What is normal and can we define it quantitatively or qualitatively?

Bird Droppings May 18, 2015
What is normal and can we define it quantitatively or qualitatively?

“Normality in fact has nothing to do with statistics. It refers to a norm, a model of perfection, an example to be followed. It indicates what we should be. Normality is therefore something to strive for, something at which to aim, it is not what most people do. It is what they would do if they lived up to their human potential.” “Normality, defined in relation to a norm, is a model in terms of which we try to shape our characters and our behavior. And this involves living up to our human potential.” Hasan Le Gai Eaton; in a broadcast by the BBC 1989, ‘Living By The Book’

My readings and wanderings over the years of graduate school led me to thinking about qualitative or quantitative research and various components of those topics. It also got me thinking back several years to when I was testing a young man and used a well normed and perhaps one of the best according to most psychological testers and school systems of indicators of emotional and behavior disorders. The test has several components to be used in evaluating a student; one aspect is teacher opinions, another the student’s own self-views, and also parental opinions. A combination of these often differing perceptions gives an over view of the student. This young man I was testing had scored himself totally normal within all test guidelines and parameters.

As I looked at the three or four teacher checklists and answer sheets a different person was being seen. In his classes this student had A’s and B’s and seldom if ever did he do anything that was considered wrong. Occasionally this student would jump up and act bizarre and then sit quietly and do his work. Other than that everything was in order and perfect, he never yelled out or called people names. He did not interact in the hallways and or cause trouble ever, not one discipline referral. He was a prefect student by most teachers’ opinions his own and even his grandparents.

When called on he would not answer except in a whisper or he would bring the correct answer to you and point to it on his paper. He would never look you in the eye. He never used hand gestures while talking often fidgeting with a pencil or some other object in the room as he paced occasionally. He never talked to other students and when he did it was in a monotone a nearly flat pitched voice with little emotion. It was seldom that he would smile. When he would laugh or attempt to make a joke it was neither understood by others or no one even heard or perceived humor in his words.

I wondered as I sat with this young man so enclosed and encased in himself and so very intelligent. He would go through school never looking at anyone, always alone even eating lunch alone. However because we placed our standards on more than not interfering, not misbehaving and getting good grades this young man slipped through the cracks emotionally. With additional testing he was found to have Asperger’s syndrome a pervasive developmental disorder or by some standards and definitions a nonverbal learning disability.

So I ask what is normal. For so many teachers normal is fitting into the plan that they developed for their class, the guidelines of the school and classroom. Deviating from that is not normal. It was several months back I heard an administrator for the first time advocate for a kid, in quite some time. This was a student who has so much against him; he is living within a virtual prison of disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and numerous other diagnoses’. In a heartbeat he can get in trouble and he did again on that day. An observant administrator noticed things out of the norm, his clothes hadn’t been changed, as he was being told his mother would be called he jokingly said you won’t get her, and then said under his breath she was in surgery.

I thought back further to a student many years ago and saw similarities as my memories flooded back. We so often limit our perception to the moment. Were his misbehaviors at that moment because of his disability, were they symptomatic of the fact his mother was in the hospital in critical condition and in surgery, or were his misbehaviors simple our inability to look beyond the class disruption and our own lack of awareness of what is normal, often being our own limitations on normal.

The quote I used today in its entirety is an article on seeking perfection given that we will never reach it. It is written about Islam and perfection being Muhammad. In all societies and cultures and religions we seem as humans to establish a model of what we consider to be normal, and or perfection, and then we strive for it. We also seem to build in stop gaps for our own inadequacies but tend to forget others. In another article this morning I read adultery is normal if we consider the trends and numbers, yet most people would still say it is wrong. I wonder as I sit today how many times each of us has declared someone abnormal because they did not meet our standards.

Coming back to my graduate classes and the concept of Mind Sets, far too often we are in a fixed mindset and do not have the provisions for or ability to bend or flex when needed. Often I joke about the day a space ship lands and a super intelligent being with nine legs and twenty toes on each of its feet steps out and declares humankind abnormal, what then? Perhaps we can norm a new test. 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

Do we learn from a ripple or a wave?

Bird droppings May 17, 2015
Do we learn from a ripple or a wave?

Today I will be digging and planting, transplanting and repotting various flowers and herbs in our yard and also weeding eating the jungle now that we have had so much rain just about every day up till this past week and storms headed in. I have several plants in dire need of planting and one poor lemon verbena that had been hiding for about a month still in a seedling pot and now about twenty four inches tall and that poor plant will be happy to be in some real dirt. I got thinking back, my cousins had a memorial service for my aunt and uncle seven years ago and we all celebrated their lives. Both had passed away within a short period of time. I have been thinking since early morning when I started the day after an message from a former student thinking about this idea. Do we learn more from a ripple or a wave?

“Make ripples more than waves” Bob Algonzzine, Little book of Wisdom

This thought is number 298 out of 365 thoughts in his book. It isn’t necessarily in in any special order it just happens to be that number. As I saw this comment as to a teacher in class I recalled a legend from local Native Americans about throwing a stone into a pond or lake and watching the ripples dissipate against the edges of the pond. Technically as I looked up definitions ripples and waves are the very similar and even some said the same just in different velocities or size. But as I think this morning a ripple doesn’t have the force of a wave, sort of in education the difference between telling versus asking for something to be done. You are trying to accomplish the same event or solicit the same behavior but one has a lot more force behind it.

“It is nobler to convert souls, than to conquer kingdoms.” Louis Debonnaire

“People have a peculiar pleasure in making converts that is, in causing others to enjoy what they enjoy, thus finding their own likeness represented and reflected back to them.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

So often the teacher is the expert and it is my way period, saying such things as you will learn this now or else sort of thing. Waves have a tendency to do damage more so then sink in as they hit. Ripples are absorbed at the shore line as I thought deeper on this knowledge is no different. Is what is taught to be simply for Friday’s test or is it to be a life lesson?

“That, which proves too much, proves nothing!” Proverb

“You must make the product interesting not just make the ad different. And that’s what too many of the copywriters in America today don’t yet understand.” Rooser Reeves

I often wonder however when it is a ripple and when a wave. A new idea could knock some students over and yet be just what another student needs to keep momentum up. By coincidence my middle son found out about three years ago he and his wife were going to be having a baby girl and I recalled how he would come home from Georgia Tech to relax, the atmosphere at TECH is very stressful I should have told him back then being a daddy is no different. A regiment of study, video games, study, read, video games and very little humanity time at Tech. Now he has a beautiful little bundle that is smiling one minute and the next needs a diaper changed. On the other side my nephew would come home from another college to study because all time in his dorm was humanity time and no one was concentrating. As I think back it was funny they would spend their weekend’s home playing video games together before heading back to their schools.

As I sit here midst my debris a thought, that incessant barrage of ripples one after another nothing over whelming as it sinks in and it is absorbed. I often use and have cards sitting around my room at school with FIDO printed on them and on the back the acronym, Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over Again. This is the FIDO principle and my “good friend” B.F. Skinner’s philosophy and eventually it will sink in.

“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.” Liane Cardes

“Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential. They experience synergy only in small, peripheral ways in their lives. But creative experiences can be produced regularly, consistently, almost daily in people’s lives. It requires enormous personal security and openness and a spirit of adventure.” Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s idea is true however ripples or waves hitting on concrete is far more different than if it were hitting on a sponge. The big question is then how do we develop sponges as to learning and concrete as to character.

“The cynic says, ‘One man can’t do anything.’ I say, ‘Only one man can do anything.’” John W. Gardner

“Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.” William James

How often do we see people like this so restricted in movement and in thinking only a finger can be moved. Each day during school hours I can look down the hallway and see teachers who respond this way. As I have written the past several years I used the term boxed in, they are in their little box sealed up and new ideas concepts cannot get in. Occasionally they peek out but usually only to see if the wrapping is intact. Most of the time this type of teacher teaches with waves throwing one after another at students. BOOM, you got it or you don’t and I am out of here back to my box.

“I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.” Anne Richards
Recently I was discussing what makes a teacher. Part of my rationale is you cannot truly tell someone how to teach. In schools of Education they try and so forth in math science etc. I have found creativity and imagination get so often stifled as in Anne Richards quote by experts. We want to make sponges not concrete.

“We are hoarding potentials so great that they are just about unimaginable.” Jack Schwartz

“You have within you right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.” Brian Tracy

“Make ripples not waves” I was just thinking about days gone by and making waves in a pool using a kick board you push against the water and shove in a direction and make a wave. It takes one good hard push and you have a wave. A ripple is more of dropping a stone and from the epicenter of where the stone hits ripples play out one after another till they hit the shore. Perhaps the identical force is involved in terms of physics but in the ripple effect many hundreds of ripples play against the edge or the student and with the wave it is a onetime deal. So we are faced with a wave versus a series of ripples.

As I sit back pondering which would I rather teach and which would I rather have to be a student within? An interesting scenario in that thought as my mind wanders about today one in which ripples created a new country over two hundred years ago. I wonder how many teachers teach and think in terms of being a student listening to their lesson. As I look at News this morning it seems we are still at war in many places and some countries are trying to aggravate further with rhetoric and missiles. So for another day and sadly one that is special to us here in the US our friends and family members continue to be at risk and many are in harm’s way. So 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

Finding our reflection on a pond or window

Bird Droppings May 15, 2015
Finding our reflection on a pond or window

I boxed up a couple of boxes of “junk” from my class room the other day. Each piece at one time or another had been a teachable moment. Each was an item and or items for that had been collected and or given to me from my father and mother’s house. My mother had been getting my father’s things sorted and it must be genetic, the pack rat syndrome he had boxes and cases and trays of stuff. Some is just extra electric tape for that emergency or millions of spare batteries, but in among all of the stuff are cool things like a wooden water buffalo painted gold, used in a Sunday school lesson so many years ago. It was nearly eleven years ago I was moving into a smaller room from a huge room I had on another hall. My room at school becomes my sanctuary and many other folks along the way as well. My room with soft flute music playing and an eclectic assortment or student and my own art work on the walls is small yet cozy. Still I have the running water from the aquarium to add some calming to the hectic.

I thought back to that day nearly fifteen years ago and my own reflection. What a way to start the day, it is amazing how much stuff accumulates over a year even within a semester. This morning as I write I have several projects on hand that I am working on for school and graduate school. One I have been working on for several years and some construction got in my way. I have been logging and photographing all the trees on campus for a power point presentation for biology teachers and anyone interested. Actually let kids do most of that one over the years. As I find things in my room it is amazing the bits and pieces of history while only I have been here only for a few years and how much has changed.

I found a photo of a student who was in my class and has been out of school for nearly twelve years, it was funny as I set the picture down sort of a “posed thinker picture” yet this young man has probably been in more trouble than the sum total of the rest of my students. On a brighter note he also is the only student so far to voluntarily read Dylan Thomas and started a Brian Weiss book, that one he did not finish but got half way. Currently he is doing repair work and racing motorcycles in Texas. I find it interesting how life responds.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Interesting as I look for quotes as I think of this young man, I am drawn to several thinkers who are in direct contrast to this young man’s life style. Numerous times his trouble with the law was racial, he usually the instigator. As I reflect in all of it was a losing of hope, that there was no more reason to exist, life was too hard. Life had dealt too hard a blow to him perhaps although many times he would swing back.

“When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I got to know this young man other aspects of reality came into being he would tell his friends, “do not trust me” and yet when I did a trust quiz he was always the most trusted.

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Robert F. Kennedy

Perhaps as I knew this young man I could see things that never were and would over look at times the things that were. I knew why he did much of what he did. Most people knew why, but never took time to go beyond that and simply would write him off.

“A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else.” Mahatma Gandhi

As I think about this young man it was his actions and lifestyle that drew attention always what he did never what he could do. I sat in a class yesterday on qualitative research and this young man again came up in my thoughts. If I simply looked at numbers he has the still school record for suspension days and just about any discipline record you could imagine. Greatest number of fights started and finished not necessarily being a positive thought.

“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected” Mahatma Gandhi

Where can we and or where do we find truth. Thinking and pondering deeper should not that first grade teacher except responsibility for truth or should they simply teach the curriculum or maybe in second, third, or fourth grades truth could be included as an elective. Maybe administration or with in the schools somewhere or it could be in Family and Children Services a spate extra credit course in truth. As I thought going through files and such as I am cleaning up for this coming school year it became apparent as I was asked who another picture was of, and I could not remember the name. I remember taking the picture but I could not remember the name of the person only a few weeks ago. Then I realized why? So often our focus is simply getting done, be it the job, the day, or the week, we so often do not focus on the person at hand. Sadly soon enough because we do not try focusing not only does a person slip through the cracks but slips through reality.

“All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly…. We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way; the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.” Eagle Chief, (Letakos-Lesa), Pawnee

However as we walk one foot before the other we do and can choose at times which pathway of the two to follow, some of the choice may be environmental, family, friends, and all around you but in the end a choice is made. Within that choice is where the distinguishing occurs where truth and love are determined and found. Tomorrow another day and soon a holiday and holiday weekend starts and today as I stopped to get gas a fellow I did not know was talking with the young man who handles the morning shift at the convenience store where I buy gas, This young man was wanting to get into law enforcement. The fellow talking to him was talking about Blackwater, the military subcontractor, and how much they paid. He told this young man you can make one hundred and twenty five thousand guarding and twenty five thousand more if you are willing to kill people. It may be a long time till I can cease ending my droppings with this phrase, please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your minds and to always give thanks namaste.

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

Life is making a quilt

Bird Droppings May 14, 2015
Life is making a quilt

It was nearly eight years ago my wife walked in and told me that my mother said this day was to be a happy time a joyous occasion as we celebrated my father’s life after he had passed. She said I think we are even having a snow cone machine. I thought to myself it gets hot in Georgia on an afternoon in June. About this same time another event was transpiring in our families lives. I helped my son with a project of repairing the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech. John was the driver of the Ramblin Wreck and while on the way to a wedding he had an accident. Eight years ago my son and an acquaintance, a 1968 Ga. Tech graduate of Tech and I were talking about a body shop and getting the Wreck ready for the first football game of the year. Somehow or other the idea of how things fall in place came up and after they headed out I started on my idea of a quilt.

I had started thinking about my father again talking with my son’s friend and how he had been all over the world lectured and taught in countries most people will never know. Another email I recall mentioned how dad was always giving something; it could be a necklace with a rock from South Africa or a bola with some African trinket or South American artifact as the clasp. Sometimes it was a story or just wisdom from his years working with people. It hit me his life was like a quilt.

“People come out to see you perform and you’ve got to give them the best you have within you. The lives of most men are patchwork quilts. Or at best one matching outfit with a closet and laundry bag full of incongruous accumulations. A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.” Jesse Owens, 1913-1980, American Olympian

I use the comparison to a puzzle often nearly each day as I write. But when I read this idea of a quilt of our lives it hit me. A patchwork quilt, with each piece a significant event in life yet alone not enough to make the whole. Each piece of the quilt is still independent of each other piece. My wife has a quilt from her grandmother whose grandmother made it; each little piece of fabric is sown to the next each little section connects to the next and in the end a quilt. We have several quilts made for our sons by a friend’s mother many years ago. A good friend in Holland is a quilter and she posts pictures of each intricate masterpiece as she sews.

For nearly eleven years during my summers I go up to the mountains of North Georgia and have been involved with the Foxfire program for teaching. The instructors have used an exercise where each participant makes a piece and together a quilt is created each session. The quilt is hanging on the wall with pieces added as the week progresses. Traditionally in the mountains there are sixteen stitches per inch which is the measure of a quilt I learned that while up at Foxfire talking with one of the women at the museum center. Often when I am talking with kids I will use timelines to piece together but I think I will try this idea of a quilt each piece adding to the whole yet alone just a scrap of fabric. As I look back at so many memories and you know it seems to all be flowing piecing together, I like the idea of a quilt. This may be a great way to start next year’s classes. 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

Why are we not seeking peace?

Bird Droppings May 13, 2015
Why are we not seeking peace?

I walked out of my house into a cloudy morning sky. Off in the pines two great horned owls were calling to each other. Not being fluent in Great Horned Owl I can only say it was two owls hooting away. Still I was mesmerized listening as I got to my car. A few feet from my drive way a deer followed me as I slowly pulled out the subdivision. After a hundred feet or so the deer walked into the pines to join the owls calmly as if I were not there. My writing today started with a few lines from a Navaho prophecy edited by Dr.’s Samuels and Rockwood. In my own searching reading and writing so often the contrast of peace versus war comes up, as does so many dualities in our world.

“In this week of great destruction, we must each choose what road we are to walk and live. The road of destruction is war, it has always been so. The road of creation is deeper and more complicated; it has always involved forgiveness, love, light, prayer, and spirit. In these new millennia we have a chance to change the way we see other beings to one of connectedness and unity. We have a chance to let go of the ancient ways of war and conflict, of who is right, of being better, of senseless killing. This week has thrown us back on the old model of the last millennia.” Michael Samuels M.D. and Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD, Path of the Feather

I miss being in graduate class during the summer I would be in class and or meetings going from 6:00 AM till 10:00 pm at least two days a week for most of the summer. Thinking back during one moment of time between classes and meetings I happen to be sitting in at an Ingles Store in North Georgia which happened to have a Starbucks. A young gentlemen walked by with two peace symbols tattooed on his calf. It caught my attention and got me thinking back to several summers ago when I was driving up to this same spot to visit the Foxfire museum I watched seven people marching for peace in the small town of Clayton, Georgia.

“The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, ‘I was wrong’.” Sydney J. Harris

For many Sydney J. Harris is simply an old forgotten columnist from by gone days when people happen to actually read hardcopy. I frequently use quotes from his essays and columns. His words are powerful and I thank a dear friend from nearly fifteen years ago for showing me his work. Often as I find articles he wrote from the sixties and seventies and I wonder why I missed them then. I am reminded often it was not the time, as I make reference to my Jungian philosophy and orientation. All of the pieces were not in place at that time for me to understand to recognize what it was he is saying. In my emails and communications often I see misunderstanding and ignorance, myself included. I recall a friend writing from his heart and others only could criticize and or turn away and not understand, so often not even reading the words.

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Sydney J. Harris

“An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.” Sydney J. Harris

Sitting here most mornings it is so easy to formulate solutions and fantasize a world free from strife and turmoil and I as I write this morning sitting in my classroom having read the current news, talk of new deployments to the Middles East that are hinted from Defense department and my heart sinks. But then I walk away from my computer and wonder what is it we are trying to do in the world. Tomorrow morning a big sale at one of the local department stores, with the early bird sale masses of humanity will line up to get the best deals and gasoline will still be artificially high so our wonderful gas company’s profits can continue to bolster or hinder the economy, depending on whose view you take.

I often wonder who came up with thinking like that in any other business sooner or later someone would see the ridiculous, it has been nearly ten years that Exxon just about each quarter has the highest profits ever in one headline and on another gasoline is at its lowest and or highest ever, such an interesting parallel we seem to miss. A good point however at least someone is thinking with the high court decisions made this week and as our Supreme Court judges slowly age, a poll was taken as to what type of judge should replace any who should step down. Most now want a moderate there are still a few wanting conservatives and only about a quarter want a liberal. Somewhere there was an extra three percent I am assuming they were undecided.

“Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” Sydney J. Harris

That simple reminder from Harris needs to come up every day. I am excited to be at home today with our son, his wife and our grandbaby visiting from North Carolina. It is always good to wake up to a new morning and be able to go watered my herb garden. We each need to look at our pathway and see which direction we are going. Looking back at the first quote are we choosing the path of destruction or of creation as the Navaho say. My dear friends please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

Bird Droppings May 12, 2015
Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

“Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is accelerating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of standards by which to assess technological impact, and to block it where necessary, is a critical survival skill of our times.” Jerry Mander

These are the words that begin author Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it. We now have a generation of children who do not fear the technology their parents invented and in many cases do not even hold in awe but consider it common place or boring.

Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.

“The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of an analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as the “other”, including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human, to be a human subject, and allow ourselves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman.” R. L. Rutsky

Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations. Technology is putting the world into an instantaneous realm of immediate.

The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Echo boomers by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children’s imaginations and creativity. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.

Any sort of spiritual endeavor requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of the spiritual. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your fingertips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Many of us perceives the concept of a god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.

“During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological situation of dependency. We are trained, as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us simply to react, “Who will help me?” We are in a dependent relationship to our parents.” Joseph Campbell

Campbell sees us as needing someone or something throughout our lives. We are taught the myths and traditions of our parents and culture as answers to what we can depend on. In many situations that could be a concept of a god or religion. Campbell goes deeper into his anthropological view of mythology and its focus on life and or on death. Religions down through history have played on either or both aspects. As humans however we seem to find unknowns and it is that unknown aspect of our existence that provides windows or doors, as Huxley states, to understand who we are and why.

“From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that at most times and most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to the objective existents, have felt that they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spirituality higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open…What wonder, then if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within.” Aldous Huxley

Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time.

Lev Manovich offers his theory on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and his former place of employment was the last hot type facility and was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is melted and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.

“If traditional cultures provided people with well-defined narratives, (Myths, Religion) and little “stand alone” information, today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together.” Lev Manovich

We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something is missing, it is that something that is not able to tie it all together.

From my own personal experience working with teenagers, I have found many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.

“Religion was perhaps the most ancient organizing concept in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline: the ultimately determining instance for national or racial character, the ultimate source of cultural difference itself, the marker for the individuality of the various peoples in history.” Fredric Jameson

Looking at teenagers as a whole perhaps it is the technology that is defining them more so than religion. Issues of faith and trust are daily within news and media that teenagers access far more readily than do we as adults. News articles of men of faith who lied and cheated and yet continue to do as they did before getting caught. There are Church’s turning their backs on children who were molested, and/or buying their silence. It is not difficult to see where faith and trust can be subverted. Sometimes it is easiest to go back, and look at a view from a more traditional standpoint. Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, is first and foremost Oglala, he is an attorney, ex-marine pilot having flown 110 combat missions, and he has participated in seven sun dance ceremonies. He writes extensively on spirituality and the earth. McGaa discusses deeply religion in his book Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way.

“Who is God? Before I can begin to answer such a question, I must explain that any answer, or attempt to answer, is based on my background, my personal experiences and that which has influenced me upon my personal journey down the Red Trail of life or as some may call it, my journey within the Natural Way.” Ed McGaa

As I consider myself a searcher I am always observing and pondering. Many times when talking with youth I will ask them to define god whether they believe in god or not, but to not use pronouns and or scripture. To date very few have succeeded, they are limited by their experiences. So much of who we are is based on where we came from and what we have experienced. In attempting to find what I believe is missing, perhaps rethinking where I have come from.

I attended Candler school of Theology in 1973-75 at Emory University. I have always questioned others views on god and faith. As I took classes in theology and biblical studies, and I would often be on one side of the table alone, as we argued or discussed various views. While I never was a student in Dr. Fowler’s classes I was impressed as I read his books and articles. Dr. James Fowler was a Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, he was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. Dr. Fowler has written numerous articles and books on his concept of faith and on his theory of how faith develops. This idea of a developing faith could impact how technology also fits into human awareness. Could it be through the intensive use of technology we are circumventing a stage in our development? Looking back at Campbell’s thought could it be we are finding in technology a substitute for that parent dependency within society? Dr. Fowler starts his book The Development of Faith with this thought.

“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the between times: between meaning amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.” Dr. James Fowler

The idea that there is a development of faith even as a child grows physically, in developmental stages, has intrigued me for many years. My own personal journey has been intertwined with my studies and readings as well as experience, dealing with people and with my students. Faith is a word that is very difficult to scientifically dissect and analyze. For different people faith will have different meanings many times associated with religion. In my own journey I found an author, William Eleden, who was a former fighter pilot in World War II and Pastor and is currently at ninety six years of age still an author and columnist.

“Words can lead us into dead end canyons, and what is the bottom line? In this: Words fool us into thinking we have experienced what we talk about. Take water for instance: I can read volumes about water listen to a thousand lectures on water and develop an exhaustive vocabulary about water, without having ever experienced water. I will know more about water after drinking a glass full, or diving into a lake then if I attend lectures on water for the rest of my life.” William Edelen

The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.

In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. 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

Can we even compare ethics and politics?

Bird Droppings May 11, 2015
Can we even compare ethics and politics?

I picked up a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a year ago this morning. The front page had various articles but one caught my attention. Having been a student in psychology at Mercer University in Macon and required to go on a field trip to Central State Hospital. Central State Hospital, at that time in 1973 was the largest residential mental facility in the nation. A few months later I was doing a six month internship at the same facility. Today I have several direct links through patients now being served by Georgia Mental Health. As I read the paper the article hit me hard. It was focused on an appointment to the directorship of Georgia State Mental Health. The person appointed by our Governor was not a psychologist or mental health employee of any sort but the former calendar keeper of the previous governor. Another tie is that she is the girl friend to the current governor’s spokesperson. The new head of mental health even makes twenty five thousand more than previous director. Interesting too in that Georgia is under investigation by federal authorities for the state of its mental health. Is ethics even a consideration of politics?

Yesterday in our local newspaper was a half-page ad stating one of politicians running for congress in the state runoff election was removing his opponent’s signs and here is the video link. There is a video of campaign folks in of course t-shirts for their candidate removing the other man’s signs and replacing with theirs. All I could do was laugh since I would not if paid vote for either. It really made my day when a thought crossed my mind from a line a dear friend uses in his conferences. Years ago I went to a training seminar in Macon Georgia on Conduct Disorders. Dr. James Sutton from Texas was leading the conference. He started asking who was from elementary schools, middles school and finally high schools. He apologized to the one or two high school teachers myself included in the crowd saying if kids have gotten to high school with conduct disorders and little has been done there is a ninety nine percent chance they will end up in jail, used car salesman, evangelists and or dead. I happened to being driving by a used car lot run by a former pastor when the thought hit me about the ad since one of the politicians is a pastor. I am not saying these particular politicians are sociopaths just a statement in a conference from fourteen years ago sort of hit me.

Today’s reality in Georgia our Congressmen can vote a raise. Democrats are trying to tie minimum wage to their own raises which is nice and many workers who are on minimum wage are below poverty level and often for whatever reason limited or hindered in the types of jobs they can get.

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I find it funny why should we worry about money and success who needs it when gas is nearly four dollars a gallon we all are looking for bargains and stretching each dollar. It is true many folks have not the need to keep up with the trends and are content with what they have. But it is how we tend to overlook selfishly those with less. The raises each year proposed for congressmen per year would be more than the fulltime minimum wage paycheck for a year of a lesser worker. That is sort of like saying I am more than your equal so I deserve this money a slap in the face to so very many. Sadly they have no one to answer to but themselves.

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

At what point is a lot of money too much. I find it so hard to fathom what some people do with billions of dollars.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, and he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

We have to be able to dream and often that is stripped away with attitudes and structures imposed by various sectors of society.

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.” Henry David Thoreau

The ideas of self-esteem, self-understanding and knowing thy self as the ancient Greek philosopher said so many years ago are crucial. We need to know who we are and why. I started arguing about the selfishness of so many people including our leaders in Washington who I am sure will justify their raises in some fashion and I am sure through lobbyists they will justify not granting a raise to minimum wage. It is amazing what a few fast food lobbyists can do along with other wealthy business owners. Maybe that is how you justify a raise for yourself with the savings from not raising minimum wage. A long day today discussing and reading so 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 children do what they do?

Bird Droppings May 8, 2015
Why do children do what they do?

“Our task is to make our children into disciples of the good life, by our own actions toward them and toward other people. This is the only effective discipline in the long run. But it is more arduous, and takes longer, than simply “laying down the law.” Before a child (or a nation) can accept the law, it has to learn why the law has been created for its own welfare.” Sydney J. Harris

Over the years I have been faced with dealing with students who have continually found their way into trouble. Often in education we use the term manifestation as in is it a manifestation of their disability or often times the question is are they choosing to do whatever it is they are doing. It has generally been a hit or misses in some cases. How do we know for sure with any kid was this a manifestation of a given disability or not.

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” Aristotle

“Self-command is the main discipline.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many years ago I spent six months involved in pastoral counseling in a combative psychiatric unit in a state mental facility. There was never a question about why something happened since combative adolescents, was the term used to describe the unit. When someone got upset they simply went to solitary confinement and were administered large doses of drugs combined with numerous orderlies and even the great standby a strait jackets was often employed. Little was occurring to change the behavior and or rationalize those behaviors. All was simply putting a bandage on the moment.

“Anybody who gets away with something will come back to get away with a little bit more.” Harold Schoenberg

“Better to be pruned to grow than cut up to burn.” John Trapp

Often as I find a quote the person behind those words has more to offer. Schoenberg is a scholar of music, a prolific writer about great musicians and music. Trapp is a bible scholar with several biblical commentaries to his credit. These great writers who themselves were very self-disciplined. Harris a columnist for over three hundred newspaper writing about daily life though his essays on education and morality are what drew me to his words.

“THE STUDY OF WORDS is useless unless it leads to the study of the ideas that the words stand for. When I am concerned about the proper use of words it is not because of snobbism or superiority, but because their improper use leads to poor ways of thinking. Take the word ‘discipline’ that we hear so much about nowadays in connection with the rearing of children. If know something about word derivations, you know that ‘discipline’ and ‘disciple’ come from the same Latin root discipulus, which means ‘to learn, to follow.’” Sydney J. Harris, Strictly speaking
Sitting here looking up references and quotes related to discipline and ending up with example, to learn, and or to follow, just semantics as we go. In order to operate a public school we have to have standards this week we use the term “givens” to operate by and in effect rules. Looking at this from a behaviorist standpoint it is easy to say ABC, Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence. First you have an antecedent which is that stimulus that causes the behavior. You then have the behavior that which is the event or action that we see, feel or hear about. Following we have the consequence which can be what we do in response or what the student or person issuing the behavior receives for eliciting that behavior.

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?” Leonard Cohen

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.” George W. Crane

“To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” Rene Descartes

It is always about what we do. Over the past few days I have with several teachers and friends been discussing many of these ideas in a teacher training program in the mountains of North Georgia and often it comes back to perception. Perception being the how we see and understand events and happenings. One of the categories in writing a behavioral plan for a student is planned ignoring simply tuning out a behavior. Often with no stimulus to keep it going a behavior will disappear. Many times it is getting attention that is the desired consequence.

“People don’t change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.” Fran Tarkenton

“Physics does not change the nature of the world it studies, and no science of behavior can change the essential nature of man, even though both sciences yield technologies with a vast power to manipulate the subject matters.” B. F. Skinner

How often do you find a football quarterback’s quote and one from the father of behaviorism all in the same paragraph? These two men from distinctly different arenas yet are so very obviously similar in their thoughts. Tarkenton has built an internationally known management consulting firm based on his thought. It has to make a difference to the person for them to change. Skinner sees we can manipulate the subject matters, we can offer alternative consequences to hopefully change the behaviors we can except. A Harris line caught my attention this morning as I started on discipline as I thought back to preparing for two IEP’s coming this fall related to behavior, “by our own actions toward them and toward other people.” SJH. So often it is not the consequences that deter or change a behavior but our actions towards the person and those around them, it is the example we set and not what we say that matters. Please as we venture out today 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

Empathy; do we all have it?

Bird Droppings May 7, 2015
Empathy; do we all have it?

It was nearly two years ago I was sitting at breakfast beside a waterfall on the side of the mountain outside Clayton Georgia. It was wet there being it is a temperate deciduous rainforest in North Georgia and cooler at night than what I was used at home with the heat getting to mid-nineties nearly every day. Hopefully in a few weeks I will again be able to listen to the waterfalls and have blue corn muffins with homemade strawberry preserves at The Sylvan Mills Bed and Breakfast. But today the local weathermen are predicting possible rain today and tomorrow in their forecasts but I am hoping to dodge a few rain drops as I drive about later today on errands. The past few weeks as the afternoon storms roll in the images have been spectacular and photo worthy. I do enjoy that few moments as the fronts are mixing and moving about and now especially at night when the smile of the slight moon intermixed with the fluffy interspersed clouds in the starry sky and you can see it through the trees.

I enjoy walking about the tree lined view of my back yard on a beautiful morning. I often wondered how it can be chilly on the summer evenings and yet so hot during the day. Even when the air conditioners are silenced and many of the human noises gone I think the slight coolness helps numb the noise as on some mornings it silences the tree frogs and crickets. Maybe everyone is huddled deeper in their beds and covers enjoying that last few minutes of coolness before venturing out into the heat of the daytime. It has been so easy to fall asleep cool air at night and last night whippoorwills calling among the coyote howls.

“The capacity for consciousness of ourselves gives us the ability to see ourselves as others see us and to have empathy with others. It underlies our remarkable capacity to transport ourselves into someone else’s parlor where we will be in reality next week, and then in imagination to think and plan how we will act. And it enables us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s place, and to ask how we would feel and what we would do if we were this other person. No matter how poorly we use or fail to use or even abuse these capacities, they are the rudiments of our ability to begin to love our neighbor, to have ethical sensitivity, to see truth, to create beauty, to devote ourselves to ideals, and to die for them if need be. To fulfill these potentialities is to be a person.” Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, pp. 74-76

Empathy is a difficult word to discuss as for many it does not exist and then others live each moment by this simple word. As I look at May’s idea of empathy “a capacity for consciousness” we are all conscious I would think but I do believe it is also being able to see and feel in someone else’s shoes that is the key to this consciousness. Another word love perhaps as well is an integral aspect of empathy. I feel empathy is crucial to any field dealing with people be that nurses, teachers, pastors literally anyone who daily has contact with others. For these folks empathy is a must it is that gift that allows us to be closer to be able to touch the soul of another being or in touch with the energy around us.

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession” Sophocles

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Scott Adams

“Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.” Mother Theresa

I might add crucial aspects of empathy might be such words as kindness, love, and caring these are all positive attributes of empathy. Adams says there is a ripple effect. I have used the pebble in the pond story many times but when you toss a pebble into still water and the ripples emanate out from the point of contact going till they hit the edge of the pond and in effect they return only colliding with the ripples still in coming. That small act does continue many times over. Several years ago a movie was made of small acts of kindness and the impact on a community and I sit here thinking what if. I recall Dr. Norman Vincent Peale nearly forty years ago discussing how when you do something either good or bad for someone ten others will know and spread the information and it magnifies exponentially and hopefully it will always be good.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” Kahil Gibran

“…successful learners also have insight into the motives, feelings, and behavior of others and the ability to communicate this understanding–in a word, empathy.” B. F Jones, The New Definition of Learning: The First Step to School Reform

The word empathy is defined as: “understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts and motives of one are readily comprehended by another.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language A simple word that could be so powerful and can be a powerful tool for teachers, nurses, pastors and all who service others. Empathy can be that key to the heart and souls of others. Recently in defining my own philosophy of teaching I used the word empathy as a key aspect. Simply put having empathy makes for a more meaningful and believable teacher. I was talking with a good friend the other day and discussing consequences both he and I seldom if ever have referrals. I have never given detention in twelve years. Sitting there talking I said is detention a meaningful consequence for example talking in class. One teacher told me what else do I do? My answer was have class so intrigued they are not talking mesmerize them to a point of attention. Most consequences are due to not teaching, not empathizing with students, not trusting, not understanding and most significantly not caring. I have been asked about referrals, in school suspension and out of school suspension over the years. I have found nine times out of ten writing a referral and waiting a few days for a consequence effectively negates the consequence so why not deal with the issue in class unless it is such that needs serious attention and immediate action and then go directly to administration. Then again back to empathy why is this issue even happening could it be for attention or a plea for help?

“In addition to the shared feeling and accurate understanding dimensions of empathy, some writers also focus on the empathetic person’s communication of understanding to the person whose “internal frame of reference” he or she has grasped.” Kathleen Cotton, SIR, Developing empathy in children and adults

“Regardless of conflicting views about the appropriate place, if any, of “values education” in the schools, people are generally able to agree that developing this capacity to understand, appreciate, and communicate meaningfully with others is an important and desirable goal. This enables us to move away from our differences of opinion about the specific CONTENT of “good character,” focusing instead on the PROCESS whereby people come to care about one another and communicate that caring through their behavior. “ Kathleen Cotton

One of those times I wished I could say I wish I had said that. So often we forget that this interaction with others is so critical to success in life not only in school but when you walk out the door to your home and to the store. Each moment we are alive we interact with others unless we sit on a mountain top somewhere contemplating about the passing of a cloud as I sat here in the garden below the falls yesterday pondering a bird bath made from a large concave boulder North Georgia mountains. Not a bad thought, I wonder if there is a decent pay scale for that position sitting on a mountain. We interact and if those interactions are in an understanding way in effect that is empathy. There is so much more to be gained by both people.

Kathleen Cotton writes further about developing empathy in students and adults and perhaps this is something we should be pursuing. I wonder if Empathy 101 could be a required class in teacher’s education and training. I was discussing this a few days back with my sister who also teaches as I argued that empathy is hard to teach it is not a book learned aspect of life. Her thought as she explained is that it can be taught daily by example. We learn empathy by example it takes an empathetic person to teach another person empathy. Maybe we all should try and empathize a bit more and set the example for others so they too can become empathetic. Maybe then I would not be offering daily please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. As you go about your day please give thanks for all namaste

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

Pondering and researching education while listening to a waterfalls

Bird Droppings May 6, 2015
Pondering and researching education while listening to a waterfalls

It has been two years since I was staying at the Sylvan Mills Bed and Breakfast in a room over a waterfalls. I went up to North Georgia to recharge perhaps another word might be to rekindle my passion for education and learning. For nearly ten years I have been participating in and attending Foxfire training programs. I started writing before day break listening to nature’s sounds today the whipporill chorus was surrounding me. Two years back I stayed in a room overlooking a waterfall with my windows open wide taking in the sounds. Trying to write in the lulling sound of water running is difficult and I would doze off. With the sun up I would move my computer to the porch overlooking the falls fully intent on pulling out my Bose ear phones and listening to Crosby Still Nash and Young. The sounds and energy of the water mesmerized me. I walked about the area just before dark taking pictures. This week I have been pondering the John Dewey and Foxfire program and the implications that can made in a teachers classroom. I am behind in my reading as of the moment, so I will try and get some additional reading and writing done this week.

With the bulk of education in the early 1900’s following closely the Industrial Revolution and mass production, a few great thinkers took the concept of the individual child in psychology and education in new directions as to its relationship to children. How children were viewed became the basis for several educators to develop their theories and ideas. Child psychology and child centered educational ideas flowed from these thinkers. John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends. Alfie Kohn educator and author refer to Dewey and to his idea of providing for a lifetime of learning. In his book What does it Mean to be well educated?, Kohn points out, “many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students, instantly responded with the phrase life-long learners.”

Dewey was not alone in his thinking which was in direct contrast to the traditional educational practices of his day. Dewey was frustrated with the rationale of educators when he wrote

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so in trenched in practice. That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process.” John Dewey

The traditional philosophy of education was a focus away from children and their interests, and not trying to understand children simply seeing them as small adults. Traditional education is about efficiency and production which were carryovers from the Industrial revolution. It was time for serious educators to get away from the assembly line processes of traditional education. One of these new educators a thinker, author, scholar, and advocate for children Alfie Kohn throughout his writing illustrates this point.

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: “What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.” Alfie Kohn

In a burst of educational energy just prior to the turn of the century numerous educators and scholars were developing ideas that often parallel John Dewey as they sought to come up with a better way to teach children. Howard Garner in his book The Unschooled Mind states discusses some of this basic history of progressivism.

“Progressivism is most frequently and most appropriately associated with the name of John Dewey. In fact, however the practices of progressive education had already begun to be implemented in the period before 1896…Leaders like Francis Parker, first superintendent of the Quincy Massachusetts Public Schools, later principal of the Cook county Normal School in Chicago, and finally a founding member of the Chicago Institute, which ultimately gave rise to Dewey’s educational facility at the University of Chicago.” Howard Garner

While Dewey was establishing himself in educational history in the United States across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe Dr. Jean Piaget was developing child centered education which would lead along with Dewey and Vsygotsky to the concept of constructivism. Piaget believed each aspect of child development followed clearly defined stages and this did not change child to child but could occur at differing speeds. Dewey saw the past experiences of children so often not even being recognized and yet at that point is the basis for their ability to learn.

In a similar fashion a medical doctor working with mentally disabled children in a residential setting in Europe was looking at the child centered aspect of education as she developed methodology with a developmental learning process in mind. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Advanced Montessori Method describes her philosophy and understanding of educating children.

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Another psychologist looking at children in a developmental approach was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky whose work was not discovered by the western educators till the later part of the twentieth century. Vygotsky also saw experience as a significant factor in children’s development. Retention of previous experiences facilitates adaptation to the world around them and can give rise to habits when those experiences are repeated. Vygotsky differed with Piaget in that he said learning can precede developmental stages. We can acquire use of a given tool in order to attain a certain stage of development. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development which is “the distance between actual development determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

There are some similarities to Dewey with Vygotsky; much like Dewey he also felt there was a significant element of group interaction needed for education to be meaningful. The ideal school for Dewey was one that took the form of an “embryonic social community,” one in which students were encouraged to cooperate and work together and learn from each other as well as their teachers.

The originators of constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey all started with psychology and that the child is a unique individual as they developed their interpretations and understandings of learning and education. Even today the child is not the focus of education. One need only to leaf through the tables of contents in recent educational journals to discern that the individual child is not the focus of educational reform. Each of these great educators believed in the act of doing as a way to learn and as Ted Sizer points out that there is context. “What I have learned is context is everything….. The memorable learning was that you have to be very respectful and very sensitive to the values, to the attitudes that youngsters bring into class, that their parents have, which the community has”. Montessori and Piaget leaned towards the developmental stages in child development and Dewey and Vygotsky while accepting developmentally sound stages as real felt the community, peer group and teachers elevated learning past developmental points of reference. Maybe it is time to look back to Dewey.

“Curriculum has held our attention for generations because those who think seriously about education understand its inherent possibility. Maxine Greene’s call for a return to the search for John Dewey’s great community, her call to rise to the challenge of coming together without losing each person’s unique way of being in the world challenges our educational imagination.” Mary Aswell Doll

For Dewey an educational experience had to be connected to the prior personal experience of students and also to a widening or deepening of future experience. It was through reflection that Dewey saw the ability to go beyond where you were now. John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do “resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes”. The act of reflection is taking a given reference and moving ahead to a new possibility. Often it is the teacher who provides the window for reflection to occur.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Parker Palmer

It was in this reflective, imaginative undertaking of Dewey’s that provided ideas and thoughts that led Elliot Eisner to Art Education. In his writings Eisner looks to the arts as a basis for education and his ideas and thoughts offer a new stream from Dewey. John Dewey once commented that the stamp of the aesthetic needed to be on any intellectual idea in order for that idea to be complete. It is this feel both imaginative and sensible that the so-called academic studies would foster if they were modeled after the arts. Dewey identified making things as one of four fundamental interests of children. Unhappily, because schools put so little value on making things, most of us grow up with contempt for work done with our hands. Eisner drew often from Dewey’s idea on needing context and relevance for learning to be genuine and to be lasting. Eisner places experience at the center of learning.

“It is through the content of our experiences that we are able to perform two very important cognitive operations: we are able to remember and we are able to imagine…. Imagination …works with the qualities we have experienced. What was not first in the hand cannot later be in the head.” Elliot Eisner

“One of the potential virtues of situated learning is that it increases the probability that students will be able to apply what they have learned. When the conditions of learning are remote from the situations or tasks in which what is learned can be applied, the likely hood of application or some would say transfer is diminished.” Elliot Eisner

The idea of imagination needing to have a basis in reality, in the context, is of significance. It is imagination that brings meaning, purpose, and application to what is learned.

“Imagination for Dewey, explores alternative possibilities for action within a selected context of ongoing activity. Imagination enables the search for ideas that can reconstruct the situation. It takes the context and its data, including emotional sympathetic data, as intuited and determined by selective interests and transforms them into a plan of action, an idea that if acted upon might allow the agent to achieve the desired ideal in reality.” Jim Garrison

Elliot Eisner believes in diversity, that this is the key to education and learning and through this provides richness for our culture as well. Continuing in that same line of thought, Maxine Greene educator, philosopher and pioneer sees reality after all as interpreted experience and that to limit learners to a single dominant mode of interpreting their experience may be to frustrate their individual pursuits of meaning and consequently, their desires to come to know, and to learn.

With much of her work is based on the concept of caring, Nel Noddings defines education “as a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation”. Eisner and Barone understand that the aesthetics of experiences is what builds those in our minds and provides the means to imagine and be creative. The concept of Aesthetic Learning and Education is one of understanding, of perception and ultimately of creativity. Eisner looks at teaching as artistry, it is the ability to craft a performance and to provide the students with the mediums and means to perceive and understand their world.

For John Dewey, aesthetic experiences are not confined to high art, but arise from within the interaction of human organisms with their surroundings. Thomas Barone points to Dewey being the primary thinker that envisioned art and aesthetics having a central role in education and in learning. Thomas Barone is concerned as are many other progressive educators with the linear format of traditional education.

“If students are not given access to metaphoric learning activities, if the shape of their learning is always linear and closed, how will their capacity for creativity and invention be developed?” Thomas Barone

Perhaps in my research and reading I am getting a bit over board with Dewey and education but I see tie ins to daily living, to how we respond to others, to what the future holds for us and our grandchildren. If each of us took a bit more time to try and understand why so much of what is going on in society is going on maybe just maybe we could finally realize much of this does not need to be happening. So again after nearly thirteen years of daily writing I ask as I do every morning 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