Counting knuckles

Bird Droppings January 31, 2012

Counting knuckles

 

On Friday a student asked what day of the month Tuesday would be and I responded January 31 and just as quick another said he thought it was the first. I said no it was the thirty first and he proceeded to count his knuckles, “a knuckle has 31 days”, he said. He figured it was the thirty first. Later on last Friday I watched as we did math computation tests and he was using his fingers as a portable calculator, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was that I also knew the personality of this student and how he comes off as being such a bad dude that intrigued me. But in a lighter moment with no planning his other side comes out. It is sad because this side of him actually does try to succeed. However so often even for me he will shut down and sulk away to where ever he chooses and vegetate. I am not listening, you cannot make me listen, or I don’t care and best of all just give me a zero, will spill from his mouth.

I was thinking how great if you could plan your day around the moments a student is willing to count fingers and knuckles maybe call it “knuckle time”. Those moments when being embarrassed or ashamed of your own capabilities are gone and you can move ahead even if only in micro steps. We all experience this at some time or another. As I watch and listen to students I see pieces of myself in others. How we go about our days those little things we do to survive the onslaught of society. Some of us have enough to make it throughout the day and others have only counting knuckles and when the task goes beyond that capability then frustration and defeat self-imposed. “Give me a zero”.

I used a trick of sorts to get extra time out of students the other day. Biology questions were two to three per page and very simple with tricks so to say true and false sort of questions at times but answers might alter true and false to false and true. So the student did have to read and think about questions and answers. Some students made it through level two others to level four before difficulty set in. Today we will do more and the goal is for students to be successful throughout the process, till they reach a level of discomfort and then set up the programming and planning of lessons accordingly. Unlike many situations these students face adjustments and or modifications and they can be made.

So often in school we want every child to fit parameters we establish as teachers and further up the line as curriculum specialists. All ninth graders should do this and tenth graders this item. No child will be left behind who does what we want should have been the legislative name of the bill. NCLBWDWWW might have been too long of an acronym so they shortened it. However what about the exceptions in life? Years ago I found myself as an exception. It was in fourth grade and I was sitting getting my paper back and the teacher had given me a C on my paper in which I had four wrong. One of my friends next to me had four wrong and an A so definitely I was confused. Day by day this continued and I asked my mom about it. She went in for a conference and the teacher told her I wasn’t working up to my potential so she graded me differently. Guess what happened I quit. No more extra reading for school work although I did still read volumes for fun, no more extra credit. I got left behind because a teacher failed to see I wasn’t fitting into her parameters.

I once saw a peg board with round holes and all the pegs were square and did not fit. Children would try and then after hitting did not work finally quit. The demonstration was actually a psychological test with young children. Funny thing is we do this all the time in school and on the job as teachers. We want people to fit our standards our peg board.

 

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” Erik Erikson

 

I watch the paradoxes of our federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, where frustrated kids quit school because of so called graduation tests. It is where frustrated teachers are leaving due to being judges on students taking standardized tests. What about being the teacher of a math class where your entire class failed the prerequisite for your class and now is in your class since prerequisite is no longer offered and you have an end of course test that measures your teaching ability and sixty seven percent fail. No one looks at pretest scores and posttest scores and significant improvement and learning that occurred. All that matters is that end of course tests score and the failure rate shows you are not teaching. A whole class and teacher get left behind.

 

“I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, and look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan

 

We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” B. F. Skinner

 

 As I watch how politics interferes and then create havoc in education and in so many areas I wonder why we have politicians at times. It makes me want to count my knuckles and see if the answer is correct and that is knowing I do not have enough knuckles for this problem.

 

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

 

Maybe we forget this, maybe we want education to be this neat package we can take off the shelf and spoon feed to our students and the students get or do not get and we go on leaving behind the ones that don’t get it. What about the kid with three knuckles? My son had a friend who lost a finger in childhood he would be at a disadvantage counting knuckles.

 

Every acquisition of accommodation becomes material for assimilation, but assimilation always resists new accommodations.”  Jean Piaget

 

I wonder if we did pretests and posttests in congress and in the Senate on ethics and on performance if our elected officials would pass the grade or be left behind. No Congressman left behind now that is a bill I could get behind. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.  

namaste

bird

Planning ahead

Bird Droppings January 30, 2012

Planning ahead

 

“Ten percent of your life is made up of what happens to you and ninety percent is made up of how you react. Therefore we have no control over 10% of what happens to us. We do however have control over the other ninety percent and that is up to us as to how that turns out.” Steven Covey 90/10 Principle

 

I am in the process of getting a ipad2 at school and that brought back some memories of a few years back when as I started setting up my new at that time computer and one of my tasks was getting several years of writing, notes, books and started books, papers, poetry and misc. other information to my new computer. It was not only that but twenty years of printing contacts, names, addresses and data. As I played around and did virus checks etc. my old computer locked up and needed a boot disc. This was not a very happy start to a new computer. At that point I was constrained to possibility that all my fifty gigs of data was gone. Funny thing is now my offline drive is a terabyte and over half filled. I called and spoke with the tech guy at the board office and he told me the procedures to follow.  I tried and all I got was A:/ could not recognize C drive. 

For four or five weeks I assumed the worse and really had little time to mess with it with since I was attending and teaching summer school and night school. Then one night I sat down and check the connections and all cables internal and external and tried to reboot again A:/ was all it would recognize. In the midst of crisis I had an epiphany when I got this computer and transferred from a PC it had a removable hard drive which when I first got it acted up and all it was the drive had to be pushed into the docking station tightly. I opened the computer and pulled out the drive checking for wires loose and pushed back in amazing the C drive worked.

So often we look for difficult solutions to simple problems we do not look for something as simple as the drive connection was loose but rather for a crashed hard drive.

“Few people have any next, they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of their line.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Had we systematically eliminated problems rather than assume the worse I may have had access to papers and notes I had started although as a result I did more research on several topics and recreated several rubrics better than ones on the old hard disc. As I have said things always work out it is our perception that needs to change and develop.

“When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.” Chinese Proverb

As I sit this morning this line really sounded good and a thought from lunch the other day would it not be great to see ten years from now as to how our children will turn out or students or their families. That would truly give emphasis to how we teach. I wonder if there is any way to know if that crazy idea works or not. Maybe keep tabs on kids track them so to say after they leave high school. As I wonder and ponder this afternoon keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind and always give thanks. One last thought peace is an elusive word it seems.

namaste

bird

All in words we find

Bird Droppings January 29, 2012

All in words we find

 

            On days when my wife is out of town I can go out and take sunrise photos and wander about as I do with few time restrictions. I went out very early today to sit and give thanks. I had many things on my mind and was looking for a reference point. Something I could sort out my thoughts from the fog and focus upon. I sat for nearly an hour long before sunrise and listen to a silent world. I wrapped myself in a buffalo vest and as the embers of sage, cedar, ursa, and willow bark smoldered away decided the chill was a bit much. I went in got dressed and headed to take a few sunrise pictures. The sun was not fully up but a beautiful red band lay across the horizon. I stepped out of the car usually on my excursions I just open a window especially if it’s cold. I took two or three photos and headed back to the warmth of my running car. The door was locked I must have bumped the lock getting out. After about foirty minutes of walking home looking for the spare and lifting the lock with a coat hanger the sun was in full glory and I got some great shots. My little episode with the door gave me time to think and freeze my hands.

 

“The farmer channels water to his land. The fletcher whittles his arrows. And the carpenter turns his wood. So the wise direct their mind.” Dhammapada

 

Many years ago there was a folk song entitled, If I were a carpenter, as I read this passage this morning from a Hindu text that song popped in my mind. Many folk artists have covered the song. The song was written by folk singer Tim Hardin. It was a hit in 1966 recorded by Bobby Darrin, who after letting two other songs slip by that became number one hits for The Lovin Spoonful, grabbed onto this one. A few years later the song was covered by legendary artist Johnny Cash and again a hit. As I think back there was a similar passage that I used many years ago from another great thinker of our time.

 

If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?

If a tinker were my trade
would you still find me,
carrin’ the pots I made,
followin’ behind me.

Save my love through loneliness,
Save my love for sorrow,
I’m given you my onliness,
Come give your tomorrow.

If I worked my hands in wood,
Would you still love me?
Answer me babe, “Yes I would,
I’ll put you above me.”

If I were a miller
at a mill wheel grinding,
would you miss your color box,
and your soft shoe shining?

Music and Lyrics by Tim Hardin

 

            I have read these words and listened to many singers sing them. Some will say it is just a song of a blue collar worker a common man who is in love with an upper class woman. Will he still love her even though he is merely a carpenter? Some argue it is about Jesus Christ who as stories go was a carpenter in love with a lady. But as I read and reread the words this morning so many more thoughts and understandings. I recall a passage from a speech given by the great civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

During the folk song era of the 1960’s although sitting here pondering it probably in some circles still exists, especially around my house anyhow many songs were written to add credence to various social efforts of the time. Pete Seeger would sing songs borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s hobo and dust bowl travels, the songs of the depression. As he traveled the country he sang at union, environmental, and civil rights meetings, including for Dr. King He would borrow from many and various other sources for his songs.

One song was made famous outside of folk song circles by a group “the Byrd’s” was “Turn, turn, turn” a song that received its words from a book in the Old Testament Ecclesiastes to be exact. “To ever thing there is a season, ……a time to be born a time to die” As I sit here writing this morning flags are still flying from telephone poles, draped over tables, still a few emblazoned on T-shirts and paper cups celebrating our nation. Just a few days ago our president gave the State of the Union Address and I am reminded of what and who we are as Americans. It is not our differences but our similarities that make us who we are. It is our desire and passion for freedom.

By the constitution of the United States all people are equal and all are entitled to certain liberties and the pursuit of happiness whether they be carpenters, millers, tinkers, lawyers or folk singers. As we go about today remembering and watching the few remnants of our real heritage we need to also think of in being free and being able to speak, and worship freely we should not impose our own ideals and beliefs on others. That is so easy to say but I was reminded of a moment so many years ago of the innocence of youth, as I sat at lunch with my youngest son at a Chinese Buffet in Loganville Georgia a few years back. The owner I have known for many years and she had her three boys there with her, it was late afternoon we had been working at the High School working in my room. Her boys were sitting playing at the next booth, some was in English some in Chinese as they chattered back and forth and giggled playing games as small children do, the boys were between three and five years old. One of the boys using his fingers to pull his eyes slanted said I am a Chinese boy now. As I sat and thought so many possible meanings to that, I know his family, mother and father both are from mainland China and very active in cultural awareness programs in schools and the community. Was this an example of an innocent child’s color blindness or was it a slight to his heritage imposed by others?

“There is a time to ever season” we cannot choose the road of our genetics but we can choose the directions and pathways we take with it. We can choose the words and actions. In a cultural awareness class a few years back as I wrote the word black, indicating race I was reminded that it is correct to say Afro American. I wondered at the response, yet I am still called a white person not a Welsh, English, German, Irish, Native American, Hebrew, Scottish, Amish, person. Although WEGINAHSA would work now that I think of it. I wonder if I called someone a Weginahsa, would they be upset or if I could get that listed as an ethnic group. I could list it under other, I am a Weginahsa pronounced, Wee – jean – A – house – a. I am no longer just white I am a proud weginahsa, if I can spell it correctly and pronounce it the same twice in a row.

We choose the roads and pathways we choose the words and implications of those words and the attitude that formulates them. MLK as he made the comment about a street sweeper it is our choice as to how great or how little we are and it is our choice whether we truly are free or not. Today is the time and the season for us to be whom we are Americans and we are able to think act and be free keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

namaste

bird

A wondering of the moment

Bird Droppings January 28, 2012

A wondering of the moment

 

Nearly ten years ago I received this email from a dear friend. I met Frances when I was a new teacher at Loganville High School in 2001. Frances had been teaching English and had worked with our then principal at the time at a previous school and did teacher and student workshops. Over the years we have continued communication and occasionally have had a spot of lunch. But as I read headlines today and news commentaryFrancescame to mind and an email from my files so many years ago. I had written a Bird Droppings using several illusions and references to circles as I do often just like the other day.

 

“Dear Bird, The circle may have more to do with the philosophy of letting the river flow. I think our culture is more involved with the spiral in the up direction. We have a hard time revisiting, editing, honing, or learning from experience – all involve the circle.” Frances Friedman

 

Frances and I have a dialogue of sorts ongoing with thoughts and as I read this I recalled a bowl of objects in my room, and a Shel Silverstein book, The Missing Piece meets the Big O. Most of us are familiar with river stones, pebbles and rocks worn smooth with the flow of the river or stream. InAfrica some of the hardwood trees have wood so dense it sinks to the bottom of the stream. As chunks are chopped or cut off the resulting pieces of these trees will fall into the river or stream and much like river stones tumble and spin and soon have a round smooth look like a river stone. I have a bowl of river stone wooden rocks in my room.  

The story of Shel Silverstein’s is of a missing pie shape piece is sitting waiting for the right piece, who might be missing a piece to come by. The piece sits and sits finally after many seasons and many pieces a BIG O tells him you are your own you can do what you want and the piece begins to flip flop and such and soon as the edges wear down begins to roll. It is its own piece a simple child’s story but maybe in a world where we all search for identity a more accurate description of who we should be like.

 

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

 

So often we wait, wanting only to be that which we are not. We are not willing to learn to change to grow. A piece of wood lying on the bottom of a stream in many parts of the world would float away and simply be gone. But as my pieces sitting on my desk attest to some will roll and tumble smooth the edges round off and soon be as the river stones. Just as the missing piece learned sometimes you have to move, adjust, and begin to roll and sometimes even change or you can simply sit and wait. As Thomas Carlyle states what will you miss.

 

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

Francesmentioned how so often we forget to learn from experience so often in our hurries we are not watching, looking, and seeing. A few days back I was driving fromMaconGeorgiaand thinking about memory. On my drive I was seeing in front of me and forgetting so to say everything behind. How often do we actually do this as we pass through life? As I prepare for my classes I have been working on the concept of SUCCESS. Many of the people I know and students can relate to failure but not success, it is a new concept. Come to think of it this was mentioned in the State of the Union Address by President Obama in relationship to schools. It is a new experience but hopefully they will learn through and of experience and move beyond failure.

 

“When I hear somebody sigh that ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” Sidney J. Harris 

 

Contrast and compare, Harris is a thinker that many may not know. He was writing in the 1960’s and through his death in 1980’s. A teacher friend nearly eleven years ago shared several of his articles with me and his columns are intriguing reading, Strictly Personal is a site containing many of his articles and some good reading.  As I look back in my own life and times and see where and when corners were round and I learned and succeeded and failed many times I also see other people who were affected by that moment and hopefully they have affected positively and grown as well. Yesterday I was in the guidance office and a little boy was sitting on the floor his dad is still overseas and I was forced to think a moment please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird

a circle

Bird Droppings January 27, 2012

a circle

 

I missed the last rerun of a favorite miniseries, Into the West, and one of these days will find the DVD set.  The movie starts and ends with a circle of stones with a line going east to west and one going north to south through the circle. In the back area of our yard we have been building a memory garden. It is basically a rock garden with numerous succulents and sedums planted among the rocks that are special to us. The garden when finished will be a circle. Each quadrant has a space which eventually will be filled with young trees. A cedar was given to us when my wife’s father passed away by my friends at the high school. Another will eventually honor my father at the opposite side as we finish our project hopefully later next summer.

 

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk Ogallala Sioux Holy Man

 

It has been nearly forty years 1970 since I wrote a short poem of shorts. At that time perhaps it was self anaylisi or a self-description, “One little circle – alone – unopened”. It has been nearly six years since I headed towards Piedmont college my last time as a student and I thought is the circle alone, unopened. I had grown very close to the people in my cohort. As I attended graduate school at Piedmont I found I became a much better teacher as I became a better student. Henry David Thoreau was a teacher until he realized he must be a learner first. He needed to be a student again and in doing so he became a better teacher.

As I look at the circle I have completed in my own education and it is only the beginning not the ending and the circle of friends and fellow learners in my cohort at Piedmont and now as I continue my education at Georgia Southern and the teachers at my own school all touch unto that circle and in effect keep it spinning and evolving. Black Elk an Ogallala Sioux holy man using nature to define this circle nearly a hundred years ago and Follow the Buffalo, holy man of the movie series “Into the West”, who was sitting in the sacred circle in the North Dakota hills throughout the movie addressed the white man with various other characters. My son once told me of a circle’s definition in geometric terms borrowing from Wikipedia.

 

“In Euclidean geometry, a circle is the set of all points in a plane at a fixed distance, called the radius, from a fixed point, called the centre.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

As I sit here thinking pondering my circle has grown now in another cohort and furthering my education. My circle includes all I have met, emailed, talked with in grocery stores, schools, colleges and numerous other places around the world. The circle continues and grows with each step, each word, each sensation and each breath I take while I am privileged to live. Please as you think about your own circle keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird

 

Taking and making the most of each moment

Bird Droppings January 26, 2012

Taking and making the most of each moment

 

Waking up to my dog barking because she needs to run outside for a second is not the best way to wake up, although a beautiful sky greeted me. I received a call midday yesterday that my mother had to be hospitalized and my wife was heading over to meet ambulance at the hospital. One of the Assistant Principals had come to my room to tell me to call my wife since my cell phone does not pick up in much of our building. Since only one or two at the most can be in the emergency room area with the patient I felt it a better use of my time to finish my classes and then head over. I drove by my house on the way to the hospital and as I opened my car door a hawk was calling at first I had not paid attention but then I looked and again he called several times and flew immediately over my head to a pine not too far from the house. I knew all was well.

Today it is a beautiful sky clear and cloud free and not too cold tree frogs serenaded me as I came home last night. After such a long dry spell here in the south last summer any rain is appreciated but I would like a freeze so we can kill off some fire ants since fire ants do not like cold.  

 

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe  

 

But as I sit thinking hopefully winter is coming to an end and school and classes soon will be a part of our daily routine again in many of our lives in this second semester. Our teachers are walking the hallways faced with the challenges of state and federal mandates in test scores going to training and meetings to better teach the submit test material to children. Soon we will be facing that challenge as spring comes round and annual test cycle begins anew. As I think back to days of hiking on theAppalachian Trailand all the switch backs how we approach testing and teaching to tests is much like that mountain climb.

Many times you can see the trail above your head and going straight up rather than following the trail and it may seem easier but carrying a fifty pound back and walking the switch backs for an extra seventy five feet and not struggling to hang on sometimes is wiser. For those uneducated and mountain illiterate among you, a switch back is a more gradual ascent usually taking a bit longer sort of a handicapped ramp but in reality safer than scaling a cliff. I see a similarity in how we teach today teaching massive amounts of content to score well on tests and little context to have that material stay with the student.

 

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert W. Service

 

Walking for hours with a grain of sand digging into your foot can be painful and from firsthand experience taking your shoe off to try and complete the journey sometimes is even harder. Far too often in education we simply have taken off the shoe. Carefully address the grain of sand when you notice it rather than waiting until it is way too late.

 

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Jimmy Carter 

 

I walked many miles barefoot years ago because I would not take care of a sore foot when hiking, and finally I succumbed to the experience of those around me and learned the value of moleskin. I was five miles from a road and a fifty pound pack and I was in charge of a group of kids the choices do change occasionally. I had blisters on blisters and infected from not taking care of a small spot on my foot when it first had occurred a few days earlier. I was saved by a thirteen year old boy scout, (and me a former Eagle Scout and scout leader) when he handed me a piece of what looked like soft thick cloth, moleskin. The good Doctor to the rescue so high on a mountain inNorth Carolinaand me who knew all about hiking, I learned a simple lesson from a much younger teacher than myself.

 

“Few people have any next; they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of their line.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  

I never again went hiking without moleskin and shared moleskin numerous times thereafter and needless to say I never again had a foot problem hiking. As I look back over my thoughts today all can be applied to education and life in general mountains can be issues we face daily family problems, friends, and work. They are but winding trails and there can be solutions.  Sometimes we think far too simple than an all-out confrontation a grain of sand. It could be a rumor that starts so small and grows and festers and soon is great.

 

Jimmy Carter to the rescue with his thought:  “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”

 

Many times I have surprised myself and achieved far more than I ever intended to in many aspects of life.  I am sitting here procrastinating getting serious about getting back into my research and sorting out files and looking over records and all the fun stuff of teaching. In a few weeks it will be back to writing for graduate school and my dissertation and more reading and writing and learning. I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of education perhaps more than the education and often in that friendship you learn as well. I was reminded of my ending each day in an email from a dear friend in Texas and he offered a thought from his weekly comments on his website nearly five years ago. Dr. James Sutton is a clinical psychologist and lectures around the country on Oppositional Deviance Disorder and Conduct Disorders.

Dr. Sutton had been in a meeting and was thinking about his son in law inAfghanistanand how his daughter had recently sent photos of their baby by fax. There had been a bomb inKabulduring the time his son was there which elicited these thoughts.

 

From Dr. James Sutton’s website – http://itsaboutthem.wordpress.com/

 

1. We might think otherwise most of our lives, but none of us are ever completely exempt from what happens in this world. Tragedy is not reserved for others only; even the innocent suffer sometimes. That’s just the way it is, and we are not going to change it. If we fail to understand this, our recovery from deep pain and loss can be seriously affected. 

2. We need not be selfish in our empathy. Just because my son-in-law was spared shouldn’t detract from the fact that others were not. An expression of caring and empathy, even toward folks we don’t know, is a good thing.  

3. We should all make it a point to never have any unfinished business with our loved ones. (I think I was alright on this one.) Life is a precious and fragile thing. Opportunities to reconcile, embrace and reaffirm might be more limited than we think.

 

It is difficult to follow such choice words and as I responded to Dr. Sutton we as humans have to try and do no harm to others. That should be our sole purpose in existence. Unfortunately too many are not adhering to or even considering and again I will say please today keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and may peace be with you all and above all please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

How heavy a load can we carry?

Bird Droppings January 25, 2012

How heavy a load can we carry?

 

            It has been so many years since I last toted a backpack up a mountain trail. I can recall going over gear before a trip to make sure we had enough yet our packs were as light as possible. We would always carry a half gallon of water just to be safe and of course adequate clothing, sleeping, and shelter materials. When it came to food many items could be purchased freeze dried for weight and many items could be found and or made that would be good for the trail and yet light. We used to have a favorite store up in the mountains to get really good beef jerky and pemmican. Funny I should be thinking of going back up in the mountains after so many years although I transverse my way up the road periodically to visit the Foxfire property in Mountain City that should count.

 

“The Lakota and Dakota peoples have a phrase used in all their prayers that aptly illustrates the Native American sense of the centrality of creation. The phrase, Mitakuye oyasin, “For all my relations,” functions somewhat like the word “Amen” in European and American Christianity. As such, it is used to end every prayer, and often it is in itself a whole prayer, being the only phrase spoken.Like most native symbols, Mitakuye oyasin is polyvalent in its meaning. Certainly, one is praying for one’s close kin–aunts, cousins, children, grandparents. And “relations” can be understood as tribal members or even all Indian people. At the same time, the phrase includes all human beings, all two-leggeds as relatives of one another, and the ever-expanding circle does not stop there. Every Lakota who prays this prayer knows that our relatives necessarily include the four-leggeds, the wingeds, and all the living-moving things on Mother Earth. One Lakota teacher has suggested that a better translation of Mitakuye oyasin would read: “For all the above-me and below-me and around-me things: That is for all my relations.” George Tinker, Osage

            I answered an email or responded is a better answer last night about a letter posted written by the Valedictorian of a high school senior class in 2010. There are aspects of the speech that are very insightful for a high school student as she observed and reflected on her education.

“This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective. Some of you may be thinking, well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.” Erica Goldson, Here I stand, Coxsackie-Athens High School Valedictory Speech 2010

I read through the rest of her speech thinking back to planning for a mountain hiking trip and wondering if other students felt as this one very articulate student felt. Teaching and education should be like getting ready for the mountain trial carefully planning what you need and will take on this particular journey. Every trip out is different and each one needs to be packed and organized for in different manners. Far too often we get caught in in the one size fits all mentality and soon lose that amazing aspect of creativity and imagination. Sometimes it will take less of this item and more of this one so we can make it to the top of the mountain in education as well.

 

“A shortcut into the path is to be inwardly empty and outwardly quiet, like water that is clear and still, myriad images reflecting in it, neither sinking nor floating, all things spontaneously so.” Fu-Jung

 

I have always held a fascination for Zen thinking. So often it is a minimum of words to get across a maximum of ideas. In a world looking so often for exactness it allows perception of the individual to be in charge. There often is no clear answer as each line can be different for each person. I am reading a book Native Wisdom by Ed McGaa (Eagle Man) and starting another by Thomas Merton Peace in the Post Christian Era. Both allude to experience as a crucial filter for how we perceive our surroundings let alone thought processes and other ideas.

A comment was made during one of the motivational talks many summers back at our teacher preplanning that hit home. The comparison was made of a school to a shopping mall and all the little consumers rambling about looking to shop. Interestingly enough in my graduate studies the focus is on how we as a society are making schools into consumer factories. We are really just producing consumers. However the illustration this motivator was alluding to was a little more symbolic. Students should want to be in a classroom and teachers should be considering this. It is proven that a student learns more when they want to be in a classroom. What is so amusing I have been saying that for twenty plus years and yet how many rooms walking around are literally sterile environments. I had a chance to talk with a dear friend a few days back, the fellow who hired me back into teaching nearly eleven years ago. It seems he was principal of the year two years ago in Georgia.

 

“Run around the same old town. Doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you. I’ve been first and last Look at how the time goes past.” Neil Young, 1968, Sugar Mountain Live

 

            Many times Neil Young requires thought and pondering to decipher the direction his idea is going. I actually did not pay for Neil Young’s latest album as it was a gift for Christmas from my eldest son. I lent a copy of a Harry Potter book or two and the CD’s for the latest book to a student yesterday anything to encourage reading. For myself I am always trying to have a book close at hand for my own reading and recently a Thomas Merton book, and of course Native Wisdom. I am sitting here listening to Neil Young on a quiet Wednesday morning it was an interesting night being home. I go into school before anyone else and I enjoy the solitude of the empty school. Perhaps it is knowing this place is also a place of learning for many days and the energy and hope that fills these hallways during the week may linger and provide some substance for my journey. It is so amazing as I think back to learning the guitar in 1969 and it was a Neil Young song I first applied my limited repertoire of chords to.

            In the days ahead students will come into my room some for class others because they choose to see what lies inside this crazy room. But each will bring baggage on their trip. Each will be carrying often loads far too heavy for teenagers and children to bear. Some will stumble and fall. Some teachers will simply help the students repack and send them on their way. Others will help them plan a bit better for their journey and maybe leave a few things for another day or offer moleskin to protect from blisters and injury. Moleskin for the soul an interesting thought to offer a child in a world wanting to leave blisters. Perhaps a silly thought as I sit wandering back to listening to these songs from 1968. But enough for a Wednesday starry skied but silent morning. Please keep those in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart. Offer a hand or a word when you see someone with too heavy a load and please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Can we define our own success?

Bird Droppings January 24, 2012

Can we define our own success?

 

Yesterday in a teachable moment I drew upon my experiences and while discussing the phylum arthopoda and black and yellow garden spiders offered a Creek Indian view of early morning. Early in the morning I will often go and sit watching the sun rise in the east. If you look carefully you can see gossamer strands of spider silk literally touching everything. This is often called the web of life where all is connected and as I mentioned this to a group of ninth graders all were silent listening.

I left yesterday with several critical calls to make, errands to run and several feelings of people I needed to see and or talk with. As I traveled there were quite a few along the journey. I spoke with a retired Air Force electronics expert who had two years ago undertaken a vision quest with the Blackfeet tribe in the western US. I ran into several former and present students, parents and friends of mine. I would consider yesterday very much a success. As I went through the day yesterday I thought of what is being successful? Is there some magically way we can tell if we are successful in what we do?

Going deeper in thought I would like to consider myself successful at what I do and I think most people would want to feel this way. Wanting to be successful however has its basis on how you define success. It has been nearly eleven years since a fellow teacher handed me an article by Sydney J. Harris, a prolific writer and columnist from thirty years ago. Harris at one time was syndicated in over four hundred papers.

 

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris “Success is just a little more effort” from his column Strictly Speaking

 

As I read this passage I realized how true it is. So often it is one more step, another few words, fifteen more minutes that make the difference between success and failure or in being just average. In high school it is getting seventy percent and passing that so many try to attain. It is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much work or effort. I often wonder and I am a procrastinator myself what constitute too much effort or too much work. 

 

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

 

Being of a monastic nature I find some days this to be difficult, to include others. However we need others to succeed and to move ahead if only to provide support. Succeeding is more often than not an effort of a group rather than just a person.

 

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last two lines; it becomes so significant that success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society.

 

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

 

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

 

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.”  Victor Frankl

 

Seeing ourselves clearly, honestly, and learning to like to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us.  Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

 

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

 

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people. Many wealthy people defined success in terms of wealth and yet others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons that are available as I looked, accomplishment, outcome, and achievement were all listed as definitive words for success as I read.

As I think back to two of the quotes I used today Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key, this man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital inAfricain the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates defines success as that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define. It is about your impact and difference you make on others and success is not measured as much in volumes as in quality. If we take quality as defined by Phillip Crosby which is exceeding expectations and draw a loose simple parallel. Then success is exceeding others expectations. A new week just underway please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Neither wolf nor dog

Bird Droppings January 23, 2012

Neither Wolf nor Dog

 

It has been some time since I first read a book by this name written by one of my favorite authors Kent Nerburn. While addressing the issue of the Native Indians of the Americas perhaps equally as appropriate as we are in a situation as a nation with a nontraditional president who happens to be of a different color than what many Americans would prefer and are afraid to say they are. So easy to say “I am not racist but his church affiliation cannot be over looked.” I was listening to several of my students discuss politics and always a little other reason somehow gets mentioned. Listening to polls and news similar rationales seem to prevail although cloaked within the subtle political jesturing and whispering of either Republicans or Democrats. 

 

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, (Tatanka Iyotake), Lakota Medicine man and chief

 

This great warrior and holy man died in 1890 shot by his own people as fore told in a vision he had many years before. At the time the federal government was concerned with his affiliation with the ghost dance cult, which was sweeping the reservations. Armed Sioux officers were sent to bring him in and as legend goes he was reaching for his grandson’s toy and the officers perceived a gun and shot him multiple times. Sadly most of the officers themselves were killed in mysterious ways the next year or so. Perhaps the officer’s deaths were retaliation for the killing of a great leader from the Sioux nation. Perhaps it is the paradox of the Indian wars.

It always seems interesting to me how it was patriotic for soldiers to kill Indians and yet the statement “I would die for my people and country,” is a very patriotic statement we still hear from American patriots down through history. Today around the world we are witnessing similar events n many countries. It just depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on as to who is patriotic and who is the enemy.

 

“To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle.” Confucius

 

“Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

 

Sometimes I wonder if we have run out of wilderness to conquer as I watch world events or read of more exploitation of wilderness in Alaska. Even the rumor mill is involving Haiti now as a possible new territory for the US. Do we need another General Custer and another battle of the Little Big Horn? I was thinking back in my own time and war, Viet Nam, and to the Malai massacre but those folks had no weapons and were only standing around not fighting back then lined up along a ditch and shot. I am always amazed that Custer was a hero and yet he disobeyed orders and egotistically rode into battle vastly outnumbered and was slaughtered. Perhaps it was the fact the Native Americans had the newest weaponry, repeating rifles and Custer’s men still had breech loading single shot rifles. Interestingly enough, history has it the unit was offered the new weapons but felt the old ones were good enough for what they were doing.

 

“What white man can say I never stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say that I am a thief. What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian.” Sitting Bull

 

I went to school for a semester in Texas in 1968 and experienced racism I had never seen before to that degree. Hatred for Indians nearly one hundred years after the wars were over. Geronimo and Chief Joseph were both refused on their death beds by sitting presidents to return to their sacred lands for fear of up risings. Nearly five years ago on a South Texas town abolished an anti-Hispanic segregation law more than seven decades after it was enacted in Edcouch Texas.

In 1973 I met the contingency of Creeks who were working at the Okmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon Georgia, we became friends and I was honored to be invited to take medicine at the Green Corn dance. Nearly 150 years earlier under Andrew Jackson’s orders the Creeks were taken from Georgia to Oklahoma, the now infamous Trail of tears. With the Creeks gone all the land became available. I found searching for information on my Leni Lenape, great, great grandmother an article about my great great grandfather George Niper who lived to be one hundred and fourteen years old and was the last living person to have voted for Andrew Jackson. I found it interesting Jackson was a Democrat.

 

“Now that we are poor, we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights.” Sitting Bull

 

I wonder what slogans were used in the 1880’s in presidential elections, Grant wanted a third term and Garfield supported Grant interesting how Garfield’s speech for Grant got him the nomination over Grant and elected. Tariffs was the main issue, high tariffs was whatGarfieldbacked and possibly that which he was assassinated for. The plight of the Indian was a small issue during the years recovering from the governmental corruption of Grant’s time. Government seems to be by nature corrupt. We watch as senators and congressmen argue over repealing health care for others and yet they have universal health care for life. Maybe if on equal footing legislation would be different and maybe if the threat of you could lose yours was on the table things would be different.

 

“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile to the white man…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight.” Crazy Horse, Tashunwitko

 

Interesting how an invaded people fought back yet we condemned them and how history changes the views. I have been reading a book that I titled today’s wandering about entitled, Neither Wolf nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn, it is an interesting book about an old man’s effort to explain who his people really are. Nerburn was asked to write the words of an elderly Indian a member of the Sioux nation, to explain why and how. One day maybe someone will offer explanations for the issues of today that go beyond the political views of warring parties and ideologies as we wander today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Sailing off the edge and or thinking out of the box

Bird Droppings January 22, 2012

Sailing off the edge and or thinking out of a box

 

I was thinking back nearly three years when history was made as a new president was sworn in and as one of my students came into class and asked to start working on his assignments. I did not beg and plead he started on his own. As he pulled a three ring binder and several folders from his back pack I sat with my mouth wide open who was this person. I have known him for a year and never has he been a “student”. It is amazing what a simple change in self-esteem and self-worth can do. On Thursday we studied for a vocabulary test using an LCD projector and when he left the room he knew the words. Last Friday morning he had a one hundred percent grade on his vocabulary test. It was a first in his educational career. What a change came over him. As I listened that night to our new president’s first speech I thought back to my student. We can make a difference each of us often in a small way that magnifies and grows.

 

“I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one’s own family or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace.” the Dalai Lama, From “The Pocket Zen Reader,”

 

            I have found teachers can be limited in their scope of reality. You would think that as a group, teachers would be more open to ideas, to new thought, to climbing out of the box. I read this passage above yesterday in a daily offering I receive, I immediately thought of teaching. As a teacher most think only within the confines of their room. Being in a somewhat different sort of atmosphere in a resource room which for ten years is how I taught. I can recall I did claim god like power within my room. Something that has been hard to accomplish is improving behavior outside of my room. Whoa, what a concept? Try and get kids to behave for other teachers. In reality it is simply expanding kids thinking beyond the moment or at least trying to. With this one student I mentioned all it took was a nudge.

 

“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.”  Isaac Asimov

 

I read this statement so many years ago and I responded one way. A friend sent me this quote, we have an ongoing dialogue and this was a response to something I wrote and not really a counter thought but additional support. Wisdom is not as elusive as one might expect. But I do not think in wisdom one would destroy one’s self. Knowledge or knowing how to do something does not impart wisdom.

A radical extremist can know how to build a nuclear device and detonate it and is that wisdom? Car bombers are they wise? Dying in retaliation and in any kind of war is that wise? Wisdom is not controlling knowledge and maybe I really do not know what wisdom is. So wisdom is part knowledge but also an additional aspect of concern and caring that provide the frame work for the knowledge to be structured within. Yet wisdom is not truly control.

Achilles knew his limitations and did battle. Someone else found his weakness and he was defeated. As I look deeper into the statement by Asimov however there is a willingness to know at any cost and perhaps that is really what is being said. Given the choice of not knowing or knowing and in so knowing all will be destroyed still Asimov would choose to know.

I recall we celebrate Columbus Day, we are celebrating a man who at one point sort of discovered America. As he was heading in this direction after leavingSpainas the weeks passed his desire to know came under fire as his crew feared they would be sailing off the edge of the world and great sea serpents and such devour them. He took a chance and discovered a new world, sometimes it is not destruction but illumination that waits.

 

True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

 

“Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Seeing the pieces and picking through knowing which to save and which to toss aside is that wisdom. I wonder as I sit thinking this morning what choices will I make as I work with kids.

 

“Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone.” Horace

 

“In talking to children, the old Lakota would place a hand to the ground and explain: ‘We sit in the lap of our mother. From her we, and all other living things, come. We soon shall pass, but the place where we now rest will last forever.’ So we too, learned to sit or lie on the ground and become conscious of the life around us in its multitudinous forms.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

 

Having an understanding of what it is we see and touch maybe within there is wisdom. It is not as much knowing but understanding. An understanding within the constraints of what we know. What a paradox? I am sitting reading Kent Nerburn’s book Native American Wisdom, filled with quotes and ideas from Native American culture and thought. In a passage from Sitting Bull, the great medicine man of the Teton Sioux, he wonders why all things have happened as they have and from his thoughts and as I read I wonder. Sitting here thinking after the words as well of our new president.

 

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux

 

Sitting Bull received his answer shortly thereafter as he was arrested for inciting mutiny on the reservation during a period of unrest. A medicine man from another tribe had started a cult according to authorities and it was growing in its following and Sitting Bull was accused of taking part. On his way to jail as legend has it, his arresters, several Sioux guards, as Sitting Bull gestured to his grandson they thought he was pulling a pistol and shot him several times. Sitting Bull had foretold his death several days before being taken by Sioux hands.

 

“Wisdom comes in dreams” Wavoka, Paiute, medicine man

 

Why even bring up an old Native American’s ideas during a discourse on wisdom? It is within the context of our knowledge that we seek wisdom within what we know. So often we fear what we do not know and that which is literally the opposite of wisdom and try and destroy it. Had we tried to understand when we first came to theAmericasperhaps this day would be somewhat different. What if we had tried to understand instead of force our knowledge upon a group of peoples. Knowledge alone can destroy wisdom. However maybe the buffer is understanding. Freud and Jung might argue Wavoka’s thought, yet they would sit and ponder dreams as therapy. I wonder as I sit and always my thoughts come back to going into a class room. I hope as I teach some way this makes sense and when a student leaves they look differently at life maybe wiser maybe just seeing a new color today instead of all black and white.

 

“Teachers are people who start things they never see finished, and for which they never get thanks until it is too late.”  Max Forman

 

Yesterday I bumped into a former student from nearly ten years ago now a father and married. When he left I would have placed him in that category of ninety five percent that will be dead, in jail, used car salesmen, or evangelists. A good friend and leading authority on conduct disorders uses that as a lead in to kids in high school with conduct disorders. My former student has done some jail time small pieces here and there but finished high school and is working steady and putting his wife through nursing school. So maybe wisdom came to him eventually. Maybe in that statement is wisdom and understanding but we may never see the true nature of all we and hopefully we are continuing to look. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird