Why does writing seem so difficult in a digital world?

Bird Droppings February 3, 2016
Why does writing seem so difficult in a digital world?

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

In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth grade English Class. The book was Brave New World, written in 1932 and you would think that a book thirty years old would not have been that controversial. However for our class and the reading list we had, an English teacher was let go. What amuses me is how these books we read did impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a catalyst for thinking that was developed. Today on another hallway in our school English teachers use the books my tenth grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list as do many high schools across the country. Such books as 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World which were so controversial in their time fifty to seventy years ago and still today can inspire students and adults to think and ponder.

“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot

“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill

Each morning as I sit down and wonder about the direction that the ideas may or may not flow. I try and find a spark a starting point for the day. Sort of my kick start of the day to revitalize my own cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier but within the semantics of the word so many limits the concept of experience. I was seeing a teacher and most as I read were seeing experience as a limit, coming back to a note the other day and actually I used yesterday talking with future teachers, the idea of a container as per students. That was until I read this line from Huxley.

Over the past few days numerous emails from former classmates in high school perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few in Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me nearly forty five years later. But the direction changes as I look, it is through writers and writing that we convey so much.

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner
Each day I walk outside and look at the sky. On an almost clear morning unlike today with a haze across the sky and moon, if only a bit less haze and I would be seeing stars spreading through the sky, constellations and for some they are beacons of direction and purpose. If it is clear tomorrow I may be following the full moon for a bit in the morning as I drive east to drop off our electric bill. As the seasons pass the constellations change as to time of day and position in the sky and often as I go out I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky appearing before my front door. If by chance I am writing at home as I have for a few years now I can go out into the back yard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon and oak trees depending on where I stand much will be obscured and I see only a shrouded sky laced with the branches.

As I read the Faulkner note so often this is true, we do not think about something till we read what we have written. Many the times I will return to a piece weeks or months later and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at that time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper some time ago and until it was returned with comments I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. A journey that began in reading, then in experience and moves through writing for it does take written word to be read.

“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

It is true as I write each morning glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles and emails and any books handy at that moment looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. Often my morning consists more of reading than actually putting words to paper or computer screen. It is so many times a search for an idea a thought that has eluded me.

“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin

“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener

What comes so easy for some it has been said may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails and then go onto class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing, since that makes it so much easier to write. As I think as to where that student is coming from, maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because somewhere, somehow, and or someone did not give them the opportunity.

In my room often it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative. I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked I made an error I had typed “Children learn what they love”. As I thought a bit you know what? That is just as true too especially in education. So how do we help children love learning, and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Let’s all set an example today and 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)

Solitude is within ones soul and heart

Bird Droppings February 2, 2016
Solitude is within ones soul and heart

“No person, standing before this mystery, has the wisdom or the knowledge to see across the curtain. But for those who stand before their dead with aching hearts and tear filled eyes, one affirmation endures..one truth remains…and one light shines clear. Where there has been love, there has been Life. Its birthplace was the human heart where, for thousands and thousands of years, with all peoples in all cultures, it has brought joy…built hope…been the mother of beauty…overcome fear and given a richness and significance to the living of days that otherwise would have been absent.” William Edelen

I have just read through several of William Edelen’s sermons or Sunday symposiums as he calls them. Now in his nineties this extremely free thinker writes about politics, religion and love in this instance. It has been a few years since my wife went to visit her grandmother’s grave site in South Central Georgia. My wife, her mother and her sisters all journeyed together and walked about the small church’s grave yard with their mother narrating and explaining who was who and relationships to them.

Whenever I get a chance I walk out behind my brother’s house and walk to my father and brother’s grave site which is situated on a hill overlooking a soccer field where children play nearly every day. It just hit me how appropriate for their resting spot. Perhaps it was the recent funeral of a friend and such that made me think in this manner. Why do we wait for death to impart to our loved ones our inner most feelings? Why do we so often find the time to go to grave yards to honor and muse about what we should have done when they were with us?

Solitude is within us,
An inadvertent meandering through life.
I wander as I journey.
Glimpsing pieces of my life’s puzzle.
Pondering each more intricate than the last.
Sadly I grow weary from so many missteps
Along the boulder strewn pathway.
Every day older my physical capabilities diminish
And my mental aptitude slows.
Names come more slowly
And memories often either exaggerated or forgotten
Guide my thoughts.
What few seem to come too me
All linking me past, present and future
Pondering reality midst the travels.
Frank Bird III, 2010

It has been a few years since I rode on a bus in Washington DC from the hotel to the Wall. I was riding with a bus load of high school kids all giggling, laughing, singing and yelling and I was sitting brooding wondering how I would react. I measured each block as we drove closer. I soon saw nothing but The Wall, a black ribbon wandering what seemed forever through the park. Students were given a token flower to place at the Wall. I walked over to a large bound volume which was on a table. The book contained the list of names on the wall and guide to find where those fallen were to be found on numerous panels. Carefully on my hand I wrote names of friends from High school who perished in Viet Nam. I never did get to say good bye to any of them, I was living in Georgia before most went to war or had been too busy at school or work to realize they were gone. Seems when I left high school I had not really kept tabs with anyone. Perhaps it was assuming I would see these guys at reunions and such. It might have been my ever zealous desire to not be in high school anymore.

“Absolutely speaking, Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you is by no means a golden rule, but the best of current silver. An honest man would have but little occasion for it. It is golden not to have any rule at all in such a case.” Henry David Thoreau

After several minutes of paging through the large book I found a name and it hit me. It has been nearly twenty five years since I had seen this guy, and in my mind he had been very much alive. His name was on the wall about waist height carved into the black face of an enormously large piece of rock. At that moment the Wall stretched for miles in my mind and I had to walk away.

“The whole circle of consciousness is an added fact to that of movement. For this reason, we cannot speak of thought as occupying space or having exact locality.” Dr. James Mark Baldwin, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, University of Toronto, 1890

Several minutes nearly an hour later my son found me sitting atop a hill on a bench looking down at the Wall. A squirrel had been running back and forth trying to get my attention probably wanting a peanut or popcorn of which I had neither. “Dad it is time to go” was my pull back to reality and I walked with my son to the buses.

“Where there has been love, there has been Life.” William Edelen

Looking back and wondering, even pondering today do we need to take the time to realize what it is that gives us life. Do we need to recognize more deeply and openly how we feel now while we can. Or should we wait to eulogize and postulate as we close the lid and bury our friends and families. Or should we wait twenty five years and stand at a Wall or monument or memorial to fallen heroes and loved ones only to lay a flower on cold marble or hand it now to warm hands. I think I will stop at the store on the way home today after school so peace my dear friends and 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)

Why would anyone be a teacher?

Bird Droppings February 1, 2016
Why would anyone be a teacher?

I was talking with students several days ago about going into teaching and one of the students actually wanted to be a teacher. Along that line the Georgia Legislator had discussed previously if only briefly increasing teacher pay by four percent after numerous years of wage freeze and now is taking money out of the education budget so I would assume no raise for teachers. I tried to explain how while theoretically not bad pay for the hours and days there is more to it. I made the comment to this student that in 1996 I was making three times what I do now, out in industry. So maybe you need to think a bit before choosing teaching. A figure has been thrown around that in Georgia ninety seven percent would not recommend teaching as a profession.

So in considering the field of education and teaching specifically there are pros and cons, and as I look back, it is a personal thing as to what a pro is and what a con is as well. Along that line of thought I have been a fan of Parker Palmer since I first read one of his books suggested by an educational philosophy professor. The quotes this morning are from his book “The Courage to Teach”. Trying to totally rationalize why I am a teacher could be a difficult thing and having talked to over the years many thousands of other teachers I would think each would have a unique and almost specific reason for being in teaching.

“I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind–then teaching is the finest work I know.” Parker Palmer

There are times when an idea hits me and I wake up in the middle of the night to write it down or ponder further and develop it and often I do not get back to sleep thinking about the idea. Lately I have been working on a simple idea. In Special Education we work with deficits in various areas of learning hence the term learning disabilities. My oldest son had an Exceptional Education class for his master’s degree and I recall numerous discussions with him on this subject. The students have disabilities that cause the deficits but we work often only with the deficits in most cases never addressing the actually disability. As I thought about current trends in testing and evaluating students, for example using an end of course test (EOC) and a graduation test for measuring learning, perhaps due to in Georgia now and in many states and across the nation the requirement to meet standards of (NCLB), No child left behind. I wonder about the name of the law as thousands of students nationwide are being left behind by imposed standards and limits.

I had a student tearfully tell me yesterday at Kroger where I shop as soon as he says he has a Special Education diploma he is turned down for work. I jokingly made a comment to a fellow teacher about what if, I lived in a land where everyone but me was seven foot tall and could dunk a basketball and that was a prerequisite for graduation from high school. I would never graduate; I have a deficit in dunking. The issue of being 5 foot eleven and an over sixty years old never came up. A young man made a comment Friday he knows he has an issue with reading and writing, a learning disability; he struggles daily and has been tutored many times in graduation test material. He has failed the GHSGT five times. What if there is somewhere in his neurological make up that prohibits processing of abstract terms and symbols that guide reading.

Bouncing off of that thought in South America a tribe lives deep in the jungles of Brazil that can never learn to read. That is a very powerfully negative statement coming from an optimistic under most conditions teacher like myself. However they can hunt in the jungles and survive where even the best of the Survivor series would be a goner in a day or two. This tribe is the Zingu of the Brazilian jungles. The Zingu keep their children off the ground and in total darkness for three years. This is to keep them from evil spirits and other denizens of the jungles. However their imposed exile from light does cause their optical focal point to be about three feet away making reading nearly impossible sort of like seeing two images close up. However distant vision is enhanced for shooting monkeys with blow guns and arrows from the canopy. This is a deficit in our world but essential to survival in theirs.

“When you love your work that much–and many teachers do–the only way to get out of trouble is to go deeper in. We must enter, not evade the tangles of teaching so we can understand them better and negotiate them with more grace, not only to guard our own spirits but also to serve our students well.” Parker Palmer

So I raised the question of teaching to disabilities versus deficits is that not really differentiation we talk about so much. Seems we are not situated for that sort of effort. Logical as it may seem. Figuring out what is causing the deficit beyond simple academic terms can and could be difficult. It would be time consuming. In a re-evaluation meeting the other day I was made aware that a student’s father never learned to read, he tried but he could never learn. He had gone to reading tutoring and lessons and still could not learn. I look at this student who we try and teach reading and for twelve years has been an uphill battle. Have we really looked at why at eighteen he doesn’t read? Could there be an issue physiologically and or neurologically?

“As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart–and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning and living, require.” Parker Palmer

I purchased Harry Potter on CD several years ago. I use the CD’s with students in conjunction with large print Harry Potter books and films. Interesting how a student who cannot visually read can listen and answer any question you ask

“When my teaching is authorized by the teacher within me, I need neither weapons nor armor to teach.” Parker Palmer

One of the sad issues is how curriculum is established. Teachers have to use imposed curriculum, often established in and by administration and government officials and not by teachers or educators. So often simply to provide a frame work for passing the End of Course tests and Graduation tests. Teachers have to teach this bank of material in and on these specific days. This does not allow for really teaching or for imagination and creativity. Could this be why it is so easy to adapt to web lessons and internet learning for students.
The process of eliminating the human factor is already in and on line. For years I have advocated for teacher testing, the performance testing of teachers and not using test scores of students in their classes at the end of a course. How about before and after tests to measure what was learned by students?

“A truly educational community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us until we establish a plumb line that measures teacher and students alike–as great things can do.” Parker Palmer

So many teachers are opposed to performance based evaluation. Teacher performance testing is used only in a few states. Teachers are paid on certifications, degrees, and years of experience. Recently a series of tests were given and results publicly announced. Several teachers had good ratings on the high side and a minimal percent failure rate. What was sad was that on that same test some very good teachers had a one hundred percent failure rate. That looks bad if that is the only statistic you have. However off those good teachers several were in Special Education and all the students had pre and post tests and degree of change was not equated which was significant, and or the ability levels of students to begin with was never considered. What about classes where students were constant repeaters and or honors classes?

In the Atlanta Journal Constitution recently an article on End of Course tests and percentages of students who received A’s who failed EOC in various counties around Atlanta. The percentages went as high as thirty four percent of students receiving A’s in for example Biology failed the state EOCT. So did the teacher not teach what the state wanted or was the teacher too easy on the students in grading. The state education dept. is quick to say obviously the teachers were not following the mandated curriculum which is linked to the test. However also recently as of last spring when a math test was used that sixty percent failed in the state and the state was saying again teachers were not teaching properly. Perhaps the state was assuming something they did not tell teachers and schools when the administered the test. Also this particular test in researching caused massive failures and still was used.

“By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.” Parker Palmer

What about in the land of seven footers where a class of five footers all failed the dunk test who then is at fault in this situation.

“I remind myself that to teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced–that I need to spend less time filling the space with data and my own thoughts and more time opening a space where students can have a conversation with the subject and with each other.” Parker Palmer

Maybe we need more good teachers and less structured managed and mapped curriculum. Maybe we need to find out how to really teach and less of teacher templates and guidelines. Maybe we can influence kids?

“We might revisit the metaphor of covering the field, which unconsciously portrays teaching as the act of drawing a tarp over a field of grass until no one can see what is under it and the grass dies and nothing new can grow.” Parker Palmer

I want to teach where I am in a greenhouse and growing, learning, inspiring, bolstering, and creating, and the student is about what we do. So many teachers fear, and in fearing keep that tarp pulled tight protecting what they have. For this type of teacher so little can grow it is like spreading black plastic in a garden to prevent the weeds of individuality from sprouting, educationally as they protect and try to attempt and only process the bits and pieces. I wonder as I sit pondering this morning. Rambling on about teaching and ideas that many will ignore; is there even a point? I was drawn to a fact yesterday at how we as a society have drawn the parameters. We find it distasteful that a teenage star in Hollywood gets hair extensions for her dog at a cost of twenty five hundred dollars a month, but we provide the means through our watching and listening to this person. We envelop the hedonism and embrace and ask how many pairs of such and such jeans do you have and what kind of cell phone and what kind of car and on and on.

“I suppose every old scholar has had the experience of reading something in a book which was significant to him, but which he could never find again. Sure he is that he read it there, but no one else ever read it, nor can he find it again, though he buy the book and ransack every page.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here I am an old scholar trying to find that spot in my book. Many times I have felt like that in frustration over how we educate students. But then each day I tread back in and try and find a way to reach and succeed. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and most of all always give thanks namaste.

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