A new journey begun

Bird Droppings June 22, 2012

A new journey is begun

 

“School divides life into two segments, which are increasingly of comparable length. As much as anything else, schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them.” Ivan Illich, 1971

            I started with this statement from Ivan Illich who was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and “maverick social critic” of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development. From my own stand point it was his short book or essay, Deschooling Society, 1971 that caught my attention.

 

“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.” Ivan Illich, 1971

 

This short book brought Illich to the attention of the general public. I want to emphasize one sentence. “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring” After a couple of weeks of John Dewey and Foxfire I find this very significant. I really like the concept of educational webs.

            I find as I ponder teaching, education and learning I continually come back to my father and his impact on my own concept of teaching. I remember all of the acronyms and quick one-liners he would use to emphasize points. As I was thinking it hit me that it is the nearing the fifth anniversary of the last time I spoke with my father.

It was June 27, 2007 and I had dropped off some medicine my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey.

I drove down to Oxford Georgia after leaving to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drank Evian back then more recently switching to Smart water liters as they fit in car drink holders. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy.

            As I headed from the county just before dusk a tall dead tree was standing to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark nearly white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and time I had to reach my destination. In Native American thought often animals are linked to us in a special way and provide us with bits and pieces of what we need as we travel in life.

            I arrived just before they started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University I walked around a bit. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his rendition of Axel Rose’s and Bob Dylan’s singing a duet on that famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

 

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

            I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me most nights. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey in to night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because she was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.

            I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son had work this morning so I thought I would wake him up and he walked by. I had several vivid dreams over the next two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my son and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.

            I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock in the morning June 28th. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought, listened and pondered for a few minutes. I enjoyed the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rose in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some stones I had previously placed on the ground when we first moved to this spot.

I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and she was fine.

It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnecting and meeting people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and all were his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.

“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps resounding as I recall my sons singing that night five years ago and it was so many years ago another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I thought back again to 2007 with my father in law passing and a student who I considered a dear friend and then my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish all well on their journeys and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Peace to my father and all of my friends and please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Sometimes we need to clean our ears!

Bird Droppings June 21, 2012

Sometimes we need to clean our ears

 

Kind of sort of gross to ponder ear wax and all, but I was thinking more symbolically. So often in life we hear within our own perception and really do not hear what is really being said we formulate and postulate the answers and comments from others before they even finish so we can respond or get on our way. Time is always a factor as we subconsciously ask please speak faster I need to be so and so in a minute. Sometimes we need to listen more careful and unbiased not letting our own perceptions color what is being said, a difficult task in the least. Sometimes we need to let a person finish what is being said and focus on the heart of the matter.

I started thinking back five years or so to a graduation ceremony at our high school and to perhaps one of the hardest summers of my life. My father passed away as well as my father in law. However it was about this time back in 2007 a friend passed on. Just about every day Kenna would come by my room at the high school to talk about what was troubling her or to tell about her successes as well. Somewhere on my wall of photos is a picture from when she was in ninth grade smiling and happy. I have seen Kenna cry and giggle and about every emotion that we as humans are capable of. I consider Kenna a dear friend. I received several calls while in class atGeorgiaSouthern and felt I needed to call and find out what was going on. My son informed me Kenna had been killed in a car wreck. It has only been a week since I received a call about my two sons and their car wreck. John and Matt were bruised but ok. That first moment is something as a parent you never want to hear.

I last talked to Kenna about going to college and she told me about plans for an apartment and was so excited. I borrow from Carlos Castaneda periodically and he writes often of choosing the path of the heart, Kenna was about heart, ask those who knew her. Carlos Castaneda in his journeys through the series of books discusses as he learns the ancient ways of a warrior. Some will say he fictionalized his mentor Don Juan a Yagui Medicine man but his words of seeking heart are so true.

 

“A warrior must learn to make every act count, since he is going to be here in this world for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.” Carlos Castaneda, 20th century mystic and Toltec warrior, Journey to Ixtlan

 

As I read so many years ago Carlos learned to not be limited by his own perception and to try and understand the other persons view of what was here. As I teach so often we limit our responses to our view as a teacher never taking into account the students and how they see this reality. Maybe Kenna came to talk and often listen because I tried to see her view not just mine. When I read this passage from Castaneda I thought of how teenagers live life so often. “A warrior must learn to make every act count”, few of us live this way. I only knew Kenna ever so briefly but I do think she tried to make every moment every act count.

Many times we as parents see only our window on life and not our children’s. Speaking as a teacher and parent there are sixteen hours of another world a child lives in we do not see. It is in those minutes much of what happens in our eight hours of school is scripted by, arguments with boyfriends/girlfriends, fights with parents, drugs, drinking, and not all is bad. There are children who are deeply loved and who have parents who are concerned about them but we see only the reflections and we respond with our own biases and perception of that world. So many times we are wrong.

We need to clean out our ears listen more attentively why is this student or child upset, acting out, or seeking attention. Could be we heard but our ears were plugged. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please keep Kenna’s friends and family in your thoughts this day and please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Am I really thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering?

Bird Droppings June 20, 2012

Am I really thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering?

 

            I drove to south east Georgia on about three years ago to take my oral exam for my doctorate which was basically a follow-up face to face with my committee of professors and in turn responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen page papers. I always enjoyed the drive down generally always going part of the way on back roads I have several stops I traditionally make one is a nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none.

            I got to Statesboro about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday so several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town and I had dinner with one. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept little anticipating my oral exam the next morning. Much of my discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference and we discussed the right and left wings of education which has been heavy on my mind in recent days.

            I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the teachers course up here in Mountain City on the Foxfire property I often find myself on the outside of discussions as so many are locked into a teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days I found my success and lack of success was being equated on whether I am following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role being in a resource room all day and now more recently as a co-teacher. I had never more than seven students in resource and often that seven was all emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required more attention. In shifting to co-teaching now the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students.  

            I have been evaluated all year by an administrator who sees education for the first time in many years very similar to how see education. Special education is anything but black and white and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations this past year have been excellant and after an initial shock of changing rooms after ten years I feel good about the year. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes this past year especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the training program her in the mountains I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it one teacher without just teaching to test does well? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?

            In today’s Atlanta paper two administrators in a neighboring county are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the school questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.

            In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here inGeorgiahave been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration the particular math test had literally no one passing. How can a test over a given subject curriculum be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session be a measure of what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing.

            As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire and now new teachers learning about this idea for my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in the program nearly forty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talked about lifelong learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this.

            It was refreshing in my exam three years ago to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam and now in my procrastination move to another stage in my doctorate. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. Could be the mountain air is getting to me and or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.   

 

“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, it is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much effort and 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

 

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group as well as a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone often out of choice. Sort of my monasticism coming out I will say. But for me alone time provides reflection time on what has been happening during a given day.  

 

“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 line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.  

 

“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.” Franklin Covey

 

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. In many situations many wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth. Others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and 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 success is 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 but I cannot help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in his or her life or even better for me that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by Phillip Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding an others expectations. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird  

 

Are we experiencing a genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings June 19, 2012

Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

 

It gets difficult to finish my daily journals entries lately running back and forth to North Georgia, sitting in on Foxfire Teacher Classes, reading and discussing John Dewey and my writing of course. So here early in the morning today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and many will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I have over the past few days used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that which stay s with us. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.

I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist.  As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

 

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measureable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

 

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would say a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.

            Over the years my room at the high school has been the school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

 

“The gap is so great that the required subject matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

            Children come to school as avid learners I often use the term sponges, having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are truly sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems. I cannot help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.  

 

“….all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

            Over the past two weeks I have been involved with the Foxfire Approach to Teaching courses up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I try and attend as many days as I can more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. One evening last summer I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1970 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses. Yesterday I had the great privilege of meeting one of the former Foxfire instructors from the early days, Mr. George Reynolds. In only a few minutes of talking to the group his passion for learning and teaching was evident. He had been in Mountain City for a reunion of sorts visiting several former students who had made music their careers.

 

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of greed.” Jonathan Kozol

 

            Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the results only profit is a goal success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but make adjustments in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.

Money is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our “Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and the orchestrated day by day within education to make good consumers.

 

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With standardized testing the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought.  The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

 

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

 

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I have been working on a simple formula along the lines of if we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning we can then build upon for future learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

 

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated” and found an interesting thought.

 

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

 

It has been nearly eleven years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.

We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four. 

So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and on her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county.

We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers.  We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and after almost two weeks of the Foxfire Approach to teaching I am ready for another school year. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

Bird Droppings June 18, 2012

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

 

I have been reflecting over the concept of critical pedagogy and in that reflection I recall an incident nearly forty years ago that call to mind my own interpretation and understanding of what we as teachers are all about. I purchased a book in 1972 or so that was about a method of teaching that for me was what teaching was all about. The book was the Foxfire two, a collection of mountain lore and life. The editor was a man who went into North Georgia to teach English and ended up creating a teaching method or I should say edited a teaching concept in that much of what he developed was previously suggested and implemented with John Dewey. Elliott Wigginton started in 1965 a way of teaching that incorporated the students in the learning process. I am sitting in my room writing in North Georgia only miles from where this idea for teaching started. This week I will be participating in a learning program based around this concept of teaching.

 

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

Always in movies with a jungle setting the leader has a machete and hacks away at the undergrowth making the way clear for the group following. D’Angelo is an author of sorts, an author who as a senior at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania wrote a paper “Wellness Works”, which would became the basis for his ideas. While writing primarily about college life he was also offering bits and pieces of wit to help folks make it through the day. He is Author of The College Blue Book and the inspirational series; we are creating a new kind of “school” for a new kind of world.  It just so happens my college career started at West Chester State as well although in my feeble attempt at education I was asked not to return and ended up facing a draft physical only to find I was physically unfit for military service.

 

“After all, the world as we know it is less than 15 years old. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and in 1995 the World Wide Web went up. It is a completely new world for us all. With this new world, come new challenges. With these new challenges, come new ways of educating people for the future and it is our every intention to be at the fore front of this educational revolution. The 20th Century was about Content, but the 21st Century is about Context.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

As I read through the website dealing with empowerment many interesting ideas and thoughts that last line hit me like a ton of bricks. John Dewey was saying the same thing nearly a hundred years ago. Context is the critical component versus content.

 

“Most College Students Get a Degree, But Not an Education.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

The basis and rationale of his thoughts centered on the fact nearly one third of college students drop out. His writings and training (coaching) are meant to change that. Going back again nearly 100 years ago another educational revolutionary had similar thoughts. John Dewey offered a very similar constraint to content versus context with his take on constructivism.

 

“Learners who can adapt quickly by learning in a complex world are more likely to adapt to changing conditions and survive as an individual.” Martin Dougiamas, A journey into Constructivism

 

It has been a few days since I walked in my yard to show some friends from the South Georgia coast my ever growing herb garden. I was pulling a few leaves here and there comparing different types of thyme and mints but all the same it was a matter of trying to dodge raindrops and our dog running between my legs trying to get back in the house. My friends had gone to the amusement park all day and were worn out but hamburgers and hotdogs off the Bird grill and a few minutes catching up and we were into old stories and somehow reptiles. It seems my oldest and my good friend who had come by are both amateur herpetologists and snake talk can go on for hours. As I stood thinking just before going to bed that night it was so quiet other than the dripping of the rain on the house and from trees and shrubs. It was an ethereal undertaking walking out in the remnants of a rain of that evening.

 

“Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.” On Purpose Associates

 

Looking at the surroundings yesterday morning as I walked through the house checking to see if the dog needed to go out for her morning constitutional I saw the light or I should say my senses saw light. I can accept that thought and or pursue why and how I saw a light. It could be perhaps the batteries are low and it is only a glimmer of light. Last year I started a daily log on each of my students writing down as events transpired within my various classrooms, while focusing on education I would also jot down any events or happening with that student that may be important. As I thought daily life is little different as I read D’Angelo’s thoughts, while he focused on college students the application to a lesser degree very easily could be made to own my students who are at high risk for graduation from high school. By pushing that envelope further we have people who are at risk with life itself.

 

“The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.” On Purpose Associates

 

As a teacher so often I found myself saying this is my class room and you will do as I say. I even have gone so far as to declare back in the day when I had a trailer, my room as an independent kingdom and issued money, Mr. Bird bucks. I still have the crown although it currently resides on a rather large stuffed antelope head (an eland) on my classroom wall. However in the process of declaring an independent kingdom from the rest of school we as a group signed a declaration of independence. While I said my class room, in effect the room had become the student’s class room.

 

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.” John Dewey

 

Do I simply want to accept the light from the night or pursue finding out more. I recall just before school was out that I spent the better part of my planning period on the phone with a parent. This particular student has been a problem for all of his teachers, numerous physiological reasons can quickly be brought to our attention and various assundery medications have been prescribed over the years. In high school with four different teachers and different outlooks of perception we have a student being daily assessed by four people and four world views. On a particular bad day I jotted down behaviors that were issues. At some point his medications came into the discussion and the student made a comment how he felt that was the issue not his behavior. You might say, “The medicine made him do it”. He so often finds excuses for his behavior as we all do.

 

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

Being sort of a renegade in the school and not willing to accept four others viewpoints without investigating I dug deeper. Upon referring to a handy Physician’s Desk Reference, PDR, eight of the behavior issues were side effects of his particular medications and all of the medications were recommended for adults. Indicated in bold lettering there are warnings this medication may cause drowsiness and to not operate equipment while taking this medication. The problem this student was being referred for every day was sleeping in class. We gave this student ISS for sleeping and for making comments about how he can’t think straight. All day long we hack at leaves, I tell friends in the north about kudzu. It is so hard to describe a plant that hacking at the leaves only infuriates it, it seems to grow faster. Add to it four hurricanes worth of water dumped on it helps as well. But whether it is in education or family we need to look beyond traditional means. It is about content versus context borrowing from D’Angelo and of course John Dewey.

I was speaking with my son many years ago about teenager issues as we rode home from a band practice. It is so easy to say one thing, hack off leaves and never really get to the roots. He asked me why our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates.  So we walk out today looking for how come it is so bright outside even in the rain we also need to look at context. We also need to review why we keep sharpening the machete and not look for a shovel and as I finish today harm is an elusive word. A child raised in an environment where tomorrow is questionable is that harm. Students who say whatever and quit school is that harm. Young men and women fighting in various wars around the world is that harm. Refugees in Sudan tying shelter together with sticks, thread and leaves is that harm. So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks.

namaste

bird

Can we find attitude within pedagogy?

Bird Droppings June 16, 2012

Can we find attitude within pedagogy?

 

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

 

            Over the past few days I have been looking at how I see teaching and instruction and I have wandered about a bit in my efforts. My own style is somewhat radical to say the least. However in ten years my craziness has worked with kids who are not supposed to graduate or succeed according to most.  I happen to see this line from Arne Duncan our Secretary of Education and it is amazing how we provide a sense of falsehood through athletics. I am not saying all athletes are poor students by any means. I know many who are honor graduates and scholars in their own right. The greed and competition however at a college level becomes significant. A local college at home games can bring millions to the economy. Many staunch fans never went to college anywhere yet have season tickets and trucks colored in that schools colors and even have the same animal as a pet as the local mascot. A good college football or basketball program is a business not a learning program. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

namaste

bird

Critical Pedagogy is not a dirty word

Bird Droppings June 15, 2012

Critical Pedagogy is not a dirty word

 

            This time of year I am traditionally back and forth to North Georgia the past four or five summers to a program taught by faculaty from Piedmont College and housed on the Foxfire Property in Mountain City Georgia. Teachers from literally around the world show up to learn about this simple approach to teaching. Over the years of my own research I have met and discussed learning and education with hundreds if not thousands of teachers and trainers. One quote that has stuck with me is from Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame.

 

“It’s not about the teaching it’s about the learning” Dr. Max Thompson

 

            Yesterday afternoon while at Foxfire a good friend joined us who had been a student of and staff member from 1970-76. Laurie Brunson Alteri again is back as a staff member at Foxfire working in the office of the museum. Laurie talked about many things in the two hours she kept the teachers and teachers to be entranced with her love of and enthusiasm for the program. But she warned it is not a template to follow it is far more and that is where so many teachers fall short. We all tend to be lazy and want to open the box and poof everything falls in place and that is not how it works.

 

“In biology when you dissect a frog and look at all the parts after you are done all you have is a dead frog” Laurie Brunson Alteri

 

Far too many dissect and then miss the whole point of a way of teaching or way of life. Laurie used the idea of an organism a living organism and my small bit of Greek language acquired in a by gone era remembered a word Koininia, which means community. Laurie suggested a classroom should be like an organism alive and growing changing as it adapts. This is how she described her experiences in Foxfire.

            Another student in the class during the following discussions pointed out how personalities often create great classrooms. But personalities of teachers cannot or is difficult to be replicated. Ron Clark’s school came out in the discussions and his success. However as I thought I began seeing parallels between various programs and approaches to teaching and one caught my eye from the Tara Redwood School.

 

Essential Education Pedagogy developed by Tara Redwood School and Essential Education includes the following:

•  Knowledge of the inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions is as important as knowledge of the outer world

•  An integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning is preferable to one that fragments and divides knowledge

•  Individuals often have dramatically different learning styles; all learning styles are valid and must be both acknowledged and nurtured.

•  Learning rooted in direct experience far surpasses in depth and endurance learning by indirect methods

•  Generally accepted subject matter can be enhanced by integrating a Essential Education approach and accompanying methods and techniques  

•  The intuitive wisdom of the individual can be developed by dialectical discussion and debate exploring philosophical, spiritual and moral themes.

Tara Redwood School. 5810 Prescott Road. Soquel, CA

 

            Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers who was controversial in 1968 and his ideas still are considered perhaps utopian to borrow a few words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching are themselves controversial as well. I have borrowed over the last two days from Max Thompson, John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, Foxfire and today the Tara Redwood School. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas, perceptions  and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations.  Having for most of my life being involved directly or indirectly with in working with and teaching exceptional children and adults I am always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas. I tend to stick with things that work well and always are fine tuning those that I do use.

            I mentioned my use of the Foxfire Core Practices and tools have myself developed such as a trust scale I put together back in 2003. Numerous times I have brought up my use of animals in my classroom and addressed the impact that being involved with snakes for example has on attitudes and especially on developing trust with students. I do believe relationships are a key to teaching building and maintaining positive relationships with students can open doors to learning.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Practice two

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

namaste

bird