We are neither wolf nor dog

Bird Droppings January 23, 2013
We are neither wolf nor dog

It has been some time since I first read a book by this name written by one of my favorite authors Kent Nerburn. In much of his writing Kent Nerburn addresses the spiritual significance and depth of life of our Native Americans. While to some this is never an issue for others it is very much so and perhaps equally we as a nation have reelected a nontraditional president who happens to be of a different color than what many so called Americans would prefer and are afraid to say they are. So easy for some to say “I am not racist but his church affiliation cannot be over looked.” Many who put aside color will go for religion, or birthplace, and or who his friends are as reasons to dislike yet underlying the rhetoric is race. I was listening to several of my students discuss politics and always the other reason our president is not liked somehow gets mentioned. Listening to polls and news similar rationales seem to prevail although cloaked in political dribble be it Republican or Democrat. While shrouded in history and idealistic notions racism towards native and or nonwhites has been a large portion of our culture.

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, (Tatanka Iyotake), Lakota Medicine man and chief

This great warrior and holy man died in 1890 shot by his own people as fore told in a vision he had many years before. At the time the federal government was concerned with his affiliation with the ghost dance cult, which was sweeping the reservations. Armed Sioux officers were sent to bring him in and as legend goes he was reaching for his grandson’s toy and the officers perceived a gun and shot him multiple times. Sadly most of the officers themselves were killed in mysterious ways the next year or so. Some will say karma but to the Sioux killing a holy man is a death sentence in and of itself. Perhaps the officer’s deaths were retaliation for the killing of a great leader from the Sioux nation. Perhaps it is the paradox of the Indian wars.
It always seems interesting to me how it was patriotic for soldiers to kill Indians and yet the statement “I would die for my people and country,” is a very patriotic statement we still hear from American patriots continually down through history. Today around the world we are witnessing similar events in many countries. It just depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on as to who is patriotic and who is the enemy.

“To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle.” Confucius

“Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

Sometimes I wonder if we have run out of wilderness to conquer as I watch world events. Even the underlying rumor mill is word that Haiti now is a possible new territory for the US. Do we need another General Custer and another battle of the little Big Horn? I was thinking back in my own time and war, Viet Nam, and to the Malai massacre but those folks had no weapons and were only standing around not fighting back. I am always amazed that Custer was a hero and yet he disobeyed orders and egotistically rode into battle outnumbered and was slaughtered. Perhaps it was the fact the Native Americans had the newest weaponry, repeating rifles and Custer’s men still had breech loading single shot rifles. Interestingly enough word had it the unit was offered the new weapons but felt the old ones were good enough for what they were doing. There is a petition going around the internet to recall the twenty medals of honors awarded to some of Custer’s men. Wounded Knee was only a few months before, Custer’s men only days before killed women and children and by chance came into confrontation with the large army assembled under Crazy Horse and directed by Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn.

“What white man can say I never stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say that I am a thief. What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian.” Sitting Bull

I went to school for a semester in Texas in 1968 and experienced racism I had never seen before to that degree. Hatred for Native Americans nearly one hundred years after the wars were over. Geronimo and Chief Joseph were both refused on their death beds by sitting presidents to return to their sacred lands for fear of up risings. Nearly five years ago on Monday a South Texas town abolished an anti-Hispanic segregation law more than seven decades after it was enacted in Edcouch Texas.
In 1973 I met the contingency of Creeks who were working at the Okmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon Georgia, we became friends and I was honored to be invited to take medicine at the Green Corn dance. Nearly 150 years earlier under Andrew Jackson’s orders the Creeks were taken from Georgia to Oklahoma, the now infamous Trail of tears. With the Creeks gone all the land became available. I found searching for information on my Leni Lenape, great, great grandmother an article about my great great grandfather George Niper who lived to be one hundred and fourteen years old and was the last living person to have voted for Andrew Jackson. I found it interesting Jackson was a Democrat. The Trail of Tears was not a liberal act by any means.

“Now that we are poor, we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights.” Sitting Bull

I wonder what slogans were used in the 1880’s in presidential elections, Grant wanted a third term and Garfield supported Grant interesting how Garfield’s speech for Grant got him the nomination over Grant and elected. Tariffs was the main issue, high tariffs was what Garfield backed and possibly that which he was assassinated for. The plight of the Native American was a small issue during the years recovering from the governmental corruption of Grants time. Government seems to be by nature corrupt. We watch as senators and congressmen argue over health care and yet they have universal health care for life. Maybe if on equal footing legislation would be different and maybe if the threat of you could lose yours was on the table things would be different.

“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile to the white man…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight.” Crazy Horse, Tashunwitko

Interesting how an invaded people fought back yet we condemned them and how history changes the views. I have been reading a book that I titled today’s wandering about entitled, Neither Wolf nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn, an interesting book about an old man’s effort to explain who his people really are. Nerburn was invited to bring the words of an elderly Native American, a member of the Sioux nation, to the world and to explain why and how. One day maybe someone will offer explanations for the issues of today that go beyond the political views of warring parties and ideologies as we wander today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

Wa De (Skee)
bird

Can passion be aquired?

Bird Droppings January 22, 2013
Can passion be acquired?

“To speak so listeners long to hear more and to listen so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646

When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural I thought of a few words from Albert Einstein that I have used in my daily meanderings many times for several years. I first used this quote in a presentation for my Capstone in my master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly ten years ago. For me real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from the Tirukkural always considering it to be simply Hindu literature, by chance I looked it up further and over 2000 years old its original religious significance is questioned by scholars yet both the writer and words are considered holy.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

As I read about the Tirrukkural, while in translation the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a very specific number of words per line and per couplet to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my own classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Candy always works, but M&M extrinsic bribery aside what do we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words?

“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried

Last night I sat talking to my son and daughter in law about watching my granddaughter learning. At two years old you can see literally earning occurring. When I leave in the morning and by afternoon a new word or sentence is being used. Granted she is growing up in a house where reading, language and writing is cherished as well as music and art. Daily she is drawing, listening and trying to read her various books. Looking back at Fried’s thought perhaps not all kids lose that desire but many lose their drive and passion for learning. I want to know why.
I had a “student” back in the day whose discipline records went back to preschool and his referrals were so numerous that he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten. I am still trying to figure out how you get in that much trouble behaviorally in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious, we as teachers along the way train that out of them. We work towards nice straight lines and being quiet and saying yes mame or no sir and really straight lines and red flowers with green leaves when drawing only. I recall that Harry Chapin song often as I work with children of any age and see creativity being lost to uniformity, standardized testing, memorization and teachers being lazy.
Not that long ago we made cookie dough from scratch, even in my youth which is a life time ago you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes. You could take it out and make big cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Now days you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, we like uniformity.

”That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn

I started my Master degree capstone presentation at Piedmont College with some research based on when students want to be in class they do far better. If a student does not want to be in school we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. I had a student when I asked what would make him want to be in school say, “pay me to come, you get paid to be here”, and it made me think. I still occasionally use bribery but I seriously do try and focus on building intrinsic desire. I read that recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if the program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub looked at the numbers and with a smile showed my students my pay check. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have electronic deposit and my pay check has zero listed on the amount line. But I really got mileage out of that.
I said I enjoy being here I explained and I actually I do, he knew that, but the zero pay check really hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?

”Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn

I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available on line at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years in numerous articles on teaching emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students the sterile classroom has been the norm, no distractions. I found in a trial and error sort of way the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and look from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this inquisitiveness occurs learning can easily happen.
Of course you will still have that child who started in pre-K; I remember the day a few years back when I asked him, why do you not want to learn to read. This was a tenth grade student who through all of his school life had been a serious and often dangerous behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters and we were working on writing letters for a school project and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad”, a side note spell check works great if you can read, when you can’t it does not always help. Well he still is obnoxious but slowly the idea there are teachers who do care about him and want to help him is sinking in I think back to Robert Fried’s title for a book “The Passionate Teacher” that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why are we teaching, is it purely for M&M’s, are we simply being bribed or is there underneath the passion an intrinsic rational. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)
bird

Looking in a direction to start a morning

Bird Droppings January 21, 2013
Looking in a direction to start a morning

“Beginnings start in the east – from where the sun rises we begin a new dawn. Each day is a good new day with a fresh beginning, a new start. East is the direction of the physical body and newness including children and newborns. It is the time of change for all is a new beginning, new ideas and seeing the light. The color yellow is the path of Life, to begin the walk as a warrior, to shine in all that you do. The sun rising in the east empowers each of us. The energy to do and to begin the action of the mind and heart is there. Animals of wings and flight are from the east include the hummingbird, the owl, and the hawk. Our words are given to the east that the smoke in the air or the voices in the air may be carried to Spirit.” Tree Song

I was outside much earlier this morning and it was cold but the bitter freezing cold has been gone for several days now. I was listening to the sounds of morning in a spot I where I have been sitting now for nearly seven years in our backyard facing an open field. Many sounds are just beginning to awaken as the sunrises each morning. The stillness and solitude of early morning on some occasions is sometimes off in a distance broken by a rooster calling or generally more likely starters for the morning are crows and mockingbirds. Today it was a mockingbird that came to visit as I sat listening and watching the sun come up. It has been some time since I have heard a rooster crow from my door step maybe twelve years now.

“Sioux Morning prayer
Let your voice whisper righteousness in our ears through the East Wind at the break of day. Let us be blessed with love for all our brothers & sisters on Earth so we may truly live in peace. Let us have good health mentally & physically to solve our problems and accomplish something for future generations. Let us be sincere to ourselves and make the world a better place to live. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” Unknown Author Traditional Sioux prayer

The Sioux end prayers and meditations with the phrase, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin, which means, All My Relations. Many will questioned or wonder why end with such a vague phrase? But to the Indian all about is part of who they are and it is to all that they offer this Morning Prayer or thought. I did not write the past two days as I got caught up playing and enjoying time with my granddaughter. Watching Finding Nemo a million times, searching for a very specific stuffed animal, making smoothies and basically just doing things a two year old enjoys wears an old man out and I succumbed to fatigue about nine last night. I went home sat and watched a downloaded movie for about an hour and fell asleep so I could get an earlier start today. While I did not write this past weekend I posted and shared several items. I kept in touch so to say.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The other day my mother gave a copy of her notes on my growing up childhood years. One is a story of how when very small around three years of age I ran away. I actually only went across the street into the woods. I will offer the entire story one day but since I was young I have enjoyed the solitude of the woods and nature. There have been many times in the various pathways of my life where I would find places to go and be alone with nature. Seldom have I been confined long in a place where I cannot escape to the calls of the wild and sunrise. Recently a friend posted photos of Cumberland Island which lies along the Georgia Coast and is protected. It is considered a wilderness area and off limits to most exploitation. Sunrise on Cumberland with no one for miles can be pretty spectacular. You have to camp on the island however to see a Cumberland sunrise. While I started with the east today it is about direction that I am writing.

“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” Pablo Picasso

I raised the question of purpose recently with a student and in an email last night an idea had me thinking. A dear friend said four people had raised the issue of purpose in life recently and she is going through a time now seeking her purpose. Before I went out I wrote back to her, for me it is not what is my purpose, as much as I have purpose and knowing you are significant in each aspect of what you do, borrowing from the Sioux again, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin. Over the years I always thought I would one day open my eyes and see “My purpose” and I have come to understanding it is not a destination that is my purpose it is very much a journey.
It has been many years ago that I experienced a vision or a dream of a giant jig saw puzzle falling in place that sorted it out for me. I could not see the puzzle front every time I tried and look it would turn away revealing the gray backing. I had to be content to know it was falling in place piece by piece and each piece was more intricate than the last. As we seek direction on our journey as I thought and we have a powerful friend in our faith. Doors will open as they need to. I spent nearly two years sorting out where I was to go, working with indigent families and receiving enough barely to cover cell phone and mileage. A door opened in teaching and even then I was presented with tests. It was five times that my name was presented by a principal who wanted me teaching and four times I was turned down. On September 11, 2001 I was allowed to go back into teaching as a long term substitute.
I have used the illustration of a puzzle often over the years and throw the word purpose about every now and again. There is an aspect of our journey we are directly involved in and that is direction, which way are we facing as we take that next step.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy; a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lays disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson

I was looking this morning for words dealing with direction each time I tried mapping and directions came up. My oldest son finished his certification in GPS many years ago. He was working with an Environmental Science class at the high school mapping trees and positioning using GPS devices for a project and it hit me how so focused and reliant we have become on technology. We are at a point in our technology where we can ascertain that Sumatra moved 20 centimeters in the huge earthquakes of years past. But so often we have a hard time determining where we are going today let alone in life.

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

I can always find a spot for a Dewey quote. Dewey is not the easiest read in the world, often his thoughts are in details we are not used too. Far too often teachers look for an easy fix to a complicated issue. In life far too many times we take the easy road.

“Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to choose the things we want to do, to take the wisdom we’ve learned and create something.” Liz Carpenter

“You don’t have to buy from anyone. You don’t have to work at any particular job. You don’t have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose” Harry Browne

For many they see life as a funnel, a narrowing down rather than a spreading out. It has been many years since I walked the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia. Often when walking up a mountain, there are switch backs that would be used rather than a direct ascent. A switch back is a path that cuts back and forth up the mountain rather than straight up, and with a heavy pack a direct route is often impossible.

“The way to activate the seeds of your creation is by making choices about the results you want to create. When you make a choice, you activate vast human energies and resources, which otherwise go untapped. All too often people fail to focus their choices upon results and therefore their choices are ineffective. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz

So often in life it is the first step, or that opening of the door is so difficult. When I did go back to teaching, I could have stopped at first rejection. I applied at five or six schools. I was not certified, and in order to get provisional certification you have to be employed, an interesting paradox. For some reason a principal thought I might work out and kept pushing, and at the board meeting I was hired, then called back, my sister had been hired who I recommended and so I couldn’t work there. Then my name did not make a meeting and second effort was defeated and a third and fourth. Finally a teacher had a nervous breakdown and was out indefinitely and a long term sub was needed and eventually a teacher. The board made allowances for my sister and I started on September 11, 2001.
It was many months later when the principal was putting a list together that I was asked what day I started and I couldn’t remember, it was the week after labor day and a Tuesday because approval was needed on Monday. The first step is the roughest many times.

“You are the person who has to decide. Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you’ll lead or will linger behind. Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.” Edgar A. Guest

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, a singer, song writer, University professor and former cast member of the survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within”. Perhaps this is a good place to stop today Guest states “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I’ll end up with a line from an Aerosmith song

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

Perhaps ending with a Steven Tyler quote is a good one since he is now one of the judges on American Idol. Maybe he will exemplify his song and provide direction for some young people on their journeys in life. So please my friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)
bird

trying to find a way back to normal

Bird Droppings January 18, 2013

Trying to find a way back to normal

 

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio. Gotta get down to it soldiers are cutting us down should have been done long ago. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground how can you run when you know?” Neil Young

 

Perhaps it was just a wandering thought but while I was sitting thinking and pondering now a few days back one afternoon listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall, the song Ohio played and stuck with me. I am involved in the Georgia Educators Association and in a meeting yesterday afternoon a print out of the bills presented this week in the first two days of state legislator were handed out. One is for a campus carry law, where students at college can carry concealed weapons. The second that caught my attention was one to allow administrators to carry concealed weapons. In a group of educators the consensus was one hundred percent against both. In 1970 when the Kent State massacre occurred that inspired Neil Young to write this song the shootings were essentially an accident. Young National Guardsmen in fear for their lives shot first asked questions later and several unarmed students died.  In a protest against a war students were shot dead deemed an accident but death is a terminal project.

It has been a traumatic start to the week for some with the president passing down laws dealing with guns. I find it interesting how flames are fanned and profits roll through the roof. Ever notice how every time something like this occurs gun sales and ammo sales go sky high? There is no morality or constitutional amendment to that it is greed fan the flames drive the sales up.  It saddens me watching the people I know fanning flames that only lead to more Kent States.

Today my wife can drive to work on her own the doctor gave her clearance to drive and I am getting back in a routine at school which is sort of odd after nearly eight weeks of driving her to work every day. I am literally trying to find my way back to normal and it will take a few days or so. As lunch time at school rolls around I keep thinking I might have to escape at lunch to run home and hold my grand baby as well. Adding to my new routine for the first time in six years I have planning last block which is so odd. I feel as if I am finished work at one o’clock now and crash. I need to get my butt in gear and use my planning time more wisely.

Anyhow back to my original thought I was listening to “Ohio” by Neil young and the song sort of stuck with me and as I pondered how do you ever get to normal after an event like that. Incidentally one of the shooting victims from Arizona was at Kent State and lost a friend. I went looking for a few notes on the song and borrowed from Wiki-pedia the following:
“’Ohio’ is a protest song written and composed by Neil Young in reaction to the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was released as a single, backed with Stephen Stills’ ‘Find the Cost of Freedom,’ peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although a live version of the song was included on the group’s 1971 double album Four Way Street, the studio versions of both songs did not appear on an LP until the group’s compilation So Far was released in 1974. The song also appeared on the Neil Young compilation album Decade, released in 1977. It also appears on Young’s Live at Massey Hall album, which he recorded in 1971 but did not release until 2007.” Wiki-pedia

 

As I thought back with the song in my head to that day so long ago and where I was at the time finishing up spring semester at Eastern Baptist College in St. David’s Pennsylvania and starting to volunteer at a program in Paoli, actually getting my feet wet in teaching, where my brother was a student. There are so many memories coming back all around a song. At Eastern Baptist we all started to wonder if the antiwar groups on campus that were relatively radical at the time were next for the National Guard. There was a tension that is hard to explain especially if you are a nineteen year who has seen and heard so many horror stories about the war in Viet Nam and at that time violence on campuses in the US.  We all wondered then if our country could ever get back to normal.         

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders from all those who would profit by the new order.  This Luke warmness arises partly from the fear of their adversaries who have the law in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind who do not just believe in anything new, until they have actual experience of it.” Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)

 

My mother sent this Machiavelli quote to me and back in the day and today so many similarities in our public awareness on both sides of the fence. I skip back to this past holiday season and for us as teachers in our county with a another break coming up and with a shortened calendar year and longer days to save money and now two more furlough days. I find I am seriously a creature of habit and being out of routine for so long it is very hard to get back to normal. As I look at the national scene in politics and legislation I often wonder if we ever will actually do things for the people of the country and no longer for sponsors of politicians. On a passing thought maybe politicians should be required to wear stickers like in NASCAR of sponsors.

 

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau

 

It has been some time since I came back to Thoreau. I recall reading about him and Walden back in high school but it was just an assignment at that time. I as a student was living this quote. I was a victim of Alfie Kohn’s, decontextualization. I was going through the motions of a being student but never quite really understood what it was I was doing there or why. Somewhere in Macon Georgia at Mercer it clicked and I became a student and found that being a student and learning were two completely different things. This is sort of like realizing how engrained our routines actually are in our daily lives. I am working on finally getting through a three day Bird Droppings which is almost unheard of. I come into school clean my room each morning and get ready for the day sit and write read a bit feed my various room critters and get ready for students. I had more to do since I was driving forty miles every morning in and out, so my personal writing time was affected in the morning and now not having all my third block planning to do school errands it is confined to a narrow window in the afternoon and then home to pick up my wife, cook dinner and play with my grand baby.

 

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. “ Henry David Thoreau

 

I took a picture on January fourth of this year at sunrise and posted on Facebook like so many images I post. I wanted to use a Thoreau quote on my “Wall of Fame”, at school and in looking through my images this sunrise was so intense it just seemed right and so it became a poster for my photo wall at school. As I read over several times this quote from Thoreau started to sink in. I need to think over and over those deep thoughts that I want to attain and accomplish and rather than procrastinate go about following my path way to completion. So I am slowly getting back to normal and just emailed a friend after a long change in routine it takes four or five days to get back in the groove. We have as a nation, state, county, school and family so many things ahead of us we need to begin working through and around and over so we can get back to normal. Then of course I really don’t think normal is where I probably ever will be according to many. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

Learning is a journey strewn with boulders

Bird Droppings January 17, 2013

Learning is a journey strewn with boulders

 

“In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don’t have it for long.” Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’S, Praise and Other Bribes

 

For nearly a week now I have driven to school in the rain. It has been interesting early in the morning clear or semi-clear and then by driving time rain again. I am cursed to drive in the rain. It has been many years since I first brought up we need context to complement the content in education. I have been a fan of Alfie Kohn’s work for nearly twelve years since I first read a book in a book club meeting held by our then principal. As I read this earlier today and used as a status for my Facebook page the idea of decontextualizing interested me. Real learning involves context and if we constantly are decontextualizing essentially we are unlearning what we are trying to teach.

 

“Who, then, shall conduct education so that humanity may improve?” John Dewey

 

A very deep and broad question, I was thinking back to my own community and associations. We elect school board members who hire teachers and principals, they decide on schools to build and a place to build them and rules to govern schools. In Georgia recently several school systems have lost and or been put on probation due to school boards inappropriate behavior and the politics of those school boards that took away from education. The new kid on the bock charter schools is impacting public education and private schools still thrive here in the Bible belt. In any situation where elected officials are running the show and especially where there are few requirements for the job and it pays little if anything what should we expect? So I turn to my hero, what and how does Dewey the great educator answer his own question?

 

“We must depend upon the efforts of enlightened men in their private capacity. ’All culture begins with private men and spreads outward from them. Simply through the efforts of persons of enlarged inclinations, who are capable of grasping the ideal of a future better condition, is the gradual approximation of human nature to its end possible…. Rulers are simply interested in such training as will make their subjects better tools for their own intentions.’ Even the subsidy by rulers of privately conducted schools must be carefully safeguarded. For the rulers’ interest in the welfare of their own nation instead of in what is best for humanity, will make them, if they give money for the schools, wish to draw their plans.” John Dewey

 

We are manipulated and educated as pawns in a society for the societies own perpetuation and many top educators across the country believe this. There are times when I believe as well, watching new teachers come and teach in a manner that has been that way for a hundred years, as we develop curriculums that are what was and will always be and or design a program simply to sell books much like the integrated math program curriculum in Georgia that is after about three years being done away with because test scores were significantly dropping and over eighty thousand students failed end of course it is always about tests. Occasionally a bright note a light on the horizon, a student of education or two sees a different view a different point and follows a different path. Here I am thinking and routine keeps popping up.

Today as I do every day I let out Little girl out our Westie. It is funny back in the day we had Moose our yorkie and the two could not be in the same space together even though they were raised for several years together. We moved along the way and they could not decide who was boss after the move. Then I go to my computer and write trying to catch up on emails. Sometimes the Westie will come and sit by my feet and sleep. Today she wanted back out, an alteration to my morning routine and it bothers me. What is of concern as I think is this is a trivial item to be concerned about? We want things to be smooth to run efficiently and effectively and “OUR WAY”; the further up the chain of command the bigger the “OUR WAY” is.

 

“The new idea of the importance of education for human welfare and progress was captured by national interests and harnessed to do a work whose social aim was definitely narrow and exclusive. The social aim of education and its national aim were identified, and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of a social aim.” John Dewey

 

Teachers and administrators like routine, sameness I call it and easy to be canned  and or bottled. Borrowing from Sydney J, Harris “easier to stuff a sausage than cultivate a pearl” The student effectively gets lost in the mandated and regulated manipulations of society.

 

“Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted?” John Dewey

 

I find irony in the concept of a democratic classroom which I do believe can be successful. I find paradox in our efforts to be so democratic in our own country and yet we tend to bow to where majority wants even at the expense of free thought. We say individualism on one hand yet want the majority to rule and to dictate. As I was watching the election process in Iraq previously these concepts seemed to be exemplified. One faction has won and another literally did not vote in protest.

As I look at education and our own country how often do we do this and then when that which we did not elect nor even cared about happens we whine. We complain and we are faced with a journey that has provisions we do not want nor need. We can be often on that journey in a wrong direction for several years till another change, or pathway appears. Far too often we dictate direction in a top down scenario.  On the path the one on the journey is being told go this way and go that and should be the one directing the effort. It is so easy to raise an issue; following through with ideas is the more difficult aspect. Where in should the direction be set for example in education? I approach students in a manner that may be contradictory to some and way wrong to others. I offer here is where we need to go and ok class how do we get there. At first that is a difficult proposition, many want a map, a guide, a compass at least. The teacher can be that, facilitating in a guiding manner. But for learning to happen students have to be engaged and interactive in the journey each day.

 

“To get where they’re going, navigators first need to know where in the world they are.” Dragonfly web site

 

If we substitute educators and or students for navigators an interesting situation occurs. Any journey needs a starting point and how we find where that is often is the hard part in education. A journey starts at the beginning, where it is going is wherever and whenever but it does start somewhere. As a teacher helps students find a starting point and then provides tools to navigate the journey. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

 

Within the mirror can the reflection go beyond the moment?

Bird Droppings January 16, 2013

Within the mirror can the reflection go beyond the moment?

 

I was glancing at a book this morning “Qualities of an effective teacher” by Dr. James H. Stronge, Professor in Educational Policy, Planning, and leadership at the College of William and Mary, WilliamsburgVirginia. Stronge looked at students and how various aspects of a teacher’s involvement effected the student’s achievement; verbal ability, intellectual ability, content knowledge, certification, and experience. One aspect that was most intriguing to me was, “the Role of reflective practice”.

 

“Reflective teachers portray themselves as students” “Effective teachers are not afraid of feedback; in fact they elicit information and criticism from others.” Thoughtful reflection translates into enhanced teacher efficacy. And a teacher’s sense of efficacy has an impact on how he or she approaches instructional content and students.” Educators confidence in their ability to facilitate the learning and understanding of material by students is observable by others.” James H. Stronge

 

It might be said that Stronge’s was borrowing his thoughts on reflection from many years ago. Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau walked away from teaching to be a student. Only in being a student himself could he teach.

 

“I find that the rising generation in this town do not know what an Oak or a pine is, having seen only inferior specimens. Shall we hire a man to lecture on botany, on oaks for instance, our noblest plants-while we permit others to cut down the few best specimens of these trees that are lefty It is like teaching children Latin and Greek while we burn the books printed in those languages.” Henry David Thoreau

 

Much of Thoreau’s thought process and writing was as he walked through his own homeland of New England, learning about the world and people within. It is introspection and reflection that lead me to my early morning writing and reading. I started looking at a well-used journaling of sorts’ website, Myspace.com, where students, teachers, friends and family use the medium to reflect and post thoughts ideas often more trivial and whimsical than introspective yet within the milieu of ideas there is thinking and reflection. Over the years that evolved into blogging and Facebook journaling of sorts each day. For in writing about yourself and views on things you are offering a view to the world of yourself.

 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

 

I watch lately how we are putting so much emphasis on testing specifically standardized tests. How many facts can a specific individual hold within a given cranial space? Is there a limit based on some cognitive level indicator as to how much any given person can acquire and retain? IQ has long been used as a determining factor in cognitive ability often just a simple test and we have an IQ score, but of course the bell shaped curve applies and at either end are the exceptions. So when we look further and find not everyone with a high IQ succeeds, and not everyone with a low IQ fails. Testing perhaps is not an accurate science after all in many situations. We use norms and percentiles and cumulative averages to provide the data for our theorizing. We look for patterns, and we look for trends. Can we really find an indicator of learning or of knowledge?

 

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” The Foxfire Approach to teaching and learning

 

For several years on another archaic website I have watched and read many students and friends’ journals, Xanga has been a tool used by literally millions of people to vent daily, and or wonder daily. Many offer inner reflections of daily happenings in learning and in life. I use hand written journals myself in class to allow a freedom of speaking out of reviewing and pondering the day’s events more often hand written allow for those who have an aversion to computers. Some students chose to be very simple and direct, such as, “I went home ate dinner and fell asleep”. Often as I read each day others will offer inroads to their thinking and understanding.

Perhaps as I look back at Stronge’s ideas from his book. This line stood out, “Reflective teachers portray themselves as students”. It is a desire to learn that carries over to students. I have found over the years that simply telling someone to do something often is met with disaster, as in teaching, it is in interacting and in doing that learning occurs. Reflection offers a doing, a chance to look at what we do know and how we believe we can apply it. For several weeks I have been reading graduate student’s reflections, for some it is simply the professor wants this and this and here it is. However others open up and truly reflect on the topic, going into their inner most understanding, rather than simply regurgitating content and information.

One paper I read recently was a reflection on the entire ten core practices involved in the Foxfire Approach and how then how you as a teacher utilized or considered these in your teaching. As I read several teachers numbered one to ten and listed responses, some reflected on the overall impact of just now revealing and how crucial and important some of this information was, not even touching on one practice. Yet as I read what is a reflection continually popped in my mind as a question. My eldest son is working on his Master’s degree at Piedmont College and had been through the Foxfire teacher’s course two summers back and his reflections for his course work are different than many others in his classes his professors have commented.

When I look in the mirror I see a close but not exact view. It is depending on the angle and set of the mirror and in that much can be different. However it is still a view.  The question was about your involvement now and this person admittedly was not involved but saw the potential in it. So while not addressing one, addressed all indirectly. Reflecting, pondering, and offering a view and views that are open for perspective as well can lead to further discussion and reflection. I am wandering as I write today. A long week of co=teaching Biology and ninth grade literature and looking forward to being lazy then on Saturday and Sunday although my calendar is filling quickly for my honey dew list. But one key thought for the day; please as always keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird

Walking and listening among the cotton woods

Bird Droppings January 15, 2013

Walking and listening among the Cotton Woods

 

I walked outside earlier as I do many mornings listening observing trying to understand this reality I am walking about in. The sky was bright this morning with a very faint moon still hanging around and a few wisps of clouds were visible.  Over the years I have spent many days in the mornings alone sitting observing in the wee hours sometimes even wrapped in a blanket for the cold. I would spend my time listening and watching as time went by. There were mornings when falling stars by the hundreds would pass by and I would feel as if I was the focus of their attention watching all in space aim towards me. I would sit and hours later write poetry and verses logging down emotions events and moments in my journal of sorts.

 

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

 

One day recently I was told I had a great vocabulary. I came home and asked my wife; “Do I have a great vocabulary?” I was really hoping for an answer to boost my ego and she said “it really depends on who you are talking too.” You know at first I was hurt but then she said not that many people have seen or heard what you have in your life and sharing that expands their vocabulary as well. I instantly felt better. Perhaps a reason why I enjoy teaching sharing experiences I have had over my sixty plus years.

 

“Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass, the mere materials with which wisdom builds, till smoothed and squared and fitted to its place, does but encumber whom it seems to enrich. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” William Cowper 

 

In days gone by and even today I will pick up an encyclopedia and read the volume much like a book, ok tonight’s light reading is H. In our Google it world of today few children ever even see an encyclopedia let alone open one. Yesterday in class I was using my ancient Britannica’s to help a student with a Venn diagram on Achilles and Odysseus. Once he started with the book versus Wikipedia he was caught up and started looking through the pages. Even started taking the volume home saying Mr. Bird this is pretty cool.

 

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.”  Sadie Black

 

We have all grown up with the statement about how curiosity killed the cat but a lack thereof will also keep the world at a standstill and nothing will happen as well.

 

“Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Peter F. Drucker

 

A great guru of business Peter Drucker has written many books helping people manage their businesses. If you look at our society and the pace of new information and technology we are living in a world where while you sleep things change. This statement is even truer today than when Drucker wrote it in the sixties.

 

“I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I have come to enjoy Emerson and I use his sayings often. He was a rather grizzly looking old goat of a man. When I read this I realized several times recently this is how I described what a school should be like. It should be literally a teacher, as a door. With the teacher or door person simply opening the door at appropriate times allowing information to go in. As the student becomes more and more adept the doorman is needed less and less till soon only a receptionist is needed to assist in organizing thoughts.

 

“Knowledge, without common sense, says Lee, is folly; without method, it is waste; without kindness, it is fanaticism; without religion, it is death. But with common sense, it is wisdom with method, it is power; with clarity, it is beneficence; with religion, it is virtue, and life, and peace.” Austin Farrar

 

I sat and spoke at length over lunch a few days ago and walking back to class with a good friend who had served a year or more in Afghanistan, we were talking of cultural differences, to us sometimes these differences are ridiculous and yet to the people within that culture they are a part of life. I have been fascinated with a tiny group of people and have been reading several books lately dealing with the Sans or “Bushman” of the Kalahari in South Africa as well as several other indigenous peoples who have been stripped of their homes and culture for the sake of mankind at least that is what we are told.

It seems diamonds have been found in the Kalahari and the Sans who have lived there for tens of thousands of years, hunting and gathering now must leave and go learn to farm to be civilized. Perception was left out of many of the verses today for a hunter in the Kalahari may not know of Quantum physics but he or she does know where to find and how to find water and juicy grubs for dinner. What if the antelope has escaped during the hunt as a Bushmen you know the signs to track and finish the job. Knowledge is of when and where you are now is crucial to existence, going back to my wife’s comment to me this morning and my own vocabulary learned through so many experiences and books read.

 

“Gugama, the creator, made us. That was a long time ago – so long ago that I can’t know when it happened. That is the past, but our future comes from the lives of our children, our future is rooted in the hunt, and in the fruits which grow in this place. When we hunt, we are dancing. And when the rain comes it fills us with joy. This is our place, and here everything gives us life. “Mogetse Kaboikanyo

 

Mogetse Kabokikanyo was a Kgalagadi man who lived alongside the Gana and Gwi Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In February 2002, he was forcibly relocated to a camp outside the reserve. He died just four months later. He was probably in his fifties; his friends said his heart stopped beating. After years of struggling to remain on his land, Mogetse was buried in the desolate relocation camp, far from his ancestors’ graves. We citizens of the United States talk of human rights and dignity but in a case closer to home, it is very similar.

In about 1909 or so Geronimo of the Apaches was told finally he would not be allowed to return to the mountains of New Mexico to die. He must remain at Fort   SillOklahoma on the Apache reservation literally a prisoner of war where he died shortly thereafter. I have been to the grave site of Geronimo many times in my travels to LawtonOklahoma. Driving out past military vehicles and such to a quiet spot along the river where no visible modern sights can be heard or seen. Immediately around you are only the rustling cottonwood trees, and the flow of water over the stones in the river alongside the grave yard provides a backdrop of peaceful sounds. A rolling landscape and meadow of grass go up from a small parking area into the plains of Oklahoma. Not many people come to this corner of FortSill.

Many times as  I sat alone staring across the meadow listening to the stream and feeling a breeze brush lightly it seems as if time rearranged and it was so easy to slip back to days when people buried here had names and were not simply numbered markers. Knowledge is an elusive, ethereal, entity flitting about as a monarch butterfly travels many thousands of miles between hills in Mexico and Georgia. Knowledge is elusive in how it conveys power to some and solace to others. Knowledge is walking along the stream by a grave from a time long gone and knowing we can change mankind we can make a difference. It is the Geronimo’s and Mogetse Kaboikanyo’s who are the real teachers of this world.

It may be one step one small tiny speck at a time but one day others will be able to stand among the cotton woods in Oklahoma or beneath a bush in the Kalahari and know tomorrow is a far better day. Hopefully mankind has learned more as we increase our abilities to convey understanding. One day, maybe not today, knowledge will truly be instilled in everyone. But till then please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and try to offer a hand to any slipping as they cross the stream on their own journey and to always give thanks namaste.

 

Wa de (Skee)

bird