Watching a hawk fly by

Bird Droppings April 29, 2016
Watching a hawk fly by

I was able to attend only a few track meets over the past few years and as always I did take a few photos as I tend to do. I recall about three years ago when I was not able to get to the region meet till after school and since it started before school was out one of the team managers took my camera to get a few photos of some of the events I would miss. As I looked at old photos of pole vaulting a thought crossed my mind in conjunction with an article I read and have used now in my research by Ronald A. Wolk founder and former editor of Education Week.

“Standardization and uniformity may work with cars and computers, but it doesn’t work with humans. Today’s student body is the most diverse in history. An education system that treats all students alike denies that reality.” Ronald A Wolk

I reviewed my photos and talked with one of the coaches about a particular student who has really done well that year in pole vaulting. She missed going to the state meet in a tie and she had too many misses as she vaulted.

“Standards don’t prepare students for anything; they are framework of expectations and educational objectives. Without the organization and processes to achieve them, they are worthless.” Ronald A. Wolk

I have pondered this idea of an event like pole vaulting and comparing to our current trend in education of raising the bar. The practice of making it harder to achieve a high school diploma for example is common place across the United States. We set the bar up and do not have the processes within some students to make it to the bar. I could see in a pole vaulting contest where the high school state record may be fourteen feet and we set the bar at sixteen feet and believe all potential pole vault contestants will now attain that level of skill. Most quit pole vaulting and Wolk uses statistics from various states showing dropout rates as an issue and most recently with national changes in calculating dropout rates even more so. .

I have been pondering this concept of raising the bar for some time and teachers have been fired for not attaining goals set by states and federal legislation. I am doing bus duty this spring and we have several elementary students that catch the bus children of teachers to their schools from the high school. Perhaps to none other than educators and parents the stress level in an elementary school during CRCT time in teachers and students should be looked at. If we deliberately stress children over testing are we going the right direction? If we deliberately causing anxiety among our children over test scores that have little validity other than what the publisher has stated and in reference to state and federal mandates are we even being sane?

Thinking back I was working on several questions for my graduate school comprehensive exams a few years back. In that process I would head to the University of Georgia Library on weekends to review material. I recall as I was driving to the University in Athens and as I turned on the highway bypass towards the University a red tailed hawk flew over the road gliding by into a patch of pines. About three hundred yards further a dead hawk alongside the road it appeared the hawk was trying to feed on a dead armadillo which had been hit by a car. The hawk had become road-kill as well. As I drove on I wondered if maybe this was a pair considering how close they were and if they had a nest and young and this might have been the reason to venture that close to highway. I have seen other times similar situations with dead hawks at road kill sites.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know, the earth does not belong to man, and man belongs to the earth. “ChiefSeattle

It has been many years since Chief Seattle spoke but his words ring true today. It may be that in our time that we so often take for granted all around us, the trees, animals and even other people. We live a life so self-centered and focused on us we tend to miss so much. It was many years till man realized he was not the center of the universe and was really just a somewhat an insignificant speck. I am sitting at my writing typing on my laptop wondering about an interesting question. So many people see problems with public education and yet few offer solutions that seem to go in the right direction as I was mentioning in Wolk’s statements.

I have been reading numerous books on curriculum theory but I am waiting for a book on curriculum action to be published. Fifteen books are scattered about my table with each a different author and different idea how to solve issues in schools. A graduate school professor made a comment several months ago about how many curriculum theorists have moved to Canada to practice and to learn and do research. It is interesting in this world of we want to be the best that it seems Canadian schools want to get better. In Canada however they are looking for ways to improve beyond politics.

We have numerous laws and ideas but never seem to get better in a recent headline in the local newspaper title was and students’ scores highlight disparity. In several systems mentioned nearly a third of eighth graders will be retained because of a test at the end of eighth grade. I wonder how they were at the end of seventh grade and beginning of eighth maybe we should do a sort of a pre-test and post-test thing. A simple practice that would actually give a better indication of learning and it seems we do not do that. We simply test at the end of eighth grade so we know this child is at this stage and knows this at this point but what did that child learn in eighth grade we still do not know.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Sydney J. Harris

It has been nearly eleven years since a fellow teacher first showed me a Sydney J. Harris column. So often as I watch people in school or out about in the community I hear and see society in action. These people are a reflection of everything around them. Harris says we should be more like windows letting in not just reflecting back.

“Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.” Abraham Flexner

I wonder thinking back to my hawk flying by I hope if there are chicks they were along far enough to survive and as I think maybe it takes action on the part of parents who truly want a good education for their children. In Georgia a big push is for vouchers and Charter schools and sadly both are profit driven not in the interest of children and neither offer much more in terms of new ideas and have from research actually not done as well as public schools. The really sad part is that many kids in today’s diversified world often do not have parents at home anymore and that puts stress on everything including tests and school. As I end today maybe we can all take a moment and try and 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

I detest shopping but I really like Kroger

Bird Droppings April 28, 2016
I detest shopping but I really like Kroger

It was interesting I had two thoughts while similar that came to me this morning as I started the day out. One I heard on the radio going to get gas for my wife a country music radio announcer recalling an old George W. Bush quote, and the other thought is from the Harry Potter books and movies. All of this and almost five years ago today a new Kroger opened near our house. What a glorious day that was as I found another place where happiness abounds. I think it is mainly the store was closer and huge and always has good produce and I really like to cook so it was nirvana for me.

“It is not about the goods we accumulate but about the good we do” George W. Bush

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” Professor Dumbledore to Harry in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” by J.K. Rowling

I wish it would be possible to believe the first, but looking back I do not think history will reflect that way with trying to drill for oil in the wilderness of Alaska and off shore in Florida with even his brother Jeb while against it had sights on another industry closer to my heart education. In other parts of the country his Vice president and friends in high places are reaping huge profits using a questionable method of oil extraction and of course a war costing trillions of dollars that was bogus from many people’s standpoints and now similar situations occurring with a change in leadership.

In politics the focus on war efforts and the constant accumulation of things seems more important than doing any sort of good. Of course the philosophy of the ends justifies the means could possibly be applied. That was sort of the approach when the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati zoo and some people had the attitude well it’s only a pigeon.
Sadly once there were billions of passenger pigeons flying over the forests of the east coast, and yes it is only a pigeon except we can never at this time replicate that one, it is gone. The Alaska wilderness when it is gone is gone and can never be replicated as well but if the end justifies it many people see no problem. About a quarter of the known musk oxen survive in the Alaska wilderness sanctuary. However as I sat this morning, perhaps a better brighter thought from J.K. Rowling thorough the character of Dumbledore “it is our choices that show who we really our”. I wonder how soon Harry Potter books will be classics and teachers will be analyzing the plots and developing theories as to why Rowling characterized Harry as a boy or teenager and why an owl as his companion versus a weasel or pygmy shrew.

I recall eleventh or twelfth grade English and Ms. Stern and the classic novel “Moby Dick”, according to her the ship represented the world and Ishmael well he got stuck on that ship. What was Melville really telling us I always thought it was a great story and history of New England’s whaling industry? I really enjoyed the story but not the analysis and when I wrote my opinion about history I was told in large red letters it was wrong according to Ms. Stern. Many years ago thinking back, the choices we made not our abilities was the credo. Actually I still think the same of the book and believe Ms. Stern was wrong.

”Ability is of little account without opportunity.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary.” Thomas A. Edison
It is about being at the right place at the right time or is it the choice we make. It is also about applying and choosing when opportunity provides a window and then plot thickens.

“It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test.” Elbert Hubbard

Humility is an added aspect of today’s search seeing in others that ability almost an intuitive aspect of humanity.

“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T. Washington

This morning as I got up checking on my wife who is feeling ill and she never gets sick my pondering started a few hours back. I had been enjoying Spring Break most days sleeping in goofing off but this morning I am catching up so I read several emails in my school email box. One student who emailed me spoke of realizing school was nearing the end and graduation was only a few weeks ahead and now they would have to make a way in life. In that same email concern for a friend stationed in the Middle East. Watching the news doesn’t give justice to friends and families with loved ones overseas in harm’s way, as I think again choices we have made. I received an email from my son reminding me to review some emails to remind my wife to read over and proof his essays. Three emails of the seventy that truly caught my attention.

I started with a Bush quote and maybe that applies to a graduates and a job search as well. So many of the following what we do with our lives is our choice how the world will see that choice is dependent upon the direction and choices we make. It is not the ability that you will be known for or how great an actor or musician or football player but what you do with your talent is what is seen. Family is so crucial and friends equally as well and always seek to learn to know more reading, writing, thinking and reflecting.

“If there were no writers there will be no readers” unknown source

“Choose wisely”, it has been said and in the end some do and some will not. So today take stock of where you are and look at the road ahead and pick that path way that will direct you where you need to be.

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

In today’s hectic world we all look for quick solutions, five minute abs, six minutes to wisdom, and a one minute egg. Wisdom is not on the stock exchange, it is not a brokered commodity. It is more here now within, and it is a journey. The journey is not an easy one and to be involved in finding wisdom only those who actually travel that road will truly become wise.

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

Several nights ago I was bored no American Idol or Justified and I put on a video of Star Trek of all things, “Star Trek Insurrection”. The plot revolves around a planet where all is at peace. The few residents, all 600 have forsaken technology for art, or literature, for the aesthetics in life and for all that they can make of themselves. Interestingly a weaver studies 40 years to become an apprentice and apprentice another 40 to become a master weaver of rugs and tapestries. These people live on a planet whose innate radiation prolongs life and rejuvenates them cellular so they have time to accomplish what it is inside them. It sounds so easy when the time allows it.

Daniel Day Lewis, actor and now cobbler took a five year hiatus from movies to study cobbling, (shoe making) in Europe from the masters. As the Star Trek movie progressed a comment was made about a perfect moment, a special moment that stands out above all else. Captain Pickard mentioned seeing earth from space for the first time, many astronauts recall that moment. For me it was a sunrise over the Atlantic one morning on Cumberland Island with the waves splashing about and the most brilliant reds and oranges I have ever seen. A shrimp boat slowly moved through this picture yet in its awesomeness the boat was insignificant.

As Pickard spoke with this woman on this planet of a perfect moment she then offered now to learn to make every moment prefect and the movie continued and soon he was seeing a hummingbird flit to a flower or pollen blown from a flower.

“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

I am intrigued as I read various thoughts on wisdom and for some reason I am always drawn to Emerson. He was controversial yet perhaps one of the greatest thinkers as well as poet of his time. He was alluding to wisdom as a temporary entity in his statement. The next quote is an interesting statement from a President often misunderstood

“Wisdom oft times consists of knowing what to do next.” Herbert Hoover

“Wisdom begins at the end.” Daniel Webster

So often we spend time simply doing, not seeking, we spend time worrying about which path to travel or preparing our needs for the journey and worrying about the destination. We forget to go and there we are no better and no worse, only we are where we were to start still. Somewhere in among all things is the destination but the destination is not necessarily the end but a point B of a line AB and still out there is C and D and E and much more. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Can we find truth in an untruthful world?

Bird Droppings April 27, 2016
Can we find truth in an untruthful world?

 

I went back to a book again for the third or fourth time, a book titled; Every day is a good day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous women, by the late Wilma Mankiller. Mankiller was the past Chief of The Cherokee Nation and a Native American Activist, author, lecturer and several time cancer survivor. I borrowed my status for today on Facebook from her writings. My plans were to be writing this morning about this book but after a week of sinus issues and allergies and working on several new lesson plans this morning I was a bit side tracked with trying to get anything done today. I might need another dose of antibiotics and steroids a last resort of sorts although so far I feel better than I felt yesterday. Today I will be addressing an issue at the foundation of why so many issues of today even exist. The situation is there truth or a lack thereof in our society today.

 

“I don’t think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. “ “In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people. “ Wilma Mankiller

After pondering and reading more of Wilma Mankiller’s book I always find new pieces that just seem to mean more today than they did the previous time reading. One of these aspects is truth. When elected Chief many years back Wilma was the first woman to be elected head of any of the major tribes. She based her life and philosophy on truth. So perhaps it is appropriate today that I will be addressing an issue at the foundation of why so many issues of the day even exist, the truth or the lack thereof.

 

“A king asked a sage to explain the Truth. In response the sage asked the king how he would convey the taste of a mango to someone who had never eaten anything sweet. No matter how hard the king tried, he could not adequately describe the flavor of the fruit, and, in frustration, he demanded of the sage ‘Tell me then, how would you describe it?’ The sage picked up a mango and handed it to the king saying ‘This is very sweet. Try eating it!’” Hindu Teaching Story

 

Sometimes in the simplest way we can get a point across just telling the truth. Nothing can describe more adequately than truth. I have written about truth numerous times and talked with teachers and educational experts about that same subject. It is very hard to always be truthful in our society today. Many times we can question; what is truth much as did the great philosophers of old. As I read the Hindu parable above it hit me. Maybe truth is within the experience, borrowing from the great educator and philosopher John Dewey, truth is within the experience and it is being able to find it through a life event.

 

“It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea: a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth… and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below.” Sir Francis Bacon

“It is unfortunate, considering that enthusiasm moves the world, that so few enthusiasts can be trusted to speak the truth.” Arthur James Balfour

 

As I read what these great thinkers have to say about truth it is sad that they see truth as an uncommon commodity, something that is few and far between. We watch news and read papers each day and choose to believe or not believe what we see. Bat boy is having plastic surgery to look normal was the title of a grocery store tabloid many months back. One of my favorites was when Bill Clinton was in office and he was having sex with an alien. Most of us see these doctored photos and total fabrications and pass them off as such but some people take to heart. There are many who believe Apollo missions were total fabrication due to for example the Van Allen Belts and numerous other events in history were fabricated as well. Conspiracy theories abound about daily happenings all leading to this or that conclusion. Many have been scientifically debunked including the attack of Nine Eleven yet they persist. A local science professor comments in class while teaching genetics that the Apollo mission is a hoax. How can one thing he never saw be bogus and yet teach again something he never saw.

 

“Between truth and the search for it, I choose the second.” Bernard Berenson

 

“When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.” Otto Von Bismarck

 

Why is it, that truth is so elusive? I find it so hard to understand that we go at life literally intent on fabrication, deceit and deception. Bismarck’s comment though near a hundred years old is still very much true.

 

“Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.” William Blake

 

“Truth lies within ourselves: it takes no rise from outward things, whatever you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness and to Know rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape than in effecting entry for light supposed to be without.” Robert Browning

 

“A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.” Alexis Carrel

 

I look back and see how so many times in avoiding truth the tales grew with each moment and soon a story takes the place of a simple event and soon a novel unravels and the line between fiction and nonfiction becomes literally a canyon.

 

“The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it.” Clarence Darrow

 

“Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Benjamin Disraeli

 

“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.” Meister Eckhart

Isn’t it sad that truth is so difficult and yet so easy, telling the truth eliminates numerous additional words and time that could be spent perhaps going in the right direction rather than pursuing issues that really may not even pertain. It is so simple and yet so elusive to so many.

 

“The greater the truth the greater the libel.” Lord Ellenborough

 

“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

We so easily get caught up in deceit because this is what we want to hear. Watching news of our current president unfold and spun by each side two seemingly different stories almost opposite in content yet the same event. The truth may be painful or difficult to take and so the fabrication becomes the reality. A movie out a few years back portrays the world of a schizophrenic, “A beautiful Mind”. Dr. John Nash is played by Russell Crowe very convincingly. Dr. Nash eventually realizes the duplicity of his reality and learns to deal with it. Many of us never accept the unreal we create each day as we fabricate and manipulate that around us.
We are brought up accepting untruth; we have professionals, politicians who work at telling half-truths and fabricating it to do their jobs, as they run the country. Wouldn’t it be an interesting world if politicians could take a few drops of medicine and become truthful? Problem is we wouldn’t have a use for politicians and anyone could run for office. Would it not be great if we could believe those who run the country for us, elected by us, and not rely on shock jock radio and TV personalities who literally build there listening audience on deceit. What if the president was telling the truth and the commentators who are angling for listeners are lying? As I look at this concept it is truly sad that we have such a short attention span. We tend to listen to the loudest and most exciting version even when we watch an event unfold and know what is real. I wonder how many people believed the photo of Bill Clinton and the Alien back in the day. Recently a movie The Campaign, essentially a comedy jokingly made its way back and forth until just before the end and the fellow who was down in the poles began telling the truth and changed the election.

 

“Respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality.” Frank Herbert

 

“Peace if possible, but truth at any rate.” Martin Luther

 

“You’ll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you have said, and you never forget what you have said.” Sam Rayburn

 

We live in a society where morality is bantered about as a catch word. We live in a world where peace is elusive often because truth is nowhere to be found. We live in a world where politicians are counting how many times the other side has changed their minds and or rhetoric on issues. We live in a world where many are in harm’s way and many of these instances are due to untruths, which we then justify through buying into additional untruthful information and rationales. Do we even remember the what and the why of the actual event? So as I sit reading and writing this morning please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Quietly listening to Hot Tuna and pondering the word inspiration

Bird Droppings April 26, 2016
Quietly listening to Hot Tuna and pondering the word inspiration

Nearly ten years ago at our county wide teacher kick off meeting which used to be before budget cuts traditionally a packaged inspirational meeting and welcome for the new school year lead by a brought in speaker. Someone is paid to come in and inspire us as teachers, it could be a comedian or professional speaker and it seems each year they try a new approach. I would much rather enjoy going to hear Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu maybe even Jimmy Carter but so far no such luck. In the past before austerity cuts the county start up program, we would car pool over to the high school gym near our county office and sit in the bleachers listening to pep talks and such and most teachers would leave wishing they had called in sick. I once considered asking for a substitute but our secretary did not think the county would cover a sub.

A young black college professor stood in front of us. He made his point not one person approached him as he boogied through the crowd prior to the meeting. So I start today with a quote from a young college professor.

“You can teach anyone anything once you get their ATTENTION.” Dr. Adolph Brown, III

Prior to at aforementioned annual teachers inspirational gathering in the county this same professor was walking about the crowd clad in hip hop attire, the baggy pants and shirt and baseball cap with a dew rag. He could have been from any street corner in Atlanta or Monroe where the school is located he was just a young black man. As they announced Dr. Brown, a very distinguished man in a business suit and such rises and heads towards podium and then the hip hop fellow moves toward the mike and takes charge and announces he is Dr. Adolph Brown III from Hampton College, professor of psychology and education. He is a world-wide consultant and motivational speaker.

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’” Dan Rather

We teachers sat listening to this young professor talk about faith, trust and getting students attention.

“In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” Jacques Barzun

New teachers come in wanting to make changes in student’s lives immediately and it does happen but the real changes are those often years later. Recently a former history teacher joined our high school group site and many of our members were offering memories of this great teacher’s efforts both in the classroom and as a coach. Mr. Ross Kershey was one of the winningest basketball and track coaches in Pa. and a truly great teacher in the class room inspiring students to learn. It has been over forty five years since I was in his class yet I still consider him one of the best teachers I ever had. Over the years I have set at the feet of some great teachers in college classes and in industrial seminars and while I did my job as a professional management training coordinator.

“Most teachers have little control over school policy or curriculum or choice of texts or special placement of students, but most have a great deal of autonomy inside the classroom. To a degree shared by only a few other occupations, such as police work, public education rests precariously on the skill and virtue of the people at the bottom of the institutional pyramid.” Tracy Kidder

I had a former student come by to visit me a few years back he had walked across the stage nearly eleven years ago to accept a special education diploma and then went on and officially finished high school and received his general education diploma and went on to college. It was a good feeling to be sitting there talking with a student who kept at it and succeeded even though all the odds were stacked against him.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

This is what teaching is about, it is inspiration and I wish all teachers could have heard those comments we heard in our Walton County teachers meeting that year when Dr. Brown offered the key component in teaching it is our example. It is setting the example for students. I have heard that before many times and somehow it does not sink in with most teachers. So as we head towards a school end for the summer and End of Course Tests the next few weeks at our school 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

“peaceful evolution versus violent revolution”

Bird Droppings April 25, 2016
“peaceful evolution versus violent revolution”

I have begun reading extensively the past few weeks putting together thoughts for my dissertation in my studies at Georgia Southern University and for teaching with The University of Phoenix. One of those that passed through my hands these past few days and actually a few minutes ago on my writing table is, The Quality School, by Dr. William Glasser, M.D. It has been sometime since I had looked through it but by chance was among the ones I pulled out as I read this week.

As I went about my day yesterday at school I had my usual flow of students through my room some want questions answered or to borrow a camera. Others want to say hi or use a computer to print out a project or report. As I look ahead a week or two as we wind down many teachers have and or will have completed their lessons due to early end of course tests from the state and then it will be crazy. As in years past some students will be bored so they will come to my room to discuss snakes, salamanders and frogs or take pictures digitally and work on their various projects and images on the computers. Occasionally someone is tired and will fall asleep and wrap up in one of my hand woven blankets thrown around in the back of the room.

What always amazed me was my old second hand beat up rough looking futon used to be like a magnet to students and teachers alike but it has gone the way of extinction. I had had kids want to buy it saying it is the most comfortable sofa in the world. So that leads me to quality and how do we define it? As I read through Glasser’s book I recalled one of my own credos. Number one on Bird’s list for schools is that students have to want to be there. If students do not want to be in school you are starting off in a losing mode before you even get to try and teach.

“Students tell me that a good teacher is deeply interested in the students and in the material being taught. They also say that such a teacher frequently conducts class discussions and does not place themselves above them, and they are comfortable talking to them.” Dr. William Glasser

Something caught my attention as I read what students wrote in my yearbooks over the years. Several have been writing in each yearbook for each of the past four years now and many are good friends. Some teachers would argue that point pointing to not building friendships with students.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen
As I read the various yearbook quotes “Thank you for listening” “Thank you for just being here” “Thank you for understanding me” I started to think what is a friend anyhow? Is not a friend someone who will listen without criticizing and trying to resolve each petty detail?
“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” Henry David Thoreau
Building on this idea of friendship and going back to Glasser who uses in his idea of a quality school the concept of choice theory; which is providing opportunity for choice from teachers and students. It is building choice into the program so there is ownership of what is being learned.

“True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.” Dave Tyson Gentry

It is difficult for me to sit quietly recently I sent an email to one of our assistant principal’s about how our minute of silent meditation went to 2.7 minutes and broke down costs and such I was being sarcastic since I do enjoy my meditative state probably more so than most do.

“One doesn’t know, till one is a bit at odds with the world, how much one’s friends who believe in one rather generously mean to one.” D.H. Lawrence

One of my reasons for picking up the book by Glasser was to look at similarities to the Foxfire approach taught at Piedmont College and that I am developing my dissertation on and about. Foxfire is based on a democratic class room promoted by John Dewey as early as 1918 a man considerably ahead of his time even considered progressive today.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln

I was sitting watching the Trial of Billy Jack a few months back and listening to and watching how Billy Jack conquered his inner demons. He was focusing on the days of turmoil and tribulations that he had experienced. My wife always picks on me when I watch my hero Billy Jack. Yesterday a red tailed hawk caught my attention as it flew alongside me as I was driving home chasing a mouse. When I arrived at my house a small storm was coming through it seemed that with clouds swirling overhead and as I looked out the window sunshine was streaming in as well. I ran out and was thinking perhaps our first rainbow of the year would be across the sky but not yesterday and the clouds blocked the pink full moon as well.

“A true friend embosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.” William Penn

A teacher then is a friend according to William Penn founder of Pennsylvania and staunch pacifist. If we as teachers would take this view of friendship perhaps more would happen in education.

“Education is the process in which we discover that learning adds quality to our lives. Learning must be experienced.” Dr. William Glasser
Teaching is showing and giving quality to life.

“Caring for but never trying to own may be a further way to define friendship.” Dr. William Glasser

Towards the end of the one of my favorite of all time movies, Bill Jack, as I am listening, a comment is made by the heroine Jean, “peaceful evolution versus violent revolution” and I thought what a powerful and interesting idea. Can we spread friendship; can we be better friend’s higher quality friends? Maybe just maybe we can create a better world if we put our minds to it. Yesterday a bill was signed and some feel money wasted but as I think an effort is being made to better educate and better provide capabilities for hungry and needy children and how can we ever say that is wasted money. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind and to always give thanks namaste.

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

Just Sitting and thinking

Bird Droppings April 23, 2016
Just Sitting and thinking

I was reading old emails and even looking at some old correspondence through my almost never used Xanga account. It was somewhere way back in 2005 and my middle son had posted a note that he had read the lyrics to a song. Joni Mitchell is and was one of the folk singers of the antiwar movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s Viet Nam era. I had just finished thinking and writing about synchronicity to a comment on my blog and how words may be for this person or that and be just what was needed. Yesterday I wrote about morality and an email came back about a ninth grade class where the discussion went into the morality of gene therapy which is what we are by chance discussing currently in my co-teaching biology classes and the students were unsure of the concept of morality. They had to discuss morality first before getting into science.

I am sitting in Georgia writing to friends around the country and a few overseas and thinking about all that happened yesterday and over the weekend pondering on what will happen today and thinking back to why my son was drawn to a song. I used words from songs periodically in my correspondence and in counseling teenagers with emotional problems. So often words and lyrics can be so powerful and so moving sadly conversely words can destroy and conquer. I share these words today a simple plea from a folk singer with a quiet voice from many years back, Joni Mitchell.

The fiddle and the Drum
By Joni Mitchell

And so once again
My dear Johnny my dear friend
And so once again you are fightin’ us all
And when I ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum
You say I have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But I can remember
All the good things you are
And so I ask you please
Can I help you find the peace and the star
Oh, my friend
What time is this
To trade the handshake for the fist
And so once again
Oh, America my friend
And so once again
You are fighting us all
And when we ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum
You say we have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But we can remember
All the good things you are
And so we ask you please
Can we help you find the peace and the star
Oh my friend
We have all come
To fear the beating of your drum
© 1969 Siquomb Publishing Corp. (BMI)

A dear friend in Pennsylvania whom I have known for many years and we correspond regularly was researching a drummer boy from West Chester Pa. who was the youngest soldier killed on the Union side during the Civil War. I should say he was the youngest person killed from the Union forces during the Civil War. My friend was for years obsessed with the story and is now writing a book about his findings. After many years of searching he found the grave of the drummer boy which is entirely another story. He had been to that spot numerous times as the drummer boy’s parents were buried there. A poplar tree marked the grave between the parents.

One of my student friends at school came by upset her brother had just joined the Marines. She comes from an extended family of eleven kids in several marriages and step dads and moms. It is great at Christmas time and bad at times like this. How do you explain to a teenager war or as happening now wars. The little drummer boy in Pa. was twelve when he died in battle.

Recently I ran into a friend who had joined the national guard he was rejected after going through training and suffering a stress fracture as his medical records were looked at in more detail in the hospital it came up he had been treated for depression. He was upset that he could not go and fight. I recall a good friend in high school we would play ice hockey at G. O. Carlson’s pond in the winter pick-up games and he and I would talk often as we waited for others to show up. He did not even live in our neighborhood but would come to play. He played the bassoon in the high school band and was on the soccer team. He and I both flunked out of college and were drafted within days of each other. I am epileptic even though I have not had a seizure since childhood and received a 4Y permanent medical deferment sadly he went to Viet Nam. Many years later thinking I would see him at a reunion as I drove to my tenth high school reunion and I found out he had been killed in Viet Nam. This wasn’t possible and put a damper on my weekend back in Pennsylvania I sat back and wondered as at each moment as I sat at my table at the reunion and another name was mentioned another life had passed away in a war soon to be not a war soon to be merely history.
Only a few years ago I went with one of my sons on a band trip to Washington DC. As we were riding on the bus along the way to the new Viet Nam memorial we are told how to find names of relatives and friends in the index books located at the ends of the memorial. I walked down and was so emotional at best I could find a name then two and three and four and till I could no longer look up names as I wrote on my hand where on the wall they are located in black ink. A recent email from a friend who lost her husband he had come back from Viet Nam and so many thoughts. I walked down the line found the spot and the name, emotions tears welled up I walked hurriedly away as far as I could get and sat on a bench looking down across the wall. A park squirrel wandered through my field of vision and soon it was an hour or so and my son found me “dad the bus is leaving we need to go” I do not remember thinking just staring at that wall and that squirrel that wandered back and forth interrupting my thoughts. So many thoughts as I think back as we fight another war I have a difficult time with the concept of war.

“But we can remember all the good things you are and so we ask you please can we help you find the peace and the star oh my friend we have all come to fear the beating of your drum” Joni Mitchell

Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and remember to always give thanks namaste.

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

Can we figure a way to filter it all?

Bird Droppings April 22, 2016
Can we figure a way to filter it all?

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.” T.S. Elliot

Sifting through the tons of information that bombard us daily is a task, be it emails, text messages, cell phone calls, advertising on the internet and the vast assortment of print media. I was involved a few semesters back in a graduate class looking at the impact of technology on education and on the human condition. I picked as a paper topic one that might have seemed somewhat religious yet really is not, “Can we find god at Radio Shack?” When I reviewed for the hundredth time the T.S. Elliot quote and think about the standardizing, categorizing and commercial packaging of education I see the down side of technology. I see the loss of wisdom, faith and in a sense for some people of god.
On computers there are filters and favorites what a paradox. We can assign topics we choose to see or not and quick ways to get to favorites. I n most schools this is left to the teacher, administrator and or Board office. In my readings the constant use of the term human capital is used in reference to our students and education. We can be manipulated through our media and media usage. Corporate entities that donate software and or hardware with their advertising imbedded.

“There’s a compelling reason to master information and news. Clearly there will be better job and financial opportunities. Other high stakes will be missed by people if they don’t master and connect information.” Everett Dennis

“With so much information now online, it is exceptionally easy to simply dive in and drown.” Alfred Glossbrenner

Picking and choosing should be a seemingly simple task, sorting through the deluge of information pouring out each day. For many no big deal, it is easy even child’s play, yet for some as Glossbrenner states, they drown in the vast pool of information. I remember many years ago in Red Cross water Safety courses always check the pool before you dive in.

“The original root of the word “information” is the Latin word informare, which means to fashion, shape, or create, to give form to. Information is an idea that has been given a form, such as the spoken or written word. It is a means of representing an image or thought so that it can be communicated from one mind to another rather than worrying about all the information afloat in the world, we must ask ourselves what matters to us, what do we want to know. It’s having ideas and learning to deal with issues that are important, not accumulating lots and lots of data.” Theodore Roszak

It is learning to filter to organize to pick through the mounds of information readily available and make sense of it this is the task at hand. The hardest task of educators is trying to teach that filtering process. Where to find a bit or piece that makes sense and helping students find context for information rather than simply over whelming them with the vast amounts of content.

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert Simon

“If you were designing the sort of information-processing system a brain is, it would be extremely impractical to store memories permanently in their original form. You need mechanisms for transforming and recording them; for “chunking” information into categories. Is your memory a phonograph record on which the information is stored in localized grooves to be replayed on demand? Is so, it’s a very bizarre record, for the songs are different every time they’re played. Human memory is more like the village storyteller; it doesn’t passively store facts but weaves them into a good (coherent, plausible) story, which is recreated with each telling.” Judith Hooper Teresi

For nearly fifteen years now I have written about teachers and teaching how to filter information, trying to fill a liter bottle with ten gallons of information. It is being able to deal with infinite information and store in a finite place, that is what teaching is about. Daily I see far too many teachers forget that the space is limited and as Sydney J. Harris comments “is more akin to stuffing a sausage”. As we learn to do better, as we learn to assist in the daily sorting and filtering how do we ourselves sort and filter. We teachers and parents can be caught up in that great over whelming barrage of information.
“Information is recorded in vast interconnecting networks. Each idea or image has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of associations and is connected to numerous other points in the mental network.” Peter Russell

“The idea that information can be stored in a changing world without an overwhelming depreciation of its value is false. It is scarcely less false than the more plausible claim that after a war we may take our existing weapons, fill their barrels with information.” Norbert Wiener

Teaching and parenting becomes showing short cuts strategies to hold information so that it becomes knowledge and eventually wisdom. It is about teaching ways to sort the information so that it does not over whelm us. Teaching ways of concentration, distilling or taking a great amount of data and extracting what is crucial. Then it is also about knowing where to find the rest of the information if and when we need it. We live in a world of information and so often wisdom is being left by the wayside. Borrowing from T.S. Elliot again, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” My friends as we get into another week let us not drown in information but rise above on wisdom. 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

Are we experiencing the genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings April 21, 2016
Are we experiencing the genocide of learning?

In the midst of my daily journals entries lately it gets hectic I am trying to get readmitted to one of two doctorate programs I have started, running back and forth to North Georgia to visit with friends, research, reading and discussing John Dewey, maintaining some semblance of order in my herb gardens and my thoughts on a chapter for a book on Rural Education. Did I mention getting ready for nearly two weeks of testing that I despise. So here early in the morning today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and some will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off real learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and massive standardized testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I have over the past few days used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that which stays with us. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.

Earlier in the day I watched a short video narrated by an Australian who happens to be Aborigine. He discusses sharing and how money has changed that process and how words like mine have altered society. I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measureable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

To put into another perspective author Capitalist and Libertarian hero and favorite, Ayn Rand at the 1974 West Point address had this to say about Native Americans.

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.” Ayn Rand, Address 1974 West Point

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would respond with that is a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.

Over the years my room at the high school has been the school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

“The gap is so great that the required subject matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Children come to school as avid learners I often use the term sponges, having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are truly sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems. I cannot help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.

“….all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be involved a day here and there with the Foxfire Approach to Teaching courses up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I try and attend as many days as I can more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. One evening a few courses past I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1970 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses. Last year I had the great privilege of meeting one of the former Foxfire instructors from the early days, Mr. George Reynolds. In only a few minutes of talking to the group his passion for learning and teaching was evident. He had been in Mountain City for a reunion of sorts visiting several former students who had made music their careers.

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of greed.” Jonathan Kozol

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the result, when only profit is a goal and success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but make adjustments in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.

Money obviously is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our
“Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day blueprint within education to make good consumers.

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With common core standards and standardized testing the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought. The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I have been working on a simple formula along the lines of if we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning we can then build upon for future learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated” and found an interesting thought.

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

It has been nearly sixteen years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.

We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.

So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and in her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county comparing our local system which generally does well.

We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. As I head into more Foxfire my idea I have been pondering of Education as a stream and the Foxfire Core practices as stepping stones gains momentum. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and hopefully after three weeks of being embedded in the Foxfire Approach to teaching I will be ready for another school year. 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

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

Bird Droppings April 20, 2016
Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

I have been reflecting over the concept of critical pedagogy and in that reflection I recall an incident nearly forty years ago that calls to mind my own interpretation and understanding of what we as teachers are all about. I purchased a book in 1972 or so that was about a method of teaching that for me was what teaching was all about. The book was the Foxfire two, a collection of mountain lore and life. The editor was a man who went into North Georgia to teach English and ended up creating a teaching method or I should say edited a teaching concept in that much of what he developed was previously suggested and implemented with John Dewey. Elliott Wigginton started in 1966 a way of teaching that incorporated the students in the learning process. I am sitting in my room at the high school writing and will be headed back up to North Georgia only miles from where this idea for teaching started in a few days.

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

Always in movies with a jungle setting the leader has a machete and hacks away at the undergrowth making the way clear for the group following. D’Angelo is an author of sorts, an author who as a senior at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania wrote a paper “Wellness Works”, which would became the basis for his ideas. While writing primarily about college life he was also offering bits and pieces of wit to help folks make it through the day. He is Author of The College Blue Book and the inspirational series; we are creating a new kind of “school” for a new kind of world. It just so happens my college career started at West Chester State as well although in my feeble attempt at education I was asked not to return and ended up facing a military draft physical only to find I was physically unfit for military service.

“After all, the world as we know it is less than 15 years old. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and in 1995 the World Wide Web went up. It is a completely new world for us all. With this new world, come new challenges. With these new challenges, come new ways of educating people for the future and it is our every intention to be at the fore front of this educational revolution. The 20th Century was about Content, but the 21st Century is about Context.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

As I read through the website dealing with empowerment many interesting ideas and thoughts that last line hit me like a ton of bricks. John Dewey was saying the same thing nearly a hundred years ago. Context is the critical component versus content.

“Most College Students Get a Degree, But Not an Education.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

The basis and rationale of his thoughts centered on the fact nearly one third of college students drop out. His writings and training (coaching) are meant to change that. Going back again nearly 100 years ago another educational revolutionary had similar thoughts. John Dewey offered a very similar constraint to content versus context with his take on constructivism.

“Learners who can adapt quickly by learning in a complex world are more likely to adapt to changing conditions and survive as an individual.” Martin Dougiamas, A journey into Constructivism

It has been a quite a few days possibly years since I walked in my yard to show some friends from the South Georgia coast my ever growing herb garden. I was pulling a few leaves here and there comparing different types of thyme and mints but all the same it was a matter of trying to dodge raindrops and our dog running between my legs trying to get back in the house. My friends had gone to the amusement park all day and were worn out but hamburgers and hotdogs off the Bird nest grill and a few minutes catching up and we were into old stories and somehow reptiles. It seems my oldest and my good friend who had come by are both amateur herpetologists and snake talk can go on for hours. As I stood thinking just before going to bed that night it was so quiet other than the dripping of the rain on the house and from trees and shrubs. It was an ethereal undertaking walking out in the remnants of a rain of that evening.

“Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.” On Purpose Associates

Looking at the surroundings yesterday morning as I walked through the house checking to see if the dog needed to go out for her morning constitutional I saw the light or I should say my senses saw light. I can accept that thought and or pursue why and how I saw a light. It could be perhaps the batteries are low and it is only a glimmer of light. Last year I started a daily log on each of my students writing down as events transpired within my various classrooms, while focusing on education I would also jot down any events or happening with that student that may be important. As I thought daily life is little different as I read D’Angelo’s thoughts, while he focused on college students the application to a lesser degree very easily could be made to own my students who are at high risk for graduation from high school. By pushing that envelope further we have people who are at risk with life itself.

“The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.” On Purpose Associates

As a teacher so often I found myself saying this is my class room and you will do as I say. I even have gone so far as to declare back in the day when I had a trailer, my room as an independent kingdom and issued money, Mr. Bird bucks. I still have the crown although it currently resides on a rather large stuffed antelope head (an eland) on my classroom wall. However in the process of declaring an independent kingdom from the rest of school we as a group signed a declaration of independence. While I said my class room, in effect the room had become the student’s class room.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.” John Dewey

Do I simply want to accept the light from the night or pursue finding out more. I recall just before school was out that I spent the better part of my planning period on the phone with a parent. This particular student has been a problem for all of his teachers, numerous physiological reasons can quickly be brought to our attention and various assundery medications have been prescribed over the years. In high school with four different teachers and different outlooks of perception we have a student being daily assessed by four people and four world views. On a particular bad day I jotted down behaviors that were issues. At some point his medications came into the discussion and the student made a comment how he felt that was the issue not his behavior. You might say, “The medicine made him do it”. He as often found excuses for his behavior as we all do.

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

I find myself being sort of a renegade in the high school and not willing to accept four other good teachers’ viewpoints without investigating I always dig deeper into the issues of the student’s behavior. Upon referring to a handy Physician’s Desk Reference, PDR, eight of the behavior issues were side effects of his particular medications and all of the medications were recommended for adults. Indicated in bold lettering there are warnings this medication may cause drowsiness and to not operate equipment while taking this medication. The problem this student was being referred for every day was sleeping in class. We gave this student ISS for sleeping and for making comments about how he can’t think straight. All day long we hack at leaves, I tell friends in the north about kudzu. It is so hard to describe a plant that hacking at the leaves only infuriates it, it seems to grow faster. Add to it a couple of tropical storms and hurricanes worth of water dumped on it helps as well. But whether it is in education or family we need to look beyond traditional means. It is about context versus content borrowing from D’Angelo and of course John Dewey.

I was speaking with my son many years ago about teenager issues as we rode home from a band practice. It is so easy to say one thing, hack off leaves and never really get to the roots. He asked me why our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. I offered often lack of education, or simply indifference to the responsibility and focus on the moment we have so engrained in our kids and lifestyles. A year or two later I am dealing with the issue personally with my son. Maybe I should have offered context and less content discussing pregnancy. So I walk out today looking for how come it is so bright outside even in the rain we also need to look at context. We also need to review why we keep sharpening the machete and not look for a shovel and as I finish today harm is an elusive word. A child raised in an environment where tomorrow is questionable is that harm? Students who say whatever and quit school is that harm? Young men and women fighting in various wars around the world is that harm to themselves as well as those around them? Refugees in Sudan tying shelter together with sticks, thread and leaves is that harm? I wonder if we even care at times more worried about the trivial pieces of life what shirt or shoes to wear? So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks namaste.

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

My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen

Bird Droppings April 19, 2016
My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen

“We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

Sitting at home reading several essays by Carl Rogers made for an interesting start to my morning just prior to a driving to school this morning. In our world of No child Left Behind and for me teaching Special Education I see the ones that tend to get left behind. As I read this thought from Rodgers I enjoyed the thought of no tests and no grades. Over the years in one graduate class after another the idea of a portfolio following the student through their school career has always intrigued me and in my own room I have done such while in a resource setting. As I thought this morning would not some sort of portfolio or culminating, or I should say ongoing project indicate mastery or development of learning better than a multiple choice test done with a number two pencil on a scantron answer sheet. Of course in chemistry we might have a few explosions if learners were not listening along the way. In my understanding of the Dewey based Foxfire program what is now Core Practice eight developed into the Foxfire magazine for Elliot Wiggington’s students at Rabun Nantahochee School in 1966. I find it fascinating how often great teachers follow parallel routes albeit different wording and yet seem to find the same ideas. Going back to John Dewey and his premise that experience is the best teacher.

“The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.” Foxfire Core Practice eight

“Learning doesn’t stop at 3:15. You can help the teacher do a better job by encouraging your child to show you something he’s working on at school, suggests Ron Martucci, who teaches fourth grade in Pelham, New York. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: ‘Ask him to demonstrate how he does long division or to read his book report out loud,’ says Martucci. ‘Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he knows, it builds confidence.’” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Publications

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

Pulling together my first thoughts this morning as I unravel the essential Bird Pedagogy, previous or past experiences of the learners is a key starting point as I discussed yesterday to a degree. Building on that as the learner progresses trying to find ways that truly show how the learner is developing rather than static limited tests and grades. I like the idea of Rogers about how grades and tests are end points and should be simply points along the line rephrasing a bit as I go. Education is more of a continuum than a finished product. It is sad that so many want to have education be a period at some point. Even as I accumulate degrees I find I am learning constantly not focusing on that end point but where do I go from there.

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey

I am sitting in my writing nook at school this morning a quiet day and one of excitement as I think ahead of driving back up to a to visit Foxfire this summer for a fiftieth anniversary. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my effort yesterday. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and or art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer yesterday using Aldus Huxley who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.

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

As I read this simple line by Huxley I could not help but go back to my readings on John Dewey and his direct influence on educators and education past, present and future. Dewey saw education as the basis for society.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth and is continuing shaping the individuals powers saturating his consciousness forming his habits training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” John Dewey Pedagogic Creed

In my classroom I try and tie to contextual aspects of where we are in the content oriented material that students are being taught. An example would be the word taxonomy that came up a last semester in our biology class. Most students had no clue what this word meant and by some prompting we made a comparison of sheep and goats, one of the student’s families raises goats and we learned about taxonomy. We could show differences and similarities which is how we classify living organisms, or do taxonomy in terms of biology. One of my favorite examples of context and content is going back many years to listening to my father explain tying a square knot you learn best when you actually do it rather than simply hear it explained.

As I explore my own pedagogy I am drawn back to my earliest college and work in psychology. Dr. Abram Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs that I have used over the years many times showing an idea of how people relate and understand in this world of ours. Maslow started with five needs and over the years added some additional clarification.

“Maslow’s five needs:
Physiological needs are to do with the maintenance of the human body. If we are unwell, then little else matters until we recover. Safety needs are about putting a roof over our heads and keeping us from harm. If we are rich, strong and powerful, or have good friends, we can make ourselves safe. Belonging needs introduce our tribal nature. If we are helpful and kind to others they will want us as friends. Esteem needs are for a higher position within a group. If people respect us, we have greater power. Self-actualization needs are to ‘become what we are capable of becoming’, which would our greatest achievement. Maslow added over the years three more needs. These are the needs that are most commonly discussed and used. In fact Maslow later added three more needs by splitting two of the above five needs. Between esteem and self-actualization two needs were added. Need to know and understand, which explains the cognitive need of the academic. Also added was the need for aesthetic beauty, which is the emotional need of the artist. Self-actualization was divided into, self-actualization, which is realizing one’s own potential, as above and transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential.” Maslow and Lowery, 1998

As I move towards a defining point in my essential Bird Pedagogy bits and pieces of Rogers and Dewey along with Foxfire are intertwined with Maslow’s ideas. We need and seek socialization we are a social animal. We seek recognition and want to be secure in our lives. Maslow in adding cognitive which Rogers uses and aesthetic which Rogers alludes to and Dewey as well as Elliot Eisner build on this. Each day as I sit pondering reflecting on what is my pedagogy my ideas seem to flow a little more freely. I do believe pedagogy is an individual entity and has fluidity to it. There is not an end point or limit or rather there should not be since we need to be ongoing learners and thinkers. Perhaps I will as the week progresses resolve my own ideas and be a bit more definitive in what my personal pedagogy truly is but for today please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

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