Determining what it is we need to learn and teach

Bird Droppings November 13, 2015
Determining what it is we need to learn and teach

I often wander in my morning writing. Traditionally I do try and focus on a point or two as I ramble. I have folks complain about spelling and punctuation every now and again but then I think back to my very early morning writing. I had a eight hundred or so email list and I would write as I thought and read often running many sentences into a page or two. But a letter almost on a daily basis of thank you for your words kept me rambling. I had a comment yesterday about punctuation and I appreciate it seriously I am not a language teacher and will not claim that. But it gave me some room for thought we so often are told what we need to teach. The famous standards such and such on page two thousand of unpacked standards. Now comes the separation of content and real teaching. It is how we deliver and how we engage students. It is showing our passion for the subject matter.

“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know — even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction — than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.” Isaac Asimov

It amazes me to listen to students say I am passing I have a seventy percent and that’s good enough. I sometimes wonder if students really learn anything from day one till day seven hundred twenty one or do they simply regurgitate data and information to pass tests. My son commenting as he took SAT’s several times the more he took math classes the better his scores and conversely one semester he did not have an English class and on his SAT score dropped a few points. So even for a good student is school simply a memorizing forum.

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

I found when I began looking for answers learning became easier. When answers were being given to me in a mandatory sort of way such as in going to high school I learned less. Even in college for many years learning was considered mandatory and it seemed a dulling experience. I have observed many students and what they learn if they want to learn a topic the read about it the look up information about it the desire to learn.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

For some time I had tacked this quote on the end of my morning Droppings and have it posted on my room wall. How can we make our teaching so potent? How do we get information we teach to be what students want to learn?

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of face within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity” Calvin Coolidge

“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think back a few days to the concept of a democratic school where students pick and choose topics for discussion and learning each week I have been amazed as I talk with teachers around the country who use this method and are having success. It would be difficult to plan for a standardized test perhaps in that style of democratic class room. In Ashville North Carolina there is an elementary school using The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and they are scoring twenty to thirty points higher on State mandated tests than other schools in their district and even significantly higher compared to state averages.
In Georgia did I mention for example (we had the Quality Core Curriculum which has evolved to Georgia Performance Standards and now evolves to Common Core) where very specific determined material is taught in specific determined ways. For example item number 123 might be the classification of segmented worms and item 123.1 may be differentiation of segmented worms. Somewhere someone determined in Biology that that item was crucial.

It may be a history item about George Washington’s false teeth made from wood or which landing craft was first on Iwo Jima but someone determined it was critical to know in high school and must be taught. Talk about teaching to the test. Combine this with testing companies are textbook publishing companies and the drama and sage is never ending.

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” St. Francis of Assisi

“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.” Sophocles

How would we know what it is we need to know and how would teachers know what it is we need to know in order to teach us?

Using standardized tests provides a vehicle to measure but then we teach to that particular test or do not teach to it. If I know what students need to know before I start the class then I will gear the class to learning what they need to know and even possibly understanding before the test. So in effect we teach to the test. We teach what someone somewhere has deemed necessary for a student in that grade and time and that may or may not be what that teacher or student wants to learn. This is where the issue is. Which then brings back to students tend to learn best when it is something that they want to know and realistically teachers teach far better something they want to teach.

It would be a sad world if parents were told they had to teach their kids so and so today and tomorrow it would be this and that. Now that I think about it maybe that is not so bad. Except that then someone somewhere will be saying what children will be taught and when and how. That system just closed down in Russia a few years back so if our goal is to train social animatrons to fill the factories as Karl Marx once indicated the goal of education was well guess what we are doing that again. Somehow we need to bring back creativity and critical thought and get away from this mass effort of everyone needs to know the same thing.

“If you wish to know the road up the mountain, ask the man who goes back and forth on it.”Zenrim

Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

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

Teachers need to consult their hearts

Bird Droppings November 12, 2015
Teachers need to consult their hearts

I was amazed walking out this morning to the car and 73 degrees frogs chirping away. We had the day off yesterday and I was lazier than I had planned. I was going through some research material and pulled out a little book. It has been several years since found on my many excursions to Barnes and Nobles this small book that I would like to share some passages from. I found many of the thoughts and passages to be of ing through significance and for me sharing words of wisdom with others is part of who I am. I have several students in advisement who are interested in going into nursing and many thoughts in this little book relate to health and spiritual care as being one and the same. The little book, Listening with Your Heart, is written by Dr. Wayne Peale MD, a medical doctor and an Iroquois on his mother’s side.

“As a medical student I was being trained to hear hearts with my stethoscope, but found I was missing a great deal by not listening with my heart” Dr. Wayne Peale

Several years ago I was proctoring an End of Course Test during the afternoon. One of the questions was from a poem or passage about a colt that was not winter-broke. I liked that term winter-broke. For those of us in the south perhaps it has little meaning and perhaps a culturally difficult passage. The term winter-broke is about being use to the winter, snowflakes, cold, steam from your breath and other idiosyncrasies of the cold. Today in Georgia many of those shy of snow in our area are visible. A baby horse new to the world would be spooked with a new snow fall. Maybe chasing snowflakes or running from them as in the case of the story.

However as the question was answered for one of the answers was the author empathetic to the plight of the colt. Other answers used words such as was the colt afraid and words similar. One of my students asked me quietly what is empathetic. Being a language arts test and such I could not impart or tell the definition of an answer. I saw my little book on the table when I returned to my room and pondered as to why it was so hard not to say the answer because I too lived by empathy.

“The white man talks about the mind and body and spirit as if they are separate. For us they are one. Our whole life is spiritual, from the time we get up until we go to bed.” Yakima healer

It has been nearly thirteen years that I agonized about a situation and a student who is on the verge of being expelled and much if it from my own fault. The student was refusing to do a required program. In refusing to do the assignment he was getting irate and argumentative often to a point of school disruption. When you carefully look at the student’s disability each aspect of it is in responses that are given, lack of control, obsessive behavior, emotional issues, anger management issues and authority issues. A slight change and the problem could be solved. Why not do the same work in a different manner? Of course it is not in the confines of “program” which would upset administration. Should empathy for the student stand up to, trying to stay in the box? As Dr. Peale learned and points out sometimes you need to teach from the heart as well.
One day perhaps I will study linguistics and language. As I looked through Dr. Peale’s book a Navajo word caught my attention.

“Hozho (HO-zo) – A complex Navajo philosophical, religious, and aesthetic concept roughly translated as “beauty”. Hozho also means seeking and incorporating aesthetic qualities into life, it means inner peace and harmony, and making the most of all that surrounds us. It refers to a positive beautiful, harmonious, happy environment that must be constantly created by thought and deed. Hozho encourages us to go in beauty and to enjoy the gifts of life and nature and health.” Listening with your heart

In a recent writing seminar the lead teacher offered that reading a passage can aid in eliciting descriptive phrases and sentences, and to encourage students to illiterate and expound on ideas more so. Here is a word that has so many meanings. A simple word is hozho, yet so much meaning. I end each of my daily writings with a Hindustani word and have several times offered the translation when people ask. Within its own language there are different meanings for different people. For some it is a salutation a simple hello or goodbye. If you go a bit further south in India you would only use namaste with reverence and literally bow your head pressing your hands together honoring the person you are speaking with, with your simple salutation.

It has been a few months since I wrote about making a rope strand by strand. A dear friend from up north wrote back thanking me and later in the day responded with this note.

“Thank you for sharing them with me. I sent this one on to my husband, my sister and sister-in-law and my best friend. Thru this most difficult year losing my beloved son, they have been constants in my life united we stand thru this valley of darkness. Without their love and support, my grief would be unbearable. Peace my friend.”

Empathy is assisted healing from the heart.

“…healing is a partnership with others – family members, community. A Native American healer once paraphrased Abraham Lincoln to me: ‘you can heal some things all of the time,’ the healer said, ‘and you can heal all things some of the time, but you can’t heal everything all the time alone.’ Everyone needs a coach, a family a community.” Dr. Wayne Peale MD

Sometimes when I receive a note from the heart it is difficult to answer immediately. I have to sit sometimes even sleep on it. My dear friend lost a son. Many the times since hearing of her plight I have wondered what would it be like to lose a son, a daughter or anyone close to me. Empathy is a difficult word at times like these. It is a much bigger word than most would imagine.

Our house is such that our two of our bedrooms rooms are up stairs and two are down stairs they literally go from one end of the house to the other. Being that my writing and reading time do not always correspond with normal sleep patterns the family when home will be asleep when I am about to write or read. Hearing the sounds of my family asleep often is a peaceful and wonderful feeling. Knowing they are safe and here at home. Then the so many what ifs have crossed my mind as I walk through the house early in the morning thinking about what if the rooms were empty.

Lost in a moment of melancholy I come back to teaching in my thinking. Teaching is about healing, it is about community, and it is about family and most of all it is about empathy. It is about seeking and engaging constants in our lives so we can move forward and or change directions if need be. Teaching is always about learning. Sometimes as I came to realize yesterday and have so many times before our nice boxes we are supposed to teach from are not always the right ones. Sadly far too many teachers do not use heart as a teaching tool. Far too many parents do not or cannot use heart as a parenting tool. As I look at the title of Dr. Peale’s book, listening with your heart, what a powerful message.

I am doing an exercise using a black and white picture of a bridge most will simply see a picture, while others have created fantasy worlds of trolls and fairies. Some simply explain their perception and how we each are different in what we see and hear. Often I will play the devil’s advocate and argue both sides. It is just a bridge to elicit responses or what if it was a work of art created by an immigrant iron worker as a tribute to his or her new freedom. Thinking back to, Hozho, my new word I should take pause.

“Every action should be taken with thoughts of its effects on children seven generations from now.” Cherokee saying

If only we would deal with kids with life that way. What if people in general looked at life that way? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. It is about being in your heart. It is about speaking from your heart. But most of all it is listening with your heart and always giving thanks namaste.

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

A day to honor and to remember

Bird Droppings November 11, 2015
A day to honor and to remember

Feeling old today now that I working on my sixty sixth year and a cold front coming in, my bones are aching. I remember nearly eight years ago as we got closer to the last day in our old house it was actually appropriately to be the last day of the month. Sitting here in my class room thinking back early in the morning it is a new day a glorious day and who knows what this day holds. I wonder each day as I start who I will meet, talk with and what new ideas may come around. Being accustom to early rising I am sitting here at my computer typing away getting lesson plans or at least some semblance of a day ready for my students as it is also the last few days before a week long Thanksgiving holiday. It is a good day a chance of snow and or a chance of sun. I like the weather reports on the news they are always so vague and always covering every angle neither cloud nor sun for sure but possibility of either. I found this thought today as I sit and ponder.

“Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.” Matthew Flickstein, Journey To The Center

When I saw this I thought of a dear friend who passed away what seems decades ago today and was only a few years. A teenager who I would have never suspected had a feeling for Robert Frost. So for those of you who knew him, a special word for Travis, a special someone who could light up a room and generally get someone mad at the same time.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

When I went to the funeral of Travis and heard this poem read. This was his favorite poem. I had to think, I had to ponder and for myself I could not have remembered that verse though I am sure I read it somewhere in my wanderings. Travis was not a scholar and I do not mean that in a bad way he was quite the opposite so to say. Yet this verse was of significance to him, he carried it with him on a piece of paper in his wallet. Earlier today I wrote, responding to an email, about doing right and or doing good.

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.” Mother Teresa

A friend from Ohio sent me this quote and paraphrased if you are an atheist cover your ears, well actually your eyes unless someone is reading this to you. An atheist friend responded with. “All atheists have to do is substitute another word (like ‘conscience’) or thought for ‘God’ in the final sentence, and it works just as well. Or better, eliminate the final sentence, and it works even better, since the reader must come up with his own justification for doing the right thing.” As I think back to Travis, I honestly do not think he intentionally did wrong ever. Everything he did do, while annoying at times, loud at times, was joyful. It was often funny as I sit here, that was the word that popped in my mind, joyful.

I agree with that great philosopher and guru of gurus dear friend from the Philadelphia area Dlog Nala, that leaving out the last sentence changes the passage a bit. So often in life we need excuses to do something even though it is right, what is in it for me that extrinsic motivation that drives mankind. Even in this analogy of doing for God there is a reason for doing good rather than simply because it is right. While I am reminiscing going back many years to an argument in seminary. I was always intrigued how the mafia Godfather, on his death bed would have last rites and absolution even though he had murdered many people and pillaged the city through crime. I listened to many messages of salvation from sin.

I had a professor and an entire discussion group tell me how upset they were over the fact that this group of people we had just worked with, were going to hell because they could not accept their way of believing. The particular unit was a severe and profoundly disabled unit at Central state hospital back in the days of institutions, a large complex of buildings and humanity in Central Georgia in the early 1970’s. Many of the patients in this unit were bedridden and connected to feeding tubes, literally comatose. They were turned every hour or so to prevent bed sores. I always thought it was interesting that these folks in that unit were lost and the mafia godfather was not. The science of theology has a way of doing that.

It has been a number of years since another friend and I walked five miles every day discussing life and theology. He has finished seminary and gone back to teaching music along the coast of Georgia. Many the talks as we walked, of where and when and how and many of Travis and his impact on our own lives. I am amazed at how a sixteen year old could affect so many people.

“Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.” Matthew Flickstein, Journey To The Center

We tend to get greedy when we have a good thing and never want to let go of it. I have been writing each morning for nearly fourteen years and on that morning, after holding Travis’s hand for most of the night a story I have told so many times. I had been watching monitors go the direction I was hoping they would not. The doctor said it was up to the family they would harvest organs when given permission. Travis was an organ donor, it was his wish and he even talked about it often. I went to my own home, after we had taken all the high school friends of Travis back after a night in the hospital. I sat down at my computer and I have related this so many times previously. There affixed to the monitor a yellow post-it note from my son.

“Dad” it was addressed to me. “Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

It was funny how it took my teenage, at that time, son to give me perspective. I learned more in that moment than I had in many years of discussion and classes. We all are on a journey each of us wandering often far from the path. My son now a teacher of science and I really do not think he knows how much he taught his old man in one line. Some of us never step out of the way from their travels. For many people it is always a straight and narrow pathway. However some of us choose to go down this side road and up that path. It is the journey we are on that is so important and it is on that journey we need to borrow from Mother Theresa and do what is right, do it anyway. Sitting here my computer alarm went off time to get busy. As I was reading the news on Yahoo a few minutes back, maybe a change in how we view our world situation is in the horizon coming up. I would hope so; life is so precious it is not a commodity like so much of our economy. We are not human capital as so many politicians and even educators would like to think. So as always for 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

I am always finding where community exists

Bird Droppings November 10, 2015
I am always finding where community exists

“I am sitting listening to Allman Brother’s Fillmore East CD on a Tuesday morning a moon hidden in our perpetual clouds outside. As I drove to school today I had several thoughts streaming through my head. How do two people see the same thing or read the same thing and still walk away with totally differing views? I was saved in my thoughts by a Quick Trip counter guy. A comment was made about humor and clowns and IT hit me. I can use the idea of a clown and half the room will think Steven King, the other half Ringling Brothers Circus. Another thought, Wounded Knee is considered in most history books the last great battle of the Plains. In Indian history it is considered a massacre.” Frank Bird Ed.S. D.D.

As I got near the end of my doctorial course work I was involved in a class on educational ethics which featured nine texts all of which have an under lying current of caring and relationships as keys to education or I should say successful teaching. One of the books entitled Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings, focuses on the notion of that a teacher is giving back to the community. Over the past few years I have heard numerous teachers discuss not wanting to be seen by students outside of school and literally not being a part of the school community. Yesterday we got into a debate of sorts at school on this concept. Is it possible for a teacher to be a successful teacher and not be a part of the school community?

On my last trip to Barnes and Noble bookstore this past weekend I was looking for a book by J. Garrison, Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and desire in the art of teaching, which focuses on some philosophical ideas from John Dewey, considered being by many one of the great minds in educational thought. As I went to the bookstore I ran into a student from my high school that had transferred to Georgia Southern University.

In every integral experience there is form because there is dynamic organization. I call the organization dynamic ….. Because it has growth….William James aptly compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate flights and perchings of a bird…. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in which is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior doing… If we move to rapidly, we get away from the base of supplies – of accrued meanings – the experience is flustered, thin and confused. If we dawdle too long after having extracted a net value, experience perishes of inanition.” John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934

I thought back a few years and many conversations on synchronicity and a trip home from a class actually after a midterm in Advanced Behavioral Techniques; I was hungry since I had not really stopped since early in the morning. I knew one of my former swimmers from the high school team worked at Taco Bell and sure enough she was working and I said hi, coincidently the same student who I ran into at the bookstore this past weekend. As I pulled out of Taco Bell my sweet tooth struck and I ended up at Brewster’s, as close to homemade ice cream as you can get at fast food, sounded good and there two of my former advisees were also getting ice cream. We talked for a while about uptight teachers and who was not, an interesting subject. Why do teachers get so uptight or anybody for that matter? Brings to mind an interesting thought why so many teachers are on psych drugs for varying conditions?

As I talked several more students and former students pulled in I met girlfriends and boyfriends of each and such, coincidence perhaps but an average day for me it seems. So often I mention the word coincidence and try to explain it. Recently in a letter to a friend I used the term of we are where we need to be right now at this moment and when we realize that all of a sudden so much more becomes clear. James Redfield an author refers to coincidence frequently and the idea that when you begin noticing coincidence it happens more often as you become attuned to it. Essentially as you become aware of your place in the puzzle the pieces all seem to fit better and more clearly.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung was of the nature there was purpose in all that happened and he and his former partner Sigmund Freud disagreed to an extent on the whys of this. Jung coined a word synchronicity to explain his thoughts in the early 1900’s. Events and things happening at a specific time, specific people seemingly appear by chance but obviously not.

“His (Jung) notion of synchronicity is that there is a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.” Skeptic.com

“Some scientists see a theoretical grounding for synchronicity in quantum physics, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. They are finding that the isolation and separation of objects from each other is more apparent than real; at deeper levels, everything — atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, people — participates in a sensitive, flowing web of information. Physicists have shown, for example, that if two photons are separated, no matter by how far, a change in one creates a simultaneous change in the other. “A Wink from the Cosmos, by Meg Lundstrom (Intuition Magazine, May 1996)

How does synchronicity tie into community? Somewhere in and among ideas and thoughts are answers. Some people seek answers through religion some seek answers through pure science others assume there are no answers and sit on a rock. Going back to my first thought I see teaching as a community and that in that community we are integral pieces and do interconnect many times and as for me today and yesterday in many differing places. I find throwing myself into that community as significant as walking into my class room on a school day. Each time I bump into a student it adds to their appreciation of my time and effort and gives me a piece of their puzzle too help deal with any issues that may come up when I have them in class.

Each of us can choose our direction and flow as humans, as friends, and as teachers if that is our chosen lot in life. The actual point I was making was when we are aware of our interactions with others that each moment we spend with a person affects not only that person but the next person they see or talk too as we too are affected. It is in this way community is built. I came away that night and yesterday, happy having talked with some folks that I had not seen in several weeks even several years and hopefully they too went away a bit happier. This is how life works and if we are aware of this imagine the effect and impact. If I know I will be affecting people beyond my contact with someone I will be more aware of how I affect them and so forth. I recall many years ago from I believe Dr. Glenn Doman, the old credence of leaving the person you are talking with smiling will affect ten others is true. If you involve the idea of coincidence, fact or fancy who knows but it sure happens a lot. So as I wander today through differing ideas 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

Gratitude is an action

Bird Droppings November 9, 2015
Gratitude is an action

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Chief Seattle, 1854

Most mornings I am driving to school about five thirty or so in the morning but as we get close to Veterans Day this idea of thanks hit me. So it is six in the morning and I am sitting writing. I by chance got a photo of a brilliant red maple tree shining in the rising sun a few days ago. I have been lucky now for nearly a week since daylight savings time started to walk outside at school and enjoy the sunrises between rain drops. It is a powerful time of day as the sunrise appears it is though you can watch and listen to the awakening of everything. While at school when I am standing facing east to take in the full effect of the sunrise cars and business sounds humming and popping around me can distract. So for today to be able to enjoy and listen to the world awake will be nice.

It has been a few days since I was photographing and literally drove nearly sixty miles around the area looking for images of the sun coming up at one point a lone bird started chirping and soon another and within minutes I was visually and auditory committed to a new day. On this day of thanks to our veterans I am not only thankful but offer it is with sincere gratitude that I sit here writing today. To friends, family and those I do know who have served our country thank you from my heart.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart

It is only a few weeks ahead that as I will be waking up the morning after, while most folks will be still asleep, it seems that turkey has that effect on people here around the holidays. With the Thanksgiving holiday near I was thinking about gratitude. When I saw Eckhart’s quote about a month ago my first thought was to use it on Thanksgiving Day. But I really think it goes beyond a single day of giving thanks.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

“Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life.” Northrup Christine

Being grateful opens doors and allows people in. We live in such a protectionist society and reality. We are always trying to protect our own area of influence and self. However gratefulness can lift you up and take you beyond where you are now to another level.

“Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” French Proverb

“It is another’s fault if he is ungrateful, but it is mine if I do not give. To find one thankful man, I will oblige a great many that are not so.” Seneca

Gratitude requires giving and in giving we are also offering of ourselves and building up within ourselves.

“The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live.” Ethel Percy Andrus

“It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.” Richard Braustein

Life is about giving, sometimes what you offer to others is simply how and where you are placed in life and many times that provides the vehicle for your journey deeper and through life and offers direction for others.

“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” Flora Edwards

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Kahlil Gibran

So often we think of giving as money or food, but in reality giving of oneself that is the hardest and the most rewarding. I recall listening to war stories my father would tell. These would be heart wrenching stories of World War II and his own journey in life. I have read many books and heard others tell of their service and time serving our country. It is in caring about people and sharing through offering of one’s life that is much harder than simply providing a dollar or a can, the gratitude comes back within and through our hearts.

“He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.” Lao Tzu

“A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forests. I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high.” Fiona Macleod

As I am pondering the words from The Art of War, written thousands of years ago and from another more recent Scottish author and writer William Sharp who wrote for a number of years as Fiona McCleod I am think of so many friends who in serving died. As I think of the warriors who have given their all at times in controversy and often only because they believed they were doing what is right. It is the memories and pain we carry that gives us hope. When forester’s timber areas, often they will leave several healthy older trees to seed the remaining land. I have been in areas where clear cutting save for a few tree, has occurred and several years later a new forest has begun. But it is so important to plant seeds and to scatter them as to be a friend and to let friendships grow. When I can I do tell the stories told by my father and I do recall and tell of my friends exploits. I tell stories of warriors of old who fought and die for what they believed fighting for families and country. I give thanks each day as I walk and greet the sun.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” Brian Tracy

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith Wharton

I remember a candlelight service so many years ago, one person carefully started with a lit candle and handed their light to another’s candle and each in turn went through the room lighting another’s and soon the room was filled with light. We are much like a candle light service if we share our light and love, and pass it on to the person next to you. It is to say thank you when you receive from another and offer always to another. I will end with a simple thought and prayer for a day of honoring all warriors past, present and future.

“When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” White Elk

So often life hands us unexpected surprises, gratitude extends and magnifies those times. Please as we get into this coming holiday season 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

Flowers are red, green leaves are green, and that’s the way it was meant to be.

Bird Droppings November 6, 2015
Flowers are red, green leaves are green,
and that’s the way it was meant to be.

It has been nearly forty five years, actually more since I found out I was color blind. I had been in college at West Chester State College for my freshmen year back in 1967. I found that driving to the New Jersey beaches and missing school was much more entertaining than sitting in a class room listening to a chemistry professor we could not understand go through his roll of transparency film like it was on fire. However on the downside my grades did indicate my absence as I received my letter not permitting me to return to school. Only a day or two passed and a draft notice was in the mail since my student’s deferment was now voided. A new system of draft selection was under way using a lottery. I was in the first round of lottery numbers pulled. All Saints day, my birthday was selected as the number three draft. Additional dates were selected through one hundred and fifty three adding more soldiers to be drafted.

I was at the time playing ice hockey for West Chester State and somehow my grades and letter do not come back to school never made it to the Hockey team and I was still playing. I had severely injured my right shoulder early in the year and had been in the hospital for surgery just before my draft physical. I still had stitches in my shoulder as I went to be examined. I could not raise my right arm and as I made my way through the lines I kept being redirected to repeat the color blind test. The Ishihara Color Blind Tests are a series of round almost camouflage looking patterns with numbers placed within the patterns. I could only read one or two of the numbers. By the end of the four or five hours I had several check marks on my physical against me. I found no epileptics were allowed, no color blind soldiers were wanted and no one who could not raise their right hand to salute was even considered. The sergeant came to me and said son you failed and I smiled and he then yelled at me, “Why are you smiling boy”.

So here I was color blind and never knew it and what trade do I go into after a few years of teaching in the early seventies but graphic arts. Every day I made choices and decisions on color and numerous designs that involved color. For some reason being color blind never seemed to bother me as I went through life. However as I matured and continued in my journey I began to see how limited I was and how so many people were in how they looked at life. Writing on this wet cold November morning I found several song writer’s words had significance. These lines hit me as I cannot see some hues and tints of color but always seem to make what I choose be just what is needed.

“Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8-color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64-color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64-color box, though I’ve got a few missing. It’s ok though, because I’ve got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. I have a bit of a problem though in that I can only meet the 8-color boxes. Does anyone else have that problem? I mean there are so many different colors of life, of feeling, of articulation.. so when I meet someone who’s an 8-color type.. I’m like, hey girl, magenta! and she’s like, oh, you mean purple! and she goes off on her purple thing, and I’m like, no – I want magenta!” John Mayer

I found this quote on a face-book page several years ago and really liked it. Few people outside graphic arts and the art world know what color magenta is but magenta is one of the four colors along with yellow, cyan, and black that make up the colors used in printing of four color process printing and color copying.

We live in a world of eight color crayon boxes where most people only see what they want to see and only in a few shades and on the most part in black and white. As a teacher I have found there are more than sixty four colors and many more shades in between if we look and listen and me color blind I may not see many of them. It has been many years since I first heard Harry Chapin in the Fox Theatre on Peachtree Street. A song that has stuck with me is one about a little boy who sees the world as a rainbow of color. I have included all the words to this very poignant song and if you ever get a chance find a tape or CD and listen to the Great Harry Chapin singing the tune. When I first came home with some magic finger paint for my grandchildren the very first picture we painted was a rainbow. Red, yellow, green and blue shining yellow purple too.

Flowers are Red
by Harry Chapin
The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said.. What you doin’ young man
I’m paintin’ flowers he said
She said… It’s not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There’s a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You’ve got to show concern for everyone else
For you’re not the only one
And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen
But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one
Well the teacher said.. You’re sassy
There’s ways that things should be
And you’ll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me…..
And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen
But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one
The teacher put him in a corner
She said.. It’s for your own good..
And you won’t come out ’til you get it right
And are responding like you should
Well finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said.. and he said
Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen
Time went by like it always does
And they moved to another town
And the little boy went to another school
And this is what he found
The teacher there was smilin’
She said…Painting should be fun
And there are so many colors in a flower
So let’s use every one
But that little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said.. and he said
Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.

A few days back on a Facebook page the question was asked which great musician would you bring back and while a fan of many one stood out, Harry Chapin. It has been a few years back when a group of four year olds from our ECE program came into my old room to see the snakes and lizards and other creatures that lived there. As little children do they asked question after question until one little boy blurts out where do snakes go to the bathroom and one of the high school students who was working with the little ones says that’s a stupid question don’t ask that. I immediately started first of all it is a great question and we went on to discuss where snakes go to the bathroom. After the group left I talked to the high school student and explained never stop the questioning this is why when kids today get to high school they have been taught not to think or question coming up through the grades. It is through questions we learn.

“A camera is not a creative thing. Cameras themselves don’t produce works of art any more than a paintbrush produces a work of art. They have to be in the hands of people who know what they’re doing with them. Therefore all the tools that are available are wonderful, but you still need to have the confidence to use them and to know how to use them, what the processes are that are involved. That’s where I think there is often a crisis. There are too few opportunities I believe now for people to develop the necessary skills to make these tools really helpful and useful. There are plenty of ways of using them which are more or less trivial, which pass the time and it would have passed anyway.” Sir Kenneth Robinson

I shared with a great photographer friend is who constantly asked about her top of the line cameras that is your secret, the camera isn’t it? I was introduced to Sir Kenneth Robinson by a good friend. He is known word wide for his work on creativity and imagination in education. As I have been researching for my dissertation I have read and found Elliot Eisner as well who is known for his work on the aesthetic applications within education and others all who see our educational system stripping away imagination and critical thinking for common core goals such as standardized test scores. Robinson uses the illustration of the rise in testing and ADHD diagnosis in the US. An interesting thought as I go deeper into my own research.

I went out last night just before dark. The sky was finishing a gorgeous sunset and all about me as I sat in my quiet spot listening to the sounds of crickets and tree frogs trying to get a few chords in before the chill sets in again. I was listening to old Bob Dylan songs and thinking about the John Mayer quote. It is not just about artists it is about people and how they see and hear the world about them. I worry as I watch politicians say one thing then do another and tomorrow do something different all in their own interest and the interest of those who financially support them. So many politicians as I discussed with another teacher the other day are acting being who they need to be to get what they want. A sad world as we rip the soul from children telling them to not ask questions and limiting what they can see and or hear. So for another day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please always give thanks namaste.

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

So many thoughts for one day

Bird Droppings November 5, 2015
So many thoughts for one day

I believe I was prepared from childhood to discuss this topic. It has been many years since my first introduction to Native Americans. I was three or four years old when I first remember my father’s stories of Little Strong Arm and Black Eagle. The term Native American had not officially become politically correct and we were raised with American Indian stories. My father’s stories came from his background in the Boy Scouts of America; he had been an Eagle Scout, a scout leader and summer camp program director. Indian lore was a major portion of Boy Scouting in those days. From a favorite book on Indian Crafts my father told us of counting coup. W. Ben Hunt explained the word and meaning.

“It was considered a great honor to count coup” W. Ben Hunt

My father worked his summers during college in New Hampshire at Camp Waunakee using Indian Lore as a base for camp activities and he was chief of the campfire. During his military service, as a medic on a navy LSM in World War II, I learned he had spent many hours talking with Navaho code talkers as his Navy ship delivered them to islands in the South Pacific. Through all of those years he would say he was part Indian but it was not until he was in his seventies that his sister uncovered my great grandmother’s lineage, Leni Lenape, a clan of the Delaware tribes and actually confirmed it. To me as a child Indians were special, my father instilled this in us but there was always a spiritual aspect I could not explain. As I was reading for this morning a thought I pulled out of another old book from my childhood days by William Tompkins. My father would use this book to teach us rudimentary sign language in case we ever needed to converse with Indians.

“The originators of the Indian signs thought that thinking or understanding was done with the heart, and made the sign “drawn from the heart” Deaf mutes place extended fingers of the right hand against the forehead to give the same meaning” William Tompkins

As I read this line that thinking and understanding comes from the heart in so much of Indian philosophy perhaps this was what drew me to this group of people. I grew up with feathers, drums, rattles and other Native American paraphernalia always around the house. In my own experiences the spirituality and acceptance of all things as sacred in Native American culture intrigued me. As I started into a graduate school program on curriculum theory, it had never occurred to me, how education had been so misused and so often deliberately so in history. Those in power avoided teaching some things; I use the term the fine print, in relation to Native Americans.

The trust inherent in their culture and their understanding of life and nature was turned against them for profit and greed. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a member of the Dakota tribe, a medical doctor and known in his tribe as Ohiyesa is quoted in Kent Nerburn’s, The Soul of an Indian as he addresses a major difference in white and Indian thought.

“Many of the white man ways are past our understanding …. They put a great store upon writing; there is always paper. The white people must think that paper has some mysterious power to help them in the world. The Indian needs no writings; words that are true sink deep into his heart, where they remain. He never forgets them. On the other hand if a white man loses his papers, he is helpless” Dr. Charles Eastman, Ohiyesa

In reading and discussing in grad school not much is different from the many innuendos in today’s education and curriculums of hidden agendas and political maneuvering. Looking back as I progressed in my own schooling I learned Columbus mistakenly called the indigenous people he encountered Indians thinking he had found a way to the Spice Islands of the West Indies. The name would stick until more recently as we became politically correct and use the term Native Americans. Columbus even wrote in his journal of presenting letters from the King and Queen to the Great Khan thinking he was in China or near according to noted historian Ronald Takaki.

As I became older and as I too sought out my own understanding of Native Americans and my readings went deeper. During my undergraduate years I spent a semester in Texas and experienced firsthand a powerful hatred even then in 1968 for Native Americans. My own journeys very much paralleled my spiritual and educational pathways as with each step my ties and understanding grew. I was looking for answers even back then.

“When you see a new trail, or footprint you do not know, follow it to a point of knowing (introduction).” Uncheedah, grandmother of Ohiyesa

I was searching for answers even in those days. As I finished up my undergraduate program at Mercer University I began to realize why Native Americans were never taught to read the fine print. In classes and from friends I received books and articles to read adding to my understanding. From one of our course texts, Author Joel Spring points out the concept of deculturalization.

“Deculturalization is one aspect of the strange mixture of democratic thought and intolerance that exists in some minds. The concept of deculuralization demonstrates how cultural prejudices and religious bigotry can be intertwined with democratic beliefs. It combines education for democracy and political equality with cultural genocide – the attempt to destroy cultures. Deculturalization is an educational process that aims to destroy a people’s culture and replace it with a new culture.” Joel Spring

From earlier on there was an effort to assimilate and dismantle the cultures of the Native peoples in America. In the early 1500’s Spanish colonists, were some of the first to deceive and destroy the native people? Several nights ago a recent History channel episode was based on Cortez and the conquering of the Aztecs. A statement was made by one of the historians on the show that in the course of less than two hundred years from that first encounter with Cortez, ninety percent of the indigenous people of the America’s were either killed or died from European based disease and a new world was enslaved by the Europeans.

So many times it was through deception. As the white man pushed into the new world treaties and agreements were signed often with little understanding on the part of the Native peoples. Land was not for sale yet the white man is offering us trinkets. How foolish is the white man? Vine Deloria Jr., states very clearly in his book Custer died for your sins:

“In the treaty of August 5, 1826, almost as if it were an afterthought, an article (III) stated: The Chippewa tribe grant to the government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country. But this grant is not to effect title of the land, or existing jurisdiction over it. The Chippewa’s, in the dark as to the importance of their mineral wealth, signed the treaty. This was the first clear-cut case of fraudulent dealings on the part of Congress. Close examination of subsequent Congressional dealings shows a record of continued fraud covered over by pious statements of concern for their words.” Vine Deloria Jr

I wonder if the Indian agents held their hand over portions of the treaty or wrote in such small lettering that most people could not read. It may have been perhaps using Old English lettering and only having taught in Times Roman fonts, which would bewilder most educated people even today. This concerted effort by those in control throughout American History was even condemned by the US government who were themselves, orchestrating much of it as shown by Joel Spring in his book.

“The US Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare issued in 1969 the report Indian Education: A National Tragedy-A national Challenge. The report opened with a statement condemning previous educational policies of the federal government: “A careful review of the historical literature reveals that the dominant policy of the federal Government toward the American Indian has been one of forced assimilation…. Because of a desire to divest the Indian of his land” Joel Spring

In many ways it was a naivety that undermined the Native Americans in their dealings with the Europeans and eventually US Government. But it was also an inherent trust that bound the various tribes and peoples together. There was no fine print to a Native American, his word was bond. It would be many years and near extinction till Native Americans realized the treachery. Kent Nerburn writes extensively about Native American Spirituality and offers;

“The rule of mutual legal compact, with its European roots, had no precedent among the individualistic native peoples of the continent. In addition, the idea of land as personnel property, a key principle on which the United States was basing its treaties was alien to the native people. How could one own the land?” Kent Nerburn

Our own current study of curriculum shows many over lapping and residual effects and it goes far beyond just Native Americans. Those in power write fine print for one reason so that is not read and in doing so essentially control the overall outcome and direction of whatever is in question. My position is we have been as a people continually dealt agreements, contracts riffed with fine print in regards to education and curriculum to a point it has become what we expect.
Even as a teacher our contracts contains numerous areas of extremely fine print. Daily we are being handed fine print in the news and through the medias about Iraq, politics, religion, and many too numerous to mention including our own president elect. Maybe one day we can truly have a democracy in our democratic nation funny thing is educator John Dewey said and felt the best way to assure a democracy was through a democratic class room. So as I set my thoughts to paper and close for this morning please help others read the fine print and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

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

I still like the seagull book

Bird Droppings November 4, 2015
I still like the seagull book

Once upon a time, that line has started so many stories in my day that perhaps it would be a good way to start today. Many years ago as I drove my kids to school each morning I would spin yarns of various Indian tribes and of great grandpa Niper. Some were stories told to me by my father and now being passed down to my children and soon to grandchildren. My youngest son would offer one of his lines, back in the day which has been one of his favorite sayings relating to anything past his own recollection. However many years ago before the idea of “New Age”, back when such books were often considered simply whimsical, a former test pilot and fighter pilot wrote a short book entitled Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Richard Bach’s book was an easy read, a one sitting sort of book that was actually for several years back in the 1970’s was a best seller. As I look back maybe in my own naiveté of the day maybe he opened the door for the many “new age” writers to come out of the wood work so too say. I recommend his book, and if you have not read it previously, try and borrow a copy or buy one and read it. It is a fun read and relaxing. A bit of advertising, Amazon has it discounted to five or six dollars; it is a simple story about a seagull who wants more than diving at fish.

“Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” Richard Bach from Jonathan Livingston Seagull

As I read this quote for the first time in many years I found it related very much too several current situations in our society, nation and me personally. We so often tend to limit ourselves by standards imposed or self- imposed by others and or work, school, church or society. I have watched friends argue for their limitations and guess what that is where they end up. Rather than always reaching higher people get so caught up in their own limitations they flounder and wither away. In the book the lead character Jonathan Livingston Seagull reaches for the sky and eventually he gets it.

“The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.” Richard Bach from One

As much as I will complain about something more often than not it is not because I do not like doing it but it is about fitting into my supposedly rock solid schedule. I recently spent a few hours learning a new software program formatting videos for a friend, layout, graphics, formatting and using still photos to animate into a video. While on one hand it was a pain it gave me ideas for my teaching as well. It gave me practice at something I had not done in a few years and I got to use my creativity and imagination, it was not work. As I looked through several books from Richard Bach, ideas and thoughts and several good quotes but as I looked at this particular one for some of you younger folks maybe it is not significant, but for old timers like me it really makes sense:

“The simplest questions are the most profound.
Where were you born?
Where is your home?
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change.”
Richard Bach from One

As I sit this morning, reflecting back on an era that spawned JLS and in reality raised the question about which we were and why that “newagers” still are working on. Maybe the answers were there all along and marketing ploys and skeptics have kept the ball rolling either downhill or up depending on your view. I think Bach raised a question about our spiritual side, for so many years the word spiritual meant a specific church or religion and Bach opened a door that later writers would access, direct and guide. Bach’s characters were fictitious, a thinking talking seagull and more recently his books are based on ferrets. Reading JLS you are first reading a story of a seagull searching for more to life, then you reflect and on second reading and see aspects that may or may not correspond to your own existence, and then you see a spiritual side.

“We are each given a block of marble when we begin a lifetime and the tools to shape it into sculpture… We can drag it behind us untouched, we can pound it into gravel, and we can shape it into glory.” Richard Bach from Illusions

I once read Michangelo could see his art work in the marble before he would chisel his masterpieces. It was for him a work of art waiting to be exposed. As I look back over Bach and his writings I think he too was trying to show us, each of us. There are artworks in side waiting to be exposed waiting for the self-imposed limitations to be lifted waiting for the procrastination to be gone.

“We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent the life we’ve created for ourselves? Who’s to blame, who’s to credit, but us? Who can change it, any time we wish, but us?” Richard Bach from Illusions

Maybe a few will search out and read a few lines or get on the internet and look up this writer who may have opened a door years ago who for some and is little more than a fancy but I will end with one final Bach quote.

“Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.” Richard Bach from Illusions

In my reading today I found this one thought sort of wandering through my whimsical ideas today. With all that is going on in the world it could be we need to refind that innocence of childhood and then maybe we can resolve our issues. Nearly every day, information we have been lead to believe is refuted and each day a new explanation is given by our “adults” in charge. Negative feelings held deep inside and manifesting in our government and actions worldwide, a sad state we are in.

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

So reflect, ponder, dream and use your ideas to grow trees from the seeds not just allow those seeds to mold. Raise your expectations and exceed them and above all until our friends and family members are home and safe, keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind and always give thanks namaste.

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

Education is turning an ugly face jug not pouring in a mold

Bird Droppings November 3, 2015
Education is turning an ugly face jug not pouring in a mold
It has been a few years since the last time I talked with and watched the late Cleater Meadors turn a jug on the potter’s wheel at Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts fair in Perry Georgia. A simple lump of clay in a skilled artist’s hands can become a work of art as each moment passes. In today’s world of folk art collecting, Cleater Meador’s pots and jugs fetch many thousands of dollars. He learned the family trade as he was the nephew of the world renowned folk potter Lanier Meadors and the son of Cheever Meadors also a renowned potter, and Lanier’s brother. That is if you are looking up folk pottery in the book, Brothers in clay, by Burrison, 1983.
As I thought about Mr. Meadors and the many fond memories of days gone by I saw a similarity to education. How do we see our students that come into our rooms each day? Do we see them as unique, like the ugly face jugs of mountain potters that have no restraints in size or shape or do the current legislative policies limit us to seeing them as a just a commodity, research based, or a standard much like the graduated cylinder with a very specific and fixed amount of space that we are required to fill?
My middle son by chance graduated from Georgia Tech however when he was eight years of age had the opportunity to be hands on with Mr. Meadors at his wheel making a small pot. I asked my son recently if he remembered that time and he recalled each step in the process. I asked him if he remembered his third grade teacher which was about the same time period and how she taught. He did not recall her name let alone what he was taught. A few moments spent working with an artist is long remembered in minute detail and yet his third grade year in school somehow escapes him. Are we missing something in this standardized system that is becoming education? As I watch within my own school system piece by piece we are losing art, creativity, imagination in classes and in our children.
“When we say that a work of art is an experiment in living, we mean exactly that it presents to us the pros and cons, what it feels like to be a murderer or the victim as a result of which you feel somehow that you have entered into the lives of other people.” J. Bronowski, The Visionary Eye
Maybe we should consider our students as works of art rather than commodities. As I tried and understand how my son recalled that moment with Mr. Meadors so clearly, and yet his class-work and teacher seemed forgotten I wondered about our educational system and Bronowski statements. Bronowski was a teacher and he said “you have to touch people” in his television series, it is about emotions and feelings and living. I use the phrase from my Dewey studies of giving context to content and I thought to my own classroom. I try to provide to my students all of whom all are classified as being in special education and many are emotionally behaviorally disturbed, opportunities for discovery. My room is a cornucopia of things from a 1955 Tonka truck, photos everywhere, posters, daily quotes from famous authors, to Stevie, the ball python and the rest of our zoo. It is by no means a sterile environment. I try and put context in the content. I try and instill imagination and creativity.
“How strange should curriculum become? Unless one can see the possible in or beyond the actual, they cannot frame a moral ideal of what ought to be; they are slaves to the actual. Imagination acquires moral import in the effort to unite the real and the ideal. Imagination is the chief instrument of the good…the ideal factors in every moral outlook and human loyalties are imaginative. In the active relation between ideal and actual imaginative art may become more religious than religions…. art is more moral than moralities. Spirituality involves expanded perception; therefore, education in all fields must involve educating the creative imagination.” John Dewey
We need to go beyond content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and we are losing this. Dewey continued this idea of as he discussed the idea of spiritual in reference to art and expanding creative imagination. There is so much more to curriculum for teaches to consider.
“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block
Can we come back to imagination, context, and creativity, and the individual? How do we try and rekindle that desire in teachers and most importantly in students? Please my friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and let us look inward namaste.

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

It is hard to think about compassion in today’s world?

Bird Dropping November 2, 2015
It is hard to think about compassion in today’s world?

Almost four years ago I was quietly sitting in a hotel room in South Carolina it was still dark outside and it was odd not being at school on a Friday. I so seldom miss a day of school. My middle son and his wife had moved from SC to NC and we were going to help them get settled in and unpack. This trip was the only time we went north to get to their house but it was worth it the mountains were getting their color on and it was beautiful. I got thinking that in Georgia at least in our county we have not gone the route of year round school and have a few extra weeks of breaks scattered around. I actually think I came back to teaching from industry for the summers off. Really I missed teaching and I still enjoy it even with all the hassles. As I think about it does seem like we have vacations all the time, summer break, fall break, Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, intercessions, National Holidays and even a few days of personal time if needed.

I need to be doing a lot of gardening around the house as well as my obsession with my herb garden which includes a lot of time sitting looking at and thinking about what I did that day, reflection to borrow from John Dewey. It is in reflection we find answers and often new questions. Sitting here this morning I was reading about the aftermath of hurricane Sandy the word compassion struck me. In various discussions in graduate school and with faculty members at my own school recently the word compassion has been used in describing and even in defining a good teacher.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Albert Einstein

Thinking to myself as I read again this quote by Albert Einstein and to a night or two ago as I walked about my back yard later one evening there is a sense of being a part of all that is. A few nights back I was outside after dark and by chance had our Huskie with me and went into our front yard. My wife was due home and the dog wanted to run in circles as I had him on a lead when an owl started in calling. Within a second or two another was calling several hundred yards further down and at first I thought the bird had simply moved. Shortly thereafter a third bird joined in a sort of dueling owls as it was. I had not heard three at one time before each distinct and separate, as several times they were over lapping in their calls and each was several hundred yards apart calling in the darkness. It truly does give a sense of being a part of rather than the central focus of our world.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” Albert Schopenhauer

I wonder as I am sitting here what is compassion. The great philosopher Schopenhauer who became the guide for many of later philosophers going into the twentieth century and he saw compassion as basis for morality. The doing or not doing, of what is right or wrong is compassion perhaps? The Dalai Lama who is the spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists, approaches compassion in a similar yet slightly different view, compassion is to be lived and practiced.

“If you want others to be happy, you practice compassion. If you want to be happy, you practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

In the world of today so often compassion is overlooked as an attribute. A person who is compassionate is considered soft and weak and not up to the toughness needed in today’s society of ruthlessness and profit. I go back a day or two to a thought from one of Ken Nerburn’s books on Native American spirituality and of handshakes being soft or hard. I was reviewing a curriculum format yesterday and what was amusing it was not a curriculum but a way or method of viewing education more so. The program was about looking at the wellbeing of the entire person or child. Dr. Comer a psychiatrist developed the idea in the late 1960’s, he was probably a hippie. The concept is that we need to address the entire child, psychologically, physically, emotionally and cognitively in education. A rather broad view of how we should be teaching and or educating children. I was thinking about Dr. Comer’s dream as I found this quote.

“I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is through compassion that we see others as a part of the whole and not just separate people. It is through compassion we go beyond the curriculum maps and guides and paperwork. It is through compassion that we care and want to do more for others. Over the years I have always been impressed when reading from Thomas Aquinas and today I found a piece that is a defining piece of the idea of compassion.

“I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it.” Thomas Aquinas

Far too often we want to be simply on the receiving end of compassion but it is in the doing that compassion is found. As I think to my monastic moments in recent days as everyone else at the house has been working and I am home tending my garden and reading, writing, and pondering. I find solace in solitude almost as much as in talking with friends at the store which happens quite a bit as I wander about Quick Trip, Kroger, the hardware store and or Barnes and Noble, my favorite store.
“It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.” Thomas Merton

I have for many years enjoyed the writings of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who was against war and died in a Saigon Hotel protesting the Viet Nam war back in the late 1960’s when protesting the war was not a good thing according to most societal models. Merton was allowed a certain freedom in his views often not permitted within the Catholic Church. He believed and wrote what he believed and many today think he dies for those beliefs. According to local law enforcement he died of an accidental electrocution in his hotel room.

“No matter how you seem to fatten on a crime, there can never be good for the bee which is bad for the hive.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

To end today’s reflection a word or two from one of my favorites, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It took several readings to catch the meaning of this passage. We are social creatures and it is about the whole that compassion is truly about. Much like Emerson’s bee, if we are too good to ourselves the hive will suffer. As I look at teaching is this not true as well. Far too often a teacher becomes absorbed in their own little world of a classroom and their needs and their goals, and the students the children suffer. There is so much to think about and ponder on for today as I continue my journey in life and in teaching. 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