Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

Bird Droppings June 16, 2013
Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

The current educational trends are analogous to trying to pour five gallons of material into a liter bottle using a funnel. As you try obliviously a large portion of material spills out and is discarded or lost. I use a liter bottle as my analogy’s container, as a liter is recognized as the standard international metric unit of volume, a universal standard. This symbolism appears to be what is happening in education, an attempt to find that liter bottle in terms of a student’s capabilities, a universal student standard.
In our many of our current public school settings, teachers have been stripped of their individuality and creativity, forced often through coercion to teach specifically to the standardized test and to be sure their students pass the test or face consequences. In an effort to meet federal No Child Left Behind, (NCLB) mandates, curriculum and lesson guidelines are in place in many school settings that are creating a more uniform and categorized package of material that students learn and retain and through this we are losing aspects of children’s identities and individuality as well as the teacher’s creativity, imagination and individuality. Much of this is market driven through publishing companies assisting in developing tests and materials to teach to tests along with texts books aligned with tests. My concern is what is it that we are leaving behind in this rush and push for test results and standardization as we fill that student, that liter bottle. Usually the first thing to go is art and music.
As I began writing the idea of soul which is for me is a crucial aspect of our individuality is being stripped away from children literally through more and more organized and orchestrated emphasis on the test. Most people at first will attribute a religious connotation in when mentioning the idea of soul. I began to review ideas and research from various authors using the concept of soul as the heart of our individuality which provided a point of reference that felt good. I went looking back historically trying to find where the emphasis directed toward improving our scores in standardized tests began and it was during the period of the Cold War, when our attention was turned to beating the Russians that the federal government officially started taking a hand in legislating and pushing for standardized test scores.
The Vietnam War and the social awareness of the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies created a bump in the road for standardized testing and the legislated learning processes however briefly. For a short period of time individuality was the norm again. Unfortunately this backlash only lasted briefly, due in part to the shift in scientific technology’s promoting and pushing of standardized testing, the days of independence were short lived. Today’s students and parents are today taking up the gauntlet again. The activism of the late sixties and early seventies was short lived as pressure for standardization ensued and the effort to teach innovatively became obsolete in many schools. The takeover of education by government state and federal was fully under way and innovation, individuality and the progressivism of John Dewey, a major proponent of individuality in education was being pushed aside.
The individual’s experience and involvement within society was the key to Dewey’s thought and to the educational premises of progressivism. It was tying these experiences to education giving context to the content that Dewey promoted. Dewey was adamant about society and democratic interaction in his pursuits of education. Dewey foresaw the direction our industrial society was headed as legislated and packaged learning began stripping away individuality for the corporate good and currently rather large profits. The goal of society to prepare needed workers and consumers was at a cost and that was losing a part of them as they fall prey to the standardized demands.
Sadly there are alternatives; in a community strength is in the interactions, relationships and implications. Within a school this can be powerful tool. This could be applied in a learning setting borrowing from Foxfire Core Practice three.

“The work teachers and students do together enable learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practices, 2009

Real education is about learning through and of experience. It is learning by doing. It is an environment where each person has input and interaction. This is a democratic classroom and this was developed in the early 1900’s by Dewey and this philosophy is still considered progressive as legislation is pushed for standardization and simplicity in measuring using tests. There is a paradox in this type of education versus the standardized regime that is being imposed through NCLB and other legislated efforts.

“As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself. He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself.“ William Pinar

We as individuals require others in our existence for triangulation as bearings or focal points of who we are. It takes the input of other people for community and democracy to truly work and to develop. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor of sociology, who has made more of an impact on me in the years since as I read his books and contemplated his thoughts. Dr. Campolo points to a growing issue in our culture.

“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our “advanced” capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the gist of who we are, that inner aspect I will later refer to as soul, getting to know where we are in the world and why. The development and implementation of standardize testing has driven society to using such words as human capital in our viewing of students. Human capital verses human needs I can see why a mother would pull a second grader out of school because of testing.
Education should be an interdisciplinary event. It should be all encompassing, a lived in, a total undertaking. It is not the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ that many traditional teachers and administrators adhere too and legislators want. It is in dealing with more than just us but involving the world and community.

“It is through a concern with problems as they relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom, those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliott Eisner

Looking at our world view and how we communicate that to others and even to ourselves is important. How we go about educating and teaching our children should be a major concern. What they take from a lesson and how they use it in their own lives can be significant if we will provide the capabilities and allow this to happen. Sadly through a concerted effort schools have been stripping away the children’s individuality for the sake of standardization.
For many years now I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal and human being. The idea of spiritual can be simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within. I see education and curriculum in a similar manner, one of sacredness of spiritual fulfillment, more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day, for those in learning focused schools. It is not a static fixed commodity some legislators want for ease of operation and it can change with the group and community that it is operating within.
As I researched and read curriculum theorists, many are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the ‘secret’ that ‘sits in the middle and knows’ – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, 1998

Perhaps it is in our end of course test and graduation test mentality we are setting limits and parameters on our educative process. We have become so normalized through standardization and traditional molds we have become limited in perceiving anything different. Throughout history it has taken holy men and women, sages, and esoteric’s to bring back pieces of what is truly there. It may be that curriculum theory is doing this with education. Bringing back what could be. Trying to keep from children their inner self their individuality is hindering learning and development as a human.
Education and curriculum are alive ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers and school systems presume. Can we look at curriculum and education in such a broad manner encompassing everything about us, our lived experiences, and our curricula vita? It becomes so difficult to be outside the box when everyone else is inside. But for learning to be real and to progress, we as educators have to ruminate and see the more ultimate issues in life. We need to go beyond the content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and put back that idea of democracy and experience that living and life provides, suggested so long ago by Dewey. There is so much more to education and curriculum for teachers to consider than what is written down on paper.

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books. My first principal back in 2001 who by chance was a recent principal of the year in Georgia had a book club for teachers.

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on to the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”. There should not be a limiting to curriculum or to education as so often currently imposed. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching, he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one, 2009

The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces of the individual human being left behind. I would like to be optimistic and say borrowing from the great civil rights leader that as teachers, real teachers, “we shall overcome” and we shall put soul back into the bottle of our children. I got a bit carried away today but continue to keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Is not every day a new journey begun?

Bird Droppings June 14, 2013
Is not every day a new journey begun?

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

I started my wanderings this morning with this statement from Ivan Illich who was an Austrian philosopher, former Roman Catholic priest, and “maverick social critic” of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development. From my own stand point it was his short book or essay, Deschooling Society, 1971 that caught my attention in an education philosophy class in graduate school almost forty years after he wrote the book.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.” Ivan Illich, 1971

This short book brought Illich to the attention of the general public. I want to emphasize one sentence. “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring” After a couple of weeks of John Dewey and Foxfire I find this very significant. I really like the concept of educational webs. We emphasize in Foxfire teaching the connections made in life and in education. Chief Seattle addresses the web of life and I have used his words often in my writing.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle

I find as I ponder teaching, education and learning I continually come back to my father and his impact on my own concept of teaching. I remember all of the acronyms and quick one-liners he would use to emphasize points. As I was thinking it hit me that it is the nearing the sixth anniversary of the last time I spoke with my father. It was June 27, 2007 and I had dropped off some medicine at my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey I needed to make.
I drove down to Oxford Georgia after leaving to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife stayed home as she was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several follow up calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drank Evian back then more recently switching to Smart water liters as they fit in car drink holders. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy. As I headed from my parent’s home just before dusk almost on the county line a dead tree trunk stark white against the darkening surroundings was to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark it was white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and by that time I had reached my destination. In Native American thought often animals are linked to us in a special way and provide us with bits and pieces of what we need as we travel in life. Sometimes a boost seeing a hawk fly by just as you are driving or walking outside. It could be a deer standing watching as you drive away almost seeing through you.
I arrived just before the program started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University I walked around a bit. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his now world famous rendition of Axel Rose and Bob Dylan singing a duet on that famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

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

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

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me on almost every night. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey into night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because she was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.
I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son had work this morning so I thought I would wake him up and he walked by. I had several vivid dreams over the last two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my son and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.
I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock in the morning June 28th. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought, listened and pondered for a few minutes. I enjoyed the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rose in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some river stones I had gathered from a special stream for me in North Georgia that I had previously placed on the ground in a circle medicine wheel some might say when we first moved to this spot.
I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and she was fine. It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnecting and meeting people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather as well as teacher, author, thinker and innovator in Industrial Loss Control management. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and all were his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.
“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps resounding as I recall my sons singing that night six years ago and it was so many years ago another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I thought back again to May of 2007 with my father in law passed away and a student who I considered a dear friend as well and then my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish all well on their journeys and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Peace to my father and all of my friends and please always give thanks namaste.

For all of my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering and reflecting all in a few minutes?

Bird Droppings June 13, 2013
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
and reflecting all in a few minutes?

I drove to south east Georgia for a trip over four years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was basically a follow-up face to face with my committee of professors and in turn responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen page papers my total was closer to eighty or so. I always enjoyed the drive down generally always going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make one is a Georgia native plant nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none.
I got to Statesboro Georgia about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday so several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town. I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept little anticipating my oral exam the next morning. Much of my discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference and we discussed the right and left wings of education which has been heavy on my mind in recent days.
I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses up in Mountain City on the Foxfire property I often find myself on the outside of discussions as so many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days I found my success and lack of success was being equated on whether I am following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, for ten years in a resource room all day and now only in co-teaching. I had never more than seven students in resource and often that seven were all emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required more attention. In shifting to co-teaching now the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.
I have been evaluated all year by an administrator who sees education for the first time in many years very similar to how see education. Special education is anything but black and white and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations this past year have been excellent and after an initial shock of changing rooms after ten years I feel good about the year. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes this past year especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the training program up in the mountains I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it one teacher without just teaching to test does well? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?
Over the past year in Atlanta’s main paper numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators and teachers were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.
In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration the particular math test had literally no one passing. How can a specific grade test over a given grade subject curriculum be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session be a measure of what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing about.
As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire and now new teachers learning about this idea for my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in the program nearly forty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talk about lifelong learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this.
It was refreshing in my exam now four years ago to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam and now in my procrastination move to another stage in my doctorate. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. Could be the mountain air I am looking forward too is getting to me and or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

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

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves clearly honestly and learning to like, to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people. In many situations many wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth. Others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.
Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key. This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it is about your impact and difference you make but I cannot help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in his or her life or even better for me that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by guru of quality Phillip J. Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding what someone else expects from you. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should not a teacher be allowed a recharge? Keeping the energy flowing is crucial

Bird Droppings June 12, 2013
Should not a teacher be allowed a recharge?
Keeping the energy flowing is crucial

I attend and offer my two cents at two and sometimes three Foxfire Approach to Teaching Courses a year put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia. This course is an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. Monday afternoon as I made my way home in the pouring rain I was as always invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. The experience with Foxfire for me is almost addicting. Within the course we talk about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I come away excited about teaching and education as well and couple that with the many new friends made during the couple of days I am involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off it is a great experience. Two years ago as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto,
The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts one’s self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leaving its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the years I have done this type of exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses we develop a good teacher/bad teacher listing which often would be very similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I actually sat here this morning developing a rubric based on Lisa Delpit’s introduction. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.
I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who will see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which and that due to being a resource teacher in special education addressing differing earning styles and needs. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.

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

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned. That is leaving out a crucial piece, for example with students that have a State End of Course Test in their class that test counts twenty percent of their final grade and we say try and not teach to the test.
Perhaps in my zeal from having been to and going back to Foxfire classes I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
Bird

Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings June 11, 2013
Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

In the midst of my daily journals entries lately it gets hectic I am trying to get readmitted to the doctorate program, running back and forth to North Georgia to sit in on Foxfire Teacher Classes, reading and discussing John Dewey, maintain some semblance of order in my herb gardens and my work on own writing of course. So here early in the morning today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and some will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off real learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and massive standardized testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I have over the past few days used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that which stays with us. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.
I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the result, when only profit is a goal and success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but make adjustments in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.
Money obviously is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our “Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day blueprint within education to make good consumers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has been nearly eleven years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.
We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.
So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and in her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county comparing our local system which generally does well.
We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. As I head into more Foxfire my idea I have been pondering of Education as a stream and the Foxfire Core practices as stepping stones gains momentum. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and hopefully after three weeks of being embedded in the Foxfire Approach to teaching I will be ready for another school year. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

Bird Droppings June 10, 2013
Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

I have been reflecting over the concept of critical pedagogy and in that reflection I recall an incident nearly forty years ago that calls to mind my own interpretation and understanding of what we as teachers are all about. I purchased a book in 1972 or so that was about a method of teaching that for me was what teaching was all about. The book was the Foxfire two, a collection of mountain lore and life. The editor was a man who went into North Georgia to teach English and ended up creating a teaching method or I should say edited a teaching concept in that much of what he developed was previously suggested and implemented with John Dewey. Elliott Wigginton started in 1966 a way of teaching that incorporated the students in the learning process. I am sitting in my room at the high school writing and shortly will be headed back up to North Georgia only miles from where this idea for teaching started. The next three weeks I will be as much as possible be participating in a learning program based around this concept of teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myself being sort of a renegade in the high school and not willing to accept four other good teachers’ viewpoints without investigating I dug deeper into the issues of the student’s behavior. Upon referring to a handy Physician’s Desk Reference, PDR, eight of the behavior issues were side effects of his particular medications and all of the medications were recommended for adults. Indicated in bold lettering there are warnings this medication may cause drowsiness and to not operate equipment while taking this medication. The problem this student was being referred for every day was sleeping in class. We gave this student ISS for sleeping and for making comments about how he can’t think straight. All day long we hack at leaves, I tell friends in the north about kudzu. It is so hard to describe a plant that hacking at the leaves only infuriates it, it seems to grow faster. Add to it a couple of tropical storms and hurricanes worth of water dumped on it helps as well. But whether it is in education or family we need to look beyond traditional means. It is about context versus content borrowing from D’Angelo and of course John Dewey.
I was speaking with my son many years ago about teenager issues as we rode home from a band practice. It is so easy to say one thing, hack off leaves and never really get to the roots. He asked me why our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. I offered often lack of education, or simply indifference to the responsibility and focus on the moment we have so engrained in our kids and lifestyles. A year or two later I am dealing with the issue personally with my son. Maybe I should have offered context and less content discussing pregnancy. So I walk out today looking for how come it is so bright outside even in the rain we also need to look at context. We also need to review why we keep sharpening the machete and not look for a shovel and as I finish today harm is an elusive word. A child raised in an environment where tomorrow is questionable is that harm? Students who say whatever and quit school is that harm? Young men and women fighting in various wars around the world is that harm to themselves as well as those around them? Refugees in Sudan tying shelter together with sticks, thread and leaves is that harm? I wonder if we even care at times more worried about the trivial pieces of life what shirt or shoes to wear? So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

An evolving pedagogy as I learn, see and listen more

Bird Droppings June 9, 2013
An evolving pedagogy as I learn, see and listen more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth and is continuing shaping the individuals powers saturating his consciousness forming his habits training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” John Dewey Pedagogic Creed

In my classroom I try and tie to contextual aspects of where we are in the content oriented material that students are being taught. An example would be the word taxonomy that came up a last semester in our biology class. Most students had no clue what this word meant and by some prompting we made a comparison of sheep and goats, one of the student’s families raises goats and we learned about taxonomy. We could show differences and similarities which is how we classify living organisms, or do taxonomy in terms of biology. One of my favorite examples of context and content is going back many years to listening to my father explain tying a square knot you learn best when you actually do it rather than simply hear it explained.
As I explore my own pedagogy I am drawn back to my earliest college and work in psychology. Dr. Abram Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs that I have used over the years many times showing an idea of how people relate and understand in this world of ours. Maslow started with five needs and over the years added some additional clarification.

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

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

Wa de (Skee)
bird

Sitting at my kitchen table pondering

Bird Droppings June 17, 2013
Sitting at my kitchen table pondering

I am up a bit earlier than normal on a wet and soggy Georgia morning but a trip ahead of me one of which for nearly eight years now I try and make about this time each year this coming weekend. Very few times when teachers get together is there time for energizing and rekindling the passion that provides solace for what we do. It has been nearly forty years since I first heard the name Foxfire and now nine or so since I have been actively involved. During the summer Piedmont College offers a teacher’s course in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching as a graduate course of study. I sneak in as much as I can to watch new and old teachers get that light burning if only for a moment or two. I am so pleased I am able to sit in on class on Black Rock Mountain listening to ideas and thinking that may make a difference and that is always fascinating. So while I will be driving north to the mountains on Sunday it is always well worth the trip.
I am very much a creature of habit. I like my routines and seem to follow very similar pathways daily. I can understand when walking through the woods and seeing a rabbit run or deer trail I would be doing the same thing more than likely if I was running wild. For most of my adult life others have sought out my guidance on life issues. I was trained so to say between seminary and psychology and more recently education courses to be able to offer advice. All through my life I have always felt I had an intuitive side, an empathetic side that allowed me access too many other peoples inner feelings and thoughts. In thirteen tears working with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students, this has a been good thing, although many times it can leave you drained. But I have always felt I have been successful reaching students in all of my classes across nearly forty five years of teaching and training. When in management I felt I was able to address issues with customers and staff in a more understanding way than simply one of profitability. This could have been my downfall back in my business days. I was more concerned about doing the job right for people than dollars. I might borrow a few words from John Dewey and his book School and Society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to be working together moving forward, backwards, sideways and as humans do so often, much time is wasted fighting and arguing among ourselves and that motion or growth is limited one of the best examples is our congress and senate.

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

Many times in life I see the high school students forming social groups, clicks in some instances a semblance of a family unit and then adults forming clubs or social groups we tend to be a selfish animals. We look so much to ourselves and what benefits us as a first rule of thumb even unconsciously. It can be by limiting friends and such to a degree we box ourselves into a tiny space, even by sharing a simple task which so often becomes a distant one. TV humor even plays on this subject several times in watching old reruns of Seinfeld and Will and Grace Sit coms, the concept of giving is a chore or a burden and the characters are literally parasitical instead of symbiotic. As I looked for quotes and thoughts, this one popped up earlier this morning just before I walked outside to watch the rain falling on my gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should we plant annuals or perennials?

Bird Droppings June 6, 2013
Should we plant annuals or perennials?

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” Peter Drucker

I have read so many times that education should be about teaching lifelong learners. Sadly as for so many as they walk to the front of the classroom as the teacher they are more concerned about the standardized test coming up and cramming all the material into that student’s head conceivably possible in allotted time. We as teachers perhaps forget the lifelong part in favor of teaching to the specific test we have that moment, day, week, or month. As I am researching on the Foxfire Approach to teaching I came upon a school where the entire public school in North Carolina kindergarten through fifth grade is taught in a Foxfire manner. Interestingly enough they exceed the state of North Carolina’s state average scores in every test category and are first or second in every category in their district. Why this is so interesting because this school taught in a Foxfire manner uses the principle of a democratic classroom. Teachers and students learn together and work together to achieve learning and goals. Foxfire Core Practice one emphasizes this effort. From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.
Beyond that school district I have been in contact with many Foxfire students from the early 1970’s and all so far all have had fond memories of lessons they learned nearly forty years ago and are still applying. I can barely remember my teachers let alone lessons. As I thought about this I recalled another of the Foxfire core practices.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear.” Foxfire Core Practice Nine

Add to this a long day of hopefully rain allowing today planting new plants, pulling up invasive mint, and repotting many young plants I had sprigged or had taken cuttings from parent plants last year and several thoughts crossed my mind. Do we want students who are annuals or perennials?

“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” Abigail Adams 1744-1818

As I was working with my plants yesterday and some are annuals for example the various basils that I have in my herb garden at first frost are finished. I have quite a few plants that stay green all year and some that die back till spring is here and regrow from their roots. While I pondered yesterday gardening education seemed all explained within the various different plants I was working with in my garden. Some methods of education are like sweet basil an annual, only one season and it is gone, the teaching to a test that we hear about and is going on daily in schools across America is this type of learning. Some education is more like those plants that die back in the winter and come back from the roots often a better and stronger plant. But there are a few teachers who teach with such passion that learning becomes a constant for their students like evergreens and is ongoing.

“Good teaching is showing and that’s what lasts. That’s the big question: How do you teach in a way that lasts?” Dr. Donald Graves, Professor, University of New Hampshire

I have often wondered about how we teach in a way that inspires learning and inspires students to want to become lifelong learners. Going back to my foxfire research and Core Practice four “The work is characterized by active learning.” It is learning through experience that provides a focus for Foxfire teaching and in effect for good teachers. A good teacher provides relevance to the learning and teaching going on.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Alfie Kohn

“Howard Gardner has a nice line: he says if we ask our kids what they did in school today and they reply “Nothing,” they’re probably right. They didn’t do anything because traditional schooling is “done to students.” Alfie Kohn

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: ‘What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.’” Alfie Kohn

I go back to my plant comparison as I was thinking earlier and how it takes about the same effort to grow an annual as a perennial plant. In teaching it is about the same we can teach in a manner that is lasting or one that is only for the moment the test at hand.

“John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends.” Alfie Kohn

I repotted perhaps thirty plants yesterday all are perennials and I do have few seedling that are annuals I was working with as well. The potting soil all came from the same bag and was equal in measurement. The containers were all the same. My hands got just as dirty with one as the other. How do we get students beyond the moment in their learning?

“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

I have used this quote from Einstein many times over the years and have it hanging on my wall at school and yet every time I read it I am struck again how can I am that potent teacher. Listening to students remembering bits and pieces of classes of mine even from summer school where one summer we label and tagged all the trees on campus and learned scientific and common names sort of hit home. There was relevance to them as we walked around the campus identifying trees. It was not on the standardized test but every student who had failed Biology passed the final during that summer session and also knew nearly fifty different trees and shrubs.

“John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do ‘resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes.’” Alfie Kohn

It is about providing that connection and giving the student a reason for what it is that is being taught not simply because it is in the state standards and required to know for a test imposed by state and federal law.

“Many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students instantly responded with the phrase Lifelong learners.” Alfie Kohn

I would like to believe much like the Foxfire students that I have had communication with over the years that my students from over the years will remember bits and pieces I have shared and taught. One in particular comes to mind as I close out this morning writing. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Today should always be a first day

Bird Droppings June 5, 2013
Today should always be a first day

“I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.” Lone Man (Isna-la-wica)Teton Sioux

So often in life we think we are the one. We can do it all on our own with absolutely no help from others. A few years back I was working in my room when a former student came by to see me. What amuses me is this student could not wait to get out of school to go to work with his dad. I asked how things were going and he had quit already. He didn’t like it but he had enough gas for four hundred miles of driving a full tank and that was all that mattered. He came by with a fellow I had not seen before and he was a pretty rough scruffy looking fellow. Both guys were not all that clean sort of like they had slept in the car for several days. I was amused at how while in school he did everything he could to get out and here he was visiting. His last bit of our school was physically getting kicked out and finished in Alternative school.
I recall how he told me he did not need to know how to read and yet he was telling me how he failed the online exam at Wal-Mart while trying to get a job. He was joking about how he Christmas treed Wal-Mart test just like he would at school. I asked if he got hired yet and he said no but they were letting him take test again his mother works at Wal-Mart. I had this quote from many years back finding this website of Native American quotes and one I use frequently. We cannot be monastic in our lives we are in effect herding animals and need the support of a group. On a brighter note he did after several jobs find one he can be successful in. He is working for a paving company and has been for nearly two years now.

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “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.”

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need.” Margaret Mead

I was standing outside listening earlier to a world around me I was alone yet knew at any moment I could step back in doors. I searched the sky looking for familiar constellations and stars. The overcast of the sky hid most but the crescent moon sort of peeking through. The black edge of the tree tops surrounded my view. I enjoy this time of the day especially here in my back yard a world away from civilization yet only a foot or to step back into it as well. Encircling my dreams in black lace the tree tops form a circle around my view. Listening to my friends seemingly all in chorus, crickets, tree frogs chirping and barking and an occasional whippoorwill and the off in the distance a drone of the main highway waking up. But I know my family is there in the house if I need. I started thinking back to the young man who came to visit me a few weeks back. I wondered how he thought about his family and I know his comment of having enough gas was self-centered and strictly an extrinsic motivation of the moment.
I doubt he had supplies stashed about as the Bushmen tribes would in case of drought and need. We tend to be more self-serving thinking only of the moment and immediate. Perhaps our society has done this too us and in so limited us. As I look back primitive man was interdependent on each other for survival and success. In today’s world we stress independence and self-sufficiency.

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Jung

I find myself wandering, searching and pondering a bit today thinking of Bushmen, Foxfire and a former student. I wonder what if I had known this student say fifteen years ago and not just for the few years I was involved with him. I wonder what if I had read Von der Post years ago and had not just find this great author and human being more recently. I wonder often what if I had done something differently would a former student be in prison now serving three life sentences in the Jackson Georgia Psychiatric Prison Facility. I recall as the day gets near each tiny shred of influence we have is noticed and perceived and each idea carried away by those around us many times we do not even know. As a teacher often we never see how we influence a student and often as with my former student we cannot be there every moment and assist with every choice made. We can only provide pieces to the puzzle and offer directions and strategies for solving each puzzle as it is presented.
Recently when a friend began a new direction and her daily wandering and philosophizing was ceased on the internet and a piece of me was left wondering. Perhaps it is the teacher in me that finds changes while a necessity still difficult. I commented to my wife over the weekend while very independent I am still a creature of routine. I have a hard time with change. In less than two months new students will enter my room for the first time exposed to perhaps a different type of teacher and I wonder how it will be taken. It will be fun and hopefully enlightening so peace my friends for today and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird