Are we attempting to build a bridge or just cross a stream?

Bird Droppings May 31, 2013
Are we attempting to build a bridge or just cross a stream?

“You can never cross a stream the same way twice.” Zen saying

When I recall using this quote and thought for the first time it was looking at a picture of my middle son dripping wet trying to jump stone to stone across the Toccoa Creek. He had made up his mind he would cross on the stones and not just wade through even though he was sopping wet from falling in off the slippery rocks. Some people might offer that how can you make a statement, “you can never”. No matter how carefully I place my footsteps into the water it is always different the water is flowing changing and moving so each time it is different water and often different sand or mud on the bottom. As I thought deeper and further about this idea my own dilemma of deciding the direction and flow of my dissertation passed by in my mind’s eye about four thirty one morning a few days back. This epiphany was not just a flash but a culmination of twelve years of graduate school, volumes of reading, every day writing, and constant thinking and of most import reflecting on education and learning.
After several years of serious pondering my own direction from an educational standpoint and in my own learning, primarily focusing on my dissertation which has been in process now for five years, this idea kept coming back to me. I had taken a picture over ten years ago of my middle son crossing the Toccoa Creek. I have over the fifteen years of pondering and writing my Bird Droppings used the Zen thought as a quote in my writing. Reflecting early one morning this week on Foxfire Core Practices and applications within todays standardized thinking it hit me. I came to this thought in terms of education after my experiences at Georgia Southern with the influence at GSU of William Pinar who discusses curriculum almost as a river flowing, evolving, changing, and in defining being life itself. Previously my experiences at Piedmont College with John Dewey and the Foxfire Approach and the concept of a democratic classroom, my dissertation title become or I should say evolved. I jotted down a note somewhere in the darkness of the morning, Crossing the stream of education: Using Foxfire Core Practices as stepping stones. As I thought further if you honestly approach education and learning there is no one solid way or definitive method that always works with all students. I considered the Foxfire Core Practices more as stepping stones than building blocks r pondering a few more hours and even the originator of Foxfire Elliott Wiggington found Foxfire evolved as it came into being. His initial experience was more fire related but using the idea of a stream you do get wet when you slip but through climbing back up you can jump to another stone.
I was reading an education related blog yesterday that quoted John D. Rockefeller and pointed at him as the initiator of industrialized, standardized education.

“In our dreams, people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present education conventions of intellectual and character education fade from their minds, and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people, or any of their children, into philosophers, or men of science. We have not to raise up from them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply. The task is simple. We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.” John D. Rockefeller General Education Board, 1906

Rockefeller wanted employees who would do his bidding. He wanted to strip away individualism and in doing so created the basis for many politicians and our leader’s view of what education should be. This rigid construct is akin to building a dam on a stream or building a bridge over a once and done approach eliminating creativity and innovation. One of my favorite educational thinkers John Dewey saw education as a means to achieving democracy and individuality.

“Dewey thought that modern industrial society had submerged individuality and sociality. Because of the confusion of modern society, he argued, the school should be an institution where the individual and social capabilities of children can be nurtured. The way to achieve this is through democratic living.” H. A. Ozmon, and Samuel M. Craver, 2003 Philosophical Foundations of Education.

Mary Aswell Doll, a Literature professor at Savannah College of Art views the classroom differently. The science classroom “should have movement and is seeping, it is noisy and things are happening. Students are doing experiments bringing meaning to the facts they are learning,” I use the term giving context to the content. This is how Doll sees her own view of a classroom. Doll sees the classroom as a stage, a place where ideas can perform and give life to words on pages.

“The barriers between stage and audience, that is, teacher and student should disappear; some might call it anarchy.” Mary Aswell Doll

In her writings Mary Aswell Doll writes about fiction as food for the soul. She sees it as the medium to bring forth the imagination and creativity of the soul. Doll refers to authors James Hillman and Thomas Moore both best-selling authors and therapists who delve into the soul in their writings. Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul states a definition for soul which is very much in tune with Doll’s thinking.

“The soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; …..By soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” Thomas Moore, The Care of the Soul

This is what education in Mary Aswell Doll’s terms is about, it is about engaging the soul, which inspires learning and fuels the curriculum.
I was reading an article on Amazonian indigenous peoples when I found this quote. Payaguaje was the last of his kind, no one wanted to learn his secrets. When he was gone thousands of years of wisdom, from the jungle would be going away with him. Miguel Cabodevilla and Nathan Horawitz were attempting to glean at least pieces of his vast knowledge before he passed on. They recorded his visions of what was to be and of what had been. While able to speak in three languages Secoya, Quichua and Spanish, Payaguaje was also illiterate in all three refusing to learn gringo writing and reading preferring the wisdom of the jungle and the father to son passing of wisdom he had learned from his father and grandfather.

“I still can’t see any reason to count all the sand on the beach – why bother? Or minutes, either. Could I possible add one more minute to my life by counting them?” Fernando Payaguaje, Secoya healer and holy man, translated from Secoya by Nathan Horowitz

Payaguaje was once involved in a discussion of having someone tell him about time as if he needed to know about watches. He mentioned how his grandson had a fine watch and came to him telling him the time. The old man turned to his grandson and said I have no use, the jungle tells me when it is time. A bird called and he turned to his grandson and said one hour of your time and it will be dark that was the birds call before going to roost for the night. In exactly one hour all was quiet and darkness fell upon the camp. The grandson listened more intently from then on but still was engulfed by the modern world.
I mention this holy man for a reason Much as in my own studies of education I have found there is no solid structure to learning it is about the individual and about communities. Learning is an entity that is specific to that person and while we can mass educate the impact often has dire results. We lose pieces of who we are, much along the line of this indigenous tribe. This is not about primitive versus modern it is about wisdom. It is about what is truly best for children.
I have been involved with Foxfire teachings for nearly ten years and an avid fan since my first book in 1972. I have helped teach courses at Piedmont College in the Foxfire Approach to teaching, researched extensively the history and development of the Core Practices. How can we truly move on in life if we do not know where we came from and why? An aspect of Foxfire is going back in the community using pieces of and bits of whom and why we are. In eleven years now for me back in public education I have had not one student who can name a great grandfather. We seem to allow want the most efficient and quickest in today’s instantaneous world. I want learning now pulling out my Ipad. I see clearly the need for crossing the stream of education but it needs to be one stepping stone at a time not building a great magnificent bridge or dam. The Core practices provide pieces stepping stones to cross the stream and allow the students to have responsibility and advocacy within their learning.
My final thought before he passed on Parguaje would have to somehow record the 16 generations and he neither reads nor writes. This was crucial to him it is as crucial as eating or drinking and knowing who we are. Time was of less import he felt it was as if we want to count each second now and forget every second from the past. I was watching the TV show Psyche, a rerun of an old show with my wife and several times a Ford ad came on where the father was dropped off after a weekend with his kids and he thanks his ex-wife for letting him go and we wonder why our children cannot remember. Maybe they do not want too, it hurts to bad. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)

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