Our goal in teaching is for students to create new questions

Bird Droppings January 31, 2016
Our goal in teaching is for students to create new questions

Over the past month I have been pondering New Year’s resolutions and advice for next year posting, emailing and even a billboard or two driving home from North Carolina veral weeks back. With all of the football games being played I got thinking back to one, New Year’s Eve 2008. I was sitting in a huge stadium and I was overwhelmed by the noise and often mob type rule that so often occurs when fans get together. Inside an enclosed stadium like we have in Atlanta the sounds echo and echo even off echoes and become nearly deafening. As I sat there it amazed me how fans boo or cheer starting with one person could soon encompass the crowd. I was thinking back to the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe and a comment by the bad guy who uses the coliseum to control the crowd, the mob. Individualism is lost somewhere on row 125 seat 6 section A.

“Our faith comes in moments… yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was wondering after reading a comment yesterday and thinking back to that bowl game we attended and of course it was a Georgia Tech game. I was as always pondering of sorts as to what and why we think as we do which is a constant process for me. As I thought comfort is a factor, just being comfortable even group pressure could be comfortable if you go with the flow so to say. It sounds good perhaps this could be an answer. Someone else told me and well I do not have time to think about it really in a large stadium with the decibels literally through the roof there is no time to think to ponder to even clear a thought. As we gain in age it becomes easier to look back and see where thoughts evolved from and how and or they were imposed on us. Somehow I can always go back in my Emerson notes and find a simple explanation such as the quote I started with today.

“To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty… this knowledge; this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” Albert Einstein

“Non-violence is the article of faith.” Mahatma Gandhi

“All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul, which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light, but though I seem to be driven out of my country as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.” James Joyce

Searching midst others thoughts and dreams Einstein so often accused of being without faith but as I read his letters and ideas there is very much the opposite as he so often was on the fringe of thought as most people understand. Gandhi looking at life and reality through the eyes of a mystic saw in non-violence the essence of man, as man could be if worldly matters did not interfere. I thought to my experiences and of that bowl game and if mob rule did not interfere. Then as I read Joyce’s comment it is interesting how some people see no faith in men of very deep faith. These three by many standards are men of no faith to many people yet their comments and writings truly indicate otherwise.

“Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.” Soren Kierkegaard

Easy words easy thoughts from a seemingly impossible word to define. We each ascribe our own thoughts to faith. We each try and place a value, a norm upon what we see as faith. This may be where the difficulty arises. A simple word has so many pathways, for each thinker a new avenue opens, for each individual heart a separate door is there. Looking back this could be where religion tried to focus combining various faiths various ideas and focusing allowing individuals to free up thought and ideas for other gain. Perhaps this is why so many have packaged faith so to say. I could see someone walking to a mike last night midst the drunken football fans and taking over the crowd, here now believe this and now you can go about your business and the crowd would follow that person.

Einstein’s difficulty with conventionalism and with organized religion perhaps was this factor that thinking was removed and it became a mote point which for him was wrong. I was reading one of my son’s Xanga entries from so many years ago and was intrigued by the rational that he found. All of existence is somehow intertwined and that with math equations that can be developed to resolve all issues and to provide basis for all. Granted my son is thinking in math terms that I am totally unaware of but it was of interest to me. While a bit beyond my own math thinking as you look at reality and while chaos theory exists and is a mainstay in many thought processes there is structure and consistency, even if we often do not see it. As he mentions in his passage from Xanga, “equations we have yet to learn” there is so much out still to be found if we continue thinking and looking.

Often we human beings decide we have found it and quit thinking. When each doorway leads to another and each idea only clarifies the last and makes another possible why should we stop. Perhaps the vastness of the stadium and the magnitude of all I was immersed that evening in 2008 in did truly over whelmed me as I sat there watching a football game. Today is a new day and in this day whenever possible 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

Selecting your pallet

Bird Droppings January 29, 2016
Selecting your pallet
I wrote the basics of this article nearly twelve years ago and at the time was thinking of an artist friend who was trying to define her art as well as searching for her own meaning in life. My friend often reflects her political views and emotions through her art. As I sit here this morning realizing I have been friends on social media with Liz for almost thirteen years and she is now writing code and a programming engineer but she speaks of her work with the same passion as she does her art.
It has been some time since my family that was in town we had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games and eat of course. It seems in all family gatherings eating is an integral part and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Perhaps one day I will write on the socializing aspects of a family get together and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just prior to committing suicide?”
“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others” Vincent Van Gogh
By chance the answer was Van Gogh. When I first read this I started to think about an ear coming in a box, and how unromantic that is. Perhaps sending body parts while you are alive is an art form. But trying not to be sarcastic, many aspects of our lives could be construed as an art form, such as love, teaching, and caring. Each goes beyond a simple definition. Within each are pieces that you do not learn in class. I am sure if Vincent Van Gogh showed a picture he drew or painted during one of his manic spells, the art teacher would have told him to take art lessons. Today those same paintings are considered classics of impressionism. I am sure Picasso was laughed at, somewhere along the line for drawing women in cube form or simply as a splash of color upon his canvas.
What defines an art form versus simply reality? I would not pay millions to have a Picasso or Van Gogh even if I had the money lying around. Perhaps for me I would prefer to see and experience rather than to own. It seems those who pay millions are often more about the publicity than the art.
“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” William Faulkner
Defining the moment in words, paint or sculpture, perhaps even a bit of broken glass can be art. I saw a chapel of stained glass windows many years ago created by an artist, an elderly Trappist monk from Conyers. This was his last work at the age of ninety two. The brilliant abstracts in the windows were in reds and purple depicting the Christian sacraments. The windows were literally alive as you sat in the chapel bathed in the brilliant light from the windows.
“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” Henry James
I was thinking about Faulkner’s idea of art. How we can take a piece of life and preserve it. Artists are in many ways taxidermists each working within their own medium so to speak. Is love simply that special moment carried further as a reminder of what once was? Could teaching simply be a passing of pieces of reality to another who will have those pieces at some point in time? Even in the painting of Van Gogh is his art just the capturing of an image. Interesting how we do so easily now with digital cameras, scanners and computers.
“Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.” James Joyce
“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” John F. Kennedy
“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” Henri Matisse
Several years back I was watching briefly as Mel Brooks was honored at the Kennedy Art Center for his contributions. I found myself drawn to these writers’ quotes today especially as I read this statement by Henry Matisse. There is a secret hidden within Matisse’s words, for all forms of art. We are so often limited by our history and previous experiences, be it love or an art form, for Matisse then each love, each new piece of art should be new. Each should be special. It is in trying to categorize and synthesize that we lose, the true essence and aspect of love, and of art. When we try to define and label the box of love do we lose pieces as we can in art? Teaching is in a very similar situation. Far too often teachers try and teach each lesson as they taught the last. First you have to forget all the classes that were ever taught, a difficult task for any teacher.
“If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.” Grandma Moses
“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors.” Pablo Picasso
It has been nearly twelve years ago that a student brought in several dozen photos she and her sister had taken of each other. One of the photos caught my eye. Neither of the girls saw any significance as do very few others when I see things in photos. But for me that one photo caught the personality of the student and I put it on my wall in my class room. That is art for me. Recently one of the sisters came by to visit and noticed the picture was still there and how much that meant to her. Where and how does it become art for everyone? How does teaching become energized to a point that it is art?

It has been some time since I wrote a rather long email to a dear friend who is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I used the word empathy several times. An artist in whatever medium they choose has to have empathy. A pastor is an artist dealing with the spirituality of parishioners and so much more. As I researched art many paradoxes seemed to crop up even within the definition.
“A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.” “A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer. “ Dictionaery.com
Art is non-scientific yet it is also very specific in other ways. I find art perhaps more scientific than science. DaVinci and others have shown the mathematical formulas and calculations needed in art. It is interesting in art we attach theory to reality and in science we try to attach reality to theory. Teaching in and of itself is taking reality and attaching theory to it. We have a block of information that by various means we have to interpret to a student and hopefully they will come close to what we are actually trying to teach.
“To impart knowledge” Dictionary.com
“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man’s nature.” Ayn Rand
I was thinking back several years to a teacher searching the closet for teacher’s manuals and transparencies to teach a subject they had taught for forty years. I was a bit taken back. How do you teach a subject for forty years and now get stressed over a manual and transparencies. You should know the material and it should not be the exact same for every class. The delivering of the material is the key issue here. I was curious as I watched and observed the mounting stress for this teacher as no teacher’s manual and transparencies could be found. Forunately for the students their regular teacher made it back in time.
“There has to be one how did anyone teach this class before me.” A former teacher
That same week I watched a teacher take the same subject and walk into class dressed as a knight, maybe it was a goat herder, with literally a virtual reality game. This was in a history class and it came alive. The teacher divided the room and each team was given various attributes such as being near water, having fertile soil, possessing seeds or goats etc. One group was given a gold mine and nothing else. There was a bit of reflection and a bit of thinking for the students. Then the essential question was asked, how are you going to develop your civilization? I am curious which group learned more about the start of world civilization, from the forty year experienced teacher or the lowly goat herder. Art is an interpretation. In teaching we often interpret ideas and events. It is also providing the opportunity for the student to interpret and learn from that thinking process.
“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Augusto Rodin
“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.” Jahal-Uddin Rumi
“Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith.” Salman Rushdie
We each can be artists in our own field, and perhaps empathy is the key. It is being able to reach that inner spark in others so they can feel what you feel what you see and hear and understand what it was that inspired you.
“Great art is never produced for its own sake. It is too difficult to be worth the effort.” George Bernard Shaw
“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” John Ruskin
Ruskin has perhaps defined what constitutes a great artist, be it in what ever field, whatever pallet you choose. I wish we could as easily declare peace throughout the world. I wonder if we can bottle and sell empathy then maybe peace could be a reality. I worked a bit in my herb garden yesterday when I came home trimming dead branches and stems. Watching the sky and sun setting, as I was listening to the quiet of my back yard walking about was very soothing. I wonder can growing herbs be considered an art form. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart, namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

All in words we find

Bird Droppings January 29, 2016
All in words we find

“The farmer channels water to his land. The fletcher whittles his arrows. And the carpenter turns his wood. So the wise direct their mind.” Dhammapada

Many years ago there was a folk song entitled, If I were a carpenter, as I read this passage this morning from a Hindu text that song popped in my mind. Many folk artists have covered the song. The song was written by folk singer Tim Hardin. It was a hit in 1966 recorded by Bobby Darrin who after letting two other songs slip by that became number one hits for The Lovin Spoonful grabbed onto this one. A few years later the song was covered by legendary artist Johnny Cash and again a hit. As I think back there was a similar passage that I used many years ago from another great thinker of our time.

If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?

If a tinker were my trade
would you still find me,
carrin’ the pots I made,
followin’ behind me.

Save my love through loneliness,
Save my love for sorrow,
I’m given you my onliness,
Come give your tomorrow.

If I worked my hands in wood,
Would you still love me?
Answer me babe, “Yes I would,
I’ll put you above me.”

If I were a miller
at a mill wheel grinding,
would you miss your color box,
and your soft shoe shining?
Tim Hardin

I have read these words and listened to many singers sing them. Some will say it is just a song of a blue collar worker a common man who is in love with an upper class woman. Will he still love her even though he is merely a carpenter? Some argue it is about Jesus Christ who as stories go was a carpenter in love with a lady. But as I read and reread the words this morning so many more thoughts and understandings. I recall a passage from a speech given by the great civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the folk song era of the 1960’s although sitting here pondering it probably in some circles still exists, especially around my house anyhow many songs were written to add credence to various social efforts of the time. Pete Seeger would sing songs borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s hobo and dust bowl travels, the songs of the depression. As he traveled the country he sang at union, environmental, and civil rights meetings, including for Dr. King He would borrow from many and various other sources for his songs.

One song was made famous outside of folk song circles by a group “the Byrd’s” was “Turn, turn, turn” a song that received its words from a book in the Old Testament Ecclesiastes to be exact. “To ever thing there is a season, ……a time to be born a time to die” As I sit here writing this morning flags are still flying from telephone poles, draped over tables, still a few emblazoned on T-shirts and paper cups celebrating our nation. Just a few days ago our president gave the State of the Union Address and I am reminded of what and who we are as Americans. It is not our differences but our similarities that make us who we are. It is our desire and passion for freedom.

By the constitution of the United States all people are equal and all are entitled to certain liberties and the pursuit of happiness be they carpenters, millers, tinkers, lawyers or folk singers. As we go about today remembering and watching the few remnants of our real heritage we need to also think of in being free and being able to speak, and worship freely we should not impose our own ideals and beliefs on others. That is so easy to say but I was reminded of a moment so many years ago of the innocence of youth, as I sat at lunch with my youngest son at a Chinese Buffet in Loganville Georgia. The owner I have known for many years and she had her three boys there with her, it was late afternoon we had been working at the High School working in my room. Her boys were sitting playing at the next booth, some was in English some in Chinese as they chattered back and forth and giggled playing games as small children do, the boys were between 3 and 5 years old. One of the boys using his fingers to pull his eyes slanted said I am a Chinese boy now. As I sat and thought so many possible meanings to that, I know his family, mother and father both are from mainland China and very active in cultural awareness programs in schools and the community. Was this an example of an innocent child’s color blindness or was it a slight to his heritage imposed by others?

“There is a time to ever season” we cannot choose the road of our genetics but we can choose the directions and pathways we take with it. We can choose the words and actions. In a cultural awareness class a few years back as I wrote the word black, indicating race I was reminded that it is correct to say Afro American. I wondered at the response, yet I am still called a white person not a Welsh, English, German, Irish, Native American, Hebrew, Scottish, Amish, person. Although WEGINAHSA would work now that I think of it. I wonder if I called someone a Weginahsa, would they be upset or if I could get that listed as an ethnic group. I could list it under other, I am a Weginahsa pronounced, Wee – jean – A – house – a. I am no longer just white I am a proud weginahsa, if I can spell it correctly and pronounce it the same twice in a row.

We choose the roads and pathways, we choose the words and implications of those words and the attitude that formulates them. MLK as he made the comment about a street sweeper it is our choice as to how great or how little we are and it is our choice whether we truly are free or not. Today is the time and the season for us to be who we are Americans and we are able to think act and be free keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart namaste.

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

Reconciliation of trust

Bird Droppings January 26, 2016
Reconciliation of trust

“It’s the examination of conscience. Unless you examine your conscience, you don’t know what you have to be sorry for and what to confess” Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., Ten Tips for Better Confessions, The Gift of Reconciliation

Sort of difficult ending this shortened week with a vocabulary word and one we seldom actually use. I do think we perform the process but somehow never understand what it is we are doing when we do. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has for its definition of the word reconciliations the following:

“The state of being reconciled which is based on reconcile or to restore to friendship or harmony” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

It has been a long time since I was called up to the principal’s office for supposedly writing a note for a student to go home, something I would not do and did not do. This student was someone I had trusted and now had seriously betrayed that trust. The following day I asked my own students to write about what would they do if someone betrayed their trust, not referring to the incident that had occurred? Many of my students often feel betrayed as a part of their own disability. They have a difficult time dealing with trusting anyone and betraying that bit of trust that they may have is so hard to even accept that it hits them very hard.

Some of the examples are; “I would never speak to them again”, “I would consider them no longer existing”, one student went so far as “I would kill them”. I was hoping that was a figurative term only. When I look back a few lines to Webster’s thought reconcile is a “restoring of harmony”. Not being able to trust, affects my own existence in how I perceived each person that I now came into contact with. Often being on guard, wary, not a sensation that I liked or even the effort of being cautious.

“Trust is a firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. It is a reliance on something in the future; hope. The condition and resulting obligation of having confidence placed in one: One in which confidence is placed.” Dictionary.com

Trust is a simple word as I looked for definitions and a bit more understanding can be had in words such as reliance, confidence, hope, integrity, and character. These are all words used in defining trust. By going a bit deeper, trust is synonymous with belief and with the word faith. When we trust someone we have faith in them, belief in them. To tear this down is a serious issue and difficult to repair. This is perhaps why my students had such a difficult time with pondering what you do when someone betrays your trust. It was from that point I wondered if we can reconcile.

Within most of the world’s religions forgiveness is paramount to any attempt at moving forward. It is about being able to forgive and to reconcile. Within some religions as in my first quote that is based on reconciliation. Within the Catholic Church where reconciliation is a sacrament there is a restoration on the most part for many people. In religion that restoration is often with God or the church, but deeper when that reconciliation is between two people there is a “restoration to friendship and to harmony” as Webster’s so eloquently states.

“The man who trusts men will make fewer mistakes that he who distrusts them” Conte di Cavour, Camillo Benso

That state of distrust is uncomfortable for me. When I trust in life it flows and moves so easily from point A to B. In a state of distrust and looking back over my shoulder continually not only does my neck get tired but my soul as well? Perhaps this is why I find working with students who do not trust so easy. Many teachers prior to my room do not trust and I do till proven wrong.

“All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud, you have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is so much easier to function in life in a state of trust than in distrust, perhaps this is why reconciliation is such a powerful tool bringing back that harmony that smoothness in life, restoring faith in others in yourself. I came to school after that incident in a state of distrust and as the day went on really not sure which direction to go. Walking to my room the student who betrayed my trust came up to me and asked if we could talk, after school I said. There was desperation in the voice a need for reconciliation a need to restore harmony and friendship. School went by and the day ended, I was literally oblivious to my conversation earlier of talking after school. This student comes in and tries to explain, tears so close to welling up, “I am sorry”.

It is amazing how several days of pondering what to do is melted away so easily with three words. The days of should I do this or that or should I do that are wiped clean, reconciled and harmony is restored. My good friend Emerson compares to a bud. Nearly fourteen years ago I found a pin, one of those simple metal stick pins with a slogan on it. It was given to me on my twenty third birthday by a dear friend in a youth group I worked with, a 1970’s pin as it goes, “Bloom where you are planted” with a flower or two around it. I affixed it to my ID badge lanyard. What a simple message, from days gone by, that still carries impetuous. It is still so true and still for me is what teaching is about. It is helping students bloom where ever it is that they are and more so about life in general. We all should be trying to bloom where we are planted. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

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

Sitting thinking of a circle

Bird Droppings January 25, 2016
Sitting thinking of a circle

I missed the last rerun of a favorite miniseries, Into the West, and one of these days will find the DVD set. The movie starts and ends with a circle of stones with a line going east to west and one going north to south through the circle. In the back area of our yard we have been building a memory garden. It is basically a rock garden with numerous succulents and sedums planted among the rocks that are special to us. The garden when finished will be a circle. Each quadrant has a space which eventually will be filled with young trees. A Japanese cedar was given to us when my wife’s father passed away by my friends at the high school and now stands nearly forty foot tall. Another will eventually honor my father at the opposite side as we finish our project hopefully later next summer.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk Ogallala Sioux Holy Man

It has been nearly forty five years 1970 since I wrote a short poem of shorts. At that time perhaps it was self-analysis or a self-description, “One little circle – alone – unopened”. It has been nearly twelve years since I headed towards Piedmont college as a graduate student and I thought is the circle alone, and or unopened. I had grown very close to the people in my cohort. As I attended graduate school I found I became a much better teacher as I became a better student. Henry David Thoreau was a teacher until he realized he must be a learner first. He needed to be a student again and in doing so he became a better teacher.

As I look at the circle I have completed in my own education and it is only the beginning not the ending and the circle of friends and fellow learners in my cohort at Piedmont and now as I continue my education both at Piedmont and Georgia Southern and the teachers at my own school all touch unto that circle and in effect keep it spinning and evolving. Black Elk an Ogallala Sioux holy man using nature to define this circle nearly a hundred years ago and Follow the Buffalo, holy man of the movie series “Into the West”, who was sitting in the sacred circle in the North Dakota hills throughout the movie addressed the white man with various other characters. My son once told me of a circle’s definition in geometric terms borrowing from Wikipedia.

“In Euclidean geometry, a circle is the set of all points in a plane at a fixed distance, called the radius, from a fixed point, called the centre.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As I sit here thinking pondering my circle has grown and furthering my education. My circle includes all I have met, emailed, talked with in grocery stores, schools, colleges and numerous other places around the world. The circle continues and grows with each step, each word, each sensation and each breath I take while I am privileged to live. Please as you think about your own circle keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

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

How do we know if we are still human?

Bird Droppings January 22, 2016
How do we know if we are still human?

Perhaps it is from growing up in a situation where we were daily aware of special needs children and adults from the birth of my younger brother till his passing almost eighteen years ago. Those in my family have had connections with exceptional children directly or indirectly in our careers and life’s endeavors ever since. A number of us went the route of teaching and even there most are in Exceptional Education. Several are in the medical field and several have gone into psychology. My brother linked us as a family to the humanness of mankind.
“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Albert Einstein

Over the years in my undergraduate and graduate studies, internships and various clinicals I have experienced situations many will never know exist. I recall walking through wards in a state institution where tiny infant appearing patients lay in bassinets connected to tubes and not moving. Some were born with no brains and kept alive by feeding tubes and respirators. I asked one of the attendants during a walk through in 1968 how old was this one particular infant. I was informed this was not an infant but probably older than I was I being twenty and the baby at twenty three. The attendants turned the children to prevent bed sores and occasionally would talk to their charges. Later as I worked on finishing my psychology degree at Mercer University I visited several more units very similar at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville Georgia once the largest mental hospital in the nation and at a Regional Mental Hospital in Atlanta. These units were filled with fifty to sixty patients each. Central State Hospital had more than one ward.

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our society exists through a historical development from a time when the first humans began living in villages and using commodities as exchange for other goods. Many historians and anthropologists will offer that society and civilization began when this early bartering started and a value was placed on a particular thing. A goat is worth a bushel of wheat or rice and banking began. Soon more precious commodities were found, metal for weapons and tools, precious stones and gold for adornment. Granted this process happened fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of things and soon someone decided they could get more for an item since they had most of it and price gouging was begun. It was in these days that an imperfect infant would be tossed off a cliff or fed to the sharks.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, 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 us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
However that idea that got me started on the idea that maybe we are losing or have lost our humanity is rampant in our society today. Over the years I will get in discussions and some get a bit out of proportion and over board and some I will walk away from but when we look at cutting programs that provide housing and food for people who do not have anything I take issue. I take issue with the greed that drives bonuses and profits that tax most families to a point of frustration all in the name of capitalism. I get upset when education is first on the chopping block not because it could impact my own pay but because it is through education we can possible regain our humanity.

In a recent discussion on drug testing those on Medicaid, Food stamps or any Federal assistance because all on welfare are on drugs and using welfare money to buy drugs I asked what do we do and was suggested I use my own money if I think they need help. Almost immediately in curiosity I should have questioned what religion are you? A legislator from Kentucky wants to cut nearly every federal program. I find it ironic that down through history men and women who try to help others find themselves hated by those in power and usually end up dead.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Credited to Jesus Bar Joseph, known to many as Jesus the Christ, Mark 10:42-45

So how is it in a religion based on self-sacrifice is it that the people are so greedy? How can the image of a religious leader driving a Rolls Royce and living in one of their many multi-million dollar homes be comforting to anyone? How can anyone say it is a federal healthcare bill that drove up there insurance when a CEO of a health insurance company is making over one hundred fifty million dollars a year and can deny a claim or treatment due to cost at any given moment? I recently watched the leader of the majority in the house of representatives roll his eyes at comments the President of the United States as he spoke in his State of the Union Address. Of course those are the images the media flashes over and over again as well.

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.”
Parker J. Palmer

Having worked in service oriented jobs, pasturing, teaching, and counseling I have seen with my eyes people who do not wish to be poor. It is through no choice of their own they have a congenital heart defect and cannot stand for longer than a few minutes let alone try and work. I have seen mothers whose husbands left when a baby was born with severe birth defects and the child requires constant care so the mother does not work and cares for the child. I have seen families torn apart by mental illness and these mental patients with budget cuts pushed out into a not so caring world to fend for themselves only to end up homeless and destitute. These are not unique cases but when we cross the country and multiple they are many thousands of times the situations that occur. I have still heard the stories of that famous welfare mother with six kids driving to family and children’s services to pick up a check in an Escalade or Mercedes. First off checks are no longer mailed they load to a debit card. Not all on welfare are using the system and not all on welfare are using drugs. Is our system is not perfect by no means but it is the lack of human civility that bothers me. It is how we can say we are of a religious persuasion and literally live an entirely different life when not in church.

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Black Elk

In most Indian societies all were taken care of and provided for. I am not promoting a return to the primitive but to a more natural view of life. Indians held all as sacred and in doing so would not demand or extract more than was needed from the land or from another person. It was a very humanistic world view. We stripped away the sacredness of the land and used the resources till they were gone in the name of progress. We do not as a society want to help others is the sound board of many people. I was informed last evening if I want to help others use my own money to which I replied I do. I have for my entire teaching career given to a local charity a portion of my paycheck a very small portion yet it amounts each year to nearly ten percent of the giving from the teaching staff at my high school and I am less than one percent of the staff numbers.

“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.” Tecumseh, Shawnee

Our dominate society has all but eradicated the indigenous populations of the Americas from the first slaughters by Cortez’s men in Mexico to cutting of funding to the reservations. Suicides and infant mortality in Indian societies is considerably higher than dominate societies around them. It has only been a few days since I watched the movie about Wounded Knee and slaughter of unarmed Indians the last major Indian war battle even though only one sided. Around the world natives peoples are eliminated for wealth and power.

“I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.” Mahatma Gandhi

In a recent set of materials given to me by my mother on the Bushmen of South Africa who call themselves the Sans I noticed the date on the literature and it was pre-mining leases in the Kalahari. There were beautiful pictures of hunting and villages moved as they would follow the herds of animals. Today much of the Kalahari Desert has been sectioned off into diamond mine leases and the Sans moved to concrete buildings on a reservation. They are a people losing their identity and culture so greed can fill the void.

I have started watching again this year’s American Idol and I am enjoying the softer image. Still harboring within the midst of us is hatred rampant and rancid that keeps rearing up. A young man drove his mother’s car to school with an OBAMA bumper sticker which was torn off in the parking lot and replaced with a derogatory note and the extra addition of never park here again or it will be worse. We have come so far to be so lost. I wonder if it is with a deaf ear I offer each day 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

Counting knuckles

Bird Droppings January 21, 2016
Counting knuckles

On Friday a student asked what day of the month next Friday would be and I responded January 30 and just as quick another said he thought it was the first. I said no it was the thirty first and he proceeded to count his knuckles, “a knuckle has 31 days”, he said. He figured it was the thirty first. Later on last Friday I watched as we did math computation tests and he was using his fingers as a portable calculator, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was that I also knew the personality of this student and how he comes off as being such a bad dude that intrigued me. But in a lighter moment with no planning his other side comes out. It is sad because this side of him actually does try to succeed. However so often even for me he will shut down and sulk away to where ever he chooses and vegetate. I am not listening, you cannot make me listen, or I don’t care and best of all just give me a zero, will spill from his mouth.

I was thinking how great if you could plan your day around the moments a student is willing to count fingers and knuckles maybe call it “knuckle time”. Those moments when being embarrassed or ashamed of your own capabilities are gone and you can move ahead even if only in micro steps. We all experience this at some time or another. As I watch and listen to students I see pieces of myself in others. How we go about our days those little things we do to survive the onslaught of society. Some of us have enough to make it throughout the day and others have only counting knuckles and when the task goes beyond that capability then frustration and defeat self-imposed. “Give me a zero”.

I used a trick of sorts to get extra time out of students the other day. Biology questions were two to three per page and very simple with tricks so to say true and false sort of questions at times but answers might alter true and false to false and true. So the student did have to read and think about questions and answers. Some students made it through level two others to level four before difficulty set in. Today we will do more and the goal is for students to be successful throughout the process, till they reach a level of discomfort and then set up the programming and planning of lessons accordingly. Unlike many situations these students face adjustments and or modifications and they can be made.

So often in school we want every child to fit parameters we establish as teachers and further up the line as curriculum specialists. All ninth graders should do this and tenth graders this item. No child will be left behind who does what we want should have been the legislative name of the bill. NCLBWDWWW might have been too long of an acronym so they shortened it. However what about the exceptions in life? Years ago I found myself as an exception. It was in fourth grade and I was sitting getting my paper back and the teacher had given me a C on my paper in which I had four wrong. One of my friends next to me had four wrong and an A so definitely I was confused. Day by day this continued and I asked my mom about it. She went in for a conference and the teacher told her I wasn’t working up to my potential so she graded me differently. Guess what happened I quit. No more extra reading for school work although I did still read volumes for fun, no more extra credit. I got left behind because a teacher failed to see I wasn’t fitting into her parameters.
I once saw a peg board with round holes and all the pegs were square and did not fit. Children would try and then after hitting did not work finally quit. The demonstration was actually a psychological test with young children. Funny thing is we do this all the time in school and on the job as teachers. We want people to fit our standards our peg board.

“Children love and want to be loved and they very much prefer the joy of accomplishment to the triumph of hateful failure. Do not mistake a child for his symptom.” Erik Erikson

I watch the paradoxes of our federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, where frustrated kids quit school because of so called graduation tests. It is where frustrated teachers are leaving due to being judges on students taking standardized tests. What about being the teacher of a math class where your entire class failed the prerequisite for your class and now is in your class since prerequisite is no longer offered and you have an end of course test that measures your teaching ability and sixty seven percent fail. No one looks at pretest scores and posttest scores and significant improvement and learning that occurred. All that matters is that end of course tests score and the failure rate shows you are not teaching. A whole class and teacher get left behind.

I found this quote well over three years ago and thought it would be a good one to toss out. I think someone retrieved it from his trash can since he has proven he really does not believe this.

“I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, and look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan

As I watch how politics interferes and then create havoc in education and in so many areas I wonder why we have politicians at times. It makes me want to count my knuckles and see if the answer is correct and that is knowing I do not have enough knuckles for this problem.

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” B. F. Skinner

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

Maybe we forget this, maybe we want education to be this neat package we can take off the shelf and spoon feed to our students and the students get or do not get and we go on leaving behind the ones that don’t get it. What about the kid with three knuckles? My son had a friend who lost a finger in childhood he would be at a disadvantage counting knuckles.

“Every acquisition of accommodation becomes material for assimilation, but assimilation always resists new accommodations.” Jean Piaget

I wonder if we did pretests and posttests in congress and in the Senate on ethics and on performance if our elected officials would pass the grade or be left behind. No Congressman left behind now that is a bill I could get behind. 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