Counting Knuckles

Bird Droppings January 31, 2011
Counting knuckles

On Friday a student asked what day of the month Monday would be and I responded January 31 and just as quick another said he thought it was the first. I said no it was the 31st and he proceeded to count his knuckles, “a knuckle has 31 days”, he said. He figured it was the thirty first. Later on Friday I watched as we did math computation tests and he was using his fingers as a portable calculator, I was intrigued. Perhaps it is also knowing the personality of this student and how he comes off as being such a bad dude that intrigued me. But in a lighter moment with no planning his other side comes out. It is sad because this side of him actually does try to succeed. However so often even for me he will shut down and sulk away to where ever he chooses and vegetate. I am not listening, you can not make me listen, or I don’t care and best of all just give me a zero, will spill from his mouth.
I was thinking how great if you could plan your day around the moments a student is willing to count fingers and knuckles maybe call it “knuckle time”. Those moments when being embarrassed or ashamed of your own capabilities are gone and you can move ahead even if only in micro steps. We all experience this at some time or another. As I watch and listen to students I see pieces of myself in others. How we go about our days those little things we do to survive the onslaught of society. Some of us have enough to make it through out the day and others have only counting knuckles and when the task goes beyond that capability then frustration and defeat self imposed. “Give me a zero”.
I used a trick of sorts to get extra time out of students the other day. Math questions were two to three per page and very simple with tricks so to say true and false sort of questions at times but answers might alter true and false to false and true. So the student did have to read and think about questions and answers. Some students made it through level two others to level four before difficulty set in. Today we will do more and the goal is for students to be successful through out testing, till they reach a level of discomfort and then set up programming in lessons accordingly. Unlike many situations these students face adjustments and or modifications and they can be made.
So often in school we want every child to fit parameters we establish as teachers and further up the line as curriculum specialists. All ninth graders should do this and tenth graders this item. No child will be left behind who does what we want should have been the legislative name of the bill. However what about the exceptions in life? Years ago I found myself as an exception. It was in fourth grade and I was sitting getting my paper back and the teacher had given me a C on my paper in which I had four wrong. One of my friends next to me had four wrong and an A so definitely I was confused. Day by day this continued and I asked my mom about it. She went in for a conference and the teacher told her I wasn’t working up to my potential so she graded me differently. Guess what happened I quit. No more extra reading for school work although I did still for fun, no more extra credit. I got left behind because a teacher failed to see I wasn’t fitting into her parameters.
I once saw a peg board with round holes and all the pegs were square and did not fit. Children would try and then after hitting did not work finally quit. The demonstration was actually a psychological test with young children. Funny thing is we do this all the time in school and on the job. We want people to fit our standards our peg board.

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” Erik Erikson

I watch the paradoxes of our federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, where frustrated kids quit school because of so called graduation tests. It is where frustrated teachers are leaving due to being judges on students taking standardized tests. What about being the teacher of a math class where your entire class failed the prerequisite for your class and now is in your class since prerequisite is no longer offered and you have an end of course test that measures your teaching ability and sixty seven percent fail. No one looks at pretest scores and posttest scores and significant improvement and learning that occurred. All that matters is that end of course tests score and the failure rate shows you are not teaching. A whole class and teacher get left behind.

“I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, and look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” B. F. Skinner

As I watch how politics interferes and creates havoc in education and in so many areas I wonder why we have politicians at times. It makes me want to count my knuckles and see if answer is correct and that is knowing I do not have enough knuckles for this problem.

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Maybe we forget this, maybe we want education to be this neat package we can take off the shelve and spoon feed and students get or do not get and we go on leaving behind the ones that don’t get it. What about the kid with three knuckles? My son had a friend who lost a finger in childhood he would be at a disadvantage counting knuckles.

“Every acquisition of accommodation becomes material for assimilation, but assimilation always resists new accommodations.” Jean Piaget

I wonder if we did pretests and posttests in congress and in the Senate on ethics and on performance if our elected officials would pass the grade or be left behind. No Congressman left behind now that is a bill I could get behind. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Walking and Listening among the cottonwoods

Bird Droppings January 28, 2011
Walking and listening among the Cotton Woods

I walked outside earlier today around four in the morning as I took our White Wetland Terrier Lil Girl out for her morning constitutional. The sky was bright this morning with a smile of a moon still hanging around and a few wisps of clouds were visible. Over the years I have spent many days in the mornings alone sitting observing in the wee hours sometimes even wrapped in a blanket for the cold. I would spend my time listening and watching as time went by. There were mornings when falling stars by the hundreds would pass by and I would feel as if I was the focus of their attention watching all in space aim towards me. Last night my oldest son came in saying a falling star had just dissipated in front of him. A rather large meteor seemed to burst apart as it streaked across the sky he said almost like fireworks. Back in the day after coming in I would sit and hours later write poetry and verses logging down emotions events and moments in my journal of sorts.

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

One day recently I was told I had a great vocabulary. I came home and asked my wife; “Do I have a great vocabulary?” I was really wanting an answer to boost my ego and she said “it really depends on who you are talking too.” You know at first I was hurt but then she said not that many people have seen or heard what you have in your life and sharing that expands their vocabulary as well. I instantly felt better.

“Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass, the mere materials with which wisdom builds, till smoothed and squared and fitted to its place, does but encumber whom it seems to enrich. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” William Cowper

In days gone by and even today I will pick up an encyclopedia and read the volume much like a book, ok tonight’s light reading is H. In our Google it world of today few children ever even see an encyclopedia let alone open one. Yesterday in class I was using my ancient Britannica’s to help a student with a Venn diagram on Achilles and Odysseus. Once he started with the book versus Wilipedia he was caught up and started looking through the pages. Even started taking the volume home saying Mr. Bird this is pretty cool.

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.” Sadie Black

We have all grown up with the statement about how curiosity killed the cat but a lack there of will also keep the world at a standstill and nothing will happen as well.

“Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Peter F. Drucker

A great guru of business Peter Drucker has written many books helping people manage their businesses. If you look at our society and the pace of new information and technology we are living in a world where while you sleep things change. This statement is even truer today than when Drucker wrote it in the sixties.

“I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have come to enjoy Emerson and I use his sayings often. He was a rather grizzly looking old goat of a man. When I read this I realized several times recently this is how I described what a school should be like. It should be literally a teacher, as a door. With the teacher or door person simply opening the door at appropriate times allowing information to go in. As the student becomes more and more adept the doorman is needed less and less till soon only a receptionist is needed to assist in organizing thoughts.

“Knowledge, without common sense, says Lee, is folly; without method, it is waste; without kindness, it is fanaticism; without religion, it is death. But with common sense, it is wisdom with method, it is power; with clarity, it is beneficence; with religion, it is virtue, and life, and peace.” Austin Farrar

I sat and spoke at length over lunch a few days ago and walking back to class with a good friend who had served a year or more in Afghanistan, we were talking of cultural differences, to us sometimes these differences are ridiculous and yet to the people within that culture they are a part of life. I have been fascinated with a tiny group of people and have been reading several books lately dealing with the Sans or “Bushman” of the Kalahari in South Africa as well as several other indigenous peoples who have been stripped of their homes and culture for the sake of mankind at least that is what we are told.
It seems diamonds have been found in the Kalahari and the Sans who have lived there for tens of thousands of years, hunting and gathering now must leave and go learn to farm to be civilized. Perception was left out of many of the verses today for a hunter in the Kalahari may not know of Quantum physics but he or she does know where to find and how to find water and juicy grubs for dinner. What if the antelope has escaped during the hunt as a Bushmen you know the signs to track and finish the job.
Knowledge is of when and where you are now is crucial to existence, going back to my wife’s comment to me this morning and my own vocabulary learned through so many experiences and books read.

“Gugama, the creator, made us. That was a long time ago – so long ago that I can’t know when it happened. That is the past, but our future comes from the lives of our children, our future is rooted in the hunt, and in the fruits which grow in this place. When we hunt, we are dancing. And when the rain comes it fills us with joy. This is our place, and here everything gives us life. “Mogetse Kaboikanyo

Mogetse Kabokikanyo was a Kgalagadi man who lived alongside the Gana and Gwi Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In February 2002, he was forcibly relocated to a camp outside the reserve. He died just four months later. He was probably in his fifties; his friends said his heart stopped beating. After years of struggling to remain on his land, Mogetse was buried in the desolate relocation camp, far from his ancestors’ graves. We citizens of the United States talk of human rights and dignity but in a case closer to home, it is very similar.
In about 1909 or so Geronimo of the Apaches was told finally he could not be allowed to return to the mountains of New Mexico to die. He must remain at Fort Sill Oklahoma on the Apache reservation literally a prisoner of war where he died shortly thereafter. I have been to the grave site of Geronimo many times in my travels to Lawton Oklahoma. Driving out past military vehicles and such to a quiet spot along the river where no visible modern sights can be heard or seen. Immediately around you are only the rustling cottonwood trees, and the flow of water over the stones in the river alongside the grave yard provides a backdrop of peaceful sounds. A rolling landscape and meadow of grass go up from a small parking area into the plains of Oklahoma. Not many people come to this corner of Fort Sill.
Many times as I sat alone staring across the meadow listening to the stream and feeling a breeze brush lightly it seems as if time rearranged and it was so easy to slip back to days when people buried here had names and were not simply numbered markers. Knowledge is an elusive, ethereal, entity flitting about as a monarch butterfly travels many thousands of miles between hills in Mexico and Georgia. Knowledge is elusive in how it conveys power to some and solace to others. Knowledge is walking along the stream by a grave from a time long gone and knowing we can change mankind we can make a difference. It is the Geronimo’s and Mogetse Kaboikanyo’s who are the real teachers of this world.
It may be one step one small tiny speck at a time but one day others will be able to stand among the cotton woods in Oklahoma or beneath a bush in the Kalahari and know tomorrow is a far better day. Hopefully mankind has learned more as we increase our abilities to convey understanding. One day, maybe not today, knowledge will truly be instilled in everyone. But till then please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts and try to offer a hand to any slipping as they cross the stream on their own journey.
namaste
bird

How do we know if we are still human?

Bird Droppings January 27, 2011
How do we know if we are still human?

Perhaps it is from growing up in a situation where we were aware of special needs children and adults directly from the birth of our younger brother till his passing almost fifteen years ago that those in my family have had connections with exceptional children directly or indirectly in our careers and life’s endeavors. A number of us went the route of teaching and even there most are in Exceptional Education. Several are in the medical field and several are going into psychology. My brother linked us as a family to the humanness of mankind.

“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Albert Einstein

Over the years in my studies and internships I have experienced situations many will never know exist. I recall walking through wards in a state institution where tiny infant looking patients lay in bassinets connected to tubes and not moving. Some were born with no brains and kept alive by feeding tubes and respirators. I asked one of the attendants during a walk through in 1968 how old was this one particular infant. I was informed this was not an infant but probably older than I was I being twenty and the baby at twenty three. The attendants turned the children to prevent bed sores and occasionally would talk to their charges. Later as I worked on finishing my psychology degree at Mercer I visited several more units very similar at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and a Regional Hospital in Atlanta. These units were filled with fifty to sixty patients each. Central State Hospital had more than one ward.

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our society exists through a historical development from a time when the first humans started living in villages and using commodities as exchange for other goods. Many historians and anthropologists will offer that society and civilization began when this early bartering started and a value was placed on a particular thing. A goat is worth a bushel of wheat or rice and banking began. Soon more precious commodities were found metal for weapons and tools, precious stones and gold for adornment. Granted this process happened fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of things and soon someone decided they could get more for an item since they had most of it and price gouging was begun. It was in these days that an imperfect infant would be tossed off a cliff or fed to the sharks.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
However what got me started on the idea that maybe we are losing or have lost our humanity. Over the years I will get in discussions and some get a bit out of proportion and over board and some I will walk away from but when we look at cutting programs that provide housing and food for people who do not have anything I take issue. I take issue with the greed that drives bonuses and profits that tax most families to a point of frustration all in the name of capitalism. I get upset when education is first on the chopping block not because it could impact my own pay but because it is through education we can possible regain our humanity. In a recent discussion on drug testing those on Medicaid, Food stamps or any Federal assistance because all on welfare are on drugs and using welfare money to buy drugs I asked what do we do and was suggested I use my own money if I think they need help. Almost immediately in curiosity I should have questioned what religion are you? A legislator from Kentucky wants to cut nearly every federal program. I find it ironic that down through history men and women who try to help others find themselves hated by those in power and usually end up dead.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Credited to Jesus Bar Joseph, known to many as Jesus the Christ, Mark 10:42-45

So how it a religion based on self sacrifice is so greedy. How can the image of a religious leader driving a Rolls Royce and living in one of their many multi million dollar homes be comforting to anyone? How can anyone say it is a federal healthcare bill that drove up there insurance when a CEO of a health insurance company is making over one hundred fifty million dollars and can deny a claim or treatment due to cost at any given moment. I recently watched the leader of the majority in the house of representatives roll his eyes at comments the President of the United States as he spoke in his State of the Union Address. Of course Utube flashes the image over and over again as well.

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.”
Parker J. Palmer

Having worked in service oriented jobs, pasturing, teaching, and counseling I have seen people who do not wish to be poor. It is through no choice of theirs that they have a congenital heart defect and can not stand for longer than a few minutes let alone try and work. I have seen mothers whose husbands left when a baby was born with severe birth defects and requires constant care so the mother does not work and cares for the child. I have seen families torn apart by mental illness and former patients pushed out into a not so caring world to fend for themselves only to end up homeless and destitute. These are not unique cases but magnified many thousands of times over. Sort of like the stories of welfare mother with six kids driving to family and children’s services to pick up a check in an Escalade or Mercedes. Not all on welfare are using the system and not all on welfare are using drugs. Is our system perfect by no means but it is the lack of human civility that bothers me. It is how we can say we are of a religious persuasion and literally live an entirely different life when not in church.

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Black Elk

In most Indian societies all were taken care of and provided for. I am not promoting a return to the primitive but to a more natural view of life. Indians held all as sacred and in doing so would not demand or extract more than was needed from the land or from another person. It was a very humanistic world view. We stripped away the sacredness of the land and used the resources till they were gone in the name of progress. We do not as a society want to help others is the sound board of many people. I was informed last evening if I want to help others use my own money to which I replied I do. I have for my entire teaching career given to a local charity a portion of my paycheck a very small portion yet it amounts each year to nearly ten percent of the giving from the teaching staff at my high school and I am less than one percent of the staff numbers.

“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.” Tecumseh, Shawnee

Our dominate society has all but eradicated the indigenous populations of the Americas from the first slaughters by Cortez’s men in Mexico to cutting of funding to the reservations. Suicides and infant mortality in Indian societies is considerably higher than dominate societies around them. It has only been a few days since I watched the movie about Wounded Knee and slaughter of unarmed Indians the last major Indian war battle even though only one sided. Around the world natives peoples are eliminated for wealth and power.

“I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.” Mahatma Gandhi

In a recent set of materials given to me by my mother on the Bushmen of South Africa who call themselves the Sans I noticed the date on the literature and it was pre-mining leases in the Kalahari. There were beautiful pictures of hunting and villages moved as the would follow the herds of animals. Today much of the Kalahari Desert has been sectioned off into diamond mine leases and the Sans moved to concrete buildings on a reservation. They are a people losing their identity and culture so greed can fill the void.
Last night I watched American Idol and I am enjoying the softer image. The last contestant of the day was a young man if you did not watch whose fiancé was severely brain injured in an accident and is in need of constant care. He dedicated his singing which was awesome to her and is involved in her daily care. I wonder how many people who want to cut funding would have given up much of his own life to care for their beloved fiancée as this young man has. Needless to say I was touched as was everyone watching with me. Still harboring within the midst of us is hatred rampant and rancid that keeps rearing up. A young man drove his mother’s car to school with an OBAMA bumper sticker which was torn off in the parking lot and replaced with a derogatory note and the extra addition of never park here again or it will be worse. We have come so far to be so lost. I wonder if it is with a deaf ear I offer each day please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Into the depth of our souls

Bird Droppings January 26, 2011
Into the depth of our souls

I watched most of the State of the Union Address last night but being as I normally fall asleep about nine o’clock it was rough. I felt good listening to what was said in the first half hour. Part of my problem with staying up late is I like morning and by three thirty this morning I was reading responses to the SOTUA. I almost wonder how some people think on both sides of the political arena. Repeal health care comes out loud and clear but in the next breath when my government frees health care start as one freshman congressman was heard asking. All of this provides fodder for the satirists be it cartoonists who for me are where the deepest cuts can be seen in the editorial pages of the newspapers that are left. Drawing political cartoons is almost a dying art form. Then the political satirist of comedy central lay waste to all that is left and for years I have always been amazed at how Steven Colbert has milked the conservative image for more than it is worth.
However I have an issue with humor that plays to our dark sides. Perhaps even primitive aspects of who we are. We see it in movies like Jack Ass and the humor that is portrayed narrowing in on human frailties and often disabilities. John Stewart and Steven Colbert are mild compared to South Park for example. Stewart and Colbert are on a higher intellectual plane than South Park but audiences thrive on it sadly enough. I think it is this aspect of humanity that allows the atrocities of man to happen as well. I remember once in Sixth grade a girl in special education who lived in the worst part of the community not even public housing but in shacks along the river outside town. The joke was calling people names derived from that community and or specifically people that lived there. I look back and I know I probably did this as well yet maybe it is my karma to be making up for my part working with the kids I do now. I still cringe when I hear the word retard even more so than the n-word. I am reading the philosopher Foucault currently and much of his base in this book is focused on mental institutions and “normal” versus “abnormal” and I wonder as I read and see watching more so previous American Idol shows and how judges belittle people, some who are special needs, what a sad state our society is in.

“Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.” Aristotle

Often having been in the teaching of special needs kids when with other teachers who have been in similar situations we will joke about events of the past, not at a students expense as much as the moment and ourselves. It might be about being bitten or changing a really nasty diaper or having to chase a student across campus. This is often common place in some settings. One of my favorites over the years was an OCD student who once asked me fifty four times if he could hold our class room pet, Stevie the wonder snake, a ball python. I ignored him and was working at my computer this was before school and a general education student who did not have the capacity for patience and or ignoring that I do final blurted out to the young man, “I love you” and tapped him on the shoulder. He took off to farthest corner in the room, she then asked me “did you not hear him” and I said I use planned ignoring and really did not after three or four times. I still have contact with this OCD student and he is in his early twenties not in school and unable to work because of his disability. When our last principal took over eight years ago this former student was so terrified from middle school of this man he couldn’t be in the same building so he sat at home and watched TV.

“Humor is also a way of saying something serious.” T. S. Eliot

As I think and wonder maybe it is seeing the issues at hand and simply using as a medium for truth for opening eyes as I look at some of the dark humor of our time – but I do not see people viewing that way – I see people watching a movie or show and laughing – at often human frailty – human aspects – Over the past weeks I have written several papers dealing with the search for the human soul – An aspect that Jung, Hillman, and Moore all psychologists and authors write extensively on –

“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

We in public education get so caught up in testing, pretesting, predictor testing and testing of testing we lose sight of who children really are and or could be. I have used the term funneling in several articles I have written that is forcing as much as possible into a bottle through a funnel and seeing how much will over flow. It is often these aspects of individuality and context for example that get left behind when we funnel in teaching.

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

This is an ongoing issue that we have in finding who we are and why. The illusions, Smith, continues, “Obliterate the lines between fact and fiction”.
We live in a society where deception is part of life. We listen to politicians tell us what we want to hear and or think we want to hear and we follow blindly. Why do we have to win a war “divisively”? Why do we even want to be in a war? I was very frustrated listening and knowing how much was based on deception on lies and yet billed as we have to keep going what ever it takes in regards to our current armed conflicts. In all of this we slowly lose our humanity.

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

This inner look is mentioned often as psychologists and theologians struggle with the concept of who we are.

“We need to know more of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself” Carl G. Jung

Uncovering our past and memories is part of looking at who we are. The idea that soul or spirit is just confined to religion can be seen in the understanding of what constitutes that inner search. A word used often as a search word is faith and is explained in Dr. James Fowler’s book The Development of Faith published in 1981.

“Faith is not always religious in its content or context. To ask these questions of oneself does not necessarily mean to elicit answers about religious commitment or belief. Faith is a persons or groups way of moving into the force field of life.”

The search and looking within trying to understand who we are trying to find soul is part of who we are. It is what makes us human and drives how we interact with the existing world and how we perceive that world. Spirit is then who we are subjectively?

“The subjective side of spirit is nature, matter and human life. But this subjective side that moves through us is unconscious” Dr. Marla Morris, Georgia Southern University, Department of Education

“Somewhere between reality and fantasy, between need and want, between the affect and the idea, and between dependency and autonomy, there can emerge the material from which the subject spins a life” Deborah Britzman

We end in metaphysical subjectivity as to what is this entity of spirit and or soul? Deciphering the concept of soul which too often is tied to a religious connotation is challenging. Thomas Moore a student of James Hillman, who was a student of Carl G. Jung, was a former priest and is now a psychologist and counselor defines soul in this way.

“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

“Renaissance philosophers often said that it is the soul that makes us human. We can turn around and note that is when we are most human we have the greatest access to soul” Thomas Moore

Mary Aswell Doll in the introduction to her book Like letters in running Water, includes in her thoughts her interdisciplinary studies with religion and psychology that help probe the inner workings of soul. It is only through coming to terms with inner understanding that we can address outer concerns. It takes inner looks to stir and fire up the imagination and to build and develop ideas and expand learning.

“To talk about the “soul”, we might as well say inner life of children. My latest book Education and the soul talks about Soul in a moral sense, which is really taken out of a religious sense” Jack Miller

It is that inner being of who are that is our soul. Is it soul that we are leaving behind in our effort to be the ultimate consumer? Is it to produce children who can test and test well and take another test and do well? Is it to make children who will listen without questioning the deceit of politicians and advertising and buy products they do not need and support wars not needed and politicians who are not needed many times? Today I have so many thoughts to ponder but as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Passion: Can be acquired?

Bird Droppings January 25, 2011
Passion: Can be acquired?

“To speak so listeners long to hear more and to listen so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646

When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural I thought of the Einstein quote I used to use at the bottom of Bird Droppings for several years. I first used this quote in a presentation for my Capstone in my master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly five years ago. For me real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from Tirukkural always considering it to be simply Hindu literature, by chance I looked it up further and over 2000 years old its original religious significance is questioned by scholars yet both the writer and words are considered holy.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

As I read about the Tirrukkural, while in translation the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a very specific number of words per line and per couplet to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my own classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Candy always works, but M&M extrinsic bribery aside what do we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words.

“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried

Perhaps not all how about most lose their drive and passion for learning. I had a “student” whose discipline records went back to preschool and his referrals were numerous until he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten. I am still trying o figure out how you get in that much trouble in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious, we as teachers along the way train that out of them. We work towards nice straight lines and quiet and yes mame, and no sir and really straight lines and red flowers when drawing only. I recall that Harry Chapin song often as I work with children of any age and see creativity lost at times on uniformity.
Not that long ago we made cookie dough from scratch, even in my youth which is a life time ago you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes. You could take it out and make big cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Now days you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, we like uniformity.

”That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn

I started my Master degree capstone presentation at Piedmont College with students have to want to be in class. If a student does not want to be in school we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. I had a student when I asked what would make him want to be in school say, “pay me to come, you get paid to be here”, and it made me think. Recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub looked at the numbers and with a smile showed my student my pay check. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have electronic deposit and my pay check has zero listed on the amount line. But I really got mileage out of that.
I said I enjoy being here I explained and I actually I do, he knew that, but the zero pay check really hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?

”Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn

I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available on line at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years in numerous articles on teaching Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed students the sterile classroom has been the norm, no distractions. I found in a trail and error sort of way the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and look from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this inquisitiveness occurs learning can easily happen.
Of course you will still have that child who started in pre-K; I remember the day a few years back when I asked him why do you not want to learn to read. This was a tenth grade student who is a behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters and we were working on writing letters for a school project and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad”, a side note spell check works great if you can read, when you can’t it does not always help. Well he still is obnoxious but slowly the idea there are teachers who do care about him and want to help him is sinking in I think back to Robert Fried’s title for a book “The Passionate Teacher” that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why are we teaching, is it purely for M&M’s, are we simply being bribed or is there underneath the passion an intrinsic rational. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.
namaste
bird

The Journey

Bird Droppings January 24, 2011
The journey

“Who, then, shall conduct education so that humanity may improve?” John Dewey

A very deep and broad question, I was thinking back to my own community and associations. We elect school board members who hire teachers and principals, they decide on schools to build and a place to build them and rules to govern schools. In Georgia recently several school systems have lost and or been put on probation due to school boards inappropriate behavior and the politics of those school boards that took away from education. In any situation where elected officials are running the show and especially where there are few requirements for the job and it pays little if anything what should we expect? So I turn to my hero, what and how does Dewey the great educator answer his own question?

“We must depend upon the efforts of enlightened men in their private capacity. ’All culture begins with private men and spreads outward from them. Simply through the efforts of persons of enlarged inclinations, who are capable of grasping the ideal of a future better condition, is the gradual approximation of human nature to its end possible…. Rulers are simply interested in such training as will make their subjects better tools for their own intentions.’ Even the subsidy by rulers of privately conducted schools must be carefully safeguarded. For the rulers’ interest in the welfare of their own nation instead of in what is best for humanity, will make them, if they give money for the schools, wish to draw their plans.” John Dewey

We are manipulated and educated as pawns in a society for the societies own good and many top educators across the country believe this. There are times when I believe as well, watching new teachers come and teach in a manner that has been that way for a hundred years, as we develop curriculums that are what was and will always be and or design a program simply to sell books much like the integrated math program curriculum in Georgia that is after two years being done away with because test scores are dropping and over eighty thousand students failed end of course tests. Occasionally a bright note a light on the horizon, a student of education or two sees a different view a different point and follows a different path. Here I am thinking and routine keeps popping up.
Today as I do everyday I let out Little girl out our Westie. It is funny back in the day we had Moose our yorkie and the two could not be in the same space together even though they ere raised for several years together. We moved along the way and they could not decide who was boss after the move. Then I go to my computer and write trying to catch up on emails. Sometimes the Westie will come and sit by my feet and sleep. Today she wanted back out, an alteration to my morning routine and it bothers me. What is of concern as I think is this is a trivial item to be concerned about? We want things to be smooth to run efficiently and effectively and “OUR WAY”; the further up the chain of command the bigger the “OUR WAY” is.

“The new idea of the importance of education for human welfare and progress was captured by national interests and harnessed to do a work whose social aim was definitely narrow and exclusive. The social aim of education and its national aim were identified, and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of a social aim.” John Dewey

Teachers and administrators like routine, sameness I call it and easy to can and be bottled. Borrowing from Sydney J, Harris “easier to stuff a sausage than cultivate a pearl” The student effectively gets lost in the mandated and regulated manipulations of society.

“Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted?” John Dewey

I find irony in the concept of a democratic classroom which I do believe can be successful. I find paradox in our efforts to be so democratic in our own country and yet we tend to bow to where majority wants even at the expense of free thought. We say individualism on one hand yet want the majority to rule and to dictate. As I was watching the election process in Iraq previously these concepts seemed to be exemplified. One faction has won and another literally did not vote in protest.
As I look at education and our own country how often do we do this and then when that which we did not elect nor even cared about happens we whine. We complain and we are faced with a journey that has provisions we do not want nor need. We can be often on that journey in a wrong direction for several years till another change, or pathway appears. Far too often we dictate direction in a top down scenario.
On the path the one on the journey is being told go this way and go that and should be the one directing the effort. It is so easy to raise an issue; following through with ideas is the more difficult aspect. Where in should the direction be set for example in education? I approach students in a manner that may be contradictory to some and way wrong to others. I offer here is where we need to go and ok class how do we get there. At first that is a difficult proposition, many want a map, a guide, a compass at least. The teacher can be that, facilitating in a guiding manner. But for learning to happen students have to be engaged and interactive in the journey each day.

“To get where they’re going, navigators first need to know where in the world they are.” Dragonfly web site

If we substitute educators and or students for navigators an interesting situation occurs. Any journey needs a starting point and how we find where that is often is the hard part in education. A journey starts at the beginning, where it is going is wherever and when ever but it does start somewhere. As a teacher helps students find a starting point and then provides tools to navigate the journey. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Looking on a morning in a direction

Bird Droppings January 23, 2011
Looking on a morning in a direction

“Beginnings start in the east – from where the sun rises we begin a new dawn. Each day is a good new day with a fresh beginning, a new start. East is the direction of the physical body and newness including children and newborns. It is the time of change for all is a new beginning, new ideas and seeing the light. The color yellow is the path of Life, to begin the walk as a warrior, to shine in all that you do. The sun rising in the east empowers each of us. The energy to do and to begin the action of the mind and heart is there. Animals of wings and flight are from the east include the hummingbird, the owl, and the hawk. Our words are given to the east that the smoke in the air or the voices in the air may be carried to Spirit.” Tree Song

I was outside much earlier this morning and it was cold but the bitter freezing cold has been gone for several days now. I was listening to the sounds of morning in a spot I where I have been sitting now for nearly six years at our house towards an open field. Many sounds are just beginning to awaken as the sunrises each morning. The stillness and solitude of early morning on some occasions off in a distance is broken by a rooster calling or generally more likely starters for the morning are crows and mockingbirds. Today it was a mockingbird that came to visit as I sat listening and watching the sun come up. It has been some time since I have heard nearly ten years however since I have heard a rooster crow from my door step.

“Sioux Morning prayer
Let your voice whisper righteousness in our ears through the East Wind at the break of day. Let us be blessed with love for all our brothers & sisters on Earth so we may truly live in peace. Let us have good health mentally & physically to solve our problems and accomplish something for future generations. Let us be sincere to ourselves and make the world a better place to live. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” Unknown Author Traditional Sioux prayer

The Sioux end prayers and meditations with the phrase, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin, which means, All My Relations. Many will questioned or wonder why end with such a vague phrase? But to the Indian all about is part of who they are and it is to all that they offer this Morning Prayer or thought. I did not write yesterday as I got caught up taking photos of various basketball games and trying to get all of them posted before the evening got too late. After watching, photographing and downloading images for over eight hours I succumbed to fatigue about nine last night. I went home sat and watched a recorded movie for about an hour and fell asleep so I could get an earlier start today. While I did not write yesterday I used as a status on facebook.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The other day my mother gave a copy of her notes on my growing up childhood years. One is a story of how when very small around three years of age I ran away. I actually only went across the street into the woods. I will offer the entire story one day but since I was young I have enjoyed the solitude of the woods and nature. There have been many times in the various pathways of my life where I would find places to go and be alone with nature. Seldom have I been confined long in a place where I can not escape to the calls of the wild and sunrise. Recently a friend posted photos of Cumberland Island which lies along the Georgia Coast and is protected. It is considered a wilderness area and off limits to most exploitation. Sunrise on Cumberland with no one for miles can be pretty spectacular. You have to camp on the island however to see a Cumberland sunrise. While I started with the east today it is about direction that I am writing.

“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” Pablo Picasso

I raised the question of purpose on Friday with a student and in an email last night an idea had me thinking. A dear friend said four people had raised the issue of purpose in life recently and she is going through a time now seeking her purpose. Before I went out I wrote back to her, for me it is not what is my purpose, as much as I have purpose and knowing you are significant in each aspect of what you do, borrowing from the Sioux again, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin. Over the years I always thought I would one day open my eyes and see “My purpose” and I have come to understanding it is not a destination purpose is very much a journey.
It has been many years ago that I experienced a vision or a dream of a giant jig saw puzzle falling in place that sorted it out for me. I could not see the puzzle front every time I tried and look it would turn away revealing the gray backing. I had to be content to know it was falling in place piece by piece and each piece was more intricate than the last. As we seek direction on our journey as I thought and we have a powerful friend in our faith. Doors will open as they need to. I spent nearly two years sorting out where I was to go, working with indigent families and receiving enough barely to cover cell phone and mileage. A door opened in teaching and even then I was presented with tests. It was five times that my name was presented by a principal who wanted me teaching and four times I was turned down. On September 11, 2001 I was allowed to go back into teaching.
I have used the illustration of a puzzle often over the years and throw the word purpose about every now and again. There is an aspect of our journey we are directly involved in and that is direction, which way are we facing as we take that next step.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy; a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lays disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson

I was looking this morning for words dealing with direction each time I tried mapping and directions came up. My oldest son finished his certification in GPS many years ago. He was working with an Environmental Science class at the high school mapping trees and positioning using GPS devices for a project and it hit me how so focused and reliant we have become on technology. We are at a point in our technology where we can ascertain that Sumatra moved 20 centimeters in the huge earthquakes of years past. But so often we have a hard time determining where we are going today let alone in life.

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

I can always find a spot for a Dewey quote. Dewey is not the easiest read in the world, often his thoughts are in details we are not used too. Far too often teachers look for an easy fix to a complicated issue. In life far too many times we take the easy road.

“Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to choose the things we want to do, to take the wisdom we’ve learned and create something.” Liz Carpenter

“You don’t have to buy from anyone. You don’t have to work at any particular job. You don’t have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose” Harry Browne

For many they see life as a funnel, a narrowing down rather than a spreading out. It has been many years since I walked the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia. Often when walking up a mountain, there are switch backs that would be used rather than a direct ascent. A switch back is a path that cuts back and forth up the mountain rather than straight up, and with a heavy pack a direct route is often impossible.

“The way to activate the seeds of your creation is by making choices about the results you want to create. When you make a choice, you activate vast human energies and resources, which otherwise go untapped. All too often people fail to focus their choices upon results and therefore their choices are ineffective. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz

So often in life it is the first step, or that opening of the door is so difficult. When I did go back to teaching, I could have stopped at first rejection. I applied at five or six schools. I was not certified, and in order to get provisional certification you have to be employed, an interesting paradox. For some reason a principal thought I might work out and kept pushing, and at the board meeting I was hired, then called back, my sister had been hired who I recommended and so I couldn’t work there. Then my name did not make a meeting and second effort was defeated and a third and fourth. Finally a teacher had a nervous breakdown and was out indefinitely and a long term sub was needed and eventually a teacher. The board made allowances for my sister and I started on September 11, 2001.
It was many months later when the principal was putting a list together that I was asked what day I started and I couldn’t remember, it was the week after labor day and a Tuesday because approval was needed on Monday. The first step is the roughest many times.

“You are the person who has to decide. Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you’ll lead or will linger behind. Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.” Edgar A. Guest

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, a singer, song writer, University professor and former cast member of the survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within”. Perhaps this is a good place to stop today Guest states “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I’ll end up with a line from an Aerosmith song

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

Perhaps ending with a Steven Tyler quote is a good one since he is now one of the judges on American Idol. Maybe he will exemplify his song and provide direction for some young people on their journeys in life. So please my friends keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.
namaste
bird