Why is experience the greatest teacher?

Bird Droppings July 20, 2014
Why is experience the greatest teacher?

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

What a way to start with a line from a fiction book about space travelers. However, in the span of ten minutes this evening as I finished a paper on differentiation read emails and posts on various blogs the idea of learning through and of experience was prevalent. One fellow mentioned he learned from his friends. Another learned through the doing of something. Still another got into experiential education. We are the total of our experiences and great educators along the way have seen this and written about it for many years.

“Any experience, however, trivial in its first appearance, is capable of assuming an indefinite richness of significance by extending its range of perceived connections.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Dewey believed that it was through utilizing the previous experiences of a child that we build their education. As I read more on Dewey’s thinking and subsequent thinkers who have built from Dewey, I have found within the research when learning has context and relevance, it is retained exceedingly more so than when simply a mass of content. It saddens me to see our children learning what they need to for a test and not what they need to walk out of school at the end of twelve years for life.

“Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Each day as I wonder what direction will I go today in my reflections and wanderings I always seem to come back to the interconnections that bind us together? It is through the interconnections of the pieces that we learn and through which our lived experiences become actual learning and knowledge.

“To ‘learn from experience’ is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction–discovery of the connection of things.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education

In looking at behavior, we use the terms antecedent, behavior and then consequence to show how the behavior is elicited and continued or stopped. The antecedent precedes the behavior which is followed by the consequence which is considered how it is to work according to behaviorism. This is very easily applied and followed in animal research and many school settings is a standard we call it behavior modification. However, I do think Dewey saw this sequence differently. In order to learn from experience, we need to be able to rearrange and redirect the antecedent, behavior and consequence so as we go those interconnections are literally liquid and flow back and forth rather than this than that.

“Thinking, in other words, is the intentional endeavor to discover specific connections between something which we do and the consequences which result, so that the two become continuous. Their isolation, and consequently their purely arbitrary going together, is canceled; a unified developing situation takes place. The occurrence is now understood; it is explained; it is reasonable, as we say that the thing should happen as it does. Thinking is thus equivalent to an explicit rendering of the intelligent element in our experience. It makes it possible to act with an end in view. It is the condition of our having aims.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Perhaps as I see it behavior modification can work where thinking is not allowed. When we takeaway critical thinking and imagination then, the standard of antecedent behavior and consequence is firm in charge. As I reflect today, this could be why some teachers like maintaining that hierarchy of teacher and students and have a difficult time with Dewey’s ideas of a democratic classroom. This could be why Texas wants to do away with critical thinking in education. When we mass a group of students and lose the individuality in the masses, it is far easier to maintain the status quo. Education is notorious for tracking and grouping kids in ability groups or classes. Might have something to do with control again or could be that research show children learn best when they are with their own kind. Fifty years ago this was the premise for segregated schools.

“How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning. Mind, individual method, originality (these are convertible terms) signify the quality of purposive or directed action.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Trying to provide the right tools and understanding so that children can learn in a setting that will provide them with opportunities to use what they know and build can be difficult and tedious at times. Many teachers give up on this type of learning because there is more work involved. I look at my new room two weeks from school starting back and know I have a good bit to do. Clean organize and sanitize my humble crazy classroom. I did move my snakes and turtles home I have a few things fewer things to get done now to getting computers all checked out, and each student’s portfolio setup and I will be ready to rock and roll. One thing I have found is that is about kids wanting to be in a classroom. If they want to be there amazing things and learning can happen.

“The educator’s part in the enterprise of education is to furnish the environment which stimulates responses and directs the learner’s course. In the last analysis, all that the educator can do is modify stimuli so that response will as surely as is possible result in the formation of desirable intellectual and emotional dispositions.” John Dewey, Democracy and Education
With only three weeks left for my summer, and I am sitting here in my room writing pondering a new year and ideas. Hopefully, my students will learn and go away with something that they can carry through their lives. Each day I have ended my droppings with the same line and do so again. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and 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

Did you know trees can talk?

Bird Droppings July 19, 2014
Did you know trees can talk?

“Did you know that trees talk? Well, they do. They talk to each other, and they’ll talk if you listen. Trouble is, white people don’t listen. They never learned to listen to the Indians so I don’t suppose they’ll listen to other voices in nature. Tatanga Mani, Stoney tribe

Most people would laugh at the comment trees can talk. I thought it was a bit odd as I first read the quote from Tatanga Mani or Walking Buffalo a Stoney Indian from Canada who after being educated in the modern world never gave up his reverence and respect for nature. A friend posted a note like in Lord of the Rings, which is what I thought of as I read this quote earlier today. I had been by the cottonwoods beside the Indian cemetery at Fort Sill and stood looking across the plains listening. The rustling of the cottonwoods along the creek can provide a sense of communication unlike anything I can describe. It has been a few years since I was last at Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma, but the memory lingers. This morning I went out before the sun came up and stood listening to the night. Pine needles create a sound unlike the leaves of many deciduous trees. Fading in the background, the crickets and tree frogs chirped along keeping time with a slight breeze.

“For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and the woods were all in finished beauty. Winds, rain, snow, sunshine, day, night, and change of seasons were endlessly fascinating. Birds, insects, and animals filled the world with knowledge that defied the comprehension of man.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

While I sit I am listening my mind seems to be at ease and trouble seems simply to wander off. Around me the sounds of nature and when the sunlight finally makes its way through the dark the awareness of all around me. Butterflies and flowers are all about me, and each has a specific purpose and each often occupying and living a very delicate balance in our hectic world. Many people give no mind to a butterfly that only survives with a specific host plant much like the Monarch that only feeds only milkweed and related species. The Monarch also needs a very select forest to winter in as part of its natural cycle. In Mexico, timbering is wiping out the winter resting spot for northern Monarchs and soon we may see a decline in Monarch populations.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library, and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of the earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel the beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensify human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I have many times written about the sacredness of life and all about us. Perhaps in greed we lose this sense of nature. Over the past few years I have learned to be more revenant to the world around me and in turn to people as well. I spent a large part of yesterday talking with a friend about how I see all like a puzzle a great jigsaw puzzle with each piece interconnected to all the others to form a picture of life. Some people hear my puzzle analogy and do not understand. It has been some time since listening to a great speaker Dr. Norman Vincent Peale talk about how we each influence at least ten people every day. He was referring to the fact that positively or negatively every person we come in contact with is impacted by what we do. The example we set is what is seen by others and carried away. Life is a constant interconnection of people, places, things and ideas.

“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, Blackfoot warrior and orator

It has been sometimes since walking across the fields near my old home I could hear the buffalo snort and paw the ground agitated by my prescience and letting me know I must move on. Many of the times as a child I caught fireflies and filled a mason jar to light my bedroom at night with their glow. There is a point of understanding and reverence that we lose in our greed and selfishness. We tend to rush by and miss so much the world has to offer. I am sitting, writing, listening and wondering as I finish today. My dear friends 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

Is it a paradox that sometimes small can be big?

Bird Droppings July 18, 2014
Is it a paradox that sometimes small can be big?

July has been a slow month for sunrises with clouds and fog nearly every morning. Somehow between the clouds and even in the fog I have found images worthy of a photo. Finding the tiny pieces within our existence is a key to being a good teacher. Observing and seeing not just the big picture, but the intricate pieces to the puzzle of life that our students bring to us. We get measured by the completion of the puzzle but the students takeaway the pieces one at a time, and it is those pieces that our students remember and recall twenty years from now.
“Educators have to show in their behavior what it means to care. We do not merely tell them to care and give them texts to read on the subject, we demonstrate our caring in our relations with them” Nel Noddings
It has been many years ago that I first read any of Nel Noddings writings, and I have been a fan ever since. Her focus in her research and writing is on caring and as I am rambling this morning how powerful is that single component in the classroom? If a teacher cares about their students amazing things, happen. The tiny pieces to the puzzle are magnified and intensified and can become focal points for life.

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

It seems just like yesterday that I was looking at some power point slides as we waited between committee meetings at Piedmont College. I was to present my Capstone presentation for my Master’s Degree which was the culmination of nearly two years of studies. As I looked at the slides one set of slides was of my son’s old ten-gallon aquarium, a nano reef, which is a mini reef ecosystem for those less verbally aware. The object is you can have a beautiful salt water aquarium in a small space with smaller creatures. The upkeep is significantly more than a larger tank because there is no margin of error in a small tank, but when you start looking at these tiny almost insignificant creatures they become breathtaking. In the space of ten milk cartons an entire world exists from two and a half inch pistol shrimp that lives in a burrow with a three inch blenny a small fish too numerous corals and anemones. Interesting the blenny is very wary, and the shrimp is blind, when trouble was coming the blenny pulls the shrimp back in the hole and when a tasty morsel is coming the fish encourages the powerful shrimp to grab it. Life in that tiny burrow is about two tiny creatures working together.

Last year a few days before school was out one of the teachers brought in a tiny green tree frog they had caught we arranged a little cage for observation. Over the years, I have found the world closeup can be more fascinating the great big world we live in. So often pieces are revealed that may otherwise go unseen, and life takes on a different aspect and perspective. Over the weekend in the mornings as I walked about the house the dew was so heavy from the humidity that all of the spider webs were very visible. I ended up taking photos of several with tiny dew drops hanging on each nearly invisible thread.

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it creative observation or creative viewing.” William S. Burroughs

So often we miss the small pieces always intent on seeing the big and little bits of life will pass us by. I recall watching my son’s nano reef explode when he would drop in a feeding solution of microscopic particles of plankton and algae it was amazing. I do not even see what the tiny corals anemones and polyps can sense in the water. When they are closed up and appearing dead the animals open into beautiful living things seeking their prey when a food source is available. Nearly twelve years ago I was handed a small piece of paper with my name on it written in blue ink and the word in capital letters PASS, written on it as well. That tiny note was the closure to two years of study and a door to another journey as my graduate school continued to unfold. So amazing a small piece of white copy paper can be so significant, for twelve years now it has been in a frame in my classroom as a reminder. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks namaste always.

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

Why is it so hard listening to a child?

Bird Droppings July 17, 2014
Why is it so hard listening to a child?

Sitting here by myself writing before the sunrises and reminiscing I recall listening to some children. It has been some time since I was sitting in my class room on C-Hall when a friend came by with her baby brother about six weeks old at the time. There is something about newborns that is so special I use the term a sponge absorbing everything that happens around them. She left and another group of folks came by and with this group a small child maybe five or six with them. Looking into my room which at that time had a few more critters in it he saw my snakes moving and said he was afraid of snakes. Curiosity soon came over him and he came inside the door as did his mother and sister. The little boy’s mother was drawn to a feather on my desk and soon an hour long discussion ensued.

The interesting part and for me intriguing was each few minutes the little boy would ask a question. I answered many but soon he was interrupting my talk on Native Americans and feathers and I was trying to avoid his questions as I do like to talk. Today as I sit writing listening to Carlos Nakai and watching the sun come up listening to the sounds of the incoming morning it hit me how often we turn our ears away from children when it is them who we should be listening to. I am saddened I did not take the time with that small child and listen more intently rather than discuss with the adults present. Perhaps it is in old age I have learned to sometimes listen rather than talk. It is a special listening of the heart and head when we talk with children.

“Head and heart listening requires that we attend to more than mere words. To understand the full meaning of what a child is saying to us, we have to “listen” to tone, inflection, feelings, and body language. By truly listening, we are saying to our children: ‘You are a person of worth. I love you, respect you, and want to understand you.’ Unfortunately, we are often so eager to get our own point across that we interrupt our children with our own ideas and don’t pay enough attention to their thoughts and feelings.” Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Who and where do we find answers from, I think more often than not from children. We tend to know what is right to do, to learn, to teach and we do it but as I listened to this child so many days ago filled with questions I was too busy to answer and sadly we do this every day. My mother called me yesterday and we were talking about my little nephew. He occasionally talks to pop-pop, my father who passed away a little over a seven years ago. He really never knew him as he is only about eight years old. We so often put aside little children questions, thoughts and dreams and leave them with little more than our own.

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

Yesterday as I finished my day I sat and was thinking about various forms of curriculum and education and as I was reading and jotting notes this Thoreau passage came back. So often we want to simply make everyone like us. Embrace the questions; listen to the words, the thoughts, and emotions. Borrowing from a line I used yesterday let us approach education One Child at a Time. We can learn so much from children. 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)
bird

Let’s change NCLB to OCAT today!

Bird Droppings July 16, 2014
Let’s change NCLB to OCAT today!

I woke up like most other days and as you get older each day is a prize and for some reason sat at my computer pondering much longer than normal. I was looking at some comments and reviewing a post I had made the day before and thinking about what direction to go. I have two dissertations to review and I started reading William Ayers book, To Teach again and found it very similar to John Dewey and other educators that I enjoy reading. As I looked at a blurb from GAE Georgia Association of Educators from nearly four years ago denouncing the plan to go ahead with submission to Federal Department of Education grants stimulus award program since educators were not involved I was a bit concerned. Georgia went literally county by county on Race to the Top and is possibly based around a portion related to evaluating teachers. I agree with that idea of involvement but the key component GAE was upset about is that it would require teachers to be more accountable and that accountability to be more thoroughly evaluated a point even though actively involved with GAE I disagree with to some extent. We need to be accountable, and I am not saying through test scores.

Currently in Georgia teachers have either, one or up to three, twenty minute walk throughs by administrators as their evaluations and that is primarily a state produced checklist of things to be looked for. It impacts your yearly evaluation and whether or not you will be asked back the next year. But it does not impact pay. Teacher pay in Georgia is based on years of experience and degrees. The longer you teach the more you get paid and the higher your degree the more you get paid. If you are a coach now in our county counts equal with experience which while a supporter of sports Academics should be number one. A problem is that a teacher with thirty five or forty years that have not been good can pass all of their entire career walk through’ s and always have great annual evaluations and be one of highest paid in the school and have never been successful as a teacher. Their students may not be succeeding in life but that is not a reference point.

“Learning to teach takes time, energy, hard work. Learning to teach well requires even more: a serious and sustained engagement with the enterprise, an intense focus on the lives of children, a passionate regard for the future – that is, for the community our students will inherit and reinvent and for the world they are arching for.” Dr. William Ayers

I started an idea the other day which may seem redundant and silly. Instead of No Child Left Behind, let us approach education as One Child at a time. The more I thought about this idea and read does it not make more sense to approach each child as an individual rather than as a group or score or where they lie on the bell shaped curve. Granted it will take a bit more work to get to know each student to know why and how each student works and understands but in the end I truly believe it will accomplish so much more and provide us with a future of thinkers instead of simply a society of consumers.

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.” John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto is another outspoken educator trying to alter a system that has been struggling within itself for so long. John Dewey had it right a hundred years ago and it is still considered progressive education. Give your main customer a say so in the education of themselves. Have a democratic classroom. Amazing how quickly people and teachers go quiet when that suggestion comes up. A favorite actor of mine during his lifetime came into acting when most folks are retiring. Chief Dan George began his career opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1970 at seventy one years of age in the movie, Little Big Man. One of my favorite films and his portrayal was that of outlaw Josey Wales side kick in the movie of the same name. He had a famous line as he told the story of the civilized tribes going to Washington and being told by the president to endeavor to persevere.

“But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man’s strange customs which I could not understand pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.” Chief Dan George

Today in education and in life the struggle of the winners dictating the outcomes in whatever arena we put before us is still true. Whichever party is in control will pass legislation be it for people or against, with the people having little say. In education seldom are teachers involved in educational decisions or even in the thinking process involved. More importantly we never include the students and it is those students who we impose choices determined by people in almost another world that make the process of education so overwhelming. I have been writing for years about the loss of soul in education and this is not in reference to religion but to the individuality of the children. We strip away in the early grades inspiration and creativity and soon only the motions of learning are occurring. We are teaching to the test. Cramming the information needed in the space provided.

“Can we talk of integration until there is integration of hearts and minds? Unless you have this, you have only a physical prescience, and the walls between us are as high as the mountain range.” Chief Dan George

It is about an integration of hearts and minds that is needed in education. The walls are getting higher as I write and one day soon it may be insurmountable. I am hoping enough people choose to look differently at how we educate children and begin to realize we need to address the soul of each child as well. So sitting here pondering away I close as I have for thirteen years please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and let us give thanks for all we have namaste.

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

How do we know on a cloudy day if the moon is setting or the sun is rising?

Bird Droppings July 15, 2014
How do we know on a cloudy day
if the moon is setting or the sun is rising?

I left the house relatively early to get gas for my wife’s car and since staying at home today to work on my writing a bottle of grapefruit cranberry juice. My days have been hectic lately and almost blurry running from one to the next and almost as if in slow motion yet going by faster than I would like. I have much to do and places to go and things to see just don’t know which direction to start in. As I left the house several rabbits and birds either ran or flew across my path as I drove down the dirt road beside our house. As I drove a bit further down the road I noticed the clouds were still obscuring the view of the sky as the sun came up and what might have been the moon going down in the west. No sooner do I try and notice the moon and the sun is coming up. How can this be both events all at once? This was even better than an eclipse. As I took a turn on a back country road a mother opossum began peering at the roadway looking about ready to jump in front of a car. I noticed she was carrying some babies on her back and hopefully she avoided traffic although it was early and I did not see any cars.

A few days back I stopped by my mother’s house to check in and see what she would like for dinner later that day. As we talked I remembered another trip when she started pulling out books she wanted to know if I wanted. As she pulled a few books I realized I do not turn down books ever, well almost never and started piling them up. One in particular caught my attention. Touch the Earth by T.C. McLuhan. As I read and recalled from earlier in the day yesterday several postings about changes in our world it started to make sense more so than it had is some time.

“All living creatures and all plants derive their life from the sun. If it were not for the sun, there would be darkness and nothing could grow – the earth would be without life. Yet the sun must have the help of the earth. If the sun alone were to act upon animals and plants, the heat would be so great they would die, but there are clouds that bring rain, and the action of the sun and earth together supply the moisture that is needed for life.” Okute, Teton Sioux, 1911

As it turns out the book was given to my father in 1983 by a friend of his who signed the book as well. T. C. McLuhan edited the stories and gathered them from various Native American warriors, chiefs, holy men and orators. The photos are all from Edward S. Curtis famous black and white photographer and chronicler of the Wild West. T. C. McLuhan is a New York videographer and author with numerous projects to her credit. The Shadow Catcher is a 1975 film based on Edward S. Curtis and his travels from 1893 through 1930 recording on film and tapes the sights and sounds of Native peoples across the country. His concern was the old ways would soon be gone and his effort has recorded many events and happenings found nowhere else in media. T.C. McLuhan’s father is a bit better known in literary circles, Marshall McLuhan was named Patron Saint of Wired magazine in 1991. T. C. McLuhan produced and directed the documentary “The Frontier Gandhi” in 2008. Looking at a book on Native Peoples culture I have found an author and now several films I want to pursue.
“I wonder if the ground has anything to say? I wonder if the ground is listening to what is said? I wonder if the ground would come alive and what is on it? Though I hear what the ground says. The ground says the Great Spirit place me here.” Young Chief, Cayuse, 1855 at an Indian Council in the Valley of the Walla Wall

Yesterday I responded to a blog about how rapidly things were changing and how food stuffs with the dying off of honey bees will be impacted. Over the last few years I can honestly say I have seen fewer and fewer honey bees. I plant numerous flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. But each year there are fewer honey bees. This year I have seen maybe a dozen which is better than last year. I wander my gardens most every day during summer looking for photo opportunities and this year no pictures of honey bees so far though my oldest son says he has seen some. As I read through this manuscript and thought about the title touch the earth I thought to the recorded writings based on many of the great Native Peoples leaders both on the battle field and spiritually. All reflect the contact with the earth as a key to their existence. Whether it be sitting on the ground instead of on a chair or standing in moccasins close to the ground instead of thick soled boots or shoes the Native Peoples way is to be one with the earth. I tagged a t-shirt photo I took a year or so ago with the world and some feathers and surrounding the image the words, “This we know all things are connected.”

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, and the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk residing in France who was ejected from his country of Viet Nam for being against the Viet Nam war in the late sixties and early seventies. “All is a miracle” is such a simple statement yet it is what this life is about if we so choose. The miracle is in our own seeing and believing. What a glorious day while cloudy it will still be a great day. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to all give thanks namaste.

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

Is not every day a good day?

Bird Droppings July 14, 2014
Is not every day a good day?

Recently I had the great privilege of spending some time with some very dear friends. These are people I have known for many years. Over the past few weekends I have driven nearly eight hundred miles on various always exciting excursions. There were several trips to the North Georgia Mountains for graduate classes, visiting the Foxfire property a few times and along with this a trip or to Athens and Thomaston Georgia. Much of this time I had family members along for the ride, some drives were alone and most of that time listening to a CD by the Foxfire Boys, a blue grass band out of Clayton Georgia.

In my travels many things pass through my mind, ideas for my writings, dissertation and my graduate studies, thoughts back to my meetings with my friends and thinking about my grandkids. But in the midst of this all was a passing thought my wife mentioned as I was sitting reading an email from one of my friends. She told me we all have kind hearts. I thought back to conversations we were having as friends a few days back that would have provided her with this insight.

”I tell my students that teaching is a lifelong moral quest. You never have it exactly right, and you keep trying to get better at it. You keep learning from your students and what you they’re going through, how you can do things better.” Dr. Nel Noddings, interview with Sara Day Hatton, Teaching By Heart: The Foxfire Interviews

An idea crossed my mind as I was driving. The medicine circle composed of four points of the compass. The points are as on most manmade compasses yet far more in terms of meaning in the medicine circle. The North, symbolizing earth and wisdom, The South, symbolized by fire and passion, The West, symbolized by water and emotions, and the East, symbolized by air and flight are what make the medicine circle meanings. I thought of four friends drawn together yet apart. Each knows of the other and by chance I had words with each recently. Each of my friends had passion in their lives. There was a passion I could see and feel for their work, family and those around them. I even at one point was sitting jotting notes to myself as to who fit each of the points. Who was the north or south, east or west of this medicine wheel? I was reminded of the medicine wheel a few weeks back as a friend used in a morning moment with a group of teachers in the mountains of North Georgia and as I sat by my own medicine circle in a back corner of the yard as the sun came up today and wisps of smoke from some sage, sweet grass, ursa, and willow bark dissipated in the breeze.

So often my train of thought then wanders off and I find myself postulating over other ideas and pondering this or that. I found my way to a book store yesterday. Somehow I can do that probably in my sleep. Someday I might like to have my ashes sprinkled through a Barnes and Noble even though they will get swept up by the nightly cleaning crew or maybe haunt a book store in the afterlife. I went looking as I do to favorite sections only to find they were all shifted about. I finally found the Education rows of books and a bit later the Native American shelves.
As I looked always seemingly drawn to known authors I found a title that intrigued me. The book was Every Day is a Good Day, by Wilma Mankiller. I had not seen this book in all of my travels and searching’s at Borders, Barnes and Noble and many other stores and purchased on line several years ago. It consists of dialogue between nineteen indigenous women on various topics. The book has many powerful words from these women. I borrowed today from the foreword written by Native American author Vine Deloria.

“The old Indian war cry, it’s a good day to die, bespoke of the courage and fearlessness of men in battle and indicated that life was not worth living if one approached it with too much caution. Freedom demanded the willingness to sacrifice everything to ensure personal integrity. But what of the long periods between wars and crises? What about the daily lives we seek to fill with substance?” Vine Deloria

The late Wilma Mankiller nationally known as former chief of the Cherokee Nation and author, teacher, lecturer and advocate for Native American affairs in her book proceeds to explore this through the thoughts and understandings of nineteen indigenous women from all walks of life. In a recent class we discussed the concept of multitasking and how women have been multitasking for thousands of years while men focus on generally one thing at a time. I look at women running for vice president, state governors, congress, Senate and our current Secretary of state in our own country. Wilma Mankiller was chief of the Cherokee nation for ten years until her health took the best of her.

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or strong its weapons.” Cheyenne proverb

My thinking has wandered today from four friends and an observation by my wife to the multitasking ability of women. Yet intertwined is a common thread a piece of the tapestry of our lives. My wife saw a common element in each of us as we talked and joked and retold old tales of childhood. Perhaps we are each part of the medicine wheel of life. A thought crossed my mind as each of my friends in different places we are each leading separate yet connected lives. I thought back to Wilma’s book title and how I was drawn to that every day is a good day. I thought to multitasking and how so often we take for granted those who truly do keep the world in line and in order. I thought of my wife who so often is the guiding force in our family and always ready to hug someone needing hugging.

Every day is a good day when we accept the premise that we are integral to that day and we each are only a portion of the day and so many more too are there interconnected and interwoven. I do think it is when we get focused too into our own that we lose sight of the good day. I do wish we each could hold all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts and to give thanks for all namaste.

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

High Stakes Testing should we even be doing it?

Bird Droppings July 11, 2014
High Stakes Testing should we even be doing it?

Six years ago the staff at our high school spent several months getting ready for a peer review, actually it is called a GAPPS Review. About the same time you throw in the Georgia High School Graduation retests and PSAT, and End of Course tests coming up and literally daily there was an ongoing teaching to the test and or inspection of one sort or another in education. In the days since it has not changed if not only become worse. We gear ourselves so diligently in getting ready for the tests maybe even more so than actually taking the tests and we lose sight of what education is really about, a quality education.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

When I first saw this quote it made me wonder has Bill Gates lost his marbles. But look deeper in to what Gates is really saying. If a company has no unhappy customers they are doing everything right essentially. Basic Phillip Crosby quality control is to be sure customers are satisfied. Another big gun the late Steve Jobs had an issue with the iPhone 4 seems the phone when held had a hard time getting a signal I actually think they had a left hand designer who put antennae on the side a right handed person would hold phone and thereby canceling signal. Solution a free case to all iPhone 4 purchasers which at last count was about six million.

“Quality is meeting or exceeding the expectations of your customers” Phillip Crosby

If we expand that customer base further to all people who we come in contact with then that idea, a source of learning is magnified many times over and if we now also have that group of everyone having expectations of us we quickly become either good or evil depending on how we are viewed by the world. That could be a stretch but in reality this is how we do see things. What if we could apply this to education? Bill Gates has been attempting but has been talking with the wrong customers. Teachers, students and parents impacted by education are not the ones the Gates Foundation considers customers it is the corporations supplying materials and for profit programs.

“Learning is not compulsory …. Neither is survival.” W. Edwards Deming

Leading into my thoughts a fellow from years gone by, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Deming was one of the greatest industrial management consultants and thinkers of the 20th century. He provided the insight that Japanese industrialists built empires on after World War II. He summarized in fourteen points which I have included because there are some good thoughts regardless of whether you are in industry, teaching and or simply a parent. I can recall my father borrowing these from Deming as he discussed a good and a quality Safety Program.

The 14 points for management in industry, education and government Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

1. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. (Maybe we in education need to read this one several times and then again)
2. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
3. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
4. Institute training on the job.
5. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. (Leadership what a powerful word yet in education you generally get management)
6. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company (oh if we could eliminate fear among teachers what a workplace we could have and who knows maybe even empower teachers)
7. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
8. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force. (I wonder when we will ever see this in education as we constantly want to compare the US to Japan to China to each other to ethnic groups our educational system is built on comparison and the great quality expert is saying no way)
9. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
10. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership. (See my response on 8)
11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
Reference: http://www.deming.org/ – The W. Edwards Deming’s Institute

Interesting as I looked through the list and see applications for myself in teaching. There are very near parallel to Foxfire Core Practices and several other teaching references. For example point one “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” Not only did Deming see this as a problem, but as Sen. Paul Wellstone states.

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying they will not tolerate failure. But it is a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone

This was being seen in industry as an issue by Deming. If an inspector has to check for errors and or faulty pieces of an item what was interesting in his research done on inspectors the number of pieces faulty was in direct correlation to total number of pieces actually produced. In effect inspectors knew they had to find x number of pieces and that is how many they found. Many faulty pieces went through regardless of inspection if total was met. Deming is saying build a quality piece first so there will be no faulty pieces. Teach appropriately and you will not have to test.

”A plague has been sweeping through American schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools. Invoking such terms as “tougher standards,” “accountability,” and “raising the bar,” people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.” Alfie Kohn

Sitting here this morning after spending much of yesterday teaching colleges classes I am waiting to relax and sit quietly for a few minutes then get into some serious writing Each year we seem to add two or three more weeks of intensive testing in our high school officially called the End of course Tests, EOCT and Georgia High School Graduation Tests, GHSGT. There is not much pressure on High School Students at all to succeed in Georgia that is an understatement. In bold letters every student knows if you do not pass this test you will not pass this course and or graduate. I hear that there is actually a rumor, that this statement is being tattooed on students before tests, pass or leave, but I found out it is false. In industry, in politics, in homes and in schools we so often use that mentality to accomplish the ends with our children, employees and even friends.

As I look at Bill Gates quote again and think of students taking standardized tests you would think someone would have caught on somewhere. Maybe we need to get tested more? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and do look over Deming’s fourteen points there are a few good ideas and be sure to always give thanks namaste
.

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

Can I teach myself or am I even allowed?

Bird Droppings July 10, 2014
Can I teach myself or am I even allowed?

“There is then, nothing final about a logical rendering of experience. Its value is not contained in itself; its significance is that of standpoint, outlook, and method. It intervenes between the more casual, tentative, and roundabout experiences of the past, and more controlled and orderly experiences of the future.” John Dewey, The Child and Curriculum

I have been reading the past few days books by Sousa, Tomlinson, Creswell, Merriam, Gatto, Eisner and Dewey and one thing seems to continually pop up and that is the experience a child brings with them to the learning process is critical. All of the days before coming to school, family stuff, community stuff, cultural stuff and kid’s stuff that accumulate as a child grow. Far too often we expert teachers forget that is even there just in front of us. There is an entire world of experiences that each student has been through and could build upon and expand.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

A variation on the ancient Chinese proverb “you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach a man to fish and feed him for life” John W. Gardner was the founder of Common Cause and instrumental in founding of Medicare and many educational and social reforms including the Civil Rights act. Interesting how today the political rhetoric is almost the opposite. In education today with mandated standardized testing driving the curriculum and corporate America taking over education we seem to be wanting to create a world of consumers and workers and fewer inventors and creators.

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” John W. Gardner

Working within the field of education I have seen what trying to legislate education can do, often I find myself saying the term “No child left behind” should read “how many can we leave behind”. We do this as we systematically push students into certain categories and then out the door in order to meet and exceed standards artificially imposed across the board. We should continuously be striving to “teach them to grow their own plants” as Gardner states and not be measuring cut flowers. But testing of such issues as to how well can a student grow a flower, well it takes a growing season and is not done in a two hour session. One of the most effect methods of measuring a child educational growth is a portfolio in which bits and pieces are gather across a span of time showing where they started and where they are. Amazingly enough there are a few schools using portfolios of students work to assess their students, probably because it takes a whole growing season of work.
“Considerable research has demonstrated the importance of making sure students are actively involved in designing their own learning, invited to play a role in formulating questions, creating projects, and so on.” Alfie Kohn

I was thinking how interesting as we move into a new world of education or is it an old world. During the past school year’s daily reflection time as my students did their journaling I asked them to write about what they would do different in educating themselves and no school was the number one answer. I asked for clarification since no school would put me out of a job. “How am I to learn how to work on Honda motors if I never see one” or “I want to work on my parents farm and raise cattle I do not need to know that 3X+3 = 9”. I was somewhat set back we design curriculum with what we as educators and as legislators decide students need to know. Seldom do we ever ask students. Last night on a late night talk show the discussion on education came up and what I found interesting was there are jobs three million unfilled jobs that people either do not want or feel they are too well qualified. There are large equipment operator jobs through Caterpillar Company that eventually after training can be six figures and no one is applying. An old logo from high schools in the 1970’s was shown “Work smart not hard”. No wonder we cannot get out of this all kids go to college mentality in state and federal legislators minds.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice number one, 2009

I was discussing equations the other day back during school with a student who was having a hard time in math, 10X – 3X = 20 + 1. I easily offered 7X = 21 and or X = 3. I was wrong I was told X = 1.9 and I was shown rules for this process and why and how. I talked to this student’s teacher later in the day actually to verify my own meager math skills. It seems that this student learned some simple algebraic rules but cannot always put them in the correct place. It was about cutting flowers versus growing flowers. (10X +3X) (-3x +3X) = (20-1) (+1 – 1) and or to the effect 13X = 19 and the confusion goes on. In effect the student had been taught to balance an equation and had rules but could not differentiate which equations needed balancing. It was sort of like growing flowers and continually pulling out the flowers and letting the weeds grow because you know flowers have leaves and weeds have stems. How do we reach students? How do we change from “no school” to truly getting input from students, faculty and parents about needs of the community, state and nation as to educating that student?

“Students need to be engaged in the process of learning in ways that connect with their experience. Students learn better when they know the teacher cares about them.” Robert Fried

Over the past couple years I have had the privilege to work with a young lady who graduated or nearly graduated eight years ago two credits shy of actual graduation. She has been working since to take the two courses she had failed twice each in high school, Algebra I and Physical Science. I had been proctoring her tests and helping set up computer learning for her. She owns an Ice cream franchise and really doesn’t need to graduate from high school, but she did.
Nearly 100 years ago John Dewey offered up students need to build from experience. Numerous scholars and researchers have shown the effectiveness of constructivism in education and the effectiveness of students knowing that their teachers care and or are passionate about what they do it is not just a job with a pay check.

“Schools were places where the students did what they were told to do. They answered questions–they did not ask them; their special (or their not so special) interests and curiosities were to be kept private; they were not to take time away from the predetermined curriculum. In short, the culture of the classroom lacked almost all of the hallmarks of productive learning. And each level of the educational hierarchy viewed the level below it as teachers viewed students.” Dr. Seymour Sarason

The possibility to teach growing flowers is there if we decide to do that. It is making the change from cutting flowers to growing flowers that has to occur within a community and within schools for it to succeed. Today let us all as parents and teachers try and begin to teach students how to grow flowers. 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)
bird

Dodging rain drops

Bird Droppings July 9, 2014
Dodging rain drops

Georgia has been considerably wetter this summer than the last at least at my house. The surprise thunderstorms while often severe have kept most trees green and vegetation lush in the back yard. I have been watering our flowers and of course with fertilizer they are growing so fast many fall over from their height and my herb garden is lush and deep. I have a beautiful canna lilies and squash that have so many blooms and grown so much they can barely stay up. I planted a crop of jimson weed, or datura which is a cousin to the angel trumpets given to me by a friend in Pa. I will have to watch out for them when they mow this week they are coming up all over the back corner of the yard. I had to let someone else mow which had been something I actually enjoy due to a back issue.

“A name is imposed on what is thought to be a thing or a state and this divides it from other things and other states. But when you pursue what lies behind the name, you find a greater and greater subtlety that has no divisions. Atoms of dust are not really atoms of dust but are merely called that. In the same way, a world is not a world but is merely called that.” Visuddhi Magga

I read this quote in passing yesterday and have been thinking about it for some time we could easily get lost in the metaphysics of Gary Zukav or James Redfield describing the infinite inner worlds and selves and the interrelationships. But I thought I would look at rain more metaphorically. I was walking outside in the yard yesterday just as a storm hit or I thought was going to hit. I made Speedracer look slow grabbing my tools and wheelbarrow back in the garage. The sky would darken and wind would pick up and I would stop for a water break and no rain.

Several times the isolated thunder showers passed me by each more magnificent than the last in clouds and colors. After I finished trimming and spot watering just in case the storms missed us altogether I took our westie outside for a run. I had spent a few moments meditating in a rock garden we are building a circle of sorts including various succulents and perennials and rocks that are very special to us. Many my father in law collected as he went fishing a piece of pretty granite here and there and he would take them home over the years. We have been bringing back from Warner Robins since he passed away and clearing up his rock pile and building ours.

Just as I went out with our westie however a new and bigger cloud formation swirling about, it went to my left ever so slowly and then stopped and I could see lightening flashing in a large circle almost around me as if I was in the center of the storm. My dog was sitting beside me as I stood transfixed in the front t yard with her tail between her legs. I moved to the rocking chair on the porch watching in awe as nature played out in front of me. Finally after thirty minutes of approaching the rain and wind finally came and I took my dog in and headed myself into the house. It had started to rain and of course the wheels of pondering started.

Over the past summer I had seen drizzle and light rain, drops as big as golf balls, hail stones mixed in and today as I read news earlier some of the country is in a flood state, and still in other areas drought. As I thought from the same precipitation just in different levels and in how we perceive it. Floods in the Amazon River basin are essential for the rain forest to survive and often drought in some areas precipitates sprouting of seeds as rains return.

In the Kalahari desert the African Bullfrog or Pixie Frog will envelop itself in mucus and burrow into the mud sustaining on fat and water stored in its tissues hibernating till the next rain which could be a year or more then climbs out when rains come and lays eggs and the tadpoles leave their ponds just as they dry up and start the cycle again. In Georgia rain is a blessing and curse, crops benefit and so do bugs and such. As I was thinking deeper into rain, for some see rain only as a negative a detriment to their activities on that day.

A few days back because of a good rain and a trip into town by chance I did find a book at Barnes and Nobles. But a deeper look at rain maybe beyond that physical stuff we see. In our lives we are always deluged with issues we deem bad much like rain at times. Yet when we start to seriously see these issues they can become much like my rushing to finish mowing or a change of plans and going to the bookstore, a driving force for growth or change for the better. I read somewhere that, “A name is imposed on what is thought to be a thing or a state”. After all it is only a name and it is how we perceive and utilize that issue that makes it bad or good.

Perhaps this sounds silly but in my own life as I shift from seeing an issue as detrimental to one of change of growth there is a release a freedom and we could go deeper but I will save that for another time. I am working on research and writing today and soon next weekend a journey back to North Georgia and always wondering what may come. 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