Trying to tie a knot with only one end

Bird Droppings November 30, 2013
Trying to tie a knot with only one end

It is a Saturday morning and no one else up but me and I am about to go out and wander in the darkness for a bit. I have over the years enjoyed greeting the morning. I have found my solace in the wee hours of the day being able to think more clearly uninfluenced by an encumbrance of the day. Over the years I have watched many sunrises and none have been equal to the last and no one had been more brilliant than the others each has been an uplifting moment for me. I try and share through images captured with my camera but trully do not do justice to the moment.

I went to my favorite spot to take photos of sunrises and it was still relatively dark so I played with aperture settings and exposures and ended up with some interesting effects. I proceeded to the reservoir nearby and took a few more two ducks popped in but before I could get a shot flew off and in the dark I missed them. I returned to my spot again for a few more and a Great Horned Owl flew from the fence to a nearby tree. In front of me a few feet two deer walked across my path. So in my morning of meditation and sunrise pictures a good start to the day.

“Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.” Charles Swindoll

It is the responses that the world sees this is how we are judged and how we are thought of. Each day I see hundreds of people coming through my room at the high school and their attitude about their life is perhaps the one thing that can make or break them in any given day. How we respond to what people see is what drives all things around us. If we bring an attitude for example a poor attitude to a given place and respond to seemingly inconsequential stimulus in an overt way because of that inherent bad attitude we will be perceived as being that which we possible really are not nor do we choose to be. Unfortunately our attitude at the moment drives the reality of others in their perceiving of us.

“The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him.” Arthur Schopenhauer

I think intelligence provides color and shades of gray to a black and white world. However it can be manipulated both positively and negatively. Look at a color blind test for example, a swirl of colors and yet some can see and others not. My students think I am joking when I say I cannot see numbers on color blind charts but can tell colors as well as any of them. Intelligence has nothing to do with it other than creating the test that is being seen. Conversely, perception, how we see that image is then how we interpret that image and or do not interpret it.

“Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim.” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Several issues at hand, first it is how we respond to a given event. Secondly how we perceive a given event and then determine that in fact that the event is happening. I have always enjoyed reading Shelly’s work and yet very seldom have I used a piece in my daily wanderings. Today was a day that had minor delays and changes in routine offering an imbalance to a morning. I am a creature of habit and change is difficult for me taking a week off from teaching due to a fall break last week and my mother being in the hospital alter the flow of the day. As we read Shelly’s line we know change is inevitable. If we plan and think and strategize change can be less significant and in effect can become more evolution than really a change. Is it a development of sorts, a gradually shifting from point A to point B and on to point C.

I was observing several students a few days back and change is what affects them more so than any other aspect of school. Offering choice can totally bewilder them. I have worked with several autistic teenagers and often choice is a difficult venue. Should I go to the rest room and or the bus since the bell rang. An either or situation and it is seemingly a difficult one for this one fellow as he stood in my door asking me what he should do. While afterwards it was humorous at the time it was a life altering event until he remembered he was on third load and had plenty of time. Still for each of us we live in a society of choice. Years ago I had a student who could not choose. He literally needed to be told what to wear by his mother and what to do during the day by his teachers. On his own he would always get into trouble by responding inappropriately to stimuli. Eventually he ended in jail serving three life sentences when all external restrictions were gone after his mother passed away.

I watch students who have similar tendencies and wonder what happens when we take away answering questions and offering help. What happens when a world designed by people who enjoy control and power chose to make you the scape goat. I once read a headline about enormous profits of oil companies and I look at price of gas. Any fool can see if you charge twice as much for an item profits will go up. Costs go up as fuel prices rise and I recall in a speech one of our previous national leaders stated it is ok for oil companies to reap record profits on high gas costs, because it is market driven. Interesting as I sit and think about those comments and whose side was he on. I now understand why we are having such difficult times with educational policies and other issues on a national level. If you can make a profit it is ok, it is market driven. Much of our educational policy is profit driven and market oriented in items like standardized tests and textbooks. Literally there are hundreds of billions of dollars in sales of educational materials.

Certain industries are at record levels while former main stays of our economy have been driven overseas. I seriously wonder how we did it, pushing jobs to China or where ever. I wonder, if I was an oilman or drug company president or oil construction company owner I think would be a happy camper right now. I got into a discussion with two former military now teachers earlier in the week. We were discussing World War II and current warfare. Literally thousands died in battles in World War II and today with our highly mechanized military handfuls die. But what was interesting was that in days gone by industry boomed during war time. We are in wars where for the first time during a major war we are hurting in jobs and in financial areas. We have no industry left it is all in other countries. We have to buy hardware and military equipment from heavy industries in other countries. Even in a one of last presidential campaign speech’s a politician bragged about saving billions on a fuel tanker airplane in a contract bid. The part left out was that instead of manufacturing in the US it would be built in France and 6000 jobs would be in another country. How much was that worth?

“All is focused on a bell shaped curve. Approximately twelve point five percent know something is fishy, twelve point five percent are being left behind and seventy five percent do not care because the response they see is feasible at the time and that is all that matters.” High School teacher, Frank Bird in regards to standardized testing

Looking back on the Iraq war sort of ok there are no weapons of mass destruction, but when we made the choice we were sure there were. It is ok to pay twice what we should for gas because others are and therefore it is market driven. What if we as consumers could determine the price of gas and profitability of those companies? What if medications were within reach of people instead of pricing to a point where lifesaving and threatening medications were unattainable for some? The new drug plans are so cumbersome most cannot use or holes in plans leave some stranded. What if we could have a utopia and everything was perfect and a bell shaped curve was now a flat line? Funny thing is you would be called a socialist. Most of the recent political jargon would say that is socialism. Ever wonder why when you are dead monitors show a flat line, it seems there are some who want people to flat line and eliminate the curve. Some who want to get everyone on the same wave length equal and no complaints at all? In education it is a big one. It is the legislation of No Child Left Behind, NCLB, where all children are the same by law at least they will be in 2014. When I see that I nearly laugh having worked always in special education.

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.” Arthur Schopenhauer

As I sat and thought about all of this it is sort of like trying to tie a knot with only one end. Does it really do any good to have a knot if the other end is somewhere else? Well as I keep wondering I could use that knot in the end of a rope to knock some of the politicians in the head. It has been a chilly, windy, and supposedly snowy fall morning and I am still trying to gather up plants needing to come in for the warmth. It will be a good day and one filled with conversation and communication. I look forward to more. Please my dear friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Teaching is far more than just wanting to

Bird Droppings November 29, 2013
Teaching is far more than just wanting to

“I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.’ The world must hear this. I pray to God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When I saw this quote earlier today it reminded me that wanting to in any endeavor is a powerful force. A few days back in an email a friend asked about the idea of wanting to teach and maybe I should write about that. I am working on a paper while not on that subject it is about the art of learning and how we take away from kids that drive, that wanting to. I taught in public school system thirteen years and as a parent being involved for nearly thirty years or more in public schools. I have seen many teachers who do not want to be teaching. For whatever reason they are there and how they impact kids is directly related to their lack of motivation for being a teacher far too many times.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

I was subbing during my planning period a few days back and ran into a paradox. On the wall a sign stating you earn respect and yet the teacher I was subbing for demanded respect from students. Several students had mentioned to me that fact about this teacher. Granted third party conversation, especially from students is not always the best. However I know many teachers who walk in a room and demand respect. They think in being a teacher students should bow down and worship the ground they stand on. Granted in some cultures teachers are revered and automatically held in high esteem. However a teacher in that particular culture also has a different view of their teaching. When respect is demanded many students take offense and immediately back away. Some students as in the situation with one of the students becoming antagonistic, fighting back and arguing against demand. So how do we then inspire daily and weekly and monthly and for a lifetime as Ward states.

“Teacher’s Prayer: I want to teach my students how to live this life on Earth, to face its struggles and its strife and to improve their worth. Not just the lesson in a book or how the rivers flow, But how to choose the proper path wherever they may go. To understand eternal truth and know the right from wrong, and gather all the beauty of a flower and a song. For if I help the world to grow in wisdom and in grace, and then I shall feel that I have won and I have filled my place. . That I may do my part. For character and confidence and happiness of heart.” James J. Metcalf

I want to teach, a simple statement but a basis for all that then transpires in a classroom. Over the years I have read many books on education, learning and on teaching. One that has always been a good read and reread is The Passionate teacher by Robert Fried. There is a need for passion in teaching.

“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

“Compassionate teachers fill a void left by working parents who aren’t able to devote enough attention to their children. Teachers don’t just teach; they can be vital personalities who help young people to mature, to understand the world and to understand themselves. A good education consists of much more than useful facts and marketable skills.” Charles Platt

Many disagree with my philosophy of teaching and walk by on the other side of the hallway so as to not be infected. I recall many years ago one teacher who would go an extra hall over to avoid coming by my room. Granted there have been snakes and spiders and loud kids, maybe they are afraid of snakes. I often wonder why some people become teachers. Obviously it is a paying job, with relatively good benefits. Some teachers will say they were called it is almost a sacred mission for them. But those few who simple could not find anything else or thought they wanted to teach maybe should wander away to another field. I know of several teachers simply waiting to retire and collect their teacher retirement. I wonder is it a sacred mission?

“The future of the world is in my classroom today, a future with the potential for good or bad… Several future presidents are learning from me today; so are the great writers of the next decades, and so are all the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy. I must never forget these same young people could be the thieves and murderers of the future. Only a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day, lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow.” Ivan Welton Fitzwater

“There’s no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.’ My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.” Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides

“If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for a hundred years, teach the people. When you sow a seed once, you will reap a single harvest. When you teach the people, you will reap a hundred harvests.” Kuan Chung

Such a powerful tool is teaching for the betterment and or the fall of mankind. As I look at how we decide who teaches and who does not, and how we train teachers I wonder. Are we training for a hundred years or next year? Looking at government’s involvement it is short term. I find it interesting how in eastern thought so often it is beyond the now. Nearby in local community is the Church of the Now sort of paradoxical. We focus so much on short term goals and efforts. Reach this score now and or suffer the consequences. When independent data is finally compiled I think we will find NCLB, No Child Left Behind has left significant numbers behind. A great teacher here and there might change some of this. We need to change legislation, views about education, and views about learning.

“There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.” John F. Kennedy

Right now education is falling behind as we spend billions fighting several wars. I often find it interesting that John Kennedy wanted to pull out of Viet Nam, and Lyndon Johnson wanted to stay and continue. After Kennedy’s assassination Johnson did continue the war for a number of years and many deaths of Americans. Several of whom would have made great teachers I knew them personally. In wanting to be a teacher, wanting to end a war, wanting to be a good parent, or wanting to be a friend, each requires of us to put in an effort. It takes an effort to be a great teacher, end a war, be a good parent, and be a good friend. It is how much beyond is where the wanting to fits in. You will know when you get there. It is a new day and I have many more pages to write and a much to do before heading to Macon Georgia tomorrow. I hope each of you as you prepare for the holiday coming has a joyous and glorious day. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Woven as the spider spins

Bird Droppings November 27, 2013
Woven as the spider spins

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

The title intrigued me as I was sitting here 5:00 AM wondering which direction to go in this morning’s writing I was thinking about grandbabies, students, parents and teachers and how so often the intertwining of personalities produce the fabric of the day. I recall in a graduate class a professor friend used the term or analogy of weaving. Our lives are a tapestry being woven each day as we go. Each thread and line put into place almost in a mundane or routine sort of way yet each relying on the last to complete the whole. I got up a bit early in anticipation of my son, daughter in law and granddaughter heading this way from North Carolina and watching the weather which today is not the best for travel.

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

For many years I was directly involved in the sheep industry. I was between raising, breeding, writing and publishing about and of course shearing the sheep not all that busy. The end result however of having sheep is handling, bagging and selling the wool. For the publication I put out I traveled nationwide photographing and talking to producers and writing about the sheep and the wool industry. I met many hand spinners and weavers as I traveled. Some were artisans spinning yarn as fine as silk and weaving one of a kind literally pieces of art work. So it was back in the day we had a ewe (a female breeding sheep) a Hampshire cross that was “black” when sheared the fleece was chinchilla gray. For many years a dear friend would get that fleece for her spinning and weaving. Somewhere in a box stored away is a small ball of yarn my oldest son helped spin one afternoon when he was six or so with that fleece and my friend showing and helping him. Life as Dr. Donna Andrews, a professor at Piedmont College commented in class is a weaving. It is an intertwining of events and people. The symbolism of that analogy has stuck with me as I have proceeded far from that class so many days ago.

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

One of Gandhi’s methodologies of protest was to spin and weave his own cloth rather than rely on industrial and British produced material. Many other intricate thoughts were woven in as well; spinning is for many a form of meditation. The process of weaving, creating and designing a piece is literally a painting of a picture with thread and yarn. In the Navaho culture where the spider is held sacred in its ability to weave and often is copied in the art work of these people weaving is a scared task. The weaving of blankets held a very high position and within each piece the artisan placed a piece of their soul.

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

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

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

With each progress report we call student’s parents or guardians to discuss issues and grades. I spoke with several over the phone back a week or so ago. I walked through my room after school that day reading a poster that has been hanging around now on my wall where ever I take up for 30 years, Children Learn what they live. While one weaves silk others weave burlap. Silk has many great attributes as does burlap and the applications and uses vary. To spin hemp into twine and weave the burlap is as much a skill as the artisans who weave the silk threads into cloth. The weaving and material made is not the issue but it is that weaving that is occurring. Applying to human kind it is in that effort that is being made to produce a life.

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

Recently I used the word direction and drew criticism from a teacher trying to explain that choosing a direction in a journey and not truly having a destination is sometimes a meaningless effort. For some just going is the norm. I always speak of the journey being more important versus the destination but there is a point to head towards. When building a house first you build walls you determine where doors and windows are needed and add them as you go. A really good builder knows ahead and plans for doors and windows and designed properly a house can have huge windows and great doors and movement in and out occurs continually.
Many years ago I was sitting alongside a fence in a field far away from houses and people I watched a spider spin a web. We see webs all around I was told there are thousands of spiders per acre in any field. Many of the spiders are minute and nearly microscopic. Anyhow the spider climbed to a point and dropped leaving a strand of silk climbed and dropped and so forth building a base for her web. Next came the cross lines and soon a web was built over an hour or so in the process. We see webs and easily sweep them away but the design and care in making is engrained in the spider. Life is a weaving a spinning a web of sorts and yes so often is simply swept away. Occasionally someone will stand back in awe of the artistry if only we would take note every time. Please as we partake of a day only a few off from our day of thanksgiving and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

To think or at least trying to think this morning

Bird Droppings November 26, 2013
To think or at least trying to think this morning

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Joseph Campbell

I wonder if it is for attention that so many teenagers seek the route of drama in their lives. Over reacting to seemingly inconsequential stimulus seems to be a matter of fact in the teenage world. Is it hormones and assorted emotional lapses that drive the various levels of human kind? I often wonder at why we do what we do. I observe and listen and find myself all too often swept into turbulence that is difficult to raise one’s head above. I was called to talk to a student before the holiday break. Her head was in her hands sobbing and she had asked for me. The story from a few days before had grown and found its way to school. I had heard bits and pieces floating around school in the days before. On another topic a young man in my own classes asked me if he had been good and would I write a letter for his probation officer. A week ago I separated him from another fellow just before a fight.

“Absolutely speaking, Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you is by no means a golden rule, but the best of current silver. An honest man would have but little occasion for it. It is golden not to have any rule at all in such a case.” Henry David Thoreau

I wonder at times do our worlds of reality intertwine, or is this some great Venn diagram and only occasionally do the edges overlap. Is part of reality A and part of B touching here and reality C and D barely touch over there? I wonder if it is for attention. I watched a girl walk down the hall staring straight ahead obviously depressed. How do you get depressed at 16? What in our water drives a teenager to depression? Earlier I went out briefly my head today feels like a sponge. It was hard getting up I forgot to take my allergy medicine last night and the gas heat really tears up my sinuses. But as I walked and stood looking as my dog ran around the yard searching for prey and also trying to find a dry spot in the wet grass to do her duty I could not help but think. I wonder about dogs they look for a dry spot to make wet. It actually might be logical perhaps in dog thinking. But as I looked about the air seemed to resonate my own mood foggy and the weather channel had issued fog warnings for our county.
I could see stars yet the trees only a few feet away were clouded over. One in particular was literally in a mist as I looked. At 2:30 in the morning much is a mist but this tree was unclear as the others about it were fine. My own perception was a bit foggy today and actually I did go lay down again after getting up a with a severe sinus headache. But as I lay back down I thought of seeing pieces clear and others shrouded in mist. Some were unclear and indistinct while others were plain as day. I will come back to students and kids at school perhaps there is a difference. On one hand there are students, those who learn and kids, those ones who are taking up air and space and or baby goats, sarcastically.
But as I thought perhaps it is knowing that clears one’s self, one’s own self-image is more clear when you know yourself. In so many of the Eastern religions and philosophies there is a focus on “know thy self”. Here is a thought from one cloudy mind today to numerous cloudy minds at 4:00 in the morning. Maybe it is like my tree so many people are unclear because they do not know who they are. In their searching and journeying in life they never have a clear pathway always seems to be rubble blocking the way, be it relationships, family, “friends” and for some perhaps a disability or imperfection that in their eyes holds them back or cause them to stumble. Very easily it could create an unclear vision of who they are.
I went back out and as my head cleared the tree that had been blurry cleared up and I was able to see it fine. When we meet people even ones with drama and unclear at the time views if we focus, if we give ourselves a moment to recompose often we can see through the fog and see the real person even if that person is unsure and then we can offer a hand to help them come back. It could be sort of a tug into the Venn diagram perhaps. It might be M&M’s or a paper towel, or just a word or thought and it amazes me at times to see some things so simple can change a life. Sometimes it is just coming when called or needed. I wish we had “clear life”, something bottled you could spray out and all would be fine sort of like the commercials with the red eyes and one drop and they are clear. Peace my friends and please when opportunity is there offer a hand for far too many people are stuck in the fog of their own lives. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts as we go into this holiday in a day or two and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

My friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Am I a philosopher?

Bird Droppings November 25, 2013
Am I a philosopher?

There was a beautiful sky this morning as I walked out and actually rather cold which is surprising as the sky while filled with clouds was clear. I think most of my students were hoping for snow over the holidays although it is still showing up on weather maps further west and north of us. A moon reflecting would have added so much to the sky with the clouds as they were against the stars. Even so the stars and white billowing clouds presented a surreal picture for me as I walked the dog this morning and ran to Quick Trip earlier than normal to fill up my wife’s car. Before I left the house I was reading in National Geographic an article on possible life somewhere out in the universe and all of the possibilities that continue to pop up. It has not been long since I fancied myself a philosopher of sorts maybe since yesterday. Perhaps it was my graduate work that got me truly entrenched in philosophical meandering that led to this conclusion or trying a million times to formulate a philosophy of teaching while it evolved before me. Actually I think it is because I enjoy pondering too much. Wondering and thinking about all that is around me as I journey through life.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Frank Bird and Ray Clark as they were walking daily five or six miles each morning back in the day

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

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

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

Most folks won’t even recognize the name of Dr. Koop former Surgeon General of the United States and former head of pediatric surgery at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. As I thought of Nietzsche’s quotes and while not taking a walk today I did go and walk dogs twice outside so my wife and son would not have to get up as the holiday is officially over and we all are back at work today. I started writing a bit later today then I thought I would. Nietzsche as you read his work is often self-focused and negative and perhaps in some ways I like looking to his thoughts for contrast for adding a back drop to a brighter thought. Somewhere I started writing about Dr. Koop.
Dr. C. Everett Koop was instrumental in the anti-cigarette laws and anti-tobacco laws. On a personal note he was the surgeon for my younger brother many years ago when we lived in Pennsylvania. My father used to tell a story of Dr. Koop, his staff and my father all gathered together around John, my brother who was born with cerebral palsy and later developed encephalitis’s who approaching surgery. Dad would say having been in the Navy medical corp. and around death in WWII so much the aura around Koop was different, he exuded life he thrived on life and when he asked all to join hands and pray around John he made my father’s day.
But one thing that has stuck with me from dads conversation with Dr. Koop was a quote very seldom seen, “Having worked with terminally ill children and seriously ill children for many years in all of those years I have never seen a parent of one of these children who did not pray”. As I think back and remember bits and pieces, Dr. Koop’s comment and discussions with my father he wasn’t referring to religion as much as to faith. Faith also parallels trust and it was in that trust in Dr. Koop and or trust in the hospital that parents would have faith and hope. Dr. Koop was a man of hope, of future, and of faith.

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

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

I am ending with a simple idea for another day or actually several ideas to ponder and mull over as we ascend the plateau to view the vista. In another few days a new month will be here. So my friends have a glorious day today, build for tomorrow and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.

Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Why are we deliberately trying to be wrong?

Bird Droppings November 22, 2013
Why are we deliberately trying to be wrong?

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

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

I am saddened nothing has changed in the over hundred plus years since Chief Joseph surrendered. Today there are over three hundred thousand complaints against the Bureau of Indian Affairs that are unanswered and in courts throughout the country and the highest suicide rate of teenagers are on reservations. Around the country we are arguing about illegal immigrants. In Arizona and New Mexico many of the ancestors of these people were kicked off their land when we won the Spanish American war. Navahos, Apaches, and many other tribes were dispersed to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma never allowed to return to the ancestral homes. We are so self-centered that we can argue about illegal immigrant’s maybe it is we who are truly the illegal immigrants. An old Indian was approached by an anthropologist and asked what your people called this land before the white man came. He calmly said, “Ours”.

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

So often my thoughts come random after a few hours’ sleep and rising to take the dog out and a point or idea will stick. Last night about two thirty, I got off the phone after talking with a good friend from many years ago. We talked nearly three hours and in heading to bed something came to mind. It seems the powers to be back in the day and now always want to mass produce. In the world of the late 1800’s as far as Native Peoples go it was coming up with a blanket policy and no pun intended to cover all tribes. There was no consideration of culture, family; of language and of history just this was it including education using the Carlisle School as an example.
Basically the white Christian way was the best and only way. No exceptions Indians should be farmers like white folk no more hunting and gathering, no more Sundance ceremonies which were banned in late 1800’s or rituals that might offend Christian folk. Treaties and promises were made almost with little or any attempt to truly fund and or implement that plan. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Corruption ruled what little funding did find its way to reservations and holding areas. As I thought it was very easy to coincidently tie this government outlook to education of today.
In 2004 a massive educational bill was passed entitled No Child Left Behind. A key point being that by 2014 all children would be on grade level in math and reading. Sadly funding was left by the wayside and for states to implement as best they could. However penalties were still in place for not meeting standards imposed. The idea of all children being to standard includes all socio-economic, cultural, children with disabilities, ethnic groups and any other sort of subtitle that might be thrown in. Children would be evaluated with standardized tests given in specific grades and to graduate. Dr. William Ayers, that same fellow accused during the previous presidential election of being too friendly with our now president has and is a nationally known educator and author.

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

One of our states efforts to get assessment in line with national standards and accountability has been a new math curriculum and of course subsequent testing. On the front page of a past Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Only 52% of the students who took the End of Course test for Math II in May passed.” This was across the state averages in high schools on this particular test. State department of education people are saying they will get it just will take time for students to get use to new curriculum. In special education we have been told to start telling parent’s in IEP’s that kids may be in high school for five or six years due to higher standards for graduation. Interesting by chance should you take more than four years to graduate you are considered a drop out up, until just recently when the graduation rules were again changed.
I question who is setting the bar up and why? As I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution it is due to mandated standards set in No Child Left Behind legislation.
What about schools that are so far behind that no matter what bar level is set it will not happen. Many reservation schools and inner city schools have never hit AYP to date in nearly ten years of testing. Another sad point is it is common knowledge among administrators and educators that test scores and zip codes have strong correlation. How is that for a statistic? Borrowing a phrase now that is a Catch 22, yes most definitely. I had an idea last night after a brief discussion in a blog over what could be done. I asked for some time to think about solving this dilemma. By chance I went by Barnes and Nobles to get some back up material.
Great educators have known the answer for many years. John Dewey offered suggestions and thoughts well over a hundred years ago. Numerous other authors have expanded on and clarified Dewey’s thoughts and all seem to come to one conclusion the solution is not in one test fits all, one curriculum fits all, it is not about leaving children behind which is happening at an alarming rate currently. So here was walking my dog last night and a thought came to me. It’s about one child at a time.

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

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

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

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

My friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Should children be left behind?

Bird Droppings November 21, 2013
Should children be left behind?

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

Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about his idea of education and fortunately for me wrote it down. Over the last ten years I have been directly involved in an educational program, Foxfire, which is based around John Dewey’s ideas on education. I was talking last Friday just before lunch with a fellow teacher and a local representative from PAGE, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, about education of all things. We discussed the idea of teaching top down as we in Georgia are being directed to do with new national common core standards. Here is where we are going and now how do we get there? That is more of real questions than why did you not get where you are supposed to be? Interestingly enough this first statement is what Emerson and Dewey were talking about. As we talked I mentioned Foxfire and how it was in effect how good teachers teach without even knowing. Really it is not something new and outlandish it is just putting a name on good teaching habits and providing a frame work of ten core practices to work with.
Coincidently my friend who was involved in the discussion had retrieved from the discard book cart some old Foxfire books. Periodically our media center discards old and or tattered books for teachers to get first crack at before throwing out. It seems that I have built a library on discarded books. My friend had salvaged four old Foxfire books from the cart earlier in the day.

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

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

1 • From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.
2 • The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3 • The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8 • The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9 • The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10 • Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.
Foxfire fund Inc.

What intrigued me from my first involvement with Foxfire was how even the approach to learning our school system is using which is called Learning Focused Schools is within these eleven principles. This past summer in my research I found most good and great educational ideas actually incorporate or parallel these simple practices. Literally hundreds of good teachers in actual practice helped develop this concept over a long period of time. Emerson and Dewey were thinking along the same lines long before most of us were born. This is not a new fad it is simply good teaching. It is interesting, I recall long before I read Dewey or Emerson and or anything about Foxfire which was little more than a mountain word for a glowing fungus on a hillside. I have been in graduate education classes learning from teachers who taught in this manner, and have watched students learning as they were involved in this approach to education. So why is it so hard to get across to teachers of today? Could it be because it takes more work from the teachers to implement? You will see the word rigorous in Foxfire quite a bit and it is. But good teaching is rigorous. It is dynamic not static.
As I am working on my dissertation and researching about The Foxfire Approach to teaching I find teachers telling me they prefer to teach in this manner but often are criticized by peers and administration for not following curriculum maps and guides. An article in NEA’s weekly newsletter pointed to how so many new teachers are coming into the ranks with little or no true training in education and often a point and click mentality is all they have. They are bodies filling a space and pushing kids through. I have met several great teachers who have come through alternative approaches to teacher training, myself sort of although I did have a minor and major in education along the way I just never student taught. I switched my major to psychology along the way at the last minute to avoid taking a foreign language which was required for education majors at Mercer University in 1974.
I would suggest we need to instead of more new curriculums instill more adrenaline in teachers. Perhaps we could install a super energy drink machine outside of each teacher’s classroom and just prior to starting class require every teacher to get a caffeine jolt. Energy can be a very powerful thing in so many ways especially when it involves the passion for teaching. I have wandered and pondered enough for one day and will get off of my soap box for today but please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird