Culture is far more than just a word

Bird Droppings August 31, 2014
Culture is far more than just a word

“Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that thought comes before speech. In the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect. More powerful than words was silence with the Lakota.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

Culture is those pieces of which we are that others see when we are in their presence. It is how we eat and what we eat. It is how we honor and respect others and or not respect others. Culture is a combination of learned and practiced behaviors all that come together and make us an individual, family, community and nation. In a world as diverse as we live in now it becomes cultures rather rapidly as the melting pot of humanity that is the United States perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world has attracted peoples from around the world.

My father as we grew up told many stories of the various Indian tribes around the country some of which he heard from Code Talkers that his LSM shuttled back and forth on landings in the South Pacific during World War II. The Code Talkers were Navaho who would use their native tongue send encrypted messages across the Japanese lines and in the years they served in the Pacific the code was never broken. My father became good friends and his stories of Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle have been passed now to his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

It has been nearly fifty years since I was first exposed to a hatred I had never seen before. I headed to Texas after flunking out of college my freshmen year. I was trying to not get drafted more so than staying in college, since a student deferment was one of the few ways to avoid getting drafted and I was not interested in getting married. Back in the day Plano Texas was in the sticks about twenty miles from Dallas and really a hole in the wall. We had a pizza place and a Dairy Queen and that was it. So we students who hailed from all over the country would frequent one of the two options on a regular basis. On one particular day I went in and several for real cowboys were sitting there with wads of tobacco in their cheeks and discussing the hated Indians and what they would do if one came in the Dairy Queen. About that time one spit right at my flip flop shod feet. Seems long haired college students were only one step up from Indians in this narrow minded world of Plano Texas in 1968.

“His strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling. As a matter of truth, he was the most sympathetic of men, but his emotions of depth and sincerity were tempered with control. Silence meant to the Lakota what it meant to Disraeli, when he said “Silence is the mother of truth, for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.” Chief Luther Standing Bear
Over the past weeks I have written about illegal immigrants and racists and the entire for me issue of how is it we cannot see others as human beings. Standing Bear makes a statement that hits hard it is the silent man who speaks the truth and the man who was always speaking who needs to be not taken seriously. In a school watching students interact there are those who sit quiet and those who never sit still I was joking yesterday about a student who is more like ADHD on Steroids bouncing off the roof and never still. It is the pondering and reflection of the silence that allows us to draw wisdom to the surface and can provide more meaningful interaction. Far better than the noise makers on talk shows who spout off just to hear themselves speak. Sitting in my car driving around yesterday with R. Carlos Nakai flute music on my stereo and the sounds of running water as the rain came down I am in my sanctuary and comfortable as I sit and reflect about my days thoughts. Perhaps when I clear my head from this cold I can get on a better track in terms of getting my droppings out earlier in the day. I wish we each could remember to keep all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

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

The continuing saga

Bird Droppings August 29, 2014
The continuing saga

It is so often that I write of coincidence it may seem boring to some. To me it is a never ending saga of special moments one after the other. During a college graduate class, we discussed science and measuring of data. Intuition and coincidence it seems are difficult commodities to evaluate. Carl Jung split with Sigmund Freud over similar matters and coined the word synchronicity. Yesterday as I was talking as always it seems I never stop I was drawn to the door of my room here on B-hall and as I stepped out a friend passed by exactly as I stepped to the door. There was a friend with a problem. If I had been a few seconds later a moment later and that friend would have already passed my room. I was drawn to the door like a moth to a flame. T that specific moment I wondered was I meant to interfere to get involved in the problem or simply to offer advice or questions, was it coincidence, perhaps simply a chance happening, or was it synchronicity as Jung would proclaim.

“The images of the unconscious place a great responsibility upon a man. Failure to understand them, or a shirking of ethical responsibility, deprives him of his wholeness and imposes a painful fragmentariness on his life.” Carl Jung

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” Eric Fromm

Which direction do we go as we try and unravel the human condition the frail substance about which we have evolved from. Can we separate out and categorize, analyze and measure that which makes us human versus a pack animal.

“Man may be defined as the animal that can say “I,” that can be aware of himself as a separate entity.“ Eric Fromm

“The mind is like an iceberg; it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water. ” Sigmund Freud

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with the idea that it is literally a “pet” notion, and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

When beset with an issue or problem we so often fall victim to the easiest route the way of “least resistance least trouble” as John Dewey would say. Years ago in a book on Loss Control management my father used the illustration of an iceberg we only see one-seventh of the problem. We too as we journey through life are only one-seventh visible. There are sixth sevenths that stay hidden away secreted somewhere from view.
“Thus we see that the all important thing is not killing or giving life, drinking or not drinking, living in the town or the country, being unlucky or lucky, winning or losing. It is how we win, how we lose, how we live or die, finally, how we choose.” R. H. Blyth

It is how we choose that is important. Each day for several years since I began this morning endeavor I have talked of the journey in life. I had used as a screen saver my son’s image crossing a stream in north Georgia stepping stone by stone across a rippling rolling stream. My son is soaking wet and could of just as easily walked the stream and avoid falling from the rocks he was wet already, but he choose to step on the slippery rocks. The challenge for him was doing it, making the journey not simply surviving.

“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease a herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.” Mourning Dove – Salish

This becomes a difficult task trying to explain how the problem has a purpose how a human issue has reason in the world of measurement where non-measuring is constant and so often the point. I can never find the distance between the stones of the stream as my son’s footsteps fall crossing rock by rock.

“You can never cross a stream the same way twice” Zen saying

“Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.” William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991

Going from a single person’s problem to that of the North Slope of Alaska may seem a stretch. But as we journey in life we essentially do not get to replay our hand once we lay the cards upon the table. Yesterday by chance somewhere before 4:00 AM I was reading an old National Geographic and how the oil fields are so enticing in the Wilds of Alaska. Greedy people see only money. Others see loss of habitat wildlife and wilderness that can never be replaced. Another amazing coincidence this morning I could not pull this up it literally disappeared and I wrote another piece which I emailed instead yesterday as I look at each it was time for this one today and now for this a good follow up, peace my friends and have a good evening and please keep all in harms 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

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

Bird Droppings August 28, 2014
Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

It has been nearly eight years since we moved last and found ourselves in this house. I wasn’t sure from where to start several ideas have been running through my thinking the past few hours. It has been almost eight years since I read and heard the news on Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s death. As I do my best pondering when alone I went outside thinking and wondering about the shortness of life. I looked about my back yard that I know so well in the dark spending more time here in the early hours than during day light it seems at times even taking pictures by flash of night blooming flowers and tree frogs. We do become attached to routines and people and things and being with new teachers co-teaching has taken a few days to adjust granted I actually do like it and am enjoying co-teaching with the teachers I am with funny thing was I fought the idea of co-teaching for several years and in my first ten years of special education never co-taught a class.

On another topic grandbabies, my wife and I have been discussing ideas of rearranging and decorating our official grandbaby’s cave (room). Our sons all are in moved out and or in careers and both our mothers are still with us so it is interesting to be thinking of going to Toys R Us again and colors to paint our new project. I have never planned an endeavor previously in detail and actually thought out why and how but in this additional grandbaby event a big change for us we find new sustenance. I know as the days and hours get closer my sons will all chip in and we will make new accommodations for our grand babies. My wife and I will sort through the preponderance of materials we have collected over the years, memories from raising three sons. I am a pack rat no doubt about it, but I am sure among the boxes there will be items that we might can use. Many times it is hard looking back at those pieces of our lives together good, bad, calamity, tragedy; up lifting experiences somehow it seems there has always been a light.

Nearly ten years ago I recall my first email of the day was from a dear friend, Dr. James Sutton who wrote a beautiful forward for my first book to be of Bird Droppings, A teacher’s journey if and when I finish it. I was opening emails not too long ago and another note from Dr. Sutton.

“It’s great to be affirmed. A chuckle: I mentioned in a training session one time that we need to always be aware that the boy in our class who can’t keep his hands to himself may well hold a scalpel someday and save our life. One lady in the audience gasped: ‘Oh my God! I just pictured Johnny with a KNIFE!’” Dr. James Sutton

In a Saturday BD a few weeks back I was talking about being reaffirmed as a teacher from a previous students comment. But for Today I go back to words from two songs that have been running through my head for some time now. Both are older songs but to me significant. Country Stars Big and Rich claim to fame is the song; Save a horse ride a Cowboy, not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame. It is another song on that same album which to me is a far more powerful message entitled, Holy water. I heard this song a nearly ten years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. But as songs go I heard them wrong as we so often do.

Holy Water
By Big and Rich
Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I use to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now you’d never tell
Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water
She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water
She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

The first time I heard this song tears welled up I was listening to the words of holy water as if the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I used the words in class many months ago. I took the CD in to sort of a listen and translate for students and asked what is this song about and one of my red necked skate boarders piped up and set me straight. “Mr. Bird she wants to be held like holy water – special sacred.” The old saying could not be truer, from the mouths of babes. How many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water. I thought back to a quote from Parker Palmer from I used a few days ago.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

Months back for lunch my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV a Martina McBride music video was showing entitled, God’s Will. It hit me again this time I was in tears and a powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching of exceptional children so many years ago.

God’s Will
By Martina McBride

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first
His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt
Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood
[Chorus:]
I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will
Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when
Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him
[Chorus]
Before they moved to California
His mother said, they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her, that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you
I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

My son asked, “Dad are you crying again” as I watched a powerful music video and song for some of us who are where we are to be. Over forty years ago my brother John was born. My mother was in labor nearly two days and John was born with cerebral palsy, severe brain damage. When he was two while in Florida he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John lived till a few years ago with his family sharing in all gatherings all the time he never spoke a word. He was never toilet trained yet he left his mark on each of our lives. So much of the past two days got me thinking back in time.

The impact my brother John had spanned several states as his influence spread. In 1971 or so the city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the teachers of exceptional children who after babysitting or being around John chose this field to teach in this field and in other areas of education including myself, two sisters, my oldest son and several nieces and nephews. My own family ended in Georgia because of John. He is buried on a hill out by my mother’s home in Walton County and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if he had not happened to our family.

My mother has answered in a series of poems and thoughts she has put together over the years. Each of my brothers and sisters has responded in their own fashion and me I respond in Bird Droppings. Sitting here thinking of the passing of a good soul in Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and my brother John and thinking of these two songs maybe we can begin to set aside differences and challenges and calamities and start seeking out each other. Peace my dear friends and thank you all for the support and emails over the years 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

Why do we fail?

Bird Droppings August 27, 2014
Why do we fail?

Many the times, I have wondered why people stop learning. I see it in high school students, in college and graduate students. Almost as if a switch is thrown and poof no more learning I have reached my limit. I had a teacher approach me before school started the other day about a student who scored a seventeen on a quiz. The student’s parents were asking for a retake and study guide which the teacher was complaining about doing. The student got a seventeen he deserved a seventeen period. Where is the learning curve giving a failing grade is not a motivator for many students who by high school are used to that and could care less. Achieving a passing grade by learning what is on the quiz and then retaking, and passing is what school should be about. Several friends that I have co-taught with allow retakes if you come in for tutoring over material before the retest.

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner

I began the morning looking through several articles written by William Edelen, a former pastor and fighter pilot, as well as several by Arthur Schopenhauer, 19th-century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology. Somehow in my reading earlier I ended up back on articles by John Gardner. I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart, I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One of the former students shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard. The other student said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. Still another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart.

I thought back in each of their lives. All failed in part or all of graduation tests in high school, one of the students had failed one a portion three times by a total of eight points; as a result she did not graduate and she opted to get a GED. She was tired of failing or risking failing again.

“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I’m going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But the failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron

For so many of us we take defeat failure in stride and move on, but for some students failure is a daily event and eventually they succumb and lose whatever desire to succeed they may have had. A good friend now a football and baseball coach in high school while playing high school baseball as a catcher would study players as they batted. Each pitch thrown and each swing tucked away. Should by chance he be against that same batter he knew their every move and would offer to the pitcher through hand signals the pitch to throw. My friend had an uncanny memory for details. If we could apply to teaching each mistake by a student memorized and then pitch to the weakness not to fail again but to succeed for that student.

“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki

“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose

Amazing how this is so similar as I think back on life to my experiences in fourth grade. I had a teacher who was grading me harder than those around me. I think she thought I wouldn’t notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A. I had two wrong, and a C. My mother asked and the teacher stated I wasn’t working up to my ability, so she was grading harder than other students. I quit trying in school for some time, until about two years into college.

“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you’ll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

We set in motion at young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. Watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn. Example is the best teacher, and they watch parents. If we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole

I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one particular exhibit, it is a barrel of light bulbs all failures and the plague reads it took over 10,000 failures to succeed but it did work. As I went further and read, Coles thought about drowning and was applying it to students. Many have given up because the school and society has given up. As soon as you take statistics in college you gather data and sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail, and soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to their graphs and charts.

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents 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 (1944-2002)

Alfie Kohn’s starts his website with:
“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards.” The statement of “Learning by doing,” which is a common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name so let’s call it “teaching by doing” (TBD).”

“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them

Alfie Kohn has been writing and lecturing nationwide about issues in public school for the past few years, he is a major proponent of public schools. It is how we teach he is trying to address, and instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that aspect. It is about promoting the success rather than failure that we need to strive for in our endeavors as teachers and parents. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success and their futures. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

If only we can make a difference

Bird Droppings August 25, 2014
If only we can make a difference

I walked out last night to a partial moon it was exceptionally warm with the high humidity which has become the norm. However, between the clouds I did see a jet stream that was perfectly in line with what tiny faint hint I could see of the moon almost as if a line was drawn and the moon was moving along the line among the clouds. When I come out in the early morning hours and look East Orion sits just above the persimmon trees and today the moon was gone but clear as could be was the constellation Orion. I think Orion has been checking out the persimmons or since a hunter watching for the deer that come to feast on the ripe fruit falling to the ground.

“The purpose of Living Values: Educational Program is to provide guiding principles and tools for the development of the whole person, recognizing that the individual is comprised of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.” livingvalues.net

When I first read the lead line to this website it is too good to be true, someone after my own heart. As I thought it is not just about content but context as well although in public school spiritual has to be a carefully handled word. Yesterday as I do many days I borrowed from John Dewey’s pedagogy, and this is a similar line looking more at the whole person in talking with some teachers during professional planning.

“In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war.” Jacques Delors, Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO

ALIVE, The association for Living values Education International was founded by the United Nations a few years ago. As I read through the literature the concept of teaching values intrigued me. Is this maybe where we go wrong in public school focusing on the content within the curriculum covered on pages one through five hundred only? Maybe this is where students lose the desire to learn being force fed piles of facts or does it happen elsewhere.

“The traditions of our people are handed down from father to son. The Chief is considered to be the most learned, and the leader of the tribe. The Doctor, however, is thought to have more inspiration. He is supposed to be in communion with spirits… He cures the sick by the laying of hands and prayers and incantations and heavenly songs. He infuses new life into the patient, and performs most wonderful feats of skill in his practice…. He clothes himself in the skins of young innocent animals, such as the fawn, and decorated himself with the plumage of harmless birds, such as the dove and hummingbird …” Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute

Much of our culture, or who we are, is learned behavior from our community setting. We learn much of who we are good or bad at home. Several years ago I wrote a paper about “The Sixteen Hour Syndrome” that time kids are away from school. As a parent-teacher and now grandparent I see students leave school and go home where any semblance of value and order is disavowed. Students were unlearning anything that had been taught. Teachers have eight hours of which transportation and breaks and lunch come out of so maybe six hours to try and instill values and information. Some could argue that should school be the place for values to be taught? It is a place, and teaching is occurring so do what you can.

“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” Fredrich Nietzsche

“You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.” Denis Waitley

Students theoretically should bring some tattering of values to school but going back to September 11, 2001 which coincidentally was my first day back to teaching after a twenty-three year break a student informed me he was the first in four generations not to run moonshine. Interestingly enough last night on the history channel a show memorialized moonshiners as an integral part of our history and that we had to have them in order for progression to occur. This was while the host sampled various brews from around the country. If you are raised that moonshining, racism, bigotry, anti-government and a good one today belittling women is appropriate. Now then imagine the impact of those eight hours in school with a female teacher who by chance works for the government and doesn’t drink. After battling with that type of student, teachers are weary, and they are not just in the south. So the issue becomes how do we as teachers even attempt to alter values.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Albert Einstein

“Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obstructs your vision.” Hsi-Tang

In many societies, the raising of the children is a community effort not just the biological parents. We all need to work together be it in parenting and teaching and in working towards a world we can eliminate the sixteen-hour syndrome, and children can learn to appreciate life and all that could be there for them.

“Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.” Thomas Dewey

Perhaps that leads to this idea. The other aspect is that in order to open properly that parachute has to be packed correctly folded and arranged so it will open when the rip cord is pulled. Far too many children have not had their parachute folded properly before the jump and will crash and burn. As I look back over the past few weeks of school and writings teachers are expected to check the students parachutes and repack them daily. Teachers are often expected times to even postpone the jumps till everyone is ready. But in life as in parachuting there comes a time when you have to learn to pack your chute. When it doesn’t open, it is no one’s fault but your own.

“If a man who cannot count find a four-leaf clover is he entitled to happiness? You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.” Stanislaw Jerszy Lec, Unkempt Thoughts, translated from the Polish by Jacek Galazka

As I read a few of Lec’s words, this morning many are dark foreboding telling of a time when death was near the doorstep in Poland during World War II. Executioners and death are a major topic looking through Unkempt Thoughts a rather large collection of anecdotes. But when I saw these particular two lines the first is so true of education we pass the child through knowing he cannot “count” are we truly happy when he finds a four leave clover and patience is learned but it does take patience to learn patience otherwise you would have run out of patience. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and please let’s make sure parachutes are packed right for that first jump and always give thanks namaste.

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

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 24, 2014
A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been back in teaching thirteen years and have watched teachers burn out and simply fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting their all into what they do, and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students, you open your heart as palmer indicates, and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer in his writing discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and more critically a necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

In my journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural as I am discussing my journeys since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude that for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred, and some will scuff how you can say that, it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

In the several years that I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. I have gone about this through building relationships with students. In my opinion, that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books, and it is relationships. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience in any way this knowledge. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept that I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead, and few days left in this week the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.
For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

The head of education in the US should not be an idiot

Bird Droppings August 22, 2014
The head of education in the US should not be an idiot

It was four years ago I was reading an article an interview with Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. I selected a few choice quotes from his interview to savor and ponder for a few days. As I look at the words, he said, and his follow through with his actions we can see where he really thinks education should be. I have long argued that sports should not be priority number one in high school and colleges but who am I to challenge the status quo. Football ticket sales and all the hoopla surrounding sports is big money. With Duncan’s emphasis more recently on a push to private industry in public education, I found his words a bit confusing. At first I truly liked this statement and yet since these words were let loose he has gone three hundred and sixty degrees in another direction and supported in actions the making of money.

“If a university can’t have two out of five of their student-athletes graduate, I don’t know why they’re rewarded with post-season play” Arne Duncan

Over the past few days, I have been looking at how I see teaching and instruction, and I have wandered about a bit in my efforts. My style is somewhat radical to say the least. However in fourteen years in public education my craziness has worked with kids who are not supposed to graduate or succeed according to most. I happen to see this line from Arne Duncan our Secretary of Education, and it is amazing how we provide a sense of falsehood through athletics. I am not saying all athletes are poor students by any means. I know many who are honor graduates and scholars in their right. The greed and competition however at a college level become significant. A local college at home games can bring millions to the economy. Many staunch fans never went to college anywhere yet have season tickets and trucks colored in that schools colors and even have the same animal as a pet as the local mascot. A good college football or basketball program is a business not a learning program.

“I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful.’ Arne Duncan

Not every child should be going to college, and why we have to advertise and promote this concept, I honestly do not know. In a recent faculty meeting, our superintendent discussed the excessively high dropout rate of freshmen. When you have an attitude of sending everyone to college those who do not want to be there quit that first year. We have eliminated technical training in many high schools ours included in favor of everyone goes to college. This trend ties in with our role in international education as well. We constantly hear on the news how we are behind in education other international programs and countries. Let me start with one of the measures which is the PISA, The Program for International Student Assessment. In 2006, we the USA were ranked fifteenth. I have never heard of or seen this test administered in Georgia. It is a two-hour test, multiple choice and essay. It is given every three years to rank countries internationally. Australia is ranked fourth. There are differences between us and them and significant differences. It was 1992 till Australia started inclusion into public schools for disabled students versus 1974 in the US. However, there is still a distinct difference between US and literally most of the world in terms of education. Our test scores, for example, as per NCLB include Students With Disabilities SWD as a subgroup, and they are included in the final tally of the population. A 2% allowance is made for Mentally Impaired students in the total population. Australia in scoring on High School tests, etc. does not include SWD in totals as European and Asian Schools do not include either. Most international school systems have in place a mandatory age cutoff 15-17 depending on the territory, for example, in Australia. At that point, choices are made and or mandated as to higher education technical and or college and or go to work. Throughout Asia, this is common practice as it is in many European educational systems.

“If you have great assessments and real-time data for teachers and parents that say these are [the student’s] strengths and weaknesses, that’s a real healthy thing.” Arne Duncan

“We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Cal Rodgers

In the words of the head of education and a leader in psychology in his time above, they are totally differing views. I agree with several of my friends that on some concepts Carl Rogers can be a bit off the deep end to a degree. But on this aspect I agree with him that competition as far as learning goes be that grades, test scores, can be inconsequential as to, has any learning occurred. This would lead to another line from David Purpel yesterday that truly hit me hard.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

We have stripped away that aspect of community from schools in order to have a clear-cut and definite number to score and equate whatever it is we want to measure in theory. One of the first things I learned in statistics is that they are at the mercy of the statistician. We can make numbers do whatever we want. Politicians like numbers and test scores and simply things so they can make policy and award lobbyists with nice contracts. Interesting how most educational research that is cited by the National Clearinghouse for research-based materials is primarily one hundred percent publishing and testing company’s research. Much of this is very limited demographically and in a true research situation would not be valid. Significant dollars are involved however, but that might be for another discussion, which sort of ties in with my idea of, is there ethical capitalism? Sadly industrial mentalities and capitalism drive education in US. Mass production testing and textbook companies rule along with various support industries.

“I know there are schools that are beating the odds where students are getting better every year, and they are labeled failures, and that can be discouraging and demoralizing,” Arne Duncan

I continue to try and understand how when students are doing better year after year they are a failure. As for US schools being behind are they really? All US schools in all states we are mandated through NCLB to have an exit exam that is within certain parameters for graduation and if not passed student does not receive a high school degree. This consists of Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science portions in the state of Georgia. Many subjects have End of Course Tests again here in Georgia. Even with this series of tests at our high school we have managed to raise graduation rate at our school from 71% to 92% over a five-year period. Sadly this comes at the expense of real learning, and the idea of teaching to the test is more than a catchword. Teacher’s jobs administrator’s jobs are tied to test scores and funding and state and federal intervention as well. I am not happy with the USA educational system as I am a supporter of students and learning which are totally being left behind in this numerical accountability competitive system.

“We are proceeding on with the intent of the Landmark – Leave No Child Behind Reform Act without political persuasion. The focus is the effective delivery of services in education by review, restructure, implementation for maximum student learning.” Arne Duncan

Arne perhaps used some words wrong here. It should have read for maximum student’s success in testing not in learning. I have taught in different parts of Georgia and Pa. briefly and while many will say education is not as difficult as in previous generations all I can say is pull a high school or college biology book off the shelf dust it off and compare to a biology book today. The cellular material is years beyond my freshmen college and even zoology and botany books of 1968 and 1969. Not just the research gains but vocabulary and demands of the material are voluminous compared to what we had in high school. Our system is flawed, and it will take radical thinking I tend to believe more toward Foxfire core practices and John Dewey’s ideas and Carl Rogers.

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my experience. No other person’s ideas and none of my ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to the truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research –neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my direct experience. My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way, its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.” Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Carl Rogers

As I close looking back on where and when and how I am still within my learning searching for what is my pedagogy. It is a continual fluid moving process as I teach and learn each day. I can say I am inclined to think this way but only till a better way comes along. With a morning nearing end and the new week ahead please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and your hearts and always to give thanks namaste.

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