Researching education a bit

Bird Droppings June 29, 2012

Researching Education a bit

 

With the bulk of education in the early 1900’s following closely the Industrial Revolution and mass production, a few great thinkers took the concept of the individual child in psychology and education in new directions as to its relationship to children. How children were viewed became the basis for several educators to develop their theories and ideas. Child psychology and child centered educational ideas flowed from these thinkers. John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends. Alfie Kohn educator and author refer to Dewey and to his idea of providing for a lifetime of learning. In his book What does it Mean to be well educated?, Kohn points out, “many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students, instantly responded with the phrase life-long learners.”

            Dewey was not alone in his thinking which was in direct contrast to the traditional educational practices of his day. Dewey was frustrated with the rationale of educators when he wrote

 

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so in trenched in practice. That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process.” John Dewey

 

The traditional philosophy of education was this focus away from children and their interests, and not trying to understand children simply seeing them as small adults. Traditional education was about efficiency and production which were carryovers from the Industrial revolution. It was time for progressive thought to get away from the assembly line processes of traditional education. One of these new educators a thinker, author, scholar, and advocate for children Alfie Kohn throughout his writing illustrates this point. 

 

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: “What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.” Alfie Kohn

 

In a burst of educational energy just prior to the turn of the century numerous educators and scholars were developing ideas that often parallel John Dewey as they sought to come up with a better way to teach children. Howard Garner in his book The Unschooled Mind states discusses some of this basic history of progressivism.

 

“Progressivism is most frequently and most appropriately associated with the name of John Dewey. In fact, however the practices of progressive education had already begun to be implemented in the period before 1896…Leaders like Francis Parker, first superintendent of the Quincy Massachusetts Public Schools, later principal of the Cook county Normal School in Chicago, and finally a founding member of the Chicago Institute, which ultimately gave rise to Dewey’s educational facility at the University of Chicago.” Howard Garner

 

While Dewey was establishing himself in educational history in theUnited Statesacross theAtlantic Oceanin Europe Dr. Jean Piaget was developing child centered education which would lead along with Dewey and Vsygotsky to the concept of constructivism. Piaget believed each aspect of child development followed clearly defined stages and this did not change child to child but could occur at differing speeds. Dewey saw the past experiences of children so often not even being recognized and yet at that point is the basis for their ability to learn.

In a similar fashion a medical doctor working with mentally disabled children in a residential setting in Europewas looking at the child centered aspect of education as she developed methodology with a developmental learning process in mind. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Advanced Montessori Method describes her philosophy and understanding of educating children.

 

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori

 

Another psychologist looking at children in a developmental approach was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky whose work was not discovered by the western educators till the later part of the twentieth century. Vygotsky also saw experience as a significant factor in children’s development. Retention of previous experiences facilitates adaptation to the world around them and can give rise to habits when those experiences are repeated. Vygotsky differed with Piaget in that he said learning can precede developmental stages. We can acquire use of a given tool in order to attain a certain stage of development. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development which is “the distance between actual development determined through independent problem solving and the level of  potential development through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

There are some similarities to Dewey with Vygotsky; much like Dewey he also felt there was a significant element of group interaction needed for education to be meaningful. The ideal school for Dewey was one that took the form of an “embryonic social community,” one in which students were encouraged to cooperate and work together and learn from each other as well as their teachers.

            The originators of constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey all started with psychology and that the child is a unique individual as they developed their interpretations and understandings of learning and education. Even today the child is not the focus of education. One need only to leaf through the tables of contents in recent educational journals to discern that the individual child is not the focus of educational reform. Each of these great educators believed in the act of doing as a way to learn and as Ted Sizer points out that there is context. “What I have learned is context is everything….. The memorable learning was that you have to be very respectful and very sensitive to the values, to the attitudes that youngsters bring into class, that their parents have, which the community has”. Montessori and Piaget leaned towards the developmental stages in child development and Dewey and Vygotsky while accepting developmentally sound stages as real felt the community, peer group and teachers elevated learning past developmental points of reference. Maybe it is time to look back to Dewey.  

 

“Curriculum has held our attention for generations because those who think seriously about education understand its inherent possibility. Maxine Greene’s call for a return to the search for John Dewey’s great community, her call to rise to the challenge of coming together without losing each person’s unique way of being in the world challenges our educational imagination.” Mary Aswell Doll

 

            For Dewey an educational experience had to be connected to the prior personal experience of students and also to a widening or deepening of future experience. It was through reflection that Dewey saw the ability to go beyond where you were now. John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do “resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes”. The act of reflection is taking a given reference and moving ahead to a new possibility. Often it is the teacher who provides the window for reflection to occur.

 

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Parker Palmer

 

It was in this reflective, imaginative undertaking of Dewey’s that provided ideas and thoughts that led Elliot Eisner to Art Education. In his writings Eisner looks to the arts as a basis for education and his ideas and thoughts offer a new stream from Dewey. John Dewey once commented that the stamp of the aesthetic needed to be on any intellectual idea in order for that idea to be complete. It is this feel both imaginative and sensible that the so-called academic studies would foster if they were modeled after the arts. Dewey identified making things as one of four fundamental interests of children. Unhappily, because schools put so little value on making things, most of us grow up with contempt for work done with our hands. Eisner drew often from Dewey’s idea on needing context and relevance for learning to be genuine and to be lasting. Eisner places experience at the center of learning.  

 

“It is through the content of our experiences that we are able to perform two very important cognitive operations: we are able to remember and we are able to imagine…. Imagination …works with the qualities we have experienced. What was not first in the hand cannot later be in the head.” Elliot Eisner

 

“One of the potential virtues of situated learning is that it increases the probability that students will be able to apply what they have learned. When the conditions of learning are remote from the situations or tasks in which what is learned can be applied, the likely hood of application or some would say transfer is diminished.” Elliot Eisner

 

The idea of imagination needing to have a basis in reality, in the context, is of significance. It is imagination that brings meaning, purpose, and application to what is learned.

“Imagination for Dewey, explores alternative possibilities for action within a selected context of ongoing activity. Imagination enables the search for ideas that can reconstruct the situation. It takes the context and its data, including emotional sympathetic data, as intuited and determined by selective interests and transforms them into a plan of action, an idea that if acted upon might allow the agent to achieve the desired ideal in reality.” Jim Garrison

 

Eisner believes in diversity, that this is the key to education and learning and through this provides richness for our culture as well. Continuing in that same line of thought, Maxine Greene educator, philosopher and pioneer sees reality after all as interpreted experience and that to limit learners to a single dominant mode of interpreting their experience may be to frustrate their individual pursuits of meaning and consequently, their desires to come to know, and to learn.

With much of her work is based on the concept of caring, Nel Noddings defines education “as a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation”. Eisner and Barone understand that the aesthetics of experiences is what builds those in our minds and provides the means to imagine and be creative. The concept of Aesthetic Learning and Education is one of understanding, of perception and ultimately of creativity. Eisner looks at teaching as artistry, it is the ability to craft a performance and to provide the students with the mediums and means to perceive and understand their world.

For John Dewey, aesthetic experiences are not confined to high art, but arise from within the interaction of human organisms with their surroundings. Thomas Barone points to Dewey being the primary thinker that envisioned art and aesthetics having a central role in education and in learning. Thomas Barone is concerned as are many other progressive educators with the linear format of traditional education.

 

“If students are not given access to metaphoric learning activities, if the shape of their learning is always linear and closed, how will their capacity for creativity and invention be developed?” Thomas Barone

 

Perhaps in my research and reading I am getting a bit over board with Dewey and education but I see tie ins to daily living, to how we respond to others, to what the future holds for us and our grandchildren. If each of us took a bit more time to try and understand why so much of what is going on in society is going on maybe just maybe we could finally realize much of this does not need to be happening. So again after nearly eleven years of daily writing I ask as I do every morning please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Should I even be pondering the idea of faith?

Bird Droppings June 28, 2012

Should I even be pondering the idea of faith?

 

“Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is accelerating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of standards by which to assess technological impact, and to block it where necessary, is a critical survival skill of our times.” Jerry Mander

 

These are the words starting Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, Four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it.

            Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.

 

“The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of an analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as the “other”, including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human, to be a human subject, and allow our selves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman.”  R. L. Rutsky

 

Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations.

The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Echo boomers by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.

To believe in a god or gods requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of god. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your fingertips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Each of us perceives the concept of god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.

 

“During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological situation of dependency. We are trained, as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us simply to react, “Who will help me?” We are in a dependent relationship to our parents.” Joseph Campbell

 

Campbell sees us as needing someone or something throughout our lives. We are taught the myths and traditions of our parents and culture as answers to what we can depend on. In many situations that could be a concept of god or religion.Campbellgoes deeper into his anthropological view of mythology and its focus on life and or on death. Religions down through history have played on either or both aspects. As humans however we seem to find unknowns and it is that unknown aspect of our existence that provides windows or doors, as Huxley states, to understand who we are and why.

 

“From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that at most times and most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to the objective existents, have felt that they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spirituality higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open…What wonder, then if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within.” Aldolus Huxley

 

Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time. 

Lev Manovich offers his theory’s on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and the last hot type facility was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is used and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.

 

“If traditional cultures provided people with well defined narratives, (Myths, Religion) and little “stand alone” information, today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together.” Lev Manovich

 

We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something missing that is not able to tie it all together.

From my own personal experience working with teenagers, many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.

 

“Religion was perhaps the most ancient organizing concept in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline: the ultimately determining instance for national or racial character, the ultimate source of cultural difference itself, the marker for the individuality of the various peoples in history.” Fredric Jameson

 

Looking at teenagers as a whole perhaps it is the technology that is defining them more so than religion. Issues of faith and trust are daily within news and media that teenagers access far more readily than do we as adults. News articles of men of faith who lied and cheated and yet continue to do as they did before getting caught. There are Church’s turning their backs on children who were molested, and/or buying their silence. It is not difficult to see where faith and trust can be subverted. Sometimes it is easiest to go back, and look at a view from a more traditional standpoint. Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, is an Oglala Sioux, he is an attorney, ex marine pilot having flown 110 combat missions, and he has participated in seven sun dance ceremonies. He writes extensively on spirituality and the earth. McGaa discusses religion in his book Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way.

 

“Who is God? Before I can begin to answer such a question, I must explain that any answer, or attempt to answer, is based on my background, my personal experiences and that which has influenced me upon my personal journey down the Red Trail of life or as some may call it, my journey within the Natural Way.” Ed McGaa

 

Many times when talking with youth I will ask them to define god whether they believe in god or not, but to not use pronouns and or scripture. To date very few have succeeded, they are limited by their experiences. So much of who we are is based on where we came from and what we have experienced. In attempting to find what I believe is missing, perhaps rethinking where I have come from.

I attended CandlerschoolofTheologyin 1973-75 atEmoryUniversity. I have always questioned others views on god and faith. As I took classes in theology and biblical studies, and I would often be on one side of the table alone, as we argued or discussed various views. While I never was a student in Dr. Fowler’s classes I was impressed as I read his books and articles. Dr. James Fowler was a Professor of Theology and Human Development atEmoryUniversity, he was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. Dr. Fowler has written numerous articles and books on his concept of faith and on his theory of how faith develops. This idea of a developing faith could impact how technology also fits into human awareness. Could it be through the intensive use of technology we are circumventing a stage in our development? Looking back atCampbell’s thought could it be we are finding in technology a substitute for that parent dependency within society? Dr. Fowler starts his book The Development of Faith with this thought.

 

“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the between times: between meaning amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.” Dr. James Fowler

 

The idea that there is a development of faith even as a child grows physically, in developmental stages, has intrigued me for many years. My own personal journey has been intertwined with my studies and readings as well as experience, dealing with people and with my students. Faith is a word that is very difficult to scientifically dissect and analyze. For different people faith will have different meanings many times associated with religion. In my own journey I found an author, William Eleden, who was a former fighter pilot in World War II and Pastor and is currently at ninety five years of age still an author and columnist.

 

“Words can lead us into dead end canyons, and what is the bottom line? In this: Words fool us into thinking we have experienced what we talk about. Take water for instance: I can read volumes about water listen to a thousand lectures on water and develop an exhaustive vocabulary about water, without having ever experienced water. I will know more about water after drinking a glass full, or diving into a lake then if I attend lectures on water for the rest of my life.” William Edelen

 

The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.

In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

namaste

bird

 

 

Should we try and fill a liter bottle?

Bird Droppings June 27, 2012

Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

 

            The current educational trends are analogous to trying to pour five gallons of material into a liter bottle using a funnel. As you try obliviously a large portion of material spills out and is discarded or lost. I use a liter bottle as my analogy’s container, as a liter is recognized as the standard metric unit of volume, a universal standard. This symbolism appears to be what is happening in education, an attempt to find that liter bottle in terms of a student’s capabilities, a universal student standard.

            In our many of our current public school settings, teachers have been stripped of their individuality and creativity, forced often through coercion to teach specifically to the standardized test and to be sure their students pass the test or face consequences. In an effort to meet federal No Child Left Behind, (NCLB) mandates, curriculum and lesson guidelines are in place in many school settings that are creating a more uniform and categorized package of material that students learn and retain and through this we are losing aspects of children’s identities and individuality as well as the teacher’s creativity, imagination and individuality. My concern is what is it that we are leaving behind in this rush and push for test results and standardization as we fill that student, that liter bottle.

As I began writing the idea of soul which is for me is a crucial aspect of our individuality is being stripped away from children literally through more and more organized and orchestrated emphasis on the test. Most people at first will attribute a religious connotation in when mentioning the idea of soul. I began to review ideas and research from various authors using the concept of soul as the heart of our individuality which provided a point of reference that felt good. I went looking back historically trying to find where the emphasis directed toward improving our scores in standardized tests began and it was during the period of the Cold War, when our attention was turned to beating the Russians that the federal government officially started taking a hand in legislating and pushing for standardized test scores.

The Vietnam War and the social awareness of the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies created a bump in the road for standardized testing and the legislated learning processes however briefly. For a short period of time individuality was the norm again. Unfortunately this backlash only lasted briefly, due in part to the shift in scientific technology’s promoting and pushing of standardized testing, the days of independence were short lived. Today’s students and parents may take up the gauntlet again. The activism of the late sixties and early seventies was short lived as pressure for standardization ensued and the effort to teach innovatively became obsolete in many schools. The takeover of education by government state and federal was fully under way and innovation, individuality and the progressivism of John Dewey, a major proponent of individuality in education was being pushed aside.

The individual’s experience and involvement was the key to Dewey’s thought and to the educational premises of progressivism. It was tying these experiences to education giving context to the content that Dewey promoted. Dewey was adamant about society and democratic interaction in his pursuits of education. Dewey foresaw the direction our industrial society was headed as legislated and packaged learning began stripping away individuality for the corporate good. The goal of society to prepare needed workers and consumers was at a cost and that was losing a part of them as they fall prey to the standardized demands.

Sadly there are alternatives; in a community strength is in the interactions, relationships and implications. Within a school this can be powerful tool. This could be applied in a learning setting borrowing from Foxfire Core Practice three.

 

“The work teachers and students do together enable learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practices, 2009

Real education is about learning through and of experience. It is learning by doing. It is an environment where each person has input and interaction. This is a democratic classroom and this was developed in the early 1900’s by Dewey and was there as legislation pushed for standardization and simplicity in measuring using tests. There is a paradox in this type of education versus the standardized regime that is being imposed through NCLB and other legislated efforts.

 

“As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself.  He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself.“ William Pinar

 

We as individuals require others in our existence for triangulation as bearings or focal points of who we are.  It takes the input of other people for community and democracy to truly work and to develop. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor of sociology, who has made more of an impact on me in the years since as I read his books and contemplated his thoughts. Dr. Campolo points to a growing issue in our culture.

 

“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our “advanced” capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us.  More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

 

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here.  It is the gist of who we are, that inner aspect I will later refer to as soul, getting to know where we are in the world and why. The development and implementation of standardize testing has driven society to using such words as human capital in our viewing of students. Human capital verses human needs I can see why a mother would pull a second grader out of school because of testing.

Education should be an interdisciplinary event. It should be all encompassing, a lived in, a total undertaking. It is not the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ that many traditional teachers and administrators adhere too and legislators want.  It is in dealing with more than just us but involving the world and community.

 

“It is through a concern with problems as they relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom, those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliott Eisner

 

Looking at our world view and how we communicate that to others and even to ourselves is important. How we go about educating and teaching our children should be a major concern. What they take from a lesson and how they use it in their own lives can be significant if we will provide the capabilities and allow this to happen. Sadly through a concerted effort schools have been stripping away the children’s individuality for the sake of standardization.

            For many years now I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world.  In Native American culture all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal and human being. The idea of spiritual can be simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within.  I see education and curriculum in a similar manner, one of sacredness of spiritual fulfillment, more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day, for those in learning focused schools. It is not a static fixed commodity some legislators want for ease of operation and it can change with the group and community that it is operating within.

As I researched and read curriculum theorists, many are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

 

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the ‘secret’ that ‘sits in the middle and knows’ – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real.  Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points.  But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, 1998

 

 Perhaps it is in our end of course test and graduation test mentality we are setting limits and parameters on our educative process. We have become so normalized through standardization and traditional molds we have become limited in perceiving anything different. Throughout history it has taken holy men and women, sages, and esoteric’ s to bring back pieces of what is truly there.  It may be that curriculum theory is doing this with education.  Bringing back what could be. Trying to keep from children their inner self their individuality is hindering learning and development as a human.

Education and curriculum are alive ongoing and pervasive.  It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers and school systems presume. Can we look at curriculum and education in such a broad manner encompassing everything about us, our lived experiences, and our curricula vita?  It becomes so difficult to be outside the box when everyone else is inside. But for learning to be real and to progress, we as educators have to ruminate and see the more ultimate issues in life. We need to go beyond the content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and put back that idea of democracy and experience that living and life provides, suggested so long ago by Dewey.  There is so much more to education and curriculum for teachers to consider than what is written down on paper.

 

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed.  Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

 

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books. My first principal who by chance was a recent principal of the year in Georgia had a book club for teachers.

 

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more.  They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

 

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on to the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”.  There should not be a limiting to curriculum or to education as so often currently imposed. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching, he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher.  We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students.

 

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one, 2009

            The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces of the individual human being left behind. I would like to be optimistic and say borrowing from the great civil rights leader that as teachers, real teachers, “we shall overcome” and we shall put soul back into the bottle of our children. I got a bit carried away today but continue to keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

What am I doing looking for clues?

Bird Droppings June 26, 2012

What am I doing looking for clues?

 

We all enjoy mysteries and trying to solve the secret before the end of the movie or novel. We all seem to go through life looking for the one big clue and answer to all of the mysteries that surround us. I typed into the address bar, searching for answers, and one million one hundred thousand hits later I still had no answer. I tried a favorite book from years back, “In search of the mystery”, by William Edelen and got his view or what he had found along the way in his search.

 

“From Wakan-Tanka, the Great Mystery, comes all power. It is from Wakan-Tanka that the holy man has wisdom and the power to heal and make holy charms. Man knows that all healing plants are given by Wakan-Tanka, therefore they are holy. So too is the buffalo holy, because it is the gift of Wakan-Tanka.” Flat-Iron, Maza Blaska, Oglala Sioux

 

Wanka-Tanka loosely translated from the Lakota Sioux language is, the great mystery. Nearly six years ago this week a miniseries was on one of the cable channels, “Into the West” which was produced by Steven Spielberg. This was a grand soap opera of the history of two peoples brought into conflict as each had differing intentions for the land. The term Wakan-Tanka is used as the holy man one of the Native American brothers depicted in the movie often states, he is one with. Author, pastor, fighter pilot, and philosopher William Edelen borrowed from this Native American thinking in one of his books essentially in his writing trying to find the mystery only to discover it was still there.

Several years back in Kansas a debate was brewing that more than likely could seriously have impacted education in that state, intelligent design versus evolution was to be taught in schools. A mystery is simply something we are not currently sure of what it is. So often we solve our mysteries with whatever we can think of. In years gone by astronomers could only conceive of a sun going around the earth and even Columbus was a bit concerned as days rolled on and no land was found that maybe the flat earth idea had merit. Visually I recall the scene from the movie when he gets to land and falls flat on his face on the beach. I think he was more excited than we will ever know that the flat concept was dispelled.

It takes research and thinking and pondering to resolve and search for mysteries. For Native Americans to conceive of a great mystery allowed for new ideas for them the limitations were minimal since everything is the great mystery. Across the sea we needed more concise and clarity and developed theologies that provided anthropomorphic symbolism and containment and eventually even intelligent design. We did not want a mystery; we wanted a friend, a brother, father, cousin, or just another human being. As interesting as life goes forth I am wandering today in my own mystery. Watching again this series of the western encroachment reliving how we desecrated a land and continue to do it. Even in court a person’s home can be taken for the encroachment of development. Sadly years back in Connecticut a riverside home lived in for six generations was bulldozed for an office complex in for the betterment and progress of society. In congress an energy bill hyped to bring down our gas prices includes drilling in the pristine wilderness of Alaska that will take ten years to produce a drop of oil yet we think it will affect gas this summer. The fact we cannot refine more crude n our own country does not ever pop up since no new refineries have been built recently actually in nearly thirty years. No one reads about how US refineries and oil companies are exporting gas and oil since we have too much. Hopefully for us a bill to reduce emissions back to previous levels in 1970’s was rejected. How appropriate is the series as we continue to expand our philosophy of greed and materialism even today. The mystery is of little use if no one cares to search and is content to wallow in material things and contrivances. My friends please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Is it about what we know?

Bird Droppings June 25, 2012

Is it about what we know?

 

“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T. Washington

 

I have spent the better part of two weeks up on Black Rock Mountain in Mountain City Georgia involved in a class introducing teachers and teachers to be the Foxfire approach to teaching. It has been some time since I received an email containing a letter from a well-known professor of education at the University of Georgia. The letter was about the emphasis on the testing of what we know, and how this is not a reflection of education. It is simply a gauge of the teaching of students to take a test or borrowing from Sydney J. Harris, it is akin to stuffing sausages. The issue then becomes how we then measure what a person does learn. One of the best methods of measuring learning is a portfolio system. Most elected officials want data in terms of their stay in office not a portfolio twenty or more years in the making.

 

“I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” John Dewey

 

I just went back and reread University of Georgia’s Dr. Glickman’s letter and have formatted it and saved it on my computer. John Dewey knew cramming knowledge into a student was not the answer. Modern educators argue as I mentioned several days ago we cannot simply fill an empty bottle with knowledge. In life it is not just in education we want to be able to determine our successes and failures. Over my years many of which have been in industry, indirectly in developing materials for training. Specifically in industry we developed and used a term, an acronym, ISMEC.

In industry there is a goal a rather simple one and that is profit. In order to one key aspect in the increasing of profit is to decrease losses. ISMEC was a tool to do this. There were underlying humanitarian issues in heavy industry, where loss also can mean loss of life as well.  But loss time is the amount of time without a loss and in some industries this is measured between deaths or injuries. For example in deep rock mining which is one of those industries where how many man hours between deaths are calculated borrowing from our recent mining disasters in various mines across the country. The equation becomes how many deaths per million of man hours of work. ISMEC came to industry in the early 1960’s and revolutionized the safety and loss control industries. It is a simple acronym, Identify, Set standards, Measure, Evaluate, Correct and or Commend.

In industry to find and identify you look at the maintenance department for example and find where issues are and build from there. In a community currently we use test scores what if we looked at the maintenance department, those not passing tests, the jails, rehab facilities, counseling services, doctors and such to see where we need support and modifications rather than end result of standardized tests scores. It might cost too much or confidentiality could be an issue and we would have a difficult time accomplishing within our elected officials time in office which for them is a crucial one.

 

“Our students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world. Politicians and businesspeople, determined to get tough with students and teachers, have increased the pressure to raise standardized test scores. Unfortunately, the effort to do so typically comes at the expense of more meaningful forms of learning” Alfie Kohn

 

Renegade educational guru and author Alfie Kohn among so many other innovators and thinkers in education all the way back to John Dewey in the 1930’s have been saying we continue to look at the wrong measures. So what do we do as parents, teachers, friends and families do? How do we change the directions and aspirations of those who set the precedent? We live in a democracy and we hold that power in voting. I recall back in the last election that candidates for President of the United States were arguing the merits of a president’s control of gas prices. I walked into the school building the other day thinking people are buying this dribble, yet whomever is elected will not be in power till January of 2013 and we are then talking long term solutions that may not even be feasible. The general population is excited about saving twenty cents a gallon this summer not waiting for an election and what will not be for another year.

As I close this morning we gain knowledge and we learn and we try and through our voting during elections we can hopefully change society, borrowing from a popular former candidate, yes we can. So many years ago a movie ended with an elderly man offering a bit of wisdom, “use it wisely” as the old knight in the Indiana Jones movie says. Yesterday I received a slate of politicians up for election endorsed by an organization I belong to The Georgia Association of Educators which is affiliated with the National Association of Educators. The list was compiled based on voting records and education support. Here in Georgia on how many voted for and against teachers across there term. Limiting teacher access to legislators banning use of state email systems and state employees emailing their legislators, charter school for profit, (interestingly enough research shows charter schools are less effective on test scores than public schools) school vouchers, furlough days, tenure, teacher’s retirement funds, test scores, and numerous other entities impacting Georgia youth. As I read through the list I could see why on some and on others I sort of want to attach a question mark. I cannot believe elected officials can be this stupid. But it leads me to several questions that I have had in educational thinking.

We have a State school superintendent elected for four years, local school members elected for four years and often in some counties principals and superintendents who are in schools for short periods of time. In this process we change thinking at a local level when a principal changes schools often the schools vision and philosophy alter based on the commander in chief if that is how that person operates. So in effect a student could be going one direction with a progressive innovative educator and in a year’s time switch to a traditional hard line educator. One day being evaluated on learning and one day evaluated on a standardized test of what was remembered.

 

“The principal target of school time at present, a target many self-satisfied men and women congratulate themselves upon knowing, is the production of high standardized test scores – which correlate with almost nothing of value. Every president since such testing was launched has had a mediocre to poor standardized test score. The same can be said true of corporate executives.” John David Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction, 2010

 

    So we use for measurement a tool that has no significant intrinsic value and yet base everything in some cases upon this, teachers jobs, students future, and in some cases schools staying open or being closed. A good friend recently because he pushed too hard for changes and for real meaning to education was not returned to a school he had lead for nearly eight years and a school that had improved not only in test scores but in art, music, social awareness and in societal interaction. He did not just stay focused on test scores but was concerned about where do kids from a seventy five percent transient population school go when they leave here. So as always with one additional request as we head to primaries and elections this fall use your vote wisely and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

History is what happens today tomorrow

Bird Droppings June 24, 2012

History is what happened today tomorrow

 

“Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.”  Will Durant  

 

At times I find a piece a bit of wisdom and or knowledge that has significance to me as I wander reading here and there. I was looking at a quote yesterday that caught my eye by Will Durant a historian and philosopher and in reviewing and investigating found William James Durant founded General Motors and a different Will Durant wrote “The Story of Civilization” I looked further and found ideas that interested me and so a quick introduction to Mr. Will Durant.

 

“The one escape worthy of a mature mind is to rise out of the moment and the part and contemplate the whole. What we have lost above all is total perspective. Life seems too intricate and mobile for us to grasp its unity and significance; we cease to be citizens and become only individuals; we have no purposes that look beyond our death; we are fragments of men, and nothing more. No one dares today to survey life in its entirety; analysis leaps and synthesis lags; we fear the experts in every field and keep ourselves, for safety’s sake, lashed to our narrow specialties. Everyone knows his part, but is ignorant of its meaning in the play. Life itself grows meaningless and becomes empty just when it seemed most full.” Will Durant 

 

Perhaps for some a bit heavy duty but in this writing there are several key thoughts. One of the ideas is that of total perspective, looking at the whole instead of simply the moment yet paradoxically he in the starting quotes focuses on the now. It is interesting in his life he transverses many social and political arenas as he searched for his own place but in reading about the man, he definitely lived what he believed in.

 

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.”

 

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

 

“Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization.” Will Durant

 

Sitting here earlier this morning I was reading about a man who died nearly thirty years ago yet has words still ring true. In this moment as I think back to various meetings I have been in talking about education and trains of thoughts learning and his thoughts are so very true. We all too often get to caught up in where we are right now yet on one hand it is crucial to be where we need to be. This could be or sound like a riddle or a paradox you might say. Just before school was out as I was worrying about my own issues in life and others came to me with their issues some dwarfed my own simple day to day worries. One in particular concerned me as a young lady had recently gone through a life altering situation and stood we talking as the bell rang and classes were changing focuses around the bells. She ran off to class making the statement that it hurt physically and mentally a brief second in time a minute, a moment yet I was where I was too be at that moment to hear to listen even with a bell stopping and changing directions.

As I got home I received an email from a dear friend commenting on a previous days Bird Droppings and how we still have progressed some, but still a question was left. The question is really why is ‘kinder and gentler’ harder to achieve than ‘nasty and vicious’? A quick sip of some really good green tea to spur the thought process and fire up the next line and I go on. As I think about Durant and this question and how does the event of the young lady at school between classes all tie in or do they? I will often refer to a dream I had, sometimes depending on the audience I will call it a vision, of a puzzle, a giant jig saw puzzle all falling into place each piece more intricate than the next millions of pieces all falling into place one at a time. Continually in my dream I try and see the puzzle face to understand what is this great puzzle coming together before me. As I try and look the puzzle moves away from me turns and only reveals the gray backing. Occasionally I see an individual piece clear and precise but when I focus on a piece the process slows down for I have pulled a piece out of time and out of the effort to fall into place. I have broken the momentum of what is going on. Carefully I try and insert back into the continuing placement of pieces. Life is that puzzle, it is falling in place as we sit and read each note and though around us the pieces continually falls, should we sit and ponder and dally too long on a single piece? Perhaps we should slow the process yet as Durant says in his starting quote forget the mistakes do it now.

I see not sitting and pondering the puzzle piece thus slowing the process but seeing the piece for what it is and putting more in place knowing you are part of a whole, an integral part. Each aspect of your life is unique yet still intertwined in all that is so as I Am writing and thinking today and you think and dream keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts as world and national issues draw us continually to the front. Shortly I will step out into the dusk of morning as the sun is soon to rise to offer thanks, please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Why we do what we do?

Bird Droppings June 23, 2012

Why we do what we do?

 

“Our task is to make our children into disciples of the good life, by our own actions toward them and toward other people. This is the only effective discipline in the long run. But it is more arduous, and takes longer, than simply “laying down the law.” Before a child (or a nation) can accept the law, it has to learn why the law has been created for its own welfare.” Sydney J. Harris

 

Over the years I have been faced with dealing with students who have continually found their way into trouble. Often in education we use the term manifestation as in is it a manifestation of their disability or are they choosing to do whatever it is they are doing. It has generally been a hit or miss in some cases. How do we know for sure with any kid was this a manifestation of a given disability. Far too often we look no further than the immediate school involvement and bypass the student’s history and all of that time outside of school.

 

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” Aristotle

 

“Self-command is the main discipline.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Many years ago I spent six months involved in counseling on a psychiatric unit in a state mental facility. There was never a question about why something happened since with combative adolescents which was the term used to describe the unit they lived up to it. When someone got upset they simply went to solitary confinement and were administered large doses of drugs and secured in strait jackets among other totally dehumanizing parifilalia often employed. Little was occurring to change the behavior and or rationalize those behaviors.

 

“Anybody who gets away with something will come back to get away with a little bit more.” Harold Schoenberg

 

“Better to be pruned to grow than cut up to burn.” John Trapp

 

Often as I find a quote the person behind those words has more to offer. Schoenberg is a scholar of music, a prolific writer about great musicians and music.  Trapp is a bible scholar with several biblical commentaries to his credit. These great writers who themselves were very self-disciplined.

 

“THE STUDY OF WORDS is useless unless it leads to the study of the ideas that the words stand for. When I am concerned about the proper use of words it is not because of snobbism or superiority, but because their improper use leads to poor ways of thinking. Take the word ‘discipline’ that we hear so much about nowadays in connection with the rearing of children. If know something about word derivations, you know that ‘discipline’ and ‘disciple’ come from the same Latin root discipulus, which means ‘to learn, to follow.’” Sydney J. Harris, Strictly speaking

 

Sitting here looking up references and quotes related to discipline and ending up with the idea of example, to learn, and or to follow, just semantics as we go. In order to operate a public school we have to have standards to operate by and so rules all of the past two weeks we have used the term norms. Looking at this from a behaviorist standpoint it is easy to say ABC, Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence. First you have an antecedent which is that stimulus that causes the behavior. You then have the behavior that which is the event or action that we see feel or hear about. Following we have the consequence which can be what we do in response or what the student or person providing and issuing the behavior receives for eliciting that behavior.

 

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?” Leonard Cohen

 

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.” George W. Crane

 

“To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” Rene Descartes

 

It is always about what we do. Over the past few days I have with several teachers and friends been discussing perception. Perception being the how we see and understand events and happenings. One of the categories in writing a behavioral plan for a student is planned ignoring simply tuning out a behavior. Often with no stimulus to keep it going a behavior will disappear. Many times it is getting attention that is the desired consequence of the student.

 

“People don’t change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.” Fran Tarkenton

 

“Physics does not change the nature of the world it studies, and no science of behavior can change the essential nature of man, even though both sciences yield technologies with a vast power to manipulate the subject matters.” B. F. Skinner

 

I am using a football quarterback’s quote and one from the father of behaviorism, two men from distinctly different arenas yet very obviously similar in their thoughts. Tarkenton has built an internationally known management consulting firm based on this thought. It has to make a difference to the person for them to change. Skinner sees we can manipulate the subject matter, we can offer alternative consequences to hopefully change to behaviors we can except. A Harris line caught my attention this morning as I started on discipline as I thought back to preparing for IEP’s coming up this fall related to behavior, “by our own actions toward them and toward other people.” SJH. So often it is not the consequences that deter or change a behavior but our actions towards the person and those around them, it is the example we set and not what we say that matters. Please as we venture out today keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird