Seeking perfection in a world full of mud

Bird Droppings March 31, 2014
Seeking perfection in a world full of mud

“I have found there are those who can write and speak fluently and yet do not have anything to say and then there are those who have something to say who may not be so fluent. The big question is who do, you listen too?” fbird

On Friday I overheard a conversation about grammar and how poorly students in school are at grammar. The consensus was we need to drill them in grammar, correct sentence structure, syntax, complex compound sentences, covalent bonds, distorted warped lines, rational equations and retroactive participles. Oh brother and the list continue on. The word hablar, translated from Spanish means to work. In Spanish classes we also learned to conjugate that verb in thousands of ways and I can’t remember any of them. So I guess I can’t say to work in Spanish in masculine past tense future. So what is my point maybe an illustration a story of sorts before I go on?

Once there was a young man who went to a great educational institution far away he was a smart child and knew much of life, he too was an athlete and a very fast runner strong and powerful was he, as he came to the school he saw an opportunity to became a member of an elite group of athletes that were participating in a sport he knew well. The throwing of a disc and scoring points which goes by the name in laymen’s terms of ultimate Frisbee. He proceeded to try out but the team was skilled beyond his knowledge in the ways of technique and plays, precision ruled as the players each knew where to be for play 234 and executed exactly time and again. He was not allowed to play with them. He searched for a team and soon found himself with a group who at first did not want him because he was young and unproven, however soon in his strength he prevailed and was the leading scorer, and soon the team he joined was numero uno and the prefect team was not. They had not won a game. All of their plays were prefect and every player was where there were to be but the other teams were elsewhere scoring.

“If a man should happen to reach perfection in this world, he would have to die immediately to enjoy himself.” Josh Billings

I am not against learning how to do something correctly even perfectly but if that consumes you in your endeavor and you fail to move forward then you are lost. When crossing a stream and you finally start and after much preparation your shoes are exactly right and water proof shirt and pants just in case. As you step to the first rock carefully measuring and gauging your steps for the next and so forth soon you attain rock two. Maybe you will cross the stream and maybe being so intent on the destination and your effort to get there you miss the journey and all around you is so much more.

“You can spend a lifetime, and, if you’re honest with yourself, never once was your work perfect.” Charleston Hesston

“The only nice thing about being imperfect is the joy it brings to others.” Doug Larson
Perhaps I have gone slightly over board, would I want to be on a surgical table with a surgeon who was not perfect or really in any field would it matter. The issue becomes what is perfect? Was it the poor guys whose plays are flawless but cannot respond to another team’s changes, they will never succeed? Could it be the writer who has errorless form but not a single thought, that person will never write a story. Perhaps it is the surgeon who is perfect and yet can’t talk to a patient to explain what is going on and then what. Life is filled with paradox.

“I have always suspected that correctness is the last refuge of those who have nothing to say.” Friedrich Wasiman

“The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work, and if it takes the second must refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.” William Butler Yeats

As I sit here this morning spinning ideas out, we should truly seek to learn to know to understand, how to try and be perfect in what we do yet always be able to see past and never look down on those who may not know what you know. As I sit reading back over my sentences interspersed with thoughts ideas and ramblings, punctuated with dashes and words and many time no capitals I wonder. Recently I questioned a friend about her emails where she leaves the word I always I, a small i and what is funny it spell checks it large so I assumed it was a deliberate effort on her part to do, an artsy sort of poetic thing turns out she just was lazy and didn’t push cap key.

“It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we become towards the defects of others.” Joseph Addison

“Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” Angelique Arnauld

“Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.” Lord Chesterfield

I guess my issue my point is we can be perfect and still make sense and you can make perfect sense and still not be perfect but it is how you go at it if you have done your best and continue to try and improve your direction is good, or as Lord Chesterfield said many give up because perfection is so unattainable they think. I recall one of my favorite lines, “CHOOSE WISELY” said the old knight in Indiana Jones and the search for the Holy Grail, and now I will continue my day here on an Easter Sunday seeking perfection in the mud of an imperfect world, I shall go onward and forward. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and please have a glorious week as we march into April tomorrow and spring has sprung and always give thanks namaste.

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

Can we really find answers?

Bird Droppings March 27, 2014
Can we really find answers?

Several years ago I would have said there were answers to almost any question that could be asked. Today sitting here I wonder granted first you have to ask what is the question or questions but I have a different attitude now sort of one that is allowing for an unanswerable question. When I was researching yesterday and reading about W. Edward Deming’s and his solutions which was a rather simple solution to most quality issues in life. Deming believed in quality first and as I ponder education is it too pie in the sky to try and do such a good job that there are no questions no need to check (assess) at the end of the line. Is it too high and mighty to offer that there is no need to inspect or challenge and or no need to test if the quality is built in?

When other than the day before spring break would I be sitting pondering, eating a ham and cheese omelet and sipping a real strong black tea with agave nectar over ice and waiting on a sunrise to pose such a question. Actually there are many days of the week, other than my stop at waffle house morning. I figure I can work that off as the day progresses with kids going bonkers on a Friday before break. But Deming’s ideas keeping coming back to me and I will diverse a bit in my thoughts as I wander to a discussion that came up yesterday with a regular education teacher a good friend who has concerns as well on education.

I was working on an idea on using academic achievement to address issues with Learning Disabled students by using a rubric which in and of its self is a way to provide quality versus simply quantity to an evaluation. This sort of led into as I headed toward school a discussion. As I sat driving around yesterday after discussing with another teacher the subject of autism and dealing with where do these kids go after school is over? On a more critical note what is even available? I had a brainstorm which was in part due to the thoughts that came out in our discussion. Over and over again parents were concerned about how their child’s life was being directed by people who did not know their child. Often changes in staffing will occur and parents do not even know. For nearly ten years I have recommended teachers of some students track students more effectively perhaps including group meetings of staff up and down the line who will have or have had that student. More often than not we deal with a cold folder of someone else’s opinion. Knowing a kid can make the difference so many times between success and failure. This concept ties also into the current discussion of educational issues being decided by non-educational people with our state and federal legislators.

I met several years back at a conference a care giver who provides daily living assistance for several Asperger’s syndrome and autistic young men in a group home sort of setting. One of the young men who lived in this facility was also involved in the discussion. (This fellow lives essentially on his own and not only has Asperger’s syndrome which is a high function form of autism but is legally blind as well. Sadly for years the visual impairment concealed the pervasive disorder). The care giver who works for an organization that is involved with disabled adults who need some assistance referred to knowing the person well many times. He and this young man have a language many would not understand actually part of this young man’s disorder idiosyncrasies that the care giver has learned to understand.

So often in schools and workplaces we want all the ducks in a row and someone who is a bit different doesn’t fit in so push them aside. Charter schools the big reform answer in and of its nature limits what students can come to that particular school with its charter. I could not help but think of IEP’s and such and even further to Deming’s ideas. My day yesterday was pondering achievement, a rubric and Deming while I played with my granddaughter and started several flats of sweet basil. It has been a while since I sat as a student in class but I can’t count the times education professors have said we need to think outside the box. Yesterday as we talked two teachers walking the hallways of knowledge we discussed opening the box. So often we limit as I think Deming’s pointed out when we have “the inspection” we only really get what we ask for. This has actually been researched in industry numerous times if you want to find twenty percent defective parts you will get twenty percent defective parts. My mind jumped to those students for whom seventy percent is passing and we get seventy percent from many.

I have watched meeting in which the group set IEP goals of eighty percent compliance on a behavior in such areas as not swearing at authority figures. I would have liked that myself back in several of my high school and college classes. That translates into two out of ten times I could swear and it is ok since I am achieving my goals. This is literally exactly what Deming’s is saying, you get what you ask for. So how do we imply quality and success without setting limits and or parameters? How do we measure achievement without providing a box even within the confines of a rubric? How do we measure friendship without having parameters to measure from? Hopefully the last on perhaps is one of the easiest to escape from we measure friendship hopefully not in some testing situation and not in some box ready format but we measure friendship in love and in emotion which often is not a measurable and quantitative form it is in simply knowing. Why do we have a difficult time in education? Far too often teachers do not know students. A school identity number and seat on a floor chart and we are off to educate.

“Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” Dr. W. Edward Deming

This can apply in so many different fields including education but it will take some effort to teach teachers how to know students. It will take a different mindset for teachers to look for quality rather than quantity. It will take using innovative ideas to evaluate learning rather than standardized tests that so often are not even valid in the context of what they are testing. How valid is a test that students can score about the same in the beginning as in the end? I have not proved this point but I would wager on most High School Graduation tests if given to ninth graders they would come close to passing in effect if they are capable of passing the test in eleventh grade. I have similar thoughts on End of Course Tests. Sadly the difficulty is in developing within students and workers another of Deming’s thoughts.

“Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service…” Dr. W. Edward Deming

Listening to parents over the years always makes me think. We seriously need to address perhaps differently children and even each other so often we come at life in general rather than looking for specifics in an individual. We approach each aspect as from past experiences which are still important and do not let that experience of the moment have its way for that person. We lose individuality in mass production even in our own view of things. I am always reminded of first impressions and first impressions are based on past experience and not on anything to do with this person far too often. We need to see and hear who this is before passing judgment and we need as those parents offered over and over to get to know the real person not just the symptomatology. I sit here trying to figure out how to create an open ended rubric some method of scoring that has no parameters and no limits and that is an interesting venture for the day ahead and week ahead planting, gardening, mowing and reading. 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)
bird

A morning meandering while the moon is glowing

Bird Droppings March 26, 2014
A morning meandering while the moon is glowing

Last night after tutoring after school with a student who needs constant repetition of material to remember I read through several old emails from my doctorate and graduate cohort friends as some are defending their dissertations in the coming weeks. In another set of emails based on an article on teaching memory that was reviewed by several teachers that had several comments on how these particular readings provided insight into successful educational adaptation of this program. I found I actually had enjoyed the readings and it made me recall a teaching principle I learned in from my father who used it in the steel industry many years ago and I actually was taught this concept in a Red Cross course for instructors in 1968. It is called the FIDO principle, hence Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again. If you repeat something, often enough it will sink in. Granted in today’s educational system of teaching to the test we might be using FIDO a bit too much.

“I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends. I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, The School Journal, Vol. LIV, No.

I look at John Dewey’s ideas from nearly a hundred years ago and how we still call those ideas progressive education it amazes me. With all of the educational materials out now, many are only a few years old they are still called traditional when comparing to Dewey. One of our topics was looking at performance versus social support. I am of course leaning in the social support direction as this is an integral part of my day when I am teaching even with general education students. This is how I see kids and deal with kids. I go back to my idea in one of the postings I read earlier today of getting away from a swing of the pendulum and going in the direction of a pulse, no swing either way but a steady beat or energy.

We should try and steer away from that concept of right or left swing and go towards what is best for the kid not always for the society. I have worked with a large number of kids from a certain low income housing area nearby. Many are very bright and all are very poor. The sixteen hour syndrome as I call it is alive and well in that area. As I go by often several times a day between my mother’s house and my own, I see kids I have had and often new ones but always similarities. As I look back at the last twelve years of teaching EBD students I have had more kids from that one spot in the county than any other specific spot. Sadly in actuality many are marrying within that small community. There are more kids being born, coming from that environment. Many are on the fringe of society. Many of the kids are anarchists, punkers, suffering from divergent behaviors, drug addicts, alcoholics, and few if any have jobs. I wondered why as I drove by thinking of past kids from this enclave. Several are serving serious hard time; some have escaped and moved away, many will be going to our newest high school down the road next year. I wonder if anyone in that community was approached about their participation in the greater good.

Interesting as I am having a difficult time getting started this morning wandering off a bit as if I had just driven by that community. I am always trying to stay up with youngest son thinking back I recall a day he decided to do a Godzilla marathon of the old Godzilla movies. I did not make it through the first one. When I got up the next morning the video was still on and he crashed somewhere after five this morning watching the twenty eighth movie featuring the man in a monster suit. He just found the latest installment which features every major other monster and a walk on by the computer generated Godzilla. I often wonder if there is a hidden meaning to Godzilla the powerful beast who always eventually has a weakness. Sort of the David and Goliath of nature and humanity, and my youngest of course came to the rescue offering that the original concept of the monster was an antinuclear effort.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Van der Post

For many years I have been intrigued by this man whom I had not heard of prior to finding a quote several years ago and yet he has written literally hundreds of books and articles on Africa and numerous other countries. He was raised by an African Bushman woman and taught their ways and his philosophy of life. His writings are permeated with nature and the thoughts and aspirations of this primitive people. Van der Post was knighted by the Queen many years ago and actually is the Godfather to Prince William. He is the only non-royal to have ever been given that honor.

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennett

“What is to give light must endure the burning.” Victor E, Frankl

As I sit this morning so often it is conversations and happenings of yesterday that drive the thoughts that inspire me as I write. Yesterday I was talking with some friends of where they had been and where they were going, adversity is a good word as we spoke. It is about looking the lion in the mouth and walking away knowing you have survived. Only a few days ago I was talking with a former student. She was a graduate of a respected associates program and was floored at one point by her rejection at a four year school. She had gone to the two year program on a full athletic scholarship and suffered grade wise in order to play on a nationally ranked junior college team. As time to graduate came close she had to quit softball and actually lost her scholarship in order to raise her grades and put more time into studying. She had conquered her adversary and now was trying to move on. She was after graduating with a four year degree in business still working as a waitress but just a few days prior to our talking had been interviewed and got a job she had been dreaming about.

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” Maori Proverb, the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.
“Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.” Laurens Van der Post

“The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depends on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny.” Colin Powell

Overcoming adversity begins with action, with a step forward, with realizing shadows are cast by light with knowing that growth comes from effort. It is difficult to cross a stream if you never take the first step. In borrowing from the Zen teachings “You can never cross a stream the same way twice”. I was sitting here remembering old stories and thoughts in the past we would hike up a stream in north Georgia the Toccoa Creek and in that hike transverse about 500 feet up hill over rocks and boulders and such climbing up the creek. In the process of course water is continually flowing against you and depending on the rainfall it could be a good bit. Cracks and crevices abound and more than several times you actually swim in rock channels ten feet deep and eighteen inches wide all uphill but at the top is a water fall.

“The view at the top is always worth the climb” Sir Edmond Hillary

Keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

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

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings March 25, 2014
Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

In a ninth grade literature class that I happened to co-teach in, I was introduced to the book Freedom Writers Diary and the film based on the book. In some ways the story is similar to the story of Foxfire. Erin Gruell a first year brand new teacher in an inner city school circa 1992 is baffled as to how and approach literature with her classes. Elliot Wiggington in 1966 was just as baffled as a new teacher of literature in the mountains of Rabun County Georgia. I recall my own first time teaching verbal students I should add as I taught several years working with severe and profoundly disabled students who all were nonverbal. I will say my earliest teaching experiences with non-verbal students did instill in me an appreciation for empathy and intuitiveness. That first verbal class picture is on my wall in my room today from 1976. Over thirty five years ago I saw the same issues Wiggington and Gruell faced walking into a class of students who did not want to be there. Lesson one is always the hardest.

“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.” Foxfire Core Practice three

I was given a class of thirteen I was told learning disabled students. As day one progressed I found someone put down the wrong disability on most of these kids. My principal emphasized reading and I found very quickly the highest reading level in the entire class was three or four years behind. I was not privileged to see folders of students I was to only know they are learning disabled. Our readers were the Dick and Jane type books from first grade and my youngest student was twelve. I learned day one these books we were reading would not work period after having one nearly miss my head. At least my teacher’s podium was not set on fire as happened to Elliot Wiggington back in his first teaching job. When I went home that night I swore day two would be different.

“Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in terms of Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities. When forced to recognize that the extremes cannot be acted upon, it is still inclined to hold that they are all right in theory but that when it comes to practical matters circumstances compel us to compromise. Educational philosophy is no exception. The history of educational theory is marked by position between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

So many college education programs across the country teach a classroom should be like this with a picture of rows of desks all neat in a row and board in front and so forth like so many classrooms we all have seen. Dewey labeled this traditional education and points to the industrial revolution as the basis for this. In current educational reform which in effect is not reform in terms of improving education for children but an effort to streamline and make more efficient the processes of education so as to be more profitable for corporations now buying into education through charter schools. In effect even a stronger sense of traditional education except now imagine the ideal reform classroom banks of computer carousels with students focused on screens room after room and somewhere a “teacher” monitoring programming of computers. No longer would certified teachers be needed only a programmer. Room after room all sitting in rows focused on the screen. Definitely not the classroom I would want for my kids or grandkids.

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

This is why perhaps I am drawn to John Dewey’s writing. In the turn of the century he knew education was the key to democracy and the key to the future. Dewey set a lab school at the University of Chicago that still is operating. It was after several years and a graduate school course that Elliot Wiggington realized he was using ideas from John Dewey.

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core Practice two

I found on my own it was about learner choice and interaction between students and teachers that learning occurred not in some magically programmed curriculum guide. I asked on day two what my students liked to read and nothing was the basic answer from all of them. So what do you like to do was question two. Now we started to get some answers. A rush of favorites started spilling out wrestling, cars, girls, fast cars, baseball, football and it grew quickly. So day three I brought magazines about cars, wrestling and I did leave playboy at my house but I was tempted. By the end of year reading levels soared and my principal was so excited she ordered next set of Dick and Jane books.

As I watched the film Freedom Writers my thoughts went back to why did this teacher succeed and why did Wiggington succeed. As I looked up information on the Freedom Writers I found in the references a list of teachers on the Wikipedia page. Listed in the references and for further information Ken Carter, education activist and former high school basketball coach portrayed in the 2005 film, Coach Carter, Joe Louis Clark, high school principal portrayed in Lean on Me (film), Ron Clark (teacher), portrayed in the 2006 film, The Ron Clark Story, Pierre Dulaine, dancer and dance educator, Jaime Escalante, high school teacher portrayed in the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, Marilyn Gambrell, parole officer-turned high school teacher portrayed in the 2005 Lifetime movie, Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story, and LouAnne Johnson, writer, teacher and former U.S. Marine featured in the 1995 film, Dangerous Minds. All of these teachers also were successful with their classes. Why were these teachers successful and others perhaps trying to emulate have not succeeded.

“As Foxfire grew and gained national recognition, beleaguered teachers all across the country looked at The Foxfire Magazine, and saw an opportunity to change things. They started producing their own magazines in an attempt to “do Foxfire.” Most of these teachers met with partial or little success because they had missed the very heart of why Foxfire succeeded—student choice.” Foxfire Fund website

After ten summers of Foxfire teacher’s courses I have found only a few teachers use the ideas and are successful and it comes back to allowing students to take some ownership.

“The success of the Foxfire program was due in large part to the fact the students chose to create a magazine. Since the magazine was their choice, the students were deeply invested in the work of creating it. The magazine product itself was not the solution to classroom woes that so many teachers thought it would be. Kaye Carver Collins, an early magazine student and later a Foxfire staff member for 13 years, explained the problem like this: ‘It seemed that people couldn’t understand the importance of the difference between the magazine, which was the choice we made, and the fact that we made a decision.’” Foxfire Fund website

After being in education and training for nearly forty five years I have found it is much easier to ask someone to do something than tell them. I have found it is easier if it is of interest to that person and if it applies to that person outside of educational setting even easier to teach.

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

Hanging on my wall over my head in my classroom the Foxfire Core Practices and another poster of children learn what they live. One poster the Foxfire one shows me I am a learner as well as a teacher, more a facilitator. Dr. Laura Nolte’s poster shows me to set the example the children are watching. So progressive versus traditional where does this lead?

“The traditional scheme is, in essence, one of imposition from above and from outside. It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Teaching should not be simply a control issue. Education needs to be less of a prison and more oriented around creating an atmosphere of learning. Down through history developmentalists including Piaget and Erickson have shown children are learning different than adults and in effect are developing in their learning styles and means. Yet we assume they are operating on an adult level almost from day one. I have brought up several issues why some teachers, who are progressive are successful and others not and why is traditional education not succeeding but simply staying almost on a level progression even reformers ideas are not impacting just making someone somewhere wealthy. I have wandered a bit today and will clarify in days to come trying to raise some questions. As today progresses please keep all in harm’s way on your minds 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)
bird

The sacredness of finding Foxfire in the Kalahari Desert

Bird Droppings March 24, 2014
The sacredness of finding Foxfire in the Kalahari Desert

I have known about Foxfire for nearly forty five years since I bought my first copy of a Foxfire book in 1972 or so. Since that time coincidence as it may be I have taken courses in the Foxfire approach to teaching and attended several as a learning facilitator. I was excited as my oldest son participated as a part of his graduate studies getting his first taste of Foxfire three summers ago. Hopefully come June I will again journey up into the mountains of North Georgia again to sit in and rekindled many fond memories among my Foxfire friends

I got a bit earlier start than I normally do and with the weather changing again rain supposedly coming in it was easy to be moving fast. Traffic is not bad for me going to work early as I do and allows me time if I have errands to run or extra paperwork to do at school. I recall just a few weeks ago driving up to the mountains what I thought would be a two hour drive eventually came near to a three hour journey. I avoided some traffic by taking a different route than normal and went sort of cross country which led to an integral part of the day.

As I came up an exit ramp a red tailed hawk swooped directly in front of me banking and sailing right back across the road exposing its red tail fully spread. So many people would simply pass that off but such a wonderful sight for me I wonder about what are the odds for me to take a drive and be at that place at that moment. Last Saturday while standing in line at my corner store an elderly man came in frustrated, “by God that hawk just missed me” he half way stammered out. He went on to describe a red tailed hawk and how it swooped in front of his truck crossing the road. Always it seems coincidence.

To get back on track, I often think back to me first visit to the Foxfire property as we sat down after a tour of the museum and property which I still enjoy even after listening fifty times or more. It was the late and great Robert Murray, the resident expert who would tell of folklore and wisdom as he guided the group through the numerous cabins and mountain buildings. A plant here and there and a bit of lichen all had symbolic and often medicinal applications to the people of Appalachia. We started our meeting with a first for that group an exercise entitled connections. This was an opportunity for members in the group to bond and become more of a community which is a crucial part of the Foxfire principles. Most were silent a word or two here and there and then I offered how I considered this place sacred. So many families and traditions, love, faith, prayers, hopes and lives had drifted through the various buildings all collected on the property. I interpret sacred in this manner.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post, Witness to the last days of man
It has been several months maybe even a year since I last picked up a Von der Post book. Somehow in an email or comment along the way I went looking for this author and a prolific author he was. As I researched over the years and of course I went to Amazon.com where I was greeted with sixty three pages of his books and variations and edited versions and even translations were available. He died in 1996 at the age of 90 and had been everywhere and done everything it seems. One good trivia point is that he was Prince William of Great Britain’s God father. He was the only non-royal ever to be so honored. He also had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth many years ago.

Von der Post’s writings while some covered his travels worldwide that which he is best known for are also and especially for me some of the best stories are of the African bush. One of these books, “A Far Away Place” was made into a family movie it is of children and their trek in the African wilds. But permeating all his writing a fascination with a nearly lost people they call themselves “The Sans” but are know more commonly as the African Bushman. Biologically the Bushmen are the oldest distinct group of humans on earth.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Von der Post

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us–and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” Eric Allemburgh

Yesterday I was thinking in several directions. On one hand I was discussing education in the US with several teacher friends and somehow I can always get to Foxfire. We dabbled with the pros and cons of public education, and of course applications of Foxfire teaching methods. In one discussion it somehow went the direction with introjections of indigenous peoples of South America and how Amazonian Native peoples will often want to experience civilization. I sited a unique program in Brazil which as well of protecting indigenous peoples from civilization the land is kept intact and rain forest left alone when a new tribe is found, literally keeping civilization out.

It was in that course of thought I went the direction of the Bushman and Von der Post. Yesterday as well I sat longer than I usually do standing outside listening to the night. When I finally got home and went to write my time was limited and I hurriedly jotted down a thought from the day and an email to a student who had an issue. It was the series of events; I often use the term coincidences happening yesterday that led me to my thinking today.

“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” Mary Kay Ash

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennet

Several days ago I received an email from a person to be added to my morning meanderings. I added this person to my list and yesterday received another email in my rushing to get a Bird Droppings out I had written exactly what this person needed that day. It seems their child was acting out and my rambling about a student had produced several ideas for them.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Taylor Benson

“Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.” Soren Kierkegaard

As I was sitting and thinking about the drawing together of thoughts the past few days and ideas, I came back to that class way back when I had driven up to learn about Foxfire teaching techniques. As I thought while reading several passages this morning in Von der Post’s book “The Lost world of the Kalahari” is a comment about witnessing the last of the Bushmen painters. It seems there was a point in time when the Bushmen stopped their primitive art paintings on the rocks of the Kalahari. Evidently the last painter was killed in a genocide attack by South African soldiers and no one within the tribe knew how to take over.

As I thought about students walking the halls and the discussions we have had over the past months on the internet in graduate classes it really dawned on me I was where I was to be and doing what I was to do. I felt I was offering at least a little piece of more than what is normally available. I never thought forty years ago I would be that hope, be that wisdom, or be that talking about a bushmen egg with red neck kids in Georgia and interestingly enough preserving pieces of old Georgia in essays and photos and PowerPoint projects as we go. Von der Post in his book went in search of the last of the Bushman and found himself.

“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post, Jung and the Story of Our Time, p.47

For many years now I have read and pondered Jung’s words and ideas. Back almost fifteen or so years ago an author James Redfield wrote about coincidence in a fictional story of a lost manuscript “The Celestine Prophecy”. He was trying to explain what he saw happening in his own life. Carl G. Jung in the early 1900’s coined the word synchronicity, which I simplify and say simply I am at the right place at the right moment.

What is amazing is when you look at life that way you begin to see events unfold before you rather than just seeing through hindsight I like the very first quote, “a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation” Laurens Von der Post . To borrow from the Foxfire website:
“In the Foxfire Approach, learning environments are characterized by student involvement and action, by thoughtful reflection and rigorous assessment, by imagination and problem solving, by applications beyond the classroom for what is learned, and by meaningful connections to the community. In these classrooms, students build the ability to work collaboratively and assume responsibility for their own learning processes.” http://www.foxfire.org/teachi.html

Where and how do the Kalahari Desert and Bushmen and Foxfire and coincidence all tie in perhaps by borrowing from a core practice in the Foxfire teaching process.

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” Foxfire

We build through reflection and we grow through reflection which then can lead to further reflection.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness.” Laurens Von der Post

I think reflection could be inserted just as easy into Von der Posts quote. We all need to take time to see where we are and then participate actively as we go in life. Each day I ask for everyone to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind in and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

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

The beginning or end in a circle is where?

Bird Droppings March 21, 2014
The beginning or end in a circle is where?

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Albert Einstein

Over the past few days’ school has been wearing me out physically, could be the last few weeks of getting my heart figured out I think it shows I am getting old. Last night we had a coyote wander down the road by the house. As I went out into the darkness this morning I looked no deer and or coyote. It was a bit chilly this morning and a partial moon was hanging over head but it is to warm up and be a pretty day. It was about eight years back a good friend dropped by for a couple days. This was the first time he had been back in this area for some time. In our course of topics as we talked late into the evening on two nights was the idea of teaching as an art form. We talked about views on life and how so often I have on occasions seen things others have not.

Wandering around as I do looking for pictures to take often images others would pass up.
One of our discussions over breakfast we talked about intuition and empathy as crucial aspects of being a good teacher. Another topic was how so often in life we tend to view daily happenings as mundane and yet in that moment of the mundane miracles are happening. In our backyard we have since we have moved here put in numerous flower beds in one bed we have several ferns along with angel trumpet plants and several other flowering shrubs. Nearby one bed is special nearly every flower attracts hummingbirds.

Coincidentally we planted quite a few butterfly and hummingbird friendly plants last year around the yard and I was pulling dead flowers off when I heard a loud humming buzzing sound. I was being dive bombed by a hummingbird. My wife had me place a hummingbird feeder in the tree which centers on that bed. The hummingbird food was constantly getting gone and I had just refilled it, it has become one of my jobs to keep the feeders filled come summer time. It will not be too long till they are back from Mexico and as I look up hearing the buzzing I will see hummingbirds feeding directly beside me and who knows maybe this year I will get a good picture.

When I sit each morning and write about fireflies dancing across the edge of my world in my back yard or whippoorwills echoing through the dawn and dusk it is recognizing the mundane in life. Should I not be there to hear they will still be calling and should I not be watching the fireflies they will still light the night. My own view is still limited by darkness, my own vision and my own perception. I try and instill in my students to look past images everyone else sees and try and find that which is theirs and theirs alone. I am saddened when a great idea and creative mind is silenced by peer pressure.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche

For someone a thousand miles away it is only words that I write yet I see it and experience it and yet for someone here nearby unless they are willing to rise at 4:00 AM they too will not see or hear what I see and hear. So in effect a writer offers glimpses of another experience and another world to those willing to read. I offered as my friend and I talked it is about renewing our perception sharpening our senses to see and hear and feel more than we do today.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

Many considered Einstein to be an atheist for his very often blunt statements about religion, yet if you read very many of his nonscientific statements there is a spiritual aspect to them. He was an artist and a philosopher as well. Thinking back again eight years it was a day not unlike most other days I have experienced with my friend talking with many old thoughts and memories that we discussed years ago. Sitting and reminiscing about his days in seminary and choosing to go back to teaching and how that impacted his life. There is an end and a beginning of every journey and at one point I even asked him if he was in the right place now. Without blinking an eye he responded he was never happier and knew this was where he was meant to be now in his life journey as I know I am where I am too be for now.

“We do not chart and measure the vast field of nature or express her wonders in the terms of science; on the contrary, we see miracles on every hand – the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in a lightening flash and the swelling deep.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Sioux

Perhaps one day I can sit idle as I started thinking a few moments ago and rock on my front porch, but not today. For now I crave that thought process and questioning and curiosity of learning and teaching. Whenever I drive through Kentucky I cannot help but think of Daniel Boone finding his way which was for him a wilderness and yet for Native Americans of that place it was home not a wilderness. Even in that day trails and pathways were worn from the passage of moccasin feet.

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

In a paper for graduate school several years ago I referenced my recent experience, as somewhat of a clearing of a haze from things I had forgotten. It was as if things were clarifying from many years ago. Often what is learned is not just from books but from experiencing, living, seeing and believing. Each day I travel a road many others have journeyed on and many others have succeeded in going beyond that road. Yet it is new to me each day for I choose to see more than the day before. For me it is wilderness opening new trails not yet approached by civilization. For me it is fresh and vibrant even though many see only the mundane and stale.

It might be in the flight and blinking of a firefly or the snort of breath as a buffalo crossed the pasture years ago, or the call of a whippoorwill off in the trees. It may be in the feather left for me as a hawk soared through the sky. I recall a movie where the start and end was nothing more than a piece of fluff blowing about until it gained import with Forest Gump and was placed in a special place in his life. We do not know from moment to moment how someone will react to anything we do or say or write. I spoke with my friend about interconnections and how this is the art of our existence. It is in the perception, the seeing, feeling and hearing of our own heartbeat.

I ran into a former student yesterday. She had moved and happened by chance to be in our town and we met at my favorite store Quick Trip. Seems she now lives in another county and will not be attending our school next year. She just wanted to say hi and in the conversation asked what do you teach everyone wants to know, it seems I have many students who just come by my room and officially are not in my classes. I told her on my door it states; Period One – The philosophy of learning about how and why we learn what we do, Period two – the same, Period three planning, and Period four again the same. She said that sounds interesting.

For nearly three years she wondered what I taught and wanted to be in my class. I would always respond you haven’t been in enough trouble yet. As she left after I explained Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, she said even though I wasn’t in your regular classes except for Biology in summer school I learned a lot. How is that for an ego boost?
By chance I was reading as I do and emailing my friend pointing out several websites and books. Two passages caught my attention as I end my writings today.

“On the basis of the belief that all human beings share the same divine nature, we have a very strong ground, a very powerful reason, to believe that it is possible for each of us to develop a genuine sense of equanimity toward all beings.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Good Heart

“Strength based in force is a strength people fear. Strength based in love is a strength people crave. It is as true today as it was then and as true for nations as it is for individuals. Unfortunately, too few of each are listening.” Kent Nerburn

Nerburn was addressing a friend’s comment about Viet Nam and those of us old enough to have been drafted and or serve in that time of war. Looking at the news and comments from politicians the past few days this passage from the Dalai Lama struck a chord with me. One of the things my friend and I did while he was hear was see each of my sons since my friend had been involved with them in youth work and music. Of course that included along the way riding down to Georgia Tech and going for a campus tour in the Georgia Tech mascot, the Ramblin Wreck. Recently I was watching old videos and the other night spending several hours with my sons catching up reminded me how significant today can be. Now I can end for this morning of cool wet weather after the weekend is another week before spring break so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

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

Can we teach a love of learning?

Bird Droppings March 20, 2014
Can we teach a love of learning?

I bumped into this young lady at the grocery store a few days ago and it had been some time since our last run in. She was one of my secret seniors nearly six years ago. It has been almost some time since this same young lady who happened to work in a western wear store had on a Dixie Outfitter’s shirt. One of the issues with the Dixie Outfitters clothing line is the confederate flags which adorn the T-shirts. Most schools today have dress code rules against defamatory and or controversial logos and or slogans. Malcolm X shirts and Dixie Outfitters are actually listed in many dress code rulings. This shirt looked like a Dixie Outfitter shirt same colors and sequence of colors but no confederate flags. The interesting statement on the back was to the effect you can ban the symbol but not the meaning or colors. Sarcasm can sometimes be a powerful message and or a great marketing tool.

“The greatest glory in living lies not, in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson Mandela

I recall a year or so ago and a stubborn student. We had been trying to look at why we have a dress code which was again based on a student wearing a Dixie Outfitters sweat shirt. That students reason was, as to why wear a shirt you know is against dress code, whatever or because. How he responded was that he knew he could get suspended since he had been warned numerous times. However the larger issue is how children at such a young age quit learning and quit questioning life. Why are they suppressed and defeated to a point of using whatever as an answer. Whatever is a quitter’s statement? Had that student answered with arguable statements from the actual Dixie Outfitters website I would have known there was thought behind the action and not ignorance.

“From an early age we all question. As children grow, their questions are often answered, explained, and rationalized until their natural curiosity begins to be submerged. Yet sensitive persons, at one -time or another, find themselves again asking those same questions: “Where did I come from? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I die? Why is there so much hatred and violence? Who am I?” Zenson Gifford Sense, Abbot of the Northern Zen Sangha

I had another student stop in and thank me for lending them Kent Nerburn’s book Small Graces and as we talked for a few minutes she asked “Mr. Bird you love learning don’t you” I am not easily sat back but I had to think for a moment and somewhere between the two quotes is an answer. I have never being satisfied with an answer always seeking, looking and enjoying the search to find out more about whatever it is I was pondering. I responded to her question with several answers, I basically said yes, but that is the hardest thing to share a passion for learning. Robert Fried’s book “The Passionate Teacher” is a good example as he discusses sharing a passion for learning.

How do we re-instill the questioning? In 1962 Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life for questioning the then current government of South Africa and was released from prison in 1990 to become the first black person elected in a general election, and notably to the office of President of South Africa. Mandela could have quit and had he succumbed to his captors desires and been released. He chose to stay in prison nearly twenty seven years.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. “ Nelson Mandela

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nelson Mandela, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom

Mr. Nelson Mandela was awarded the Noble Peace prize and helped South Africa in their start towards real democracy. He did this through persistence and never quitting and always questioning.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. “ Albert Einstein

Why children stop questioning and stop desiring to learn I am not quite sure. Perhaps it is their home life. Perhaps for some it is boredom. Perhaps they have all they need to feed and clothe themselves and that is enough.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Maybe it is just too easy to follow the path each day and walk where others have tread. Years ago when I would regularly get into the woods looking for wildlife we would find rabbit trails and deer trails worn by constant use. Children do the same simply following in the footsteps of the one in front one after another.

“People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I guess I have a difficult time with people sometimes seeing them as ignorant when they use “because” as an answer as it is used so often. Perhaps second in usage is “whatever” from teenagers and so many people when they choose to not answer a question.

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Far too often many are sitting around waiting for “luck” or the sky to fall whichever comes first. As a child I remember the story of Chicken Little and the sky is falling soon the whole barn yard was afraid of the sky falling all because an ignorant little chicken got hit in the head with a pebble and assumed the sky was falling and enough others listened.

“But education is more than schooling. It is a cast of mind, a willingness to see the world with an endless sense of curiosity and wonder. If you would be truly educated, you must adopt this cast of mind. You must open yourself to the richness of your everyday experience — to your own emotions, to the movements of the heavens and languages of birds, to the privations and successes of people in other lands and other times, to the artistry in the hands of the mechanic and the typist and the child. There is no limit to the learning that appears before us. It is enough to fill us each day a thousand times over. “Kent Nerburn, On Education and Learning

I have used this passage before but I have also used the FIDO principle before and never can we emphasize enough when offering an idea especially a good one. It has been nearly fifty years since the acronym was conceived, the idea of Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again hence the anachronism, FIDO. Continue questioning never stop become a child again in learning these are things we need to do. When I was asked do I love learning what should have been asked is what got me questioning again? That is the secret to what gets us back to that place where we crave learning and we love learning as we did when we were small children and every aspect of life was a question and more questions to answer. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind and always give thanks namaste.

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