There is a reason I am told

Bird Droppings August 31, 2011
There is a reason I am told

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” Robert Byrne

I have often wondered about this thought as have so many before me and will after I am gone. Philosophers wonder and wise men ponder, is there purpose, a reason for each of our existences. Over the years numerous books and articles show the intertwining and interconnecting of lives and of reality have been written and reflected on by many great thinkers. I have seen the interplay daily of my own life with others in the school where I teach and with my family and friends.

“To have no set purpose in one’s life is the harlotry of the will.” Stephen MacKenna

“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.” Washington Irving

Many thinkers of one school of thought consider that we go at life with a purpose however it is with a cognitively involved rationale for existence. This is control of self of the mind within the individual and it is there that purpose exists and is carried out.

“We should all be obliged to appear before a board every five years, and justify our existence… on pain of liquidation.” George Bernard Shaw

Shaw perhaps goes a bit far but daily do we not each have to justify our own existence as we interact and are involved with others in this reality.

“An “unemployed” existence is a worse negation of life than death itself.” José Ortega y Gasset

So often I see children and adults both wandering with really no purpose. Sadly I see yet could there be more to this than a self motivated purpose and self imposed rational process that provides all answers?

“A useless life is an early death.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Are we subject each of us to others opinions as to why we are here or is this an individualistic program of deliberation of each person finding their own independent reason for being? Is there an over blanket of purpose perhaps some ethereal veil that shrouds us all in purpose.

“I love the valiant; but it is not enough to wield a broadsword, one must also know against whom.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps a bit deep but Nietzsche always is as he is drawing his illustration to that of knighthood. It is one thing to be a knight but is their purpose if there is no opposition or no foe to vanquish.

“When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” Seneca

Within each of us there is perhaps a compass, a directional beacon, a sense of whom and where we are in the world. That driving force, that searching for the harbor could this be our purpose in life and in existence?

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” George Bernard Shaw

A bit melodramatic and direct Shaw draws difference between seeking self indulgence versus a higher goal in our search.

“To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life.” Alan Coren

Seeing fault can be just having a different opinion or a different view and then to question, to ask why. These too are aspects of our makeup that provide individualism and uniqueness to our days.

“Men, like nails, lose their usefulness when they lose direction and begin to bend.” Walter Savage Landor

Life is a journey, how many times have I use that phrase? I think I do so literally daily as I talk with students, teachers, parents and friends. Each facet of the puzzle is as complex and crucial to the whole as the next. We each have purpose and have meaning. Far too often we under estimate who and what we are. We demean ourselves in self pity and doubt. I will use the illustration of a puzzle, a magnificent jig saw puzzle with millions of pieces. Each of the pieces has many facets each more intricate than the next. They are all falling into place, within this life. Occasionally we see the connections but more so than not we simply see the gray backing of the puzzle piece.

“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life is much like a great play unfolding although many times we never do see the script till the act is over. Please as we start a new week and with so much turmoil both here and abroad keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Why do we fail?

Bird Droppings August 30, 2011
Why do we fail?

Many the time, I wonder why people stop learning. I see it in high school students and in college and graduate students. Almost as if a switch is thrown and poof no more learning I have reached my limit. I had a teacher approach before school started today about a student who scored a seventeen on a quiz. The student’s parents were asking for a retake and study guide which the teacher was complaining about doing. The student got a seventeen he deserved a seventeen period. Where is the learning curve giving a failing grade is not a motivator for many students who by high school are used to that and could care less. Achieving a passing grade by learning what is on the quiz and then retaking and passing is what school should be about.

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner

I began the morning looking through several articles written by William Edelen, a former pastor and fighter pilot, as well as several by Arthur Schopenhauer, an 19th century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology. Somehow in my reading earlier I ended up back on articles by John Gardner. I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One of the former students shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard. The other student said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. Still another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart.
I thought back in each of their lives. All failed in part or all of graduation tests in high school, one of the students had failed one a portion three times by a total of eight points as a result she did not graduate and she opted to get a GED. She was tired of failing or risking failing again.

“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I’m going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron

For so many of us we take defeat failure in stride and move on, but for some students failure is a daily event and eventually they succumb and lose whatever desire to succeed they may have had.

“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki

“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose

Amazing how this is so similar as I think back on life to my own experiences in fourth grade. I had a teacher who was grading me harder than those around me. I think she thought I wouldn’t notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A. I had two wrong and a C. My mother asked and the teacher stated I wasn’t working up to my ability so she was grading harder than other students. I quit trying in school for some time, until about two years into college.

“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you’ll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

We set in motion at young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. Watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn – example is the best teacher and they watch parents – if we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole

I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one exhibit is a barrel of light bulbs all failures and the plague reads it took over 10,00 failures to succeed but it did work – as I went further and read Coles thought about drowning and was applying it to students I have – many have given up because the school society has given up – as soon as you take statistics in college you gather data and sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail and soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to their graphs and charts

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

Alfie Kohn’s starts his website with:

“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards”. The statement of “Learning by doing”, which is a common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name so let’s call it “teaching by doing” (TBD).”

“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them

Alfie Kohn has been writing about issues in public school for the past few years, he is a major proponent of public schools. It is how we teach he is trying to address, and instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that aspect is his desire. It is about promoting success rather than failure that we need to strive for in our endeavors as teachers and parents. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success and their futures. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Can I get a nickels worth of cheese?

Bird Droppings August 29, 2011
Can I get a nickels worth of cheese

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself.” Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

There is something about the first light on a summer’s morning. It could be about trying to discern how many different birds are singing and calling back and forth as they are waking up. Nearby a wisp of smoke is floating along the old fence line trying to rise up and is dissipating into the trees. It has been a few years since I studied psychology at Mercer University in Macon Georgia and a few since my Seminary studies at Emory University. Sitting here after sunrise as I continue to wander through my educational career I find new authors and new favorites and often I recall a few from days long gone that have significance right now. I have been a fan of Carl Gustav Jung for many years and in my assundery readings the past few years have come upon James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Kent Newburn and James Kavanaugh.
I am reading right now an article by Mary Aswell Doll for a paper I am writing. Doll is known for her work in curriculum and the teaching of literature at the Savannah College of Arts. As I read her paper which is actually an introduction to her book “Like Letters in Running Water; A Mythopoetics of curriculum” it is entitled “Fiction as food”. She referenced several times Jung, Moore and Hillman. In my search for a dissertation title the search for soul in education came up. Mary Aswell Doll uses the word soul as a medium for learning and growing.

“In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” Thomas Moore, writing about his mentor Hillman

Over the past few months I have seen the word soul used quite frequently and yet, is it defined clearly ever? Over the years I have worked with adults and children who I sense (a very scientific term) a void or you could say a vacancy that I have referred at times as a lack of soul. It is not looking at this in a religious sense, and as Moore infers other possibilities as well could be drawn. In this sense of vacancy perhaps learning issues as well could occur. Doll in her writing emphasizes making a connection with content and existence, bringing the two together.

“First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore defines soul that piece becomes a piece of your reality not just a fact memorized and categorized. As I read through Doll’s article other issues came to mind. In our rat race of a society and in our cramming as much curriculum into a very specific given space as possible regardless of whether it will make sense we seem to lose something I think we lose pieces of ourselves. Just get the test over with and I am out of here, I have heard that line from teachers many times. I have raised questions of filling a liter bottle with two gallons of information as an analogy. As always though where does that lead us. I think Thomas Moore sees us stripping away any soul we may have or not taking time to nurture the soul that could possibly be there.

“But the culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world? All of this anxiety and depression casts doubt on whether I can make it as a heroic John Wayne-style individual.” James Hillman

We are killing off soul in kids and in adults. I was watching Law and Order just before I went to sleep last night. It was an old show about a father was so enraged with a hockey coach after a game not playing his son enough and the scouts from colleges were there, he beat him and killed him. His defense was parental rage, losing control and the attorney for the state came back with how can we excuse this man. His rights stopped when he put his fists up to the coach. We cannot accept road rage, parent rage any kind of rage. Then I read Hillman’s statement. What is our self view? What leads to psychological depression, is it because we are all supposed to be John Wayne. Borrowing from a thought I read a day or so ago from Steven Pinker that behaviors are not manifestations of our environment but of our genetic makeup and environment triggers behavior.

“Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, and makes you damn miserable. So you know it functions,” James Hillman

Our rat race society where being John Wayne and never stopping and emailing till all hours of the night and working 24/7 and getting no sleep and pouring down energy drinks (I tend to like the five hour energy shots) is how we live. I remember seeing my first bottle of Coke BLAK, a short lived coffee flavored coca-cola a few years back as the Coke man was loading coolers at a nearby convenience store. It reminded me I was one who stopped drinking coca-cola when new coke came out.
Hillman sees our increase in depression as a response to our competitive society. That we are leaving behind something perhaps it is our soul. Hillman authored a best seller, “Soul Code” and Moore authored the best seller “Care of the soul”. These two men are not just fly by nights. James Hillman studied under Carl Jung in the 1950’s and Moore a former Monk studying for the priesthood has a doctorate in psychology and music. Interesting he is a pianist as well as therapist. Both men are concerned about this thing we call soul. In Doll’s article she emphasizes children learning literature in a manner that stirs the soul. By going back to Moore’s first definition, “First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” John Dewey sought to pull experience into learning making it a crucial aspect of his philosophy. I have many times related to context and content being equal partners in learning.

“According to the German poet Novalis, “The seat of the soul is there, where the inner world and the outer world touch. Where they permeate each other, the seat is in every point of the permeation.” Thomas Moore

Over the years I have read several of Moore books. One thought he refers to often is that primitives die from water born disease and in modern society the major cause of death is stress related illness. That thought has made me think about how we teach as well. Are we taking the soul out, leaving only the content much like a tape recorder, children simply give back facts? In Doll’s article she describes several things to help teach fiction. One is deliteralization and getting back to imagination. Another is letting imaginations run wild. Doll uses the word fluidity and one statement that is significant for me is;

“…fiction is food, fiction feeds the souls hunger.” Mary Aswell Doll

“Second is a teaching method for fiction probably not favored in surveys courses: slowness” Mary Aswell Doll

I have been wandering, thinking, and throwing out far too many ideas today. It could be that I have been reading too much over my summer vacation days even while I was sick last week. However a slight change of thought but very much in line, borrowing from James Kavanaugh, several lines from his poem Men too gentle to live among wolves.

“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men to gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.
There are men to gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men to gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.”
James Kavanaugh

I wonder if we could slow down or change gears or maybe find that which is missing from so many. I get excited when I read Moore and Kavanaugh hoping maybe we as a society will find answers. But then I turn on the TV, or pull news on Yahoo and for example this a few mornings back a news story about a high up official in Homeland Security who was arrested for soliciting sex with a underage girl over the internet. He had been reported using secured cell phones and computers for his obsession. A crazy what if going back a few years; The Katrina mistakes were because a memo slipped up during a computer session. I was thinking back to when every day it seemed another mega conservative powerful person was found being naughty. Now in a more liberal political setting and still scandals pop up I was thinking back to the Governor getting in trouble for trying to sell the Senate seat from Illinois.
Like the parent rage on Law and Order I am sure someone will say this man has an illness. I would say it too borrowing from Pinker’s thoughts it was in his DNA. Maybe he just needed something to bring it out and fortunately this time an undercover officer posing as a fourteen year old girl on line. But what if terrorists figured him out and got into his secured files, what if it was black mail? I spent the better part of several hours discussing politics and ethics in schools yesterday with peers. I came to the conclusion a politician by definition cannot be ethical. A politician will vote the way someone wants them to vote not how they know in their heart they should. I might email Thomas Moore maybe we need a repair book for souls.
Another week ahead and so much going on through the world, I will try and be optimistic and continue to hope for peace. I was at my current favorite store Kroger yesterday getting a few provisions for the family and while standing at the Deli counter an elderly man and myself got into a conversation recalling the old days and country stores. When I first moved into Walton County back in 1978 you would still see mules occasionally plowing fields and an outhouse here and there as well. But a found memory is the hoop cheese at the corner country store. The elderly man and who am I calling elderly so I should say two old men got talking cheese at Kroger. I get the Boars Head black wax cheddar which is very close to the old hoop cheese. Well as we discussed smoked turkey and how thin it should or should not be hoop cheese came up and I got to listen to a story that I will share.
My partner in cheese talks said do you remember that hoop cheese back in the day and of course I said we would get it just up at the corner a wedge and wrapped in wax paper for a few dollars made a good lunch. I shared the Boars Head was just about as good. He said back about fifty years ago Joe Smith was a kid then and would come up to old Mr. Jones store couple times a week and ask for a nickels worth of cheese. Old man Jones would get out of his chair and ever so carefully slice a paper thin slice of hoop cheese for that kid. I seriously do not know how he did it. You just can’t slice cheese thin it falls apart but that old man could do it. I listened to this story from someone I never met before and it hit me how each day we respond to how many people. How often do we find ourselves in conversation seemingly about nothing important and yet this was a very important story for this man to tell me. It made his Kroger trip I would like to think as it made mine. I find new ideas new friends as I journey along lives trail. I thought that I would share with those of you who read my daily droppings. However I still find in necessary to end please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Can we see new meaning in it

Bird Droppings August 28, 2011
Can we see a new meaning in it

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Albert Einstein

A little over four years ago for two days a dear friend visited with us here in Between Georgia. This was the first time he had been back in this area for nearly three years. In our course of topics as we talked late into the evening on those two nights was the idea of teaching as an art form. We talked about our views on life and how so often I have on occasions seen things others have not. During our breakfast one day we talked about intuition and empathy crucial aspects of a good teacher. Being able to understand and feel as another does can be an asset and or a serious imposition.
Another topic was how so often in life we tend to view daily happenings as mundane and yet in that moment of the mundane miracles are happening. In our backyard we have since we have moved here put in numerous flower beds and in one bed we have several ferns along with trumpet plants and several other flowering shrubs. However one bed is special nearly every flower attracts hummingbirds. Coincidentally we planted petunias around the edge and I was pulling dead flowers off when I heard a loud humming buzzing sound. My wife had me place a hummingbird feeder in the tree which centers the bed. The hummingbird food was constantly disappearing and I had just refilled it, one of my jobs while my wife went to see her mother this weekend. As I looked up hearing the buzzing two hummingbirds evidently they had been feeding directly beside me and took off into a nearby tree. I called my wife to let her know her flower bed was successful.
When I sit each morning and write about fireflies dancing across the edge of my world in my back yard or whippoorwills echoing through the dawn and dusk it is recognizing what for many is the mundane in life. Should I not be hearing they will still be calling and should I not be watching the fireflies will still light the night? My own view limited by darkness and my own vision and my own perception. I was reading a letter to the editor this morning about one of the opinion writers in the local paper. He was arguing that this writer should not stress his opinion since we are in a conservative county and a conservative state and his opinion is not very conservative. I would argue it is still an opinion and this is a country and state and county where freedom of speech is a basic given.
For someone a thousand miles away it is only words that I write yet I see it and experience it and yet for someone here nearby unless they are willing to rise at 4:00 AM they too will not see or hears what I see and hear. So in effect a writer offers glimpses of another experience or another world to those willing to read. I offered as my friend and I talked it is about renewing our perception sharpening our senses to see and hear and feel more than we do today.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

Many considered Einstein to be an atheist for his very often blunt statements about religion, yet if you read any of his nonscientific statements there is a spiritual aspect to them. He was an artist and a philosopher as well. Today is a day unlike most other days I have experienced with my friend talking many old thoughts and memories that we discussed years ago? Sitting and reminiscing about his days in seminary and choosing to go back to teaching and how that impacted his life. There is an end and a beginning of every journey and at one point I even asked him if he was in the right place now. Without blinking an eye he responded he was never happier and knew this was where he was meant to be now in his life journey.

“We do not chart and measure the vast field of nature or express her wonders in the terms of science; on the contrary, we see miracles on every hand – the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in a lightening flash and the swelling deep.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Sioux

Perhaps one day I can sit idle as I started thinking a few moments ago and rock on my front porch, but not today. For now I crave that thought process and questioning and curiosity of learning and teaching. Whenever I drive through Kentucky I cannot help but think of Daniel Boone finding his way in which for him at that time was a wilderness and yet for Native Americans of that place it was home not a wilderness. Even in that day trails and pathways were worn from the passage of moccasin feet.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Albert Einstein

In a paper for graduate school a year or so ago I referenced my recent experience, as somewhat of a clearing of a haze from things I had forgotten. It was as if things were clarifying from many years ago. Often what is learned is not just from books but from experiencing, living, seeing and believing. Each day I travel a road many others have journeyed on and many others have succeeded in going beyond that road. Yet it is new to me each day for I choose to see more than the day before. For me it is wilderness opening new trails not yet civilization. For me it is fresh and vibrant even though many see mundane and stale.
It might be in the flight and blinking of a firefly or the snort of breath as our buffalo crossed the pasture years ago, or the call of a whippoorwill off in the trees. It may be in the feather left for me as a hawk soared through the sky. I recall a movie where the start and end was nothing more than a piece of fluff blowing about until it gained import with the main character as Forest Gump placed that small piece of fluff in a special place. We do not know from moment to moment how someone will react to anything we do or say or write. I spoke with my friend about interconnections and how this is the art of our existence. It is in the perception the seeing, feeling and hearing of our own heart beat.
I ran into a former student was yesterday. She had moved and happened by chance to be in our town as I was my favorite store, Quick Trip. Seems she now lives in another county and will not be attending our school this year. She just wanted to say hi and in the conversation asked what do you teach everyone wants to know, it seems I have many students who just come by my room and officially are not in my classes. I told her on my door it states; Period One – The philosophy of learning about how and why we learn what we do, Period two – the same, Period three planning, and Period four again the same. She said that sounded interesting.
For nearly five years she wondered what I taught and wanted to be in my class. I would always respond you haven’t been in enough trouble yet. As she left after I explained Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, she said even though she wasn’t in my regular classes except for Biology in summer school she had learned a lot. How is that for an ego boost?
By chance I was reading as I do yesterday thinking back to my conversation with my friend and having shown him several websites and books. Two passages caught my attention that I had shown him and tagged as I end my writings today. Last night I had been helping my wife with several reflections for her nursing program and one of her authors has a very narrow view of the world. His outlook is the only true and real way and these two passages came back to mind.

“On the basis of the belief that all human beings share the same divine nature, we have a very strong ground, a very powerful reason, to believe that it is possible for each of us to develop a genuine sense of equanimity toward all beings.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “The Good Heart

“Strength based in force is a strength people fear. Strength based in love is a strength people crave. It is as true today as it was then and as true for nations as it is for individuals. Unfortunately, too few of each are listening.” Kent Nerburn

Kent Nerburn was addressing a friend’s comment about Viet Nam and those of us old enough to have been drafted and or serve in that time of war can easily relate. As I am looking at the news and comments from politicians the past few days this passage from the Dalai Lama struck a chord with me? One of the things my friend and I did while he was hear was to talk with and see each of my sons since my friend had been involved with them in youth work and music. Of course that included riding down to Georgia Tech and going for a campus tour in the Tech mascot, the Ramblin Wreck. Recently I was thinking back to my friend’s visit and us watching old videos and spending quite a few hours with my sons and my friend catching up and it reminded me how significant today can be.
Several days ago at the beginning of my ramblings on what I though t of education in terms of my own philosophy a dear friend responded to my daily wanderings.

“Good luck becoming your philosophy and living it out in the classroom as the ugly tentacles of common standards and assessments attempt to squeeze the last bit of individuality from your very being. I struggle daily to even catch a glimpse of the teacher I once was, but at least I still am struggling. Many do not struggle at all but merely give in to the pressure. It is a sad time for teachers as I see it, but I will not go down easily although it might necessitate my leaving the classroom entirely. One cannot live peacefully with himself if he is forced to live in misalignment with his philosophy.” A former professor and good friend

As I read his words and pondered it is hard to try and live your philosophical understandings in any situation if it is against what is considered the norm. The letter to the editor I mentioned earlier mentioned John Dewey as a negative impact on our society along with all progressives. I wondered as I read does that mean any forward thinking individual is wrong and that we should simply allow society to go as it is with more and more going to the wealthy and less to the other eighty five percent? That we should be more concerned about packaged curriculums than children? Does that mean it is ok for greed to be the main goal in what we teach tomorrow’s youth? I have read numerous reports of the end is near and always want to remind folks that since about two thousand years ago someone somewhere has been saying that but and this is a really big but, the rest of us are still here. Now I can end for this day and another week is near end as well so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart.
namaste
bird

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 27, 2011
A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been back in teaching now eleven years and have watched teachers burn out and fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting there all into what they do and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students you open your heart as palmer indicates and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revalations of education as a social event and necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

In my own journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural discussing my journeys in life since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude which for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot to me is sacred and some will scuff how you can say that it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

For several years as I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. It is about building a relationship with students as a critical aspect of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand. It was nearly ten years since I wrote a trust scale for a human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept I had read about in Dr. James Fowlers book The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to a total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead and all the positive and negative that will come my way I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

A final look at essential Bird Pedagogy for the moment

Bird Droppings August 26, 2011
A final look at essential Bird Pedagogy for the moment

“If a university can’t have two out of five of their student-athletes graduate, I don’t know why they’re rewarded with post-season play” Arne Duncan

Over the past few days I have been looking at how I see teaching and instruction and I have wandered about a bit in my efforts. My own style is somewhat radical to say the least. However in eleven years my craziness has worked with kids who are not supposed to graduate or succeed according to most. I happen to see this line from Arne Duncan our Secretary of Education and it is amazing how we provide a sense of falsehood through athletics. I am not saying all athletes are poor students by any means. I know many who are honor graduates and scholars in their own right. The greed and competition however at a college level becomes significant. A local college at home games can bring millions to the economy. Many staunch fans never went to college anywhere yet have season tickets and trucks colored in that schools colors and even have the same animal as a pet as the local mascot. A good college football or basketball program is a business not a learning program.
Over the past few days I have been thinking about and pondering on my own views of education and seriously observing and pondering how I see others in their teaching modes react to and interact with students. My relationship with students often provides additional insights when a student walks in saying teacher so and so is picking on little Johnny and I just can’t take it or why is this so boring and on and on. I was driving in and something hit me. As a teacher if I am wanting students to learn feedback and response time to assignments is crucial. Having students respond to questions at the end of a chapter and collecting papers and holding for weeks and then asking questions on those papers is somewhat ludicrous. Not return written assignments with corrections just a check mark for turning in shows students you are not concerned about anything they do. It is sad that so many teachers exist through the systems of our country who honestly do not like some children and for all children. Should be a question on a teacher’s job application if you do not like children look elsewhere. Actually heard a teacher says they hate kids.

“I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful.’ Arne Duncan

We constantly hear on the news how we are behind in education other international programs and countries. Let me start with one of the measures which is the PISA, The Program for International Student Assessment. In 2006 we the USA were ranked fifteenth. I have never heard of or seen this test administered in Georgia. It is a two hour test, multiple choice and essay. Finland, just written up in Smithsonian magazine is one of leading school systems in the world is third and fourth in all areas. It is given every three years to rank countries internationally. Australia is ranked fourth. There are differences between us and them and significant differences. It was 1992 till Australia started inclusion into public schools for disabled students versus 1974 in the US. However there is still a distinct difference between US and literally most of the world in terms of education. Our test scores for example as per NCLB include Students With Disabilities SWD as a subgroup and they are included in final tally of population. A 2% allowance is made for Mentally Impaired students in the total population. Australia in scoring on High School tests etc. does not include SWD in totals as European and Asian Schools do not include either. Most international school systems have in place a mandatory age cut off 15-17 depending on the territory for example in Australia. At that point choices are made and or mandated as to higher education technical and or college and or go to work. Throughout Asia this is common practice as it is in many European educational systems.

“If you have great assessments and real-time data for teachers and parents that say these are [the student’s] strengths and weaknesses, that’s a real healthy thing,” Arne Duncan

“The work teachers and learners do together include rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.” Foxfire Core Practice Nine

‎”We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

I agree with several of my friends that on some concepts Carl Rogers can be a bit off the deep end to a degree. But on this aspect I agree with him that competition as far as learning goes be that grades, test scores, can be inconsequential as to is learning occurring. This would lead to another line from David Purpel yesterday that truly hit me hard.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

We have stripped away that aspect of community from schools in order to have a clear cut and definite number to score and equate whatever it is we are wanting to measure in theory. One of the first things I learned in statistics is that they are at the mercy of the statistician. We can make numbers do whatever we want. Politicians like numbers and test scores and simply things so they can make policy and award lobbyists with nice contracts. Interesting how most educational research that is cited by the National Clearing house for research based materials is primarily 100% publishing and testing company’s research. Much of this is very limited demographically and in a true research situation would not be valid. Significant dollars are involved however but that might be for another discussion, which sort of ties in with my idea of, is there ethical capitalism? Sadly industrial mentalities and capitalism drive education in US. Mass production testing and text book companies rule along with various support industries.

“I know there are schools that are beating the odds where students are getting better every year, and they are labeled failures, and that can be discouraging and demoralizing,” Arne Duncan

As for US schools being behind are they really? All US schools in all states are mandated through NCLB to have an exit exam that is within certain parameters for graduation and if not passed student does not receive a high school degree. This consists of Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science portions in the state of Georgia. Many subjects have End of Course Tests again here in Georgia. Even with this series of tests at our high school we have managed to raise graduation rate at our school from 71% to 92% over a five year period. Sadly this comes at the expense of real learning and the idea of teaching to the test is more than a catch word. Teacher’s jobs administrator’s jobs are tied to test scores and funding and state and federal intervention as well. I am not happy with the USA educational system as I am a supporter of students and learning which are totally being left behind in this numerical accountability competitive system.

“We are proceeding on with the intent of the Landmark – Leave No Child Behind Reform Act without political persuasion. The focus is effective delivery of services in education by review, restructure, implementation for maximum student learning.” Arne Duncan

I have taught in different parts of Georgia and in Pa. briefly and while many will say education is not as difficult as in previous generations all I can say is pull a high school or college biology book off the shelf dust it off and compare to a biology book today. The cellular material is years beyond my freshmen college and even zoology and botany books of 1968 and 1969. Not just the research gains but vocabulary and demands of material are voluminous compared to what we had in high school. Our system is flawed and it will take radical thinking I tend to believe more toward Progressism and Constructivism, Foxfire core practices and John Dewey’s ideas and Carl Rogers because some of his thoughts are good.

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research –neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my own direct experience. My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.” Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Carl Rogers

As I close looking back on where and when and how I am still myself searching for what is my own pedagogy. It is a continual fluid moving process as I teach and learn each day. I can say I am inclined to think this way but only till a better way comes along. With a morning nearing end and new week ahead please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Essential Education

Bird Droppings August 25, 2011
Essential Education

Last night I was helping my son in his education studies going through various philosophies of education one happened to be essential education which is only a slight step from perennial education which is reading writing and arithmetic period no art or muisic what so ever. As I looked at my various readings this version of essential eduicatio mn is a bit more than what my son’s text implied.

Essential Education Pedagogy
The pedagogy developed by Tara Redwood School and Essential Education includes the following:
• Knowledge of the inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions is as important as knowledge of the outer world
• An integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning is preferable to one that fragments and divides knowledge
• Individuals often have dramatically different learning styles; all learning styles are valid and must be both acknowledged and nurtured.
• Learning rooted in direct experience far surpasses in depth and endurance learning by indirect methods
• Generally accepted subject matter can be enhanced by integrating a Essential Education approach and accompanying methods and techniques
• The intuitive wisdom of the individual can be developed by dialectical discussion and debate exploring philosophical, spiritual and moral themes.
Tara Redwood School. 5810 Prescott Road. Soquel, CA

Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers who was controversial in 1968 and his ideas still are considered perhaps utopian to borrow a few words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching are themselves controversial as well. I have borrowed over the last two days from John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, Foxfire and today the Tara Redwood School. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations. Having for most of my life being involved directly or indirectly with in working with and teaching exceptional children and adults I am always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas. I tend to stick with things that work well and always am tuning those that I do use.
I mentioned my use of the Foxfire Core Practices and tools such as a trust scale I developed back in 2003. Numerous times I have brought up my use of animals in my classroom and addressed the impact that being involved with snakes for example has on attitudes and especially on developing trust with students. I do believe relationships are a key to teaching building and maintaining positive relationships with students can open doors to learning.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

In our world of accountability in education test scores rule. With the factory oriented mentality leading the way in teaching many do not allow time for relationships and or care to have that as an aspect of who they are as a teacher. John Dewey over and over again emphasizes community as a key in building an effective learning situation.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core
Practice two

“The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practice three

Foxfire is based on working together and involving the community of the school it is about building and establishing relationships and I have found in my research long lasting relationships between students and teachers. Part of my own approach has been using Facebook as an extension of my class room. Many photos from school events are posted as well as my own daily journaling. Occasionally a former student will send a note thank you for the thoughts or just what I needed today. Recently one of those notes was from a student from eleven years ago when I first came back to teaching.

“Critical pedagogy considers how education can provide individuals with the tools to better themselves and strengthen democracy, to create a more egalitarian and just society, and thus to deploy education in a process of progressive social change. “ 21st Century Schools

As I was reading various articles and papers this morning John Dewey again is continually through the pages of critical pedagogy, experiential learning and Foxfire. Much like in so many other theorists and practitioners works Dewey seems to crop up. When I read this short note from 21st Century Schools about Critical Pedagogy several key elements caught my attention. Education strengthening democracy and social change almost directly parallels John Dewey.

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

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” John Dewey

As I wonder about how should we really be teaching children I keep coming back to providing context for the content. With accelerated lesson plans and curriculum maps and everybody trying to attain a one hundred percent pass rate on the various tests that we are mandated to give to students in Georgia and across the nation little time is left for context. We are leaving the most valuable learning by the wayside in order to get the quick score on a test. I end each day with please lets us keep all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts. As I am pondering maybe we should include children subjected to a battery of standardized tests that do little more than provide the numbers David Purpel writes about.
namaste
bird