that we were thinking. Working in public school we face daily kids who have limited vocabulary which much of is learned at home. Standing in front of a group of kids offering an answer only to find you need to explain the answer can be difficult. I was going over a test in literature with some students and most did not know words that were answers to question. How do you answer a question about the meaning of a word if you do not know the words in the answers? Over the years I get responses from folks who read my Droppings and one is a good friend from Texas Dr. James Sutton, a leading speaker on Psychological disorders with children.

“Your “droppings” got me to thinking this morning. To me, existential means the basis for existence, which involves many things, I suppose, and it does have implication into the education process. (For instance, I describe a certain kind of behavior in young people as “desperate behavior.” It’s existential because I believe some youngsters feel they HAVE to do what they do, or something terrible will happen … like they’ll evaporate or something … i.e. cease to exist.)

I got into some conflict in a university faculty lecture talking about this stuff once because one professor jumped on the word “existential” and tried to take it all in a whole philosophical direction. I guess the point is that the words we use are important sometimes … especially if they can be misinterpreted.

Experiential (to me) means to witness for oneself with the senses, and to be able to draw conclusions based on the experience, such as what Montessori taught a century and a half ago. (Isn’t it always interesting, Frank, how we think we come up with so many new ideas, only to find out that good teachers like yourself were doing these things hundreds of years ago?)” Dr. James Sutton, Child and Adolescent Psychologist

On a simple basis two words perceived totally differently yet intertwined for some and radically different for others. As I read and ponder about education and life in general I find how we receive a word from another person often may have been not exactly as they intended. As we move through the scope of human kind in advertising and politics which are very similar, words are being molded and placed in positions and times when they can most impact a certain population. Pondering as I do I can not but help think about my little grand daughter and words she may hear as she grows up. For it is in words that she will learn to read and write at some point in her life. It is in words that she will describe her feelings to her mother and father as she gets older.

“These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward.” Albert Einstein

Over the years I have found Einstein’s wit and wisdom very interesting and powerful. As I read this I started thinking here is a man who was thinking of things that had not been named yet. No words were attached to the thought as he pondered… which in many ways provides freedom. In a spiritual light American Indians would call what they could not describe as the great mystery while n other parts of the world a definition soon was attach to any conception of a God that might come down the pike. Soon thousands of God and Goddesses wandered about each with a new name and title and definition. Why is it we so eagerly need a definition and a name for whatever we come in contact with? Perhaps this great thinker is a good example he chooses to wait till later to attach words and sort of wallow in the beauty of the idea first.

“How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.” Black Hawk, Sauk

“Words alone cannot fully convey the realities of the soul or the greatness of the human spirit.” William Shirley

In today’s headlines the word entitlement can convey a negative meaning and yet as I read the paper a group of high school activists in Georgia in response to some Georgia legislators implying that the Georgia HOPE scholarship is not an entitlement as the State looks at reducing the amount awarded to students.

“If it’s not an entitlement, stop advertising it like it is. We are beaten to death in high school that HOPE is there and that we need to do is maintain a 3.0 and our tuition is covered. We should feel entitled to this because a promise was made.” Hira Mahmood, Georgia Students for Public Higher Education

In my own high school we have scholarship contests. Each advisement is encouraged to have students apply for and try and receive as much in scholarship including HOPE as they can. Students are pushed to maintain that 3.0 grade point average because they will receive HOPE. Across our state students in high school and in college are concerned as legislators make suggestions for this program. It is such a simple word, entitlement, but for some a bad word and others it has significant meaning.

“Once I was in Victoria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with interest. We are Indians and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.” Chief Maquinna, Nootka

For several years I wanted to find a copy of a book, To Walk the Red Road, Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwa People produced by the high schools students at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. It is not a fancy book but one of few words and many photos. The photos are all black and white and many over a hundred years old. In 1989 Dr. Kent Nerburn was the project director and with the students in his classes accumulated and found the historical information that became this book. It was a combination of providing a vehicle to instill pride in their history and to give some relevance to their literature and language classes. In 1965 Elliot Wigginton used a similar approach developing with his students what would become the Foxfire magazine and books. I am saddened when a student has a difficult time conveying what they feel due to a lack of vocabulary or an inability to put it into words. Listening to students it is that sixteen hours away from school where most of their understanding and language comes from. How can we as teachers promote improving vocabulary at home?
It is our language that drives us and our society. It is the words we choose to use that indicate to others feelings ideas thoughts and dreams. Trying to provide each minute a means of conveying understanding and new words to students occasionally feels frustrating as the stumble and slip and fall over context and content. We finished up our End of Course Tests for this semester and our schools over all grades look good. In the midst of higher averages than previously are still those kids slipping through the cracks. I will admit the cracks are getting smaller but it is still sad to watch a child flounder in his own language and words. Well today I get to announce the acquisition of a new room pet or two. My son found two axolotls for me and while pink and almost transparent they are pretty cool. This amphibian is one that maintains its larval stage for its entire life. It never leaves the water. So I end today with a vocabulary word for all those Scrabble fans that need to use an x for a good score. So for today teach someone a new word of meaning and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Why do we even have public education?

Bird Droppings December 13-14, 2010
Why do we even have public education?

“Instead of seeing these children for the blessings that they are, we are measuring them only by the standard of whether they will be future deficits or assets for our nation’s competitive needs.” Jonathan Kozol

On the front page of our main local paper several articles all related to education and all discussing cuts to funding. One is based on a popular scholarship program funded through State Lottery funds which the scholarship committee is chaired by a represenitive who opposed the lottery to begin with back in the beginning how ironic is that. Our newly elected governor hit the ground with education in his sights for funding cuts and in same article proposed cutting corporate taxes. Somewhere in this logic seems lost.
As I read the article it is interesting how the arguments of college tuition rising and costs of education increasing for college students seemed to be in a way misrepresented. The state cut funding to state colleges over the past eight years which forced state colleges to raise tuition which lead to increases in Hope scholarship funding which was set up to cover cost of tuition for state colleges. Funny I recall a similar pattern in Florida where the lottery was billed as a saving grace to education in the beginning and as the years went on state funding to education was cut and eventually lottery funding was cut and many programs once lauded nationwide were gone.
While a staunch supporter of public education there are times when I raise the question should we even have it? Why not be a nation of an educated elite and a subservient uneducated mass who can then run the industrial complex which we no longer have. So quickly we forget there is little industry left in US, although Wal-Mart is one of the leading employers in the nation so everyone can now work in service and retail taking care of the educated elite. I am being caustic about our educational situation and so many attitudes towards it. I personally believe in the public education system in the US it might need some tweaking but it has produced many great individuals and it is still one of the greatest in the world.

“Many of the productivity and numbers specialists who have rigidified and codified school policy in recent years do not seem to recognize much preexisting value in the young mentalities of children and, in particular in children of the poor. Few of these people seem to be acquainted closely with the lives of children an, to be blunt as possible about this, many would be dreadful teachers because, in my own experience at least, they tend to be rather grim-natured people who do not have lovable or interesting personalities and, frankly would not be much fun for kids to be with.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young Teacher

I think where I am having difficulty is we so often grasp at straws and the loudest brightest new idea that comes down the pike at least this is how it seems in education. Talk to any teacher with experience and they will joke about the cycles in education. We have started a new math curriculum in Georgia that is wreaking havoc on students. The particular text we are using has no explanations in it only problems. So when a student goes home to do for homework say fifty problems and if the student does not know how to do problems and asks a parent unless the parent knows how there is no way to help the student.

“I am more and more convinced that we in the schooling game have no idea what real learning is about. It is no wonder that we embrace every so-called new idea that comes down the pike, and yet nothing really changes. We are the proverbial dog chasing its tail.” Dr. Grant Bennett

I thank Dr. Bennett again for a morning quote that I could use. I started on an idea the other day as I finished up my Bird Dropping about perhaps looking at the bottom end of the spectrum rather than always looking at the top in education. How do we help those who always seem to fail or not succeed in school? Within our own school we have added graduation coaches and other supplemental staff to work with high risk students. But still we are working to attain a goal based on best students and not on potential or rationale that has mired this or that student in the bottom end of the educational barrel.

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” John F. Kennedy

I think there are issues with semantics and understanding as to what we deem success in education or in politics, battle, or the gaining and or lack of wealth. At our state level we continue to talk about raising the bar even though many are still failing. Raising the bar does nothing to improve those who can not attain the bar to begin with let alone those who will self defeat as standards and challenges get more strenuous. So often the test scores of various countries are compared and we are somewhere not near the top and politicians want to be at the top. In many countries of the industrialized world education is number one and somewhere around twelve years of age those going into trades and those going into secondary education part ways. Effectively we are testing all children in the US while many other countries are only testing those who are going into college. I had a friend who taught in Korea for a year in an exchange program. She made the comment that Koreans children planned on three hours of homework each night. There was not time for TV or video games or phone calls and texting it was serious and all about education.

“We are the children of this beautiful planet that we have seen photographed from the moon. We were not delivered into it by some god, but have come forth from it. And the earth, together with the sun, this light around which it flies like a moth, came forth from a nebula….and that nebula, in turn, from space. So we are the mind, ultimately, of space, each in his own way at one with all…..and with no horizons…” Joseph Campbell

As I walked my dog these past couple mornings yesterday for the first time this winter snow flurries were still flittering around along with heavy winds and today just bitter cold as the temperature was below fifteen degrees without chill factor. I went looking for quotes to use today and found this statement by Campbell. As I thought of Dr. Bennett’s words and those of Jonathan Kozol it seemed to filter through Campbell’s thought. Education is not a static closed ended entity but vast and limitless and individually unique to each person and student.

“Life’s a journey not a destination” Steven Tyler, Amazing

For a number of years I have used this simple quote by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. The song it comes from is one of addiction and pain and in many ways this is Steven Tyler’s journey back from addiction. I keep thinking to education and our continued effort trying to get to the destination without the journey. It is always simply a quick fix.

“You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk” Steven Tyler

Who would have thought Steven Tyler took Human Development. Sort of reminds me of Piaget and I have always been a big fan of human development with each aspect of our lives passing through stages one stage after the other. I keep thinking back to my original thought of education and should we even have public education. Many people want education to be clean and neat all children learn the same and no child will be left behind yet each child is totally unique and then problems arise. Publishers can not cost effectively produce books for each student needs and curriculum people can not provide the multiple disseminations of a subject in a way that teachers can efficiently teach. We coined a great word in education diversification. In classes we are to diversify and teach to every level of student. Technically that is nearly thirty different levels if we have thirty kids in class. I was pondering a program we have for mentally impaired students entitled The Georgia Alternative Assessment. Basically the State standards are taken and tasks that sort of meet that standard are employed to evaluate a students capabilities meeting that standard. So in effect a student on GAA might have two standards to have tasks applied to in biology and is checked at various points during the year to see if there is progression and a portfolio is compiled and then graded. Several millions of dollars are spent evaluating these portfolios and then if standards are accepted by evaluator student can receive a high school diploma. Sadly a student who does not meet MI qualifications has to meet same standards as a college track student. Quite a bit of differentiation.

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.” Dag Hammarskjold

Sent as a delegate to The United Nations in 1949 he was elected Secretary of the UN in 1951 by a near unanimous vote he presided over the UN in its early years and many world tribulations. During his time in office we had the founding of Israel, the Korean War, and the independence of countries world wide along with the spread of communism in Europe. As I read Hammarskjöld’s words this morning I found this as well.

“Tomorrow we shall meet, Death and I and he shall thrust his sword into one who is wide awake.” Dag Hammarskjöld

He lived each step on his journey to the fullest and it was these words that he wrote as a young man that embellish his tombstone.

“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.” Henry Miller

So often in life we come to a place where do we walk across the field or do we follow the edge of the field safely. Some will choose to go the shortest distance between two lines and walk abruptly across never looking at the newly planted field and seedlings sprouting leaving trampled crops beneath their feet. Others fearful of being in the open choose immediately to walk the edge staying close to the woods for safety. It is a choice and we make them daily. The direction of your own journey is based on your choices each day.

“It’s not what’s happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it’s your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you’re going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny.” Anthony Robbins

“Nature is at work… Character and destiny are her handiwork. She gives us love and hate, jealousy and reverence. All that is ours is the power to choose which impulse we shall follow.” David Seabury

As a teacher and learner I travel the pathway always looking trying to see all I can in my travels. I am constantly reading on how to improve my own teaching and that of others. I am always trying to understand who and what I see and why. I try to instill that curiosity in my students as they travel their own journeys and for me it is always about the journey.

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I will have to continue another day looking further at should we have public education. Please my friends keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.


Sometimes there is no concrete answer

Bird Droppings December 10-12, 2010
Sometimes there is no concrete answer

“Obsessive search for the holy grail through only that which can be measured and documented effectively diminishes the sacred and leaves us standing empty without souls.” Dr. Grant Bennett

A day or two a go I got a bit carried away and wandered into about two thousand words on what is it about great teachers and why can’t we teach that. Well in my discourse I did not really solve the dilemma but a response from a dear friend, a former professor in my graduate studies and middle school gifted teacher got me thinking. I recalled a scene from an Indiana Jones movie where the old knight who has guarded the Grail for hundreds of years has an evil Nazi officer trying to pick the Grail from hundreds of cups. He chooses a gaudy and elaborate chalice and soon feels the pain of his error and he disinegrates before our eyes. (movie special effects of course) Shortly thereafter Indiana Jones has the same situation and chooses a simple plain cup to dip from the water of life in order to save his father. For hundreds of years we held an idea of a fancy embellished chalice as the epitome of the Grail and yet it was a simple cup that so often was not even seen. Looking back at Dr. Bennett’s thought in education we have sought the holy grail in testing, in curriculum, in various new fangled gimmicky full of trappings programs and maybe we truly missed the secret of good teaching and education.
I had to sit back ponder and think about my response a bit to Dr. Bennett’s follow up to my note of the other day. Seldom do I skip a day in my meanderings although we did drive over three hundred miles yesterday after school. I got down to Florida late yesterday evening and of course we went to see the grand baby “Charlie” and took her to see her daddy and some of her parent’s friends at Chikfila. As we picked up everyone my daughter in law gave me a book by Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young Teacher.

“Its a humbling experience but I think that it is a good one too, for someone who writes books on education to come back into the classroom and stand up there as the teacher dues day after day and be reminded in this way be reminded what it is like in the real world. I sometimes think every education writer, every would be education expert and every politician who pontificates as many do so condescendingly, about the failings of the teachers in the front lines of our nations public schools ought to be obliged to come in a classroom at least once a year and find out what it is like. It might at least impart some moderation to the disrespectful tone which so many politicians speak of teachers.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young teacher

As I started this book by Kozol one of the first letters discusses that first day of teaching we all went through. I over the years have had several as I moved from Pennsylvania and my first teaching job to a program I stated in Macon Georgia and then to a school in Warner Robins. But the day I recall most vividly and actually forgot about was when I started back after nearly twenty three years a way from teaching. I started on a Tuesday in September of 2001. Just by chance it was September 11th. For most of the year had you asked me what day I started teaching I would have responded the weekend after Labor Day. However my principal one day came in and said what day did you start and I pulled out a calendar and sure enough my first day was spent in lock down. I was replacing a teacher who had a nervous breakdown dealing with the EBD kids that I was thrust into.
So here I am had not taught a day in twenty plus years and stuck in a room I should say locked in a room with ten kids who all had been in jail or were on probation still. What do you do? Curriculum was out the door and over a few minutes we had our windows covered and all outside contact severed. Here I was with ten kids who were actually some of the worst in discipline referrals in the school in a tiny room for about five hours. I winged it and we got to know each other. It wasn’t long till those kids were coming to my class and not going to others which of course did not sit well with some of the other teachers whose classes they were missing. I thought about this and still at times wonder why was I being successful with them and another teacher had a nervous breakdown. I come back to perhaps it is not something we can actually put a label on but an easy word to use is relationships. Teaching is about relationships it is about building and maintaining them. I went out of my way to know these kids beyond the fact they were all jailbirds or into things most kids in high school would have never thought of. After my long dropping of the other day another note from a high school friend who taught Literature in high school in Pennsylvania for thirty six years loving every minute of it.

“Anyway…your point is well-taken. What makes a great teacher? I can honestly say that many teachers at Scott influenced me: Joey Inners, John Kerrigan, Dave DeFroscia, Joan Tuckloff, and, of course, Miss Cristoforo. They made classes come alive; they went the extra mile; they touched my spirit and made me realize what I could do if I worked hard and applied the talents I had. I think Mark Twain said: Teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theater. I think he was right. If the students like a teacher, they will walk through fire for them. One of my favorite activities asked students to write a quick note to a teacher who made an impression on them, thanking them for what they did. It was the best assignment ever. Here’s a salute to all of the teachers who have influenced me.” Beckie Backstetter Chiodo

My father once told me that teaching was entertainment as well as imparting knowledge I am sure he had read Twins comment as much like me he had a vast quote library saved up which is sitting on my book shelf and I do borrow from occasionally. My father taught about industrial Safety and Loss Control and was in his day considered the leading authority in the field. He lectured in most parts of the world and often spent months teaching for example in South Africa to mine safety folks or in the Philippines or Australia. I went into a lecture many years back when we had an affiliation with Georgia State University and held many of the courses nearby. This course was in I think the Down Town Ramada Inn and I stepped in to watch the master at work. He was lecturing about a topic and to make a point he got down in a three point stance and said hike and charged up the next yard or so of carpet. My father was a lineman in college and even in his sixties was pretty imposing. He lowered and raised his booming voice. He used many learning tricks we teachers still use to help his classes remember ideas. A famous one in safety is ISMEC. Identify, set standards, measure, evaluate and correct or commend a simple acronym and it became a mainstay of Loss Control management.
I recall another idea from my father when he visited a plant the first place he went was the maintenance shop. He would talk to supervisor and ask where they saw issues. Many the safety guys that would question my father about this tactic. His response was this was ground zero for knowing where potential major loss will occur. In the maintenance shop doing repairs for example repeatedly for a specific shift or piece of equipment will indicate a potential problem waiting to hit. I started thinking that this could apply in a school. Several possibilities what teacher writes most referrals for seemingly inconsequential reasons? You can not teach by referral. Look at remedial classes are there similarities with kids who are there? Did they have the same teacher? Did they come from the same school? What is their life at home? Far too often in education we start at the top and go down. I have found the gifted kids even without a teacher will do great. I am being somewhat sarcastic. As I am reading Kozol’s book and now interested in looking at others of his I am sure I will be borrowing ideas but I would like to leave today with this idea should we start at the bottom or the top in trying to solve educational problems? I am no closer to finding the solution to how do we tell a great teacher but maybe some food for thought. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

There is an aspect you can not teach teachers

Bird Droppings December 9, 2010
There is an aspect you can not teach teachers

“Studies suggest that instructional and management processes are key to effectiveness, but many interview and survey responses about effective teaching emphasize the teacher’s affective characteristics, or social and emotional behaviors, more than pedagogical practice.” James H. Stronge, Qualities of Effective Teachers

I have been a student in classes with and have heard over the years many great teachers. If I was to put a characterization on those individuals it would be they could communicate and relate to their students. There was an affective, emotional and social interaction that brought relevance to their teachings. I first gained a serious enjoyment of literature from a professor at Mercer University in Macon Georgia who stood up on a desk and began reciting Shakespeare in his overalls. He had studied Shakespeare in Great Britain and acted in Shakespearean theatre while there. I was enthralled and for the first time in four or five years of college received an A in a Literature class. This professor went on after his tenure at Mercer to work with indigent farmers in rural Georgia which was his true passion.

“Why does everyone seem to have a story about how one special teacher got through to them, and reshaped their life forever? Could it be that teaching is just about the most important job in the world? And could it be that in the end, the challenge of fixing Americas schools comes down to putting great teachers into classrooms and giving them the tools they need to do what they do best.” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

Sitting here a bit later than I have been the past few days as my schedule is mixed up today a bit. I knew I had planning first block and well I could sit and write. I went outside into the nineteen degree cold twice with my dog earlier and the sky was perfectly clear. Stars everywhere and every constellation I know just glowing. I could imagine early people on this spot hundreds even thousands of years ago looking up and seeing what I was seeing and imagining a hunter, a stag, a warrior, and dragons all emblazoned across the sky. But my experience does have some implication to my topic today as to what it is that in inherent ingredient in a great teacher.

“If we can’t identify the best teachers by comparing their credentials, we face an obvious and crucial question: How do we define a good teacher.” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

It has been nearly five years since I finished my Specialist degree at Piedmont College. When we sat in our cohort that first day we were introduced to a thirty or so page document that at that time was labeled the STAR that was to be the basis for our degree program. Basically it was a rubric to determine whether or not a teacher was proficient excellent or distinguished and so forth. The rubric was loosely based off of work done by educational consultant Charlotte Danielson who now heads up the Danielson Group based in Princeton New Jersey.

“An effective system of teacher evaluation accomplishes two things: it ensures quality teaching and it promotes professional learning. The quality of teaching is the single most important determinant of student learning; a school district’s system of teacher evaluation is the method by which it ensures that teaching is of high quality. Therefore, the system developed for teacher evaluation must have certain characteristics: it must be rigorous, valid, reliable, and defensible, and must be grounded in a research-based and accepted definition of good teaching.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

“When teachers engage in self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation, they become more thoughtful and analytic about their work, and are in a position to improve their teaching. Evaluators can contribute to teachers’ professional learning through the use of in-depth reflective questions. By shifting the focus of evaluation from “inspection” to “collaborative reflection” educators can ensure the maximum benefit from the evaluation activities.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

The major goal of the Specialist program was for each of us to leave Piedmont as Distinguished Teachers. Somewhere I actually have a medal on a blue ribbon showing that I am a distinguished teacher. There is a catch to this being a great or distinguished teacher does not stop the day that it is anointed on you. This is literally who you are not a degree or piece of paper. But what makes a great teacher different and what is it that gives us these great teachers? According to the Danielson framework there are some specifics.

The Framework for Teaching:
Components of Professional Practice
Domain 1: Planning and Preparation Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
• Demonstrating Knowledge of Content
and Pedagogy Demonstrating
• Knowledge of Students
• Setting Instructional Outcomes
• Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources
• Designing Coherent Instruction
• Designing Student Assessments • Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
• Establishing a Culture for Learning
• Managing Classroom Procedures
• Managing Student Behavior
• Organizing Physical Space
Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities Domain 3: Instruction
• Reflecting on Teaching
• Maintaining Accurate Records
• Communicating with Families
• Participating in a Professional
• Community
• Growing and Developing Professionally
• Showing Professionalism
• Communicating with Students
• Using Questioning and Discussion
• Techniques
• Engaging Students in Learning
• Using Assessment in Instruction
• Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness
From Danielson Group website:

So often we need to confine our ideas to lists to easy to understand bits and pieces so we can check off what we have done or will do. Danielson’s four domains are significantly more than most twenty minute walk through that are the standard in Georgia. But still there are pieces that can not be pinned down so easily. James Stronge in his book, Qualities of Effective Teachers has a few that stand out.

“Effective teachers care about their students and demonstrate they care in such a way that their students are aware of it.”

“Effective teachers practice focused and sympathetic listening to show students they care not only about what happens in the classroom, but about students lives in general. These teachers initiate two way communications that exudes trust, tact, honesty, humility, and care.”

“Effective, caring teachers know students both informally and formally. They use every opportunity at school and in the community to keep the lines of communication open.”

It might sound a bit silly but I am bothered when a teacher says they could not live in the community they teach in. How do you ever know your students if you only see them and experience what they experience eight hours a day. So often it is hard for teachers to break through the shell of teacher student barriers that are presented and held in place by tradition and often school policy. Teaching is not just standing in front of a group of students and lecturing for two hours. Generally most are asleep within the first ten minutes. Relationships need to be developed and cultivated that can bridge gaps. Emails to parents, communications with students and parents to let them know you are concerned. In all of my undergraduate and graduate years I only seriously remember one very bad professor. He would come in put the text book on his podium and then read it to us. When the bell would ring he would fold his book closed and leave. His office when open was rather cold. One girl I recall went to him for some help and came in sat down and he stared at her for twenty minutes and never said a word.

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block, Ethics and Curriculum

Perhaps it is remembering the worse case scenarios of bygone years and multiplying them over and over in our heads that we conceive of and develop what is the way things should be. I think I came to my idea of what makes a great teacher by comparing the worst and best and seeing the vast difference in learning that occur. I did not need research and data to see kids were reading who used to be illiterate. I did not need a check list to watch people come away from a great teacher with the conversation still going and carrying it to lunch in the commons at Mercer or over dinner at Piedmont or Georgia Southern.

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

It is so easy to throw out the word passion and try and point to ourselves and say we are passionate teachers. But you can see quickly the difference between the also run and the passionate in life. As I wander today I have been a fan of Savannah College of Arts Literature Professor Mary Aswell Doll’s thoughts and have used them numerous times as references in papers on curriculum and education. This illustration of an electric current running through us combined with Fried’s passion and these are components of a great teacher.

“Curriculum is also … a coursing, as in electric current. The work of the curriculum theorist should tap this intense current within, that which courses through our inner person, that which electrifies or gives life to the persons energy source.” Mary Aswell Doll

You have got soul. Many the time I have heard that remark in reference to or about someone. One of the experts on soul is Thomas Moore who has written numerous best sellers about this often ambiguous subject.

“Soul is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with the depth value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or something to do with immortality. When we say someone has soul we know what we mean.” Thomas Moore

Soul cannot be taught it cannot be bought and it cannot be traded for. Moore uses some words here going a bit beyond Stronge’s qualities of a great teacher. Depth value, relatedness, heart and personal substance these are attributes are also pieces of who a great teacher is. A great teacher has soul might be my next point. Over the numerous years of teaching I have heard teachers say they have been called to teach. I sort of wandered back into teaching. Finding it was where I was meant to be. Parker Palmer offers to teachers that there is sacredness in our undertaking.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the “secret” that “sits in the middle and knows” – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Maybe I should have stopped a few hours back but being in my sanctuary here at the school in my class room without students for a couple of hours and I get a bit carried away. I want to stop with a thought that no door can remain closed. We as teachers need to be about self improvement, becoming students as well as teachers learning and reflecting so that we can always become better at our undertaking. We are critical links in our societal endeavors and it is crucial we hold up our end.

“I used to think that any door could be opened. Some stood freely open, some could be opened easily; some were harder to penetrate. Sometimes you had to knock, sometimes bang, sometimes charge; but always the door could be opened.” Susan Thomas Anthony, Walk With Spirit

I started this many hours ago and here I am bringing to a close an unfinished work. Hopefully over the next w=few days I can address this idea of what makes for a great teacher but until that time please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

It is all in how we percieve it

Bird Droppings December 8, 2010
It is all in how we perceive it

“I love a people who have always made me welcome to the best that they had. I Love a people who are honest without laws, who have no jails and no poorhouses. I love a people who keep the commandments without having ever read them or heard them preached from the pulpit.” George Catlin (1796-1872), Artist and Chronicler

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can remember growing up seeing the fascinating prints of George Catlin’s paintings of American Indians throughout the US. Many of his images are all we have of tribes that in later years were decimated through disease and slaughter by white soldiers. Catlin saw a different people than did most. So often we all tend to misuse our perception we see only what we want to see and not what is really there. Perhaps it becomes difficult to tell the difference as we tend to push our own ideas on others.

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist

This is an interesting outlook from one of the worlds leading biologists. It still becomes how we each see this amazing world. Some will go at life seeing how much they can squeeze from the earth much like an orange being put through a juicer. Others see as Dawkins does “a sumptuous planet sparkling with color”. Many of the authors that reflect on Native thought look at the interconnections and how they are so critical to our continued existence.

“I know that our people possessed remarkable powers of concentration and abstraction, and I sometimes fancy that such nearness to nature as I have described keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with unseen powers.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Dakota, Medical doctor and author

In the movie Wounded Knee, Dr. Eastman is depicted being trained as a physician in the late 1800’s one of the first Indians to go through medical school. Dr. Eastman was the attending physician at to the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. His views were conflicted by his immersion in the white culture and yet as he grew away from this his writing tried to show the other side, the Indian side. Yesterday I was sitting in my co-teaching class of ninth grade literature. We were going over the idea of free verse and developing that into Haiku. The lead teacher flashed an image on the wall one of an owl sitting in a tree and I listened to the various comments from the group as to what they saw. Ideas varied and often would be more about a color or shape that they were reminded of. It became evident to me that as we talked it became evident that our ideas come primarily from our experiences. Even the teacher of the class being a young fellow with limited experiences was limited in what he was adding to the talk. I went back to my own writing as I was free writing as we discussed.
I saw a duality as I viewed the picture of an owl. Using native thought in which from tribe to tribe owls are viewed differently. My dear friend who is Creek believed owls to be a harbinger of death. Other friends from western tribes see the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. So in my own thinking I see wisdom and fear as parallels running along together never quite touching but also flowing in a symmetrical pattern that ties the two together.

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda

Being a fan of Carlos Castaneda even though controversy surrounds his writing I recall several stories in his books of various times when his mentor kept after him to look deeper not just what was presented. He might being seeing an owl sitting on a post but what Don Juan his guide would say would be to look into the owl beyond the owl what is there that is meant for you to understand. As my friend feared owls I came to embrace the calls at night often calling back to the great horned owls that would nearly surround me in the early morning hours calling to each and to me.

“All civilization in a sense exists only in the mind. Gunpowder, textile arts, machinery, laws; telephones are not themselves transmitted from man to man or from generation to generation, at least not permanently. It is the perception, the knowledge and understanding of them, their ideas in the Platonic sense, that are passed along. Everything social can have existence only through mentality.” Alfred L. Kroeber, The Superorganic

A very deep thought and as I ponder this morning perhaps the novel of a group of young boys marooned on an island comes to mind. All civilized thought seems to pass away and instinctual and survival modes kicked into gear. It is the thinking processes that are passed on. As I watch students in school one comes to school already reading and one is not even ready to read and when you look to the family each child came from you see one where education is a key and the other where it is simply mandated. I was talking with an assistant principal at one of the local high schools yesterday about just this thought. We teachers are often considered the bringers of education, morality, normalcy, commonality and who knows what else when we only have one third of a day for less than two hundred days a year. It is that sixteen hour syndrome of another perception that so often dislodges any sort of attempt at helping a child find a way in life and so often then carries into school especially in older years. In ten years of teaching and working with emotional issues at a high school I have yet to find a student who also did not have some sort of contributing factor from home.

“There is, perhaps, one universal truth about all forms of human cognition: the ability to deal with knowledge is hugely exceeded by the potential knowledge contained in man’s environment. To cope with this diversity, man’s perception, his memory, and his thought processes early become governed by strategies for protecting his limited capacities from the confusion of overloading. We tend to perceive things schematically, for example, rather than in detail, or we represent a class of diverse things by some sort of averaged “typical instance.” Jerome S. Bruner, Art as a Mode of Knowing

As I read again this thought from Bruner it makes more sense we tend to after several experiences establish a mean and mode of experiences and then treat each new experiences based upon the average. Rather than embracing a new experience we simple take it as what has happened previously and soon you find students saying I am bored. We as teachers have not expanded the perceptions of our students to see the details that are presented. In a hurry to teach and get through a specific amount of material in a given time we too form averages and then teach to averages and soon a world full of simply averages exists and there is no longer a bell shaped curve but we are flat lined.

“Every man feels that perception gives him an invincible belief of the existence of that which he perceives; and that this belief is not the effect of reasoning, but the immediate consequence of perception. When philosophers have wearied themselves and their readers with their speculations upon this subject, they can neither strengthen this belief, nor weaken it; nor can they show how it is produced. It puts the philosopher and the peasant upon a level; and neither of them can give any other reason for believing his senses, than that he finds it impossible for him to do otherwise.” Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man

Sadly so sadly as I finish my journal for today this statement is true. We all tend to so strongly believe in our own perceptions we disavow the possibility of any other even when we know it is so. But our perceptions are based only on the experiences previously held and if those are limited by averages as in paragraph above then rather than a “a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life”, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently describes we have just a boring façade that never changes and never goes anywhere. I wish for each of you to exceed the mean and mode of what you presume to be your perceptions and for a day or two try and see more and hear more and do more. As I end my daily sojourn as have for nearly fifteen years now please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Looking to Nature for answers

Bird Droppings December 7, 2010
Looking to Nature for answers

As I read and ponder a world engrossed with money and how we can spend money I wonder if perhaps some of the thinking that is bringing so many American Indians back to their more traditional world views has merit. I was beginning to look at a book written by the creators of Waiting for Superman, a movie about public education. I first when reading a book look at the index to see who does the author borrow from and quote this to me often a precursor for my continued reading of that book. I first caught notice of John Dewey and went to the page that mentioned John Dewey. All that was written was that John Dewey taught that experienced based education was the way to go. Jean Piaget had six words while Arne Duncan had ten or so pages and even Bill Gates had more than that. I did not see one innovative educator in reference anywhere. Most were advocates of the privatization of education or people who were foundation heads and provided money. Sadly no where was really innovative education being considered.

“Black Elk saw the earth becoming sick. The animals, the winged ones, and the four legged ones grew frightened. All living things became gaunt and poor. The air and the waters dirtied and smelled foul.” Ed MaGaa, Eagle Man, Mother Earth Spirituality

Black Elk was a teenager during the battle later know as the battle of the Little Bighorn, in which Custer lead his four hundred or so troops to battle the combined forces of Sioux and Cheyenne numbering over two thousand. Black Elk had a vision as a young man that would be later translated by his son and recorded by John Neihardt in a book, Black Elk Speaks. This quote is based Eagles Mans thoughts on a piece of the vision and yet how prophetic are the words. Looking back in recent history we have polluted rivers till they smell before we do anything. In Ohio a river caught fire from the pollution. Most recently the great oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and today an article on the massive clear areas on the bottom of the Gulf. Dead coral and other normally alive areas are devoid of life. We issue smog warnings in most major cities on a regular basis. Acid rain strips paint from cars and kills frogs.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I was walking on the beach over the past weekend in Panama City Beach Florida. As the sun rose I was alone with the water, wind and pelicans flying along the edge of the water. There was a silence even as the waves rolled in and wind blew. There was calmness amongst the surroundings that put me at ease. As I gazed out into the Gulf with my back to the civilized world I could imagine this place before the tourism took over and high rises and condos sprang up.

“Although we can expect great progress from the greening of technology and the inventivness of the human spirit, we should not allow ourselves to be beguiled that information and technological advance will be sufficient.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

Perhaps I think too much and ponder too much as I sit here writing. I do believe we can accomplish a new world and a new way of seeing our reality. It will take each of us perceiving life differently than we choose to now. I wonder if that is even possible.

“The more knowledge we acquire, the more mystery we find…. A human being is part of the whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a person nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to see this completely, but the striving for such an achievement is in itself a part of our liberation and a foundation for inner serenity.” Albert Einstein

In this world of ever changing technology and innovations what is new today will be antiquated tomorrow. Albert Einstein knew this as he offered the statement above. Einstein was a man of vision and thinking beyond what most of us will ever comprehend.

“Because the world at large does not get enough exposure to feminine principles such as acceptance, emotional expression, and peacefulness, we have moved to far from center and are therefore contrary to Nature’s plan. Humanities patriarchal track record is dismal at best. We need to remind ourselves as individuals as a culture, that aggression and intimidation are not our only options when something does not go our way.” Ed MaGaa, Eagle Man, Nature’s Way

In my life time I have not known a true time of peace in the world. When I was a tiny child the Korean War was being fought as a teenager and young man Viet Nam and in more recent years we have been fighting in the Middle East for nearly twenty years. In my studies of history I have found that all wars have an inherent base cause of money. Stories go that Lyndon Johnson continued Viet Nam to provide business for US companies. Historians will write about our effort in Iraq as a war for oil. Greed has been a driving force in literally everything we do.

“It is not only important to walk down the path that creator has set before us; but we must walk in the way. The way is all the little things one does along the path. What kind of product is being produced? Is there a large pile of money? Is there a pile of accumulated physical things, such as cars, houses, property? Are there many degrees and awards on the wall? All of these things can be used in a positive way. Possibly, when one accumulates them as a means to a positive end, they can be certainly good. However if one accumulates them as an end; this may be not so good!” Susan Thomas Underwood, Walk With Spirit

I am often reminded of a line from a song by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. “Life is about the journey not the destination.” So often I forget and start seeking that destination and forget that so much is along the pathway. Opening my eyes and listening a bit more carefully there is much to see and hear. Here in Georgia we are in the grip of a winter freeze and temperatures have dropped below freezing. This morning I will bundle up as I head to school and try and educate a few children. Last night I watched Braveheart the story of William Wallace of Scotland in the late thirteenth century. An interesting tale while part fiction it has some truth. A man believed in freedom and fought for it dying betrayed by his own countryman. A bit away from my journeying and writing but as I think and ponder. Another day and as I have for so long please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

A new life

Bird Droppings December 6, 2010
A new life

By Susan Thomas Underwood

The universe is energy in constant motion.
There are ebbs and flows;
Outcomes and income,
And change…… Always change.

The physical world reflects this motion
In the cycles of life,
There is spring and fall, winter and summer,
Birth and death; and rebirth…

Einstein proved that even time is relative
In his theory of relativity,
All is relative …. All is change
You can count on it.

Be then as the willow;
Learn to bend with the wind!
Always dream, though your dreams may change.
Always produce, though your product may change.
Always love, though your love may change.
Always live, though your life will change.
You can count on it!

Susan Thomas Underwood is a native Oklahoman, Shawnee, and author. I saw her book of thoughts, Walk with Spirit on Amazon.com and thought I might take a look. This was a very special weekend for me and my family. We welcomed a grandbaby, my youngest son and his wife received into their blessings Charlotte June Bird on Thursday December 2 around 4:30PM Central. My middle son asked his girlfriend of over a year if she would marry him and she accepted and wedding plans are under way. My nephew and his wife received a special blessing in the birth of their son. As an extended family we received so many blessings these past few days. As I read this first entry in Underwood’s book I thought to my own existence these past sixty plus years and changes I have been through, as a son, parent, husband, father and now grandfather.

“The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, the summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me. The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me. The strength of the fire, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me and my heart soars.” Chief Dan George

Dan George was a Salish chief from Canada and an accomplished actor later in his life. Some may remember him from Little Big Man or Outlaw Josie Wales. But he was too an eloquent speaker and poet. He often spoke of nature but also of the intertwining of life. Of the roads we each travel and cross many times. I spent most of the past weekend watching, observing, holding and photographing my new grand daughter. Each gesture and smile was a first for her. How we as family respond and encourage her will be how she continues to respond.
As a teacher being a grand parent becomes teaching job number one, not so much to have her belief or think as I do but to provide pathways for her to walk and learn on her own. Our journeys in life are not always smooth going and it is being able to offer a hand when needed. Watching my grand daughter and son as we went for blood work the bond that has been made in a few short hours is one of a lifetime. Watching her mother hold and talk softly whispering as she carefully touch’s her eyes, nose and cheeks is a bond that is impossible to break. During a brief moment or two I was peering through the lense of my camera as my grand daughter in a matter of seconds in her grandmother’s lap made a series of facial expressions almost as if she knew I have grandma wrapped around my ever so tiny finger now. As the orator and actor Dan George stated so many years ago, “they speak to me and my heart soars”.
A new week and a new grandbaby it is all happening so fast. May peace be with you all in the coming days and may we all keep all in harms way on our hearts and on our minds.

Can we find responsibilty

Bird Droppings December 3, 2010
Can we find Responsibility

As I begin my morning of writing and wondering and first morning as a new grandfather the idea of responsibility sort of crept up on me. We live in a world of passing responsibility off to another generation be it natural resources, fiscal, educational, philosophical, judicial, military, and just about any other issue that you can consider. This is not some new human inability to deal with but an aspect of which we are that has been developed over some time. As family ties have been broken down and survival became a back seat event to accumulation “who has the most stuff”, we lost responsibility.
In my life time I have watched efforts to destroy wilderness loom up and always at the effort of someone who is out to reap a profit. It is not a betterment of mankind but a quick fix of accumulation to add to the growing self centeredness of humankind. There are many attributes to humanness that provide us an ability to if we sincerely try tale responsibility for and successful provide a world for our children and grandchildren that they can make choices about and benefit from rather than a world that is dying and issues that literally will eventually destroy life as we know it.

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have life itself.” Walter Anderson

Once before I used a quote from Walter Anderson and found an intriguing situation as I research the man behind the name. Walter Anderson is many people I found literally in that on my search I found a noted commentator and an artist who could have possibly made the statement above. Which if these said the words is hard to tell although as I read I would like to think this is the Walter Anderson whose brush strokes and colors emblazoned his art work and scenes of the Gulf Coast in wild vivid paintings.
The artist Walter Anderson was born into wealth and art and he studied the fine arts in college and was awarded scholarships to study aboard. In his travels became fascinated with the primitive cave art of France and Europe. He succumbed to mental illness and depression in his 30’s and spent the later years of his life alone painting on Horne Island off the coast of Mississippi. We know his art from the thousands of paintings drawings and sketches found after his death in his homes and cabin. You can read the words above and look at his work on the following website:


“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson

Responsibility is a big word and one that can affect us for ever. I keep looking at the words above and thinking of a man alone on an Island painting feverishly getting his ideas to canvas and I think of students in a class trying to deal with what are sometimes the obscurities of modern education. As a teacher you try and point toward responsibility and “whatever” is the response always that classic catch phrase of teenage vernacular.

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” Joan Didion

“The ability to accept responsibility is the measure of the man.” Roy L. Hunt

Daily as I work with teenagers I see a correlation between accepting responsibility and self respect or self esteem. I do not have specific data to back that up but a gut feeling that the child who states so glibly “whatever” as a catch all for their existence has little if any self respect and or self esteem and very often does not except responsibility in any shape or form. This seemingly simple concept carries far beyond the high school and into the halls of Congress. It seems few consider anything past the now and self interest.

“We have a Bill of rights. What we need is a Bill of responsibilities.” Bill Maher

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” Stanley Milgram

As I wonder about the concept of responsibility and that it is so true we want to teach it yet strip it away as well. In a modern school so many teachers want to be the boss, the head honcho and what is so funny I have that on a name plate sitting in my room given to me by students in the 1970’s, Mr. Bird, head honcho. We tend to strip away responsibility as we demand authority to and or demand respect. I learned many years ago respect can never be demanded only earned.

“We are accountable only to ourselves for what happens to us in our lives.” Mildred Newman

This concept of accountability to ourselves is one that I find interesting and the degree to which we hold that varies according to what you are used to and have experienced in life. What is acceptable to me may be totally different to someone who lives within the limitations of a limited income, different culture, and as I think back to how they are in turn raised as a child.

“When we have begun to take charge of our lives, to own ourselves, there is no longer any need to ask permission of someone.” George O’Neil

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Ronald Reagan

It has been nearly ten years since I worked with indigent families operating a ministry that helped provide food, clothing and shelter when needed. I met a fellow who had diabetes however he did not truly deal with his diabetes which is point one. THIs fellow like the artist Walter Anderson who started today’s journey suffered from mental illness though he did not recognize it. After a severe car accident left him with a broken hip and unable to work I was called in as the motel where he was living was getting ready to kick him out. He was still in bed from the broken hip when I met him and still had on the hospital gown from several days earlier when he was dropped there by a local hospital service.
So here I was meeting this fellow who was a chain smoker and obsessive compulsive to a point the cigarette ash was literally in a six inch pile by side of the bed. I helped this man and a long story ensued but I will cut it short and make it quick. This man wanted to work yet as he tried different jobs things would happen as his diabetes was ravaging his body and brain. His personality would show or flare up might be better and his mental condition slipped from a cover he could present and he would be fired.
After getting to degree of health and on disability the urge to work was more than he could handle and he worked at a factory for a few days and was injured. A piece of metal punctured his foot and with neuropathy from diabetes he did not feel it. He walked all day with a piece of spring steel through his foot and bleeding in his shoe. As the event played out several days later a severe infection ensued and several more days and a partial amputation of his foot. Now he could not work and accepted to a point his full disability. Why should I even tell this story? This fellow if he is still alive I have not had contact in four or five years lives today in Texas and takes care of himself. We may question how and why he does and I hear so often that welfare and handouts are wrong yet he can not work and in many situations no one would let him work for more than a few minutes.
Responsibility is a big undertaking. I read Ronald Reagan’s statement and thought to recent IEP’s and discussions in educational settings and to a few students I currently have. So many times we as teachers are guilty in regards to student’s actions yet we want them to be responsible. We set in motion the events that create incidents and actions and the student is held as irresponsible.

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will his personal responsibility.” Albert Schweitzer

“You must accept responsibility for your actions, but not the credit for your achievements.” Denis Waitley

Sitting in front of the computer this morning wondering about the day ahead to be responsible for my actions but not for my achievements a very difficult and almost inhuman task. However I do think this is a point and an interesting thought to end on along with please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Another thought as winter sets in

Bird Droppings December 2, 2010
Another thought as winter sets in

“Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.” Chief Joseph

We have had some 30 degree nights here this week. Not sure whether to just start building fires in the fireplace or to crank up the heat. With the holidays a few weeks away rumors of icing over and snow of course are floating around and news and weather stations have a snow watch as part of their programs. Just hard to consider it is winter when it was in the seventies over the past few days. Last night however with a clear sky and wind temperatures dropped near freezing. There will be no crickets and tree frogs chirping for a few days.
I have been drawn to Native Indian wisdom for some time. Perhaps it started when I heard the first story of “Little Strong Arm” from my father as a child. My father had been infatuated with Indians from my earliest memory and growing up I was immersed in the same. Indian lore books, stories even artifacts as my father traveled through the west and South America. Many of my current readings are Native Indian basis.

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.” Chief Seattle

My own life’s journey has had many paths and trails and always as I look back twists and turns that seems to guide and direct the flow of my life. I was fortunate to meet when I took a job in Macon while still a student at Mercer a co-worker who was of the Creek nation. Through him I was taken into the group of Creeks and Cherokee who worked at the Okmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument. I participated in ceremonies and numerous activities. I was witness to spiritual aspects of a culture many never see. My good friends grandfather was the medicine man for the Creek Nation.

“We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God….” Chief Joseph

“From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

About four years ago I was given the name of Kent Nerburn, an author of numerous books on Native Indian Spirituality and on wisdom in general. I have used Kent’s thoughts many times in my writings and thoughts each day. Several years’ back a good friend gave me a smudge stick, a wrapped bundle of cedar and desert sage, and used as incense. Each small piece in my life has led me to where I am now. Walking out about three this morning to take my dog out I watched clouds moving in a clear sky. Wispy patterns of white illuminated by a smile of a moon.
We each have a pathway that we travel on and as I speak with and discuss with high school students daily often it is hard to say this is where you go or be one day. As I grow older and see how each little minute piece alters the journey ever so subtlety ever so gently. I look back at conversations I have been involved in or books I have read and now see how I was influenced. I think back to people I have met along the way each day. How have they impacted me or affected how I see life?

“Death will come, always out of season.” Big Elk

“Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new, sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone!” Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Ohiyesa

Several months back I watched a TV movie on Wounded Knee and Dr. Eastman was the physician on the reservation when the wounded and dying were brought in from the Wounded Knee massacre. He went on to be a prolific writer and lecturer around the country. I was thinking along this line one morning as I walked the beach on Cumberland Island as the sun rose. Looking down the beach both ways as far as I could see not a person other than me. The waves were the sole noise hitting the beach. Even the seabirds were quiet as the sun rose brilliantly.

“Continue to contaminate your own bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.” Chief Seattle

Reading the news each day makes me wonder if we are not close to suffocation in our sleep as Chief Seattle warned. So much is based on greed and money. Someone not concerned about the future and or anyone but themselves. I sit working with kids who are similar in their personalities focused only on themselves. I wonder why? Recently I researched the concept of generation Y. Children born approximately 1985 through 1995 and this idea of self centeredness is in many of the definitions. The societal norms of capitalism and consumerism seem to drive that point of focus. I wonder if many of the disorders of children today are not culturally derived.
Some will say it is nutrition, yet is it a lifestyle that has contributed to that nutritional deficit or overload. We are directed to fast food as an alternative and aid in our quest to grab a few more minutes out of a day and be more profitable and able to buy more things and grab more pieces of life. Perhaps it is seeing everything as having a dollar value, and or as a commodity. In some recent reading the term cyberhuman was used. We see ourselves as a prosthesis only and not as human. We are simply something to be added to or deleted from.

“As a child, I understand how to give; I have forgotten that grace since I have become civilized. I lived the natural life, whereas I now live the artificial. Any pretty pebble was valuable to me then, every growing an object of reverence.” Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Ohiyesa

We strip away from our children and create consumers to buy all the odds and ends we have built for us in plants over seas. We take away innocence and give back standardization. We deplete imagination and creativity and offer packaged curriculum so all will be more easily tested and graded. It is so sad Native Indian thinkers of over a hundred years ago saw this and knew this and we just now are starting to pay attention. Please take a moment and think about our friends and families in harms way around the world and keep them on your mind and in your heart.