How difficult is it finding ourselves within the fog of education?

Bird Droppings June 4, 2013
How difficult is it finding ourselves within the fog of education?

“The more sand that has escaped the hourglass of life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean Paul Sartre

As I was looking for thoughts and ideas to start, I actually was going a different direction when by accident or should I say coincidence found this quote. As we get older we have experienced more and if we have learned from our experience the hour glass does clear however if those grains have been abrasive and scoured the glass as they went through the glass will be scratched and foggy. It is life’s lessons that determine this process and how we have responded that provide the fodder for our endeavor. I am sitting here in the wee hours after responding for nearly an hour to various posts on blogs and a copy of John Dewey’s Experience and Education to my left. On Sunday I will be heading to North Georgia a few miles from North Carolina line to sit in a class on Foxfire Teaching, a method based on experience and John Dewey.

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” W. Blake

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” Albert Einstein

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

It is often about choosing to look, to see, to listen, and to hear those are all choices we make as we go through life. It is far easier to take ideas and thoughts from others to be subjugated by others to be what another wants us to be but only in hearing and seeing for ourselves can we as Thoreau says wake up to the dawn and we must be awake especially in today’s politically biased and charged atmosphere. As I was reading last night this thought came up and it intrigued me since I started in about using your own eyes and ears.

“An anthropologist asked a Hopi Indian why so many of his native songs seemed to be about the subject of rain… he replied: ‘because rain is scarce in our land… is that the reason so many of your songs are about love?’” Kent Nerburn

As I thought is that the problem in our society to be so easily recognized by a Hopi Indian in New Mexico who had never really been to a big city or “civilized” area of The United States, could it be a lack of love that is why our society stumbles. I was involved in a discussion of sorts on another’s Facebook page over holistic healing and herbals cures. This discussion was modern versus ancient methodology and granted many new age supposed “cures” are a bit of a stretch there is wisdom in the elders.

“Mankind often stumbles upon the truth….but usually picks itself up & goes along.” Winston Churchill

We so often know the answer and choose not to listen or simply disregard due to the current politics, popular opinion or majority rules sort of thing that media and mentality of the masses seem to operate on.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

The more I read of Albert’s ideas and philosophy the more I like his thoughts. It is funny how what we remember him for his more science oriented views than his philosophy and that he loathed the fact that he was instrumental in developing weapons of mass destruction. At one point said he would give up all if he could take that back. So where am I going today perhaps the following thought will offer some aid.

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position… It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education… The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our affords are to create.” Bertrand Russell

The sad thing is so often we fall victim to this 19th century thinking and all of this while applying to education is very much prevalent through all ideas among the “normal” folks in our world today borrowing loosely a term applied to current folks wanting to change education “reformers”. It seems these reformers are more bent on profit than working with the students.

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.” William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

It is so sad to think that we actually allowed this type of mentality to lead our nation and continue to use this approach while in a more appealing packaging NCLB legislation and many of the packages offered by publishers and reformers. Many times I wonder if anything has changed as you read headlines and newspaper clippings. We do not want to over educate children they might think for themselves then what do we do and who would they elect? The paradox is that in schools the kids who are allowed to think for themselves excel and often are the pride of the schools yet all through their education an effort has been made to suppress that thinking. One of my sons in eighth grade was told his methodology in a math problem was wrong and he had to do it “right”, the teachers way. Yet in his second semester of calculus his methodology he found was absolutely right and more so interesting what was wrong in eighth grade is so correct in twelfth grade and in college calculus at Georgia Tech and now as an environmental engineer. Sadly that same teacher demanding him to do it right and gave him his only B in school is on our Board of Education. Sometimes we force children to our terms and we are the ones who are wrong. We need to listen to the children, we need to be learners as well as teachers, learn from the children and before I go too far a last quote to end this morning meanderings from ancient Israel.

“A child’s wisdom is also wisdom” Jewish Proverb

Well I got a bit carried away but several good ideas to mold over ponder on and reflect about as I get ready to recharge over the next couple of weeks in North Georgia. So for today be safe for the remainder if this glorious week ahead and keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Driving up a mountain takes effort

Bird Droppings June 3, 2013
Driving up a mountain takes effort

I am looking forward to the trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia, the site of the Foxfire property and Piedmont College’s teacher’s class in The Foxfire Approach to teaching in a few days or so. My oldest son took the course as a piece of his master’s degree program at Piedmont College. But interestingly enough several folks from Loganville Georgia were in attendance at his course. One of the teachers as we went around the room doing introductions made a comment about an interesting point for her was the first time she had ever held a snake was in my room at Loganville High School holding Stevie my ball python. Sadly Stevie has moved home with my room change last year and just laid eight eggs. Sitting here thinking actually there is a picture of her 2003 State Champion Softball team on the wall as well.
Sitting and listening to teachers and teachers to be in the discussions that go around the room with lead facilitators providing a frame work within which to expound or expand the conversation is a starting point of a weeklong session. Just prior to leaving our house to drive up last year I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic which has been eluding me for some time. I had been sitting in a discussion with a former student and he offered the idea of that I had shown him or helped him find, the Art of Learning. As I pondered deeper into that morning this idea stuck with me and from it a topic. The Art of Learning using the Foxfire Core Practices as a palette and it was only a few days ago my idea evolved again and now is Crossing the stream of education: Using the Foxfire Core Practices as stepping stones.
When I left Mountain City last year and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County I felt excited about the course going on and my own epiphany that morning with the idea of learning is an art form. John Dewey’s book, Experience and Education sits to my left as I write and the past few days I have borrowed from it several times as I jotted ideas down. But it is within the community of fellow learners and teachers we find answers and again more questions to ask. I thrive on the idea of learning even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. When students want to learn and desire to learn amazing things can be accomplished.

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

John Dewey and his thoughts run through the Foxfire Approach to Teaching with an emphasis on a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning and student input into the process of learning. I find that this is a rather simple statement this initial core practice which along with the other nine have evolved over the past nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions from literally around the world. But so often a key attribute is missed and that is that students and teachers do this undertaking together. Last summer listening to sixteen nearly teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class provided me with a sense of maybe there are a few who get it in the world.
In education we talk about test scores which are also what is used to measure in most schools to federal and state guidelines. Standardized tests given to all students at the end or near end of a school term on specific subjects that are to measure what students have learned. Sadly many students could take the same test at the beginning of the term and score the same so is that really a valid measure of what is learned probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in standards, curriculum, forms and teacher manuals on the subject. So I sit here offering learning is a stream to cross and or an art form. Both of these ideas are fluid, moving and ever changing.

“Measuring tools lead to quantification; the tools in the arts lead to qualification.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

Do we ever truly measure learning? I have been wondering this since I started back into teaching although in various different words and meanings. A simple measure would be giving a pre-test and post-test which would show where a student started and where they ended. On a far more involved scenario would be that of using portfolios gathering the evidence as the student progresses through material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and students growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, any piece of material that is involved in the student’s educational life could be considered an artifact.

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

So I am wandering as I sit here this summer morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy after a weekend trip to see one granddaughter and a day of playing with my other granddaughter. I sat down yesterday after Charlie left trying to write but my energy level has deteriorated even after two five hour energy shots and I did little more than ponder a moment. I am excited thinking about the group next week future teachers who will be experiencing some interesting and enlightening ideas and concepts across their course. 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

Am I home?

Bird Droppings June 3, 2013
Am I home?

It is a new morning; a cool morning for June yet the warmth of summer will soon overcome the welcome of the morning according to the weather. I walked out on a back porch with silence in the darkness save for the friendly chirp of crickets and peep of tree frogs echoing through the morning stillness. Off in the woods to the side of the house a few barks from coyotes and a howl perking our westie’s ears up. Overhead through the clouds and humidity a few stars crept through the leaves and pine needles, and few blips of fireflies produced an eerie effect as I rub the sleep from my eyes. As I stood there listening and pondering, I wondered if I am home.

“As I look over rugged mountain ranges I don’t wonder what inspired our ancestors to brave unfamiliar territory and many dangers to get here. They sought a place to live where they could do as they darn well pleased. Solitude is a small price to pay for independence and freedom.” Barbara Woodall, It’s not my Mountain Anymore

Last summer while attending a course in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire property on the side of Black Rock Mountain I had an idea of why not get teachers to be of Foxfire and former students together for dinner. I contacted through Facebook several folks I had been in communication with who lived near the area and we gathered for dinner. Laurie asked if she could bring a friend another Foxfire graduate. We got together eight teachers to be myself and a professor from Piedmont College and talked about the impact of this type of teaching. By chance Laurie’s friend Barbara Woodall was in the process of publishing her first book, it’s not my mountain anymore. Barbara is quite a character and her stories of trips to New York as a Foxfire student and California amazed everyone. Dr. Hilton Smith who had been with the high school program early on had not even heard before some of these stories.
As the evening developed and discussion wound down I found Barbara inviting me to a book signing up in a gap in the mountains in an old grist mill now restored as a home. I was able to go and listened as she explained at her book signing why she wrote the book. Her writing was of a place that was home for so many generations that was being changed ever so rapidly. I left that day intent on reading my new book which I did in one sitting. It is a book about what is home and how we see that entity. I do recommend if you get a chance well worth the read.
It has been a quite a few years since I felt that way having lived in a house I built, raised my children and numerous pets in for over twenty years. A place where my favorite dog passed away and I could sit with no one near if I chose to play my southern rock music loud. But I pondered deeper as I thought am I home now? Occasionally a car at 4:00 AM can still be heard out on the highway a mile or so from the house, perhaps someone going to work or coming from play. But the stillness of the back yard and silence of the trees makes me think perhaps I am home.
My children are all grown up and two sons, a daughter in law and a granddaughter live with us now and all are asleep inside and my dog is resting growing bored with me staring into the night and listening to sounds that irritate his ears especially the yips and barks of the coyotes, although a low flying firefly catches her eye. I sit down to read and write and see a small book, How can one sell the air? It is a translation of a speech given by Chief Seattle many years ago and sits by my computer.

“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

Where is home I wonder as I go deeper into my questioning? For many it is only a place where we rest eat our meals and tend to the chores of daily life. As I look thorough this simple book it is where our ancestors have been buried and where the pathways are worn by our feet and air been breathed and re-breathed by our children’s children that is where home is according to Chief Seattle. I wonder am I home? 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

PS. While writing and thinking an old favorite came to mind as I was helping my son write his pedagogical paper. Robert Fried wrote a book many years back about the secret to teaching, passion. There is no secret panacea no cure all for what problems come up in teaching it is about the passion the teacher brings to the class room.

“I want students to engage the way a clutch on a car gets engaged: an engine can be running, making appropriate noises, burning fuel and creating exhaust fumes, but unless the clutch is engaged, nothing moves. It’s all sound and smoke, and nobody gets anywhere.” Robert L. Fried, The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide