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.



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.



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.



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.



An evolving pedagogy as I learn

Bird Droppings June 14, 2012

An evolving pedagogy as I learn


“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


Sitting at home reading several essays by Carl Rogers made for an interesting start to my morning just prior to a drive to North Georgia. In our world of No child Left Behind and being in Special Education where we do see the ones that tend to get left behind I enjoyed the thought of no tests and no grades. Over the years in one graduate class after another the idea of a portfolio following the student through their school career has always intrigued me and in my own room I have done such. As I thought this morning would not some sort of portfolio or culminating, or I should say ongoing project indicate mastery or development of mastery better than a multiple choice test done with a number two pencil on a scantron answer sheet. Of course in chemistry we might have a few explosions if learners were not listening along the way. In my Foxfire understanding what is now Core Practice eight developed into the Foxfire magazine for Elliot Wiggington’s students at Rabun Nantahochee School in 1966 or so. I find it fascinating how often great teachers follow parallel routes albeit different wording and yet seem to find the same ideas. Going back to John Dewey and his premise that experience is the best teacher.


“The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.” Foxfire Core Practice eight


“Learning doesn’t stop at 3:15. You can help the teacher do a better job by encouraging your child to show you something he’s working on at school, suggests Ron Martucci, who teaches fourth grade in Pelham, New York. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: ‘Ask him to demonstrate how he does long division or to read his book report out loud,’ says Martucci. ‘Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he knows, it builds confidence.’” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Publications


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


            Pulling together my first thoughts this morning as I unravel the essential Bird Pedagogy, previous or past experiences of the learners is a key starting point as I discussed yesterday to a degree. Building on that as the learner progresses trying to find ways that truly show how the learner is developing rather than static limited tests and grades. I like the idea of Rogers about how grades and tests are end points and should be simply points along the line rephrasing a bit as I go. Education is more of a continuum than a finished product. It is sad that so many want to have education be a period at some point. Even as I accumulate degrees I find I am learning constantly not focusing on that end point but where do I go from there.


            “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey


            I am sitting in my writing nook at home this morning a quiet day and one of excitement as I think ahead of driving back up to a Foxfire course in process. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my effort yesterday. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and or art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer yesterday using Aldus Huxley who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.


“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley, Content and Pretexts


As I read this simple line by Huxley I could not help but go back to my readings on John Dewey and his direct influence on educators and education past, present and future. Dewey saw education as the basis for society.


“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 continuing shaping the individuals powers saturating his consciousness forming his habits training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” John Dewey Pedagogic Creed


In my classroom I try and tie to contextual aspects of where we are in the content oriented material that students are being taught. An example would be the word taxonomy that came up a last semester in our biology class. Most students had no clue what this word meant and by some prompting we made a comparison of sheep and goats, one of the student’s families raises goats and we learned about taxonomy. We could show differences and similarities which is how we classify living organisms, or do taxonomy in terms of biology. One of my favorite examples of context and content is going back many years to listening to my father explain tying a square knot you learn best when you actually do it rather than simply hear it explained.

            As I explore my own pedagogy I am drawn back to my earliest college and work in psychology. Dr. Abram Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs that I have used over the years many times showing an idea of how people relate and understand in this world of ours. Maslow started with five needs and over the years added some additional clarification.


“Maslow’s five needs

Physiological needs are to do with the maintenance of the human body. If we are unwell, then little else matters until we recover. Safety needs are about putting a roof over our heads and keeping us from harm. If we are rich, strong and powerful, or have good friends, we can make ourselves safe. Belonging needs introduce our tribal nature. If we are helpful and kind to others they will want us as friends. Esteem needs are for a higher position within a group. If people respect us, we have greater power. Self-actualization needs are to ‘become what we are capable of becoming’, which would our greatest achievement. Maslow added over the years three more needs. These are the needs that are most commonly discussed and used. In fact Maslow later added three more needs by splitting two of the above five needs. Between esteem and self-actualization two needs were added. Need to know and understand, which explains the cognitive need of the academic. Also added was the need for aesthetic beauty, which is the emotional need of the artist. Self-actualization was divided into, self-actualization, which is realizing one’s own potential, as above and transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential.” Maslow and Lowery, 1998


As I move towards a defining point in my essential Bird Pedagogy bits and pieces of Rogers and Dewey along with Foxfire are intertwined with Maslow’s ideas. We need and seek socialization we are a social animal. We seek recognition and want to be secure in our lives. Maslow in adding cognitive which Rogers uses and aesthetic which Rogers alludes to and Dewey as well as Elliot Eisner builds on. Each day as I sit pondering reflecting on what is my pedagogy my ideas seem to flow a little more freely. I do believe pedagogy is an individual entity and has fluidity to it. There is not an end point or limit or rather there should not be since we need to be ongoing learners and thinkers. Perhaps I will as the week progresses resolve my own ideas and be a bit more definitive in what my personal pedagogy truly is but for today please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks.



Finding the essential Bird Pedagogy

Bird Droppings June 13, 2012

Finding the essential Bird Pedagogy


I walked out last evening just before dark tired from driving and little sleep but listening carefully to a sound filled world about me. The leaves and grass were still wet from two days of rain and the heat of the afternoon sun had not dissipated the coolness left behind by the cold front that had passed through. Around me sounds bouncing and echoing from woodpeckers calling it a day to a chorus of tree frogs several species calling as loud as their inch long bodies would permit. I was mesmerized by the sounds almost in a musical arrangement with percussion from the woodpecker high in black walnut tree to the frogs hiding in a water filled ditch behind our house. Perhaps I should have sat down last night and written poetry it would have fit. Instead I sat and played with an idea on learning and experience.


“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Dr. Carl Rogers, considered the father of humanistic psychology


            Carl Rogers in 1969 published a book, Freedom to Learn. You would think that in a country with mandatory public education including in 1974 education for all children with the passing of IDEA that we were free to learn. As I progress in my understanding of experiential learning and John Dewey’s concepts which are tied to the Foxfire Core Practices and my dissertation I am finding learning is a misunderstood word. Rogers in his writing describes two types of learning. Cognitive learning which he calls meaningless corresponds to such learning as many academic functions where memorization is involved vocabulary or multiplication tables. The other type of learning is experiential learning and Rogers calls this significant learning. The key is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner.


“Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is relevant to the personal interests of the student.” Carl Rogers


            I titled today’s writing as finding the essential Bird pedagogy and granted this has been a long time in the making. Seldom do I even use the word pedagogy which is a favorite of graduate education schools around the country. Vocabulary word number one as you start a masters or specialist degree. As I think back I still have never used the word other than in papers being turned in where sufficient language and vocabulary of the topic were crucial to the structure and format of the paper. As to why it is essential and why use my own name pedagogy is so often described as a blanketing sort of word. As an example a teacher might say my method of teaching falls within the such and such pedagogy from so forth and so on. Pedagogy is how we teach to paraphrase most definitions. How we teach is a unique aspect of who we are and borrowing from Carl Rogers, I have often thought you cannot teach another person how to teach.


“My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run futile. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered self-appropriated learning.” Carl Rogers


As I am reading Carl Rogers words my current research and undertakings in Foxfire lead me back to Core Practice three of the Foxfire Core Practices.


“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.”


Can I define how I teach, my method in my madness perhaps? I started looking at my own history going back in time and for me now that becomes a foggy glimpse nearly fifty years back when I was in school and when I actually started teaching. All of my early life our family was involved in teaching swimming and Red Cross lifesaving courses. My father was the instructor trainer for the county and as we grew up we went from being students almost sort of evolved into teachers of swimming. Once you attained a certain level of capability my father would have you work one on one with another less adept student.


“Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.” Foxfire Core Practice seven


“I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationships with one person as in therapy, or by myself.” Carl Rogers


“Cooperative/collaborative learning is interactive; as a team member, you: 1. Develop and share a common goal 2. Contribute your understanding of the problem: questions; insights and solutions 3. Respond to, and work to understand, others’ questions, insights and solutions. 4. Each member empowers the other to speak and contribute, and to consider their contributions 5. Are accountable to others, and they are accountable to you 6. Are dependent on others, and they depend on you” Joseph Landsberger, Study Guides and Strategies

As I came up through high school I became a Red Cross instructor and taught swimming and Lifesaving through Boy Scouts, Red Cross and the YMCA. Many of the little tricks of the trade I still use recalling the idioms and anachronisms of my father’s lessons. Sitting on my front counter are little reminder cards FIDO, frequency, intensity, duration and over again. A small card and a simple reminder for students to study although I would add relevance to the learning process as well. My process of becoming a teacher while somewhat planned as I participated in training sessions was very hands on and something I wanted to do. 

I started teaching in 1970 or so working in Paoli Pennsylvania with severely disabled children in a private program as in that day and age IDEA was still just a dream. In 1970 many children were not served in public schools. I found it essential to understand the children I was working with and in those days research was still very archaic and for the most part even doctors were recommending residential placement for many of the kids I was working with, as they felt they would never amount to anything anyway. Getting to know a nonverbal child is somewhat of an undertaking and often is an emotional roller coaster. Trying to understand where that child was coming from in their interpretation of the world and how they perceived reality was difficult to say the least. As I look back this aspect of concern and caring was critical to my own development as a teacher and my own essential Bird Pedagogy.


“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” John Dewey


My teaching and pedagogical journey took me through several colleges and several more teaching jobs which eventually took me to Georgia. In 1975 I began teaching in a small program in Warner Robins Georgia where I was teaching thirteen Learning Disabled teenagers. I was upset as I was handed first and second grade reading books for this group of kids as several were reading on that level. It was just prior to this I found my first Foxfire book in a bookstore in Macon Georgia. Reading the various stories in the Foxfire book and having through my additional reading and own experiences found when something is relevant to a student they tend to learn it far better I needed new reading material for my students.

It was a Monday when I started with magazines of interest to the kids in my class and amazingly enough they went for it. I bought some wrestling, car, hunting and a girl’s magazine or two for my one female student although she was a wrestling fan as well and it changed attitudes and attention spans. By the end of the year reading levels were up and my principal was all ready to order more of her reading books when I broke the news to her.  I was not fired and actually was offered a raise and would not have to drive the school bus anymore.


“Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purpose.” Carl Rogers


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


            I actually started pondering this topic on Sunday but was in and out of seminars for two days with no computer along, did not get any sleep on Sunday night and then last night I had saved my first paragraphs and notes on my off-line drive and left it sitting when I crashed in bed, so here I am finishing in the beginning hours of the morning what may be a several day effort to describe and define my essential Bird pedagogy. We are in so many ways hoping for a day when fewer people will be in harm’s way but today it is still a dream. Please join me in keeping all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.



Keeping the energy flowing

Bird Droppings June 12, 2012

Keeping the energy flowing


I attend at least partially two Foxfire courses a year for teachers in Mountain City Georgia. This course is actually a graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. Last night as I made my way back, this was as always invigorating for me. The experience with Foxfire and in an education course we talk about the positive aspects and negative as well as we look at Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I came away excited about teaching and education as well and the many friends made during the couple of days I was involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off. Last year as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in Dr. Hilton Smith he handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.


Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto, The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989

“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts one’s self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leave its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”


            I now have read through this paragraph several times and each time found a bit more. I was glancing through several books this morning one is an autobiography of the founder of Foxfire who came into this purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to several of his former students and all consider him one of the best teachers they have ever had. For nearly forty years I have watched as enthusiastic young teachers start out and within six months are doing as so many others do running worksheets and gong page by page through the text book. Elliot Wiggonton was addressing this in his book and offered the following.


“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986


            Keeping the energy flowing and rejuvenating the brain and soul are critical to being a good if not great teacher. I find my trips to the Foxfire courses interacting with current and new teachers to be offers me an ongoing window to what possibilities are out there. Thinking back to my seminary days and churches there is the use of evangelists going church to church to re-inspire the throngs to the church and mission. Over the years the programs at mass teacher events that are designed to do this is far more often too similar to a tent service alongside the road and fish oil hucksters working from their peddlers wagon for most teachers to believe. In education as John Dewey over and over again points out.


“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938


            I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalizes me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact my teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon teachers state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.


“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit


Over the years I have done this exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses and in most recent we did good teacher bad teacher listings which often are so similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.

            I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which are due to being a resource teacher in special education. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.


“Studies of teacher evaluation by principal observation and report have been found to be under representative sampling, biased reporting, disruption caused by class room visit, and limitations of the principal imposed by misleading or truncated reporting systems such as checklists and narrow anecdotal systems.” K. Peterson


I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned.

            Perhaps in my zeal from this past week I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers.  I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year.  I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn?  I have wandered around today but as I do each day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.



Trying to understand why

Bird Droppings June 11, 2012

Trying to understand why


            It has been an interesting summer with everyone sort of going in differing directions almost all the time. I will spend a good deal of time at school. It gives me time to think and ponder when the hallways are quiet. Tomorrow we will be moving our tortoises out doors at least for the day time. Coincidence is a word I use daily and as I went to pick up my pizza a day or so ago one of the girls working knew my youngest and asked about him which lead to a discussion on tattoos and his arm which is a depiction of the cover image on Eric Clapton’s Layla album. My son a fan of Clapton considers that song to be the greatest song ever recorded. As I mention what the image was my son had on his arm, on the radio is Clapton playing Layla.

            Several years back I went with my oldest son to pick up a few shell dwelling African lake cichlids from someone he had found online that was getting out of his fish hobby and dispersing his tank. Coincidences as I thought back to picking up the fish we made our way to a house in very nice neighborhood. Parked in the driveway a company pickup truck with signage indicating Controlled Blasting Incorporated, a demolition company it would seem. We knocked on the door and introduced ourselves and immediately my son and the fellow he had talked with got into scientific jargon and African cichlids with a touch of tarantulas the fellows other hobby. As we were leaving I noticed his wife had on a Georgia Tech shirt and several pieces of Tech memorabilia were around the room. We actually got talking about working with disturbed kids and then I found out both she and her husband graduated from Tech as did my middle son. Then she mentions how at their wedding they got driven from the church in the Ramblin Wreck. Well my son was the driver last year and what are the odds my oldest son finds a fish hobbyist who just by chance had been involved with the Ramblin Wreck. Considering only about twenty or so weddings are done each year by the Wreck Club. It was an interesting day to say the least and as always I try and understand why.


“Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation…. This fear of the Nation’s censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact.” George Copway, (Kah-ge-ga-bowh) Ojibwa Chief 1818-1863


In the news during the previous presidential rein we had the issue of signing statements come up numerous times. This is where if the President does not like a law he issues a signing statement to counter what has been passed as law. If you contest a law then there are appeals and such and the Supreme Court rulings and we have more laws. The previous president had signed more than literally all the previous presidents combined. Looking back at my quote to a time and people where written law was insignificant. George Copway was one of the first Native American writers. He became a Methodist Missionary and worked inMinnesotafor a number of years with his wife. He later moved toNew Yorkwhere he wrote and published numerous historical and narrative works.


 “Man is the one from whom this world is made.” George Copway


Copway was an advocate for a separate Native American nation and wrote often about that, his words fell on deaf ears for the most part and while enjoying a brief period of glory around the publishing of his first book an autobiography he died only a few years later in obscurity.


“In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people.” Thomas Jefferson


The assimilation of cultures and peoples wasJefferson’s view borrowing a quote from Copway’s book. His Ojibwa name means standing firm and through his life he attempted to draw from his past and build with the modern in mind. Frustrated in later life he returned to his traditional beliefs and to salvage the culture of the Ojibwa, the first nation according to their beliefs.


“What was once impossible–or rather thought to be–is made possible through my experience. I have made many close observations of men, and things around me; but, I regret to say, that I do not think I have made as good use of my opportunities as I might have done. It will be seen that I know but little–yet O how precious that little!–I would rather lose my right hand than be deprived of it.” George Copway


Even within what some could conceive as defeat he stood firm and resolute in his beliefs and desires to better the situation of the Native Americans primarily his own Ojibwa tribe.


“I view my life like the mariner on the wide ocean, without a compass, in the dark night, as he watches the heavens for the north star, which his eye having discovered, he makes his way amidst surging seas, and tossed by angry billows into the very jaws of death, till he arrives safely anchored at port. I have been tossed with hope and fear in this life; no star-light shone on my way, until the men of God pointed me to a Star in the East, as it rose with all its splendor and glory. It was the Star of Bethlehem. I could now say in the language of the poet—


Once on the raging seas I rode,

The storm was loud, the night was dark;

The ocean yawned, and rudely blowed

The wind that tossed my foundering bark.”

Yes, I hope to sing some day in the realms of bliss–

It was my guide, my light my all!

It bade my dark foreboding cease;

And through the storm and danger’s thrall,

It led me to the port of peace.”

George Copway


I started this morning waking up at my youngest son’s apartment in Demorest Georgia after spending the night.  I was up in Clayton Georgia for a training session and only about thirty miles away. Thought I would stop by and see my grandbaby and then head back to the program this morning. I was listening as I do every morning to the crickets and tree frogs in his yard much like I have at home in our back yard I sat a bit longer than I do many days just wondering trying to understand why. Why is it our world as it is and does?

As I opened my document this afternoon after arriving home and began to think a favorite website came to mind and I looked for a starting point for my morning wanderings. It was in the writings of George Copway, Standing Firm I found some solace. I wonder as I sit here thinking and writing how many of us could stand firm? A friend once wrote all of her people she admired in history were killed off. They were all great thinkers and believers all were killed for what they believed in. As I look at the tribes across America they too died for beliefs, few Native Americans even today want the assimilation of Jefferson’s thoughts.

I recall a book by Kent Nerburn as he writes the words of a Sioux elder in “Neither Wolf nor Dog”, explaining how we white folk could never understand the Native American since we choose not to. We want everything in black and white, our laws included. Borrowing from my biology text I am using in class a law is a scientific theory that has been repeatedly tested. Our national and state laws are little more, constantly tested and questioned eventually excepted, as law.

If you try and explain infinity to most they try to define and categorize and box and provide understandable and testable parameters. I recall watching an interview with Dr. John Nash, 1994 Nobel Prize winner in economics and former math professor at MIT andPrinceton. Ron Howard, director of the film “A beautiful Mind”, a film about Dr. Nash’s battle with schizophrenia, starring Russell Crowe in the out takes on the DVD interviews or more specifically lets Dr. Nash explain what he was working on. Nash was currently doing research on the theory of relativity and showed Ron literally boxes of pages of notes and formulations. Nash made a comment he was inventing characters since he ran out of traditional math characters. So few of will ever be able to or can ever intellectualize in the capacity of Dr. Nash.


“Thus further time passed. Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.” Dr. John Nash, autobiography,


Few of us can understand why, we get absorbed in politically charged and fueled endeavors and we write laws to protect and direct those contrived ideas.


“Man is the one from whom this world is made.” George Copway


Looking back at Copway’s thought man drives and directs and manipulates this world.  The Ojibwa sought to live within and understand their world we modern folk on the other hand do not want to understand we simply want to use hence we have politics. Nash rejected politics as a waste of time yet it is politics that is the driving force of our society and until we understand that we may not be able to escape it. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks. 



Sitting at my kitchen table pondering

Bird Droppings June 10, 2011

Sitting at my kitchen table pondering


            I am up a bit earlier than normal on a Sunday morning but a trip ahead of me one of which for nearly six years now I try and make about this time each year. Very few times when teachers get together is there time for energizing and rekindling the passion that provides solace for what we do. It has been nearly forty years since I first heard the name Foxfire and now eight or so since I have been actively involved. During the summer Piedmont College offers a teacher’s course in the Foxfire Appraoch to Teaching as a graduate course of study. I sneak in as much as I can to watch new and old teachers get a light burning if only for a moment or two. Sitting on Black Rock Mountain listening to ideas and thinking that may make a difference is fascinating. So while Head north to the mountains it is always well worth the trip.

I am very much a creature of habit. I like my routines and seem to follow very similar pathways daily. I can understand when walking through the woods and seeing a rabbit run or deer trail I would be doing the same thing more than likely if I was running wild. For most of my adult life others have sought out my guidance on life issues. I was trained so to say between seminary and psychology and more recently education courses to be able to offer advice. All through my life I have always felt I had an intuitive side, an empathetic side that allowed me access too many peoples inner feelings and thoughts.

            In working with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children and many times adults this is a good thing, although many times it can leave you drained. But I have always felt I have been successful reaching students in all of my classes across nearly forty five years of teaching and training. When in management I felt I was able to address issues with customers and staff in a more understanding way than simply one of profitability. This could have been my downfall back in the day. I was more concerned about people than dollars.  I might borrow a few words from John Dewey and his book School and Society.


“The primary business of school is to train children in co-operative and mutually helpful living; to foster in them the consciousness of mutual interdependence; and to help them practically in making the adjustments that will carry this spirit into overt deeds.” John Dewey


It is about what children take out into the world more so than how they score on tests and what curriculum is followed or not followed. Radical educator and philosopher Ivan Illich adds:


“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching it is true may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstance. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school insofar as school, in a few rich countries has become a place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society


While Illich is somewhat off the spectrum from many folks standpoint he makes a valid point. In many cases schooling is simply occupying that period of time in a child’s life and doing little in terms of actual education. I try and maintain contact with kids after they leave high school through facebook and twitter for example. Recently I have been using these programs to find graduates of The Foxfire programs to some what surprising success.


“In this world, in order to enable society to develop, all its members have to assume responsibilities and make their contribution. If we do not make collective contributions then there will be no development.” The Dalai Lama, speaking to the Tibetan National Assembly in Dharamsala, May 1989

Each of us lives in a society, a community, a culture and as much as we choose so often to be individuals we are members of and interact within that group. It is the vitality of that group where the development and growth that is so intertwined with contributions physically, mentally, and spiritually of the members. Society exists because of interactions. Sounds like I am quoting John Dewey again.


“Compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves, or in pulling in different directions.” Henry George


We have to be working together moving forward, backwards, sideways and as humans do so often much time is wasted fighting and arguing among ourselves and that motion or growth is limited.


“The greatest difficulty with the world is not its ability to produce, but the unwillingness to share.” Roy L. Smith


Watching high school students form clicks and groups and adults forming clubs or social groups we tend to be a selfish animals. We look so much to ourselves and what benefits us as a first rule of thumb even unconsciously. It can be by limiting friends and such to a degree we box ourselves into a tiny space, even by sharing a simple task which so often becomes a distant one.

TV humor even plays on this subject several times in watching reruns of Seinfeld and Will and Grace sit coms giving is a chore a burden and the characters are literally parasitical instead of symbiotic. As I looked for quotes and thoughts, this one popped up earlier this morning just before I walked outside to watch the rain falling on my gardens.  


“Societies that do not eat people are fascinated by those that do.” Ronald Wright


 Wright was speaking literally yet interestingly enough we of modern society while we do not literally eat people we still do psychologically destroy them. As I look at how we respond to others so often it is how we see ourselves indirectly.


“The most difficult we do not deal in facts when we are contemplating ourselves.” Mark Twain


In a project, a class room assignment several students simply “completed it” they did not finish the task but answered what they thought was the question they just simply wanted done. Whether it was right or wrong, good or bad was not the issue it was over.


“Until you value yourself you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” M. Scott Peck


I read this quote and saw an answer if you truly do not appreciate your self your time has little if any value even when you are self-absorbed in using it frivolously you simply are taking up time not using it. Guessing at answers to a test to simply get done or rushing through just to be over, still you wait just as the rest do so where is there any benefit in being finished. A favorite catch phrase, I don’t care, should read, I really do not care about myself. As we enter the end of another week our world is troubled and sore, please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts but always give thanks for what we have.




How about listening to John Lennon?

Bird Droppings June 9, 2012

How about listening to John Lennon?


Yesterday I got home a bit after watching a movie with my son Prometheus, the new sci-fi film out sort of raising the question of how we got here. Earlier I ran some errands and did a little boxing and moving at school and sort of skipped an early writing session. Now I am heading to garden and dig in the dirt. But taking a short break and finish up today and in the process a lot of thinking and pondering as I say.


“As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all. Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all. A working class hero is something to be. A working class hero is something to be. They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, they hate you if you are clever and they despise a fool. Till you are so crazy you can’t follow the rules. When they tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, they expect you to pick a career, when you can’t really function you are so full of fear.” John Lennon, Working Class Hero


            I was looking at Barnes and Nobles for a specific book and accidentally found an acoustic CD of John Lennon’s that caught my attention. Working class hero was the first song and as I listened to the words it was to me about education and family rearing inAmerica literally and lyrically in many cases.

I have the opportunity to visit the Foxfire property again tomorrow for a bit of research that is actually fun for my dissertation. As always it was well worth the drive to Mountain City Georgia right on the line with North Carolina. The Foxfire property sits on the side ofBlackRockMountainand is composed of eleven vintage cabins and buildings taken apart by hand and rebuilt on the property. Many were donated and some acquired with grant money, but all were hand labored by high school students as part of their Foxfire taught class. Each shingle and log were taken apart at their point of origin and painstakingly rebuilt on the Foxfire property.

            As I listened to the participants in the training sessions I have attended as a quest teacher and attendee it was interesting to see in new teachers and experienced teachers a spark of enthusiasm and creativity so often missing as teachers fall into that mold so many systems want their teachers to adhere too. Foxfire is not a curriculum but a method of teaching of student involvement in the learning process that has its roots in the thinking and writing of John Dewey from 1930 in his book Experience and Education.


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


            John Dewey believed and wrote about; in education experience is the teacher. Each moment was an active learning moment and each previous prior to walking into the class was a learning moment. So past experiences were crucial in his approach to teaching and understanding children.


“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey


Dewey also taught and wrote about doing and in that doing learning would occur. In today’s world of memorizing for tests often little is learned as relevance becomes a mote point. For Dewey relevance was what education was about and should be.


“We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos” John Dewey


            Many teachers have a difficult time with Dewey’s idea of a democratic class room where students have direct input into the learning process. As I read over John Lennon’s words “they hate you if you are clever and they despise a fool”, I think of teachers who do not want someone in their class who knows more or might have a better idea and they surely in today’s world of accountability would not want anyone who cannot pass the State End of Course test.

            Earlier today I went to my Credit Union to deposit a few dollars, a very few, and got into a discussion with the two tellers. One of the tellers is in nursing school and the other a parent of a fourth grader and sixth grader. We got talking and the discussion was about the State testing and most recently how could a good teacher administer a test knowing over half would fail the test.Georgia’s department of education recently authorized grade level tests knowing many children would fail. The results were first aimed at teachers for not teaching the right material, secondly the state finally said we knew there was a problem and rejected the tests. Sadly many children failed and in some instances school failure rates on specific tests were as high as eighty percent. Would a good teacher have even made a difference in this situation?

I went from the bank to get gasoline and a haircut and again a conversation with my stylist about education; she is an elementary school teacher. She went back to college part time after raising her kids and is a second year teacher. We talked about vocational rehab and adults with special needs and we talked about how a good teacher would never give a test knowing fifty percent would fail.

After two days of wandering about I realized maybe we need some changes in our educational system but how and where and what do you change? We need good teachers and a means to find and keep good teachers. We need curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to the children and to their future as citizens of this country. In many educational articles and the trend of a hidden agenda where schools are simply supplying workers and consumers to keep the military industrial complex in business is written about often. Granted politicians are deciding our educational funding and in some ways curriculums. Listening to John Lennon, I was seeing all of those teachers I have heard say they hate kids and all of those dictatorial teachers who say sit in this chair with your hands folded and do not talk and I thought back to a passage by Dr. Mary Aswell Doll Literature professor at The Savannah College of Arts.


“It is the purpose of curric­ulum, I argue, to engage the imagination, such that it is possible to think more metaphorically, less literalistically, about one’s world and one’s presuppositions about that world. When stories are told, one sees ideas differently; when images are heard, one hears differently, more introspectively. But, to engage the imagi­nation, different teaching strategies need to be employed.” Mary Aswell Doll, Like Letters in running Water


            In another passage Doll discusses the classroom alive and fluid and ever changing. Many teachers would be beside themselves seeing a room like that. Then I think to discussions in several of the Foxfire Classes and how this is what education should be about experiences each moment and each second an experience and a teachable moment to borrow that phrase. A dear friend has graduate degree in Experiential Education, which focuses on outdoor teaching methods through wilderness experiences and natural activities.  I get nauseated when I think to some scripted programs, called direct instruction used in schools where every word said is from a script and how will any child become creative in that environment. How will any imagination be promoted and maintained. In a recent class the question was asked how we can measure creativity from a performance standpoint. Today as I was discussing what makes a good teacher with people as I went through the day I asked can we measure empathy or intuition or caring for that matter?

            So we have a system that needs “fixin” as the mountain man would say. How can we fix it? Number one is finding and training and keeping good teachers. Develop teachers through performance evaluation and professional training. Provide the potential for success rather than a diagram for failure. As I sit pondering and ranting I actually got thinking more about teaching teachers and how would I weed out people who hated children and those who would never make a good teacher. I got thinking to a recent episode of House a doctor show on TV. He had to find three good doctors to work with him and often arbitrarily would simply tell someone to leave or you’re fired. That may not work in a college class room. But I did get a laugh out of it. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.