Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings April 30, 2015
Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

In the midst of my daily journals entries lately it gets hectic I am trying to get readmitted to one of two doctorate programs I have started, running back and forth to North Georgia to visit with friends, research, reading and discussing John Dewey, maintaining some semblance of order in my herb gardens and my work on a chapter for a book on Rural Education. Did I mention getting ready for nearly two weeks of testing that I despise. So here early in the morning today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and some will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off real learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and massive standardized testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I have over the past few days used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that which stays with us. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.

I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measureable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

To put into another perspective author Capitalist and Libertarian hero and favorite, Ayn Rand at the 1974 West Point address had this to say about Native Americans.

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.” Ayn Rand, Address 1974 West Point

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would respond with that is a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.

Over the years my room at the high school has been the school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

“The gap is so great that the required subject matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Children come to school as avid learners I often use the term sponges, having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are truly sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems. I cannot help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.

“….all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be involved a day here and there with the Foxfire Approach to Teaching courses up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I try and attend as many days as I can more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. One evening a few courses past I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1970 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses. Last year I had the great privilege of meeting one of the former Foxfire instructors from the early days, Mr. George Reynolds. In only a few minutes of talking to the group his passion for learning and teaching was evident. He had been in Mountain City for a reunion of sorts visiting several former students who had made music their careers.

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of greed.” Jonathan Kozol

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the result, when only profit is a goal and success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but make adjustments in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.

Money obviously is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our
“Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day blueprint within education to make good consumers.

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With common core standards and standardized testing the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought. The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I have been working on a simple formula along the lines of if we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning we can then build upon for future learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated” and found an interesting thought.

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

It has been nearly fourteen years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.

We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.

So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and in her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county comparing our local system which generally does well.

We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. As I head into more Foxfire my idea I have been pondering of Education as a stream and the Foxfire Core practices as stepping stones gains momentum. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and hopefully after three weeks of being embedded in the Foxfire Approach to teaching I will be ready for another school year. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

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

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

Bird Droppings April 29, 2015
Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

I have been reflecting over the concept of critical pedagogy and in that reflection I recall an incident nearly forty years ago that calls to mind my own interpretation and understanding of what we as teachers are all about. I purchased a book in 1972 or so that was about a method of teaching that for me was what teaching was all about. The book was the Foxfire two, a collection of mountain lore and life. The editor was a man who went into North Georgia to teach English and ended up creating a teaching method or I should say edited a teaching concept in that much of what he developed was previously suggested and implemented with John Dewey. Elliott Wigginton started in 1966 a way of teaching that incorporated the students in the learning process. I am sitting in my room at the high school writing and shortly will be headed back up to North Georgia only miles from where this idea for teaching started. The next three weeks I will be as much as possible be participating in a learning program based around this concept of teaching.

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

Always in movies with a jungle setting the leader has a machete and hacks away at the undergrowth making the way clear for the group following. D’Angelo is an author of sorts, an author who as a senior at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania wrote a paper “Wellness Works”, which would became the basis for his ideas. While writing primarily about college life he was also offering bits and pieces of wit to help folks make it through the day. He is Author of The College Blue Book and the inspirational series; we are creating a new kind of “school” for a new kind of world. It just so happens my college career started at West Chester State as well although in my feeble attempt at education I was asked not to return and ended up facing a military draft physical only to find I was physically unfit for military service.

“After all, the world as we know it is less than 15 years old. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and in 1995 the World Wide Web went up. It is a completely new world for us all. With this new world, come new challenges. With these new challenges, come new ways of educating people for the future and it is our every intention to be at the fore front of this educational revolution. The 20th Century was about Content, but the 21st Century is about Context.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

As I read through the website dealing with empowerment many interesting ideas and thoughts that last line hit me like a ton of bricks. John Dewey was saying the same thing nearly a hundred years ago. Context is the critical component versus content.

“Most College Students Get a Degree, But Not an Education.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

The basis and rationale of his thoughts centered on the fact nearly one third of college students drop out. His writings and training (coaching) are meant to change that. Going back again nearly 100 years ago another educational revolutionary had similar thoughts. John Dewey offered a very similar constraint to content versus context with his take on constructivism.

“Learners who can adapt quickly by learning in a complex world are more likely to adapt to changing conditions and survive as an individual.” Martin Dougiamas, A journey into Constructivism

It has been a quite a few days possibly years since I walked in my yard to show some friends from the South Georgia coast my ever growing herb garden. I was pulling a few leaves here and there comparing different types of thyme and mints but all the same it was a matter of trying to dodge raindrops and our dog running between my legs trying to get back in the house. My friends had gone to the amusement park all day and were worn out but hamburgers and hotdogs off the Bird nest grill and a few minutes catching up and we were into old stories and somehow reptiles. It seems my oldest and my good friend who had come by are both amateur herpetologists and snake talk can go on for hours. As I stood thinking just before going to bed that night it was so quiet other than the dripping of the rain on the house and from trees and shrubs. It was an ethereal undertaking walking out in the remnants of a rain of that evening.

“Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.” On Purpose Associates

Looking at the surroundings yesterday morning as I walked through the house checking to see if the dog needed to go out for her morning constitutional I saw the light or I should say my senses saw light. I can accept that thought and or pursue why and how I saw a light. It could be perhaps the batteries are low and it is only a glimmer of light. Last year I started a daily log on each of my students writing down as events transpired within my various classrooms, while focusing on education I would also jot down any events or happening with that student that may be important. As I thought daily life is little different as I read D’Angelo’s thoughts, while he focused on college students the application to a lesser degree very easily could be made to own my students who are at high risk for graduation from high school. By pushing that envelope further we have people who are at risk with life itself.

“The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.” On Purpose Associates

As a teacher so often I found myself saying this is my class room and you will do as I say. I even have gone so far as to declare back in the day when I had a trailer, my room as an independent kingdom and issued money, Mr. Bird bucks. I still have the crown although it currently resides on a rather large stuffed antelope head (an eland) on my classroom wall. However in the process of declaring an independent kingdom from the rest of school we as a group signed a declaration of independence. While I said my class room, in effect the room had become the student’s class room.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.” John Dewey

Do I simply want to accept the light from the night or pursue finding out more. I recall just before school was out that I spent the better part of my planning period on the phone with a parent. This particular student has been a problem for all of his teachers, numerous physiological reasons can quickly be brought to our attention and various assundery medications have been prescribed over the years. In high school with four different teachers and different outlooks of perception we have a student being daily assessed by four people and four world views. On a particular bad day I jotted down behaviors that were issues. At some point his medications came into the discussion and the student made a comment how he felt that was the issue not his behavior. You might say, “The medicine made him do it”. He as often found excuses for his behavior as we all do.

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

I find myself being sort of a renegade in the high school and not willing to accept four other good teachers’ viewpoints without investigating I always dig deeper into the issues of the student’s behavior. Upon referring to a handy Physician’s Desk Reference, PDR, eight of the behavior issues were side effects of his particular medications and all of the medications were recommended for adults. Indicated in bold lettering there are warnings this medication may cause drowsiness and to not operate equipment while taking this medication. The problem this student was being referred for every day was sleeping in class. We gave this student ISS for sleeping and for making comments about how he can’t think straight. All day long we hack at leaves, I tell friends in the north about kudzu. It is so hard to describe a plant that hacking at the leaves only infuriates it, it seems to grow faster. Add to it a couple of tropical storms and hurricanes worth of water dumped on it helps as well. But whether it is in education or family we need to look beyond traditional means. It is about context versus content borrowing from D’Angelo and of course John Dewey.

I was speaking with my son many years ago about teenager issues as we rode home from a band practice. It is so easy to say one thing, hack off leaves and never really get to the roots. He asked me why our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. I offered often lack of education, or simply indifference to the responsibility and focus on the moment we have so engrained in our kids and lifestyles. A year or two later I am dealing with the issue personally with my son. Maybe I should have offered context and less content discussing pregnancy. So I walk out today looking for how come it is so bright outside even in the rain we also need to look at context. We also need to review why we keep sharpening the machete and not look for a shovel and as I finish today harm is an elusive word. A child raised in an environment where tomorrow is questionable is that harm? Students who say whatever and quit school is that harm? Young men and women fighting in various wars around the world is that harm to themselves as well as those around them? Refugees in Sudan tying shelter together with sticks, thread and leaves is that harm? I wonder if we even care at times more worried about the trivial pieces of life what shirt or shoes to wear? So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks namaste.

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

My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen more

Bird Droppings April 28, 2015
My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen more

“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 a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

Sitting at home reading several essays by Carl Rogers made for an interesting start to my morning just prior to a driving to school this morning. In our world of No child Left Behind and for me teaching Special Education I see the ones that tend to get left behind. As I read this thought from Rodgers I enjoyed the thought of no tests and no grades. Over the years in one graduate class after another the idea of a portfolio following the student through their school career has always intrigued me and in my own room I have done such while in a resource setting. As I thought this morning would not some sort of portfolio or culminating, or I should say ongoing project indicate mastery or development of learning better than a multiple choice test done with a number two pencil on a scantron answer sheet. Of course in chemistry we might have a few explosions if learners were not listening along the way. In my understanding of the Dewey based Foxfire program what is now Core Practice eight developed into the Foxfire magazine for Elliot Wiggington’s students at Rabun Nantahochee School in 1966. I find it fascinating how often great teachers follow parallel routes albeit different wording and yet seem to find the same ideas. Going back to John Dewey and his premise that experience is the best teacher.

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

“Learning doesn’t stop at 3:15. You can help the teacher do a better job by encouraging your child to show you something he’s working on at school, suggests Ron Martucci, who teaches fourth grade in Pelham, New York. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: ‘Ask him to demonstrate how he does long division or to read his book report out loud,’ says Martucci. ‘Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he knows, it builds confidence.’” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Publications

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Pulling together my first thoughts this morning as I unravel the essential Bird Pedagogy, previous or past experiences of the learners is a key starting point as I discussed yesterday to a degree. Building on that as the learner progresses trying to find ways that truly show how the learner is developing rather than static limited tests and grades. I like the idea of Rogers about how grades and tests are end points and should be simply points along the line rephrasing a bit as I go. Education is more of a continuum than a finished product. It is sad that so many want to have education be a period at some point. Even as I accumulate degrees I find I am learning constantly not focusing on that end point but where do I go from there.

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey

I am sitting in my writing nook at home this morning a quiet day and one of excitement as I think ahead of driving back up to a to visit with a Foxfire course about to start. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my effort yesterday. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and or art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer yesterday using Aldus Huxley who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley, Content and Pretexts

As I read this simple line by Huxley I could not help but go back to my readings on John Dewey and his direct influence on educators and education past, present and future. Dewey saw education as the basis for society.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth and is continuing shaping the individuals powers saturating his consciousness forming his habits training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” John Dewey Pedagogic Creed

In my classroom I try and tie to contextual aspects of where we are in the content oriented material that students are being taught. An example would be the word taxonomy that came up a last semester in our biology class. Most students had no clue what this word meant and by some prompting we made a comparison of sheep and goats, one of the student’s families raises goats and we learned about taxonomy. We could show differences and similarities which is how we classify living organisms, or do taxonomy in terms of biology. One of my favorite examples of context and content is going back many years to listening to my father explain tying a square knot you learn best when you actually do it rather than simply hear it explained.

As I explore my own pedagogy I am drawn back to my earliest college and work in psychology. Dr. Abram Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs that I have used over the years many times showing an idea of how people relate and understand in this world of ours. Maslow started with five needs and over the years added some additional clarification.

“Maslow’s five needs:
Physiological needs are to do with the maintenance of the human body. If we are unwell, then little else matters until we recover. Safety needs are about putting a roof over our heads and keeping us from harm. If we are rich, strong and powerful, or have good friends, we can make ourselves safe. Belonging needs introduce our tribal nature. If we are helpful and kind to others they will want us as friends. Esteem needs are for a higher position within a group. If people respect us, we have greater power. Self-actualization needs are to ‘become what we are capable of becoming’, which would our greatest achievement. Maslow added over the years three more needs. These are the needs that are most commonly discussed and used. In fact Maslow later added three more needs by splitting two of the above five needs. Between esteem and self-actualization two needs were added. Need to know and understand, which explains the cognitive need of the academic. Also added was the need for aesthetic beauty, which is the emotional need of the artist. Self-actualization was divided into, self-actualization, which is realizing one’s own potential, as above and transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential.” Maslow and Lowery, 1998

As I move towards a defining point in my essential Bird Pedagogy bits and pieces of Rogers and Dewey along with Foxfire are intertwined with Maslow’s ideas. We need and seek socialization we are a social animal. We seek recognition and want to be secure in our lives. Maslow in adding cognitive which Rogers uses and aesthetic which Rogers alludes to and Dewey as well as Elliot Eisner build on this. Each day as I sit pondering reflecting on what is my pedagogy my ideas seem to flow a little more freely. I do believe pedagogy is an individual entity and has fluidity to it. There is not an end point or limit or rather there should not be since we need to be ongoing learners and thinkers. Perhaps I will as the week progresses resolve my own ideas and be a bit more definitive in what my personal pedagogy truly is but for today please keep all in harm’s way on your minds 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

Today should always be a first day

Bird Droppings April 27, 2015
Today should always be a first day

“I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.” Lone Man (Isna-la-wica)Teton Sioux

So often in life we think we are the one. We can do it all on our own with absolutely no help from others. A few years back I was working in my room when a former student came by to see me. What amuses me is this student could not wait to get out of school to go to work with his dad. I asked how things were going and he had quit already. He didn’t like it but he had enough gas for four hundred miles of driving a full tank and that was all that mattered. He came by with a fellow I had not seen before and he was a pretty rough scruffy looking fellow. Both guys were not all that clean sort of like they had slept in the car for several days. I was amused at how while in school he did everything he could to get out and here he was visiting. His last bit of our school was physically getting kicked out and finished in Alternative school.

I recall how he told me he did not need to know how to read and yet he was telling me how he failed the online exam at Wal-Mart while trying to get a job. He was joking about how he Christmas treed Wal-Mart test just like he would at school. I asked if he got hired yet and he said no but they were letting him take test again his mother works at Wal-Mart. I had this quote from many years back finding this website of Native American quotes and one I use frequently. We cannot be monastic in our lives we are in effect herding animals and need the support of a group. On a brighter note he did after several jobs find one he can be successful in. He is working for a paving company and has been for nearly four years now.

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.”

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need.” Margaret Mead

I was standing outside listening earlier to a world around me I was alone yet knew at any moment I could step back in doors. I searched the sky looking for familiar constellations and stars. The overcast of the sky hid most but the crescent moon sort of peeking through. The black edge of the tree tops surrounded my view. I enjoy this time of the day especially here in my back yard a world away from civilization yet only a foot or to step back into it as well. Encircling my dreams in black lace the tree tops form a circle around my view. Listening to my friends seemingly all in chorus, crickets, tree frogs chirping and barking and an occasional whippoorwill and the off in the distance a drone of the main highway waking up. But I know my family is there in the house if I need. I started thinking back to the young man who came to visit me a few weeks back. I wondered how he thought about his family and I know his comment of having enough gas was self-centered and strictly an extrinsic motivation of the moment.

I doubt he had supplies stashed about as the Bushmen tribes would in case of drought and need. We tend to be more self-serving thinking only of the moment and immediate. Perhaps our society has done this too us and in so limited us. As I look back primitive man was interdependent on each other for survival and success. In today’s world we stress independence and self-sufficiency.

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Jung

I find myself wandering, searching and pondering a bit today thinking of Bushmen, Foxfire and a former student. I wonder what if I had known this student say fifteen years ago and not just for the few years I was involved with him. I wonder what if I had read Von der Post years ago and had not just find this great author and human being more recently. I wonder often what if I had done something differently would a former student be in prison now serving three life sentences in the Jackson Georgia Psychiatric Prison Facility. I recall as the day gets near each tiny shred of influence we have is noticed and perceived and each idea carried away by those around us many times we do not even know. As a teacher often we never see how we influence a student and often as with my former student we cannot be there every moment and assist with every choice made. We can only provide pieces to the puzzle and offer directions and strategies for solving each puzzle as it is presented.

Recently when a friend began a new direction and her daily wandering and philosophizing was ceased on the internet and a piece of me was left wondering. Perhaps it is the teacher in me that finds changes while a necessity still difficult. I commented to my wife over the weekend while very independent I am still a creature of routine. I have a hard time with change. In less than two months new students will enter my room for the first time exposed to perhaps a different type of teacher and I wonder how it will be taken. It will be fun and hopefully enlightening so peace my friends for today and 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

How difficult is it finding ourselves within the fog of education?

Bird Droppings April 26, 2015
How difficult is it finding ourselves within the fog of education?

“The more sand that has escaped the hourglass of life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean Paul Sartre

As I was looking for thoughts and ideas to start, I actually was going a different direction when by accident or should I say coincidence found this quote. As we get older we have experienced more and if we have learned from our experience the hour glass does clear however if those grains have been abrasive and scoured the glass as they went through the glass will be scratched and foggy. It is life’s lessons that determine this process and how we have responded that provide the fodder for our endeavor. I am sitting here in the morning hours after responding for nearly an hour to various posts on blogs and a copy of John Dewey’s Experience and Education to my left. Next week I will be heading to North Georgia a few miles from North Carolina line to sit in a class on Foxfire Teaching, a method based on experience and John Dewey.

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” W. Blake

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” Albert Einstein

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

It is often about choosing to look, to see, to listen, and to hear those are all choices we make as we go through life. It is far easier to take ideas and thoughts from others to be subjugated by others to be what another wants us to be but only in hearing and seeing for ourselves can we as Thoreau says wake up to the dawn and we must be awake especially in today’s politically biased and charged atmosphere. As I was reading last night this thought came up and it intrigued me since I started in about using your own eyes and ears.

“An anthropologist asked a Hopi Indian why so many of his native songs seemed to be about the subject of rain… he replied: ‘because rain is scarce in our land… is that the reason so many of your songs are about love?’” Kent Nerburn

As I thought is that the problem in our society to be so easily recognized by a Hopi Indian in New Mexico who had never really been to a big city or “civilized” area of The United States, could it be a lack of love that is why our society stumbles. I was involved in a discussion of sorts on another’s Facebook page over holistic healing and herbals cures. This discussion was modern versus ancient methodology and granted many new age supposed “cures” are a bit of a stretch there is wisdom in the elders.

“Mankind often stumbles upon the truth….but usually picks itself up & goes along.” Winston Churchill
We so often know the answer and choose not to listen or simply disregard due to the current politics, popular opinion or majority rules sort of thing that media and mentality of the masses seem to operate on.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

The more I read of Albert’s ideas and philosophy the more I like his thoughts. It is funny how what we remember him for his more science oriented views than his philosophy and that he loathed the fact that he was instrumental in developing weapons of mass destruction. At one point said he would give up all if he could take that back. So where am I going today perhaps the following thought will offer some aid.

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position… It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education… The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our affords are to create.” Bertrand Russell

The sad thing is so often we fall victim to this 19th century thinking and all of this while applying to education is very much prevalent through all ideas among the “normal” folks in our world today borrowing loosely a term applied to current folks wanting to change education “reformers”. It seems these reformers are more bent on profit than working with the students.

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.” William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

It is so sad to think that we actually allowed this type of mentality to lead our nation and continue to use this approach while in a more appealing packaging NCLB legislation and many of the packages offered by publishers and reformers. Many times I wonder if anything has changed as you read headlines and newspaper clippings. We do not want to over educate children they might think for themselves then what do we do and who would they elect? The paradox is that in schools the kids who are allowed to think for themselves excel and often are the pride of the schools yet all through their education an effort has been made to suppress that thinking. One of my sons in eighth grade was told his methodology in a math problem was wrong and he had to do it “right”, the teachers way.
Yet in his second semester of calculus his methodology he found was absolutely right and more so interesting what was wrong in eighth grade is so correct in twelfth grade and in college calculus at Georgia Tech and now as an environmental engineer. Sadly that same teacher demanding him to do it right and gave him his only B in school is on our Board of Education. Sometimes we force children to our terms and we are the ones who are wrong. We need to listen to the children, we need to be learners as well as teachers, learn from the children and before I go too far a last quote to end this morning meanderings from ancient Israel.

“A child’s wisdom is also wisdom” Jewish Proverb

Well I got a bit carried away but several good ideas to mold over ponder on and reflect about as I get ready to recharge over the next couple of weeks in North Georgia. So for today be safe for the remainder if this glorious week ahead and keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind and to always give thanks namaste.
For all my relations

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

Driving up a mountain takes effort

Bird Droppings April 24, 2015
Driving up a mountain takes effort

I am looking forward to the trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia, the site of the Foxfire Museum property and the site of the Piedmont College’s teacher’s class in The Foxfire Approach to teaching. My oldest son took the course as a piece of his master’s degree program at Piedmont College. But interestingly enough several folks from Loganville Georgia were in attendance at his course. One of the teachers as we went around the room doing introductions made a comment about an interesting point for her was the first time she had ever held a snake was in my room at Loganville High School holding Stevie my ball python. Sadly Stevie has moved home with my room change a few years back and just laid eight eggs. Sitting here thinking actually there is a picture of her 2003 State Champion Softball team on the wall as well.

Sitting and listening to teachers and teachers to be in the discussions that go around the room with lead facilitators providing a frame work within which to expound or expand the conversation is a starting point of a weeklong session. Just prior to leaving our house to drive up last year I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic which has been eluding me for some time. I had been sitting in a discussion with a former student and he offered the idea of that I had shown him or helped him find, the Art of Learning. As I pondered deeper into that morning this idea stuck with me and from it a topic. The Art of Learning using the Foxfire Core Practices as a palette and it was only a few days ago my idea evolved again and now is, Crossing the stream of education: Using the Foxfire Core Practices as stepping stones.

When I left Mountain City last year and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County I felt excited about the course going on and my own epiphany that morning with the idea of learning is an art form. John Dewey’s book, Experience and Education sits to my left as I write and the past few days I have borrowed from it several times as I jotted ideas down. But it is within the community of fellow learners and teachers we find answers and again more questions to ask. I thrive on the idea of learning even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. When students want to learn and desire to learn amazing things can be accomplished.

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

John Dewey and his thoughts run through the Foxfire Approach to Teaching with an emphasis on a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning and student input into the process of learning. I find that this is a rather simple statement this initial core practice which along with the other nine have evolved over the past nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions from literally around the world. But so often a key attribute is missed and that is that students and teachers do this undertaking together. Last summer listening to sixteen nearly teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class provided me with a sense of maybe there are a few who get it in the world.

In education we talk about test scores which are also what is used to measure in most schools to federal and state guidelines. Standardized tests given to all students at the end or near end of a school term on specific subjects that are to measure what students have learned. Sadly many students could take the same test at the beginning of the term and score the same so is that really a valid measure of what is learned probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in standards, curriculum, forms and teacher manuals on the subject. So I sit here offering learning is a stream to cross and or an art form. Both of these ideas are fluid, moving and ever changing.

“Measuring tools lead to quantification; the tools in the arts lead to qualification.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

Do we ever truly measure learning? I have been wondering this since I started back into teaching although in various different words and meanings. A simple measure would be giving a pre-test and post-test which would show where a student started and where they ended. On a far more involved scenario would be that of using portfolios gathering the evidence as the student progresses through material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and students growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, any piece of material that is involved in the student’s educational life could be considered an artifact.

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

So I am wandering as I sit here this summer morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy after a weekend trip to see one granddaughter and a day of playing with my other granddaughter. I sat down yesterday after Charlie left trying to write but my energy level has deteriorated even after two five hour energy shots and I did little more than ponder a moment. I am excited thinking about the group next week future teachers who will be experiencing some interesting and enlightening ideas and concepts across their course. 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

Reading a friend’s book a sixth time

Bird Droppings April 23, 2015
Reading a friend’s book a sixth time

I was so tired when I laid down last night after driving around doing errands, working in the yard, working in my gardens, and attempting to get into my reading and writing. My youngest son in now a nurse at St. Mary’s hospital in Athens, my son’s wife a nursing assistant and going into a nursing program in the fall, my niece a student nurse at Georgia Southern University and my wife is a nurse practitioner. There is a community among nurses. Yesterday morning five student nurses at Georgia Southern were killed in a severe car accident on their way to a final clinical. As a graduate student from Georgia Southern it impacted me. One of girls injured in the accident is from our high school. As the evening wound down my son called trying to find his wife she was late from work. About a year ago my son fell asleep on his way home from a long day at work and was involved in a serious accident. All of these made for an intense evening and troubled sleep.

My oldest and I have been working on some outdoor ponds summer homes for several turtles and to various water plants. Hopefully the rain will let us get some serious work done this weekend. Physical labor and getting old seem to not be compatible. Our dog did not wake me up a few times to see the moon and hear the whippoorwills which were nice even though I was so tired. I have one last IEP for the year a young man who has been in five schools in four years. So as I prepare to finish an IEP I got thinking about Dr. Sutton’s book today.

Dr. James Sutton sent me a copy of one of his books nearly eight years ago, What parents need to know about ODD. Dr. Sutton is one of the leading writers and authorities on Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the country. One of these days when, Bird Droppings a teacher journal, comes out the forward is by Dr. James Sutton. I have been reading academic books lately with numerous big words, long words, often times useless in normal setting words like post-structuralism, phenomenology; semiotics and hermeneutics are a few good ones. It seems many academics want to use words and pages to bolster their endeavors and then question why common folk don’t understand.

I responded to Dr. Sutton with the following sentence or two in response to his book. My first experience with Dr. James Sutton was going to a conference in 2003 in Macon Ga. and listening to his ideas on working with some of the hardest kids to deal with in education in Emotional Behavior Disorders. His ideas hit the nail on the head and this latest book, What Parents need to Know About ODD, is an easy to read, understand and to use tool for parents and teachers who daily have to deal with the trials and tribulations of kids who are ODD. I recommend this book to my student’s parents and educational associates almost daily. This was not a sales pitch but when combined with another issue our federally mandated NCLB, the law requires teachers to use evidence based practice, EBP when dealing with exceptional children. This becomes a problem in special education because there is not that much to work with and as I thought today a good teacher with a good idea could be hindered by a packaged program that is an EBP and not as effective and there have been many cases where teachers have been criticized for not using a recommended program.

Every year we lose good teachers who are hindered by administration and packaged programs of which many were researched by the company publishing the program. I had a situation myself a few years back and was told this program was what I was to teach to a specific group of teenagers and it was research based. I called the publisher to verify what research was done. It was never done with a population anywhere near what it was being recommended for and the one study that was done was with kids ten years younger and 20 IQ points higher but it did work with them.

A Harvard study posted June 14, 2006 states “…the policy has had no significant impact on improving reading and math achievement since it was introduced in 2001, contradicting White House claims and potentially adding to concerns over academic competitiveness.” from the The New York Times referring to NCLB. Funny how we keep trying to make schools better or I should say politicians keep trying. I often wonder when teachers will be asked.

“I will stake my reputation and over thirty years of experience on this: Real change occurs when relationships improve.” Dr. James Sutton, What Parents need to know about ODD

I have watched wheels spun testing kids at the end of semesters and courses and at the end of high school and all because laws say we have to that are established by politicians. Yet all you are truly testing is what someone knows at that moment and not what they learned in any given time frame or how well a teacher taught. My son who recently graduated as biology major could take an end of course biology test without the course and pass it does that measure how much he learned or simply what he knows. Sadly teachers and administrators are losing jobs and schools are being threatened by these tests.

Recently in a discussion in an online class I raised a question about NCLB and how kids were being left behind and a teacher an advanced degree teacher offered “well some children want to be left behind”

“The power paradox is a simple concept. It suggests that the more force we put into controlling an ODD child, the less effective those efforts become. Golf pros will tell you that, when you try to muscle that ball down the fairway, looking for distance alone, there’s no telling where it’s going to go. When you focus on form rather than force, however, the distance takes care of itself. It’s much the same idea in managing an ODD child.” Dr. James Sutton, What Parents need to know about ODD

So often when I read Dr. Sutton’s ideas they apply elsewhere in life. The power paradox is in education all the time it is in relationships between people, in government and definitely in the working of a school.

Far too often we go for power not form as I recall many years ago the TV show Kung Fu in which David Carridine was a Shaolin priest who had escaped to America for killing someone in self-defense with his martial arts. It was not about power but form the swan or deer almost ballet movements yet lethal as well. It is so easy to get caught up in just words. I read numerous writers words each day in blogs, books and articles and a thought I have been having keeps coming up the reader has to be able to understand the writer for communication to occur.

The experiences and perceptions have to be there so what is written is understood? One excellent writer I read daily uses riddles and word puzzles and play on words and many have not a clue what is being said and or why. That is part of her mystic and then all of a sudden it hits you.

“Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual. We must construct that people-centered society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.” Nelson Mandela, speech at the opening of the South African Congress

It has been nearly twenty years since South Africa truly became democratic and how long will it be till we here in the United States can say democracy is back and not rule of the dollar and lobbyist. Much of what I have been reading lately addresses the issue of education and how it is that today’s education is to make good consumers. Customer’s, one author calls college students and on many campuses that is the word used by the administration very much a corporate world. Historians have said over and over wars are always fought for money and if we look back at any war in history always money was a key factor. I questioned Viet Nam and Johnson wanted the war effort to continue as industry was getting a shot in the arm and the economy turned around. The power paradox in Iraq and most of the Middle East is a very interesting thought. I wonder have we ever focused on the form, for example the individual in Iraq. Maybe we need to ask for Nelson Mandela’s help in Iraq. 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