Bird Droppings February 8, 2016
Listening to a five note flute
Each morning of school I stop by our local Quick Trip and stock up. Water bottles, protein bar, a banana, and whatever else I need to make it through the day. Today was no different till a young man approached me and stuck out his hand, “Mr. Bird great to see you”, and I rushed through my memory banks looking for a name. He began asking about animals in my room, former class mates and was I still teaching. He had seen a photo I posted on Facebook of my room at school and was thinking about me. Funny thing, it just hit me Stephen, we talked for several minutes and I bought his coffee and we parted ways, both of us heading to work.
As I drove to work another student popped in my mind. I left teaching in 1977 and this particular student at that time was fifteen. He had several issues all rolled into a neat label of learning disabilities. I knew after two years of working with him more was at stake and administrators did not want to push my more loaded probing. After I left teaching I kept in touch with school and students. He came up the summer of 1979 to work on our family farm for me. We had a day camp and he helped cut grass and work around camp area. One evening he and his buddy another one of my former students asked if we could go to the new movie opening, Dawn of the Living Dead. We did go and about thirty minutes after dropping them off at the camp lodge a knock on our door. Could they sleep in our house that night. Sadly my predictions came through several years later and he is serving three life sentences. I looked him up one day on the Georgia Correctional web page. I recall his sisters desperate call after he was arrested telling me what happened. The family pleaded for life sentences due to psychiatric issues and signed off on no parole he is now a ward of the state. Could it have been different a gesture here and there a word.
I listen quite a bit to flute music played and recorded by Carlos Nakai, a renowned musician and Grammy nominee for Native American music. He plays a handmade wooden five note flute often unaccompanied except by echoes from his own flute. As I looked through news on yahoo earlier this morning an interesting article. The Dakota Sioux are playing scrabble to preserve their language. In the Sioux nation less than 205 members of the tribe are fluent in the old language. A good friend who happens to be Creek told me of going to boarding school in this day and age, he is my age and he was punished for speaking his native tongue, old style Creek. He grew up speaking only Creek from living with his grandfather who was the medicine man to the Creek nation and would only speak Old Creek, while knowing the language he refused to speak English having given up on the white man many years previous.
“The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo belonged…. 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.” Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux, 1868-1937
I was amazed at offerings that we used to have at our high school. In the previous catalog were courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Latin and yet in our lifetimes or at least in mine we refused an indigenous people the right to their own language. I recall a scene from “Into the West” a several years ago mini-series that recently replayed, it is a rerun on Home Box Office movie with a different slant. Children were brought to the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania from reservations in the Dakotas and elsewhere and we tried to make them “normal”. Actually I am not just about Native Americans today but our feeble attempts at normalcy. Our guidelines we draw and rules we make it was not that long ago left handed children were forced to write right handed. In numerous research papers the concept of mixed dominance came up and showed significant damage being done to left handed children neurologically. Even today many traditional teachers will try and get kids to write with their right hand. Seems it is easier on the teacher. Here I am with a granddaughter who favors her left hand. We tend to forget you are right or left sided as well, eyed, and footed, literally your entire body.
Normal is such a simple word pretty much everything that is not abnormal borrowing from philosopher Foucault. But in schools it is the norms that drive everything. We look for patterns in testing, for averages, for norms all those things we can put numbers on and measure. I recall year’s back I had a student who would go to the door before a period and ask to be let go early because there were no norms about. He did not want to be recognized as a SPED, a Special Education student. I would have snuck him out the back door but we didn’t have one. What was funny it became a joke eventually as I would go to the door and determine who was a norm or not and clear the way when the bell rang.
I think back to my own high school days before IDEA became law in 1974. This was before most disabled children were allowed in schools. I worked in a private center with severe and profoundly disabled children and adults. Our kids were normal and we viewed the rest of the world as disabled and we talked this way. They were disabled because they were unable to experience what we did every day. To have an appreciation for little things, reading your first word, taking a step without a wheel chair, not having a seizure for a day or two.
I read blogs and bulletins about clothes and music and think back. I see jeans purchased with holes in them, we earned ours and yes I had numerous pairs of jeans with holes and patches my sons have claimed them all now. But we earned the holes and patches with wear and tear on and in our jeans. Back in the day we did not have fifty brand named labels to argue over it was simply Levis or Wranglers period and they all had brass rivets on the back pockets. It was funny as a matter of fact in high school we could not wear jeans because of rivets scratching seats at school. This is what we were told and girls could not wear pants although I am not sure other than the puritanical demeanor of dress code in those days. That was over forty five years ago.
Thinking back to what was normal and what a word that is. I recall special education back then and how one student who was special education all her life graduated from college and retired recently as a teacher. Now a days she would have been labeled as learning disabled and I wonder as I sit here thinking where will we be in another forty years. It was once estimated that by 2025 the Dakota Sioux language will be extinct and many said so what. It is sort of like so what if we lose a piece of wilderness for more oil as some politicians are calling for again with the drill baby drill chant at such endeavors as teabag rallies. So what if the Grizzly bear is extinct or eastern red wolf or some nondescript fresh water mussel no one ever sees or a rain forest tribe who is better off in a house and raising crops than hunting in the forest.
Something we tend to forget is all is interrelated, Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related in Lakota), each piece connects to the other and by losing a piece, the puzzle will never be complete. There are selfish people who really do not care about 2025 and whether the Dakota Sioux language disappears or the wilderness is gone as long as they make their billions now. I wonder what you can do with billions of dollars when you are gone maybe that is the part I have a hard time with and on a smaller scale looking at lists that drive popularity on Social networks. Things like do you have a cell phone, IPod, car, Jet Ski, etc. I will admit I do have a few collections, still I keep books and I store literally hundreds of thousands of photos all bits and pieces of my life and understanding.
So where do we go and what do we do? We look for each connection to the next. We look for the coincidences and chance happenings we look for the synchronicity in life. I have found after a day or two of looking you will find amazing things. It is if the pieces fall into place and life takes a whole new outlook and what was important may not be as crucial anymore. Try reading Thoreau, there are several good sites on the internet. He walked about for several years just to learn. Enough of my wandering for today peace be with you all and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)