Searching for wisdom

Bird Droppings May 30, 2011
Searching for wisdom

I started my day a bit later than normal being Memorial Day and most stores and such are closed and my plans included yard work writing and a family gathering later today so I was lazy. I ran by my corner store and shock of all shocks it was closed as I pulled in which is unheard of at seven thirty in the morning. So I went on about the day but some how ended up at one of my favorite stores QT and got a paper. On the front page the lead story was how high school graduates are not ready for college. Essentially in Georgia twenty five percent of the graduates have to take remedial courses in college. As I thought about this pondering as I do I recalled I too took a remedial language arts course my freshmen year. Actually took it twice since the first time I did not go to often.
Why did I have to take a remedial college course and yet I was accepted into all three colleges I applied too. My SAT was a few points too low for the school I applied too. As I think to my days in High School Literature with the exception of maybe one or two years I hated it and could not understand why we needed to listen to a teachers opinion on why Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick. As I think back I really did not like Math classes, Spanish classes and all but one science class. Considering we had math, literature and science all four years of High School I really did not like high school and perhaps my GPA reflected this. Even though my Sat scores were what got me into college and conversely in a remedial class, my saving grace in education was standardized tests which I seemed to always do well on. My first set of SAT scores were in today’s terms over 1300 for verbal and Math which really would get me into most undergraduate schools shy of Ivy League today. The second time I took SAT I decided I would see how fast I could actually take the test and in twenty three minutes had completed the SAT and scored only a few points lower than my previous test.
So where am I wandering today. My conclusion that I came to after reflecting on my own High School experience and many kids I talk with in High School today is that we are teaching subjects that many consider irrelevant to them, even kids going to college. Some students will strive and get high grades acquiring the content that is provided so they take End of Course Tests and do great. But as I look at High school subject matter and even the photo used in explaining how deficient students today are in Math I looked at the problem on the board behind the teacher being interviewed and in real life shy of being in physics or math as a job you will never see that material. Learning is what is missing from education today. It is about that desire to learn and making it relevant to students who more than likely do not even want to be in that class. So how do we get teachers on board that have been brought up in the same system?

“The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge. The wise, ever satisfied, have abandoned all external supports. Their security is unaffected by the results of their action; even while acting, they really do nothing at all. Free from expectations and from all sense of possession, with mind and body firmly controlled by the Self, they do not incur sin by the performance of physical action.” Bhagavad Gita 4:19-21

I can easily substitute learning and wisdom as I read through this ancient passage from a Hindu holy text. It is a matter of who you are with and when and how you have been told is this learning? But as I read this passage many years old a person is wise when what you do is done without anxiety about results. You are not concerned about your grade or what college or who has the highest GPA. We sadly live in a competitive world where being number one is even a marketing tool for advertisers. I often wonder if politicians get stressed out, other than around elections over what they do. I always thought of my grandmother as wise for her understanding was what she needed to know to raise her children justly and correctly and how to make really good chocolate chip cookies.

“This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety….It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.” The Dalai Lama

As a society we seem to encourage anxiety and stress often at the expense of our children and grand children. Our previous elected government pushed to spread democracy through numerous wars and our current government has continued and added a war or two to the pot which has caused a tension and insecurity in our children according to Curriculum Theorist Henry Giroux. Is it turning to a deeper meaning a spiritual center as “the only firm base” as The Dalai Lama states.

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

How many if us take this approach to life I use often the term of being a searcher in that I am always searching. When walking in the forest I have the urge to check under rocks could be the unrelenting herpetologist in me searching for a snake or lizard. As I sit or stand in the hallway at school observing, searching faces, listening, empathizing and trying to understand.

“To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” Dietrich Bonheoffer

I used a statement several weeks back about seeing the bubble in a thousand clear oceans. Bonheoffer addresses that same issue here. In education it is about context not content, that is being able to apply what knowledge we have and that can be more significant than an encyclopedia of information.

“I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” Helen Keller

Many the times, I will sit and think about people I would like to meet. My biological grandfather on my mothers side is one, Gandhi another and Ralph Waldo Emerson but if I was allowed another it would be Helen Keller. There are few people who have overcome such insurmountable odds and then accomplish what she did. The title to the book about her life does not do justice to the real life situation, The Miracle Worker.

“It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” Henry David Thoreau

I need to be more cautious as I write yesterday Thoreau was searching for clam rather than calm spell check does not read minds as of yet. But Thoreau eludes back to that thousand plus year old statement from the Bhagavad Gita,”when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results”. Being wise is being in tune so to say with all around and to borrow another word perhaps harmony could be used.

“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.” Immanuel Kant

In education there are in The Georgia Performance Standards points of reference in each subject to attain or to have knowledge of. Georgia had a system in place of Quality Core Curriculum which literally was each and every aspect of what the educational committee thought was important in that subject. Teachers were teaching to QCC’s and it was almost purely content. There was excitement as standards came out and the school curriculum people got hold and unpacked and now we have curriculum maps and curriculum pacing and what was to be wonderful has become a monster. The heart and soul has been stripped out and in its place organizational overload.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang

I have several times used my example of a liter bottle and having three gallons to put in it, how do we do it? A funnel still only fills to a liter and the rest spills out. I use this illustration in educating special needs kids and I believe it applies to all children and adults. It has been a few months since my last trip to Mountain City and the Foxfire property. I am heading up in a week or so. If you are in Mountain City Georgia take a look it is well worth the drive up the mountain. The museum will provide a guide to take you around. I recall the late Robert Murray and numerous walks with him around the property, here and there he would pick a plant leave or three or four telling about what they do and what they can be used for.
As he would go building to building explaining mountain life he eventually gets to a shed with a large copper coil sort of device and asks “So what is it” and answers run the gambit? Finally laughing he explains it is a condenser for making moonshine. So how do we fill a liter bottle? We condense and we synthesize and much like making cane syrup we boil the cane juice down to get the good stuff. Wisdom is knowing what is the good stuff and being able to transcend the frills and extras.

“The perfection of wisdom, and the end of true philosophy is to proportion our wants to our possessions, our ambitions to our capacities, we will then be a happy and a virtuous people.” Mark Twain

Make that number five on my list of people who I would like to meet somehow Mark Twain could always have the right words and thoughts. As I meander about today searching for books and ideas I will end with a line from a founding father and one maybe our current in power folks should read.

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” Thomas Jefferson

I hope we will listen to Jefferson please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

To die a happy death

Bird Droppings May 29, 2011
To die a happy death:

I have been teaching high school now for nearly eleven years and a little over a week ago another graduation ceremony and celebration of sorts. I am starting my day a bit later than normal since my dog has been keeping me up all night in and out just to walk the sidewalk. Over the past few years I have been searching for my older thoughts editing cleaning up and often finding a dropping that tie in today with somewhere I went a few days back. Only a few days ago I got in a discussion on fearing death which led me on a search for an email and some thoughts I jotted down many years ago. Since that note nearly seven years back my friend has lost a loved one I have lost a loved one and many around us have as well. So digging in my archives yesterday I started reading a thought from a friend who was trying to generate answers for his niece based on how do we die a happy death?
I was a bit taken back, sitting here only a few days ago not truly giving death much of a thought having the attitude when it happens it happens and for some number of years now I have lost any fear of death. It has been some time since I realized we need to live each day it isn’t about death and what is next it is about what is now and where are we on our own journey. It is not about anyone else’s, though we constantly interact and intertwine in my own cosmic sort of jig saw puzzle of explaining life. I had several answers to share and from a mixed bag of intellectuals across the country when I responded to my friends note. I used to sit in Geometry in tenth grade with the first responder and her thought was this.

“A contented life is important. One that has (at least partially) fulfilled personal dreams. “ From a child psychologist From California, 2006

As I thought about it dreams and aspirations are at the center of many of our hearts and souls. I have always wanted to go to Tahiti however I probably never will for one reason or another. It all goes back to my first reading of a Michener book “Hawaii” and how the original settlers sailed from Tahiti. In y romanticism I know it is not the tropical paradise I dream of and I will probably settle for South Florida and Sanibel Island which today would be fine. My next responder is a mom and teacher from Texas that I have met and known for eight or ten years from correspondence.

“I, personally, have always told myself that there is a difference between three powerful things: 1) mistakes learned from, 2) regret, and 3) a higher God that leaves certain things out of my control (thank goodness)…but anyway, ideally, I want to die having learned from my mistakes, having passed control over in areas of my life in which I have no control, and to die without regret. These are the three potentially negative “things” that will, even during my life, make me lose sleep. All in all…if we could live surrounded by love, and die surrounded by love (which will happen, of course, if we give just as much)…that would be a happy death.” From a teacher in Texas

I have read and reread this one several times and always her comments are deep and heartfelt, “Having learned from my mistakes” this is a life lesson many should heed. Often even within the past few days I have addressed this with several students take and learn from your mistakes and move forward and or backward as a good friend would say direction is not the key but movement and in our world of multiple dimensions it could be anywhere. My mother responded next to the question and this was a year before my father passed away. I find it interesting when your mother is an avid reader of your essays and thoughts as I am of her poetry and writing.

“Living a life that is fruitful and true makes for a happy death. Like your father has said many times, there is nothing in this world that he still wants to do. He has been there, done it and seen it and he always did it with love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control as his companions.” Esther S. Bird, author, poet and great grandmother from Loganville, Georgia

My father at that time was eighty four and had been all over the world teaching about Loss Control and Safety Management. In South Africa a headline once proclaimed he had saved millions of lives in the South African mines. Great Britain proclaimed him the Billy Graham of Safety in a newspaper headline. My dad started out to be a medical missionary and I was the culprit that sent him to the steel mills for work. As a baby I was very ill and hospitalized numerous times with seizures and a stoppage of breathing. My dad had to go to work instead of school. By chance he found good paying work in the open hearth of Lukens Steel Mill and until they needed a Safety guy with a college diploma he was a brick layer in the open hearth. He was offered a job as a Safety man which being nonunion was less pay but it was better hours he thought and an office no more twenty eight hundred degree furnaces to contend with.
Shortly thereafter his first book changed modern Safety Management, in the early 1960’s. In 1965 he coined the registered statement of “Total Loss Control” and the rest is history. So instead of saving souls in Africa in a mission hospital he was saving lives worldwide through his programs and insights. I began reading the next responders poems several months ago and now several hundred later find them exhilarating.

“For me, the idea of a happy death is one where I’ve given my best effort, stayed current with conflict resolution and being in the right place in my God’s eyes.” Poet from Puget Sound, Washington

I have come to read daily numerous blogs and poems posted by this wonderful person she herself has many life hindering illnesses and still features a giant smiley face as her calling card. She is such a powerful human spirit. I will end today with another responder on a regular basis one who thinks far deeper than most teenagers and surprises me with responses that go far beyond her few years of experience. Today she is a karate instructor in Georgia and I would never have guessed five years ago.

“I also enjoyed your droppings earlier about a happy death. I like to think of it this way, ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you will be criticized either way.’ Eleanor Roosevelt” High School student in Loganville, Georgia

I was wondering with all the death in the news here and abroad is death ever happy. Yesterday I read a blog from a young fellow in the army and the remembrance of a buddy killed a few days earlier in Iraq. Someone posted a series of crosses on a back country road where three teenagers a few years back hit a tree at a hundred miles an hour. I have attended many funerals over the years and often will do my best to avoid them if I can. I have in recent years been to my fathers, father in laws, several students, friends and other family member’s memorials. It is when I listen to the comments of joy that of celebrating a life rather than mourning death it is so different. It is so difficult to lose someone but what if they have done what is it they were intended to do and know that. What if they were happy and knew there was meaning to their life? I recall a death some nearly twelve years ago where a young man came to me the last time I saw him aware of his surroundings, for I did hold his hand through the night watching monitors blink showing his brain functioning was going and irreversible. I sat and did last rights in my own way as I was holding his hand though there was no movement from him or acknowledgement only monitors blinking and the respirators movement in his lungs.
At my last meeting with this young man he shook my hand and said not this time Mr. Bird. Normally he would extend his hand and pull it away laughing a joke on me. This time was different as he extended his hand smiling grasping with his other hand mine and saying thank you for everything and we parted ways he was riding in another car going home from a day of tubing in North Georgia. I never spoke with him again. I know to the marrow of my bones he was happy in death. He was always happy go lucky, always joking, always the life of the party, he was the group clown. When we gathered after the funeral each of said something similar he had said goodbye to us each in a different way. That night my son left a yellow sticky note for me on my computer that I shall never forget.

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

I have thought about that note daily every day since, I have listened to the Aerosmith CD version of Awesome many hundreds of times for that line. Somewhere in a box I still have that yellow sticky note over twelve years old now folded away as a reminder about how precious each second is. We honor our veterans on Monday and those who died to provide us with ideas and thoughts about freedom and liberty over the years. I would like to end with, what if we could have world peace? What if, always a what if, it seems. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.


Bird Droppings May 26, 2011

Somewhere in my wanderings yesterday I forgot to save my droppings. Seldom in eleven years of writing nearly daily have a missed saving to various folders by month and year any of my daily wanderings. For some reason I had my days mixed up backwards or such forgot about retirement luncheon for a dear friend and promised to babysit my grand daughter on top of it. I read a good bit and argued with my dog over her sleeping habits and issues about how she seems to bark on a frequency only I hear at night. One issue I seem to have is time, lately it seems never do I have enough from dawn to dusk to accomplish what I want that day. I will admit many moments I find myself remembering stories about my dad but within my day dreaming, which I do all the time.

“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” M. Scott Peck, 1936,, American psychiatrist, and author

I found this statement most intriguing and in a world where we continually try and save time and or speed up everything around since patience has been thrown out the door, time is an elusive quarry. Then I read this statement this morning I have been going over students scores of self esteem for several months looking for pieces to puzzles as to why they see them selves this way or that. I often am looking at family, friends, grades, age, and drugs, whether they are on medication or not. But in the end it is how a person sees themselves that is most crucial because it does interplay with all other aspects of our lives.

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”
Thomas Carlyle

In the cruel circular motion of lacking self esteem it is difficult to accomplish anything. Yet once that circle is set in motion and accomplishment how ever small is completed self esteem also rises forth and grows.

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” Sam Walton

Often criticized for employee relations and for the mega-capitalistic Super Wal-Mart Stores since his death, the founder built his empire on building self esteem of his employees.

“Take away my factories, my plants; take away my railroads, my transportation; take away my money; strip me of all these, but leave me my people and in two or three years I will have them all again.” Andrew Carnegie

Many years ago I had this hanging on my wall in my office when I worked in the publishing industry. My father instilled this idea in me and as I look over results from my students. It is not about what program has been used, it is not what curriculum is used or text book. It is about that interaction between the teacher and the student. If a teacher can commit to their students as Carnegie did to his people success will be there and accomplishment and the self esteem of the students will improve. I started today on time, amazing how I wander. When teacher and student’s commitment, interaction, and trust reach this level, time becomes inconsequential. When time is inconsequential you can concentrate on commitment and accomplishment. Each day in the news I read words that keep me writing please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Seeking balance while walking on a see saw

Bird Droppings May 25, 2011
Seeking balance while walking on a see saw

I walked in my room today and decided my stuffed eland on the wall; the largest African antelope needed a scarf. I had used a piece of rope around its neck to balance it better against the wall. (Clarification I do not hunt and actually raised this huge animal for nearly eight years. One winter he got sick and would not let us near him when he died a friend said to get him mounted. I did and for many years this huge eland sat in my garage. When I started back teaching he has become quite a conversation piece.) It was trying to balance the eland that got me thinking today.
First find that image of a see saw, I remember back in my earlier days on our play ground at Caln Elementary School in Thorndale Pennslvania, heavy wooden boards attached to sturdy pipe frames, a simple machine, a balance beam of sorts. As long as both sides were of equal weight you could push off and go up and down giggle a bit and go all through recess. Now put a larger weight on one side and let that one push off and the smaller person sooner or later may land on the moon. We go from see saw and balance to catapult and imbalance.
We tend to seek balance in our lives. Many biology books will state the natural order of nature is homeostasis, a balance. In nature we have food chains and various balancing factors such as larger eat smaller and plants are eaten by animals and a constant balancing effect. A more modern thought is the Chaos theory which throws a monkey wrench into the whole nice natural thing. Homeostasis is where nature strives for but it always is just a little further down the road, volcanoes occur, earthquakes, El Niño’s and yet on a larger scale universally are we still not reaching for homeostasis. A balancing of internal pressures and external pressures, even when an asteroid hits from deep in space still in some larger scheme balance is being achieved.
There is a word used in educational settings disequilibrium, out of balance and it is true on a small scale we do this constantly. It is this imbalance that provides us with potential for growth. It is that imbalance that gives us direction and goals to attain. A few minutes ago I was thinking of many of my friends looking for retirement and settling down reaching homeostasis. What do we do when we attain that state? It could be that is why we have rocking chairs to aid balancing and that comforting state. Maybe that’s why we put in ramps as we get older to reduce the challenge. Maybe that is why we tend to have diseases that try and throw us off balance and slow us down. Maybe it is because we have been brought up wanting to get to homeostasis or I should say that this is the ideal state.
Utopia is where you can worry no more sit quietly and vegetate. Time for an energy drink and someone to jump on the other end of your see saw is my theory. We need the imbalance to provide fodder for seeking the balance. The trick is always to keep pushing that goal a bit further on a bit more a bit deeper. It is in the seeking of homeostasis that we grow we learn we become more than who we are. Yes we all do age but it is never closing the lid to the box. It is never having a box to begin with. Living is about the trials and tribulations it is about the disequilibrium and imbalance and yet to it is also about hope and seeking homeostasis. My dear friends let us all please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Listening with the heart

Bird Droppings May 24, 2011
Listening with the heart

So often in life we tend to hear words we rationalize those utterances and develop an opinion and then logically state a response. Sitting discussing existentialism with my grand daughter last night as she coos and babbles trying her best to formulate words her emotions however are conveyed. It was only a few weeks back when she would be upset she would cry and you would know her diaper was wet or she was hungry now that has become more sophisticated and she whimpers her distaste at being held a certain way or that she wants to go for a walk or grand dad stop the infernal conversation on existentialism and lets go read The grumpy caterpillar again. We hear with our heads it is those vibrations from another persons vocal cords transmitted through the air that strike the inner workings of our ears and we in our thought processes put meaning to that sound.
When I see or hear the word dog I immediately visualize a four legged barking life form and it literally pops in my mind. Far too often we let the dictionary do our thinking we simply respond to the word contained on a page and how that definition has been explained to us or that has been taught to us. We do not hear with the heart. Although a grand baby teaches you quick otherwise. Occasionally a tear or smile will give away from where words are coming and good listeners will understand and hear the inner workings of the words not just the definitions.

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, we should then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” Carlos Castaneda

It has been a number of years since I first read the meanderings of Carlos Castaneda and his journey as an apprentice medicine man in the mountains of Mexico. Many writers and scientists consider his books to simply be fiction a very intricate fabrication as he developed his doctorial dissertation. I find myself however fascinated with his stories of a Yaqui holy man who took him in and taught this college educated man the old ways. While the possibility of fiction is there for me it is the story line which is depicted in the statement above. Far too often we modern day people far too often choose a path of logic of definition, one of clear concise rational thought. We forget the aspect of heart. We hear words that in Webster’s Dictionary, or when looking up online when reviewed and analyzed have a specific meaning and soon we leave behind what was being said. People speak not in clear and concise words but in emotions and feelings, we speak from the heart.
Many years ago a great story teller spoke of becoming like children and his follower’s immediate response was we can not be reborn, physically. The author of this story was speaking of listening with the heart as do children. They haven’t learned all the words and still do not know the definitions so heart is all they have and you know what they generally get it right. As I watched my grand daughter last night grip her upper lip in her two new bottom teeth making faces at us while sitting in her grand mothers lap she knew the response she would get and a whimper her and there and people were jumping getting toys a clean diaper. There were no words spoken simply communication direct from the heart. Please keep all n harms way on your mind and most of all in your heart.

Small is often BIG

Bird Droppings May 23, 2011
Small is many times BIG

Yesterday I took care of my grand daughter so my son and his wife could spend the day with some friends at Six Flags over Georgia. I find it amazing how a conversation with a five month old can be so enlightening. Her eyes sort of watched as I spoke about the various sounds we heard as we walked around the yard. A morning dove was cooing and I called back. A mockingbird called in one of its many voices. A woodpecker hammered away in our old black walnut tree and I pointed out the holes almost out of view. We sat down at my special place in the back of the yard where I sit and meditate and still early in the day the spider webs were glistening in the rising sun. I explained how the threads of life are woven through all things. After our walk we went in and had breakfast and read, The grumpy caterpillar by Children’s book artist and author Eric Carl. My grand daughter is barely an arm full and yet the wisdom of youth shows in her eyes.

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

Last week a student asked about a plaque hanging on my wall. It is rather simple one, just a slip of wrinkled paper with the word pass written on it. Why you have a piece of paper hanging up, I was asked. It got me thinking about a day many years back when I was finishing my masters degree. I was looking at some power point slides as we waited between committee meetings at Piedmont College. This process was the culmination of two years work and studies and at Piedmont College entitled the capstone. As I think back and relate to what a capstone is within an arch it is that which hold all together. Our project was a summary of all we learned in two years.
As I thought back nearly nine years now, one set of slides was of my son’s old ten gallon aquarium, a nano reef or mini reef for those less verbally aware. The object is you can have a beautiful salt water aquarium in a small space with very small creatures. The up keep is actually significantly more than a larger tank because there is no margin of error in a small tank, but when you start looking at these tiny almost insignificant creatures they become breathtaking. In the space of ten milk cartons an entire world exists. A two and a half inch pistol shrimp lives in a burrow with a three inch blenny a small fish. The blenny is very wary and the shrimp is blind when trouble seems to be coming the blenny pulls the shrimp back in the hole. When a tasty morsel is coming the fish encourages the powerful shrimp to grab it. In that small space two tiny creatures working together in a symbiotic relationship.
A few days ago one of the teachers brought in a tiny green tree frog they had caught we arranged a little cage for observation. Over the years I have found the world close up can be more fascinating than great big world we live in. There are pieces revealed that may other wise go unseen and life takes on a different aspect. Often I enjoy my macro lenses more than the telephoto. Seeing up close often reveals bits and pieces we might never see otherwise.

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

So often we miss the small pieces always intent on the big and little bits of life will pass us by. As we used to watch my sons nano reef explode when he dropped in a feeding solution of microscopic particles of plankton, algae and such. I do not even see what the tiny corals anemones and polyps can sense in the water, closed animals open into beautiful living things seeking their prey. Soon after glimpsing the power points I was handed a small piece of paper with my name on it written in blue ink and the word in capital letters PASS on it as well. That was the closure to two years of study and a door to another journey. I took my note and placed in a frame on my wall at school a reminder of how so often small things can be so important. Amazing how a small piece of white copy paper can be so significant. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Graduates desire is the key

Bird Droppings May 21, 2011
Graduates desire is the key

Four years ago Friday I had the privilege to hear my niece give the salutatorian speech at her graduation from Metter High School in Metter Ga. Metter is still has primarily an agrarian economy and driving from my in-laws to the school we passed by freshly dug onion fields. My Vidalia onions in the garden at home are still just getting started. This area of Georgia is famous for its sweet onions. Bags of onions were sitting in rows waiting to be picked up. I listened and watched as high school students gave speeches turned their tassels and threw their caps in the air. That graduation in Metter was a practice run for my youngest son’s graduation four years ago this coming Friday. My son claimed how often is it that you have two of your cousins as salutatorians in one year. Another niece was salutatorian at our high school.
So often as I sit down I am unsure of what will be my next writing looking about at familiar materials gathered on my desk over the past weeks. I am sort of a pack rat as my room at school will attest to and as does my office area at home. Looking about a quick run down of what is before me, to my left two plaques, both are quotes I have used several times behind them a list of Standards for Curriculum that I am supposed to use as I do lesson plans. Near by two book markers, one the quote from Reinhold Neibuhur the other a quote from my mother and a copy of my book I am working on editing.
Sometimes my writing can be so cryptic that I need to put clues about so I can follow them and remember the direction I was headed. I so often throw out the word empathy when discussing teaching. It is also crucial to human existence. I have a friend who I pick to get married next fall. My friend can not figure out how I know so much. I listen and hear pieces and bits and empathy also a bit of inside information about her dress maybe by coincidence.
Several nights back I watched a movie that while directed by a man who is known for using twists and turns and has done some really bizarre movies in this one is a plot that happens daily in our lives. The movie is “Insomnia” with Al Pacino and Robin Williams. The plot line was the famous investigator Al Pacino who accidentally shoots his partner in the fog coincidently the partner was going to talk to Internal Affairs about him. How is this about our daily undertakings? The beginning of the murder plot takes place while investigating a murder and the witness is the murderer. A long story short Al Pacino’s character has to lie and in the plot line the lies build as his sleeplessness builds to a point of hallucinating.

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact the entire world agrees with it; nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it” Maimodes

My point is watching the movie reminded me literally of in life a little simple fabrication can build, as we tell a friend or family an untruth something small at first and soon it mushrooms. So often at school or around town I hear someone tell another person what I know is an untruth and the story begins and grows and rumors have a way of enveloping us eventually. I often joke about starting rumors with students and faculty. But as I sit here this morning my point is borrowing from an old quote “If you tell the truth you do not have to remember the story”.
As I sat down this morning and pulled up my quotes for the day I was overwhelmed with ideas and looking around well an interesting day ahead. Our own high school graduated its largest class ever last night. Sitting here today recalling the speeches last night and having listened to our graduating students tell of their ideas and ideals at a graduation my mind shifted to pondering the realities of our society.

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” Aldous Huxley

Many years ago in tenth grade 1965 I had an English teacher who had us read a book by Aldous Huxley “Brave New World” as I think back she was a new teacher in her first year right out of college. She was fired for her reading selections it seems Huxley, Rahn, and Orwell were a bit too controversial for the school board in that time. But we learned and her classes were lively and interesting. Sadly the book 1984 in 1965 was to controversial. 1984 is now standard reading in most high schools and required in many.
As I look back and think today we still censor learning as we try and limit learning. School boards across the nation vote on issues such as the concept of intelligent design or allowing Harry Potter as a library book and this is going on literally daily. My favorite was a local school board attaching a label to science books, a disclaimer for the theory of evolution.

“The deeper a sand-well is dug the freer is its flow of water. Even so, the deeper a man’s learning the greater is his wisdom.” Tirukkural

The more we learn the greater the wisdom that is if we are learning, but it takes initiative to learn and I have found you have to want to learn have the desire to learn in order for real learning to occur.

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is and in great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” Vince Lombardi

As I was trying to pull all of this together today Saturday has flown by and I have much to do. I took over one thousand four hundred photos last night. It will be Monday and a new week ahead teacher workdays and the end of this year. With my only a few days of work this week full weekend of activities with family ahead, a quote from the great Vince Lombardi. Coach Lombardi had a passion for football and for winning. He coached the Green Bay Packers to the first Super bowl in 1965 coincidently. My father has used Lombardisms numerous times in his own writings and lectures. Lombardi did not like losing but the quotes are not about losing as he says “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is”.
Desire is the key, a desire to succeed to win to have A’s to be someone that is the key. Looking back to the quote from Tirukkural on digging a sand well, the deeper we dig through desire, the more knowledge we will have. Huxley’s quote it is up to us to make the effort the change to have the desire no one else can do that for us. So this week sit down and think of how can you get the desire and then accomplish your goals. I would like to congratulate all of the graduates and may you find peace and tranquility in your daily walk. I read President Obama’s words this morning which reminded me of former President Jimmy Carter as he sought to bring peace to the Middle East. The words have been used by each of the last five presidents in differing arrangement but still the same context. The ridicule from the Presidents detractors is interesting. I talked only yesterday about perception with several teachers and it is amazing how perceptions alter our realities. Currently I am planning on writing again tomorrow not to take anything away from some who might be pondering some other course of action. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Children Learn what they Live

Bird Droppings May 20, 2011
Children Learn what they Live

It is such a beautiful morning and quiet out side, I had the opportunity to sit and meditate for nearly an hour under the full moon today. I took our dog out and the air was still and nearly silent however the quiet and sounds that permeated were fantastic. A great horned owl periodically pierced the quiet along with a whippoorwill. As I listened a bit more carefully, still little noise even in the background other than handful of crickets and a soft breeze in the trees. I had burned some sage leaves in a bowl with a smidgen of sweet grass and the aroma added to the ambiance. For the first time in some time there were few human interferences available. Air conditioners were still as it was cool, cars were not quite moving on the nearby roads, and most normal animals and humans were still asleep. I started thinking about my on views on education and raising kids. I came back to some old ideas I have had around for some time.

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” Will Durant

I have used this story several times over the years having shared this short thought in previous droppings and in classes. It is a story entitled “Our nature” which is from ancient Zen thought and writings I found this on a professor from Rdyer University’s website after seeing the story numerous times thrown out on the internet.

“Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, ‘Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?’ ‘Because,’ the monk replied, ‘to save it is my nature.’ “ Dr. John Suler, Ryder University

As I look at this story there are many possible reactions. How foolish is the monk who gets stung, first he knows it is a scorpion, then he also knows scorpions will sting, and lastly he has been already stung once. What lesson is being taught in this passage? There is also a similar story Dr. Suler uses from Native American lore of a fox and scorpion crossing a stream. I find there are applications to parenting, friendship, and teaching within the context of a stinging scorpion. As I read this morning looking through various articles by Dr. Suler and Sydney J. Harris I came up on this article from Harris’s column Strictly Speaking. .

“The student, who could really get an A if he wanted to, cannot really get an A because he really doesn’t want to. And the wanting to is an essential part of the achieving, not a separate thing, as parents imagine, that can be injected into him like a shot of adrenalin. All genuine and meaningful and lasting motivation comes from the inside, not from the outside. The carrot and the stick work maybe only as long as the carrot is in front and the stick behind. When they are withdrawn, the motivation ceases. You can get a mule to move this way, but not a person for very long.” Sydney J. Harris, Motivation, a key part of Talent

Yesterday in class I was listening to students tell why they have low grades as we get into finals. One made the comment “but I am passing I have a 70” and another blurted out “what do I need this crap for anyhow”. As I listened and looked through various notes and ideas I wondered how we instill the idea of motivation in a child or student. How do we change the attitude of so many? Most of the students yesterday when told about the monk getting stung would say he was stupid, just step on the scorpion or why waste your time. Occasionally a person will pop up and say, “The scorpion has a right to live too and that is why the monk helped it”. Somewhere when I first started working with children back in the dark ages I found a poster around 1972 or so in a shop outside Philadelphia. The poster is entitled “Children Learn what they Live” and was written by Dr. Dorothy Nolte in 1972 and goes as follows:

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves
and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Everyday I look across my room and there hanging is that ancient poster still as viable today as it was in 1972. Sydney J. Harris couldn’t put a finger on motivation but he mentions in his article how parents want it to be like adrenaline and we could give a shot of motivation. The monk showing kindness to the scorpion, an attribute that had been learned by observation by seeing and by example, is it that motivation is from inside. Harris states and as Dr. Nolte so eloquently points out in 20 or so statements it is what children see and feel as they grow up that provides them with that inner drive that inner spark.
Children do learn what they live and as parents and teachers we are modeling their future. We are what they will be and can be.

“If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.” Dr. Nolte

It really is not that difficult. How can we expect a child to be motivated to succeed if we take away any of the twenty possibilities presented. No matter how big the carrot dangled in front of us it must come from within as well and eventually we as teachers, parents, and friends need to be providing that support and effort. Today a beautiful day please keep all in harms way in your hearts and on your minds.

PS. Maybe, just maybe it is Dr. Nolte’s thoughts hanging on the wall in my room for the past thirty nine years that has kept me going and not to stepping on scorpions.

Life is about practice

Bird Droppings May 19, 2011
Life is about practice

“There may be more to learn from climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains.” Richard Nelson

I went out several days ago to get photos of football practice at our school. We have a scrimmage game with our offense and defense playing each other. This has been a tradition for a few years now. Watching the coaches and players interact and drill the same play again and again it dawned on me maybe enough times and you will get it right. But then as I thought not really if you practice a play a thousand times perfectly and know each step engrained in your mind and body you can now focus on what may change as you actually run that play. Your thoughts will not be occupied with the play but with succeeding with the play.
As I read Dr. Nelson’s thought earlier I wondered and then it hit me so many times I will in my daily routine go through the same motions same processes and yet each time something new will hit me. On my way to school a new house or tree I never saw. It might be a hawk I missed or the angle of the sun as it filters through the trees. It is those minute details that add so much more to life. Several years ago I found a quote from an athlete who is listed in the ESPN list of top twenty five records that will never be broken. He has been called the great one and in his day there was no other greater ice hockey player.
Wayne Gretzky held every scoring record at one time but his combined points will more than likely never be equaled. ESPN has Gretzky’s all time scoring record as the number two record in the top twenty five least likely to be broken. Why was he great? He will say practice and from the time he was a small child and just learning to skate he made shots on goal. It amounted to thousands upon thousands of shots even tens of thousands of shots till his playing was near automatic.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky had an uncanny ability to know anticipate where the play was going from practicing not only shooting the puck but watching and understanding people – there is another aspect to his great ability as a player reflected in his next statement

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

Procrastination was not in Wayne Gretzky’s vocabulary. Gretzky’s believe in practice and perseverance also happens to be two keys to success in life and in school. On the job and at home practice and perseverance can significantly make a difference. We all can not be as successful as Wayne Gretzky perhaps not at Ice Hockey but at being a teacher, a parent, a friend and for me I would be rather remembered as the dad whose record of being a great father will go down in the record books. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

A new morning

Bird Droppings May 18, 2011
A new morning

Last night I drove up to the corner store to get gas for my wife’s car. When I returned the sounds of the evening were stilled from the chill al the humming, whistling, chirping and barking that should have been going on was still. Living in the country we are used to quiet but this was still other than a slight breeze which occasionally would rustled the pine needles. I seriously miss the cicadas, tree frogs, crickets and every other creature that normally would be out and still going strong this morning but forty eight degrees on a May morning silences all. Through the silence this morning a lone owl hooted two or three times and then it too was quiet.
Today we are doing a few make up tests for End of Course Test and getting ready for finals tomorrow and Friday. I wonder often about the usefulness of such endeavors are we truly assessing students or simply going through hoops. Sadly it is a state and federal requirement. I have a little book that I found at Barnes and Nobles, “Teachers Little book of Wisdom”. I found it on one of excursions into the vastness of our local Barnes and Noble. Seldom do I come out without reading material or at least an idea. Bob Alogozzine is the author/editor of this little tome. Bob is someone who ended up in teaching sort of by accident and fell in love with his job. With an economics degree and few jobs in his field, there was a need for Special Education teachers so he ended up by chance teaching. This little book is 365 statements about teaching.

“Teach them the difference between things that need doing better than they have been done before, things that just need doing, and things that don’t need to be done at all.” Bob Alogozzine

It is not just about math or science there is an aspect of life in each day we walk into a room or see another person. Teaching is not simply a job done by a teacher it is a piece of everyone’s existence. Parents teach from day one. Friends teach or they are truly not friends and some of us who choose to be in a class room teach. As I read this little thought I realize how wonderful of an idea it truly is. It is not about learning calculus for the big test but about doing better than has been done before. If each of us could look at life that way and do today just a bit better than any other day before.
I was looking at my blue berries yesterday and they are not quite ready but it reminded me of several years back picking blueberries at a friend’s house. It was hot out we nearly stopped several times but we kept on and you know when I finish writing today I will throw some big blueberries on my cereal and milk from the freezer. Blueberries really freeze great. Life is moving in so many directions as I read the news today and maybe one day soon I can stop ending my emails with this. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.