Ethics and politics

Bird Droppings June 30, 2011
Ethics and Politics

I picked up a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution this morning. The front page had various articles but one caught my attention. Having been a student in psychology at Mercer University in Macon and required to go on a field trip to Central State Hospital at that time 1973 the largest residential mental facility in the nation and a few months later doing a six month internship at the same facility as well as having a direct link through patients now being served by Georgia Mental Health this article hit me hard. It was focused on an appointment to the directorship of Georgia State Mental Health. The person appointed by our Governor was not a psychologist or mental health employee of any sort but the former calendar keeper of the previous governor. Another tie is that she is the girl friend to the current governor’s spokesperson. The new head of mental health even makes twenty five thousand more than previous director. Interesting too in that Georgia is under investigation by federal authorities for the state of its mental health.
It was not too long ago the debate in Congress was about minimum wage and yet there was little if any debate about raising their own salaries and perks. I find it amazing how politics works and working people and those trying to work and lift themselves up get nothing and Senators and Congressmen can vote a raise. Democrats are trying to tie minimum wage to their own raises which is nice and many workers who are on minimum wage are below poverty level often for whatever reason limited or hindered in the types of jobs they can get.

“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 worry about money and success who needs it when gas is 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 overlook selfishly those with less. The raise for a congressmen per year would be more than the fulltime minimum wage paycheck for a year of a lesser worker. That is sort of like saying I am more than your equal so I deserve this money a slap in the face to many.

“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. I find it so hard to fathom what some people do with billions of dollars.

“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 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 and knowing thy self as the ancient Greek philosopher said so many years ago are crucial. 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 they 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 savings from not raising minimum wage. A long day today discussing and reading so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Standing in line at Kroger

Bird Droppings June 29, 2011
Standing in line at Kroger

I am always looking for coincidence, this could be why so often I find it just about anywhere, be it walking in my yard and seeing an owl sitting in a tree or standing in line at an odd hour at our super Kroger and finding a book. As it goes I am a creature of some routine, while not rising as early as I do doing the school year when I leave the house at to go to the high school, I still am up and moving before many even consider the idea.
Today was one of not having enough vehicles for drivers and those going to work and I needed to run my son to his job since his truck is in the shop and we needed to pick up a rental car. I have been doing well on my intake of caffeine for a couple days and since I left without my tea from the house and trying to avoid my caffeine fix each morning from very high calorie energy drinks I headed to find Black Chai Tea at the store. It has been a few years since I would down big mugs as I wrote each morning and had that urge again. The collection of empty mugs on my desk at school bespeaks my former habit.
I drove my son to work, he likes getting started early as well and proceeded to the store to pick up my tea and headed for the checkout. Just as I entered the line a book cart of sorts a large cardboard box marked book sale. Generally in a grocery store books in a large cardboard box marled for sale are ones no one wants but are discounted so you will buy this now sort of approach. As I bent over to look on top was a little book, “Teachers are Special” by Nancy Burke. The adventure begins, on page seven a nice start to the day as I am always looking for ideas.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

That summarizes many education courses and how to courses in teaching all in one and here I am always searching for what makes a great teacher. Inspiration is the key as I look back on teachers over the years a very few inspired me. There were some and those I could on my fingers and I am one who has been through many teachers in undergraduate and graduate school. As I was writing I recalled my son calling a few summers back to ask if I was watching the news, one of his good friends was in London on a summer study trip and things were going on where his buddy was staying. Coincidence I officiated at this same young man’s wedding a few years back. As I thought to the young man whose wedding I had officiated and my son now living in South Carolina I reread the line from this little book and you know the word teacher could be substituted with parent, friend, manager, supervisor and nearly any other word describing relationships. It is so interesting how we all are teachers in life at some point or another.

“Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe

One of my projects today is to finish some thought on Affective Learning which is essentially how I teach and get my lessons in line for fall. I actually found several Universities doing research on the subject, basically teaching with feeling. What if for today? What if everyone taught, listened, spoke, managed, supervised, coached, and or just was friends with feeling would our world be any different?

“I like teachers to be nice and sweet and cool and let us do our own stuff, and to be kind, really kind.” Meagan, age 7

I wonder what if a child could rule the world what would the world be like, nice, sweet, cool kind, really kind and we could do our own stuff maybe. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Looking at the pathway ahead

Bird Droppings June 28, 2011
Looking at the pathway ahead

As I slowly get my brain in gear after a couple long weeks of Foxfire courses, philosophy of education reading and trying to catch up on my gardening I find I am almost in a fog. It has taken two days literally for my mind to slow down to a normal level so I can talk to regular people and not be thinking in terms of post modernism, post realist reconstructionism and other vast terms of near meaninglessness to common mortals. It is in words that philosophy and higher level pondering take place. However as I cracked open a book of Native American healing that I have positioned to read whenever I sit down it helped bring my brain back in gear.

“Life is a perpetual instruction in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the years of listening to my father lecture I heard the name Heinrich numerous times. It was many years ago that a German scientist W.H. Heinrich developed what was called the domino theory in Industrial Safety.

“According to W.H. Heinrich, 1931, who developed the so-called domino theory, 88% of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts of people, 10% by unsafe actions and 2% by “acts of God”. He proposed a “five-factor accident sequence” in which each factor would actuate the next step in the manner of toppling dominoes lined up in a row.” Abdul Raouf, Theories of Accident Causation

There was a cause and effect in the domino theory, just as a child will set a series of dominos on a table and tap the first each in sequence than will fall, cause and effect. I have noticed in my years that we so often do step into things and often out of when our shoe gets soiled. In most of my wanderings I have not seen the dominos in effect till many years down the road, pieces of my life’s puzzle that fell in place at one time or perhaps changed a direction. I know growing up I was seeing Heinrich’s work first hand as my father based many of his own theories on the Germans concept. The domino effect stuck with me, each piece is significant to the next good or bad all have balance and counter balance involved. All of the pieces interconnect.
Each morning as I write and try and find a direction or a point of reference for the day and I wonder why and where this will lead. A few days back I made mention to the TV series “Into the West” and a friend who receives my meanderings each day emailed back her best high school friend was the producer of that movie, the interconnections fall into place. I am still editing my book A teachers Journey; Bird Droppings, so many bits and pieces to account for along with permission to use quotes, my own biggest issue spelling and punctuation, not just the steady use of hyphens in my thinking and writing. This is my goal for the next three or four weeks. Hopefully I will get the job done and who knows where that piece of the puzzle will fall. Tack on my to do list my dissertation as well which is more writing this summer.

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am often asked why I write each morning. It is a spiritual time for me, to be sitting, thinking, meditating and writing all in one process. So today, my dear friends please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts as we begin a new week and a new month tomorrow.

The Journey

Bird Droppings June 27, 2011
A new journey

“School divides life into two segments, which are increasingly of comparable length. As much as anything else, schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them.” Ivan Illich, 1971

I started with this statement from Ivan Illich who was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and “maverick social critic” of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development. From my own stand point it was his short book or essay, Deschooling Society, 1971 that caught my attention.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.” Ivan Illich, 1971

This short book brought Illich to the attention of the general public. I want to emphasize one sentence. “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring” After a couple of weeks of John Dewey and Foxfire I find this very significant.
I find as I ponder teaching, education and learning I continually come back to my father and his impact on my own concept of teaching. I remember all of the acronyms and quick one liners he would use to emphasize points. As I was thinking it hit me that it is the fourth anniversary of the last time I spoke with my father.
It was June 27, 2007 and I had dropped off some medicine my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey.
I drove down to Oxford Georgia after leaving to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drank Evian back then more recently switching to Smart water liters as they fit in car drink holders. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy.
As I headed from the county just before dusk a tall dead tree was standing to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark nearly white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and time I had to reach my destination. In Native American thought often animals are linked to us in a special way and provide us with bits and pieces of what we need as we travel in life.
I arrived just before they started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University I walked around a bit. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his rendition of Axel Rose’s and Bob Dylan’s singing a duet on that famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me most nights. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey in to night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because she was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.
I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son had work this morning so I thought I would wake him up and he walked by. I had several vivid dreams over the next two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my son and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.
I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock in the morning June 28th. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought, listened and pondered for a few minutes. I enjoy the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rise in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some stones I had previously placed on the ground.
I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and she was fine.
It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnecting and meeting people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and all were his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.
“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps resounding as I recall my sons singing that night four years ago and it was so many years ago another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I thought back again to 2007 with my father in law passing and a student who I considered a dear friend and then my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish all well on their journeys and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Peace to my father and all of my friends.

Sitting, pondering and grandbaby sitting

Bird Droppings June 25, 2011
Sitting, pondering and grandbaby sitting

I spent the better part of last week up on the side of Black Rock Mountain assisting in my own way the facilitating of a Foxfire Approach to teaching class for teachers and teachers to be. I am being somewhat sarcastic as I am doing research for my dissertation as I participate in these programs. I seem to find folks to talk to and discuss this approach to learning that had its origins in the late 1800’s with John Dewey. Somewhere along the line we always as teachers find the things that bug us as I wrote about in my journal and droppings two days ago in the essay entitled, The Genocide of Learning. As I was sitting with my granddaughter earlier rocking as she fell asleep I was wondering back to Piaget again and how he saw his kids developing. I wonder if ever he took away a chance for learning while they grew up.

“When test scores go up, we should worry, because of how poor a measure they are of what matters, and what you typically sacrifice in a desperate effort to raise scores.” Alfie Kohn

I recall mention of curving math scores a few years back to have more students passing at the state level in actuality they had designed a new curriculum and were just checking it out and students failed miserably. It did not look good and with the miracle of statistics and curving better scores were had and Georgia fell under the umbrella of a new math Curriculum, Math I, II, III, and IV. Modeled after European integrated math it is all math areas at the same time. Colleges however are still looking for Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus. Now our third State school superintendent in about five years decided to go back to old method of subject taught math. Georgia School superintendents are elected the one from three terms back is in prison for embezzling money from education funds. The last school superintendent had some issues and the current one is trying to undo the damage. Add to this for Georgia folks who can forget the scandal in Atlanta schools over falsifying test scores and the subsequent pressure on teachers and administration in current test situations all for what is truly an invalid measure of learning.

“I remember taking advantage of scores mattering maybe too much… I would skip classes but pay enough attention to when teachers would go out of their way to ‘suggest’ what would be on the tests… I’d memorize that stuff and score very well despite missing many classes (but not too many as to fail based on missed hours alone)… Maybe learning what to pay attention to, I the new way to learn/be smart?” Liz Fotopoulos, Graphic Artist, Blogger, Facebook Friend

As I think back to my own educational career it was SAT scores that got me into college not my grades in high school. My GPA was too low for graduate school and a very high Miller Analogies score got me in along with an interview with the Dean of the Education department at Piedmont College. I could take standardized tests and do well. But is that a measure of learning or is it simple what you know at that time. Without a baseline point of reference an End of Course Test is literally meaningless other than our students all know this right now and or do not. It does not measure teacher effectiveness, IQ of students, disabilities within student population, aptitude of students, effectiveness of curriculum, what type of desks should or should not be used, cafeteria lunch menus, class room temperatures, and or any combination of the above. Teachers carry the load and yet become responsible at the end of the journey for how it was packed in the beginning.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. “ Lena Horne

Many years ago I met Leonard ring for the first time when he was taking a course in Safety Management at a school sponsored by my father’s company. It wasn’t too long till Len and my family were well acquainted. Len had a background and several degrees in ergonomics, however his specialty was lifting. “Bend your Knees”, became a famous catch word in a matter of years in industry, hospitals and around the world. With Len as the star of a video showing correct lifting and how a simple plan could save MILLIONS of dollars each year in lost time injuries related to back injury the video and Len traveled worldwide.
Len passed away nearly ten years ago but as I read this quote this morning I remembered meeting him for the first time in Macon nearly 35 years ago. Lena Horne makes a statement that is so true. How we deal with issues or problems those heavy loads can adversely affect us. Stress related illness is the major killer in the civilized world while water borne disease is in the third world countries. Perhaps we should make our choice now heart attack or dysentery as to how do I want to pass on and where. Seriously STRESS has become a big issue and for teachers and pressure of testing it is crucial.
Gary Zuchov in his books addresses our spiritual side with in his thinking that being at ease at peace with one self is crucial. Recent scientific studies have shown people who regularly meditate and coincidently a very high number of Buddhists have fewer incidences of stress related illness. People who address their fears and overcome them as in some eastern thought is also a significant issue they have less stress related issues. It is – how we carry the load and sadly it is far too easy to fear the unknown.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mohandas Gandhi

I may seem as if I am wandering from education and the testing issue but not hardly, for it is this issue that is a major stressor in education, with parents, children and teachers. Defining the aspects of life that can provide us with some ease relief from stress and burdens can be difficult Gandhi uses the word will.

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Gustav Jung

Jung and Zuchov both refer to the soul as a key which is that aspect of our being we cannot see and in many ways know little of and yet so much is written. Author, psychologist and former monk, Thomas Moore has written numerous books based on his view of soul. One of his first was entitled, “The Care of the Soul”. I started this morning with a simple statement from Lena Horne “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it “. If we could only carry the load the correct way ever time wouldn’t the journey be far easier and the road so much smoother and maybe just maybe not break down. Maybe if we really wanted to measure what kids were learning using methods that have been proven over time the stress of teachers and children would be reduced. I had my chance at teaching because a person had a nervous breakdown of sorts. All of us have limitations physically, mentally and according to Jung and Zuchov spiritually. Would it not be wise to know those limitations if and where they are and by knowing your strengths and weaknesses it can only make you stronger. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

The genocide of learning

Bird Droppings June 22-23, 2011
The genocide of learning

It gets difficult to finish my daily journals entries lately running back and forth to North Georgia. As today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and many will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some will be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by over zealous teachers trying to succeed with their students test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.
I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Native spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measureable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would say a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.
Over the years my room at the high school has been a in school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

“The gap is so great that the required subject matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Children come to school as avid learners having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems. I can not help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.

“….all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Over the past week I have been involved with a Foxfire Approach to Teaching course up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I try and attend as many days as I can more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. On Tuesday night I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1971 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses.

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis if greed.” Jonathan Kozol

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the results only profit is a goal success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but make adjustments in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.
Money is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our “Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day within education to make good consumers.

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With standardized testing the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought. The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I worked on a simple formula along the lines of we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated” and found an interesting thought.

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

It has been nearly eleven years since a former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.
We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although they were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.
So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend went to Korea to teach English and on her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First family would only accept the best from the kids. They expected there children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address are system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county.
We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and after two weeks of Foxfire Approach to teaching I am ready for another school year. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Seeing the fluidity of life

Bird Droppings June 21, 2011
Seeing the fluidity of life

“Adverse circumstances test our courage, our strength of mind, and the depth of our conviction in the natural law. There is nothing exceptional about practicing in a good environment and atmosphere. The true test is if we can maintain our practice in adverse conditions.” Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Advice From a Spiritual Friend

I often start with how the morning is when I walk outside and at four this morning the moon although about half full was glowing. The sounds were over whelming between crickets tree frogs and various other creatures of the night. Today as I ventured out a thought crossed my mind I had been reading for several weeks books on curriculum essentially on education and when I left the high school in May for summer break curriculum was a fixed static word. Even the hopes of a change in state mentality when we went from specific core curriculum to standards which ended up unpacked even more detail oriented. Sadly what had the apparent glimpse of educational freedom became more of a prison as teachers and administrators mapped and cajoled specific details to the most minute point. What was an inch and a half three ring binder for curriculum in a given class was now three inches thick.

“The central theory of curriculum is simple. Human life, however varied, consists in the performance of specific activities. Education that prepares for life is one that prepares definitely and adequately for these specific activities. However numerous and diverse they may be for any social class they can be discovered. This requires only that one go out into the world of affairs and discover the particulars of which their affairs consist. These will show the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that men need. These will be the objectives of the curriculum. They will be numerous, definite and particularized. The curriculum will then be that series of experiences which children and youth must have by way of obtaining those objectives.” F. Bobbit, How to make a curriculum, 1918

In 1918 Bobbit used what John Dewey built on in later writings in that of experience, those experiences which children came to school with and had in school. However in today’s world of CRCT’s and NCLB and all the wonderful acronyms specifics are what teachers teach so students pass specific topic driven tests. I went out this morning actually twice earlier I was sitting my eyes closed listening to the steady drone of the crickets the same note incessantly playing yet actually calming not tedious. Across the trees tens of thousands of fire flies sparkling and dancing through the trees and stars scattered about. I started thinking I could very easily write this down specifically illustrating each item I see and hear and generate a story but experiencing what I was would never be adequately detailed in writing. A recording and video and digital imagery would not capture this morning there was fluidity a movement. For many people there were only stars, crickets and darkness and go back to bed I actually did but could not stop thinking about the event I had witnessed nothing different than I had so many previous mornings. Crickets were still playing the same note, the same stars, same trees and fence and grass but was it.
I went out a second time and as I turned facing each of four directions in the world the stars were slightly different as I faced north and turned to the east and south and west. I spied an old friend Cassiopeia the running W constellation. But was it Cassiopeia I could not find the final star I searched above the group and looked away looking again and again and began to think maybe this was not the group of stars I thought. Then as I lowered my eyes I noticed below the group the final star I had been looking in the wrong place.

“The idea of curriculum is hardly new but the way we understand and theorize it has altered over the years and there remains considerable dispute as to meaning. It has its origins in the running/chariot tracks of Greece. It was, literally, a course. In Latin curriculum was a racing chariot; currere was to run.” William Pinar

I was thinking as I watched the stars and fire flies how fluid even in the stillness the tree frogs added a unique touch chirping away in the early morning. But while yes I could write and limit this scene there was so much more to experience so much more happening than could be written in a three inch guide book on early morning wanderings. So many teachers’ educators want a fixed package so each child will get this portion of knowledge. Exams provide the conclusion for that mentality and you can teach to an exam and many teachers now teach a prescribed package to the exam. But what if we were looking in the wrong place for the extra star would we know to keep looking or assume it was the wrong constellation? Would we have enough independence to look deeper even though there was not time in the schedule of this activity and the guide book allotted only five minutes of pondering. Fluids are not solid yet have properties and consistency, knowledge and learning is fluid not solid and in trying to make a solid from fluid we can only freeze it and stifle the true understanding.
Sitting here thinking of curriculum theory and writers and listeners and teachers and thinkers and most of all students who have to sit through classes of content and never get to context all for the sake of a test and that the only measure of what they have maintained at that point in time of that subject and perhaps in a narrow minded way that is what politicians want, a narrow minded populous that will simply do as we ask. I keep picking up old National Geographic, a recent one had several excellent articles on the Grand Canyons formed by the flow of water intricate and detailed but what if it had been formed by a solid and not a fluid? It would be a valley gouged out by a glacier a straight shot no intricacies and details and a pile of rubble where the glacier began to melt pushed along from the ice sadly education is similar. If and when a good teacher comes along education is fluid and students learn the intricacies and details but if a teacher is not and teaches a solid by the guide book the details and real life experiences get left by the way side. Currere means to run which made me think of a scene in Seabiscuit where after seeing the horse is fast but still holding back the trainer gets the jockey to take him in a field and run no track no limits just cut loose and the horse finds himself. He had been trained to run in a circle in a guided limited curriculum. What he needed was fluidity. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Sunset over Between

Bird Droppings June 19-20, 2011
Sunset over Between

“When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, ‘Ours.’” Vine Deloria, Jr.

It has been a rapid quick succession of journeys and trips along with trying to keep my herb gardens watered and weeded over the past few weeks and it has been difficult to get into a routine. I drove up to north Georgia yesterday to sit in on a Foxfire teacher course and will be heading back up for a few more days tomorrow. As I returned from the mountains yesterday it was getting close to sunset and the great red ball gleamed red ahead of me and somewhere just as I reached a spot to get a photo it disappeared below the horizon.
Talking with the teachers yesterday and at each of the Foxfire courses is a recharge for me of my desire to strive to be a good teacher and always rekindles my hope that we can soon escape the prison of teach to the test and truly be educating children for life rather than a score on a end of course test. A good friend informed me that she and another teacher from her school both teaching with the Foxfire approach were back to back teachers of the year. That says something when you are breaking out of the traditional mold of teaching and using the approach that John Dewey promoted nearly a hundred and twenty five years ago.
My morning started with a trip to the doctor for my semi annual stretched to two years blood work. It always seems hard to find time to get to the doctor. But I am getting old and I was ganged up on and I was there at eight this morning to get poked and prodded. I went by our school to check on my animals and to touch base with administration; I wanted to throw an idea out. Everyone was else where when I got there after my doctors trip. I went by our house and unloading groceries and my grand daughter and I played for some time while her mother ran some errands. On one excursion out side sitting on the front porch rocking I looked about a hundred feet away and two baby deer very young judging by the size crossed into the woods. I showed them to my grand daughter but at six months and the camouflage of their spots I do not think she saw them.
My more recent reading has been one of a spiritual nature looking at various moments in my life each unique and synchronistic as I go my way. The timing of the deer today and over the past few days numerous events that were as eloquently timed as I continue on my own journey. It was nearly a year ago today I was taking my wife and son to an early morning flight to Dallas that put me on my way home as the sun came up over Atlanta. It was not a spectacular sunrise but still pretty coming up around the skyline. It was only a few hours later a call from my middle son he was back in Atlanta from Omaha Nebraska and the NCAA World Series, his school Georgia Tech was eliminated so they drove straight through to make classes on that day.
All in the same day a good friend had previously asked me to borrow so I headed to Athens to drop my book off for him to review. When I got home I noticed a bulletin in MySpace from someone who I have been reading their blogs and has been commenting on mine, a young lady from Canada. I had responded to a note earlier in the morning before going to the airport and received word she was heading to South Korea not sure why but a journey. She would write her thoughts often in riddles or a paradoxical way. Often you would have to think to unravel her meaning. So that day nearly five years ago her words of wisdom from jennjenn and we shall move on from there.

“Who knew? A journey always begins and ends in the same way” jenn

I have often written about the journey in life and or that life is a journey jenn went to Korea to teach English in a private school and learned much about life and people as she traveled through Korea and eventually China. I sat here thinking about what jenn wrote that day and what I had done in the course of a day I had gone over to Athens to sit and talk with a friend, another teacher needing some help with a project. He was just needing some ideas to get going to finish his master’s capstone so I left my capstone manual and drove home. He went on to pass his capstone and graduate only to end up moving to California to teach.

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” Henry David Thoreau

As I sat and thought and pondered Henry David Thoreau came to mind as he was a wanderer. He walked about to learn, to grow and to meet new people. His idea of a journey was it doesn’t matter what is ahead or what lies behind it is in our hearts that is important and in some ways this is perhaps what jenn was saying it is not about where we are going or when we come back if ever but what we carry with us is always the same who we are and why we are. I use often loosely the concept of soul as that inner part of us that is who we are.

“Illusion holds power over you when you are not able to remember that you are a powerful spirit that has taken on the physical experience for the purpose of learning. It has power over you when you are compelled by wants and impulses and values of your personality. It holds power over you when you fear and hate and sorrow and fester in anger or strike out in rage. It has NO power over you when you LOVE, when compassion opens your heart to others, when your creativity flows unimpeded joyously into the present moment. In other words, the illusion had no power over a personality that is fully aligned with the soul.” Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

I was thinking of Gary Zukav as I was thinking about my starting idea which sort of wandered around and in and out but of soul and that our soul never changes. Where we go and why and when we come back our soul that inner driving force of energy remains and stays the same. Thomas Moore left the priesthood to become a therapist and writer holding a doctorate in psychology and theology. He writes about how do we take care of our souls and while a theologian he writes about the soul from a non religious point of view.

“We think of the psyche, if we think about it at all, as a cousin to the brain and therefore something essentially internal. But ancient psychologists taught that our own souls are inseparable from the world’s soul, and that both are found in all the many things that make up nature and culture.”

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

It is the beginning and the end of the journey that of who we are and why our connections to all that is and was. I use this quote from Aerosmith often and believe it.

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

Here is for a safe journey for jenn and all else who are traveling my family and many friends be it from work, school, vacation or just going to Kroger and always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Am I home?

Bird Droppings June 18, 2005
Am I home?

It is late afternoon and the breeze from an impending quick summer storm has taken the temperature down a few degrees. It is cool now but as the storm dissipates and the warmth of summer will soon over come the welcome chill of the rain and wind. I walked out to my quiet place in a distant corner secluded from much of the surrounding with weeds and brush. I can sit and listen to the trees, birds, insects and life passing by.
As the rains came I walked back to the house to sit and write again some seclusion in my corner in the upstairs loft area. Listening to a 1971 Neil Young CD and pondering numerous issues that confront me. Earlier I went on the back porch with our dog and in the silence of the darkness save for the friendly chirp of crickets and peep of tree frogs echoing through the morning stillness a nearly full moon was attempting to show through the cloud cover. A few stars creep through oak leaves and pine needles and the blips of fireflies produce an eerie effect as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The all consuming question for the day was I wonder if I am home. It has been a few years since I felt that way.
Having lived in a house I built and raised my children and numerous pets for over twenty years it was a place where my favorite dog passed away and I could sit with no one near if I chose to play music loud. So I wonder today am I home now? Occasionally a car at 4:00 AM can still be heard in front of the house as it was today perhaps someone going to work or coming from play but the stillness of the back yard and silence of the trees makes me think perhaps I am home.
My children are all grown and even now a grand baby sleeps here as well and they are asleep inside and my dog is resting growing bored with me staring into the night and listening to sounds that irritate her ears. Although a low flying firefly catches her eye. So here this afternoon I am sitting down to read and write. A good read for those interested in Indian lore and understandings, “How can one sell the air?” which is a speech by Chief Seattle as it sits by my computer. This was a question he raised where is home? For many it is only a place where we rest, eat our meals and tend to chores of daily life. As I look thorough this simple book it is where our ancestors have been buried and where the pathways are worn by our feet and air been breathed and re-breathed by our children’s children. That is where home is so I continue to wonder am I home? Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Reading a friends book for the tenth time

Bird Droppings June 17, 2011
Reading a friend’s book for the tenth time

Dr. James Sutton sent me a copy of his new book “What parents need to know about ODD”, nearly five years ago and I have been through it numerous times. Dr. Sutton is one of the leading writers and authorities on Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the country. One of these days when “Bird Droppings a teacher’s journal” comes out the forward is by Dr. James Sutton. I have been reading academic books lately big words, long words, and almost nonsensical words such as post-structuralism, phenomenology, semiotics and hermeneutics are a couple of good ones just to mention a couple or two. It seems many academics want to use words and pages to bolster their endeavors and then question why common folk don’t understand.
I responded to Dr. Sutton with the following sentence or two. My first experience with Dr. James Sutton was going to a conference in 2003 in Macon Ga. and listening to his ideas on working with some of the hardest kids to deal with in education. His ideas hit the nail on the head and this latest book “What Parents need to Know About ODD” is an easy to read, easy to understand and to use as a tool for parents and teachers who daily have to deal with the trials and tribulations of kids who are ODD. I recommend to my parents and associates Dr. Suttons books and ideas almost daily. This is not a sales pitch but when combined with another issue that we teachers have been saddled with for almost seven years now, NCLB, the federal law which requires teachers to use evidence based practice, EBP’s. This becomes a problem in special education because there is not that much to work with and as I thought today a good teacher with a good idea could be hindered by a packaged program that is an EBP and not as effective and there have been many cases where teachers have been criticized for not using the recommended program.
Every year we lose good teachers who are hindered by administration and packaged programs many researched by the company publishing the program. I had a situation actually myself a few years ago and was told this program was what I was to teach to a specific group of teenagers and it was research based. I called the publisher to verify the research and found that it was never done with a population anywhere near what it was being recommended for and the one study that was done was with kids ten years younger and 20 IQ points higher but it did work with them. A Harvard study posted June 14, 2006 states.

“…the policy has had no significant impact on improving reading and math achievement since it was introduced in 2001, contradicting White House claims and potentially adding to concerns over academic competitiveness.” The New York Times

Funny how we keep trying to make schools better or I should say politicians keep trying, I wonder when teachers will be asked?

“I will stake my reputation and over thirty years of experience on this: Real change occurs when relationships improve.” Dr. James Sutton, What Parents need to know about ODD
I have watched wheels spun testing kids at the end of semesters and courses and at the end of high school and all because laws say to that were established by politicians. Yet all you are truly testing is what someone knows at that moment and not what they learned in any given time frame or how well a teacher taught. This is common sense not any scientific based doctrine but logical teacher learned information. My son who is biology major could take an end of course biology test without the course and pass does that measure how much he learned or simply what he knows at that point. Yet teachers and administrators are losing jobs and schools are being threatened by these tests. Recently in a discussion in an online class I raised a question about NCLB and how kids were being left behind and a teacher an advanced degree teacher offered “well some children want to be left behind”.

“The power paradox is a simple concept. It suggests that the more force we put into controlling an ODD child, the less effective those efforts become. Golf pros will tell you that, when you try to muscle that ball down the fairway, looking for distance alone, there’s no telling where it’s going to go. When you focus on form rather than force, however, the distance takes care of itself. It’s much the same idea in managing an ODD child.” Dr. James Sutton, What Parents need to know about ODD

So often when I read Dr. Sutton’s ideas and they apply elsewhere in life than just working with an individual child. The power paradox is in education all the time it is in relationships between people, in government and even within families. Far too often we go for power not form. I recall many years ago the TV show Kung Fu and the late David Carridine was portraying a Sau-lin priest who had escaped to America for killing someone in self defense with his martial arts. It was not about power but form the swan or deer almost ballet movements yet lethal as well. So easy to get caught up in words as I read numerous writers words each day in blogs, books and articles and a thought I have been having keeps coming up, the reader has to be able to understand the writer. The experiences and perceptions have to be there so what is written is understood by the reader? One excellent writer I read daily uses riddles and word puzzles that play on words and many readers have not a clue what is being said and or why. That is part of her mystic and then all of a sudden it hits you.

“Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual. We must construct that people-centered society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.” Nelson Mandela, speech at the opening of the South

It has been nearly twenty years since South Africa truly became democratic. I wonder how long it will be till we here in the United States can say democracy is back and it is not the rule of the dollar and lobbyist. Much of what I have been reading lately addresses the issue of education and how it is to make good consumers. All our efforts at teaching are being subverted into generating customers as discussed by many authors. The fat we are calling college students customers which is the term used on many campuses is sad and that is the word used by administrations in a corporate world. Historians have said over and over wars are always fought for money. As I look back and in going back looking at any war in history money was a key factor. I questioned Viet Nam and sure enough Johnson wanted the war effort to continue as industry was getting a shot in the arm and the economy was being turned around. The power paradox in Iraq an interesting thought have we ever focused on the form and that of the individual in Iraq. Maybe we need to ask for Nelson Mandela’s help in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya among the many. But as has become habit please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.