Looking deeper than the surface

Bird Droppings April 29, 2011
Looking deeper than the surface

It has been a long week. I am working hard on pulling nearly eight years of graduate school notes together, writing and reading at home as I develop my ideas for my dissertation. I will be driving down to Statesboro more than likely several times this summer usually it is a two or three day trip now. It always amazes me how in days gone by I could drive to Philadelphia and back on a weekend and go to work on Monday morning. Today I need to spend the night when I drive the 230 miles to Statesboro. I guess that means I am getting old. I need to work on our blueberry patch soon after we moved in to this house almost six years ago we planted a few bushes out in our back yard. I am somewhat pondering changing the format as I write, perhaps too much time working in APA style for graduate school hopefully I will not include references and a bibliography.

“Give me a fruitful error anytime, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections.” Vilfredo Pareto

I found it interesting that over the past few days several thoughts of error and or problems brought forth answers in and of themselves. It seemed as if the problem was bearing fruit from within the problem. Vilfredo Pareto was a unique thinker and philosopher from the tail end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In the detailing of his economic theory with mathematics and linking his great writings to sociology as well, he spawned numerous socio-economic political entities in that time. Fascism and Communism both use Pareto as a resource. What is amazing is that he wrote against communism and the other socialisms of Europe.

“The principles that a writer chooses to follow may be put forward in two different ways. He may, in the first place, ask that his principles be accepted as demonstrated truths. If they are so accepted, all their logical implications must also be regarded as proved. On the other hand, he may state his principles as mere indications of one course that may be followed among the many possible. In that case any logical implication which they may contain is in no sense demonstrated in the concrete, but is merely hypothetical – hypothetical in the same manner and to the same degree as the premises from which it has been derived. It will therefore often be necessary to abstain from drawing such inferences: the deductive aspects of the subject will be ignored, and relationships be inferred from the facts directly.” Vilfredo Pareto

So often we accept a writer’s premise and all that follows, as if each word is true, based on the value of the last word. We never seem to question beyond that first point. So often politics is this way we follow blindly the thoughts based solely on that first good effort. Watching our Congress and Senate work we read of a bill that appears to be so noble, and then we find tacked on numerous other bills that literally that seem to take apart rational thought. On one bill a few years back there was “15.6 billion for buying out tobacco farmer’s quotas” tacked on legislation to give tax breaks to corporations. Even the initial bill in this case is wary, but we seldom look past face value. Republicans and Democrats argue over who voted when and for what, based on face value and not details of the bills.

“Faith by its very nature is exclusive. If one believes oneself possessed of the absolute truth, one cannot admit that there are any other truths in the world. So the enthusiastic Christian and the pugnacious free-thinker are, and have to be, equally intolerant. For the believer there is but one good course; all others are bad.” Vilfredo Pareto

Other than the election of John Kennedy I do not recall faith and or religion being a factor in any other another election until George W. Bush and Barrack Hussein Obama. As we went into our presidential election and even now politics is being preached from pulpits around the country. All of a sudden ethical values and morality is a reason for electing someone and or not electing someone else. Often those standards are mixed and contorted and many times lies and or distortions much like the birth certificate arguments that even still have not subsided.

“….for the image of social activity is stamped on the majority of such propositions and theories, and often it is through them alone that we manage to gain some knowledge of the forces which are at work in society – that is, of the tendencies and inclinations of human beings.” Vilfredo Pareto

A bit deep this morning perhaps, as I slip into sociological theory of the early 20th century. We do and are compelled by human nature to move and act in particular ways. It is societal perhaps cultural as we follow patterns that are predictable. Advertisers prey on this as do politicians.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Albert Einstein

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.” R. Buckminster Fuller

We are our worst enemy as we go through life. Focusing so often only on only the now. We become so self centered and egotistical, seeking only that which provides sustenance for the moment and little if any effort for tomorrow. We do this in politics and society. We do this in how we treat others daily. We do this in education and teaching. It is in that rare moment and rare individual; others are seen and dealt with. These special people are few and far between and have been all through history.

“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

It has been some time since I was standing for a moment in the dark of the morning with the eerie orange of clouds masking out societies’ lights. At that moment the crickets were droning, the only sound available to me. It is interesting to perceive we have been here many years, many days situated perhaps in different towns and cities, in different cultures, yet we continually seem to forget there is someone else across the road. There are other people across the country and across the world.

“…for the image of social activity is stamped on the majority” Vilfredo Pareto

We do not see the starving child infected with river fever in Sudan. Even closer to home, the children in poverty in Louisiana or on reservations of the south west or even closer, in the city next door to you, Atlanta or Philadelphia. I remember taking my wife to Philly for the first time, as we came to the steps up from the subway, a homeless man lay in a puddle of urine at the foot of the stairs by a heat grate. We stepped over him and went on; maybe for us it was human nature. I have used this statement many, many times as I write, recalling my own days of seeing and believing.

“What is in life? Is it the flash of the firefly in the night? Is it the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime? Is it the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset?” Crowfoot, Blackfoot orator and warrior

We all too often get caught in the now in the advertising and forget that there is so much more. What is seen as majority may truly not be. What is seen as justified in that moment may not stand up to history. Hopefully we will be remembered as John Kennedy stated “for our contribution to the human spirit”. So I look into this morning, a new day, a day filled with anticipation and hope and one in which perhaps rays of sunlight will permeate the darkness and there will be light ahead. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Going to school

Bird Droppings April 28, 2011
Going to school

So often as I start my writings each morning there has been an experience recently to build upon. It is utilizing these previous experiences that provide windows and doors into future experiences. I was driving through our town and a shop I had seen numerous times caught my eye. It is a store that caters to cooks, selling fancy cheese, wines and utensils. I actually stopped in I needed a good knife to cut and chop herbs as I cook. As I walked in a wonderful lady greeted me and we talked for nearly an hour about education and cooking. It turns out she was also prior to retirement a teacher of Emotional and Behavior Disorders. A small world or synchronicity, I think I know what Carl G. Jung would say. My major in graduate school always causes confusion as most teacher graduate students go for that Leadership degree required for administrative positions.
It has been nearly six years since I started my doctorial studies at Georgia Southern University. My major for some may be a bit obscure being in curriculum theory and it is a relatively new endeavor actually entitled in the course catalog as Curriculum Studies. One of the first pieces that caught my attention was, “the autobiographical method of currere, a method focused on self understanding” by William Pinar in his book What is Curriculum Theory. As I discussed with this retired teacher and now shop owner and purveyor of fine cheese, wines and meats we talked of education, various cuts of meats since my livestock background came out.
I have been listening as I read, write and study for a number of years now to R. Carlos Nakai, a Navaho-Ute from Arizona. Nakai is a classically trained coronet and trumpet player who thirty years ago took up the Native American seven note flute. He actually carves his own flutes from cedar and his haunting melodies stir the soul and calm the wild beast. I play his music in my room at school. As I was thinking of Pinar’s thought on the autobiographical method I recalled a note in one of Carlos Nakai’s CD’s.

“A lot of what I’ve been taught culturally comes from an awareness of the environment. …How I feel is based on my impressions of being in certain spaces at certain times. Thinking back…on personal tribal stories and the history of my culture figures into how I organize my music.” R. Carlos Nakai

One of the founders of pragmatism in philosophy is John Dewey who is also well known for his contributions to education and progressivism. Many of his ideas are from the early 1900’s. Dewey based his thinking on our experience.

“Every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and create subsequent experiences.” John Dewey

Dewey is a hard read and since I was only looking for a quote he is back to the shelf for now but only a minute or two as I am using several Dewey books in papers I am currently working on. As I switched CD’s to a Hawaiian themed CD where Nakai and Keola Beamer, a Hawaiian slap guitar master combine for “Our Beloved Land” another jacket note caught my eye.

“We were put on the earth to experience life in its totality. And if you’re not doing that, you’re essentially wasting your time.” R. Carlos Nakai

I thought of my professor in that first doctorial class as I read and a comment she made about how many of the courses are on line and the evaluations that follow online of professors. She said she always gets better reviews with the online courses then in person. On one of the first days in class she wore a black suit and starched white shirt long sleeves with dark shoes and argyle socks. She had one pirate type earring in one ear and after removing her jacket and rolling up her sleeves tattoos to her wrists covering her arms.
As I watched my class watch her as she came in being mostly conservative southern teachers the reactions were interesting but as I thought to my professors comment about why she did not understand why she always gets better reviews online I thought as I listened to a recognized scholar in the area of curriculum theory. Maybe the biases of the masses of people in the world really are insignificant you need to live life and if you are not doing that you are wasting time.
I got the impression within a few minutes my professor is not wasting anyone’s time she is who she is and comfortable with that as maybe we all should try and be who knows what might happen with self understanding and experiences. It comes down to all of the pieces to our life’s puzzle falling into place one by one. As I close as always please keep all who are in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Ethics and politics

Bird Droppings April 27, 2011
Ethics and Politics

There are so many things happening in our world that are often at the whim of a politician who we voted for or against. The auto industry was being remade, wars are being fought, jobs are disappearing and health care reform is possibly on the table. I find it is amusing that our elected officials have given themselves an unbelievable health care and retirement package along with other perks and yet only offer to restrict and or eliminate our own. Our officials have literally unlimited health care and a retirement package second to none for serving in the senate or congress through a salary for life.
With jobs in slow motion maybe it is a good time to ponder about minimum wage and our officials who raise their own salary and perks just about every year. Amazing how politics works, working people and those trying to work and lift themselves up get nothing and Senators and Congressmen can vote a raise for themselves. In another session a few years back Democrats were at one time trying to tie minimum wage to their own salary raises. Sadly even with a minimum wage many workers are below the national poverty level. Many that are working and for whatever reason extremely limited or hindered in the types of jobs they can get. Now in a world of budget cutting and austerity some politicians are even offering to reduce minimum wage and increase hours children can work almost as if we are taking steps backwards. Other legislation is calling for eliminating OSHA and EPA and yet deaths in industry under OSHA have significantly been reduced. Pollution across are nation has been reduced. It is about profitability of corporations that find many politicians offering plans to help industry improve profit.

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Funny why should we worry about money and success, who needs it? I recall only a few years back when gas was nearly four dollars a gallon we all are looking for bargains and stretching each dollar. It is true many folks have not the need to keep up with the trends and are content with what they have. But it is how we tend to over look selfishly those with less. The raise recently proposed for congressmen per year would be more than a fulltime minimum wage paycheck for a year for a family. It is sort of like saying I am more than your equal so I deserve this money actually a slap in the face to the working man or woman.

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

At what point is a lot of money too much and what do you do with billions of dollars? I watch Donald Trump rant and rave and yet few are as selfish as is he in terms of his human dealings. I am not sure a speculator in land is a good choice for a presidential candidate. It was not too long ago he was bankrupt. We idolize the rich and wealthy and as Steven Colbert pointed out in his humor last night we like rich people.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, and he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

We have to be able to dream and often that is stripped away with the attitudes and structures imposed by various sectors of society.

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.” Henry David Thoreau

Self esteem, self understanding or the knowing of thy self as the ancient Greek philosopher said so many years ago. We need to know who we are and why. I started arguing about the selfishness of so many people including our leaders in Washington who I am sure will justify their raises in some fashion and I am sure through lobbyists will justify not granting a raise to minimum wage. It is amazing what a few fast food lobbyists can do and business owners. Maybe that is how you justify a raise for yourself, be it through savings from not raising minimum wage. I am looking forward to a day of writing and reading although I will take my garden break and visited a nearby nursery and garden. As you ponder your own place in this world please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Watching a hawk fly by

Bird Droppings April 26, 2011
Watching a hawk fly by

I was able to attend part of a region track meet last week and in doing so took a few photos as I tend to do. Since I was not able to get to the meet till after school and since it started before school was out one of the team managers was taking pictures of some of the events I would miss. As I looked at photos of pole vaulting a thought crossed my mind in conjunction with a recent article by Ronald A. Wolk founder and former editor of Education Week.

“Standardization and uniformity may work with cars and computers, but it doesn’t work with humans. Today’s student body is the most diverse in history. An education system that treats all students alike denies that reality.” Ronald A Wolk

I reviewed my photos and talked with one of the coaches about a particular student who has really done well this year in pole vaulting. She had previously missed going to the state meet due to many misses as she vaulted.

“Standards don’t prepare students for anything; they are framework of expectations and educational objectives. Without the organization and processes to achieve them, they are worthless.” Ronald A. Wolk

I kept thinking to an event like pole vaulting and comparing to our current trend in education of raising the bar. The practice of making it harder to achieve a high school diploma for example is common place across the United States largely due to imposed federal standards and annual yearly performance guidelines set several years ago in NCLB. We set the bar up as high as possible and do not have the processes to make it to the bar. I could see in the pole vaulting contest where the high school state record may be fourteen feet and we set the bar at sixteen feet and believe all pole vaulters will now attain that level of skill by 2014 as we did in NCLB. Many athletes will quit pole vaulting. Ronald Wolk uses statistics from various states showing dropout rates that are increasing as an issue.
I have been pondering this concept of raising the bar for some time and now teachers are being fired for not attaining goals set by states and federal legislation. Perhaps the stress level in an elementary school in teachers and students when in Georgia it is CRCT time should be looked at as a significant factor in current education. If we deliberately stress little children over testing are we going the right direction?
I am working on several questions for my graduate school dissertation. In that process I will be heading to the University of Georgia Library this weekend to review some material. I recall a few months back as I was driving to the University in Athens and as I turned on the highway bypass towards the University a red tailed hawk flew over the road gliding by into a patch of pines. About three hundred yards further along the road a dead hawk was alongside the road and it appeared the hawk was trying to feed on a dead armadillo which had been hit by a car. The hawk becoming road kill as well. As I drove on I wondered if maybe this was a pair considering how close they were and if they had a nest and young and this might have been the reason to venture that close to highway. I have seen other times similar situations with dead hawks at road kill sites.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know, the earth does not belong to man, and man belongs to the earth. “Chief Seattle

It has been many years since Chief Seattle spoke but his words ring true today. It may be that in our time that we so often take for granted all around us, the trees, animals and even other people. We live a life so self centered and focused on us we tend to miss so much. It was many years till man realized he was not the center of the universe and was really just somewhat an insignificant speck. I am sitting at my writing table typing on my laptop wondering about an interesting question. So many people see problems with public education and yet few offer solutions that seem to go in the right direction as I was mentioning in Wolk’s statements.
I have been reading numerous books on curriculum theory but I am waiting for a book on curriculum action to be published. Fifteen books are scattered about my table with each a different author and different idea how to solve issues in schools. A graduate school professor made a comment several months ago about how many curriculum theorists have moved to Canada to practice and to learn and do research. It is interesting in this world of we want to be the best that it seems Canadian schools want to get better. In Canada however they are looking for ways to improve beyond politics.
We have numerous laws and ideas but never seem to get better in a recent headline in the local newspaper title was, Students scores highlight disparity. In several systems mentioned nearly a third of eighth graders will be retained because of a test at the end of eighth grade. I wonder how they were at the end of seventh grade and beginning of eighth maybe we should do a sort of a pre-test and post-test thing. A simple practice that would actually give a better indication of learning and it seems we do not do that. We simply test at the end of eighth grade so we know this child is at this stage and knows this at this point but what did that child learn in eighth grade we still do not know.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Sydney J. Harris

It has been nearly eleven years since a fellow teacher first showed me a Sydney J. Harris column. So often as I watch people be it in school or out about in the community I notice that these people are a reflection of everything around them. Harris says we should be more like windows letting in not just reflecting back.

“Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.” Abraham Flexner

I wonder thinking back to my hawk flying by I hope if there are chicks they were along far enough to survive and as I think maybe it takes action on the part of parents who truly want a good education for their children. The really sad part is that many kids in today’s diversified world often do not have parents at home anymore and that puts stress on everything including tests and school. As I end today maybe we can all take a moment and try and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart.

Being Alone

Bird Droppings April 25, 2011
Being alone

Traditionally we as a family have had an Easter egg hunt for the children of the family now for over thirty years. While I have my moments of enjoying community time I am also very much an monastic individual seeking time alone which for me is often the early hours of the day prior to most even considering rising from their night of sleep. I am uninterrupted save for taking our dog out and the occasionally storm knocking out power limiting my writing and reading time. This morning I went back in my collected thoughts and found an old blog I had saved written by a friend. I read a blog first in MySpace many years ago written by a person who is as hard nails as they say but as I read the essay and reviewed numerous photos from New York streets attached to the writing a mention of loneliness came out. I wrote back that being alone and lonely were two different things. Many times I seek to be alone, and all it takes of course is a quick step inside and I am back with my family. But many there are times I seek solitude. I joke about my monasticism and sitting out in the mornings meditating, thinking, wondering and of course pondering about all that go on in the world. Contrary to this for me loneliness is a state of mind, one of our own being. It is so much more than simply being alone since we chose to be alone and loneliness is not always by choice.

“I hear the ticking of the clock – I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark – I wonder where you are tonight – No answer on the telephone – And the night goes by so very slow – Oh I hope that it won’t end though Alone” lyrics from Alone, Heart, Bad Animals album, 1987

I think by nature we are gregarious creatures we need others about us, around us and near us for us in order to be comfortable. I use the term from my sheep herding days of the herding instinct, we need to be in a crowd. It is not for defense as with sheep although maybe that is it when in a crowd we cannot be hurt, there is safety just like the sheep or small fish in a shoal bunching up some will die and be eaten but most will survive. In Canada, a musk oxen herd when attacked by wolves even though wolves can only take young and weak animals the stronger oxen circle the weaker and face the attackers with their horns. It is a good defense system evolved over tens of thousands of years. Sometimes we do this but more often than not the weaker of us gets pushed to the outside and swallowed by the attacking wolves of mankind.

“All men’s misfortunes spring from their hatred of being alone.” Jean De La Bruyere

When I listen to guys and girls in high school who cannot stand to be without a boyfriend or girlfriend it is about being alone. It is deep down a need, it is not love it is fear of being alone. So many of these kids are from split homes and not having someone is hard.

“No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.” Aristotle

The great thinker may have hit the nail on the head to have everything is nothing without friends.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

I was thinking back to some earlier emails and how heart is so important. How we would wither without another to respond to. I borrow again from one of the most poignant emails in awhile a heartfelt response from a friend a career retired Marine and now with the NSC.

“One final thought off topic. I have been in the service of my country as a Marine and intelligence agent. I have always believed that my service in some small way protected our nation against those who would do us harm. I have served with many fine people over my career. Still when I reflect on those I admire the most I would have to point to the three of my friends and others like them in the world. They continue to believe love can change the world and make it a better place. I pray every night that will someday be the case.”

I edited out names as they do not mean much to those who do not know the people and those of us who know them have read and experienced the heartfelt love.
I wondered when I added this thought as I write about being alone. This fellow lost his wife not too long ago tragically. I will not go into too much detail but he was alone for a period of time. Not too long ago he found a soul mate and they married and started a new life on a horse farm I am envious. I for one have been impressed as the love between these two people shows every email every word and as I reread this passage above peace my dear friend.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Kurt Vonnegut

It is about building community and this is a very powerful thought from a great writer and thinker. Maybe we spend too much time trying to find relationships and forget community. When I first moved to Georgia I was introduced to a Greek word koinonia defined by dictionary.com as “a Christian fellowship or communion with God or with fellow Christians; said in particular of the early Christian community”. As I read and tried to understand this word I found material written by Clarence Jordan and that led to finding out about the Koinonia Farm in Americus Georgia.

“’Koinonia is an intentional Christian community founded by two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England in 1942 as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.’ For them, this meant a community of believers sharing life and following the example of the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles, even amidst the poverty and racism of the rural South.’ ‘Based on this radical call to discipleship, Koinonia’s very presence confronted racism, militarism and materialism with its commitment to: 1.Treat all human beings with dignity and justice 2. Choose love over violence. 3. Share all possessions and live simply. 4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources.’” http://www.koinoniapartners.org/

I wonder what the world would be like if we all could follow these rules there is no religion in the four guidelines just humanities response to humanity. It is a community in a powerful way.

“Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich

The great theologian Tillich shows the paradox I started with. A friend who is alone and seeping towards loneliness yet cherishes her solitude as well for in it is her creativity and imagination.

“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges” Joseph F. Newton

As I read this statement by Newton it is so true solitude is by choice and loneliness in effect is as well you build walls of defense or of offense to ward off people getting too close or seeing who you really are. It is interesting as I think deeper on this pondering as I say. Here it is a new week a new morning and new droppings on its way. I spent much of the weekend working on my readings and writing for graduate school and working on my herb garden as weather was excellent this weekend. In closing as I have for nearly twelve years now, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts

Can we try and define Quality?

Bird Droppings April 22, 2011
Can we try and define Quality?

I have begun reading extensively the past few weeks putting together thoughts for my dissertation for my doctorate at Georgia Southern University. Among those that passed through my hands these past few days and actually a few minutes ago on my writing table is, The Quality School, by Dr. William Glasser, M.D. It has been sometime since I had looked through it but by chance was among the ones I pulled out as I read this week.
As I went about my day yesterday at school I had my usual flow of students through my room some want questions answered or to borrow a camera. Others want to say hi or use a computer to print out a project or report. AS I look ahead a week or two as we wind down many teachers have will have completed their lessons due to early end of course tests from the state and then it will be crazy. As in years past some students will be bored so they will come to my room to discuss snakes, salamanders and frogs or take pictures digitally and work on their various projects and images on the computers. Occasionally someone is tired and will fall asleep and wrap up in one of my hand woven blankets thrown o the old futon in the back of the room.
What always amazes me is my old second hand beat up rough looking futon is like a magnet to students and teachers alike. I have had kids want to buy it saying it is the most comfortable sofa in the world. So that leads me to quality and how do we define it? As I read through Glasser’s book I recalled one of my own credos. Number one on Bird’s list for schools is that students have to want to be there. If students do not want to be in school you are starting off in a losing mode before you even get to try and teach.

“Students tell me that a good teacher is deeply interested in the students and in the material being taught. They also say that such a teacher frequently conducts class discussions and does not place themselves above them, and they are comfortable talking to them.” Dr. William Glasser

Something caught my attention as I read what students wrote in my yearbooks over the years. Several have been writing in each yearbook for each of the past four years now and many are good friends. Some teachers would argue that point.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen

As I read the various yearbook quotes “Thank you for listening” “Thank you for just being here” “Thank you for understanding me” I started to think what is a friend anyhow? Is not a friend someone who will listen without criticizing and trying to resolve each petty detail?

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” Henry David Thoreau

Building on this idea of friendship and going back to Glasser who uses in his idea of a quality school the concept of choice theory; which is providing opportunity for choice from teachers and students. It is building choice into the program so there is ownership of what is being learned.

“True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.” Dave Tyson Gentry

It is difficult for me to sit quietly recently I sent an email to one of our assistant principal’s about how our minute of silent meditation went to 2.7 minutes and broke down costs and such I was being sarcastic since I do enjoy my meditative state probably more so than most do.

“One doesn’t know, till one is a bit at odds with the world, how much one’s friends who believe in one rather generously mean to one.” D.H. Lawrence

One of my reasons for picking up the book by Glasser was to look at similarities to the Foxfire approach taught at Piedmont College and that I am developing my dissertation on and about. Foxfire is based on a democratic class room promoted by John Dewey as early as 1918 a man considerably ahead of his time.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln

I was sitting watching the Trial of Billy Jack a few months back and listening to and watching how Billy Jack conquered his inner demons. He was focusing on the days of turmoil and tribulations that he had experienced. My wife always picks on me when I watch my hero Billy Jack. Yesterday a red tailed hawk caught my attention as it flew alongside me as I was driving home chasing a mouse. When I arrived at my house a storm was coming through it seemed with clouds swirling over head and as I looked out the window sunshine was streaming in as well. I ran out and was thinking perhaps our first rainbow of the year would be across the sky but not yesterday.

“A true friend embosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.” William Penn

A teacher then is a friend according to William Penn founder of Pennsylvania and staunch pacifist. If we as teachers would take this view of friendship perhaps more would happen in education.

“Education is the process in which we discover that learning adds quality to our lives. Learning must be experienced.” Dr. William Glasser

Teaching is showing and giving quality to life.

“Caring for but never trying to own may be a further way to define friendship.” Dr. William Glasser

Towards the end of the one of my favorite of all time movies, Bill Jack as I am listening, a comment is made by the heroine, “peaceful evolution versus violent revolution” and I thought what a powerful and interesting idea. Can we spread friendship; can we be better friend’s higher quality friends? Maybe just maybe we can create a better world if we put our minds to it. Yesterday a bill was signed and some feel money wasted but as I think an effort is being made to better educate and better provide capabilities for hungry and needy children and how can we ever say that is wasted money. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind.

A wind in the trees

Bird Droppings April 21, 2011
A wind in the trees

Over the past weeks we have had several severe storms come through the area. Just before I went to bed last night according to the weather we were to get another. Several times during the night I awakened and no storm was blowing and our dog finally slept through the night. Of course no one else ever hears her but me and I get up and let her run about checking the back or front yard whichever way she feels like going. When it is just wind she will search diligently the yard when storms come through she just keeps me awake all night barking and going out to bark at the storm. Two nights back was one of those nights I was looking for duct tape to silence the dog and finally no storm just a steady wind blowing through the trees several times I went out and listened. While a bit chilly still an eerie sound is the wind in the tops of the pine trees.
As I am sitting in my class room during the day at school I often watch clouds pass by, lately the sky has been clear and blue and huge white clouds pass by in a never ending procession. The pines just past the school often are moving with a steady wind and almost hypnotic in their movement. I was looking over reports I have to do for our year end and next week and found a book mark on my desk my wife gave me several years ago. Several quotes from Chief Joseph and an artist rendition of the great Nez Perce leader on the book mark.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing it makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.” Chief Joseph

I thought about our current leaders and past leaders who these words were addressing. Yesterday a Senator accused several major companies of making over a hundred billion in excess profit off of the American public over the past few years that is over a hundred dollars per person per year. Of course company’s attitude has been well they are willing to pay why not a profit for our stock holders. They other point has been that several of these major companies paid little or no taxes. It seems the double talk is about to end at least hopefully.
For many years not only the Native Americans as I look back at Chief Josephs words, but we average Americans from Europe, Africa and Asia as well have been duped by our leaders and by businesses because we have been willing to settle for what is offered. I watch in education as federal laws designed supposedly to improve education are in effect stifling education but profiting corporations. A small example is in Georgia our new math curriculum that latest about three years and caused some major hassles in schools and with students. Book companies reaped a small fortune however.

“If you tie a horse to a stake do you expect him to grow fat…?” Chief Joseph

As federal and states mandate on schools that are failing to meet standards are imposed for various reasons. Some states are suing in federal court the law No Child Left Behind which is doing a paradoxical sort of thing actually leaving children behind has been making demands on schools without the resources to back up the programs and laws. We have issues with how children are being taught yet evaluate not actually what they have learned but what they know at the point they take a test. Sadly the scores being used are not a valid indicator of learning.
As Chief Joseph surrendered to a superior force outnumbered and outmanned he made his mark on history through his words.

“It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are starving to death. My people some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets no food No one where they are perhaps freezing to death I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find some of them among the dead. Hear me oh chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more.” Chief Joseph

After his pleas for asylum in Canada went unattended he stopped fleeing the approaching army and the Nez – Perce had been defeated, they had out maneuvered and out run a superior force for months but their supplies were low, morale was low and winter was coming. A proud man laid down his rifle. I wonder as I think back and even look at today how we deal with people so seldom can we accept anyone as equal. So seldom can we try and live in peace without making demands. Why is it that those in power have to flex muscle and have what is not theirs to have. So often we interfere in other countries. We interfere in our own citizen’s rights and privacy. Power is such an addictive thing. Power a simple word and a simple thought I wonder why we so often abuse it. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your minds.

Problems are often misunderstood explanations

Bird Droppings April 20, 2011
Problems are often misunderstood explanations

“Although you may understand the explanations, if you are still suffering because of problems, you clearly do not understand the true nature of your mind, your body, and your senses.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Transforming Problems Into Happiness

Every day I deal with numerous issues among students in the high school in which I teach. I listen many times as students tell their explanation. I will often start my own statement with “as a parent looking at this”. When looking at a situation it changes depending on your view point and your perspective. Kids often forget they are not alone which is a key factor. Some of them want to be alone and wish they could get out of the house literally. I joke about the students who want to go to Valdosta State University in Valdosta Georgia. If you can imagine Georgia as a large rectangle and in the bottom most corner on the eastern side is Valdosta just about in Florida. In effect it is the farthest away college from anywhere in Georgia. So you can be far away from home and still get the Hope Scholarship which is available to Georgia students.
I think many people struggle with life myself included because we do not take time to truly look at honestly and openly where we are and why. Yes I can give you definitions and facts and from experience give you context of that content possibly even the true nature of ourselves but it is in actually living out that content that we understand.

“Happiness and suffering are dependent upon your mind, upon your interpretation. They do not come from outside, from others. All of your happiness and all of your suffering are created by you, by your own mind.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa is displaced Buddhist monk, a native of Nepal transplanted to India during the Chinese Communist takeover. We are our own biggest problems. I watch students anxious and depressed all from self induced fears and stress walking down the hallways. In our modern world stress is our number one killer and stress is self imposed. It is our interpretations of everyday events and then in turn its effect upon us. A good example is the number one solution according to The American Psychological Association for depression is to talk to someone, counsel, discuss and communicate. It is far more effective than any medications.
Why is this not used as much as several of the leading selling drugs on the market for one of the major psychological issues of our time? Possibly because we want a quick fix. We want solutions now, immediately, and definitely not after five sessions. Side effects and such no problem give me the meds is the common response. I don’t have time to talk, to meditate, to understand and or communicate with anyone. I just want better NOW!

“The greatest problems of humanity are psychological, not material. From birth to death, people are continually under the control of their mental sufferings. Depression happens in the first place due to being under the control of the ego, self-cherishing, attachment, anger, broken vows and pledges. This depression is caused by the ego, the self-cherishing attitude and the self-existent “I”. So rather than accepting the depression, give it back to the self-cherishing attitude. Use the depression like a bomb to destroy the wrong conception of the I. Then meditate on the emptiness of the self-existent I.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ego self cherishing attitude

As I listen to students who are depressed “I” is used a lot. Rinpoche offers a solution in getting away from “I”. For a number of years I have been a fan of Carl Jung’s ideas and thinking. Jung sent a letter to a friend who was depressed and this letter is in Jung’s writings on depression.

“I am sorry you are so miserable. “Depression'” means literally “being forced downwards.” This can happen even when you don’t consciously have any feeling at all of being “on top”! So I wouldn’t dismiss this hypothesis out of hand. If I had to live in a foreign country, I would seek out one or two people who seemed amiable and would make myself useful to them, so that libido came to me from outside, even though in a somewhat primitive form, say of a dog wagging its tail. I would raise animals and plants and find joy in their thriving. I would surround myself with beauty – no matter how primitive and artless – objects, colors, sounds. I would eat and drink well. When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me, for in excessu affectus [in an excess of affect or passion] Nature reverses herself.” Carl G. Jung in a letter to a depressed friend

Stop wallowing in self pity and doubt find a friend talk about it. “I would raise animals and plants and find joy in their thriving”. Try and seek alternatives to moping and self absorbance. Delve deeper seeking what it is that is bothering you. Most situations of depression from my own experience are when a person self imposes their own isolation and withdrawal conversely you have to also un-impose and open doors and windows to let in light.
Perhaps it is our own hedonism that has brought about the tremendous increase in depression. We want so much and truly need so little. Our world is centered on wants and demands wants. We end up starving ourselves emotionally for lack of need fulfillment. We set ourselves up as being above all else and much like Humpty Dumpty when we fall the shattered pieces are impossible to mend. Ego and self are the culprit in this dilemma often being better than others is a birth right many believe and daily strive to prove in clothes, attitude, cars, friends and other superficially significant to them things.
I was looking at several senior pages at our high school year book which is at the printer and soon will be going out. Some were literally flagrant I am better than you pages it was advertising trying to prove to everyone and individuals self worth. Somewhere I read it is in how you live people really seeing who you are. It is the example you set that sets you apart and or marks you for life.
I walked about outside literally four times this morning with our dog. A few hours back it was out briefly into a swirl of clouds over head amidst a deep blue sky. More recently the clouds are gone and the moon is lighting the entire back yard and everywhere there are moon shadows. I wanted to sing Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow. For each of us life is a deep blue sky with swirling clouds and it is sorting through the clouds and finding again the stars and moon of our own being and building upon that. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Sometimes we get to close to the edge

Bird Droppings April 19, 2011
Sometimes we get to close to the edge

I recall taking groups hiking in North Georgia and always there is that one person who has to be at the edge of a gorge or edge of the trail dropping two hundred feet down looking over and nearly falling. Maybe they were adrenaline rush junkies. It has been some time since I would edge my canoe off a rapids occasionally not knowing what lay ahead. I have gone off some pretty good size falls not paying attention.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” Soren Kierkegaard

I often wonder if I had chosen differently at various times in my life what would be the outcome and where would I be. What if I had not left teaching so many years ago would one of my former students perhaps have changed directions and not be serving three life sentences currently. I was aware of issues back then nearly thirty five years ago but I was just a kid working with kids.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

It is through experience that the highest form of learning occurs and it is learning that will stay with us as we move through life. I can describe how to tie a square knot and I can show pictures all day long of a square knot but until you physically tie a square knot with a piece of rope you will not recall the intricacies and methods.

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap?” Cynthia Heimel, Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics

I recently did a timeline of my life showing what I call coincidence points where a slightly different twist, trail, or take would have altered my life. People I have met, things I have done or not done all altered by a moments choice somewhere along the line.

“I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I’m not afraid of falling into my inkpot.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been a fan of Emerson for some time and as I read this line I recalled several comments from a friend who is an artist and very independent drawing a comparison to the Dr. House on TV. He is an arrogant extremely brilliant physician who offends everyone and seemingly solves unsolvable medical mysteries. My friend is a graphic artist and has learned the game of preparing art boards for clients; she will always do several and sort of over emphasize the one that she feels is best. You are giving your customer choice and options yet controlling the situation for the better. This is a Dr. James Sutton trick for working with Oppositional Deviant children. My friend has a customer who never picks the best one always the wrong one and now without just being obnoxious directs the customer to the best art work.

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

So often life presents us with challenges or with trails to follow do I go left or right do I take the steeper one or the easy pathway. Over the years hiking in the Appalachian mountains of Georgia and North Carolina you would come upon switch backs where the trail rather than going straight up would be a series of switches back and forth a bit more distance but an easier incline especially when encumbered with a heavy backpack. Some people want to charge forward and I had a few who would allows make a beeline for the top of Blood Mountain and avoid switch backs and about half way up the rest of us would catch up to them exhausted and bruised and bloodied from rocks and falls. Often there is wisdom in experience. Still those of us moving up the mountain maybe in a slower pace but would still finish ahead of them.

“Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?” Frank Scully

I remember picking apples and crawling out a bit too far on a limb nearly falling going for the best ones. Learning the limits of your environment can be beneficial and help you get the best possible of what you seek.

“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

I first used this quote nearly eight years ago putting a copy on my then principal’s door. Interesting that sheet of copy paper made the move to a new school and is still hanging in his office eight years later.

“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.” G.K. Chesterton

I have never been one to back down from a challenge and Chesterton’s words are true so often people sit and languish sadly literally molding away.

“The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided. It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.” Napoleon Bonaparte

In Risk Management you terminate the risk, you tolerate the risk, and you treat the risk and or transfer the risk which equates to the four T’s of Risk Management, Terminate, Tolerate, Treat and Transfer.

“This nation was built by men who took risks – pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, business men who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” Brooks Atkinson

It was the vastness of the frontier that truly gave us the American Dream. I have been working on papers dealing with the development of education historically and it is interesting how the frontier paid such a significant role. Europe had reached a point where every corner and every nook was owned and possessed and a totally new atmosphere occurred when the colonists came across the ocean. It was a vast un-chartered frontier.

“Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.” Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, 1759

So many times in history because of various limitations imposed by religion and by rulers because objections hold the society in limbo.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert F. Kennedy

I recall the day Bobby Kennedy was killed and football Hall of Fame great Rosie Greer who had been helping with security, he was one of the great all time linemen in pro football was griddling his head. As the news started a picture came across the media. The photo was the huge Rosie Greer bent over a fallen Bobbie Kennedy with tears in his eyes. Shortly thereafter news carried the words word that Kennedy had died. He knew the chances but believed in what he was trying to do.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” Seneca

Nearly 3000 years ago these words were uttered by the great Greek philosopher and today they hold as true as they did back then.

“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Robert H. Schuler

Pastor Schuler was never one to limit himself such as in building one of the largest church congregations in the country and the largest TV audience of all time.

“Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I am amazed as to how perception changes as conditions change.

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little course and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The old adage of getting back on the horse when you fall off still holds clout.

“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury

Every day some of us live this way waiting till the last minute and thriving on the adrenalin but not everyone can function in this manner. I sit back and recall my father going over the four T’s of risk management in a conference so many years ago and how applicable that still is not just in industry but in school, education, families, and life in general. Some people need a moment or two to catch their breath to ponder and make the wisest and sometimes safe choice. So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Reflection is so much more than a mirror

Bird Droppings April 18, 2011
Reflection is so much more than a mirror

I was sitting out in my back yard as I do every morning listening and thinking wondering about the coming day and week so much to ponder as I listened to the haunting call of a whippoorwill. A friend had gone for an interview last week and I was curious how that had gone. A former student is recovering from an accident and again I was wondering how they were doing. I was sitting contemplating and listening to sounds that were ever so silent with the crickets beginning to start the new life as temperatures permit and in the distance spring peepers responding as well to warmer weather.
My graduate studies began at Piedmont College nearly ten years ago. I was at the time intrigued by a concept of reflection built into each of the courses and degrees and literally every day existence in the education department at Piedmont. It is not a reflective position such as from looking in a mirror but one of a deeper pondering of what is going on around you and with your experiences and understandings. I met Dr. Jane McFerrin after failing my initial interview for admittance into graduate school. On a side note the individual who failed me on my first interview and I are good friends now and share many common ideas corresponding regularly now. I was informed I had to go for an additional interview with the Dean of education which was a scary thought as I drove up to Piedmont College.
I found the education department sort of tucked under the library and although I have sat on the steps many times waiting for classes to start since that time watching the lake and geese that time was very significant. Dr, McFerrin called me in and introduced me to the assistant Dean of Education Dr. Cummings who is now the Dean. She asked how could she get on my Bird Droppings mailing list which was my first interview question and sort of caught me by surprise. I was on my second interview having failed the first as being “not professionally suited for teaching” and perhaps it was because I do have an issue with ties and how was I to respond to this first question. I got Dr. McFerrin email address and added her to the list over ten years ago.

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of the view of the classroom community in developing respect for human dignity as well as preparing students to be active participants in their own learning and in democratic communities. The theme around which programs in the School of Education are built is Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of Children. Our students learn to be reflective, scholarly, and proactive educators.” Dr. Jane McFerrin, Past Dean of the Department of Education, Piedmont College

For me this is a very powerful statement and as I proceeded over the next five years to earn my masters and specialists degrees at Piedmont College that term reflective more than once was mentioned it became the standard of each class.

“…reflection is decidedly educational. It is simply an opportunity through which one can learn from experience. Reflection can take numerous forms, and touch on an endless variety of issues. It furthers learning and inspires provocative thought and action. Most of all, it can benefit the individual and the community.” Julie Reed & Christopher Koliba, Facilitating Reflection

It has been many years since the great educator John Dewey promoted reflection in his writings, of utilizing experience, understanding, and reflecting to promote and encourage thinking, and thinking about our thinking to borrow from Donald Schon.

“There are actions, recognitions, and judgments, which we know how to carry out spontaneously; we do not have to think about them prior to or during their performance. We are often unaware of having to learn to do these things; we simply find ourselves doing them. In some cases, we were once aware of the understandings which were subsequently internalized in our feeling for the stuff of action. In other cases, we may never have been aware of them. In both cases, however, we are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals.” Donald Schon, The reflective practioneer: How professionals think in action

With teachers so often we hear or read about being burnt out. That aspect that teachers get so caught up in what they are doing it becomes tedious and boring. Reflection helps to alleviate this process and provides insight into each day and each experience. Earlier today as I read a response to a comment I made I was described as weird. I thought back to my daily greeting from a particular student, Mr. Bird you are weird. What my student is implying is I am different. If you asked him should I be normal he will respond, not hardly. He liked me weird. I thought about it and as I described an explanation I was reflecting on weirdness. I did not see my self as weird but as I looked around my class room yesterday it was not normal peeking in others as I walked down the hall. I have no desks and no official board so to say although I have a portable one when needed with bits and pieces of everything and anything scattered about, questioning sources I call them. My favorite question is Mr. Bird what is this? It is amazing how a day can go when a student asks a real question one inspired by inquisitiveness and not by a lesson plan. That is where true learning occurs and it is then transferring that inquisitiveness to the subject at hand that is the secret. I will reflect on that today but please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.