Direction is needed when speaking of velocity

Bird Droppings July 6, 2016
Direction is needed when speaking of velocity

Over the past long weekend I worked on several paper ideas, sat in my recliner, dabbled in my yard briefly around rain drops and played with my grandkids. But I got thinking back to a party in Pennsylvania that was held nearly seven years ago as I pondered and walked about. It was our high school class of 1967, sixtieth birthday bash celebrating everyone’s coming of age. At that time numerous graduate school and high school projects kept me home or I had planned on being there.

It has been nearly ten years since I had the great thrill to revisit my home town and surrounding countryside for a class reunion. One of the side trips my wife and I made was to Amish country out towards Lancaster PA. We went to a favorite tourist spot, The Amish Farm and House. I went for the first time nearly sixty years ago on a second grade field trip. Now the old homestead and farm sits midst malls and shopping centers. As we went on the tour and listened to our guides talks on various Amish customs one caught my attention. The Amish traditionally heat the kitchen only. A key thought here is the Amish use no electricity so heating and light are still the old fashion way.

Within Amish tradition the family that is together more than apart stays together. The kitchen especially in the winter months becomes the family room for meals, play and talks. Kids stay and play while adults work on various projects since during most of the house is too cold. An interesting thought the Amish are growing in numbers and yet their lifestyle by our standards is a hard one. Very few leave the families according to statistics less than two percent and sadly it is that two percent the reality shows are based on. This is interesting in a world of divorce and child abandonment that we have today.

“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” Pablo Picasso

I was sitting outside earlier and it was a bit chilly for this time of year but the cold snap is riding a front which brought some of the previous rain last week and with the high humidity the ninety degree weather feels much hotter. I was listening to the sounds of morning in my back yard, crickets mainly although their songs are slower in the chill and damp. Many sounds were similar in the stillness and solitude of early morning both here and in Pennsylvania growing up. Off in a distance a dog, maybe a coyote is howling. At our last house we would be awakened occasionally by train whistles and it has been over ten years since I had heard a train whistle from my door step. Although one night outside Macon while staying at a friend’s house who happened to live along a spur leading to one of Georgia Powers coal burning plants I was wide awakened by the coal train whistle and noise about four o’clock one morning. The old house was a rail tender’s house where the occupant would work for the railroad and check water and such on engines as they pulled in.

I have raised the question of our purpose numerous times over the years and yesterday an email sometime last night got me thinking. A dear friend said four people had raised the issue of their purpose in life recently and she is going through a time in her own life now of seeking purpose. Before I went out I wrote back to her.
“For me it is not, what is my purpose, as much as that I have purpose. It is knowing you are significant in each aspect of what you do. Over the years I always thought I would one day open my eyes and see, my purpose. Years ago a vision or was it a dream of a giant jig saw puzzle falling in place sorted that out for me. I could not see the front of the puzzle and every time I tried and look it would turn away revealing the gray backing. I had to be content to know it was falling in place piece by piece and each piece was more intricate than the last. You can seek direction in your journey. You have a powerful friend in your faith. Doors will open as they need to. I spent nearly two years sorting out where I was to go, some by working with indigent families and receiving enough barely to cover cell phone and mileage. A door opened in teaching and even then I was presented with tests. Five times my name was presented by a principal who wanted me teaching and four times I was turned down. On September 11, 2001, I was allowed to go back into teaching” Frank Bird in an email to a friend

I have used the illustration of a puzzle often in my writing and have thrown the word purpose about many times. There is an aspect of our journey in which we are directly involved and that is the direction in which way are we facing as we take that next step.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy; a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lays disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson

I was looking this morning for words dealing with direction and each time I tried mapping out my thoughts and the word direction came up. My oldest son finished his certification in GIS several years ago. He had been working with an Environmental Science class at the high school mapping trees and positioning using GPS devices. It is amazing as gadgets get smaller and more accurate, we can map a tree on our planet or a gopher tortoise nest. We are at a point in our technology where we can ascertain that Sumatra moved 20 centimeters in a huge earthquake. My son will take along his GPS just for fun as he travels although several trips to Florida it has proven its worth avoiding hurricane traffic. But so often we have a hard time determining where we are going today let alone in life.

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

John Dewey is not the easiest read in the world and often his thoughts are in details we are not used too. Could be why so many educators have a hard time with Dewey’s ideas. It is too easy to say he was a communist or socialist and not read that he was perhaps one of the greatest advocates for democracy within education and the nation in modern time. Most recently I have been opening up Dewey’s works again as I am working on my dissertation based around his ideas. Far too often teachers look for an easy fix to a complicated issue. In life far too many times we take the easy road.
“Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to choose the things we want to do, to take the wisdom we’ve learned and create something.” Liz Carpenter

“You don’t have to buy from anyone. You don’t have to work at any particular job. You don’t have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose” Harry Browne

For so many they see life as a funnel a narrowing down rather than a spreading out as they progress. It has been many years since I walked the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia and hopefully one day soon I will find time to climb the trail again. Often when walking up a mountain there are switch backs, a longer path but an easier incline and you would use them rather than a direct ascent. A switch back is a path that cuts back and forth up the mountain rather than straight up and makes the pathway a bit easier. With a heavy pack a direct route is often impossible let alone dangerous.

“The way to activate the seeds of your creation is by making choices about the results you want to create. When you make a choice, you activate vast human energies and resources, which otherwise go untapped. All too often people fail to focus their choices upon results and therefore their choices are ineffective. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz

So often in life it is the first step, that door opening that is so difficult. When I did go back to teaching I could have stopped at my first rejection. I applied at five or six schools and at the time I was not certified and in order to get a provisional certification you have to be employed. That in its self is an interesting paradox. For some reason a principal thought I might work out and kept pushing and after four attempts at the school board meetings I was hired, then he called back, my sister had been hired a day before who I recommended and so I couldn’t work there now. Then my name did not make a meeting and another effort was defeated and a third and fourth again. Finally a teacher had a nervous breakdown and was out indefinitely and a long term sub was needed which eventually led to my teaching position. Allowances were made for my sister and I started on September 11, 2001. It was many months later when the principal was putting a list together that I was asked what day I started and I couldn’t remember I told him it was the week after labor day and a Tuesday because approval was needed on Monday. The first step is rough many times.

“You are the person who has to decide. Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you’ll lead or will linger behind. Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.” Edgar A. Guest

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, singer song writer, and a university professor and actually along the way a cast member of The Survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within.” Perhaps this is a good place to stop today Guest states “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I end up with a line from an Aerosmith song as it always seems to fit in.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

Please my friends 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

Can we find learning in the Kalahari Desert?

Bird Droppings July 5, 2016
Can we find learning in the Kalahari Desert?

I was walking about the yard and along the side of our nearby dirt road taking pictures of wildflowers and grasshoppers among other things that I find as ponder. I spent several minutes trying to photograph a seed from a broom sage plant floating along in the afternoon breeze. A bit of down just going where the breeze would take it. It is very hard to focus on a moving piece of down and as I pondered it is much like walking into a class room and trying to teach kids who really do not want to be there. Sadly their thoughts and ideas floating about wandering where ever the breeze of the day is blowing. I was listening as I drew near the back field and the sound of crickets and frogs was nearly deafening. An author I found in my later years Laurens Von der Post came to mind as I imagined the sounds and images before me. Most of Von der Post’s early learning years were spent on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa being raised by a Bushmen nanny.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post

It was in the remembering of a very poignant childhood event Laurens Von der Post was witness to that he recalls the last days of man, at least to the Bushmen or Sans. It has been several months maybe even a year since I last picked up a Von der post book. Somehow in an email last evening I went looking for this author and prolific writer. As I researched last night and went to Amazon.com 61 pages of his books and variations and edited versions and translations are available. He died in 1996 at the age of 90 and, he had been everywhere and done everything. He was Prince William’s of Great Britain’s God father, the only non-royal ever to be so honored. He had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth many years ago. His writings while covering his adventures and travels worldwide, he is best known for his stories of the African bush. A Far Away Place, was made into a family movie of children and their trek in the African wilds. But as I read permeating all of his writing is a fascination and deep understanding of a nearly lost people, the African Bushman, or Sans as they call themselves.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Von der Post

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us–and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” Eric Allemburgh

Yesterday I was thinking in several directions, on one hand I was discussing education in the US with several friends and pros and cons of public education somehow came into that discussion. I interjected a comment about indigenous peoples of South America and how Amazonian Native peoples will often want to experience civilization. I mentioned a unique program in Brazil as well, of protecting indigenous peoples from civilization where land is kept intact and rain forest left alone when a new tribe is found, literally keeping civilization out. Often armed guards patrol to prevent missionaries and civilizers from coming in contact with these primitive peoples. I started thinking in terms of learning environment and for the indigenous peoples of the jungle it is the jungle where the optimal learning environment is for them to survive. Far too often we interject our modern societal values and say they should learn this or that. This led me to a statement by John Holt from the other day and one that has been in my pondering now several days.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

In that course of thought I went the direction of the Bushman and Von der Post. Last night I stood in the dark a bit longer than I usually do even with graduate studies and writing as well as my own college and high school lessons to prepare for when I took the dog out. The sky was streaked with clouds and a smiling moon was trying to peek through. I was standing on the porch listening to the night, almost silent. I went back out another time a bit later into the morning and by now all the clouds were nearly gone and stars permeating the entire sky. My shoulder has been bothering me and I laid back down putting my writing off till a bit later in the day. So often in my days a student who has an issue or a friend or teacher will find a Bird Dropping and then a series of events, I often use the term coincidence and it will have been just what they needed that day. For whatever reason I am compelled to build on a thought passing by as I am thinking never quite sure why.

“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” Mary Kay Ash

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennet

Several days ago I received an email from a person to be added to my morning meanderings. I added this person to my list and yesterday received another email here in my rushing to get a Bird Droppings out I had written exactly what this person needed. When talking with my son yesterday he mentioned his former boss admitted she never read my meanderings and one day she had been searching and by chance opened my daily thought and again it was what she needed. I am wandering a bit from my learning idea but it is the contextual framework that we seem to build that provides us with those learning activities and experiences.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Taylor Benson

“Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.” Soren Kierkegaard

As I sit thinking about the drawing together of thoughts the past few days and ideas I come back to my involvement in Foxfire teaching techniques which is the basis for my one day to be finished dissertation. As I thought while reading several passages this morning, in a Von der Post’s book, The Lost world of the Kalahari. There is a comment about witnessing the last of the Bushmen painters. It seems there was a point in time when the Bushmen stopped their primitive art which was painted on the rocks in caves of the Kalahari. The last painter had been killed in an attack literally of genocide and no one knew how to take over the art. Laurens Von der Post writes how he heard those gunshots as a child.
As I looked at students walking the halls at my school and the discussions we have had over the past months on the internet it really dawned on me I was where I was to be, and doing what I was to do, offering at least a little piece of more than what is normally available. That could be hope, or it could be wisdom, It could be that talking about a bushmen ostrich egg with red neck kids in Georgia and interestingly enough preserving pieces of old Georgia in essays and photos and PowerPoint projects as we go. Von der Post in his book went in search of the last of the Bushman and found himself.

“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post reflecting on Carl Jung’s work

For many years now I have read and pondered Jung’s words and ideas. Back fourteen or so years ago an author James Redfield, wrote about coincidence in a fictional story of a lost manuscript The Celestine Prophecy. Redfield was trying to explain what he saw happening in his own life. Carl Jung in the early 1900’s coined the word synchronicity. I simplify and say I am at the right place at the right moment. What is amazing is when you look at life that way and you begin to see events unfold before you rather than just seeing through hindsight. I was reading a friends note earlier about how ever thing happens for a reason. I responded jokingly that it only gains reason if we learn from it. As I sit hear pondering this morning it is in looking that we truly see and in listening that we truly hear.

“A continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation” Laurens Von der Post

I went in the internet, to borrow from the Foxfire website the following:
“In the Foxfire Approach, learning environments are characterized by student involvement and action, by thoughtful reflection and rigorous assessment, by imagination and problem solving, by applications beyond the classroom for what is learned, and by meaningful connections to the community. In these classrooms, students build the ability to work collaboratively and assume responsibility for their own learning processes.” Foxfire Fund
Where and how does the Kalahari Desert and Bushmen and Learning and coincidence all tie in. An easy explanation can be seen borrowing from a core practice in the Foxfire teaching process

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” Foxfire

We build through reflection and we grow through reflection.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness.” Laurens Von der Post

I think reflection could be inserted just as easy into Von der Posts quote; we all need to take time to see where we are and then participate actively as we go in life. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind in and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

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

In pursuit of excellence in learning

Bird Droppings July 1, 2016
In pursuit of excellence in learning

I was listening to crickets and tree frogs as the sounds of morning surrounded me with the rustling of leaves in the steady breeze as I sojourned out in the wee hours. It is a great day to walk this reality thank you.

“We are surrounded by actors who cannot act…singers who cannot sing…teachers who cannot teach…writers who cannot write…speakers who cannot speak…painters who cannot paint…and we pay them fortunes for their mediocrity.” Ernest Hemmingway

I was looking for a starting point today as I read through the news and such earlier. Several emails had me wondering about why we do what we do and how we do it. Seldom do I question my teaching capabilities but as I read an email I received last night with suggestions, it makes me think and sometimes as I ponder why do I teach the kids I do reasons elude me. I happened on a talk by William Edelen, entitled “In praise of excellence”. Contained within Edelen’s essay was the following excerpt.

“Observe, I suggest no sense of service. More hypocrisy is poured out to youthful ears in the name of serving mankind than would fill a library of books. I can remember the droning on that score that I had to listen to, that I should become a drudge in some distasteful pursuit to assist a mankind not visibly affected by similar endeavors. If it be selfishness to work on a job one likes, and live as one wants, because one likes it and for no other end, let us accept the podium. I had rather live forever in a company of Don Quixote’s, than among a set of the walking dead professing to be solely moved to the betterment of one another. Let us then do our jobs for ourselves and we are in no danger of deserving society. Though six associations, groups, companies, combinations of societies for the improvement of mankind, with their combined boards of directors, secretaries, stenographers and field agents were to be put into some scale against six honest carpenters who liked their job and did their work with excellence, they would kick the beam as high as Euripides. The six honest, excellent, carpenters may serve as a beacon for all time, and men will love them, but be that as it may, six honest carpenters who do their job with excellence because they like it and for no other reason will save themselves. That is quite enough to ask…” Judge Learned Hand

I sat thinking about the idea of excellence in whatever it is we do. Judge Hand used the illustration of carpenters as he explained excellence. In doing your job with excellence as the goal, imagine what a world we would have. I have been reading and sharing a book by Charlotte Danielson on evaluating teachers, in her book she points toward developing excellent teachers, distinguished teachers. Piedmont College in their Specialist program used a rubric for evaluation of candidates based on Danielson’s ideas and has named it using an acronym STAR. When I was in teaching in the early 70’s I felt a need to have an evaluation tool that could pinpoint quality teachers and could then help establish teaching excellence. By no means am I satisfied with the tools that are being used in most systems now.

In carpentry we can see excellence as the pieces come into place, within the fit and finish of the item being built. In many areas the product can be seen or touched or heard and excellence is easily evaluated. In teaching it becomes more difficult.

“If we lose the sense of excellence in our daily labor we will become weak as a people and as a nation. If we lose our respect and admiration for craftsmanship, our vigor as a people will decline.” William Edelen

“Those who lack talent expect things to happen without effort. They ascribe failure to a lack of inspiration or ability, or to misfortune rather than to insufficient application. Thus…talent is a species of vigor.” Eric Hoffer

Each day I hear the words I am passing that is enough. Trying to instill in students who have known nothing but failure in their lives and defeat can be difficult. As I was writing this morning my dog wanted another outside break and I walked out into the near darkness of the early morning with some slight cloud cover. It is easy to feel the start of the storm around the corner there is a slight chill in the air and a breeze, but still warm enough for the crickets. It would be silent save for the drone of crickets even in their monotonous chirp, a harmony.

“People do not stumble into excellence. It requires application and tenacity of purpose.” William Edelen

As I ponder there are tens of thousands of crickets chirping and yet it sounds as if only one is sounding off, it is so easy to get lost in the midst of s cricket chorus. We do this every day as we go to work, we get lost in the cricket chorus, the constant chirping of the same note, the same beat and soon those around pick up and soon everyone is in tune and all is well but no excellence.

“Our schools are crying for uncommon teachers who are excellent, outstanding and distinguished.” William Edelen

It is difficult to sound and act different in a world of constantly chirping crickets, to perhaps change the note or pitch and try and get more done or get it done better. It seems that status quo is not enough for some people. I went into school yesterday evening as I do many evenings and another teacher was sitting putting in grades. It seems this teacher was sent a message about parents complaining about their particular teaching style. One note and a teacher is upset and here I am pondering not a complaint or but a suggestion and only because without fanfare that suggestion had been done and completed but not advertised it was just part of the normal daily activity. I thought back to my friend who was writing notes and questioning the style of teaching that had been done and at what point do we ever grade the desire of students and the political repercussions people viewing from without.

“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

I have used the term osmosis to describe the teaching relationship. Perhaps I should add to that excellence in osmosis. No matter what the field, we need to strive for more than just passing; we need to push for excellence in parenting, in friendship, in all of our endeavors. We as teachers have a tiny window, for me a hundred or so minute window to impact a student and if every teacher that student has are equally as impacting, about a seven to eight hour window each day. But when evaluating and judging excellence that student has a sixteen hour window or more like a garage door to unravel and totally disperse any impact received during school. It could easily be parents who are angry, upset, out of work, sick physically or mentally, friends who put peer pressure on them, jobs, athletics, relationships and the list could go on and on. It has been many years since I jokingly referred to this as a sixteen hour syndrome and wondered if we could develop a vaccine. 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