It takes more than one strand to make a rope

Bird Droppings October 28, 2011
It takes more than one strand to make a rope

“You cannot contribute anything to the ideal condition of mind and heart known as Brotherhood, however much you preach, posture, or agree, unless you live it.” Faith Baldwin

Each day as I talk to my students I try and set an example and not every day am I successful. But as I think this beautiful fall morning trying to decide if I should when I Get home today work in the yard or be lazy I thought I would take a few moments to write. Many of the children I talk to everyday stand alone, often due to their own choosing.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne

It has been several years since I did an experiment with a group of young people using sewing thread. I had a thread for each person and then I asked each of them to break the thread which of course was simple and easily done.

“The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin

After breaking the threads I gave each of them another piece of thread and one by one we joined the threads together. In the end we had a thirty strand piece of string/rope and we twisted it slightly to keep threads together.

“In union there is strength.” Aesop

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” Alexander the Great

Amazingly enough no one could break the new combined rope even when several folks pulled on each end it would not break.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Bahá’u’lláh

I still carry that piece of string/rope in my wallet. It surely does make a great example when talking to students.

“I look to a time when brotherhood needs no publicity; to a time when a brotherhood award would be as ridiculous as an award for getting up each morning.” Daniel D. Michiel

It has been a few years back that I attended a demonstration up in Mountain City Georgia. The lecturer at the Foxfire Museum was using a couple of folks in the group and had them twisting and turning six strands of twine into a rope.

“Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.” Mahatma Gandhi

Real unity that is the question, and in today’s politically charged atmosphere unity is nowhere to be found. I showed my students so many years ago that even though having multiply strands of thread all together in a bundle was significantly stronger each time you cut a piece it weakened exponantionally.

“In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Booker T. Washington

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

Each day as I sit outside my door at school I witness differences in attitude and differences in brotherhood. Many are similar and in a high school that old cliché of school spirit is generally a good indicator of a semblance of brotherhood, a joining force in a body of humanity. But still there are strands of thread dangling outside weakening the whole.

“Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” Virginia Burden, The Process of Intuition

I will never say everyone has to be identical. I like Booker T. Washington’s statement of each of being a finger yet still being able to be a hand. I use to think it was cool when I would see a six fingered person and in my old stomping grounds of Lancaster and Chester counties often you would see an Amish fellow with an extra finger. There was a recent ad where everyone was upset with Joe who had extra fingers because he could type so much more and do so much more, the ad showed him typing away and multi tasking with his extra fingers. But the ad was also about change and new equipment equalized the office space. So often we cannot accept the differences.

“I have often noticed that when chickens quit quarreling over their food they often find that there is enough for all of them. I wonder if it might not be the same with the human race.” Don Marquis

In life far too often we spend our time fretting over differences and not looking for similarities. How can we work as a group a team? Watching college football Saturday for a few minutes along with The Rally to stop the insanity, teamwork makes all the difference in a win or loss. The winner is not always the better team. Always better teamwork will win and it can be only a minute difference, a single strand could change a game and or a life.

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Kenyan Proverb

Interesting while writing about unity and still believing in individuality it is a difficult task. I come back to Booker T. Washington’s quote; I can be a thumb and still work as a hand when needed. It is in believing and in trusting we gain that unity and that brotherhood. Watching the rally yesterday one thing kept coming up why all the negative why not work together the problems are here and solutions can be had if there were teamwork. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Walking along the way in my own journey

Bird Droppings October 27, 2011
Walking along the way in my own journey

As I think back over who I am as a teacher and as a person I often wonder as to how I came to be the way I am and why do I take such a differing outlook than so many teachers to my endeavor. I recall my father essentially teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. Tell, Show, Test and Check was a favorite of his for teaching a subject or even a skill. I have used the FIDO principle many times over the years Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again.
As I attended college and began thinking about teaching as a profession I had courses in how to teach and what to teach to various groups of children and adults. We talked theory and realities we practice taught and were observed by professors. I look back and wonder, how does a professor who has never taught outside of college level teach anyone how to teach, say elementary school age children? But within it all I became who I am as a teacher, parent and person. I see this enterprise as an ongoing continuum and one that truly is never complete. Going back to my favorite Aerosmith quote that I have used so many times, “Life is about the journey not the destination.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who does not know how to read.” Mark Twain

I spend a good bit of my day reading and find it so hard to understand when I see comments of I do not read or I do not have a favorite book. I may in the course of a day look at ten or twelve books looking for thoughts or ideas for my writings. But to profess to not reading how can you consider yourself even semi-intelligent. For it is through reading that we increase our vocabulary and understanding of the world around us. It is through reading that we develop and progress beyond where we are today. It is thorough reading that we move along the journey.
I was speaking with a fellow teacher today about such things. Why do kids not read for example? Some is a lack of encouragement at home during those hours away from school. Some is the example set by parents who are not readers. But I think a large portion is our current style of teaching to the test. We are teaching kids to pass tests that in some school impact the teacher’s annual appraisals and in some cases even salaries are test scores based. When we take away significance and choice and mandate specific memorization for test content we lose an aspect of who the child is.
Paulo Freire is a radical in terms of education and his outlook on what teaching and education should be about. Freire was a teacher, activist, thinker, innovator and college professor in various stages if not all of his life.

“As a teacher in an educational program, I cannot be satisfied simply with nice, theoretical elaborations regarding the ontological, political, and epistemological bases of educational practice. My theoretical explanation of such practice ought to be also a concrete and practical demonstration of what I am saying.” Paulo Freire

How much more is gained when you can touch or apply what it is you are learning. There is another side of Freire’s philosophy that interests me as well and that is very similar to Dewey that democratic process is crucial to a classroom and that the teacher is a learner as well as learners are teachers.

“In the context of true learning, the learners will be engaged in a continuous transformation through which they become authentic subjects of the construction and reconstruction of what is being taught, side by side with the teacher, who is equally subject to the same process.” Paulo Freire

An ongoing back and forth process one that provides both teacher and learner with answers and questions. I once considered this process to be symbiotic but as I learned and looked deeper it became osmosiotic. There was a constant flow back and forth between teacher and learner; it was not a reliance on one or the other.

“The teacher who thinks, ‘correctly’ transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.” Paulo Freire

I wonder how much of Dewey Freire read. Many of his thoughts run parallel to Dewey as Dewey saw experience as a critical piece so often left out when teaching. All of the experiences brought to the classroom by the students are bits and pieces that can be built on and added to. I am amused that Freire uses quotes around the word correctly. How many teachers are teaching correctly in the world? When you look at how a teacher is evaluated in Georgia with a six or seven question checklist and relatively simple responses and yet the process is one that is complex and not conducive to yes and no check boxes.

“It is easier to stick with what teachers have always done and believed, rather than go about the painful process of changing current thinking about teaching” Charlotte Danielson, from the book, Teacher Evaluation, Discussing why we continue to evaluate teachers in an archaic model

We continue to evaluate and judge teachers based on models that have been used since the early 1960’s and tend to focus on ease and the most simplistic methods. Time seems to be always a factor. I am wandering a bit today as I think about where I am on my own journey.

“There is no valid teaching from which there does not emerge something learned and through which the learner does not become capable of recreating and remaking what has been thought. In essence, teaching that does not emerge from the experience of learning cannot be learned by anyone.” Paulo Freire

I will have to admit Freire does get deep and philosophical at times. But this aspect of doing that aspect of experiencing that runs through his words to me is significant. Many teachers try and keep everything to a minimum in terms of how they teach. I was involved in a discussion on a new math program and was informed we only want students to learn function not how it works. So students memorize a line on a graph which is this or that and that gets answers A-D but in effect they never understand or learn what that really is or why.
On the other side I have watched a model of a watershed during a graduate class along with an explanation of what was happening when rain or excess water was present and how it impacted the surrounding area. Our lecturer was versed in experiential teaching. He builds on teachable moments and on hands on experience. For myself even thinking back to summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during regular session, my main objective was to have them pass a comprehensive exam approved by school and department. We would spend the first hour each day learning vocabulary, doing what I hated but without vocabulary you cannot even read a biology test let alone answer questions.
After that we organized and categorized all the trees on campus. We studied hands on ecology and interactions. We watched videos of various settings deserts, (The Living Desert by Disney Studios), Jungles, and the Arctic (National Geographic films). Occasionally we would get out one of my ball pythons and talk about reptiles and amphibians. I have had live animals in my room since I started back teaching eleven years ago. Amazingly all of them passed the finals and in the three years I taught intersession only one student quit coming and it was a family problem. As the system changed and went to seat time as the criteria and worksheets were the lessons I stopped doing summer school. It was no longer teaching simply babysitting.
I wonder often as to the whys and how’s of so many teachers and think back even in our own high school to great teachers and ones I consider great. Those are the teachers who get kids excited about learning and who look for ways and means to bring life to the lesson and who are always learning as well. There are only a handful of teachers I would consider great as I think back and always a story or two. My middle son had biology in ninth or tenth grade and a presentation was made in that presentation a overhead slide was used that he knew was incorrect and waiting till class was over went to the teacher and told her. At first the teacher was reluctant to listen until he said my brother has that animal in his salt water tank and I am familiar with it. She said she would fix it so it would be right. Several years later in an advanced class Zoology again the slide and again the wrong name and scientific data attached. This time being more mature and angry he stopped the class and said the slide was wrong. So here is a student who tried to help a teacher who was not interested in learning.

“Why not, for example, take advantage of the student’s experience of life.” Paulo Freire

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of the actual experience by environing conditions, but that they recognize in the concrete what surrounding are conductive to experiences that lead to growth.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

Dewey taught we need to build from not exclude the past experiences in our endeavors to teach children. I have found this in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching to be a critical element.

“New activities spiral gracefully out of the old, incorporating lessons learned from past experiences, building on skills and understandings that can now be amplified.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 7

In my one of the books I have read several times, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, The discussion of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians is a key element. I wonder if we learned anything in looking at how we treat children in schools even today. We make them live by our rules and standards imposing guidelines that fluctuate from class to class often teacher to teacher. Granted the days of the boarding school may seem somewhat at odds with today’s schools but in reality there is little difference. In a diversified culture we demand language that may or may not be known. Coming from a special education back ground I am always amazed at how we expect children who are poor readers in their own language to read and learn in another. Research shows you cannot in most cases exceed the level of attainment in a second or third language that you have in your first.
So I wandered and pondered this is my reflection for the morning a wondering and thinking about what can we do to truly change education as we know it. Freire points to Critical reflection as a means for educators to learn as well as teach. John Dewey builds on reflection as does Foxfire.

“In the process of ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that critical reflection on ones practice. Thinking critically about practice, of today, or yesterday, makes possible the improvement of tomorrow’s practice.” Paulo Freire

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

As I read this morning and thought through my various readings I wondered if the commonalities I was seeing in Freire and Dewey were perhaps things as educators we should be trying to attain rather than so often fight against. In Foxfire Core practice nine a thought that has for me been a key element of any teaching I do and that is making what I teach relevant and meaningful and have it be something the child can leave the room with and it makes sense outside of class.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear. “Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

I just wonder many times what if teaching and teachers would ever catch on and really be concerned more about the kids than the content, more about the community than the curriculum, and more about humanity than the National educational initiatives. So I will stop and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Having a heart

Bird Droppings October 26, 2011
Having a heart

It is chilly out in northeast Georgia with evening temperatures still hanging in the high forties or low fifties but rumor of a near frost hanging out there has most of us gardeners bringing plants in. We have still a couple weeks till we are off from school again for Thanksgiving and a fall break. I was watching TV last night and an historical show of sorts a movie about the Pilgrims coming over to the New World is coming up soon. I find it funny how after that first Thanksgiving relationships between the native Indians and Pilgrims went downhill fast and it was not long till red skinned natives were the spawn of Satan and were to be eliminated by whatever means feasible. Pilgrims were not much different than today’s politicians as it was land was involved. I found it interesting how things changed so fast. Why is it we only have heart occasionally and some people never do? Maybe Thanksgiving is to remind us about heart?

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha

It has been several days since I was working with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people and seeing how much of an impact learning styles actually make on students it amazes me that such a simple thing is not seen previously. How we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways visually, auditorally, and kinesthetically, in other words we see, hear or touch. Yesterday I went through the idea of perception as well and how we hear see and touch along with how we interpret is a factor. The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out currently. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings from 2006. In a few moments about 45 seconds images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us.
Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied significantly. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide and several reiterated the Red Lake Shootings. One however focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self motivated as so many of us are. He derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself be it passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know or speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher. The idea of disrespect is an understatement but it all is self focused so to say here I am.

“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” Dictionary.com

For quickness I use dictionary.com and there is defined the word sympathy as an interaction between two people or things affecting both. As I thought back to my self-centered fellow I wondered as he focused all day on himself does he have sympathy? In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects those being charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.

“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker

There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and worldwide.

“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot

As I searched this morning deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason. Perhaps it is for gain thinking back to the Pilgrims. Is it human nature to be so wary so distrustful of others.

“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity is not enough.” Simone Weil

Several semesters back I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs. It was a reflection on teaching in a way but really it was a reflection on life. My premise being we should all be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the Frog Kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested. All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years to avoid turning into a human being perhaps.
But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students. In reality we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place. As I pondered it was obvious as to where and why teachers quit. I see John Dewey’s ideas and the example of Dewey in the classroom through The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and all these great idealistic thoughts and then they seem to disappear into educational lala land.
What were to be great teachers seem to be eventually lost midst the flow and ebb of educational bureaucracy and never get a chance to be who they are. For many years I have wondered are today’s students and teacher automations doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I recall a Harry Chapin song I use often about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher a hard row to follow.

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha

I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape is translated as charity. In Greek three words translate for love; Eros, Philos and Agape. Agape often is also translated as a supreme unlimited love or God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity, an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action and is a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something and perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. Having a heart as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is active engaging. For nearly six years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind, originally I started with the attack September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart is an action it involves doing not simply mouthing words. I recall nearly eight years ago in the state of Vermont which still operates on a town meeting basis and several towns were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont to the Middle East. Vermont had lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Action some are sending cards reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as GI’s return. It is about active involvement, kissing frogs, having a heart, it is about voting and sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Who is responsible?

Bird Droppings October 25, 2011
Who is responsible?

Several weeks ago I was involved in a debate of sorts on the issue of public versus private education; it circled around and about really going not too far. Just a few days ago I picked up our local paper and a letter to the editor caught my attention. It was a blast at public education locally and how we were not growing and how we did not need a school bond essentially a penny tax on sales for new schools and how some of the thirty to forty year old buildings were good enough in their day and were still good enough. There was no growth and why should we not be putting money into operating costs and not buildings.
Then the writer extolled the home-schoolers who sought better education and also private schools where students received supposedly better educations. The federal law, No Child Left Behind even was mentioned and how students from our county could go to another county if our schools who did not meet the standards which really was a stretch of the law. All over not wanting a school bond past. I find it interesting as you drive around our county and see thousands of homes, many vacant and cheap now with housing bubble burst all of which eventually will have families in them with children who go to school.
In so many parts of the country people take attitudes similar to this person who wrote in to the local paper and school systems then have problems. But as the individual pointed out it is up to the public, up to the voters who elect school board members and pass the bond issues. The responsibility is in the hands of the people. Another comment was made about curriculum and how school boards made decisions without community support. Our school board meetings other than specific executive sessions are public and open for community involvement and our current superintendent is even having public forums for parents to give their views and to hear directly from parents and the community. Responsibility is a very big word.

“A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic. Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.” John Dewey, Democracy in Education

We as individuals are responsible if we choose to be and to the extent we chose to be through voting and through communication with elected officials in all levels of government and society. How is responsibility defined? I quickly typed the word into my faithful computer and Dictionary.com came to the rescue.

“The social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force;” Dictionary.com

Responsibility is a social entity a “force that binds”. Being a part of a social group of society then implies responsibility to an extent, rules and parameters that exist to protect us from each other. It could be the guidelines and structures that give direction, perhaps in a way we are guided too much some might say.

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” Walter Anderson

Often as I research an idea early in the morning through books and the internet I find coincidences and several years ago as I found this quote by Walter Anderson, it was one of those. Walter Anderson the writer and editor of Parade magazine and he interviewed and discussed life with leading figures around the world. His book Courage is a three letter word, has been an inspiration to many dealing with anxiety and fear. But as I searched I also found another Walter Anderson in the bayous of Mississippi a painter and artist who for art fans is well worth throwing out, who also in his art dealt with anxieties and fear all of his own making. Walter Anderson the artist from Mississippi was periodically institutionalized for schizophrenia and other mental issues. This man Walter Inglis Anderson painted with a passion not unlike Van Gogh’s later works. So teachers if you need a good reference source when looking at American artists look up Walter Inglis Anderson.
In the end as I read the sentence on responsibility it could have been from either the author or the painter “I am responsible” and it is us, who need to face up to that.

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Ronald Reagan

“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession, a duty.” John D. Rockefeller

One of my former students was an advocate of anarchy, always wearing the popular rock logo on his wrist bands and all over his books notebooks and even his skateboard. When talking with him about the concept he would always go in a circle, what if we did have anarchy and you were only responsible for yourself doing whatever you wanted. As I thought I could see where youthful idealism could manifest itself in such a philosophy. But what if, where do you stop in a society, where there are no boundaries and soon it is whoever is the strongest and most powerful is in control and you have a dictatorship.
Usually he would back out of the discussion when it left him as an individual by himself. He wanted freedom and no one else really mattered. In effect he did not want responsibility.

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will — his personal responsibility.” Albert Schweitzer

“The salvation of mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

As I read and think this morning it is not so much going back to that starting letter to the editor about accepting responsibility, it is that too many people do not want to be involved. They do not want the responsibility of choosing, of interacting, or of involvement. That letter mentioned the growth of home schooling and private schools. I found when I moved to Georgia in 1972 public schools were in peril in some communities students were leaving in droves. It was not because of quality of education but because of desegregation. Many white students did not want to go to school with other ethnic groups.
Today while that is still an issue subverted to a racial slur here and there, so often it is hidden within the pretext of religion as so many schools are billed as “Christian” schools. Many home-schoolers are home schooling because of religious reasons and the idea that public schools are to secular and much too public. Couldn’t help but think of that famous Karl Marx quote, “Religion is the opiate of the people”.

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great person is one who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I always seem to be seeking a monastic life in the midst of society. It is up to us in the end we are who responsibility falls too. Be it about education and or the zoning of a piece of property. But it requires involvement and it requires thought. So it is a new week ahead and so much happening on the world front and locally. So today please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

An eceltic morning

Bird Droppings October 24, 2011
An eclectic morning

Over the past week of vacation I was discussing with several friends, The DaVinci Code and other philosophical diversions and fearing death as a basis for religion came up somehow.

“Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Mahatma Gandhi

It has been a few years since I watched an episode of Star Trek actually it may have been one of the Star Trek movies. Spock has interfered with Star Fleets objectives in relationship to a small group of colonists on an obscure planet. It seems they live forever or at least aging is so minute that life times are measured in tens of thousands of years. What was interesting is that they by choice became nearly primitive living off the land and pursuing wisdom, reading, writing, all forms of art work. Life became a process of always improving since time was not a factor. As I read this quote from Gandhi earlier this morning that Star Trek movie popped in my mind.

“The world is apprehended by way of the mind, the world is acted upon by way of the mind and all good things and bad exist in the world by way of the mind.” Samyutta Nikaya

As I thought further about Star Trek and this group of people living on a planet where radiation from their sun seemed to be the key to longevity I was reflecting back on several incidents at school almost eight years ago. My assistant Principal came in with thirty minutes left on the day before a holiday to do an observation or so she said sticking her head in the door. On top of the timing I had two extra students who had been placed with me since they are not functioning in regular classes. They were in a sort of holding pattern for a day or two. I was in the middle of trying to alleviate a year book emergency rewiring a CD burner and trying to print out a picture for a teacher who wanted her daughter’s angel scene from a Christmas play I just took for drama dept. and several extra students were assisting in helping down load hard drives from refurbished computers. So all in all, ten things were happening in last thirty minutes of last day before the holiday not counting an observation.
I never mind observations and probably have had more in four years than most have in a life time or was my AP was getting back at me for several previous practical jokes. But we think what we portray in our minds within seconds I was shifted from disaster to plotting a new reprisal. Actually got quite a good report for diversity and individualizing the learning situations.

“Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: “I am no good” or “They are not good.” Is this true? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?” Martine Batchelor, “Meditation for Life

Thinking back to the movie, Spock was trying to save the Utopian society of a small group of people as he turned against Star Fleet in the movie. The reason that Star Fleet wanted this planet was literally to sell and package longevity. They were willing to destroy a people for profit. Human nature many would say. I observed those two extra students I had on that observation day. One of them I have for a period every day the other I did not know. As I thought to why both ended with me it was because of inappropriate behavior in class. Such terms as acting out and attention seeking were used. I used to be a big fan of “Law and Order” a popular TV show. Last night a young boy who had been abused was talking with the prosecutor and recalled a particular day in his life. The very man who had abused him for four years was the hero by chance. He was concerned he was “sick” because the greatest day of his life was also with the person who destroyed his life. Shortly after on the show this young man tried to kill himself.

“Real love is not based on attachment, but on altruism. In this case, your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Perhaps I am trying to cram too many thoughts into one sitting. It was a busy week and it will be getting worse preparing for the upcoming holidays and end of course tests. We all need to be looking at our lives are we trying to over simplify? Are we being honest with ourselves? Do we use the word love as merely an attachment? Can we be more than we are in our given time? Many issues as we head into the holiday season I just need to take my wife’s car to the service station and here in the Atlanta area soon we will be deluged with all the folks heading south. It seems all major interstates seem to converge here and for a late Thursday just a reminder from Will Rodgers.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” Will Rogers

So as I am thinking further.

“The appreciation of the profundity and subtlety of his thought comes only after serious study, and only a few of the most committed students are willing to expend the necessary effort. Many, upon first reading him, will conclude: that he was a churlish, negative, antisocial malcontent; or that he advocated that all of us should reject society and go live in the woods; or that each person has complete license to do as he/she pleases, without consideration for the rights of others; or that he is unconscionably doctrinaire. His difficult, allusive prose, moreover, requires too much effort. All such judgments are at best simplistic and at worst, wrong.” Wendell P. Glick

Interesting I was thinking Glick was referring to me in this passage but alas it is Henry David Thoreau.

In a lesson plan on how to teach Thoreau Glick points out the difficulties even today though Henry David Thoreau is recognized as a great writer it was his idiosyncrasies that kept him from public acknowledgement in his time.

“He had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his eulogy for Thoreau

Early today I was answering an email about how I had gone into teaching. A friend from high school never imagined me teaching. I found that interesting because since I was twelve I have been teaching be it swimming lessons, boy scouts etc. As a parent we are always teaching. I started with Henry David Thoreau in that he was a teacher but he walked away from teaching to be a better teacher. Thoreau left to become a learner. He sought knowledge; he craved new ideas and thoughts. Everything about him was a classroom.

“Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was really fond of sympathy, and threw himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people whom he loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and river: and he was always ready to lead a huckleberry-party or a search for chestnuts or grapes. Talking, one day, of a public discourse, Henry remarked that whatever succeeded with the audience was bad.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my email this morning my friend wrote about teaching should be fun and how for many years her fellow teachers thought her methods were different. Often I have other teachers wonder at what I do with students and how and why. But they learn and they ask questions. I was looking back earlier to why I chose teaching. Initially it was because of a Biology teacher I had in tenth grade. I wandered away from direct teaching into publishing of training materials for twenty three years and came back. Often I find myself using the statement I am where I need to be at this moment. My pathway has led me to this spot. Soon we will have a day of thanksgiving of holiday family and friends. So often within the constraints of life we find times of sorrow. Please be aware that around you and nearby someone may be suffering as we celebrate offer a hand, a shoulder a thought and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to borrow from a veteran and friend from an email many months back and with veterans day a few days away and still very applicable today.

“Please remember the sons and daughters in faraway lands, for once we were them” Reah Wallace, retired Navy

A new dawn coming a new day and a new reality and who knows for sure peace might be around the corner.
namaste
bird

Sometimes it takes an inner journey to help others

Bird Droppings October 23, 2011

Sometimes it takes an inner journey to help others

It has been several months that I have focused on my own issues and problems and often let others problems drift by the wayside. I have been there but only perhaps in body so self focused that many things drifted by. It took a friends email to wake me from my daydream of sorts. I recall very clearly when I received the note my dear friend was diagnosed with cancer and had emailed me letting me know. I do procrastinate always finding excuses for not responding not interacting not working on my dissertation. I went out the afternoon of his email with a smoldering bowl of white sage and ursa leaves to my letting the smoke waft about me clearing my head as I fanned the smoke and embers with a hawk feather. While absorbed in the festivities of Fall sprts, Homecoming week at the high school and taking several thousand photos seemed a great reason to hold off this week on so many details of life and interaction with others it was that an excuse.

I needed some time to be alone to think to ponder beyond my morning wandering and writing. I drove to Macon Georgia to take my youngest son a suit and dress shirt for a semi-formal affair he said he was attending the next Saturday night. There is something about a drive that clears my head especially when on back roads with many things to see and good music to listen too. So my CD player was loaded with Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Black Crowes, Carlos Nakai, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton I began the drive. It was my first time listening to Neil Young’s new CD, A Fork in the Road, and how appropriate for a 250 mile road trip with many forks along the way.

I stopped by the school to get my camera and plug in a new battery I had purchased on Friday to start my day. A few errands and I was heading down the road. Somewhere about Covington Georgia, Bob Dylan was wailing Knocking on Heavens door and I recalled the day I went to hear my youngest sons rendition at a talent show during a week of Choir camp the night my father passed away. Coincidently it was in Covington I went to hear my son sing that song. I called him to see if he knew the song playing but the wind and distortion on the cell phone during a harmonica solo were hard to hear.

Jackson Georgia came quickly and a left turn towards Macon was on hand. I took a few highway photos as I drove places of special memories. Fresh Air Barbeque and Towalgia Nursery and Towaglia River Bridge washed out many years ago in a flood and rebuilt. Towalgia is Creek for bloody river. It seems it was somewhere here about scalps would be washed in the river and dried for trade to the white soldiers back in the day. Scalping being a custom adopted from the whiteman. I was going to stop and get a photo of Lake Juliette as I drove by since the lake was topped off with all the rain. This was the spot my father in law drowned several years ago on a fishing trip. It was a day of memories and details flashing back and reminding me of my own mortality as I drove towards Macon.

I stopped just before Macon at the new Mall and went into Barnes and Nobles looking for Kent Nerburn’s newest book which they did have several copies of and I grabbed one. I was drawn to the CD section and also found Neil Young’s newest CD. So here I am Neil Young and a Carlos Nakai CD and my Kent Nerburn book headed to Mercer. My son met me on campus and showed me his apartment and I am always amazed at how college kids can devastate what many call a domicile. Although Matt said it was clean for once. I left Mercer and headed to the Indian mounds. I tend to enjoy the solitude and quiet and sacredness of the mounds although quite a few tourists were about that Saturday.

I went into the main building where the museum and presentations are held and got a new t-shirt from heritage days just a few weeks back. Several different tribes are represented with artisans, dancers and story tellers giving presentations through the weekend. The back of my shirt borrows from a Sitting Bull quote “Let us leave a world for our children”. I drove out to the temple mound on the far side of the property. All along the way the stillness and quiet was what I needed. Several families were on top of the mound as I came in and I waited till they left. I enjoy the solitude and sacredness of this spot. For nearly five thousand years various peoples have held this place as sacred. When I go I always face each of the four directions, north, east, south and west. There is something about imagining what it was like a thousand years ago when people lived around the temple mound and corn fields and canoes could be seen from the top.

I gathered my camera and began the trek home. I put my new Neil Young CD in and read through his new songs. One set of lyrics caught my attention and I played that song several times along the road. Appropriately it is called Off the Road.

“When the day is done

And the sun is sinking low

When you’ve seen a lot

And you’ve been most everywhere

You go, you go

And you think the end is in sight

You can never take your eyes

Off the road, off the road

When the traffics slow

And those brake lights are lighting up

When you are all alone

And you’re driving through the night

And you know the end is not insight

You can never take your eyes off the road off the road”

Neil Young

I read these words and thought about my own mortality. As I get to my sixtie second year so many things come to mind and when my dear friend sent an email of his development of cancer along with an early birthday thought. It was reminding me if as if I needed that. But as I rode I found my emptiness subside and a peace fill the void. Thoughts, ideas and pondering it seems through a journey along the roads of Georgia does wonders for the soul. Please my dear friends keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.

namaste

bird

.

Teachers are born not made

Bird Droppings October 22, 2011
Teachers are born not made

I started this endeavor yesterday and got a bit side tracked with my granddaughter and came back to it this chilly morning. I walked out of the house and few crickets were calling as they do in the warmer weather during the summer. It was chilly and a front was moving through it is to warm up again in a few days. The week of break is nearly gone and a new school week will be under way and it is great to be a teacher.
Over the years I have listened to many great teachers in college, graduate school, in industry and in the pulpits of various churches. As I went through my teacher education I have been told that men should not teach elementary school, children should be seen and not heard and most of the traditional understandings of what make a teacher. However within those few negative comments there were positive ideas as well. I heard Dr. Norman Vincent Peale many years ago talk about positive thinking. I heard Dr. Tony Campolo lecture in sociology and everyone left the class wanting to major in sociology. I heard Dr. Glenn Doman in a small college in Texas lecturing on human development in 1968 and it impacted me to a point that much of my reading and interest in human development for years to come centered on his ideas. I heard my father speak many times as he lectured worldwide on Loss Control Management. Another is a good friend, Dr. James Sutton who periodically makes it to Georgia and I consider one of the greats.

“….but say there was a student’s union. Might they ask that the dropout rate be lowered? Might they stay at the negotiating table until it was below 50%? We ought to ask kids whether they think the status quo is working.” Bill Gates

In 1972 or so I found a copy of Foxfire 2 at a bookstore and it fit right into the ideas I had about teaching. I was working with a group of Learning Disabled teenagers in Warner Robins Georgia and the hands on approach of Foxfire worked wonders. I asked students what they wanted to read and bought magazines rather than use elementary level books that were provided. Amazingly reading levels went up significantly. Sadly the principal attributed that success to her preferred reading curriculum and bought more of her elementary level books. I never could tell her they learned to read with Wrestling World and Car and Driver.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice One
It is not necessarily about technique that I was intending to write but about that inborn flare for teaching an aspect that I see as an art form, you can compound that with the fact there is not a truly effective means to evaluate teachers. For example in our school a twenty minute observation one to three times a year along with a simple ten or so item check list is our system of evaluation. Time is a crucial factor with administration as to evaluate fifty to a hundred teachers time is paramount to completing an effective evaluation. Charlotte Danielson developed a very good program that has been incorporated in the ETS (Educational Testing Services) program of available tests and evaluation tools. However to be fair to a teacher it takes at least thirty six hours of observation to adequately evaluate with this tool. Most administrators are pushed for twenty minutes in today’s bare bones education budgets.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward
“Very little is invested in understanding great teaching. We’ve never had a meaningful evaluation system that identifies the dimensions of great teachers so we can transfer the skills to others.” Bill Gates

If only we could find a way to effectively evaluate and understand what makes a great teacher. Why is it that kids know and respond accordingly?

The rest of the Foxfire Core Practices:
2. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3. 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.
4. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8. The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9. The work teachers and learners do together include rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

I have come back to these simple practices many times and each time it seems to me this is just good teaching. Working with the Foxfire Approach to teaching you find very quickly it does take a bit more work but results and the attitudes of kids make it worth the effort. Giving kids input to what it is they are learning adds significantly to retention and their own accountability. I have written about creativity being stripped away from schools in favor of teaching to the test. We seem to find the word accountability bounced around and use standardized tests to measure that accountability. A teacher is a great teacher if everyone passes the end of course test in their subject. Sounds perhaps like a good idea till you are the teacher with ten special needs and ten at risk students all in the same class who also have to pass the test along with ten behavior problems who could care less whether they were in school or not. Now the great teacher is banging their head against the wall trying to survive and the students are literally working against them. On top of that to date fifty seven percent have not passed a standardized test as of yet.
Essentially it comes to attitude as I started reading Dr. Donald Clifton’s book, How full is your bucket, I found that the concept of a dipper and bucket is a good one. Over the weeks ahead as I finish the book I will be sure and use some quotes. In a nutshell we each have a bucket and dipper and either take out of or give to each other. The concept is if you are always giving you will never have an empty bucket. What if we could apply this simple concept in education? Looking at the idea of Foxfire and John Dewey’s democratic classroom and filling a bucket there are possibilities out there that we could find a way to take the natural talents of a given teacher and assist them in bringing that out. If we could give students input and communicate and if we could get away from the methods and technique only approach to teaching we could maybe make a significant change in education. So here I am wondering why we do not much like arguing politics probably even the best solution will never see the light of day because of the powers that be. So as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird