Listening to a philosopher

Bird Droppings November 30, 2012

Listening to a philosopher

A beautiful sky this morning as I walked out and actually not too cold which is surprising as the sky while filled with clouds was clear. A moon reflecting across from the west is lighting up the sky and white billowing clouds presented a surreal picture for me as I walked out this morning. I was reading in National Geographic an article on possible life somewhere out in the universe and all of the possibilities that continue to pop up. It has not been long since I fancied myself a philosopher of sorts. Perhaps it was my graduate work that got me truly entrenched in philosophical meandering that led to this conclusion or trying a million times to formulate a philosophy of teaching while it evolved before me. Actually I think it is because I enjoy pondering way too much. I seem to find time to wonder and think about all that is around me as I journey through life.

 

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

 

“How people keep correcting us when we are young! There is always some bad habit or other they tell us we ought to get over. Yet most bad habits are tools to help us through life.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

As I looked for a starting place for my daily journal I was interrupted to run into town to get a few things for the grandbaby and then I could get back to my writing. As I went up and down the stairs and walked out into a sky as wonderful as it is this morning I recalled a period in my life when I would get up every morning early and walk several miles discussing philosophy, theology and other relevant issues with a very good friend of mine. It was an interesting time and actually many concepts that I hold now came to fruition during those walks. Over the years as I look back and truly most things considered that I consider “bad habits” I had given up in the days past however they do provide tools for pondering ideas further and pushing thoughts beyond where they were. I have found however many people simply get mired in that bad habit or two and it becomes part of their life not merely a stepping stone or tool but a crutch and support. Perhaps even a cast of sorts locking them into that point in time.

 

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” C. Everett Koop

 

Most folks won’t even recognize the name of Dr. Koop former Surgeon General of the United States and former head of pediatric surgery at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. As I thought of Nietzsche’s quotes and while not taking a walk today I did go and walk dogs twice outside so my wife and son would not have to get up as the holiday is officially over and we all are back at work today. I started writing a bit later today then I thought I would. Nietzsche as you read his work is often self-focused and negative and perhaps in some ways I like looking to his thoughts for contrast for adding a back drop to a brighter thought. Somewhere I started writing about Dr. Koop.

Dr. C. Everett Koop was instrumental in the anti-cigarette laws and anti-tobacco laws. On a personal note he was the surgeon for my younger brother many years ago when we lived in Pennsylvania. My father used to tell a story of Dr. Koop, his staff and my father all gathered together around John, my brother who was born with cerebral palsy and later developed encephalitis’s who was approaching surgery. Dad would say having been in the Navy medical corp. and around death in WWII so much the aura around Koop was different, he exuded life he thrived on life and when he asked all to join hands and pray around John he made my father’s day.

But one thing that has stuck with me from dads conversation with Dr. Koop was a quote very seldom seen, “Having worked with terminally ill children and seriously ill children for many years in all of those years I have never seen a parent of one of these children who did not have faith”. As I think back and remember bits and pieces, Dr. Koop’s comment and discussions with my father he wasn’t referring to religion as much as to faith. Faith also parallels trust and it was in that trust in Dr. Koop and or trust in the hospital that parents would have faith and hope. Dr. Koop was a man of hope, of future, and of faith.

 

“Faith has to do with things that are not seen, and hope with things that are not in hand.” Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

“Our faith comes in moments… yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Ending on the idea of faith as I enter into a day filled with students who question and students who refuse to question often in both cases based on faith. I am ending with a simple idea for another day or actually several ideas to ponder and mull over as we ascend the plateau to view the vista. Tomorrow a new month ahead my friends have a glorious day today, build for tomorrow and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

 

Observation is a skill therefore observing is learned

Bird Droppings November 29, 2012

Observation is a skill and therefore observing is learned

 

“I do not write from mythology when I reflect upon Native American spirituality in this book. In my own opinion, mythology leads to superstition; and superstition has proved fatally destruction to many millions down through time. It is ironic, then that Dominant Society accuses Native practices of being based on myth.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

 

My wanderings are the expanse of several days of traveling and thinking and observing mankind. Last night my son and I walked out to a choir of coyotes just a few yards away deep in the pines. It was literally an opera of coyotes howls and yells. While only a few minutes the sounds were an eerie reminder that even in a civilized world nature was only a few feet away in its wildest. I recall when I  was walking one morning just a few years ago being away from my quiet spot near my home in Between Georgia and on a foreign beach alone in the panhandle of Florida the quiet was over powering along with the lulling movement of wind and water as I walk on the beach. Around me birds dove occasionally into the shallows after fish most of the time without a sound. I was alone walking with the sand making its way into my open sandals. It was a wonderful experience being there as the sun came up and starting this particular book Nature’s Way.

Ed McGaa is a Lakota Sioux and an attorney by education. He chooses his words wisely and does not simple offer a book to fill a spot on a shelf. He points to observations as a basis for our spiritual views rather than heresy or simply taking the word of another. As I drove from that trip to Florida home, from a quick trip into Florida to see my son, his wife and our soon to be born at that time grandbaby I noticed nearly fifty red tailed hawks sitting on the wires watching as we drove by. If you have ever seen a hawk hunting observation is a key. Every detail is seen as they look for a food item crawling or scurrying along the ground.

 

“Clearly we are meant to think, analyze, and deliberate. And yet humans seem to have some sort of fear (or is it plain ignorance?) of exercising the simple freedom to think. Why are we so prone to let others do our thinking for us – to lead astray and control us?” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

 

We have just recently been through one of the most biased and perhaps most sheep lead to slaughter election campaigns I have ever experienced in my life. The negative ads were the vast majority of all from either side. Issues were simply something that would be dealt with after the election and even then that was questionable. Here in Atlanta several of the mega churches are going through serious upheavals with pastors who after years of preaching and blasting various human characteristics and or issues are coming out themselves and in turn being who they preached against for twenty years and built empires against. One of the themes I have seen in politics and religion so blatant in the past year is the “letting of others do our thinking for us”. I received a copy of a book from a friend in New York. I have known the title for several years now and seeing it and beginning my initial reading the title hit me. The title, “Hustlers and the idiot swarm”, how appropriate is that to our society today.

 

Opening up Reverend Manny’s book and turning to the very first page there is a quote and thought that permeates our society if even unknowingly.

 

“For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all experts liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, Ch. X

 

It was within a day or two of first setting foot in Washington that a newly elected Congressman who ran on a ticket of repealing the newly legislated Health Care bill was upset that his government health care insurance did not start immediately and he had to wait twenty eight days and made a scene in his first official meeting. During the course of the past couple year’s lies about the health care bill made headlines more so than points that were significantly important to many families. Having grown up in a family with a severely disabled brother who would never have been insurable under most standard insurance due to preexisting conditions and having a son in graduate school who is over twenty five without health insurance coverage I was reading fine print of health care and asking questions of my insurer.

I really did not want to get into the idea of politics since reality is not an issue there sadly. I started my thoughts the past few days thinking about how we find our own center and understanding of the world around us.

 

“The Sioux believe that lies, deceit, greed, and harm to innocent others will never be erased, and neither will good deeds of generosity and caring. Dominant society on the other hand, leans towards “forgiveness” theory which claims that bad deeds can be purged.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, Nature’s Way

 

As I started getting into this idea of each of us formulating and ratifying our own understandings of all that is about us it became clear this will be more than a quick note. I walked out of the house earlier and had on R. Carlos Nakai on my ear phones and rather loud. The CD is one of Nakai who is a seven note cedar flute master playing with a symphony his various melodies and it was almost haunting as the visage before me was one of fog and shrouds of mist surrounding the trees. The visibility was less than a hundred feet. I had to stop listen to the music and see this silvery image before me. The two interplayed as I got ready to leave the house. As I turned from observing I noticed a flat tire which brought me back to reality and the moment. So to close this quick dropping and getting on with the day I remind everyone to please keep all in harm’s way on their minds and in their hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

 

 

Some will see a tapestry as a spider spins others a cobweb

Bird Droppings November 28, 2012

Some will see a tapestry as a spider spins others a cobweb

 

“For certain fortunate people there is something that transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is awareness, something which rises from the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games and that is intimacy. But all of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as ‘togetherness.’ This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.” Dr. Eric Berne, Games People Play, 1964

 

The title intrigued me as I am sitting here at six in the morning in my classroom wondering which direction to go in this morning’s writing. I was thinking about students, parents and teachers and how so often the intertwining of personalities produce the fabric of the day. I recall in a graduate class a professor friend used the term or representation of weaving on a loom. My other life a few years back was tied to the sheep industry in the Southeast and affiliated side industries including hand spinning and weaving. The concept of our lives as a tapestry being woven each day as we go fascinates me.

 

“Each person designs his own life, freedom gives him the power to carry out his own designs, and power gives the freedom to interfere with the designs of others. “ Dr. Eric Berne

 

Thinking back so many years I was directly involved in the sheep industry with raising breeding, of course shearing the sheep and selling the wool. I traveled nationwide photographing and talking to producers and writing about the sheep and wool industry. I met many hand spinners and weavers as I traveled. Some were artisans spinning yarn as fine as silk and weaving literally pieces of art work. Back in the day we had a ewe a Hampshire cross ewe that was “black” and then when you sheared her the fleece was a beautiful chinchilla gray. Many years back a dear friend would get that fleece each year for her spinning and weaving. Somewhere in a box is a small ball of yarn my oldest son spun one afternoon when he was six years old with that fleece and my friend showing and helping him.

Life, as Dr. Donna Andrews, former chairperson of Special Education Department at Piedmont College commented on in class is a weaving an intertwining of events and people.

 

“A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else. “ Mahatma Gandhi

 

One of Gandhi’s methodologies of protest was to spin and weave his own cloth rather than rely on industrial produced material. Many other intricate thoughts were woven in as well; spinning is for some spinners a form of meditation. The process of weaving, creating and designing a piece is literally painting of a picture with thread and yarn.

 

“A man’s action is only a picture book of his creed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

So as we weave our cloth in life we are seen by the fabric, the pattern, and the methods we use to make that piece of cloth.

 

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. “John F. Kennedy

 

With each required progress report we call student’s parents or guardians to discuss issues and grades. I spoke with several over the phone back a week or so ago and some were not available. I walked through my room after school that day reading a poster that has been hanging around now on my wall where ever I take up for now nearly forty years, Children Learn what they live. While one weaves silk weaves burlap. Silk has many great attributes as does burlap and the applications and uses vary. To spin hemp into twine and weave the burlap is as much a skill as the artisans who weave the silk threads into cloth. The weaving and material made is not the issue but it is that process of weaving that is occurring. For it is in that effort that it is being made into a life.

 

“Understand clearly that when a great need appears a great use appears also; when there is small need there is small use; it is obvious, then, that full use is made of all things at all times according to the necessity thereof.” Dogen Kenji, Zen master

 

Recently I used the word direction and drew criticism from a teacher trying to explain that choosing a direction in a journey and not truly having a destination is sometimes a meaningless effort. For some just going is the norm. I always speak of the journey being more important versus the destination but there is a point to head towards. When building a house first you build walls you determine where doors and windows are needed and add them as you go. Granted you will have a design a blueprint prior to starting but many a house has changed on the go as a builder sees a differing view as walls go up. A really good builder knows ahead and plans for doors and windows and designed properly a house can have huge windows and great doors and movement in and out occurs continually.

Many years ago I was sitting alongside a fence in a field far away from houses and people I watched a spider spin a web. We see webs all around I have read there are thousands of spiders per acre in any field. Many of the spiders are minute and nearly microscopic. Anyhow the spider climbed to a point and dropped leaving a strand of silk. The spider climbed again and dropped and so forth building a base for her web. Next came the cross lines and soon a web was built over an hour or so in the process. We see webs and easily sweep them away but the design and care in making is engrained in the spider. Life is a weaving, a spinning a web of sorts and yes so often is simply swept away by a casual or thoughtless act. Occasionally someone will stand back in awe of the artistry. If only we would take note every time. Please as we partake of a new day keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

Wad de (Skee)

bird

“Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is.”

Bird Droppings November 27, 2012

“Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is”

 

I took a relaxing week with family and sort of got my thoughts together as the days went by. Somewhere as the rain dissipated we had a few hours of sunshine even though the temperatures were below normal and a chill has set in. I have been gathering in my plants that do not enjoy the cold and after a day of photos and reading turned in last night. I am a member of the National Association of Educators and receive their weekly publication. An article caught my attention in one of the last issues. In Georgia we have Standards that drive the curriculum throughout the state in line with federal and state mandates. Essentially the article addressed teaching to the test.

 

“Preferring concrete guidance, teachers make what is tested their de facto focus. The unfortunate result is that tests become the curriculum. And because tests are filled with multiply choice items that do not adequately reflect important higher levels of cognitive demand, instruction becomes less rich that it should be.” Susan H. Fuhrman, Lauren Resnick, and Lorrie Shepard, Standards are not enough

 

As I thought I recalled a quote I have used many times before and how it applies to education.

 

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Wayne Gretzky

 

It was last night as I was working on pulling some files together and books for my ideas that this Wayne Gretzky quote popped up again. Considering that I had played ice hockey in college and most my life it was sort of cool. Gretzky is a hero to hockey kids just like Michael Jordan is to basketball players. Gretzky’s records cover several pages of HHL record books. Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records. As an example a recent ESPN top twenty five sports records that will never be broken had Gretzky’s feat of 2857 points (goals and assists) right near the top since number three player, Gordie Howe at 1850 holds the longevity record as well and number two is 1887 points. But what does this have to do with the price of beans or with education?

 

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of the view of the classroom community in developing respect for human dignity as well as preparing students to be active participants in their own learning and in democratic communities. The theme around which programs in the School of Education are built is Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of Children. Our students learn to be reflective, scholarly, and proactive educators.” Dr. Jane McFerrin, Retired Dean, School of Education, Piedmont College

 

Proactive is a good word. “Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty” is how Dictionary.com explains the word proactive. A good friend has the Gretzky quote up on his wall, I gave him a copy nearly twelve years ago and it still is in use. I first used this quote over twelve years ago when my friend was the principal at our high school. He has moved on but Gretzky’s words ring true, be it in Ice Hockey, teaching or in life. I have expectation as a key element though in this quote, to be where the puck is going to be not just where it is. Be thinking ahead rather than thinking in stagnation.

 

“For, he that expects nothing shall not be disappointed, but he that expects much – if he lives and uses that in hand day by day — shall be full to running over.” Edgar Cayce

 

“Life… It tends to respond to our outlook, to shape itself to meet our expectations.” Richard M. DeVoe

 

Much of Cayce’s reading can be a bit much but these are good words and our daily outlook does mold where and how our day will be.

 

“We advance on our journey only when we face our goal, when we are confident and believe we are going to win out.” Orison Swett Marden

 

Marden was the founder of Success magazine and is considered to be the founder of the modern Success movement.

 

“We lift ourselves by our thought; we climb upon our vision of ourselves. If you want to enlarge your life, you must first enlarge your thought of it and of yourself. Hold the ideal of yourself as you long to be, always, everywhere – your ideal of what you long to attain – the ideal of health, efficiency, success.” Orison Swett Marden (1850 – 1924)

 

I am always amazed at teachers who will have few expectations for students. Research has shown time and time again that students live up to the expectations of the teachers. Teachers literally set the pace by their expectations of a student if you expect little that is what you will get and conversely expect much and you will receive. A bit of a paraphrase of Gretsky.

 

“Teach to where the learning will be not to where it is” Frank Bird

 

As I thought this morning teaching is much like any other activity you plan you implement and you have expectations. If we only teach to where learning is soon you find you are truly going nowhere. For years I will at times use words far beyond operational vocabulary of students, my response is always “look it up and learn a new word”.

 

“By asking for the impossible we obtain the best possible.” Giovanni Niccolini

 

“The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car… a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little.” Ben Sweetland

 

I really liked this concept so often we teach the use of a teaspoon, I do it too, and thinking that this kid will never learn that or this kids reading level is too low. Sweetland writes about expectations and offers this.

 

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” Ben Sweetland

 

When that difficult student succeeds you as a teacher succeed and your path is brighter. Years ago I worked with severely disabled students and a simple movement often would warrant a celebration. So often I use the quote from Aerosmith’s song, Amazing.

 

“Life is a journey not a destination” Steven Tyler

 

As I was reading this morning Ben Sweetland either listens to Aerosmith or Steven Tyler reds Ben Sweetland’s books.

 

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” Ben Sweetland

 

After looking up publishing dates Steven Tyler read Ben Sweetland’s book. Many of which were published in the 1960’s. If we as teachers impose parameters on learning, if we set goals far too low and or do not teach to lofty goals we set, we in effect are the issue not the student. Maybe every teacher needs to tack over there door as my dear friend, the now Georgia Principal of the year at Osborne High School has.

 

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Wayne Gretzky

 

Let us set some records now, records of learning of successful students and children in our communities. As I went out into the chill of the morning a bit earlier to walk my dog as I looked to the southeast the constellation Orion was clear as a bell over me. I could not help but notice that today was the one of the first days in months it was silent in the morning. No tree frogs, crickets, cicada’s absolute silence. I have often wondered as to the ambient temperature for silence in the morning. I was reading in a small book written between 1953 and 1954 by a Trappist monk, Thoughts in solitude, and a passage struck a chord in the silence.

 

“Living is not thinking. Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.” Thomas Merton

 

Perhaps I was not listening close enough as I went out just a few minutes ago when I said it was silent. I stepped out again and a great horned owl was calling there is always more always if we constantly adjust our thoughts and perceptions. Merton was a prolific writer and his works have stood the test of time he died in a small hotel in Southeast Asia in an electrical accident protesting the war in Vietnam back in the late 1960’s and as I ponder this morning please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

Why are we deliberately trying to be wrong?

Bird Droppings November 26, 2012

Why are we deliberately trying to be wrong?

 

I will admit that on Saturday night with a Powerball jackpot of over three hundred million dollars I was pondering retiring if I won. I think I would be if I won retiring to devote time to education in a more positive way than teachers are allowed. Due to so many mandates, edicts, pontifications, justifications and whatever other way of impeding education our state and federal government have imposed it is honestly hard to teach. Generally over the years each semester there is a teacher with a hard class and they talk of changing careers or retiring. This year it is epidemic. Teachers I consider some of the best are dwindling and others tired of the constant imposing of near impossible attainments for students with no changes in the course we are going. As with so many issues education has been bastardized and taken over by those seeking to make money.

 

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who have no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come between the white men about the Indians.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce January 14, 1879 addressing representatives of the President of The United States

 

Sadly nothing has changed over the hundred plus years since Chief Joseph surrendered. Today there are over three hundred thousand complaints against the Bureau of Indian Affairs that are unanswered and in courts throughout the country and the highest suicide rate of teenagers is on reservations. Around the country we are arguing about illegal immigrants. In Arizona and New Mexico many of the ancestors of this people were kicked off their land when we won the Spanish American war. Navahos, Apaches, and many other tribes were dispersed to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma never allowed to return to the ancestral homes. We are so self-centered that we can argue about illegal immigrant’s maybe it is we who are truly the illegal immigrants.

 

“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to grow and live.” Chief Joseph

 

So often my thoughts come random after a few hours’ sleep and rising to take the dog out a point or idea will stick. Last night about two thirty, I got off the phone after talking with a good friend from many years ago. We talked nearly three hours and in heading to bed something came to mind. It seems the powers to be back in the day and now always want to mass produce. In the world of the late 1800’s as far as Native Peoples go it was coming up with a blanket policy and no pun intended to cover all tribes. There was no consideration of culture of language just this was it including education using the Carlisle School as an example. Basically the white Christian way was the best and only way. No exceptions Indians should be farmers like white folk no more hunting and gathering, no more Sundance ceremonies which were banned in late 1800’s or rituals that might offend Christian folk. Treaties and promises were made almost with little or any attempt to truly fund and or implement that plan. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Corruption ruled what little funding did find its way to reservations and holding areas. As I thought it was very easy to coincidently tie this government outlook to education of today.

In 2004 a massive educational bill was passed entitled No Child Left Behind. A key point being that by 2014 all children would be on grade level in math and reading. Sadly funding was left by the wayside and for states to implement as best they could. However penalties were still in place for not meeting standards imposed. The idea of all children being to standard includes all socio-economic, cultural, children with disabilities, ethnic groups and any other sort of subtitle that might be thrown in. Children would be evaluated with standardized tests given in specific grades and to graduate. Dr. William Ayers, that same fellow accused during the last presidential election of being too friendly with our now president is a nationally known educator and author.

 

“The root of the word evaluation is ‘value’ and authentic assessment includes understanding first what the student’s value and then building from there. Authentic assessment is inside-out rather than outside-in. It’s an attempt to get away from sorting a mass of students and closer to the teachers question: Given what I know, how should I teach this particular student.” Dr. William Ayers

 

One of our states efforts to get assessment in line with national standards and accountability has been a new math curriculum and of course subsequent testing. On the front page of a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Only 52% of the students who took the End of Course test for Math II in May passed.” This was across the state averages in high schools on this particular test. State department of education people are saying they will get it just will take time for students to get use to new curriculum. In special education we have been told to start telling parent’s in IEP’s that kids may be in high school for five or six years due to higher standards for graduation. Coincidentantly if you take more than four years to graduate you are considered a drop out up until recently when rules were again changed. I question who is setting the bar up and why? As I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution it is due to mandated standards set in No Child Left Behind legislation.

What about schools that are so far behind that no matter what bar level is set it will not happen. Many reservation schools and inner city schools have never hit AYP to date in nearly eight years of testing. Another sad point is it is common knowledge among administrators and educators that test scores and zip codes have strong correlation. How is that for a statistic? Borrowing a phrase now that is a Catch 22, yes most definitely. I had an idea last night after a brief discussion in a blog over what could be done. I asked for some time to think about solving this dilemma. By chance I went by Barnes and Nobles to get some back up material.

Great educators have known the answer for many years. John Dewey offered suggestions and thoughts well over a hundred years ago. Numerous other authors have expanded on and clarified Dewey’s thoughts and all seem to come to one conclusion the solution is not in one test fits all, one curriculum fits all, it is not about leaving children behind which is happening at an alarming rate currently. So here was walking my dog last night and a thought came to me. It’s about one child at a time.

 

“Teachers are explorers. As they explore the world and lives of their students, they cast lines to different ways of thinking. Teaching is often bridge building; beginning on one shore with the knowledge, experience, know-how, and interests of the student, the teacher moves toward broader horizons and deeper ways of knowing.” Dr. William Ayers, To teach the journey of a teacher, 2010

 

You might say where do we start, we start asking students. After talking with many students of the Foxfire program who have graduated many years back I am seeing that there are commonalities in their opinion of what they learned. They learned about community more so than any other topic this has come up numerous times. It was not a measurable academic lesson or standardized test score it was the interactions with others in a useful and viable manor. It was being allowed to be an individual and to be creative. It was about one child at a time.

 

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

 

John Dewey emphasized the democratic classroom and giving students a voice and allowing their past experiences to be utilized not just those perceptions and experiences of the teacher. This idea of One Child at a Time may sound a bit farfetched but when you look at how we currently test and evaluate it is not truly an indicator of what a child knows or even cares about. It is what has been drilled in the past semester. So often you will hear the term life long learner and yet is cramming for a standardized test lifelong learning? Is 52% of students taking test failing lifelong learning? What if we could take a bit more time learn who the student is allow that students weakness and strengths to be incorporated into the learning process and developed. I would say wouldn’t it be great if we could do an individual IEP for all students instead of a blanket testing policy. Would it not be great if each student had a portfolio that accompanied them in each grade showing progress and showing their achievements? It is one child at a time that is the key to educational success and or failure. I will wander more another time so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

Can we really see while looking?

Bird Droppings November 25, 2012

Can we really see while looking?

 

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward, college administrator, writer (1921-1994)

 

It has been several weeks now that I have been fighting a tough cold and this week bronchitis so I did very little in terms of writing or even thinking let alone anything of a physical manual labor sort of project. So last night as I read my emails for the day on my iPad after being disappointed by college football, a good friend had sent me this quote from Arthur Ward. So often we hold back, gratitude is a two way street, it is really a symbiotic response, it works both ways if we let it.

 

“The morning is wiser than the evening.” Russian proverb

 

I think I am a proponent of this quote but there is more to it than simply when we rise from sleep or time of day. I happen to like sunrises but we should deal with issues more in time with when they happen then stewing on them thinking about or forgetting about which can happen so easily when we put them off till later.

 

Spring has its hundred flowers,
Autumn has its many moons.
Summer has cool winds,
Winter its snow.
If useless thoughts do not
Cloud your mind,
Each day is the best of your life.

Wu-Men-Hui-Kai (1183-1260)

 

I was reading through several different sites this morning and I have one that features ZEN quotes and found this short thought and poem. I have always been amazed at how Zen quotes are so simple and straight forward. I was looking for no specific quote this morning as I was reading and writing. I have been looking back over the past few days and days up coming. There have been and will be days with family and friends and days of solitude and study. I will be spending time with my family that we haven’t had to do lately because of work, school, and such with everyone going in different directions. In a week I will say hello to our newest grandbaby. However the past few days I have been reminded of the intertwining and the coincidences we encounter in life.

On our way to the grocery store I was thinking of a student who has a tremendous personality and as we stood in line who comes barging out to pester me said student. Sitting here my mine went back to an earlier thought, “Each day is the best of your life”, as I am borrowing from the Zen poem above. Yesterday I wanted to cram several days of writing and reading into one as I am working on several projects for school and my own writing but I was waylaid by this illness and spent the day sitting reclined in a chair. I did take a short morning break trying to get something done and went for a drive. I recall as I drove out of our subdivision I saw what I thought was my sisters car and drove in that direction as I got there directly beside me was a red tailed hawk perched on a pole. I went closer and it flew off, turned out to not be my sister’s car but someone else. My sojourn only lasted briefly as within a few minutes I was exhausted and headed home.

Events seemingly meaningless yet tied together and had I now driven out to see that the car was my not my sisters I would not have seen the hawk. For many people a red tailed hawk is insignificant but it was the synchronicity of the events more than the events. Just in the past few minutes my westie wanted out and I went downstairs and took her out and dropped several trash bags in the garbage can. As I walked back towards the house a sliver of a moon just over the pines and a bright sun shone through the pines. A magnificent smile greeted me as I headed back inside for some tea and warmth as I was greeted by my granddaughter. Flip flops are great in summer but do not keep your feet warm.

If you are looking, truly looking when you see often there is more meaning. If you see with a clear mind you can see more. The Russian proverb above reminds us to be awake and as life comes at you, live it don’t wait till it is past. The Zen poem while short and simple is so true if we live that each day can be and will be the best of our life how amazing each moment becomes, each flower petal, grain of sand, rain drop and pine needle. A simple thought for today as we go out. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

 

 

Should children be left behind?

Bird Droppings November 24, 2012

Should children be left behind?

 

“I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of nature. Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude. But I hear the outcry which replies to this suggestion: – Would you verily throw up the reins of public and private discipline; would you leave the young child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies, and call this anarchy a respect for the child’s nature? I answer, – Respect the child, and respect him to the end, but also respect yourself. Be the companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of his virtue, – but no kinsman of his sin. Let him find you so true to yourself that you are the irreconcilable hater of his vice and the imperturbable slighter of his trifling.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about his idea of education and fortunately for me wrote it down. Over the last ten years I have been directly involved in an educational program, Foxfire, which is based around John Dewey’s ideas on education. I was talking last Friday just before lunch with a fellow teacher and a local representative from PAGE, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, about education of all things. We discussed the idea of teaching top down as we in Georgia are being directed to do with new national common core standards. Here is where we are going and now how do we get there? That is more of real questions than why did you not get where you are supposed to be? Interestingly enough this first statement is what Emerson and Dewey were talking about. As we talked I mentioned Foxfire and how it was in effect how good teachers teach without even knowing. Really it is not something new and outlandish it is just putting a name on good teaching habits and providing a frame work of ten core practices to work with.

Coincidently my friend who was involved in the discussion had retrieved from the discard book cart some old Foxfire books. Periodically our media center discards old and or tattered books for teachers to get first crack at before throwing out. It seems that I have built a library on discarded books. My friend had salvaged four old Foxfire books from the cart earlier in the day.

 

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden. I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form. Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be brought into contact with it without either confusion or distraction; he is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going on, so that he loses his own power of orderly reaction, or he is so stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely called into play and he becomes either unduly specialized or else disintegrated.” John Dewey

 

Learning is not a time limited, space limited, and or school building limited activity as many teachers think. It is not tied to a specific curriculum and text. Real learning is alive, ongoing, continuous, actively participatory and an integral part of societal involvement. As I looked at the Foxfire core practices it becomes apparent these are good teacher practices, these are good life practices, and this is where learning can truly occur.

 

1 • From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.

2 • The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.

3 • 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.

4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

8 • 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.

9 • The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.

10 • Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

Foxfire fund Inc.

 

 

What intrigued me from my first involvement with Foxfire was how even the approach to learning our school system is using which is called Learning Focused Schools is within these eleven principles. This past summer in my research I found most good and great educational ideas actually incorporate or parallel these simple practices. Literally hundreds of good teachers in actual practice helped develop this concept over a long period of time. Emerson and Dewey were thinking along the same lines long before most of us were born. This is not a new fad it is simply good teaching. It is interesting, I recall long before I read Dewey or Emerson and or anything about Foxfire which was little more than a mountain word for a glowing fungus on a hillside. I have been in graduate education classes learning from teachers who taught in this manner, and have watched students learning as they were involved in this approach to education. So why is it so hard to get across to teachers of today? Could it be because it takes more work from the teachers to implement? You will see the word rigorous in Foxfire quite a bit and it is. But good teaching is rigorous. It is dynamic not static.

As I am working on my dissertation and researching about The Foxfire Approach to teaching I find teachers telling me they prefer to teach in this manner but often are criticized by peers and administration for not following curriculum maps and guides. An article in NEA’s weekly newsletter pointed to how so many new teachers are coming into the ranks with little or no true training in education and often a point and click mentality is all they have. They are bodies filling a space and pushing kids through. I have met several great teachers who have come through alternative approaches to teacher training, myself sort of although I did have a minor and major in education along the way I just never student taught. I switched my major to psychology along the way at the last minute to avoid taking a foreign language which was required for education majors at Mercer University in 1974.

I would suggest we need to instead of more new curriculums instill more adrenaline in teachers. Perhaps we could install a super energy drink machine outside of each teacher’s classroom and just prior to starting class require every teacher to get a caffeine jolt. Energy can be a very powerful thing in so many ways especially when it involves the passion for teaching. I have wandered and pondered enough for one day and will get off of my soap box for today but please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird