Teachers should we question our questions?

Bird Droppings March 18, 2014
Teachers should we question our questions?

Yesterday as I was sitting in my class room for the first time in many days after finding in my files an article from a few years back about the innuendos about who and why Georgia students in middles schools across the state did so poorly on CRCT’s, Georgia’s version of school year grade end tests in subject matter. Sadly the state knew ahead that the failure rate would be high and still administered the particular tests. I am always amazed by teachers who say they teach and actually try and fail students. I just finished a discussion with a colleague about passing a fellow who had a 79 on his end of course test in geometry and was failing the class due to homework not being turned in. He had an 86 disregarding homework on test scores and quizzes. For me that was a no brainer he mastered the material and do you cause trouble for next year’s teacher failing a kid who knows the material and also happens to be SEBD, severely emotionally and behaviorally disturbed. Always amazes how some people think.

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

“Ask the large questions, but seek small answers, a flower, or the space between a branch and a rock these are enough” Kent Nerburn

I wrote an email to a friend only a few moments ago sitting here gloating at issues I should have addressed and could have before they were issues. Some days I am bad about letting the flow go and spill over as it may be. I read this line from a book I am reading and wonder now as to answers I was seeking, maybe too often we seek large answers from small questions or ask the wrong questions thinking we know the answer already.

“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” Anthony Robbins

Somewhere on my shelves in my room at school maybe in a drawer are a series of tapes from this guru of self-help, he occasionally has a good thought or two. Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame uses the term of the Essential Question as an integral aspect of learning. We need to ask an essential question and build from there as we develop our course or train of thought often adding additional questions to stimulate and emphasize key issues and points. Several weeks ago I used some thoughts from Zen teachings from over a thousand years ago and from Socrates even before that who also taught by asking questions and would answer questions with additional questions.

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” Naguib Mahfouz

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Anthony Jay

If a wrong question is asked I wonder is that a paradox or can that even be? Can you ever ask a wrong question? When I am talking with future teachers in our Early Childhood class I tell them as the four year olds they teach they will find they ask questions incessantly. We have to let them and yet here I am asking if a wrong question can be asked. I look at these two thoughts and perhaps it is not wrong questions but poor questions. I have a student who will often ask questions and many times I sit looking at others and wondering, where did that question come from? It is sort of like if I am discussing blue birds and the question asked is that bird blue. It hit me during reading a test for small group testers recently that so often my vocabulary and that of many students is vastly different and when I read a sentence not even thinking about words students may know the answer but not know the question. In determining the sequence of events in photosynthesis at what stage does oxygen appear? What if you do not know the word sequence and know the photosynthesis cycle which you studied diligently the night before for your test? In effect you guess not based on the answer that you know but guess based on not totally knowing the question.

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the A-B-C of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” Edward Hodnett

Over the years I have acquired many books dealing with the care of animals and have even participated in publishing several in days gone by when I was in that line of work. Years back we found a book for diagnosis of aquarium fish problems. It was questions with various answers, such as if answer A go to page 3, or if B go to page 6, then on page 3, if A go to page 34, and on 34 if C this is the disease, a dichotomous key. In looking at questions and answering you literally could follow your way to a diagnosis. Essentially it was the taxonomy of an animal, specifically fish disease. A good friend in Virginia literally borrowed the idea and wrote a sheep manual in a similar fashion that at one time was the Ovine diagnosis book of choice across the country. Actually have my name in there somewhere as a resource and editor.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” Decouvertes

I had to think as I read this if you know the answer why question. Is the paper white? I know it is but I am questioning and in questioning will show it to be white so in effect proving its whiteness or not. I learned it was white even knowing it was.

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.” Voltaire

“To find the exact answer, one must first ask the exact question.” S. Tobin Webster

“For example, when you sail in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as you can see at that time. All things are like this.” Eihei Dogen, 1200-1253
Maybe we who ask the questions need to listen more carefully to the answers and in listening learn as well, a symbiosis perhaps osmosis is a better word of sorts. It is about another day beginning and another sunrise to see. In talking with a friend who used to be just across the hall, that is all she looks for and as she rises each morning is thankful for another day having survived breast cancer. You know what, as simple as that sounds for some and her in particular each moment is a miracle. I recall after seeing her each morning smiling and thankful for another day my day would go so easy and I too am thankful. I ask with a sincere heart please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart. This is for a very special friend who greets each sunrise and who has greeted every day for nearly twelve years that I have known her, Buenos Dias. As I close as always 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)

It is in pondering the questions that understanding comes through

Bird Droppings March 18, 2014
It is in pondering the questions that understanding comes through

It has been interesting this spring, weather wise. I have been battling allergies and sinus issues daily between cold and hot and rain and then not enough rain and the pollen. When I headed to school today I had been thinking about the many years of daily writing and journaling of my ideas and thoughts. Many times as I have written over the past years the word perception has come up. I addressed the idea of questioning the question yesterday and I was thinking back one night as we were finishing back many days ago as I was sitting and posting on a graduate discussion board on the internet. I was posting along with friends and fellow graduate students and discussing critical race feminism which ties in sex, race, culture, and ethics and to then to some extent education. The idea of perception was brought up numerous times. In this course of study for many it is an opening of eyes that had been closed.

I am an observer by nature. In education or previously in industry as I walk into someone else’s office, classroom or study I immediately peruse the books and items on shelves and desks. I see the papers, the order of items, or lack of order and the amazingly you can quickly make assumptions about that individual. In my own case if someone walked into my writing hovel they would see animal books and magazines as my oldest son also stacks various reading material among my own. There are many years of theology and spiritual matters along with numerous translations of religious texts, and bibles. In stacks many informational texts, arts and craft books, herbs and gardening books, notes from graduate school, and psychology texts scattered among the piles and shelves.

An individual’s personality exists within the piles and various items or at least a perception of who they are. In my case in a quick look you would see several books, Spirit Dance by William Edelen, Red Pedagogy by Sandy Grande, The Passionate Teacher by Robert Fried, Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, a book on Great quotes, The purpose for your life by Carol Adrienne, The Handicapped child in the classroom, Ten Stupid things men do to mess up their life’s by Dr. Laura, A passion for excellence by Tom Peters, Control of Human Behavior, Safety and the Bottom line by Frank E. Bird Jr. It is these books that are on top of piles on my table and desk. I always wondered could a psychological analysis be made of me from those texts sitting out perhaps recent readings or reference sources. Something could be said; perhaps a perception, an opinion, or an assumption could be made about the person. Last night a fellow educator posted she had just bought her first Stephen King novel and a book on Revelations and so numerous posts and notes later it was most interesting watching the responses.

“Except for the still point there would be no dance ……. And there is only the dance.” William Edelen starts his book Spirit Dance with that line from T.S. Elliot

I sit thinking about that line do we have a still point? Last night as I was reading comments on various blogs as fellow teachers and future teachers discussed their views and realities in discussion posts on line and as we are trying to finish out the year working with students who are waiting for the last few minutes of the last day before summer break to complete work so much anxiety among educators. Perhaps this is only a perception of mine. We are using the word senioritis as we address the seniors in high school, that seem lost in oblivion as their last year winds down. It can be a teenager in the last thirty seconds of school or a graduate student in the last thirty seconds posting before break. “And there is only the dance”

I looked through my book of quotes a little collection of quotes from my first year back teaching containing poems from myself and others and photos of students school etc. sort of a mini yearbook, filled with many coincidences. I found lyrics to a Garth Brooks song. The song is, The Dance written by Tony Arata, who by chance was my brother in law’s roommate in college at Georgia Southern many years ago.

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain but I’d of had to miss the dance.” Tony Arata

Thinking about the dance in reference to Elliot’s line and Arata’s line it is about who we are inside and how we see the world. So often in life we want to avoid problems. I am finding as I grow older it is the problems and tribulations that give us the pieces of who we are. It is all of this history that gives us our outlook on life, our perception as we view the world. Wandering to back to my graduate school posting discussion as we learned over that semester everyone has a history and it is within that history we can only get a true understanding of who they are. Not really knowing a person’s history can alter your perception of them.

As I paged through my little book I had copied nearly twelve years ago I found a note I had written evidently this book was one of my students. The student had wanted me to write a personal note so I kept the book and then school was over and she never picked up her book and I wrote a second note. As I look back it brings a tear. It seems she quit school with graduation test difficulty found a new boyfriend fiancée and got married and pregnant, sort of all in one fell swoop. Was this a success or failure from a teaching standpoint, did we reach that former child who now has a child. I am sure some would say no. But I have talked with her since and she is a happy mother and did get her GED and went on to technical school.

It has been nearly forty four years since I first started teaching. A few years back I had a professor who was ten years old in public school in Macon Georgia when I moved to that town in 1971 or so. Back in the day special needs kids were not all being served in public school IDEA legislation went into effect in 1974 but did reach Georgia really till a few years later. One of my first jobs in education in Macon was working with a child find. Thirty nine years ago there were not IEP’s or mandatory education for all children. Many disabled students often just stayed home since there really was no place for them in the public schools at that time. We found 278 children and adults in less than 90 days who were not being served and we were only looking for 50 to start our program which was the maximum capacity for the building.
In those days 1970 – 1973 it wasn’t about curriculum or text books or even lesson plans it was simply students who had never been served. In and among those students was a young black man who by chance had Down’s syndrome, Sammy Jones age twenty four. He was friendly clean cut and always fixing his hair and checking his shirt to be sure it was tucked in and adjusting his belt always making sure everything was just right. He would be a poster child for correct dress code, always immaculate. Sammy would always somehow bring up “big momma”, seems he called his mother “big momma”.

I remember one day after we started up our daily program and Sammy was in “school” his excuse to not do work would be “big momma said I don’t have to do that” when he didn’t want to do something. I recall Sammy’s favorite class was nap time. We found Sammy through another program for children Ms. Rawl’s Lucky Duck nursery. As I think back to my first days teaching in Georgia it has been some time since I really thought about Ms. Rawl’s and Lucky Duck where my late brother John attended school when we first moved to Macon. It was all a matter of perception perhaps as it seems the promised school to get my father to move his business to Macon never materialized and my brother became the token white boy in a black school. Macon in 1971 was still very racial separated especially with disabled children. My brother John was “bussed” in so to say.

The funny thing was Ms. Rawls, my mother and I ended up writing the federal grant that got initial funding in Macon for disabled children. There was a significant clause, the schools had to integrate. A coincidence perhaps, but as I think back and remember driving across town to that old school to pick up John at Lucky Duck he wasn’t a token child he was a child at a school and for him every day he would be smiling not one time did John get upset about his school. I never remember my mother complaining about where he was going to school. I do remember Ms. Rawls and how much concern she had for John. Maybe our perception was different back then. As I think back to my mothers and my own perception I do not think ours changed significantly but many others did.

“No one would have ever crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off in the storm” Charles Kettering

It takes getting across the sea to arrive at the other side when the storms get rough quitting is not an option. So many people when times are rough choose getting off in the storm but far too often the waves and turmoil do them in. It is about in life how we perceive and how we see the world around us. Yesterday several of us were talking in the hall and a student mentioned she paid eighty dollars for a pair of jeans that was a mass of holes. Our discussion went to how people are paid to make holes in jeans which are then sold.
Perception, I have jeans with significant holes in them each hole earned and remembered.

A wonderful day ahead a quiet day but in the turmoil and strife please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Especially today as the shootings, bombings and such continue around the world let us strive for peace. Somewhere in my readings on Indian thought and spirituality I found a short note on prayer. The Indian never prays for things but only to give thanks and today perhaps we should all give thanks for each moment of life we have and for those around us. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

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

Have we sold our souls for a few trinkets?

Bird Droppings March 17, 2014
Have we sold our souls for a few trinkets?

Morning is a special time for me always a new beginning. That might be far too easy of a way to say what I am trying to say. Today I went out a bit early from the house to take out the garbage and just stand in the silence for a moment. As I drove from the house an owl was sitting on the road and flew away as I drove up giving me an interesting start today. But for me several aspects of that start to the day almost are routine like taking our dog out, going to QT, then sitting down for writing and reading each has become a significant part of my day. I walked out this morning and felt the coldness of perhaps hopefully the end of our winter as we close in on spring. Across the sky clouds muffled the stars but the silence was literally alive. The stars were crystal clear in spaces between clouds in the morning darkness and the moon barely a smile sort of snuck a peek through a veil of darkness.

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

Yesterday I got into a discussion about a Bird Dropping from a few days back dealing with sacredness. In the course of the discussion I began to realize how much we have in our hedonism given away. I wrote a paper on the stripping of soul from students as we demand and seek higher test scores as a means of showing learning. I listened last night to update on the years ago shootings at Virginia Tech and history of a young man and his anguish and angst that lead to it. They pointed to his observations and experiences with the hedonism of our society. He in his questioning and counseling was mentioning over and over in his rants the materialism of our society. I began seriously thinking have we sold our souls for a few mere trinkets?

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality–not as we expect it to be but as it is–is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.” Frederick Buechner

Last night I sat down thinking and trying to put down words perhaps meaningful written pictures that may have significance. I emailed several people last night just touching base opening discussion about this idea of sacredness. But as I thought the interactions and intertwining of life that occurs daily, those we seemingly miss and ignore. I was talking with several high school students about how life is much like a puzzle interlocked one piece to the next and we tend too often miss seeing the tiny yet needed interconnections.

Watching the news and each new report bits and pieces of how and why the events of the past few days have spilled out around the world. I recall many years back when I suggested psychiatric treatment for a student and was told not my call. Six years later he is sentenced to three life sentences for killing a young mother and nearly killing two children he baby sat for. Sometimes those at the top may need to listen to those of us doing the labor at the bottom.

“If, after all, men cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one.” Albert Camus

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

As I moved through the day yesterday sensing something was amiss and even after knowing it is difficult to offer from a distance any sort of comfort to those in need other than keeping them on our minds and in our hearts. Most people as the day finished never missed a stride I am sure around the world there was tears from family, friends and those that are experiencing hardship and harm. But as I tried to explain even in tragedy there is purpose and meaning. That concept is difficult to explain to people who live in a materialistic world view.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

I have used this quote several times and each time it seems appropriate. I remember as a child chasing fireflies across a meadow gathering those life forces in a jar to light my room and then releasing into the night watching them float away in the darkness. Life is seeing beyond the tangibles and foibles of our existence. Life is not the shirt, shoes or coat we wear. Life is about what is in your heart. Life is about your soul.

“It’s not how long life is but the quality of our life that is important.” Roger Dawson

“Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.” Charles Dickens

In 1996 my brother passed away and my family was faced with a new beginning. We all had built our lives around my brother. He was severely disabled and our being in Georgia was directly related to him. As we celebrated his life reviewing the intricate webs that were laid each moment and the many people touched and lives affected what seemingly had been was now an enormous out pouring of life. Every day a new piece of that puzzle falls into place. It may be another teacher of special needs children, another person recalling the time spent helping with John’s rehab and how it impacted their life. Within our difficulties and disasters always there is hope.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

We each approach the morning in a different way I embrace the day and begin with my writing seeing each moment then unfold trying to understand each tiny piece. Since 1996 I have taken many different roads and journeys and as I look back each has had meaning and direction and led me to now. I told a dear friend while I am always wondering where I am to be next it is not because I do not enjoy what I am doing but because I may be needed elsewhere. It is about making and experiencing the journey.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

Several years ago I received a call from my nephew that a close friend had been in a car accident and as the night proceeded I spent that night in the Athens Regional Hospital holding a young man’s hand as monitors beeped and droned and he lay unmoving. We were all hoping that the numbers on the dials would change, they did not. When I arrived home on my computer there was a sticky yellow note from my oldest son, this Steven Tyler quote from an Aerosmith song. As I think even farther back and as I was discussing sacred yesterday with a student, in 1968 as I left for Texas for college I received a book from my parents which reads on page 596.

“To everything there is season, and a time, To every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Many years ago the late Pete Seeger a folk singer and environmentalist wrote music and borrowed the words, a song was born “Turn, Turn, Turn” soon to be released by how appropriate “The Byrd’s”. “To every season turn, turn, turn there is a reason turn, turn, turn and a time for every purpose under heaven” the song became a hit.

“Nothing is beneath you if it is in the direction of your life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” Robert Frost

So often a poets words offer comfort or give direction back to a journey set off course one moment. There is no filling of a void yet when looking at life and all that has been, when looking at the journey to now there truly is no void. There is a turn in the road a new direction all that has led to this point has not changed and is there behind us lifting us guiding us strengthening us as we continue our experiences. I remember back to a photo of my son crossing a stream in north Georgia already sopping wet from falling in but still intent on making it across. He clambered stone by stone crossing the stream and a favorite Zen saying I often attach to the photo.

“You can never cross a stream the same way twice.” Zen Saying
We all can cross in our own time and there are times when a hand is welcome. Years ago I set up a website for a youth group and today I will close with the starting line from that website, “Friends are never alone”. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and today keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand and always give thanks namaste.

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

Actions speak so much louder than words

Bird Droppings March 16, 2014
Actions speak so much louder than words

I have been away from my computer for several days after being sent home from school by the school nurse. My wife came and picked me up. After three weeks of blood pressure issues heart tests of all sorts and exams poked and prodded my medications were altered after ten years. My heart was doing what it was being chemically told to do slow down. However it was getting to slow so back to the drawing board. I also had a message on Tuesday or Wednesday from a friend advising me of a situation concerning another friend. The gravity of this situation had me numb for several days. My thinking today while wrapped around pieces of my own teaching ideas and all that has happened in the past week have significance to some perhaps many.

Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Imagine All The People”

It has been a few nights since my wife and I had a chance to go out together one of those quiet romantic type dinners. Sitting here on a rainy Sunday morning I was thinking back to one evening as we sat down at a booth at a local country restaurant, about the same time we sat down an elderly couple carefully made their way to the adjacent booth. Both the husband and wife helped each other moving ever so slowly. After his wife had seated herself the husband went and fixed a plate at the buffet for her. When he returned to the table my wife happened to glance over and the woman was smiling as her husband came back to their table. My wife said “she looked like a child”, her child was coming out as she smiled.

Many years ago as I took one of my first graduate classes which happened to be the same one I had nearly thirty years prior but was required to have material more recently, a class in human development. A research paper was a requirement of the class and I developed a chart on the development of faith and trust in the process of writing my paper. I had been reading a book by Dr. James Fowler head of the Ethics department at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University on the development of faith. It was interesting as I read he had used and compared the development of faith through correlations of various concepts to other educational devlopmentalists such as Piaget, Erickson and even Freud.

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” John Ruskin

When I read the passage from the Dalai Lama I was reminded of a stage I wrote about in my subsequent paper based on learned trust. Children when they are born inherently and universally trust I called it simply Universal trust. A baby instinctively trusts as it survives by literally instinctual trust and behavior, sucking reflexes only require milk to satisfy. A bitter taste for example the use of wormwood rubbed on the breast back in medieval times mentioned in Romeo and Juliet, and the baby would soon withdraw. The baby would learn to not suck. A simple example that as the child grows becomes more complex. Each new facet of life requires new information and understanding and soon a child learns trust. We go from an instinctual universal trust to a learned trust. In this growing process the interactions of individuals that are seen by others impact the learning curve and consequently the level to which a person trusts.

“Who would not rather trust and be deceived?” Eliza Cook

Quite a few Monday night’s back one December, I delivered my youngest son to a local restaurant where the Early Learners were having their Christmas banquet. Our high school has a group of fifteen or so four year olds, under the supervision of a lead teacher and para-pro involved in teaching Early Childhood Education to high school students who want to go into education. Actually this is considered a technical class in our school, an experimental school in some ways a teaching school for high schoolers. Many of the little learners are children of teachers within our high school.

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” Frank Crane

It seems my son had been Santa Claus for two years for the little learners. Matt inherited my father’s Santa suit. Dad, for as long as I can remember, had been Santa for our family. I recall a night in Modena Pa., Santa came through the fire escape window when I was four years old. This image is still vivid in my mind and many things are not as I get older. I check my driver’s license for name and address periodically.

For one reason or another Matt had to wait, which meant sitting in the waiting area of the restaurant. Quite a few little children came through, some would hide behind their parents, and others would go up and sit beside him and or ask him questions. Each child was unique.

“No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.” Elsa Einstein

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When Matt finally went into the Christmas party each child came up to him and I would take a photo. There was no questioning of whom this was, it was Santa. After all of the little learners came up, the teenagers, high school girls came and sat in Matt’s lap. Now I know why Matt did this each year. But within the context of these moments, trust was adamant. Children have learned to believe in, or not, Santa Claus, that is not an instinctual event.

“Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love — and to put its trust in life.” Joseph Conrad

So often we take the innocence of children and convert it to the learned ways of adulthood, greed, envy and all the other influences of mankind are learned. But I have found in life’s journey that trust does begin to filter back as time and age goes on. Thinking back to dinner with my wife and how she noticed the elderly woman’s smile, sometimes is it the glint in an eye or a smile from an elderly person that shows the inner child is still there. Perhaps it is that untouched innocence and universal trust has returned, or maybe like me, you forget all else, that you have learned not to trust. As I pondered it became evident that it is how we are seen and the things that we leave behind as memories in others eyes and ears are what may be the most critical of all in this reality.

“You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him.” Leo Aikman

With an election year coming up I am sitting here looking over morning news and how each side sees and addresses issues in differing ways. Last night I read a blistering headline of US oil production was down thirteen percent on federal and Indian lands. However when you look at overall US production we are at highest level since 2008 and putting oil into reserves and exporting. So depending on which headline you read first your impression is swayed or changed. I was reading last night several pieces about war and will borrow just a thought coming from a former student.

“War, one could argue, developed from three functions in the macrocosm of human societies to A) take another society’s land and resources B) to defend one’s land and resources, or C) to liberate one’s own land and resources. Historically, you could place any early war under one of these categories.

But, morally speakin…g… how do you determine that the bullet which leaves the muzzle of YOUR rifle serves B and C and not A? Is it by who shot first? Well, not necessarily, since Navy Seals from your country may have torched a village that morning, your side may be in the wrong. Is it by a sense of “greater good?” Perhaps… but logically speaking, how often do immoral means yield a moral end? If I took your insulin to give to another person with Diabetes, would that be moral?

I am not anti-war, because life is not just. This is not an ideal world, and sometimes you have to fight for what you love. All I’m asking is how many soldiers died to protect what they love, and how many died because of some covetous politician?” Alex Hill

As I read this last night I realized how much I missed conversations with this student as he was always several light years ahead in his thinking and wisdom.

“Thou wilt find rest from vain fancies if thou doest every act in life as though it were thy last.” Marcus Aurelius

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I am getting long winded today perhaps I started too early but the thought from this great theologian ties into my morning ponderings. In 1945 Bonhoeffer was hanged in a Nazi prison camp for being a member of the resistance as he vocally opposed the National Socialists, as well as physically opposed with his involvement in assisting Jewish families out of Europe. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested, tried and executed. Much of his writing came from prison in the form of letters to friends.

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them. The weak always have to decide between alternatives that are not their own.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was getting absorbed in reading Bonhoeffer’s articles and actually a bit deep for a Sunday morning I think reading Alex’s note from many months ago got me thinking last night. I am also reading theology thesis paper from the friend who started my entire train of thought today, again which really is a bit deep for a Sunday. Theology reads easier on Thursday or Saturday. However Bonhoeffer was very controversial in his time, and even now especially now for his thinking, which was not traditional church theology. As I read my friends paper not that many years old and with the events of the week realize the fragility of trust.

“It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Being blunt was not a difficult task for Bonhoeffer in his writing or speaking; consider that this was in a time in history when what you said could elicit a jail sentence and or death penalty. He wrote prolifically, even the last two years of his life in a German prison, writing extensively on theology and ethics and finally executed for supposedly being involved in a plot to kill Hitler.

“If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This great theologian believed in living what you believed. These following words were from his prison many years ago and published after his death. Perhaps they provide a window into his thinking and efforts alias all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Sitting here reading words from a man who died nearly seventy years ago because of what he believed in and lived for. In today’s crazy world it is sometimes difficult to comprehend. Daily I review test scores of reading comprehension and I wonder if we also could evaluate living life comprehension? Do we truly comprehend life that is about us and in us or its effects on us and others? So today I try and write about so many things and a few words from a man who lived as he spoke and believed and died a martyr to his words. As I close another day of reflection and writing please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

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

Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

Bird Droppings March 12, 2014
Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

I have heard and seen this in many forms. “’One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.’” From Jodie Schmidt, 2005

Many months ago in my travels and in reading emails I saw this story sent by a friend. Only a few days ago it was on Facebook. As I read over this short story and by chance I was thinking about how children respond to various situations. We adults then commend or condemn them. Those two words are so closely spelled yet so far apart in meaning and understanding. Yesterday morning a young lady came in and was visibly upset but more of a moping kind of upset. Seems her boyfriend and she were sort of at odds. I shared the Thomas Merton quote I have hanging on my wall and have used here so many times.

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we see in them.” Thomas Merton

I asked the young lady to look up Merton and see some of his other writings and who he was which she did before school and then she left with a copy and a Kent Nerburn book, Calm Surrender. As we talked I thought of this quote about the wolves inside of us and how we all are fighting as she told me of conflicts in her life and in her boyfriends.
Several days back my wife and I were discussing kids as we tend too and the topic of learned behavior came up. We teach kids through our actions and inactions and yet we then punish them for the same exact thing. An attorney was on TV saying parents who knew kids were drinking at a party at their house should not be held responsible for any actions of drunken teenagers. The discussion was on a point, counter point discussion and then the other side mentioned that the person who was involved in the accident had been arrested previously for DUI and the parents knew that so there was a history established.
So I sat listening to this back and forth, an underage drinking party led to a teenage driver killing a child. The underage drinker who was driving had left the party at that particular parent’s home with their knowledge he was drunk and had been drunk previously, both parties were found guilty. On the one hand the defense attorney was saying kids will be kids and on the other a dead child.

I look back at the story which wolf is being fed. We are responsible as teachers, parents and we and others need to be more actively involved in keeping such situations from happening. Whether it be teenage love or teenage drinking there is harm being done around the corner and often under our noses. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds 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)

A good teacher teaches so the journey continues not ends

Bird Droppings March 11, 2014
A good teacher teaches so the journey continues not ends

“I have never found the companion that was as companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.” Henry David Thoreau, “Solitude,” Walden, 1854

There has been an attraction for me to Thoreau for a number of years perhaps since that day when I actually started reading his words rather than simply skimming along gathering the information needed to pass a test back in high school. I recall so little from high school yet I know his name came up a time or two in literature classes. I was out watching stars earlier today a clear and crisp sky the air cooler today than in several days recently but so clear. Perhaps it is Thoreau’s affinity for the woods and out of doors that has caught my attention in my recent years. I do find myself often simply wandering not in a blank stupor but in awe of each leave, twig, bird and whatever else is in the pathway ahead.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau, 1854

It has been a few years since I have wandered off into the mountains to simply walk. Old age perhaps or is it bad knees that is keeping me from the switch backs and trails I use to hike. I have been content to go out into my yard early in the day when all is at rest listening and watching at a world asleep yet so alive. Are there lessons to learn in the quietness and solitude of early morning? Each breath and sight is a lesson if we allow it to be. Every new smell or sound a page to turn. I find each day something new as I walk out and wander in the confines of a back yard. It could be a star I have never seen or an owl hooting off in the distance perhaps a dove calling early in the morning. Today a young doe crossed my path as she went back from the grassy area near our house to the concealment of the forest.

Several years back I watched a dove cooing from a pole as I walked out on St. Augustine beach as the sun rose one morning. The waves were hitting against the beach and the doves were the only sounds and lessons for me on that morning.

“We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart… and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together…. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.” Helen Hayes

I can be confusing at times through seeking solitude in a crowded world which often brings questions from the masses. Most people congregate in flocks like sheep wanting the companionship and close company the protection of the herd. I enjoy that aspect albeit only briefly but much rather would return to my own thoughts and seek quiet in another way be the sanctuary of my room at school or my writing desk in the upstairs bonus room among my books and papers.

“It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.” K.T. Lang

We become so over powered by our own existence and lose track of where we are in this jumbled mixed up world. Daily I meet people who have nothing but their so called friends; there is no real world at all for them. All of existence is that façade of their material world.

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
“By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear.” George Herbert

I remember my first trip to the monastery in Conyers Georgia so many years ago. The Trappist monks living there farm and work in various crafts each of their own specialties. They have a store and sell produce and baked goods and of course their handcrafts. I recall one of the brothers who was a stained glass artisan and was famous for several churches’ he had designed and built windows for in the Atlanta area. It was always amazing watching as they work all within a world of silence, as Trappist’s take a vow of silence. As you walk through the parts of the Monastery the public is allowed into there is a calm feeling there.

“Only in quiet waters do thing mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

I have talked with several people in recent days whose minds are not clear and their perceptions are distorted. It is so difficult to try and calm a ripple in a pool of water. It will literally continue to the side of the pool no matter what you try. You can distract the ripple but it then sends another ripple occasionally colliding with and interfering and canceling out the first. Sometimes they can join forces and be twice the ripple and distortion as they move towards the edge of the pond.

“Solitude shows us what should be; society shows us what we are.” Robert Cecil

An interesting statement but sooner or later even Thoreau had to walk to town to check on life and his own needs.

“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit.” Marya Mannes
If only we could make use of solitude but far too many people fear it. We seek companions; we seek that herding instinct to be with a group or a society.

“In solitude, where we are least alone.” George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Then I watch the news and see how a moment of peace is broken by five minutes of news and a world being torn apart perhaps not enough solitude. I wonder if it would help by sending all the people wanting war off by themselves maybe to a monastery where a vow of silence is the rule. They would have to learn to deal with anger in silence. Send all the people who are seeking more wealth off by themselves and a vow of poverty and then wealth has no meaning if you cannot impress someone with it. What good is more wealth if you have nothing else to buy?

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up.” Pearl Buck

Another week and another day or two and soon spring will be here again. We have crocuses, tulips and daffodils poking out and of course most of the flowering shrubs and trees are budding and blossoming. We are all intertwined in this world and far too many try and distort and live unconnected from their humanity. I wonder as I look and listen if we spend far too much time trying to impress others with clothes, things, music, money, power, credit cards and all the trappings of this material world and never really look at what we really have. Maybe we do each need some silence and solitude to try and sort out who we are and why. But for the moment now 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)

“When we help others we help ourselves. It’s not good to get too focused on your own problems, especially when others need more than you.” Oneida saying

Why is it when putting a puzzle together a piece is always left behind?

Bird Droppings March 10, 2014
Why is it when putting a puzzle together a piece is always left behind?

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another!” Gail Sheehy, American journalist, author

It has been a most interesting couple of day’s even weeks for me. All weekend was an exciting, enjoyable and learning experience with our oldest granddaughter. We played, snuggled, played, went to the park, read books and each new thought process and hand gesture lends to excitement. I sat and watched yesterday as my wife and Charlie talked at the park and then when we got home they were playing with some puzzles and one was a puzzle of letters and animals. She knew each letter and the only animals that threw her off were a skunk and quail. I was floored when she said iguana for the letter I. Then on Facebook my daughter in-law posted how our granddaughter in North Carolina was being the focus of everyone’s attention as they went shopping. Having been through as a parent so many years ago it is not about having forgotten but watching as a grandparent it is so much more meaningful and after the past few weeks realizing while understanding the circle of life there is much more to do.

I walked out the door this morning to three deer grazing by the house. All in all it was really not a surprise as we have had deer around the house since we moved in nearly eight years ago. Just recently the pine trees once so thick you could not see ten feet into them were thinned and timbered. Now you can see a hundred feet into the forest and opened alley ways to allow for tree growth were cut along entire section of land. On Sunday as I went to watch a sunrise I saw my first coyote since living out here. I have heard them almost nightly but not seen one. So my fear of disturbing the wildlife from the timbering may be somewhat displaced. The only animal I have not seen many of is wild turkeys lately.

It has been nearly two years since we were informed our principal was being promoted and going to the county office. This was a significant advancement for him and a great loss for us. As I looked around my room this morning and wonder what would it be like to move again to another room, another school and or even retire I think, many of us were going through this. As teachers in today’s crazy educational setting we are wondering who will be going here or there, why and when and with class size increases whose jobs are safe and whose are not. As it seems so far this year we may be gaining a position or two due to student increases and we are getting our preferred classes and seem to be very stable.

As so many teachers do each year I am hoping I will be doing what I am this year and can stay in my room. I recall boxing up nearly nine years of photos and moving many gigs of data to a portable hard drive from computers around the room two summers ago. I had to move my eland head. It had been situated on a wall among former student’s photos. The eland is a head and shoulder mount and very big. I raised him from a two year old and when he died a good friend said he would be impressive mounted and well he looks pretty impressive, the largest African antelope. He was six foot at the shoulder and 1400 pounds when he was alive. My numerous aquariums and my pets had to be moved as well. A few I scattered about school a few in my smaller room and some came home.

It has been nearly two weeks since I have had any students came through my room. The mornings have been strange lying in bed or in a recliner at home, doing a bit of work and then napping and each day realizing I need to change my way of living. As I was coming into our driveway late yesterday a large hawk sailed over the house. At first I thought it was a buzzard but the movement was more hawk like and as I pulled in the hawk settled on a tree directly in front of me. A big red tailed hawk just sitting about eighty feet from me watching and gazing at me through my windshield. As I opened the door to the car he flew off.

I often wonder about such coincidences in life. What if I had been thirty minutes sooner no hawk or ten minutes later again no hawk. I by chance was in a window of time on the same wave length at least for a moment as the hawk. Maybe it was the fact I was thinking about so many Native American ideas and teaching about the sacred in life and was excited talking to several old friends who are teaching and or working at the University level in that area. Maybe it was simply coincidence the hawk sat and watched me. As I left the grocery store yesterday evening the sunrise was ok but nothing exciting. By chance I forgot a ream of paper for my son. Coming out the second time the sunset was intense synchronicity at its best.

As I write this morning I did manage a few moments outside watching the clouds move around the little dipper an interesting arrangement literally six lines of clouds in a circle around the constellation and quickly dissipated along with a faint smile of the moon again a few minutes later or earlier and I would have missed it.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours….Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Holy Man 1863-1950

I have used this quote many times borrowing from the wisdom of Black Elk including at my father’s funeral and my youngest son’s wedding. It has been many years since I described myself as a circle, alone unopened in a short poem I wrote one night sitting alone in my apartment in Pennsylvania. As I am sitting listening to the running water from my room’s tanks and native flute music of Carlos Nakai it is a peaceful feeling wandering through memories and thinking about where and when and how. Which path should I choose to walk today, tomorrow and the day after? What new trail or should I stay secure in the old.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know, the earth does not belong to man, and man belongs to the earth.” Chief Seattle

I sat back and thought about my hawk yesterday and how we are all intertwined on this globe, the hawk and I my students at school each an aspect of who we are and why we are here. I look forward to the journey today as always and one day way off when a destination does approach it will be when it is. But for today I am occupied with the journey please 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)