Are you a Weginahsa?

Bird Droppings April 28, 2017
Are you a Weginahsa?

 

“The work of a teacher – exhausting, complex, idiosyncratic, never twice the same – is at its heart, an intellectual and ethical enterprise. Teaching is the vocation of vocations, a calling that shepherds a multitude of other callings. It is an activity that is intensely practical and yet transcendent, brutally matter of fact and yet fundamentally a creative act. Teaching begins in challenge and is never far from mystery.” Dr. William Ayers, To Teach: the journey of a teacher, 2010

 

It was just barely four o’clock in the morning and I miss having my granddaughter waking me up. They had been living with us till they were able to get into their house a few years back. My son is a nurse now and my daughter in law will officially be in nursing school in May. Study time is minimal with a six old red head and three year old little boy. Our husky needed to take a run outside to do his morning thing. Lately he has slept most of the night but today after I had gotten up and rambled around the kitchen in the wee hours he started barking and I went and took him out. it was cold again we and yet several whippoorwills were calling through the pines and a crazy mockingbird has been up literally round the clock lately calling away. It is unusual to hear a bird calling at this hour. But maybe he was calling for some warm weather to stay I have been hoping for myself so music and song made for a wonderful morning awakening.

 

“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done …. Men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.” Jean Piaget

 

I have always been a fan of the great developmentalists and the process of each piece leading to the next and so forth. Piaget while well respected in educational fields did his research on his own children. I still find that a bit weird. Although watching my granddaughter growing up I do very much the same watching her interactions with parents, other children and with me. However his ideas seem to be sound in many aspects even though his demographics are a bit shallow.

 

“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.” Anatole France

 

In our age of standardized testing and how much we can force feed into our students so they can pass a test I had to think twice as I read France’s quote. We constantly test for content daily in our school systems and wonder why we still lag behind. “Education Weekly featured an article on science programs in other modern nations and how they were so far ahead of ours. Every program featured context over content. John Dewey one hundred years ago preached context.

 

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” William Yeats

Every day I drink several liter bottles of water after my morning tea. I never started drinking coffee till recently and then only mixed with my tea and Starbucks is the wrong direction in the morning for Chai Tea with a shot of expresso. Although I do brew my own now at school which is nice but it takes a few moments to heat up. For several years the liter bottle has reminded me of how we teach. For so many teachers it is simply trying to fill a liter bottle period. I visited a museum in the mountains of North Georgia and was looking at an old moonshine still when it hit me. We need to teach kids to distill information. Concentrate on the important and the pieces that can lead to other pieces. Stop trying to cram it all in to a confined space.

 

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

 

Many years ago there was a folk song entitled “If I were a carpenter”. As I read this passage this morning from a Hindu text that song popped in my mind. I used a similar passage many months ago from another great thinker, of our time.

 

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

 

During the folk song era which probably in some circles including my own, still exists, Pete Seeger was very famous. He would sing songs borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s hobo and dust bowl days, songs of the depression. He would borrow from various other current and past sources for his songs. He wrote music for and developed one song that was made famous outside folk circles by a group called “the Byrd’s”, entitled “Turn, turn, turn”. This song was based on words from a book in the Old testament Ecclesiastes to be exact, “To everything there is a season, a time to be born a time to die”.
As I sit here writing this morning I got thinking about the late great Spike my bearded dragon, a former resident of my class room who had passed away a year ago Friday after five years and how he would spit out grapes. He must not have liked seeds in his grapes. I was thinking back to Independence Day and flags flying from telephone poles, draped over tables, emblazoned on T-shirts and paper cups celebrating our independence. I am reminded of what and who we are as Americans. By the constitution of the United States all people are equal all are entitled to certain liberties and the pursuit of happiness.
As we go about today remembering we need to also think of in being free and being able to speak, and worship freely we should not impose our ideals and beliefs on others which was the founding fathers key tenet. That is so easy to say but I was reminded many months back of the innocence of youth as I sat at lunch with my youngest son at a Chinese Buffet in Loganville. The owner I have known for many years and she had her three boys there with her it was late afternoon we had been working at the High School moving back into my room from having new carpet put in.
The Chinese restaurant owner’s sons were sitting playing at the next booth. As they talked, some was in English some in Chinese as the chattered back and forth and giggled playing games as small children do. The boys were between 3 and 5 years old. One of the boys using his fingers to pull his eyes slanted said I am a Chinese boy now. As I sat and thought about how there were so many possible meanings to that. I know his family, both his mother and father are from mainland China and very active in cultural awareness programs in local schools and the community. So was this an example of an innocent child’s color blindness or was it a slight to his heritage. I would like to think it was simply youthful innocence. “There is a time to ever season”, we cannot choose the road of our genetics but we can choose the directions and pathways we take with it. We can choose the words and actions we exhibit. Earlier today I read a post wondering about genetic preference for music and I responded it is deeper than genetics. Spiritual is the energy tying all together.
Several years ago as I wrote the word black indicating race I was reminded that it is politically correct to say Afro-American. I was intrigued, I am still called a white person within the context of the discussion not a Welsh, English, German, Irish, Native American, Hebrew, Scottish, Amish person. After a moment or two I came up with WEGINAHSA that would work. I wonder if I called someone a Weginahsa if they would be upset or if I could get that listed as an ethnic group. I could list it under other. I am a Weginahsa pronounced Wee – jean – A – house – a. I am no longer just white I am a proud weginahsa, if I can spell it correctly and pronounce it the same twice in a row. I am reminded of another politically correct nomenclature Native American. The late Russell Means asked a reporter who was speaking about Native Americans where he was born. He responded in New York and Means said you too are a Native American and then said I prefer to be called Indian.
We choose the roads and pathways we choose the words and implications of those words and the attitudes that formulates them. I was thinking back to Piaget and theories of development of children and at what age do we see color? At what age do we begin to find differences in humans? Pondering and looking again at Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, as he made the comment about a street sweeper. It is our choice as to how great or how little we are and it is our choice whether we truly are free or not. That is not in the devlopmentalist guide book that is ours to decide. Today is the time and the season for us to be who we are and that we are able to think act and be free, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and a key is to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Is a circle a confined space or infinite undertaking?

Bird Droppings April 27, 2017
Is a circle a confined space or infinite undertaking?

 

My own philosophical meandering focuses on life as a circle. My thinking today revolves around that thought. Does a circle have a beginning and or an end? As learning begins often with a question so today a start and a beginning to my writing and thinking with a question. Many of the philosophies of life use comparisons to circles as a visual tool to simplify what is being said. Native American truth is often found centered and focused on a circle. When I taught summer school or resource Biology I use Disney’s Lion King as a base for the circle of life. The movie even has a theme song to that name.

 

“Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Sioux Holy man

 

I started a book recently again for the tenth time at least, “The Tao of teaching” based on eastern philosophy of the Tao, a circle essentially. I bought the book nearly ten years ago and have returned to it numerous times for thoughts. As I stood talking with students in the hall ways just before school let out Friday I was watching the circle move. Something that most of the thinking leaves out is that a circle is fluid there is movement. While described within a confined space of a circle as Black Elk speaks of seasons changing in a circular motion, people move in a pattern, a circle in life perhaps confined yet fluid always moving, continuing, changing, yet staying the same.

 

“It seemed that each time we would become proficient at a given task there would be a change made for no apparent reason. It sometimes appeared that changes were made simply because sufficient time had elapsed since the last change. And then our efforts would begin again from the beginning.” General Adalphos

 

In learning is it change or simply movement, the fluidness of life as we step from a basic knowledge to a complex thinking beyond instead of within is that a circular motion which then raises up another question. I do think it is funny; recently it is the questions that provide the learning as we ask a question we generate more, in a Socratian method. Just as the great teacher and philosopher used questions, we in our answers produce questions from the original question.

 

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

 

“We must become the change we want to see.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

It is the seeking of answers that is learning and that is the change that occurs in man. That which raises us up and provides what we need to be more than we were yesterday is how we can knowledge. I sat and discussed Ansell Adams with a student and watched as I do responses among other students one or two had a clue what was going on some were not aware a discussion was taking place and one was yawning bored. As I watched and observed even in the context of a discussion the child who was bored was not bored from knowing about what was being said but because they did not even hear or try to hear what was being said. They had set limits themselves on their world boundaries had been put them in place to avoid change or to lessen the chance a question will or could be asked shy of can I go to the bathroom?

 

“Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones that are just about like trying to milk a dead cow.” Woody Guthrie

 

In a recent seminar on teaching the comparison to trying to ride a dead horse was used. Trying to milk a dead cow I like better. You can actually sit on a dead horse at least for a while till it falls over, but no matter how hard you try a dead cow won’t give milk. For those of you who are folk music buffs, Woody Guthrie is considered one of the founding fathers of folk music in the US. He traveled the country hobo style writing songs of the depression and dust bowl looking for answers and asking questions.

 

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that; it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” Washington Irving

 

Look for questions in your answers as we start a new week and for me a day one of six more weeks before summer. In reading the news this morning it seems little is positive in this crazy world. So as I have for quite a few years now 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

A man before his time

Bird Droppings April 26, 2017
A man before his time

 

“A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Many great thinkers have found their motivation and beginnings in Schopenhauer. Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first westerners to read and understand Eastern thought. He was well read and written which was interesting as so many of the German philosophers were difficult to read and understand even glimpse a possibility of where they were coming from, writing in such difficult terms and verbiage.

 

“A man’s delight in looking forward to and hoping for some particular satisfaction is a part of the pleasure flowing out of it, enjoyed in advance. But this is afterward deducted, for the more we look forward to anything the less we enjoy it when it comes.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

As a child I recall wanting Christmas so bad and the presents we knew would be there. Often we knew what was coming due to list to Santa and or parents asking us what we wanted. As I read this statement and thought about it how true as we plan and set goals and objectives that have significant meaning when we establish that goal. Then as we accomplish the goal while meaningful much of the significance has been spent along the way. This is not bad it is what often keeps us going giving us the energy to go another step.

 

“After your death you will be what you were before your birth.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

So many ways to look at this statement probably somewhat contrary to European thought at the time. Over the years however I have found a simple explanation in “The circle of life” from the Disney movie Lion King, even though Schopenhauer was many years before the Lion King came out.

 

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Having been in education I have watched great thinkers in their time be ridiculed and then years later their ideas fully implemented. John Dewey as one example in the early 1900’s developed ideas and understandings of education that today are still considered progressive a hundred years later.

 

“As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Schopenhauer writes about books quite often, both in a negative and very positive sense. In his time he was very well read himself looking for and gathering from many sources. He was one of the first European philosophers to read and think about Eastern thought and religions. But he is so critical of vast libraries if they are unused. Much the time we humans collect and simply put the books on shelves to impress the rest of humanity. In today’s world we Google it.

 

“Compassion is the basis of morality” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Compassion is an active part of life and through it finding our morality. Morality is in action not just in statement and it is an active ingredient in life.

 

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

This could be how politicians exist to begin with. I often do not watch the news for lack of anything worth watching. Here in Atlanta area everyday a shooting or two well three or four maybe, gets to be very disconcerting. I have been watching the events of the past few days. The State Senate and House are offering bills and closing doors, side swiping issues that go unanswered and yet allowing others to pass that cater to big business and special interest groups. Amazingly we sit and watch and wonder how the populous can allow this. A headline yesterday included more budget cuts so pet projects could be continued.

 

“Every possession and every happiness, is but lent by chance for an uncertain time, and may therefore be demanded back the next hour.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

“Honor has not to be won; it must only not be lost.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

The more I read of this man’s thoughts the more I see “doing” as a key aspect of his philosophical thought. He is a philosopher who demanded action to be a part of reality and not just be limited to thought

 

“I’ve never know any trouble than an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

As soon as this book came out I bought a copy of Kent Nerburn’s “Chief Joseph and The flight of the Nez Perce”, a history of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe. I immediately read the preface and skimmed the book and now have since read the entire book. I used to read a book cover to cover in one sitting now I sit and ponder as I read and spend an hour on a page gleaning ideas, bits and pieces of what the author is showing me.

 

“It is only a man’s own fundamental thoughts that have truth and life in them. For it is these that he really and completely understands. To read the thoughts of others is like taking the remains of someone else’s meal, like putting on the discarded clothes of a stranger.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Often during the day I get “what do you think Mr. Bird” and I try so hard not to offend and ask back first “what do you think” about this or that. Initially I was cautious as my own thinking tends to be a bit more liberal than most Georgians and perhaps humanity as a whole. But as I look at philosophy and great teachers it was in questioning that we illicit from students thinking rather than have them just mimic back to us our own thoughts.

“Just as the largest library, badly arranged, is not so useful as a very moderate one that is well arranged, so the greatest amount of knowledge, if not elaborated by our own thoughts, is worth much less than a far smaller volume that has been abundantly and repeatedly thought over.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

We have to be actively involved in the processes of our own thinking. It is not simply to have that knowledge. I wonder as we embark in education with teaching content to the test on a daily basis. I think back to John Dewey and Progressivism and we need do context and not simply content or our own children will not be thinking and understanding.

 

“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

We always seem to speak to the climb what about the descent sometimes we need breaks after pushing so hard in the climb

 

“Martyrdom is the only way a man can become famous without ability.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

I found this statement interesting as I look back historically. I have found most men and women that I recall in history who were martyred I recall the event of death. How do we remember them it is for their death or for their life? Could it be that through their death we see their life? I wonder or is it because of their death only? I was wondering as we have nearly daily martyr’s in the Middle East blowing themselves up in search of heaven.

 

“The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

So often it is in our mistakes and errors we find the answers. One of my premises of learning is through our mistakes.

 

“The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

I know for me I am still learning still defining who I am and why. Maybe one day I will get to the commentary and truly understand and see myself for what and who I really am.

“The man never feels the want of what it never occurs to him to ask for.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

“The more unintelligent a man is the less mysterious existence seems to him.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

I look at my students who often range in intellectual pursuit from college level to first grade. I wonder often how they perceive and view the world. I use a house, tree, person test occasionally to get glimpses of a child’s world and the pictures can range from elaborate to stick figures. So often with the elaborate come stories and mysteries versus the black and white starkness of others.

“The wise have always said the same things, and fools, who are the majority, have always done just the opposite.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

Reading that simple line and wondering at happenings of today and now. “I told you so”, seems to be the catch phrase down the line with so many people and amazingly on both sides of the fence. I found myself saying this to and can be bad about it as well.

 

“Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, “Lighthouses” as the poet said “erected in the sea of time.” They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind, Books are humanity in print.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

It always saddens me when a student says they can read well enough to get by. I hear that every day. Reading can separate us from the masses. It can lift us up and show us new heights, new worlds. Reading, hopefully one day will alleviate the pain and suffering and harm of the world. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Going up a mountain takes effort

Bird Droppings April 25, 2017
Going up a mountain takes effort

 

I am looking forward to my next trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia. It is the site of the Foxfire Museum property and was the site of the Piedmont College’s teacher’s class in The Foxfire Approach to teaching. My oldest son took the course as a piece of his master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly five summers back. But interestingly enough several folks from Loganville Georgia were in attendance at his course. One of the teachers as we went around the room doing introductions made a comment about an interesting point for her was the first time she had ever held a snake was in my room at Loganville High School holding Stevie my ball python. Stevie has moved home with my room change a few years back sadly. I do bring her back in for show and tell every now and again. Sitting here thinking actually there is a picture of that teacher when she was on our LHS 2003 State Champion Softball team on my wall as well.
Sitting and listening to teachers and teachers to be in the discussions that go around the room with lead facilitators and provide a frame work within which to expound or expand the conversation. Generally this is a starting point of a weeklong session. Just prior to leaving our house to drive up last year I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic which has been eluding me for some time. I had been sitting in a discussion with a former student and he offered the idea of that I had shown him or helped him find, the Art of Learning. As I pondered deeper into that morning this idea stuck with me and from it a topic. The Art of Learning using the Foxfire Core Practices as a palette and it was only a few days ago my idea evolved again and now is, Crossing the stream of education: Using the Foxfire Core Practices as stepping stones.
When I left Mountain City last year and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County I felt excited about the course going on and my own epiphany that morning with the idea of learning is an art form. John Dewey’s book, Experience and Education sits to my left as I write and the past few days I have borrowed from it several times as I jotted ideas down. But it is within the community of fellow learners and teachers we find answers and again more questions to ask. I thrive on the idea of learning even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. When students want to learn and desire to learn amazing things can be accomplished.

 

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Core Practice One from The Foxfire Core Practices

 

John Dewey and his thoughts run through the Foxfire Approach to Teaching with an emphasis on a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning and student input into the process of learning. I find that this is a rather simple statement this initial core practice which along with the other nine have evolved over the past nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions from literally around the world. But so often a key attribute is missed and that is that students and teachers do this undertaking together. Last summer listening to sixteen nearly teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class provided me with a sense of maybe there are a few who get it in the world.
In education we talk about test scores which are also what is used to measure in most schools to federal and state guidelines. Standardized tests given to all students at the end or near end of a school term on specific subjects that are to measure what students have learned. Sadly many students could take the same test at the beginning of the term and score the same so is that really a valid measure of what is learned probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in standards, curriculum, forms and teacher manuals on the subject. So I sit here offering learning is a stream to cross and or an art form. Both of these ideas are fluid, moving and ever changing.

 

“Measuring tools lead to quantification; the tools in the arts lead to qualification.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

 

Do we ever truly measure learning? I have been wondering this since I started back into teaching although in various different words and meanings. A simple measure would be giving a pre-test and post-test which would show where a student started and where they ended. On a far more involved scenario would be that of using portfolios gathering the evidence as the student progresses through material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and students growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, any piece of material that is involved in the student’s educational life could be considered an artifact.

 

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

 

So I am wandering as I sit here this spring morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy after a weekend playing with grandkids. I sat down Sunday after Charlie and Mattie left trying to write but my energy level has deteriorated even after a quick nap and I did little more than ponder a moment. I am excited thinking about the summer ahead and perhaps working with future teachers who will be experiencing some interesting and enlightening ideas and concepts across their course of study. 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

Watching a hawk fly by

Bird Droppings April 24, 2017

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 five 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

What does it take for that light bulb to go on?

Bird Droppings April 23, 2017
What does it take for that light bulb to go on?

 

Yesterday I headed to Statesboro and Georgia Southern University to get back on track for my doctorate. It has been nearly ten years since my doctorial cohort at Georgia Southern ended and we began the journey on our own. I stopped in 2010 for several reasons. For a couple semesters 2013-14 I was a member of a new cohort at Piedmont College and wandering down the path of learning again. I recall many months back we met for an advanced seminar and one of the readings was an Aldus Huxley book, Doors of our perception, which while not that many pages was a major part of the discussion. I am always intrigued when pieces of my time in existence seem just for me as several ideas within the book were significant as I look back. However our professor ended the session pointing inward and mentioned how he has pursued intellectualism. Reading and expanding his own knowledge has been his pursuit and he mentioned several times how great it is to be a professor you get paid to read. I was thinking to high school students who we try and get to read and many college students as well. So often when you ask, what is your favorite book a response will be I do not read? Instilling that passion for knowledge should be our task rather than just testing for specific pieces of information.

 

            “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where   your thoughts take you.” James Allen

 

I have been thinking on this passage many days. I firmly believe even as we plan and set goals and agendas we are where we need to be at this moment. Is it as simple as we travel the pathways presented to us each day thinking we have choice and actually could be setting the direction? It has been a few years since I first looked at life as a journey. Since that first day however it has become a truly memorable one for me. Now I make an effort to view each moment as I pass try and keep up with all the surroundings and trying to understand each piece of the puzzle as it falls in place. “Life is about the journey”, I have used many times in my writings.

 

“Thinking more than others about our own thoughts is not self-centeredness. It           means that if asked what’s on our mind, we are less likely to mention being aware of the     world around us, and more likely to mention our inner reflections. But we are less        likely to mention thinking about other people.” Elaine N. Aron, Clinical Psychologist

 

I just took Dr. Aron’s quiz to see if I am a HSP highly sensitive person or not rather interesting. I tend to argue several issues within her test. I thrive on the interactions and emotions while the tests seem have this as a negative response.

 

“You live with your thoughts — so be careful what they are.” Eva Arrington

 

            “If everybody thought before they spoke, the silence would be deafening.” George           Barzan

 

Each day I spend a large portion of time trying to assist students in thinking. A simple thought yet rather difficult. Trying to encourage thought processes can be interesting as one student told me. “Mr. Bird why do we have to think it hurts my brain.” Sadly I hear that several times a day.

 

“There are lots of people who cannot think seriously without injuring their minds.”      John Jay Chapman

 

I keep a box of Band-Aids handy and have pulled them out occasionally for serious brain injury and surprise students with the offer when their brains hurt.

 

            “No matter how hard you work for success if your thought is saturated with the fear of             failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your endeavors and make success        impossible.” Baudjuin

 

            “A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which   does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” Georges Bernanos

 

Thought processes are often bewildering. I was sitting here typing and thinking and went to type, Ge, and was thinking and spelling and got to Geo and couldn’t hit the “o” key I wanted to hit “r” but thought process and fingers got caught. I was looking at “o” and wanted to type “r”, actually paused for a second to rationalize.

 

“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by            selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow           that never leaves them.” Buddha

 

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.” Buddha

 

Interesting as I look at these two remarks from several thousand years ago. Today psychologists will say the same thing. I say the same thing without quoting Buddha every day. But so many people do not really think about where there are.

 

“Man is what he believes.” Anton Chekhov

 

It is so difficult to explain this to students really to anyone. Yet great coaches around the country have been proving this for years. My youngest son is an avid sport trivia fan while still not on par with the great trivia authority and good friend Jimmy Hughes, my son is pretty good. He will ask many times who do I think is the greatest of all time NCAA coaches. Although usually the question is “dad don’t you think Spurrier is the greatest of all time NCAA coaches”. I like it when he leaves me an out, he didn’t mention a sport and I can throw out John Wooden or Dan Gable or even more recent Paul Hewitt and really get him going. “Well what about Coach K then”, thinking though is the goal and that he does.

 

            “The problem with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes   rather than their minds.” Walter Duranty

“It is astonishing what an effort it seems to be for many people to put their brains       definitely and systematically to work.” Thomas A. Edison

 

I recall my middle son’s senior year. He was near the top in his class and always an excellent student. Due to scheduling he was unable to take the honors English course he wanted to and had to take regular senior English with the rest of humanity. He has a slug sitting next to him who every day would ask to copy his homework. My son got to where his responses were classic, one that stuck with me went something like this “We all make mistakes and in all honesty I truly believe this is all correct. But what if I am wrong and I allow you to copy and then you receive a failing grade and your life is ruined I will not be able to live with that. So no, I cannot allow you to copy. If you fail I want it to be you who fail not me helping you too”.

 

“Humans have the ability to shift perspective. We can experience the world through     our senses. Or we can remove ourselves from our senses and experience the world   even less directly. We can think about our life, rather than thinking in our life. We            can think about what we think about our life, and we can think about what we think       about that. We can shift perceptual positions many times over.” John J. Emerick

 

Each moment is similar and each uniquely different. As we are wandering the pathways of life they can tire you. You might stop to sip a cup of water midst the turmoil of the day and move on past the strife. Each day we have choices to make we have opportunity and we have disaster waiting. It is that light bulb going off, like in the old cartons over our heads that makes the difference. Sitting in my sanctuary of my class room at school in the darkness of morning thinking and pondering as I say that makes the difference for me each day at school. As my moments draw down and it becomes time for stage two of the day I draw solace from my quiet time. 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

Can we find truth in an untruthful world?

Bird Droppings April 21, 2017
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 20, 2017
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 19, 2017
“peaceful evolution versus violent revolution”

 

I have begun reading extensively the past few weeks putting together thoughts for my future dissertation at Georgia Southern University and for my teaching. 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

Are we experiencing the genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings April 18, 2017
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 a doctorate program I was in through 2010. I have been running back and forth to my various doctors the past three weeks with my gall bladder surgery. We had a grand babies over night for Easter and egg hunt following. So I am back at work with my friends, sitting doing research, reading and discussing John Dewey, maintaining some semblance of order in my herb gardens and final corrections and editing of my 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 and years 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 constant 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 just like 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 have made adjustments in other areas. Class sizes, the number of students per class has been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened. We are actually slowly coming back and adding some teachers, reducing class sizes and shortening the day.

 

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 almost on an annual basis. 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 great.
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)

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