Our perceptions vary greatly about life

Bird Droppings August 16, 2017

Our perceptions vary greatly about life

 

“Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.” Irving Berlin

 

It was sixteen years ago I was waiting to go teach again after having spent nearly twenty three years in the publishing business. I was anxious to say the least. I had gone by the high school and signed a few forms and talked with the principal for an hour or so. Then the next day came and within hours I was immersed in a day I will not forget. It was my first day back teaching. While I spent most of the day locked in a room in a school lock down because of the 9-11 bombing I still introduced myself to my charges and we did get to know each other.

 

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Each moment, is for each of us different and as I use the word over and over our perceptions vary greatly about life. Emerson so eloquently states “the same world is a hell and a heaven” depending on how you take it. How we live life and our reactions can be construed much the same way.

 

“It’s how you deal with failure that determines how you achieve success.” David Feherty

 

We live in a world of contrast black, white and a swirling of gray then somewhere there is a dividing line to separate the differences. Our adaptation and manipulation of crossing the line between the variations is our dealing with life.

 

“Nothing in life is so hard that you can’t make it easier by the way you take it.” Ellen Glasgow

 

“What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” Thaddeus Golas

 

Many years ago I recall a story from Hindu lore of a water bearer who each morning would go to the stream and fill two great jugs with water. One was new and held every drop all the way from the river to the house. The other jug had a crack in it and a steady stream of water leaked out all the way from the river to the house. Often when arriving at the house the cracked jug would be literally empty. One day the new jug most boastful said to the cracked jug how can you be so happy you never complete your task each day all your water leaks out and you come home empty. The cracked jug said smiling and never once upset, “have you noticed the flowers all along the way from the stream lining the path where I water them each day.

 

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz

 

I find this so true in high school among students; some who are so capable simple choose to just pass. “I have a seventy I am passing that’s all I need”. Others who struggle to achieve try for an A and work each aspect of their endeavor. Every difficult sentence a chore but they persist and succeed. I got to know a young lady who took the science portion of the Graduation test five times each time she would be closer gaining points as she went, finally she passed by two points. I have read how the school board has again passed or stated they will uphold the graduation walking policy. Sadly within that are the girls and guys who do try and may take five tries to succeed not because of attitude but because of ability. Yet they are in jeopardy of not walking at graduation.

 

I have read numerous times how we need to uphold that standard but it is a faulty one there are exceptions and another young lady is one and her mother and she were ones that fought last year to walk. She received her fourth test score weeks before graduation and was one point off. She took testing classes studied hard and had been a good student all twelve years, she was an honor student. She wasn’t a person, who did not deserve to walk she tried more than many that did walk, but our view is of a failure and we punished her at graduation time. She quit school the last week and went on to get a GED.

 

“Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.” Fredrick Langbridge 

 

Sometimes it is only a matter of looking up versus looking down and perception is radically different.

 

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” Chrétien Malesherbes

 

So often we limit ourselves we set up the road blocks and stop dead in our tracks all possibility of success.

 

“Attitudes are more important than facts.” Karl A. Menninger

 

“Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” Earl Nightingale  

 

“We have unprecedented conditions to deal with and novel adjustments to make; there can be no doubt of that. We also have a great stock of scientific knowledge unknown to our grandfathers with which to operate. So novel are the conditions, so copious the knowledge, that we must undertake the arduous task of reconsidering a great part of the opinions about man and his relations to his fellow men which have been handed down to us by previous generations who lived in far other conditions and possessed far less information about the world and themselves. We have, however, first to create an unprecedented attitude of mind to cope with unprecedented conditions, and to utilize unprecedented knowledge.” James H. Robinson  

 

It was only a few years ago in the history of man that TV became a reality. Last week as I was helping someone do a paper a question was asked “when did racism start was it during the civil war”. Racism and slavery are not new to man, some anthropologists look back even to Neanderthal man at signs of racism with Cro-Magnon man. But each generation has more to work with more information more knowledge more data to compile and their response is what had been looked at one way has become different.

 

“There are times when you just get down, you feel like nobody likes you. We’re in high school forever. It’s just what we do with it.” Rene Russo

 

Rene Russo is one of my favorite actresses and someone who was famous as a model and actually then made it bigger as an actress. She at one point as her modeling career started to dwindle thought all was over but interestingly enough now she models perhaps more now that she is famous as an actress.

 

“Don’t be against things so much as for things.” Col. Harland Sanders

 

Most of us have had Kentucky fried chicken at some point in life Col. Sanders literally changed fast food along with Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame and it was their attitude that did it. Both men took already used and tested ideas and with attitude made them work.

 

“Nothing will work unless you do.” John Wooden 

 

“Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.” Ray Kroc

 

Every day I hear a student blame a teacher for being a sorry teacher I have never yet heard a student say they were a sorry student. But I have heard many students except simply a seventy percent and be happy “its passing” and so where does the blame lie if in effect blame is appropriate. We choose and we choose to fail or succeed. We are the culprits not a teacher, not the book and not the class we choose. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and on your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings August 15, 2017
Teaching can be successful

 

So as I do on many mornings when I get the time I walked out to a quiet corner of my back yard. Nestled in a patch of weeds and brush I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning. It is still too dark on some mornings to glimpse the sunrise or the threads of life as I call them glisten in the early morning light. These are strands of spider webbing that are still hanging connecting everything. The scientist part of me knows that they are simply webs from wandering spiders the previous night out hunting but the mystic in me sees the connections. I do see the interconnections but many do not.
I am concerned about learning not education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal polity contradict and totally destroy the ability to provide learning experiences for children. Yesterday several editorial cartoons were sent through the internet showing a group of students all connected with wires from their heads staring ahead and one trying to climb out a window to the outside and nature. The just of the image was education reform wants us all to be education zombies all learning the same thing at the same time. If we cannot reverse the decline in learning our children will be simply pawns of whoever is or whatever is in power at the time.

 

“The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.” Ted Sizer

 

I received an email yesterday or I should say a response to a Facebook post I shared from a friend. The video clip I shared many months back was directed at the Teach to the Test mentality that is sweeping education due to high stakes testing being mandated by states and federal law. A young man a recent college graduate stated he could not get a job because his method of teaching was more hands on than what administrators were looking for. Daily I see the frustration of my son who was trained to teach in experiential manner and is now limited by what is on the curriculum map today. I am co-teaching with teacher in physics who likes to provide context to the learning. This past Friday one of our physics classes in getting ready to study the concepts of velocity and acceleration did a slip and slide lab to take our data in order to calculate acceleration and velocity. It will be interesting to see if they can make physics come alive for these kids and still comply with the curriculum requirements. If I was wagering I would definitely say they will.

 

“A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk

 

“Too much emphasis has been placed on reforming school from the outside through policies and mandates. Too little has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within.” Roland Barth

Just a few days ago I addressed the fact we are educating more diversified students in the United States than anywhere in the world. I borrowed from Black Elk a Lakota Sioux Holy Man who passed away nearly sixty years ago. Black Elk believed in the power of visions. Roland Barth was a professor at Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. His book Improving Schools from Within, was a best seller in 1991. His latest book Learning by heart, addresses the need for school reform and changes and that they need to come from changing the culture of schools. As I read both pieces and thought a Sioux holy man talking about making a vision real and a renowned educator saying we need to look within in order to elicit change maybe we should be listening to them and not politicians.

 

“Rarely do outside of school remedies work their way into the fabric of the schools or into the teacher’s lives, and more rarely into the classrooms. Therefore they only offer a modest hope of influencing the basic culture of the school.” Roland Barth

 

“Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.” Thomas Sergiovanni

 

“The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way.” Theodore Sizer

 

As I ponder my various authors I am reviewing and borrowing from today Barth, Sergiovanni and Sizer in the quotes above I find continuity. These men are all innovators and have made significant and powerful suggestions about education across the nation. Many school systems use the concept of learning communities that Sergiovanni promotes in his writing. I know that Roland Barth’s ideas are taught and re-taught in graduate schools nationwide and teachers seldom leave college without hearing the name of Ted Sizer. What concerns me is why is it with the potential to change education we seem to be in a rut and really going nowhere different. Why do we continue to know what to do to better educate kids and then do not do it. I wish an answer were simple to place in writing but I see blame as being in the leadership of schools. I see blame in school boards and in state education boards and eventually at a federal level. As the ideology leaves the classroom it goes from being real and meaningful to being business and is it cost effective? Can we afford this? Should we spend dollars on this? Somewhere children get left out and learning gets sat by the roadside.

 

“To cope with a changing world, an entity must develop the capacity of shifting and changing – of developing new skills and attitudes; in short, the capability of learning.” A. DeGues, The Living Company

 

“The challenge of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

 

“You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision…A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops. The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge

Dr. Peter Senge is a professor at MIT and renowned scholar in the field of learning. His books and theories are used in management schools and education studies. The idea of a collaborative effort in learning falls back into many ideas that have been mentioned in previous droppings dealing with Foxfire and John Dewey and the democratic class room. Students learn more when it is relevant to them and they have some buy in. Proust provides that we need a new perception to see rather than using the same old mythology to view education and learning. We have to develop new skills not just use what is available. Although John Dewey’s ideas are still considered progressive at over a hundred years old always strikes me as interesting.

 

“We learn best from our experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shred visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from non-conformity, the ability to turn your back on old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesteryear for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We mist dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara African leader

 

“Schools are among the very few institutions that have remained almost entirely unchanged for most of this century.” Judith Aitken

 

“No other organization institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school.” Peter Drucker

 

“Today’s Schools are not Tomorrows Schools. That’s a fundamental misconception.”
David Lange

 

Author, speakers, management consultants, professors, educational leaders and each of them a great teacher in their own right have been outspoken for years about our schools and learning. Why do we let politicians decide what our students should be learning or how we should be evaluating these students? Why do we put arbitrary numbers on children with disabilities as to who can and who cannot exempt or not exempt state mandated tests. One IQ point separates two students one who because they cannot pass the High School graduation tests is and receives a special education certificate of attendance and is counted as a drop out because they did not graduate and the other by submitting a portfolio of what learning occurred in high school graduates with a legitimate high school diploma and is a graduate. One IQ point separates the two and how they are assessed.

 

“The overwhelming number of teachers …are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do.” Alfie Kohn

 

“It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather… I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Haim Ginott

 

“In teaching students to think the emphasis is not on how many answers they know. Rather, the focus is on how well they behave when they don’t know.” Art Costa

 

I recall reading Alfie Kohn for the first time in 2001 at the suggestion of my principal who had formed a book club. The title of the book is The Schools our Children Deserve. As I read through these authors and quotes last night as I researched for my morning wanderings I wonder can we ever really change the industrial complex that drives education? Can we unseat lobbyists and politicians who seek profits at the cost of our children’s learning? I wonder as I finish up today if we can overcome.

 

“In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shared visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

I started and end with a vision. “A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk The great spiritual leader Black Elk spoke of his visions and Peter Senge offers a shared vision. I was once told it took leaders who had vision to truly lead and I wonder if we can find those people within education who care enough about children and about learning to pave the way to a new understanding and realization of our educational system. 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

 

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

Bird Droppings August 13, 2017

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

 

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

 

It has been nearly eleven years since we moved last and found ourselves in this house.  I wasn’t sure from where to start several ideas have been running through my thinking the past few hours. I wanted to steer away from the current news cycle of hatred. It has been almost eleven years since I read and heard the news on Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s death. As I do my best pondering when alone I went outside thinking and wondering about the shortness of life. I looked about my back yard that I know so well in the dark spending more time here in the early hours than during day light it seems at times even taking pictures by flash of night blooming flowers and tree frogs. We do become attached to routines, people and things. I will miss this year being with new teachers and co-teaching with several great friends. It has taken a few days to adjust granted I actually do like being retired. As I think back I did enjoy co-teaching with some teachers. Funny thing was I fought the idea of co-teaching for several years and in my first ten years of special education never co-taught a class.

 

On another topic grandbabies, my wife and I have been discussing ideas of rearranging and decorating our official grandbaby’s cave (room). Our sons all are in moved out and or in careers and both our mothers are still with us so it is interesting to be thinking of going to Toys R Us again and colors to paint our new project. I have never planned an endeavor previously in detail and actually thought out why and how but in this additional grandbaby event a big change for us we find new sustenance. I know as the days and hours get closer my sons will all join in and we will make new accommodations for our grand babies. My wife and I will sort through the preponderance of materials we have collected over the years, memories from raising three sons. I am a pack rat no doubt about it, but I am sure among the boxes there will be items that we might can use. Many times it is hard looking back at those pieces of our lives together good, bad, calamity, tragedy; up lifting experiences somehow it seems there has always been a light.

 

Nearly fifteen years ago I recall my first email of the day was from a dear friend, Dr. James Sutton who wrote a beautiful forward for my first book to be of Bird Droppings, A teacher’s journey if and when I finish it. I was opening emails not too long ago and another note from Dr. Sutton.

 

“It’s great to be affirmed. A chuckle: I mentioned in a training session one time that we need to always be aware that the boy in our class who can’t keep his hands to himself may well hold a scalpel someday and save our life. One lady in the audience gasped: ‘Oh my God! I just pictured Johnny with a KNIFE!’” Dr. James Sutton

 

In a Saturday BD a few weeks back I was talking about being reaffirmed as a teacher from a previous students comment. But for Today I go back to words from two songs that have been running through my head for some time now. Both are older songs but to me significant. Country Stars Big and Rich claim to fame is the song; Save a horse ride a Cowboy, not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame. It is another song on that same album which to me is a far more powerful message entitled, Holy water. I heard this song a nearly ten years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. But as songs go I heard them wrong as we so often do.

 

Holy Water

By Big and Rich

Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I use to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now you’d never tell

Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

 

The first time I heard this song tears welled up I was listening to the words of holy water as if the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I used the words in class many months ago. I took the CD in to sort of a listen and translate for students and asked what is this song about and one of my red necked skate boarders piped up and set me straight.   “Mr. Bird she wants to be held like holy water – special sacred.” The old saying could not be truer, from the mouths of babes. How many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water. I thought back to a quote from Parker Palmer from I used a few days ago.

 

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

 

Years back for lunch my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV a Martina McBride music video was showing entitled, God’s Will. It hit me again this time I was in tears and a powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching of exceptional children so many years ago. I thought back to my little brother John.

 

God’s Will

By Martina McBride

 

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first

His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt

Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood

[Chorus:]
I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will

Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when

Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him

[Chorus]

Before they moved to California
His mother said, they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her, that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you

I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

 

My son asked, “Dad are you crying again” as I watched a powerful music video and song for some of us who are where we are to be. Over forty five years ago my brother John was born. My mother was in labor nearly two days and John was born with cerebral palsy, severe brain damage. When he was two while in Florida he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John lived till a few years ago with his family sharing in all gatherings all the time he never spoke a word. He was never toilet trained yet he left his mark on each of our lives. So much of the past two days got me thinking back in time.

 

The impact my brother John had spanned several states as his influence spread. In 1971 or so the city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the teachers of exceptional children who after babysitting or being around John chose this field to teach in this field and in other areas of education including myself, two sisters, my oldest son and several nieces and nephews. My own family ended in Georgia because of John. He is buried on a hill out by my brother’s home in Walton County and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if he had not happened to our family.

 

My mother has answered in a series of poems and thoughts she has put together over the years. Each of my brothers and sisters has responded in their own fashion and me I respond in Bird Droppings. Sitting here thinking of the passing of a good soul in Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and my brother John and thinking of  these two songs maybe we can begin to set aside differences and challenges and calamities and start seeking out each other. Peace my dear friends and thank you all for the support and emails over the years 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

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 11, 2017
A spiritual side to teaching

 

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

 

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

 

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

 

I have been back in teaching sixteen years and have watched teachers burn out and simply fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting their all into what they do, and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

 

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

 

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students, you open your heart as palmer indicates, and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer in his writing discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and more critically a necessity.

 

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer
In my journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural as I am discussing my journeys since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude that for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred, and some will scuff how you can say that, it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

 

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

 

In the several years that I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. I have gone about this through building relationships with students. In my  opinion, that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books, and it is relationships. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience in any way this knowledge. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept that I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead, and few days left in this week the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and 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

Now my past studies are making sense

Bird Droppings August 10, 2017

Now my past studies are making sense

 

My head feels like a sponge. We have hot weather the cool and high humidity then torrential rain and my head always feels it. Perhaps why I was sitting thinking back to a teacher work day, we as teachers in Walton County were not paid as it was one of our furlough days imposed by our governor. It had been a day to finalize grades for mid-semester and for training.  I did not sit idle but used time to work on research and papers for my graduate school studies. I am sitting here this morning trying to sort through piles of what needs to go first. Print articles to read, apply for part time work, think about dissertation, write and read of course. After teaching many years of high school and college and now back in graduate school I am trying to juggle due dates and names and folders. Maybe that is why my head hurts this morning. In less than a three months I will be sixty eight and that thought has passed through my pondering lately more than once and who knows maybe my brain is getting old and tired.

 

“The more sand that has escaped the hourglass of life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean Paul Sartre

 

As I was looking for thoughts and ideas to start I actually was going a different direction when by accident or should I say coincidence found this quote? As we get older we have experienced more and if we have learned from our experiences the hour glass does clear. However if those grains have been abrasive and scoured the glass as they went through the glass will be scratched and foggy. It is life’s lessons that determine through previous experiences how we have responded and or would respond.

 

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

 

I am not a big fan of fishing as a sport and often draw strange looks when my students hear me say I do not fish. I enjoy the solitude and quiet but not the sitting and waiting. Although once or twice I do have fish stories I could pull out both by chance with my cousin from Florida. One took place in Wisconsin when my father took my cousin and me fishing for Muskie and one in Florida with my family when we came upon a group of mating sharks. But they are food for thought another time and writing.

 

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” W. Blake

 

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” Albert Einstein

 

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

 

Choosing to look, to see, to listen and to hear these are all choices we make as we go through life. It is far easier to take ideas and thoughts from others to be subjugated by others. It is so much easier to be what another wants us to be. It is only in hearing and seeing for ourselves we can as Thoreau says wake up to the dawn. We must be awake. As I was reading last night this thought came up and it intrigued me since I started in about using your own eyes and ears.

 

“An anthropologist asked a Hopi Indian why so many of his native songs seemed to be about the subject of rain… he replied: ‘because rain is scarce in our land… is that the    reason so many of your songs are about love?’” from a Hopi elder

 

As I thought is that the problem in our society so easily recognized by a Hopi Indian in New Mexico who had never really been to a big city or “civilized” area of the United States, could it be a lack of love? In many of my readings for graduate school we are looking at whose eyes and whose voice perceives what is occurring in life. So much of history has been interpreted by a limited number of people and in a very select and often biased view. So often it is only the winner’s view of the world we see from history.

 

“Mankind often stumbles upon the truth….but usually picks itself up & goes   along.”  Winston Churchill

 

We so often know the answer and choose not to listen or simply disregard due to politics or popular opinion or majority rules sort of thing. Much of history has been written this way. Many indigenous peoples have been eradicated and literally been the bad guys in history. Their land was taken away and we make them the bad guys. Listening to politicians and power brokers today this is still evident. Calling such endeavors such as bilingual education not in a nice way and or even one of my favorites “voting ghetto” this adds to a couple of the most ignorant statements of recent political gibberish.

 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  Albert Einstein

 

The more I read of his ideas and philosophy the more I like his thoughts. I think it is funny how what we remember him for is more military oriented work on the atomic bomb than his philosophy of life which was pacifistic and antiwar. He loathed the fact that he was instrumental in developing weapons of mass destruction and even at one point said he would give up all if he could take that back. So where am I going today perhaps the following thought will offer some aid.

 

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more   than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position… It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so             aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education… The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our affords are to create.” Bertrand Russell

 

The sad thing is so often we fall victim to 19th century thought and this while applying to education is very much prevalent through all ideas among the “normal” folks.

 

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.”  William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

 

It is so sad to think that we actually allowed this type of mentality to lead our nation at one time. There are many times I wonder if anything has changed as you read headlines and newspaper clippings. We do not want to over educate children they might think for themselves then what do we do. The paradox is that in schools the kids who are allowed to think for themselves excel and often are the pride of the schools. Yet all through their education an effort has been made to suppress them. We cannot seem to understand that the ten year trend of standardized testing has done nothing to improve teacher quality and or student’s abilities other than to take tests. I saw this quote from the late John Holt yesterday in passing on another person’s Facebook page and it made me think.

 

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

 

Holt and I disagree on many points I am sure as he was one of the first major advocates for home schooling however it was not based on religion but on learning. I agree with him that traditional schooling is ineffective. I try and function within and try to provide a slight as much as I can alternative to traditional teaching. I have been a fan of John Dewey and experienced based learning for some time and schools using his philosophy in many ways are not schools but learning environments. I watch current “reformers” trying to even more cubby hole and categorize and traumatize teaching and in theory learning. I am sorry teaching to a test is not anything but rote memory practice. A concerted effort is being made by corporate America to strip away individuality, soul from our youth and make a profit at it.

 

I have used this example before but since it is a good one I will again. My son in eighth grade was told his methodology in a math problem was wrong and he had to do it right, the teachers way. Later in high school during his second semester of calculus he found his methodology was absolutely right and more so interesting what was wrong in eighth grade is so correct in twelfth grade and again in four calculus courses at Georgia Tech. His math teacher in eighth grade did not have an understanding of calculus and therefore could not respond other than to say he was wrong. Sometimes we force children to our terms and we are the ones who are wrong. We need to listen to the children learn from them and before I go too far a last quote to end this Monday morning meanderings. This is from ancient Israel.

 

“A child’s wisdom is also wisdom” Jewish Proverb

 

Well I got a bit carried away but several ideas to mull over ponder and reflect on so be safe this glorious week ahead with projected rain and all, and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Finding the right spot for the puzzle pieces  

Bird Droppings August 9, 2017

Finding the right spot for the puzzle pieces

 

“In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.” Genjo Koan 

 

There are times when we in looking we miss what it is we are trying to find. Contained within a drop of water there is an entire universe. Sometimes we want to have things to be simply round or square and yet infinity abounds. Yesterday I was speaking with several teachers discussing why students acted as they did and behaved as they do. In a recent presentation on a chapter from a book on behavior management and treatments the last paragraph of the chapter summed up quite a bit and so often we look everywhere else and the answer is right beneath our feet.

 

“The absence of evidence to support medication as a viable alternative should lead future researchers and clinicians to further explore parenting strategies that facilitate the development of better sleep habits.” Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards

 

As we do so often we look for excuses we look for medical, physical, emotional reasons for sleep disorders in children. Yet with behaviors at school we blame class room activity, we blame teachers, planning, books, and or administration. What always amazes me is that the sixteen hour syndrome is never discussed; we never tend to see where the issue really lays, that of parenting strategies and all the overt issues that children contend with as they leave school. I often wonder why we cannot accept the blame as parents or why we want an excuse in any aspect of life.

 

“It’s frightening to think that you mark your children merely by being yourself. It seems unfair. You can’t assume the responsibility for everything you do –or don’t do.” Simone De Beauvoir, French Existentialist, Writer, and Social Essayist 1908-1986

 

I was ready to write down how the great Simone was a heroic figure in Bolivia, a crucial part of South American history and yet really this person was a philosopher from France and under study to Sartre.

 

“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Frank A. Clark

 

“Parents are not quite interested in justice, they are interested in quiet.” Bill Cosby

 

It is so funny thing how in the United States we have most of the world’s ADHD children. It is a funny thing that as we became so mobile and our family structure somewhat altered that number increases as well. Another interesting point is that during the 1980-90’s ADHD increased so rapidly, almost in epidemic proportions, over nine hundred percent. It is so funny how we began seeing this issue when it got on our nerves as parents and or teachers and took up our time. As an old person I was thinking to my own history and where was ADHD when I was a child.

 

“The first half of our life is ruined by our parents and the second half by our children.” Clarence Darrow

 

We try and look at the whole and miss pieces or sometimes we look so intently at a piece we miss the whole. This is a paradox of sorts. I hate jig saw puzzles yet am fascinated by them and often I use the comparison to those same jig saw puzzles for life in general. Life is very much like a myriad puzzle, millions of intricate pieces all falling into place one at a time, each more intricate then the next. Sometimes we see a piece and for days focus on each minute detail, each little facet and each little color speck of white or red and the details over whelm us. We so easily lose sight of the whole picture the vast array of life in front of us forming over a minute tiny aspect.

 

“Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence then this worship of the past?” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Amazing as I pulled Emerson in amazing how a hundred years ago a poet has pieces for today. We as parents, and or teachers try so valiantly to cast our being into a child to see ourselves living again. Maybe that is why we focus on a piece for so long.

 

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” Dr. C. Everett Koop former Surgeon General of the United States

 

As I think of Dr. Koop it is so much more so for the adding of the warning on cigarettes than his philosophy most people remember him. As I think I recall my dad’s story of how he also prayed by the bedside of my younger brother many years ago in Philadelphia Children’s Hospital where he was Chief Surgeon. He is an interesting man and great doctor.

 

“Having children makes one no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Dr. Michael Levine, professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at The University of California

 

More so as I write today I find who these people are as I am looking at parenting as it is interesting as to what they say. Dr. Koop told my father as he sat with him one evening discussing my brother how parents of critically ill children were so different than so many others. They talked about how faith was so much an aspect of their lives and trust a critical piece of their puzzle as that dealt with their children’s issues.

 

“The word no carries a lot more meaning when spoken by a parent who also knows how to say yes.” Joyce Maynard

 

“Do not educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they know the value of things not the price. “ Santosh Kumar

 

On many mornings I am really not sure where I am going with a thought and I know I wander about here and there. I wonder as well what I am trying to say as I start and many times midway I still am wondering. Joyce Maynard’s statement may be where I was going in the last page or two looking and building to this. Whether a parent or teacher or friend this applies as I look back to my starting quote from nearly 1000 years ago written by Dogen, a Zen master and told to his student. Back in those days, a koan was a question put out to answer a puzzle piece in a person’s life. A Genjo Koan, is an essential question, a question that entails and involves life itself. Only a few moments ago a former student posted a status update with the line from Santosh Kumar. In trying to track down the unnamed quote I found Santosh Kumar. On Facebook a huge following for a young philosopher, and then I found the name is much like John Smith with thousands of internet hits. So perhaps this young fellow did not spout these words but they are good ones and worth repeating.

 

“When fish go through water, there is no end to the water no matter how far they go. When birds fly in the sky, there is no end to the sky no matter how far they fly. But neither fish nor birds have been separated from the water or sky – from the very beginning. It is only this: when a great need arises, a great use arises; when there is little need, there is little use. Therefore, they realize full function in each thing and free ability according to each place. “ Dogan, 1243

 

As I sat this morning, thinking and writing so many ideas flowed listening to teachers yesterday express concern and question hearing parents gathered round their SUV’s trying to solve world issues and who was wearing what and what was the latest gossip. It is so easy to be sarcastic. Children are our greatest future commodity we should not waste them. As Dogan said about fish when parenting there is no end as long as you are a parent when a teacher there is no end as you are teaching. When as I say you are placing pieces in the puzzle it is not a whole as you focus and look at a piece in your hand. We all have work to do as parents, teachers, friends, as a child, or student. In all of this please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

What is the Holy Grail (solution/answer) in education?  

Bird Droppings August 8, 2017

What is the Holy Grail (solution/answer) in education?

 

“Obsessive search for the holy grail through only that which can be measured and documented effectively diminishes the sacred and leaves us standing empty without souls.” Dr. Grant Bennett

 

A day or two ago I got a bit carried away and wandered into about two thousand words on what is it about great teachers and why can’t we teach that. Well in my discourse I did not really solve the dilemma but a response from a dear friend, a former professor in my graduate studies and who is a middle school gifted teacher got me thinking. I recalled a scene from an Indiana Jones movie where the old knight who has guarded the Holy Grail for thousands of years has an evil Nazi officer trying to pick the Grail from hundreds of cups.

 

He chooses a gaudy and elaborate chalice and soon feels the pain of his error and he disintegrates before our eyes. (Movie special effects of course) Shortly thereafter Indiana Jones has the same situation and chooses a simple plain cup to dip from the water of life in order to save his father. For hundreds of years we held an idea of a fancy embellished chalice as the epitome of the Grail and yet it was a simple cup that so often was not even seen. Looking back at Dr. Bennett’s thought in education we have sought the Holy Grail in testing, in curriculum, in various new-fangled gimmickry full of trappings and programs and maybe we truly missed the secret of good or great teaching and education.

 

I had to sit back ponder and think about my response a bit to Dr. Bennett’s follow up to my note of the other day. Seldom do I skip a day in my meanderings but this past summer gardening and grandbabies got the best of me on many occasions. It has been almost six years we drove to Florida for our first grandchild’s birth that my daughter in law gave me a book by Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young Teacher.

 

“It’s a humbling experience but I think that it is a good one too, for someone who writes books on education to come back into the classroom and stand up there as the teacher does day after day and be reminded in this way be reminded what it is like in the real world. I sometimes think every education writer, every would be education expert and every politician who pontificates as many do so condescendingly, about the failings of the teachers in the front lines of our nation’s public schools ought to be obliged to come in a classroom at least once a year and find out what it is like. It might at least impart some moderation to the disrespectful tone which so many politicians speak of teachers.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young teacher

 

As I started this book by Kozol one of the first letters he writes about discusses that first day of teaching we all went through. Over the years I have had several as I moved from Pennsylvania and my original teaching job to a program I stated in Macon Georgia and then to a school in Warner Robins. But the day I recall most vividly and actually forgot about was when I started back after nearly twenty three years away from teaching. I started on a Tuesday in September of 2001. Just by chance it was September 11th. For most of the year had you asked me what day I started teaching I would have responded the weekend after Labor Day. However my principal one day came in and said what day did you start and I pulled out a calendar and sure enough my first day was spent in lock down. I was replacing a teacher who had a nervous breakdown dealing with the EBD kids that I was thrust into.

 

So here I was I had not taught a day in twenty plus years and stuck in a room I should say locked in a room with ten kids who all had been in jail or were on probation still. What do you do? Curriculum was out the door and over a few minutes we had our windows covered and all outside contact severed. Here I was with ten kids who were actually some of the worst in discipline referrals in the school in a tiny room for about five hours. I winged it and we got to know each other. It wasn’t long till those kids were coming to my class and not going to others which of course did not sit well with some of the other teachers whose classes they were missing. I thought about this and still at times wonder why was I being successful with them and the previous teacher that I replaced had a nervous breakdown. I come back to perhaps it is not something we can actually put a label on but an easy word to use is relationships.

 

Teaching is about relationships it is about building and maintaining them. I went out of my way to know these kids beyond the fact they were all jailbirds or into things most kids in high school would have never thought of. After my long dropping of the other day another note from a high school friend who taught Literature in high school in Pennsylvania for thirty six years loving every minute of it. I was asked the other day who was my favorite high school teacher and I could at the time only recall one. A former class mate from high school sent this email.

 

“Anyway…your point is well-taken.  What makes a great teacher?  I can honestly say that many teachers at Scott influenced me:  Joey Inners, John Kerrigan, Dave DeFroscia, Joan Tuckloff, and, of course, Miss Cristoforo.  They made classes come alive; they went the extra mile; they touched my spirit and made me realize what I could do if I worked hard and applied the talents I had.  I think Mark Twain said: Teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theater.  I think he was right.  If the students like a teacher, they will walk through fire for them. One of my favorite activities asked students to write a quick note to a teacher who made an impression on them, thanking them for what they did.  It was the best assignment ever.  Here’s a salute to all of the teachers who have influenced me.” Beckie Backstetter Chiodo

 

My father once told me that teaching was entertainment as well as imparting knowledge I am sure he had read Twains comment as much like me he had a vast quote library saved up which is sitting on my book shelf and I do borrow from occasionally. My father taught about industrial Safety and Loss Control and was in his day considered the leading authority in the field. He lectured in most parts of the world and often spent months teaching for example in South Africa to mine safety folks or in the Philippines or Australia. I went into a lecture many years back when we had an affiliation with Georgia State University and held many of his courses on campus or nearby. This course was in I think the Down Town Ramada Inn and I stepped in to watch the master at work.

He was lecturing about a topic and to make a point he got down in a football three point stance and said hike and charged up the next yard or so of carpet. My father was a lineman in college and even in his sixties was pretty imposing. He lowered and raised his booming voice. He used many learning tricks we teachers still use to help his classes remember ideas. A famous one in safety is ISMEC. Identify, set standards, measure, evaluate and correct or commend a simple acronym and it became a mainstay of Loss Control management.

 

I recall another idea from my father when he visited a plant the first place he went was the maintenance shop. He would talk to the supervisor and ask where they saw issues. I was always amused at how many safety guys would question my father about this tactic. His response was this was ground zero for knowing where potential major loss will occur. In the maintenance shop doing repairs for example repeatedly for a specific shift or piece of equipment will indicate a potential problem waiting to hit.

 

I started thinking that this could apply in a school. Several possibilities what teacher writes most referrals for seemingly inconsequential reasons? You cannot teach by referral. Look at remedial classes are there similarities with kids who are there? Did they have the same teacher? Did they come from the same school? What is their life at home? Far too often in education we start at the top and go down. I have found the gifted kids even without a teacher will do great. I am being somewhat sarcastic.

 

As I am reading Kozol’s book and now interested in looking at others of his I am sure I will be borrowing ideas but I would like to leave today with this idea should we start at the bottom or the top in trying to solve educational problems? I am no closer to finding the solution to how do we tell a great teacher but maybe some food for thought. 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