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.