How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky?

Bird Droppings February 18, 2014
How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky?

I started to practice getting up early yesterday since we get started back to school today. I went outside and sat listening to the sounds of morning and started my wife’s car to warm it up for her. I drove into my favorite store to grab a drink and wait on the last sunrise before break is over. Now these events in and of themselves are not for many significant since most folks would simply say well so what. I wanted to get an early start to the day and sort out all of my procrastination and hopefully get caught up. I have several reports to ready for meetings through the week needed some extra time to get finished. Hopefully later today I will be taking pictures of a few remaining herbs in my herb garden and maybe get some additional gardening done.

Yesterday morning as I walked to my car just looking at how the light is reflecting off of everything about me got me to thinking back to walking out into a beautiful clear sky and stars everywhere. After running into town I went to my quiet spot with a smudge stick and feather and stood facing the sunrise for what seemed hours and turned to be only fifteen minutes or so. I was watching the smoke circle in the slight breeze fading into the dawn. Yesterday I read a post from Dr. Carla Goddard, Shaman Medicine Woman. It is not that it is new to me smoke is often considered by indigenous peoples to be a message to the great creator or simply to meld into the energy of all that is. A special ceremony is coming up that she will be attending and she will take a prayer stick which will be added to the fire.

“If you have an intention of healing that you would like carried to ceremony, we would be honored to carry it. A prayer stick will be created with the intentions of all who request it added upon the stick. On Saturday evening, in ceremony, the stick will be carried to the fire while the prayers are lifted in the smoke.”

In days gone by I used a similar sort of ceremony using pebbles. In Creek and Cherokee tradition you could pass your troubles to a pebble then toss into a quiet pool of water watch the ripples dissipate and feel better. I would have a bowl of pebbles and an empty bowl and tell youth to think about a problem while handling the pebble then place it in the empty bowl. In the afternoon several of us would go and toss pebble into quiet water. Granted it would be much better if you tossed your own but every time watching the ripples move across the water I would lose the physics of the movement and simple watch the art and soothing of the vision.

“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” Henry David Thoreau

What is about a man who lived well over a hundred years ago that could have an outlook so deep and encompassing. I sit and read his words and always am in awe. Thoreau’s thought is a very simple message if only people could grasp the understanding and meaning. It was interesting as I looked towards the sky my back yard amphitheater almost felt like it was centered on the little dipper. Over my shoulder a little better than a new moon barely visible out through the pines and oak trees. The air was cold and clean fresh might be a good word and while silent today I could imagine the chorus frogs were hard at work trying to shake off a slight chill. That might be a good air freshener name, “a clear starry night”. How that could be interpreted perhaps in the great bard Bob Dylan there is an answer.

“How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky? Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Bob Dylan

So many groups and individuals have covered that song over the years. But the words caught my attention again. How many times must we look up before you can see the sky? My wife called my attention to the sunset a night or two ago, and as I walked around this morning drawn to a mist laying across the grass and it seemed my pictures are literally haunting with the faint fog coming off the ground going back a day or two to photos I took of several sunrises with the fog hanging along the ground.

As I was looking last night and turned to my left a constellation that always catches my attention. Perhaps it is because a friend showed it to me so many years ago. It is the constellation, Cassiopeia which forms a running W. Of course I read it was placed there during the campaign for president along with all the cute W bumper stickers back when George W was running for president. For several weeks during the last election when I first saw them I thought all those cars were filled with astronomers.

“How many years can a mountain exist, before it’s washed to the sea? Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Bob Dylan

Such powerful words when you read them. It was a trickle of water than formed the Grand Canyon which is three miles wide at some points all from a trickle of water over many millions of years, washed to the sea. But I get caught in the second line, how many times can, a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see. I look at news and see investigations into politicians and we have allowed through our own voting electing these people who misused our votes, or did they. Maybe we are as guilty as they are and as greedy. It is amazing how public opinion about wilderness dwindles when gas prices soar or when news media features stories about pricing as was the case today. Recently just a few years ago for the first time, First Nations in Canada has allowed the white man into very sacred lands to photograph and publish articles about the Spirit bears of British Columbia. We hear arguments about the Keystone pipeline daily and how important it is and how China will get that oil if we don’t put this pipeline in. Canada has turned it down by a vast majority of public opinion going to the west coast of Canada because it would go through this section of wilderness where the spirit bears live and endanger two hundred and fifty miles of coastline. Eighty percent of Canadians are against the pipeline to the Pacific so we were the second option not the first. Surprisingly enough the oil would not be for us anyhow it would still be going to china the refinery designated for the oil is for exports only.

“There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief. There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth. No reason to get excited,’ the thief, he kindly spoke. There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late. All along the watchtower, princes kept the view. While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too. Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.” Bob Dylan

I think I heard this song by several others before I ever heard a Dylan version. This is my son’s ring-tone on my cell phone, All along the watch Tower. Many years ago watch towers were along the walls guarding cities and countries and guards were there to watch for enemies. In the song the princes kept a view but I have quoted an entire song for one line. Perhaps because I really like this song be it Dylan’s own version, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and or Jimmy Hendrix’s but this line catches my attention.

“There are too many here among us that think that life is but a joke…. “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

The inevitability of life ending is a focal point for many and that is death. So many folks view life as never ending. I read blogs and listen to comments from teenagers all day and none of them seem to know what it is worth. Most feel there is plenty of time. A few weeks ago on a Friday as I was trying to explain to a senior for him to graduate he better start now and get his act together he responded he would later in the semester, there is always time.
Life is far too short and riders are approaching. Life is like a fuse lit on one end always getting shorter. Sadly sometimes it will get cut off prematurely. But it never gets added to and at some point it will end. Savor each moment never waste, squander and loose precious moments with family and friends.

“If I can’t help somebody with a word or song. If I can’t show somebody they are travelin’ wrong. But I know I ain’t no prophet an’ I ain’t no prophet’s son. I’m just a long time a-comin’ an’ I’ll be a long time gone.” Bob Dylan

I wrote in an email yesterday a prophet is never recognized in their own lands. I learned that many years ago in Seminary. I think it may even have a biblical twinge to it. My youngest son put one of my favorite Dylan albums of all time on from 1975 or so, Blood on the tracks, in my car the other day. One track I have to play as soon as it is on.

“Life is sad, life is a bust. All ya can do is do what you must. You do what you must do and ya do it well,” Bob Dylan, Track 10, Buckets of rain

Few songs and albums bring back memories like this one does for me. It is in Macon Georgia about 1975 searching as always. But, “you do what you must do and do it well”. After talking to the young fellow I mentioned about graduating and starting this last semester now to try and succeed rather than waiting till the end of the term. I thought back to 1967 when I was in high school and all I wanted was to not be in high school and it did not matter where I went to college since it would be to avoid the draft since getting drafted at that time and going to Viet Nam was every boys fear. Getting drafted in 1967 meant Viet Nam so I went to college. I officially started my career as a student; actually it was not until a few years later I started being a student. My freshman year was not too great in student terms. At that time I just existed in the space allotted. Sometimes borrowing from John Dewey, “It takes experience”. Learning can only come with experience, if only we had enough time to experience all in life. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Thinking about the word trust and how we can not

Bird Droppings February 17, 2014
Thinking about the word trust and how we can not

“The song that I will sing is an old song, so old that none knows who made it. It has been handed down through generations and was taught to me when I was but a little lad. It is now my own song. It belongs to me. This is a holy song, and great is its power. The song tells how, as I sing, I go through the air to a holy place where Yusun will give me power to do wonderful things. I am surrounded by little clouds, and as I go through the air I change, becoming spirit only.” Geronimo, Goyathlay (“one who yawns”)

As I went out this morning just a few minutes ago taking our dog out to a silent world, the air was still and the ambient temperature far too cold keeping the local tree frogs in hibernation. Later in the morning I will be running to Quick Trip to get my morning jump start and gas up my wife’s car. Yesterday evening I passed by several opossums that had been killed during the night along the road. My oldest son and I were talking about this a few days ago as it seems the warm and cold weather is bringing animals out and roads are busier.

Over the years I have mentioned going to Fort Sill what is now seemingly a lifetime ago to see Geronimo’s grave which is set back in along a quiet bend in a small river with aspen trees all about. It is actually a very peaceful spot. The song mentioned above is a medicine song one he would sing at opportune times or simply as a prayer. As he grew older Geronimo became a Christian as he would say just in case and to pacify the overloads at Fort Sill.

“I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.” Geronimo

An old man approached his new religion in that he felt this was a good example for living. Stories go that he never gave up his old ways as well singing his medicine songs and was participating in tribal rituals till he died. He died at eighty years of age at Fort Sill Oklahoma many miles from his beloved Arizona and New Mexico mountains. I wonder as I think so often how we say one thing and live or do another. As I was reading again about Geronimo this morning and thinking a comment in his biography dictated when he was older at Fort Sill. He spoke of how his people the Apaches would vow to never do harm to each other of any kind and this was a bond of trust.

Here on a Monday morning and a special day honoring our presidents I am catching up on emails and reading blogs and I find the paradoxes interesting. On one hand speaking of their religion and faith and how steadfast and yet on the other hand a near opposite as you read from the same pen or computer near slanderous remarks about others and life in general. Such a paradox we humans provide. As I thought this morning even the soldiers knew if Geronimo gave his word it was done and nothing would change even though the US government changed, his word was bond. He was one of the most feared warriors of all time in the American west and yet his guards the Fort Sill soldiers knew they could trust him. There were no exceptions to him; if he said he was going peaceful he was going peaceful.

Further west the great Chief Joseph as he surrendered told his people he would fight no more and he stopped which became a bond that lasted till his death even though treaties with the Nez Perce were broken numerous times. I guess where I am going is we live in such paradox of saying one thing and living another of claiming righteousness, and really wanting only to party, of saying we believe on a Sunday and taking a break Monday through Saturday. I recall news from Afghanistan of a young Christian convert who was condemned to death for converting by Islamic law. Our righteous nations intervened and he was released as a mental patient who could not be tried. Clerics throughout the country wanted him stoned and or pulled apart basically dead and we are fighting in that country for freedom. Who can be free with that type of law and beliefs but from another side of the coin who are we to impose our beliefs on them.

All through history western civilizations have tried to impose their morals and civilization on primitives and anyone who disagreed. In Brazil it is now against Brazilian federal law to interfere with primitives and when tribes are found that are still in the wilds of the Amazon that area around them becomes sanctuary. We think of a jungle and it only being a small patch of forest. The Amazon jungle is as big as the USA and holds many secrets we may never know. Sanctuary boundaries are made and traffic is not permitted through that area. If you read jungle signs the various broken branches feathers skulls and such also indicate “You are not welcome.” We are pressuring countries daily in our quest for world peace using threats of war to garner peace. I laugh thinking there has got to be logic there and I say that very sarcastically.

However one thing is lacking from the days of the Wild West when a simple handshake with Geronimo the most feared warrior/terrorist of his time being his bond. There is no longer anyone who can trust. Not that there were many one hundred fifty years ago and six thousand page peace agreements are now broken the second oil or minerals are found and what was a peace agreement now has lists of exceptions even the ten commandments within a few days had six hundred eighty five exceptions back in the day and or we lease the land from them. Trust is a powerful word and one that has lost meaning in our society. We know our politicians are crooks and we continue to reelect them beneath new banners of I will not be a crook this time I promise again. Let us use the NASCAR logic and put stickers on their coats for who they really work for.

I have been watching American Idol for the thirteenth year and sorry it is my only reality show with some occasional Duck Dynasty for comedy. I do I recall a line from last year a profound statement from another broadcasting company’s comic relief.

“35,000,000 votes were cast in two hours which really shows us the power of democracy I wonder how many would have text or called if it was a vote on Medicare or immigration”

We do have the power of the vote and yet American idol draws nearly thirty percent of the last major national vote as a comparison to the last election. A TV show in two hours received thirty percent of the possible vote, talk about paradox and I did not even vote on American Idol last year one time. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Teaching is a journey not copy and paste or bubble.

Bird Droppings February 16, 2014
Teaching is a journey not copy and paste or bubble.

It has been several days well over a week since I had a chance to go out early and ponder as I say. It has been many days since I took a photograph with my good camera since I left the charger at school. But to start my day a thought from a young lady caught my attention. She had posted a status to Facebook that made me think actually think quite a bit. We are all familiar with the Chinese proverb used by many as a poster or card on their walls.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Ancient Chinese Proverb

The post that caught my attention was altered a bit.

“Teach a man to fish, and he will still vote for the man who gave him a fish.” Goldman Sachs Elevator

I had to search for an author and while I am sure there is a person attached the fact that Goldman Sachs Elevator had posted made my day. This statement is coming from a company that nearly destroyed America and received a paltry slap on the wrist. But I responded to the post. “I would question the teaching and was it simply a matter of test scores.” My comment was removed or did not make to posting. Education is the point here for me not the political implications that others jokingly remarked about. As I traveled around this morning I thought more about this and how we educate kids. I have been talking with several other educators over the past few days and continually the idea of context comes up. We are removing context from our educational system. Think in terms of money being put into computer programs virtual schools so to say. Efficient and cheaper than having a teacher in front of class let alone a laboratory for experiments and context. Goldman Sachs loves it. As I arrived home my son sent me a note that may have been intended for me that came to him.

“Good Morning my friend. I have been wrestling with a topic, and I was wondering if you would give it some thought and comment. It might even be a good topic for Bird Droppings. Lately, we have been blasted for kids earning low grades and for not motivating students. The problem, as I have come to see it, is that motivation, specifically self-motivation, emanates from a perception of a desire or perceived “need.” If a student never develops or sees a need for education or never develops a desire to better himself, then all the great teaching in the world falls on deaf ears. I am so frustrated that education has been so standardized, homogenized, and reduced to 4 choices on a page. It has no real value to kids any longer. I am rambling a little, but I know you understand what I’m trying to say. It’s almost like the story of the Lotus Eaters. No needs, no desires, equals no motivation. Getting an A or passing a test, at least to me, is not motivation. Just wondering about your thoughts. Here is a ridiculous thing our county does. Kids take benchmark tests every nine weeks over nothing but the standards. There will be one question such as, “How is the word “superfluous” spelled?” And that measures a kids spelling ability. It’s all a bunch of hooey.” Ray Clark Music teacher Glynn County Georgia

In response to my good friend and teacher in South Georgia another point of interest in my morning travels. I was checking my Facebook and email while sitting in IHOP this morning. Every once in a while folks are out of town and I get a morning to wander early and feed myself. So I had crepes with fruit and a couple eggs at one of my favorite restaurants. Another friend posted a selfie, one of those photos taken with a smart phone of our selves taken in front of a mirror or window as appeared to be the case here. My profile picture is a selfie and I am sure many on Facebook and other sites are as well. I responded to the photo not picking on my friend by any means but my initial thought. My friend is a professor at a Georgia University.

“A runner selfie maybe a paper or book out there, in our own self-image as we now instantly see ourselves as others do no longer do we see the reversed image of a mirror. A crazy thought sitting in an IHOP eating breakfast have we taken an omnipotent view of ourselves in this instantaneous world view we have. Are we removing the need for God and prayer for individuality since we now have instant news images at our disposal? There is literally no time for praying and self is then focus of attention.” Frank Bird teacher, photographer, grandfather and ponderer

Are we losing that interest as my good friend and music teacher proposed? I am starting to think so as each group of ninth graders comes to high school more self-centered than the last. Are we in our technology leaving out a piece? In this mad rush to standardize and test everything and everybody are we forgetting the self. Are we simply trying to quickly mold each person into a desired person to be and transform society to a copy and paste world? I watch kids copy and paste all day long and even in college classes I teach; I had a paper submitted that registered 99% plagiarized and was still in format of Encyclopedia Britannica on line. Student got a zero I cannot even give partial credit for turning it in that way. Funny thing is kids have a hard time copy and pasting to learn anything only desiring to finish assignment.

So where do I go from here today I borrowed a thought for my own Facebook status and photo quote I post from Chief Dan George.

“Where no one intrudes many can live in harmony” Chief Dan George
I can be quickly monastic and enjoy just like my morning wanderings time by myself. But it is not just about being alone it is about intruding and we as a society intrude constantly on everyone and much is self-imposed intrusion. We post statements about our love lives, partners in crime; some people even post publically their crimes. That is self-intrusion. I enjoy my communications with so many through social media. But I tend to avoid the self-deprecation so many get into. So today I end with my daily rant please keep all in your heart and on your mind that are in harm’s way and please give thanks namaste.

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

Windows can be difficult to find especially on Valentine’s Day

Bird Droppings February 14, 2014
Windows can be difficult to find especially on Valentine’s Day

I woke up very early today as my dog was barking to go out. I walked out on my back porch only to catch a glimpse of the moon sliding behind the tree line; a sliver moon was slipping below the trees. It was just a coincidence that my dog wanted out exactly as the moon moved out of sight. I tend to view life as a series of interactions each interdependent upon the next and each interwoven with the previous.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I meet people and try to understand where and why about each one I find so often many who are still seeking to understand themselves not clearly knowing who or where they are in relationship to all else about them. This is not to say I am searching for who I am daily.

“A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” Albert Einstein

I was talking with a group of students working on projects for their class on learning how to teach a few days back. They work with a preschool class and each high school student works with a four year old on words, colors and all sorts of fun things. We were talking and a former student of mine came to mind. It has been nearly forty years since I took a picture of this child. He was about five years old and severely autistic. He was nonverbal and spent much of his time simply staring ahead. On a spring day much like yesterday he was looking out the window of the school which was in an old house in Paoli Pennsylvania in 1970. I went out the back door with my camera ran around the front to his window and took a picture. He had his nose pressed up to the window staring out. I often wondered what he was seeing as he stared straight ahead. Over the years as I look at that picture I find myself thinking he was trying to find a window. Even as he looked out the window he was still searching for a window that he could see through.

“I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.” Henry David Thoreau

I watched him as he approached the window, it was not the view he wanted but the temperature, the coolness of the pane of glass against his cheek. I was seeing a window and he was feeling a moist pane of cool glass. I was pulling out various books and ideas as I talked to this group of students who worked with little students a few days ago. I shared author Shel Silverstein and a copy of The Giving Tree with CD, and also William Stieg and CDB a whimsical word puzzle(CDB – see the bee), and as I looked and thought many memories flooded back. Of working with children who probably still do not speak. Of searching for my own windows through in my life and occasionally only feeling the cool glass pane

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
As I think back over my discussion a few days ago with these teachers to be we started talking about people we would like to meet. Somewhere in an internet profile or such I wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, I added Gandhi the other day as we spoke. Most of the students were choosing contemporaries and most were celebrities. I thought over the years how our views change. For youngsters trying to find a window can be a chore not knowing where to look or maybe not even being tall enough to see out once there. As we get older the rules change we know where to look but have we drawn the blinds. We are tall enough to look out but do we really want to? Or are we content to simply press our nose to the glass and feel the coolness, never even attempting to see what lies beyond. It is a clear morning finally, although it is cold as stars fill the sky and a slight wind is blowing through the pine needles. A new day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Try not to be a waste of time and read some Emerson

Bird Droppings February 13, 2014
Try not to be a waste of time and read some Emerson

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most precious things we have is time. As our lives go by we tend to waste more and more of it. Sitting here with my trusty calculator I have used up a bit over five hundred forty three thousand one hundred and twenty hours of living. So when we waste time and it may be it in anger or taking naps, or gossiping. We all have our ways of using bits and pieces that can never be replaced. I recall many nights ago a call from my son who was at that time at Georgia Tech while picking up my youngest son. His call was something about a new venture of his, trying to get on a committee to select the new athletic director for Georgia Tech. He was asking what I thought. I told him go for it, it was an opportunity you will never have again. In is in the moments we lose that we have regrets.

As I look back on my own life to each tiny piece each facet of who I am other choices could have been made, other roads traveled but in the end they all lead to where I am now. Could I have changed anything along the way? Maybe here and there a different road a different path way maybe I could have had another minute or two with my grandmother before she passed away or with my younger brother.

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I try my best to encourage students and my own children when new things present themselves try it and see. Look for a new pathway or a new road. Rarely do I go anywhere where I do not see and talk with someone who has a piece from my past. Today I received a message from a former camper at my former day camp in the back yard in PA. Camp Ringtail who is now in Florida. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and ran into an old friend I had not seen in several years, another former youth group member’s mother, a current student and all from being where I was at that moment. Perhaps I was listening to the whisper that leads me here and there at this precise moment. I question was I to run into these people? That is an interesting thought. Did what I say offer anything to them or their thoughts to mine as we talked.

“Our best thoughts come from others.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I worked a bit on some of my studies last night thinking over ideas and such looking back at conversations over the past few days and people I had run into and chatted with. I pondered what bits and pieces did each conversation hold.

“The best effort of a fine person is felt after we have left their presence.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been some time since I read a passage that addressed how we could be the piece for another’s day that we do not even know a word we spoke, an idea we shared to provide the thought, or the catalyst for that person to move on in a different direction or to add energy to their endeavor.

“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read this line so many times before sitting here now this morning reading through Emerson’s writings we do literally take away in our advances. I used the point of comprehension how we literally take away the need as we develop new machines and computers. We take away thinking from many yet for some it is a miracle. It is in knowing which ideas to embrace and which to be more careful of.

“The fox has many tricks. The hedgehog has but one. But that is the best of all.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been a few years since my nephew had his hedgehog. It was a cute little ball of spikes. When scared it would roll literally into a ball of spikes, that is the hedgehogs defense against predators. It is a simple trick but one that has provided for many millennium safety.

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I find myself often drawn to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works. Perhaps kindred spirits he andI.This statement has always been some of my favorites. As I look back on my own life have I helped anyone breathe a moment easier?

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What would be the use of immortality to a person who cannot use well a half an hour?” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are the factor. We determine value. I recall going with my sons to see a movie on a past week end. It so happened to be about immortals. As I read Emerson’s thought albeit immortality, why waste a moment anytime.

“What you do speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Far too many people toot their own horns not allowing the sounds to even be heard before raising the volume.

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There have been lately a few days when stars were not visible with the clouds, ice sleet and snow. But I n reality the stars are there all day long just over shadowed by the sun during the day. Perhaps it is a reminder of daylight coming perhaps guides for the night.

“When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is funny I had a student who did not read yet when Bird Droppings does not go out or is late he reminds me it is not showing on his facebook or email even recently I will get a sometimes cryptic email, bird what gives you are late. I have always found that interesting especially days when he would come in and tell me it was a good one today. I tested him several times in reading, I was always amazed. He could read within the words. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

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

Is there room for politics when people are hurting?

Bird Droppings February 11, 2014
Is there room for politics when people are hurting?

Earlier in the morning as I went out after reading a friends note on acclimating to the cold I was standing outside pondering the day ahead in my shorts and t-shirt and it hit me I was freezing my butt off, so much for the theory of acclimating to cold. Time to get serious, it has been nearly forty years since I sat in Dr. Tony Campolo’s Sociology class room at the then Eastern Baptist College in St. David’s Pa. The school is now called Eastern College and a bit a bit more secular but it is still supported by the American Baptist Convention. Dr. Campolo even back in the day was concerned about people. He and his classes worked in inner city projects in Philadelphia setting up food banks and programs to offer economic support and jobs. He promoted setting up cottage industries in churches during the week to utilize the space and he promoted environmental causes before most of us ever were considering the concept. As I was reading this morning I found this passage in an article entitled “What’s a Red Letter Christian” by Dr. Campolo.

“Believing that Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, we want to unite Christians who are concerned about what is happening in America. We are evangelicals who are troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; who are disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; who are dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country’s militarism; who are outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; who are upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and who are broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation.” Dr. Tony Campolo

An interesting spin and turn for a country where politics and religion have been so closely tied and so many are fighting others over religious convictions and slashing aid to everyone.

“Evangelical leader, sociology professor, and Baptist minister Tony Campolo made headlines in the 1990s when he agreed to be a spiritual counselor to President Bill Clinton. A self-described Bible-believing Christian, he has drawn fire from his fellow evangelicals for his stance on contemporary issues like homosexuality. He talked with Beliefnet recently about his new book, ‘Speaking My Mind’.” Laura Sheahen, 2004 interview for

It has been so many years since I last talked with Tony Campolo. Somewhere in my library are several books by this enthusiastic writer and speaker and each is dog-eared from my readings. One has been around for some time “Carpe Diem” seize the day in Latin where Dr. Campolo addresses inner city poverty and possibilities forty years ago with progressive and innovative ideas. But a point in the first passage in Sheahen’s article that hit me as a teacher.
“Government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; “

In our current NCLB No Child Left Behind legislation demographics are not as crucial as test scores until you have the right numbers. On the Georgia Department of Education website the following is a description under Exceptional Children.

“A child with a disability is a child evaluated and determined to be eligible for special education services for intellectual disabilities, a hearing impairment including deafness, a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment including blindness, emotional disturbance, an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, a specific learning disability, or deaf-blindness.” GADOE

This is the qualifier for Exceptional education in Georgia and essentially is that learning is affected by impairment. We then through NCLB, LRE, Least restrictive environment and a few more acronyms and Georgia has a beautiful vision statement.

“All students with disabilities in Georgia will participate in a challenging educational program designed to meet their unique needs that results in increased academic performance and prepares them for employment and independent living.” GADOE

But then we get into NCLB and federal and state laws and politics and such and that thought is lost.

“Under No Child Left Behind, all students, including those with disabilities, must meet Georgia’s proficient level of academic achievement by 2013-2014” GADOE

What becomes so amazing is that in this push to take disabled children and miraculous improve achievement levels to a norm level with all children is that the teachers who are trained to work with special needs children are being restricted and reduced. We are using inclusion to provide that LRE. It is by placing special needs children in regular class rooms often with a collaborative exceptional education teacher and sometimes without to solve the problem. I seriously wonder is this the solution? The basis is that simply being with regular education children will raise levels of performance. I am wandering today perhaps there are too many political nightmares ahead. I have an ongoing emailing with a friend about our issues in oil industry and corruption in politics that sometimes will keep me up at night.

Evidently the Army has given back over $300,000,000.00 in questionable money to Brown and Root for oil and fuel purchased during the initial reconstruction in Iraq. The Army internal auditors found major discrepancies and the money was being held. The Army senior staff ruled in favor of Brown and Root over internal Army auditors. Maybe I have been reading too much today. Dr. Campolo, NCLB, to questionable accounting in Iraq and where am I going. It is legislation passed by our Federal Government be it NCLB, accounting practices in Iraq and or whatever and whomever that require pages and pages of documents often to a point of meaninglessness. A recent piece of legislation to repeal another piece of legislation was a significant document. Often there are numerous bills tacked on here and there that many never see or hear about. Perhaps where I am going is the first statement from Dr. Campolo we should be:

“ troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; we should be disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country’s militarism; outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; and upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation.”

I read a recent blurb by a high school student on likes and dislikes one of the dislikes listed publicly was, homeless people. As I sat and thought reading this a few days ago how sad we have become. I have read teenagers blogs about why don’t homeless people get a job. I ran into a former student who is literally disabled from diabetes but not quite enough to get disability. He has a hard time holding a job because of his disability and inability to afford medical care and insulin. He passed out one time at work and was fired. There are programs available that could maybe keep him working but he wasn’t aware however he is now. But he could have been a homeless person very easily and not because he doesn’t want to work.

People, human beings with mental illness who only a few years ago would be in mental hospitals and in treatment now in our privatized system and are out on the street many homeless and most employers do not want someone who is not always here working for them. We can be hedonistic and pass off, but these people do not just go away. Children with disabilities with suggested legislation do not just go away when funding is cut even if they are hidden in the least restricted environment. We need to be more caring. We need to pardon the pun, “Carpe Diem.” So it is not just our service men and women but so many more we need to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste. I will end borrowing from a line I have used daily for many years.

“It takes few words to speak the truth” Chief Joseph

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

Why should our children be going to school?

Bird Droppings February 11, 2014
Why should our children be going to school?

After reading Joel Spring’s book, Political Agendas for Education, one might wonder why we even have schools. Spring’s implies they are simply to create and mold youth into whatever it is those in power deem feasible. His idea is that it is consumers first and then employees willing to work at meaningless tasks and not question those in power. While Spring’s book is not quite to that extreme, the book raises questions about agendas of various groups, political entities and some very powerful people within our nation.

The massive shift to high stakes testing and accountability based on that testing leading to teaching to the tests rather than the actual needs of the children that are involved. Is this where we have come to? Teaching specific curriculum, approved researched based curriculum has become the catch word. The big question always in research is who is backing the research. I used a reading program where all the research was done by the company producing the books and program. In terms of scientific research it was not a very reliable study yet according to Federal standards it is a research based study. I often wonder if the actual students are ever talked too.

One of the segments used in the reading research study which directly applied to the students I was working with at the time was a group of 14 Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed middle school students with average to above average IQ’s and one to two years behind in reading. The research showed how successful the program was, with a one hundred percent improvement to where all were on grade level. In years past I was told this study applied to a group of students I was working with who were eighteen to nineteen years of age with IQ’s less than 75 and were ten to twelve years behind in reading level. I did question the data and program and actually called the publishing company to verify what type of student study group the research was done on. My direct supervisor was needless to say upset I questioned the data. So where do we go as teachers, educators and students?

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.” Bill Beattie

Each day I get up write and go to school unless I happen to have a day off funny thing is I am doubly off today. We are under a winter storm watch and all extracurricular school activities are cancelled due to weather and school is out for winter break. As I sit here wondering I hope I am teaching my students how to think. Hopefully I am teaching them a desire to learn.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Sydney J. Harris

I was introduced to Sydney J. Harris’s columns nearly fourteen years ago by a fellow teacher and refer to Harris often in my writing. Each time I find a thought I am intrigued anew. In life this is what education should be about creating windows in people’s lives.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Albert Einstein

Far too often we preach content especially now in our teaching to the test, when it is context that is the powerful glue that could hold it all together. I see context as the how does this apply in real life, how is it relevant to me pieces of the puzzle. I have looked at reports from observers where a teacher ties geometry into the real world and how much more powerful is that lesson when students can see where and when and how it actually has meaning. John Dewey was preaching context and experience in early 1900’s it is not a new idea even today John Dewey is considered progressive. I find so-called education reformers tend to build on new packaging of the same traditional industrial complex philosophy with the added value today of profit as a driving force not education of children.

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Roosevelt said this nearly seventy five years ago and we have said this daily as teachers yet education is one of those things so often put aside when budgets comes up in state and federal spending.

“It’ll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.” Dr. Ronald D. Fuchs

Amazing as we have spent hundreds of billions the military and our military spending is significantly higher than what we spend on education.

“An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.” Author Unknown

Semantics so often is the dividing line and as I read this simple thought about making a living versus making a life I am made aware in a deeper way of how conflicted our system is. We so often put all into economic means a dollar value yet life is so much more than how much do you make.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Derek Bok

Daily I will comment “swearing shows ignorance and currently you are pretty ignorant” as kids utter language of inappropriate content and even context. Yet this is what they hear at home and where many learn the words and meanings. It is these same parents that pay taxes and complain about the cost of education.

“Education… has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.” G.M. Trevelyan

I put my thoughts on several blogs, websites and in an daily email and as I read comments on student’s sites one that so often bothers me is when they answer the question of what books do you read and many answer, none. Read who reads when you have the internet and text messaging. How scary can it be when our children are not reading since it is far too easy to get on line or on the cell phone and pull up twitter and a hundred and forty characters of gibberish or Facebook or yahoo news? There is even a new program that reads to you from written word although it is being tested in court as a copyright infringement on audio-books.

“Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.” Abraham Flexner

When the military, industrial, oil complex has a means of generating revenue from education, money will be spent there. About six years back a family friend of George W. Bush in Texas, actually a cousin raised nearly a hundred million in seed money from oil and mining interests for a computer module software company for schools. Interestingly enough it fit into federal legislation, NCLB as an alternative form of education. We pay companies to look for oil to develop new missiles and one of my favorites recently is we have stock piled millions of rounds of VX poisonous gas around the world. There were thirteen million rounds on an island in the pacific, several million in the northwest, and nine million rounds in Anniston Al. and now we are paying billions to clean up since containers are corroding and leaking VX gas. Just for the record that is the stuff movies have been made about and what we didn’t find in Iraq.

“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” Edward Everett
Would it not be great if we could prove this?

“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” Mark Twain

The great humorist and author over a hundred years ago saw what was needed and how it affects society I find that amazing.

“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?” Erich Fromm

Wise man and philosopher state that school should not be just for kids but an ongoing ever present learning effort and what a world could be built if we would educate truly educate all people.

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm S. Forbes
I recall a button my father used in his safety campaigns in the steel mills of Pennsylvania back in the day, it read simply, “IF ONLY”. That was all that was on the button, and it represented, if only we could, if only I would, if only has so many applications.

“What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” Henry David Thoreau

I was never the fan of Thoreau and Emerson back in my own high school days perhaps I never tried to really read into their thoughts. This one line from Thoreau has significance for me. Education should be not forcing the content but allowing that content to be put into context.

“Did you know America ranks the lowest in education but the highest in drug use? It’s nice to be number one, but we can fix that. All we need to do is start the war on education. If it’s anywhere near as successful as our war on drugs, in no time we’ll all be ‘hooked on phonics’.” Leighann Lord

A bit long winded today but a good thought to end on as I think so many law makers are trying to destroy public education in the US. What if we truly did apply ourselves, what if? So please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts till that day when no person is in harm’s way and always give thanks namaste.

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

Listening to a five note flute

Bird Droppings February 10, 2014
Listening to a five note flute

“The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo belonged…. Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux, 1868-1937

I listen quite a bit to flute music played and recorded by Carlos Nakai, a renowned musician and Grammy nominee for Native American music. He plays a handmade wooden five note flute often unaccompanied except by echoes from his own flute. As I looked through news on yahoo earlier this morning an interesting article. The Dakota Sioux are playing scrabble to preserve their language. In the Sioux nation less than 205 members of the tribe are fluent in the old language. A good friend who happens to be Creek told me of going to boarding school in this day and age, he is my age and he was punished for speaking his native tongue, old style Creek. He grew up speaking only Creek from living with his grandfather who was the medicine man to the Creek nation and would only speak Old Creek, while knowing the language he refused to speak English having given up on the white man many years previous.

I was amazed at offerings that we used to have at our high school. In the previous catalog were courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Latin and yet in our lifetimes or at least in mine we refused an indigenous people the right to their own language. I recall a scene from “Into the West” a several years ago mini-series that recently replayed, it is a rerun on Home Box Office movie with a different slant. Children were brought to the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania from reservations in the Dakotas and elsewhere and we tried to make them “normal”. Actually I am not just about Native Americans today but our feeble attempts at normalcy. Our guidelines we draw and rules we make it was not that long ago left handed children were forced to write right handed. In numerous research papers the concept of mixed dominance came up and showed significant damage being done to left handed children neurologically. Even today many traditional teachers will try and get kids to write with their right hand. Seems it is easier on the teacher. Here I am with a grand daughter who favors her left hand. We tend to forget you are right or left sided as well, eyed, and footed, literally your entire body.

Normal is such a simple word pretty much everything that is not abnormal borrowing from philosopher Foucault. But in schools it is the norms that drive everything. We look for patterns in testing, for averages, for norms all those things we can put numbers on and measure. I recall year’s back I had a student who would go to the door before a period and ask to be let go early because there were no norms about. He did not want to be recognized as a SPED, a Special Education student. I would have snuck him out the back door but we didn’t have one. What was funny it became a joke eventually as I would go to the door and determine who was a norm or not and clear the way when the bell rang.
I think back to my own high school days before IDEA became law in 1974. This was before most disabled children were allowed in schools. I worked in a private center with severe and profoundly disabled children and adults. Our kids were normal and we viewed the rest of the world as disabled and we talked this way. They were disabled because they were unable to experience what we did every day. To have an appreciation for little things, reading your first word, taking a step without a wheel chair, not having a seizure for a day or two.

I read blogs and bulletins about clothes and music and think back. I see jeans purchased with holes in them, we earned ours and yes I had numerous pairs of jeans with holes and patches my sons have claimed them all now. But we earned the holes and patches with wear and tear on and in our jeans. Back in the day we did not have fifty brand named labels to argue over it was simply Levis or Wranglers period and they all had brass rivets on the back pockets. It was funny as a matter of fact in high school we could not wear jeans because of rivets scratching seats at school. This is what we were told and girls could not wear pants although I am not sure other than the puritanical demeanor of dress code in those days. That was over forty five years ago.

Thinking back to what was normal and what a word that is. I recall special education back then and how one student who was special education all her life graduated from college and retired recently as a teacher. Now a days she would have been labeled as learning disabled and I wonder as I sit here thinking where will we be in another forty years. It was once estimated that by 2025 the Dakota Sioux language will be extinct and many said so what. It is sort of like so what if we lose a piece of wilderness for more oil as some politicians are calling for again with the drill baby drill chant at such endeavors as teabag rallies. So what if the Grizzly bear is extinct or eastern red wolf or some nondescript fresh water mussel no one ever sees or a rain forest tribe who is better off in a house and raising crops than hunting in the forest.

Something we tend to forget is all is interrelated, Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related in Lakota), each piece connects to the other and by losing a piece, the puzzle will never be complete. There are selfish people who really do not care about 2025 and whether the Dakota Sioux language disappears or the wilderness is gone as long as they make their billions now. I wonder what you can do with billions of dollars when you are gone maybe that is the part I have a hard time with and on a smaller scale looking at lists that drive popularity on Social networks. Things like do you have a cell phone, IPod, car, Jet Ski, etc. I will admit I do have a few collections, still I keep books and I store literally hundreds of thousands of photos all bits and pieces of my life and understanding.

So where do we go and what do we do? We look for each connection to the next. We look for the coincidences and chance happenings we look for the synchronicity in life. I have found after a day or two of looking you will find amazing things. It is if the pieces fall into place and life takes a whole new outlook and what was important may not be as crucial anymore. Try reading Thoreau, there are several good sites on the internet. He walked about for several years just to learn. Enough of my wandering for today peace be with you all and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks and always give thanks namaste.

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

I was listening to the stillness of a morning with no sunrise and or sometimes we need a window and not a mirror.

Bird Droppings February 9, 2014
I was listening to the stillness of a morning with no sunrise and or sometimes we need a window and not a mirror.

I was sitting alone this morning as I do on weekend mornings trying to get a few photos of the sunrise. The ambient temperature is still a bit too cold to hear many early morning sounds down in the bottoms along the stream or towards the field. The clouds help to muffle sounds adding to the silence and stillness. The air was not moving save for a single car leaving our subdivision early this morning. My dog would come by periodically as she prowls the back yard searching for signs of voles her new nemesis and my most hated adversary. Seems voles like plant roots and one has found its way to my herb garden and I have lost several plants already. Fortunately my westie has some hunting instinct left and she caught the culprit. I was thinking as I sat meditating some might say letting my mind float listening to the stillness. When I came home yesterday and walked around the back yard the cold is keeping any new flowers from poking up. However I saw my first robin of this year so who knows maybe spring is near. My rosemary hopefully will survive the cold and daffodils are starting to poke through. Hopefully it will be just a few weeks from now that our azaleas will start in and color will surround our home.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes we do not look and listen carefully enough and miss pieces of what is so close. It was last year a baby anole most people call them chameleons which is a little green or brown lizard we find on shrubs and around the house was on our porch about two inches long it nearly escaped observation. His bigger father greets visitors as they come onto our porch at about six inches long he usually sits on the door post in the later afternoon sun weather permitting. But I mentioned listening today I was sitting and talking with a student last week before break listening and arguing till something hit me. My student was seeing a different world than I was and beliefs and understandings were different. I was explaining from my own perspective and he was trying to assimilate into another world. A comment was made and my student’s response was not of a teenager but of a small child which is so difficult to explain. A comment was made and as I listened a light bulb went off I was using terminology and understanding that was in a different galaxy compared to what he had experienced in life. This was not about intelligence and or ability but beliefs, experiences, understandings and perceptions.

“If all I was seeing was a sunrise I would have missed the intricacies of the clouds.” Frank Bird grandfather, teacher, photographer, and ponderer

In working with modern day high school students conversation often consists of daily one up man ship and listening to the constant chatter about who has what phone, purse and or what shoes. I was finishing up testing before our pep rally and a group of students in my room asked Mr. Bird do you have Facebook and I responded of course. One of the students a cocky young fellow was commenting about all of his pictures and how he had probably more than anybody on Facebook. I quickly one upped and said I would say I have more albums than you do pictures. His response was you do not have more pictures of yourself than me I have 982. As I thought about one upping again I said no you do beat me in that I have pictures of other people not me. He went on to how he was a model and clothes he wears and hair stylist and failed the test not of class work but humanity.

So I thought about our self-focusing young man and how is that impacting the reality we have. My wife and I went out for lunch yesterday and used a gift card given to us by our son and daughter in law. While we talked I shared my little photo discussion and how it made me think. My wife mentioned a news story from the day of a teenage girl who somehow took a selfie with a dead body. Our conversation drifted to teaching and classes we both teach college and a comment about class size and state funding. I went to school all through school with thirty or more in classes. That is not a good thing but we made it. I was thinking of a student teacher at our high school talking with his instructor in the staff copy room when I walked in and pieces of conversation I overheard. It hit me how many educators of educators have been in a sterile environment in academe and today’s class room is radically different than even five years ago. When I first started back teaching nearly fourteen years ago I did not have iPhone to contend with and iPads to teach from instead of books.

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” Henry David Thoreau

“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I began to listen to the stillness when no talking was occurring just observing my student thinking about a word I may have said, imagination. What if we have a limit to our imagination? What if you were much like a tape recorder and could only imagine what you had taken in? Most of us do this anyhow with a bit of whimsy we can alter and add to and delete from and create anew. So this is a big what if, you could not add to and delete from only use what you had on tape. I recall reading a book, Thinking in Pictures, by Dr. Temple Grantin that best describes what I am saying. Dr. Grantin is autistic. It has been nearly seven years since I read about a young man, Jason McElway, who is autistic and was the star of his high schools last home basketball game. At that time he has been approached by numerous Hollywood production companies including Walt Disney to make a movie of his life. As I thought more listening to stillness this morning we all have autistic tendencies.

“I photographed a massive oak tree easily seven foot in diameter that once stood by a house as a chimney is just behind it. In my own readings the tree of life has much significance to Native peoples this came to mind as I photographed this great tree. As I thought it came to me that even this great tree was only a few minutes from someone’s saw, cut and lying on the ground. Frank Bird grandfather, teacher and ponderer

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” Henry David Thoreau

What if rather than 1 in 500 children having symptoms of autism that those only who have more severe autistic symptoms were recognized as it was when I started teaching in 1970. Technically the American Psychological Association in its latest manual is changing the definition again and going back to the older view. Actually I think we all have the tendencies. This is a difficult explanation. As I sat listening today it was so quiet, I was able to think to imagine to dream. When I sat down today I started on this topic and in the back of my mind I recalled a test for creativity. I recalled reading about how Temple Grantin had to teach herself how to respond to emotional stimuli. As I read my morning messages and blogs in facebook and WordPress it hit. The tendencies are universal and vary significantly.
I was trying to explain from my world view an idea that was so alien to the student I was talking with on Friday. I was painting in oils with a student who was used to crayons and pencil. It was nearly five years ago that a little girl on American Idol and yes I do get caught up in the frenzy still or I should say we do here at our house, each picking favorites. This little country girl was as cute as a button and was explaining being in LA and going out to eat and having squid or calamari. She as she tried it was making cute faces and such. But having never had squid before there was no basis for her to even consider it. But if she had been from Italy, Mexico or Asia where squid is prepared as a standard fare it would be different. To those folk’s boiled okra would have been just as gross. Boiled okra by the way is far worse than squid.

“It was necessary to live through, and establish, a presence of stable consciousness within the world before it was possible for the detachment to gradually emerge which would permit that other, objective reality to connect with the conscious.” Dr. Karl Gustav Jung

What if someone has to experience an event to understand it? What if the limitations of those individuals make up do limit imagination and the ability to assimilate intangibles? I can explain an idea so clearly to me anyone could understand yet a person who needs experience needs to tape record that idea would not have the data to deal with it. What if belief is this way as well, faith or trust for example? The great educational philosopher John Dewey addresses experience and the ability to build from experiences past and present in his writings quite often.

“John Dewey’s significance …. Lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second, and linked to this, Dewey’s exploration of thinking and reflection.” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education

Enlarging experience is not all that easy. What if a person is limited to their experiences only? What if they cannot enlarge that realm and are stuck within the confines of a limited reality? I am getting deeper than normal but it revolves around my discussion with that student the other day. Hearing myself listening to the words and explanation I was trying to do and then hearing a response that was limited and in being limited by certain parameters also confining. This is a significant piece we as teachers need to consider. I will expound another time the morning is closing in on me and I still have my daily sojourn to Kroger to go. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

I am sitting quietly trying to understand the word courage

Bird Droppings February 7, 2014
I am sitting quietly trying to understand the word courage

I had been outside running to the store in the wee hours of the morning for some supplies and at 29 degrees it is a cold morning in Georgia one of cooler mornings recently. Stars were scattering as I went out allowing me to for a few minutes to see beyond the haze of clouds with recent rain. I am sure had I had the dog out she would be running trying to chase the phantom coyote calling midst the pines they get started it seems just before dawn and dusk across the street. A few days ago we were to have another winter storm headed this way and so far all we have had is rain this week. I prefer the warnings coming across my cell phone than the real thing most any day. Going back I wrote several days back about courage and looked at several views but it is a complex concept for many and I will wander a bit more through the lexicon and vernaculars of the surrounding current environment.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

Generally I will bounce from topic to topic and occasionally will tie a few together in some sort of significant way. The past few days emails and discussion have kept me thinking about this word courage. I bought a book a few weeks back at Barnes and Nobles, The Lakota way. It is essentially stories and lessons for living by Joseph M. Marshall III. The book focuses on twelve core qualities crucial to the Lakota way of life which include bravery, fortitude, generosity, wisdom, respect, honor, perseverance, love, humility, sacrifice, truth, and compassion. The word courage was not used although in dictionary terms perhaps bravery is synonymous as I looked up the definition of courage on the internet.

“The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.”

When I first started on this word a few weeks ago discussion went back and forth based on ideas of that this is what courage is and an example or is this courage. I found defining courage soon became a personal thing. What was courageous for one may be craziness for another. I used the example of counting coop among plains tribes and the sacredness of an eagle feather awarded for touching an enemy in battle without a weapon. I received an email yesterday from a friend responding and she wrote about a card sent to her with the following inscription.

“Flying in a circle of beauty, the eagle reminds all Lakota bout the great circle of life, death and life again. To the Lakota, the eagle–with its promise of strength and power–also brings light to the Morning Star. Held in reverence, the eagle’s feathers symbolize everything strong, brave and holy. The feathers are to be worn always with honor, dignity and pride.” A greeting card from St. Joseph’s Indian School, The Eagle and the Lakota People
As I thought for the Lakota a feather earned in battle touching an enemy was sacred yet in our day of modern warfare this would be crazy to most. I have attended several seminars and listened to a good friend and frequent commenter to my thoughts. Thinking back to Wednesday it was a busy day of emailing, meetings, teaching and my quarterly newsletter from my friend.

“Courage is probably like life; if you break it down to define it … you destroy it. Just a note from where I sit.” James D. Sutton, Ed.D., CSP, psychologist and author

I thought about this as I sat listening to the stillness of a cold winter morning the only muffled sounds were the puttering of my old jeep and the crinkling of the hard ground and I slowly moved taking sunrise pictures and a slight breeze rustling the pine needles to my right. Another friend responded as she often does with a story gleaned from her reading and thinking and as I thought about life and courage this story does apply. Courage often is in the sorting and doing of life. I will share this short passage sent by a friend.

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough – remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee. A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.” The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. “Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.” One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.” Unknown author, Emailed from a good friend Jodie Schmidt

I thought about this simple analogy to life and my current search for answers to the word courage. We all seem to find when the time comes what is courage for us. Courage often is the sorting of what is important in our lives. Deciding this is a golf ball and this is only sand can be a hard choice. I was reflecting back on a problem my son came home with from Georgia Tech several years ago. A diagram was of three molecules touching. They were circles (molecules) or better yet symbolized by circles. There was space between the circles a triangular sort of shape where they did not touch. The problem was solving for that space, to write a formula to calculate the number of molecules that will fill that space. My son worked many hours formulating an answer for a finite space with infinite answer. As I ponder defining courage it is much like solving for that space.

We can in each instance find a solution for our given time and place and yet tomorrow another answer. For the Lakota it is an eagle feather, which is only a bird dropping for some, a left over remnant of a bird passing by and yet to some more precious than gold. I recall a good friend carefully removing an eagle feather from a beaded piece of deer skin he had carefully placed away previously. My friend had received the eagle feather from his grandfather who at that time was the spiritual leader and medicine man for the Muskogee Creek nation and in his nineties. My friend was beading the feather into a special necklace for his grandfather. This was only a little over forty years ago and the feather was handled with great honor and respect. Always lay back on the blessed deer skin never just tossed aside. Always wrapped and carefully placed away when work was stopped.

Looking back at the twelve words from the Lakota all truly intertwine and interconnect. Courage is not a lone word but a weaving in the basket, a piece of the puzzle. Often I fall back to a small prayer sometimes attributed to St. Francis and officially published in a sermon by Reinhold Niebuhr, the serenity prayer when talking about courage.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Occasionally I will borrow stories from a friend and his chicken dairy tales, the adventures and misadventures of his free range chickens in his back yard. Many the stories I can tell about this fellow back to Junior high school. So I borrow again for today another adventure of King Calico and the wisdom to know the difference.

“Then the husky put two and two together, figuring a hot chicken dinner was preferable to a cold bone. He chased a couple birds in earnest, and the rest scattered. Then there was King Calico. Calico faced the hungry animal at a distance. The beast charged. Calico stared down the menace as the space between them narrowed rapidly. But it was no contest. Indoor (probably) dog against the smartest street smart rooster in the world. Calico jumped and flew away. After all, at this twilight of his life, he is not up to a tough fight with some big pooch.” Allan Gold, Chicken Dairies

As I sit here in my class room at school listening to Carlos Nakai on CD and the haunting notes of a Native American flute I close today. Nearly every news broadcast seems to bring more stories of people needing others of people needing people so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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