Teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings June 30, 2018
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 except today it is to move my spot. Developers have purchased the bank owned land in this development and are planning on building new houses. After twelve years of solitude on our lot we might have neighbors. No more quiet and peaceful time, bulldozers and construction folks clambering around. Already a bush hog machine came through and destroyed the der pathways and rabbit warrens. So what was nestled in a patch of weeds and brush where I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning will be moved. I went out earlier taking our huskie out and nearly walked through an orb weaver web. 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 supposed 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, it has been around for some time but caught my attention. 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

Seeking a destination

Bird Droppings June 28, 2018
Seeking a destination

“Life is about the journey not the destination; we don’t know what tomorrow brings” Steven Tyler, AEROSMITH

Every once in a while I get totally amazed, and as I was driving from point A to point B not too many days ago a song was playing in my son’s car and it happened to be the CD with that line in it. I meant to write down which song and forgot later he told me it is from the song Awesome.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating you.” George Bernard Shaw

We each get up in the morning and begin the day usually very similar to the day previous just as always in the wee hours today my house is quiet. One son is off making his life in Southern Pines North Carolina having graduated from Georgia Tech in chemical engineering. Another son graduated from Piedmont College with a master’s degree in Science education and teaches in a nearby county. My youngest son also graduated from Piedmont College and is a registered nurse living in Winder Georgia a few miles away. I am up early in the morning on the computer studying, researching and writing working on my dissertation through Georgia Southern university.

I recall a few summers back my youngest was at music camp for a week when my father past away. My youngest son’s passion has been the blues harmonica back in the day as he says his cousin and my oldest were jamming together, focusing on old southern rock and blues. Who knows maybe they will turn some folks on to some old Robert Johnson songs instead of the pop music so many teenagers listen to now a days. So many memeories as I think this morning.

I went by my mother’s house yesterday to drop off her groceries as I do many times a week sometimes it is to drop off digital photos for my mother’s hobby she is creating greeting cards from photos and artwork, except that I had forgotten them. Her cards use an image on the front and then she will write a poem or phrase to go inside. I went driving around months ago looking for a picture of a spider web one day for her and in the process took 60 other photos. One I had used as a screen saver for many weeks for my laptop of my oldest son’s salt water tank. It has been nearly ten years since he has had a reef tank, basically a salt water aquarium that simulates a coral reef, in miniature. The denizens are primarily colonial polyps and other invertebrates which from a few feet away look like lumps of rock in a very brightly lit tank. However when you get up close and the rocks have quarter inch creatures with tentacles waving in the current they are very much alive. One of the pictures I took was of a group of anemones that cluster together each only a quarter inch wide covering a piece of coral rock with what looks like hair till you look closely and it is tiny tentacles catching microscopic creatures in the water. A tiny mantis shrimp that hatched in the tank was swimming about and got his or her picture taken, each of them less than a sixteenth of an inch long. What is amazing is how much beauty is contained in a space so small.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

So many people are not content and struggle looking for what may be right in front of them. It is our outlook and perception that are crucial to truly seeing and hearing in this reality. Daily I hear people complain about teaching how they do not like teaching or do not like working with children. I keep wanting to say well do something else then.

“How far is far, how high is high? We’ll never know until we try.” California special Olympics song

“Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” Walt Disney

It is the entire journey, it is walking along seeing all there is to see, not missing that minute detail, or word and with conviction achieving your goals. No one can see what you see or hear what you hear only a vague proximity and only you will know when your goal is met. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary stepped to the top of the world on Mt. Everest 29,000 feet plus above sea level no one else had ever done that, now Nepal is a tourist trap with thousands coming through not all to climb but many to say they were there.

I heard from several friends lately through Facebook from so many years ago and one used the word new when describing those days from so long ago. I wrote to another friend this morning about how that was such a good word for back then so many things were brand new almost like opening presents. But today I just don’t rip off the paper and see the new toy I look at each minute detail. I try and listen far more carefully granted I am old and hearing is slightly going still better than most peoples. When I was younger I was rushing through life and things were new and so much to see like running through the park to simply say I have been there. I now stop and ponder and wonder about the details the pieces to the puzzle. No longer is it about getting done it is truly about the journey.

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things — to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals.” Sir Edmund Hillary

We all can achieve, we all can do great things, we all can overcome obstacles, it is confidence, constancy, courage and curiosity as Disney said. Keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

Bird Droppings June 27, 2018
Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

 

Every year it appears in education we have a new trend, basically analogous to trying to pour five gallons of material into a liter bottle using a funnel. As you try obliviously a large portion of material spills out and is discarded or lost. I use a liter bottle as my analogy’s container, as a liter is recognized as the standard international metric unit of volume, a universal standard. This symbolism appears to be what is happening in education, an attempt to find that liter bottle in terms of a student’s capabilities, a universal student standard. Lately most researchers are not having much luck with standards and universal methodology.
In many of our current public school settings, teachers have been stripped of their individuality and creativity, forced often through coercion to teach specifically to the standardized test and to be sure their students pass the test or face consequences. In an effort to meet federal and state mandates, curriculum and lesson guidelines are in place in many school settings that are creating a more uniform and categorized boxed package of material that students learn and retain and through this we are losing aspects of children’s identities and individuality as well as the teacher’s creativity, imagination and individuality. Much of this is market driven through publishing companies assisting in developing tests, researching those same tests and accompanying materials to teach to tests along with texts books aligned with tests. My concern is what is it that we are leaving behind in this rush and push for test results and standardization as we fill that student, that liter bottle. Usually the first thing to go is creativity often in the form of art and music.
As I began writing the idea of soul which is for me is a crucial aspect of our individuality is being stripped away from children literally through more and more organized and orchestrated emphasis on the test. Most people at first will attribute a religious connotation in when mentioning the idea of soul. I began to review ideas and research from various authors using the concept of soul as the heart of our individuality which provided a point of reference that felt good. I went looking back historically trying to find where the emphasis directed toward improving our scores in standardized tests began and it was during the period of the Cold War, when our attention was turned to beating the Russians that the federal government officially started taking a hand in legislating and pushing for standardized test scores.
The Vietnam War and the social awareness of the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies created a bump in the road for standardized testing and the legislated learning processes however briefly. For a short period of time individuality was the norm again. Unfortunately this backlash only lasted briefly, due in part to the shift in scientific technology’s promoting and pushing of standardized testing, the days of independence were short lived. Today’s students and parents are today taking up the gauntlet again. The activism of the late sixties and early seventies was short lived as pressure for standardization ensued and the effort to teach innovatively became obsolete in many schools. The takeover of education by government state and federal was fully under way and innovation, individuality and the progressivism of John Dewey, a major proponent of individuality in education was being pushed aside.
The individual’s experience and involvement within society was the key to Dewey’s thought and to the educational premises of progressivism. It was tying these experiences to education giving context to the content that Dewey promoted. Dewey was adamant about society and democratic interaction in his pursuits of education. Dewey foresaw the direction our industrial society was headed as legislated and packaged learning began stripping away individuality for the corporate good and currently rather large profits. The goal of society to prepare needed workers and consumers was at a cost and that was losing a part of them as they fall prey to the standardized demands.
Sadly there are alternatives; in a community strength is in the interactions, relationships and implications. Within a school this can be powerful tool. This could be applied in a learning setting borrowing from Foxfire Core Practice three.

 

“The work teachers and students do together enable learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practices, 2009

 

Real education is about learning through and of experience. It is learning by doing. It is an environment where each person has input and interaction. This is a democratic classroom and this was developed in the early 1900’s by Dewey and this philosophy is still considered progressive as legislation is pushed for standardization and simplicity in measuring using tests. There is a paradox in this type of education versus the standardized regime that is being imposed through NCLB and other legislated efforts.

 

“As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself. He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself.“ William Pinar

 

We as individuals require others in our existence for triangulation as bearings or focal points of who we are. It takes the input of other people for community and democracy to truly work and to develop. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor of sociology, who has made more of an impact on me in the years since as I read his books and contemplated his thoughts. Dr. Campolo points to a growing issue in our culture.

 

“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our “advanced” capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

 

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the gist of who we are, that inner aspect I will later refer to as soul, getting to know where we are in the world and why. The development and implementation of standardize testing has driven society to using such words as human capital in our viewing of students. Human capital verses human needs I can see why a mother would pull a second grader out of school because of testing.
Education should be an interdisciplinary event. It should be all encompassing, a lived in, a total undertaking. It is not the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ that many traditional teachers and administrators adhere too and legislators want. It is in dealing with more than just us but involving the world and community.

 

“It is through a concern with problems as they relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom, those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliott Eisner

 

Looking at our world view and how we communicate that to others and even to ourselves is important. How we go about educating and teaching our children should be a major concern. What they take from a lesson and how they use it in their own lives can be significant if we will provide the capabilities and allow this to happen. Sadly through a concerted effort schools have been stripping away the children’s individuality for the sake of standardization.
For many years now I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal and human being. The idea of spiritual can be simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within. I see education and curriculum in a similar manner, one of sacredness of spiritual fulfillment, more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day, for those in learning focused schools. It is not a static fixed commodity some legislators want for ease of operation and it can change with the group and community that it is operating within.
As I researched and read curriculum theorists, many are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

 

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the ‘secret’ that ‘sits in the middle and knows’ – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, 1998

 

Perhaps it is in our end of course test and graduation test mentality we are setting limits and parameters on our educative process. We have become so normalized through standardization and traditional molds we have become limited in perceiving anything different. Throughout history it has taken holy men and women, sages, and esoteric’s to bring back pieces of what is truly there. It may be that curriculum theory is doing this with education. Bringing back what could be. Trying to keep from children their inner self their individuality is hindering learning and development as a human.
Education and curriculum are alive ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers and school systems presume. Can we look at curriculum and education in such a broad manner encompassing everything about us, our lived experiences, and our curricula vita? It becomes so difficult to be outside the box when everyone else is inside. But for learning to be real and to progress, we as educators have to ruminate and see the more ultimate issues in life. We need to go beyond the content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and put back that idea of democracy and experience that living and life provides, suggested so long ago by Dewey. There is so much more to education and curriculum for teachers to consider than what is written down on paper.

 

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

 

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books. My first principal back in 2001 who by chance was a recent principal of the year in Georgia had a book club for teachers.

 

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

 

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on to the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”. There should not be a limiting to curriculum or to education as so often currently imposed. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching, he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students.

 

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one, 2009

 

The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces of the individual human being left behind. I would like to be optimistic and say borrowing from the great civil rights leader that as teachers, real teachers, “we shall overcome” and we shall put soul back into the bottle of our children. I got a bit carried away today but continue to 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

 

Standing in line at Kroger

Bird Droppings June 26, 2018
Standing in line at Kroger

I am always looking for coincidence, this could be why so often I find it just about anywhere, be it walking in my yard and seeing an owl sitting in a tree or standing in line at an odd hour at our super Kroger and finding a book. As it goes I am a creature of some routine, while not rising as early as I did doing the school year when I would leave the house at to go to the high school by five in the morning, I still am up and moving before many even consider the idea. I have been doing well on my intake of caffeine for a couple months and since I left without my tea from the house and trying to avoid my caffeine fix each morning from very high calorie energy drinks I headed to find Black Chai Tea at the store. It has been a few years since I would down big mugs as I wrote each morning and had that urge again. The collection of empty mugs in our cabinet at home bespeaks my former habit. My son was heading to Cleveland Georgia to pick up his biweekly rodent load. So he was up early after he left I proceeded to the store to pick up my tea and headed for the checkout. Just as I entered the line a book cart of sorts a large cardboard box marked book sale. Generally in a grocery store books in a large cardboard box marled for sale are ones no one wants but are discounted so you will buy this now sort of approach. As I bent over to look on top was a little book, “Teachers are Special” by Nancy Burke. The adventure begins, on page seven a nice start to the day as I am always looking for ideas.

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

That summarizes many education courses and how to courses in teaching all in one and here I am always searching for what makes a great teacher. Inspiration is the key as I look back on teachers over the years a very few inspired me. There were some and those I could on my fingers and I am one who has been through many teachers in undergraduate and graduate school. As I was writing I recalled my son calling a few summers back to ask if I was watching the news, one of his good friends was in London on a summer study trip and things were going on where his buddy was staying. Coincidence I officiated at this same young man’s wedding a few years back. As I thought to the young man whose wedding I had officiated and my son now living in South Carolina I reread the line from this little book and you know the word teacher could be substituted with parent, friend, manager, supervisor and nearly any other word describing relationships. It is so interesting how we all are teachers in life at some point or another.

“Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe

One of my projects today is to finish several thoughts on story telling which is essentially how I teach and get my lessons across. I actually found several Universities doing research on the subject, basically teaching with inspiration, emotion and feeling. What if for today? What if everyone taught, listened, spoke, managed, supervised, coached, and or just was friends with feeling would our world be any different?

“I like teachers to be nice and sweet and cool and let us do our own stuff, and to be kind, really kind.” Meagan, age 7

I wonder what if a child could rule the world what would the world be like, nice, sweet, cool kind, really kind and we could do our own stuff maybe. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts Namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

Bird Droppings June 25, 2018
Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

 

I have been indirectly involved in several discussions lately involving the word faith. So I did a bit of research and thinking.

 

“Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is accelerating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of standards by which to assess technological impact, and to block it where necessary, is a critical survival skill of our times.” Jerry Mander

 

These are the words that begin author Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it. As I prepare for a new school year one of no books only iPods it will be most interesting. We now have a generation of children who do not fear the technology their parents invented and in many cases do not even hold in awe but consider it common place or boring.
Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.

 

“The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of an analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as the “other”, including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human, to be a human subject, and allow ourselves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman.” R. L. Rutsky

 

Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations. Technology is putting the world into an instantaneous realm of immediate.
The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Millennial by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children’s imaginations and creativity. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.
To believe in a god or gods requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of god. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your fingertips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Each of us perceives the concept of god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.

 

“During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological situation of dependency. We are trained, as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us simply to react, “Who will help me?” We are in a dependent relationship to our parents.” Joseph Campbell

 

Campbell sees us as needing someone or something throughout our lives. We are taught the myths and traditions of our parents and culture as answers to what we can depend on. In many situations that could be a concept of god or religion. Campbell goes deeper into his anthropological view of mythology and its focus on life and or on death. Religions down through history have played on either or both aspects. As humans however we seem to find unknowns and it is that unknown aspect of our existence that provides windows or doors, as Huxley states, to understand who we are and why.

 

“From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that at most times and most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to the objective existents, have felt that they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spirituality higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open…What wonder, then if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within.” Aldous Huxley

 

Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time.
Lev Manovich offers his theory on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and his former place of employment was the last hot type facility and was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is melted and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.

 

“If traditional cultures provided people with well-defined narratives, (Myths, Religion) and little “stand alone” information, today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together.” Lev Manovich

 

We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something is missing, it is that something that is not able to tie it all together.
From my own personal experience working with teenagers, I have found many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.

 

“Religion was perhaps the most ancient organizing concept in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline: the ultimately determining instance for national or racial character, the ultimate source of cultural difference itself, the marker for the individuality of the various peoples in history.” Fredric Jameson

 

Looking at teenagers as a whole perhaps it is the technology that is defining them more so than religion. Issues of faith and trust are daily within news and media that teenagers access far more readily than do we as adults. News articles of men of faith who lied and cheated and yet continue to do as they did before getting caught. There are Church’s turning their backs on children who were molested, and/or buying their silence. It is not difficult to see where faith and trust can be subverted. Sometimes it is easiest to go back, and look at a view from a more traditional standpoint. Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, is first and foremost Oglala, he is an attorney, ex-marine pilot having flown 110 combat missions, and he has participated in seven sun dance ceremonies. He writes extensively on spirituality and the earth. McGaa discusses deeply religion in his book Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way.

 

“Who is God? Before I can begin to answer such a question, I must explain that any answer, or attempt to answer, is based on my background, my personal experiences and that which has influenced me upon my personal journey down the Red Trail of life or as some may call it, my journey within the Natural Way.” Ed McGaa

 

As I consider myself a searcher I am always observing and pondering. Many times when talking with youth I will ask them to define god whether they believe in god or not, but to not use pronouns and or scripture. To date very few have succeeded, they are limited by their experiences. So much of who we are is based on where we came from and what we have experienced. In attempting to find what I believe is missing, perhaps rethinking where I have come from.
I attended Candler school of Theology in 1973-75 at Emory University. I have always questioned others views on god and faith. As I took classes in theology and biblical studies, and I would often be on one side of the table alone, as we argued or discussed various views. While I never was a student in Dr. Fowler’s classes I was impressed as I read his books and articles. Dr. James Fowler was a Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, he was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. Dr. Fowler has written numerous articles and books on his concept of faith and on his theory of how faith develops. This idea of a developing faith could impact how technology also fits into human awareness. Could it be through the intensive use of technology we are circumventing a stage in our development? Looking back at Campbell’s thought could it be we are finding in technology a substitute for that parent dependency within society? Dr. Fowler starts his book The Development of Faith with this thought.

 

“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the between times: between meaning amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.” Dr. James Fowler

 

The idea that there is a development of faith even as a child grows physically, in developmental stages, has intrigued me for many years. My own personal journey has been intertwined with my studies and readings as well as experience, dealing with people and with my students. Faith is a word that is very difficult to scientifically dissect and analyze. For different people faith will have different meanings many times associated with religion. In my own journey I found an author, William Eleden, who was a former fighter pilot in World War II and Pastor and is currently at ninety six years of age still an author and columnist.

 

“Words can lead us into dead end canyons, and what is the bottom line? In this: Words fool us into thinking we have experienced what we talk about. Take water for instance: I can read volumes about water listen to a thousand lectures on water and develop an exhaustive vocabulary about water, without having ever experienced water. I will know more about water after drinking a glass full, or diving into a lake then if I attend lectures on water for the rest of my life.” William Edelen

 

The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.
In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. 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

 

Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Bird Droppings June 24, 2018
Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

 

In the course of a few days storms passed through quick very definitive fronts literally flying by and all ending with rainbows. On several occasions twin rainbows. On the other hand my sunrises have been off numerous clouds block the sun and offer just an orange or pick band briefly as the sun enters our reality. But still all in all it has been a good week. Yesterday my wife decided on the spur of the moment we needed a quick road trip and we ended up in Nantahochee-Rabun gap. We stopped at Billingsly nursery which is a favorite stop. Sitting in the valley or gap mountains are on both sides. It was a beautiful day and great time.

 

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

 

Perhaps in the scheme of things there are people who are inherently grouchy and or by Lincoln’s view they simply want to be grouchy. Sitting here pondering this morning I can recall bumping into many people like this. They are inherently grouchy. Perhaps we should label these folks and simply walk away. As I look deeper into the simple words above, we all can be happier as I think about Lincoln’s thought it is just wanting to be that way.

 

“Whatever happiness is in the world has arisen from a wish for the welfare of others; whatever misery there is has arisen from indulging selfishness.” Buddhist Proverb

 

I had not thought of happiness previously as simply as this idea. Happiness is oriented around others and therefore unhappiness more self-oriented. Lately a series of commercials the focus of the ad is cows in various situations of being happy, as the ads portray; happy cows make California cheese or some such thing. One commercial is a cow escapes from Wisconsin and the other cows are watching and one asks the other how long she has been gone and it has been several days and the cow is only a few feet past the fence. Maybe happy cows can’t make limburger cheese?

 

“True happiness arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self, and in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.” Joseph Addison

 

“Happiness is a sort of action.” Aristotle

 

Happiness seems to be different for different people for some it is in doing for others, for others it is friendship. As I read this morning I agree with Aristotle it is a word of action.

 

“The really happy man never laughs — seldom — though he may smile. He does not need to laugh, for laughter, like weeping is a relief of mental tension — and the happy are not over strung.” Prof. F. A. P. Aveling

 

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” Mildred Barthal

 

As I think of students and occasionally there are some who shift from happy to sad I try and make a point of asking them if everything is ok. I can think of one student I don’t even know her name who always looks unhappy, never a smile and often alone and perhaps it is in the aloneness is the unhappiness. When I am out in large shopping venues which I try and avoid, a mall or such many times I will simply observe people while my wife does whatever women do at malls. That really isn’t a sexist statement but I still am trying to figure out what malls are for other than observation projects for doctoral dissertations. I know there are various stores with goods and literally run the gambit of humankind, perhaps it is a social gathering place to meet other people.

 

“When one is happy there is no time to be fatigued; being happy engrosses the whole attention.” Edward Frederic Benson

 

“The world’s literature and folklore are full of stories that point out how futile it can be to seek happiness. Rather, happiness is a blessing that comes to you as you go along; a treasure that you incidentally find.” Louis Binstock

 

It is difficult to explain a way of seeking happiness. Perhaps we cannot truly seek happiness. I recall several months back even in today’s modern age a rainbow was blazing in the sky and people were parked as close to the end as possible looking for the end and who knows a pot of gold. Thinking about happiness I ponder what makes me happy. It could be as simple as laughing in the hallway with students, and fellow teachers. Back in the day my Para pro and I would stand at my door deliberately talking to students. Often students who are quiet and many times alone we would try and single out. One day we might ask if they were lost or looking for a room. We are not good ones for directions we have been known to give wrong directions around school, but we try and laugh with students. We would try and make passing by our door more than just like everyone else’s. We ask about their weekend or who won last night’s softball game or basketball game. We are actively involved and you know what unintentionally we come back in after the bell and we are happy usually laughing pretty good at least smiling ourselves.

 

“It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first. The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self.” Hugo Black

 

“The truth is that all of us attain the greatest success and happiness possible in this life whenever we use our native capacities to their greatest extent.” Smiley Blanton

 

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world. It is having; someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

 

If only all were so simply and yet maybe life is this simply and as we move through what we do and what we hope for and just seem to grow proportionately. Our needs and wants tend to fluctuate around being wanted and our understanding of that. What would it take for me to be happy and content today may be different than forty years ago and forty years from now more different again if I am still around.

 

“Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again — this is the brave and happy life.” J. E. Buckrose

 

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.” Albert Camus

I remember years ago watching the infectious smiles and happiness in a small church in Macon Georgia, The Church of The exceptional. The church founded in 1971 the idea was a place where mentally and physically impaired children and adults could worship together. Many times parents would leave children home and or not go to church. I recall one fellow Mike Porch who would greet everyone as they came in the door. He had a smile ear to ear and would shake your hand like there was no tomorrow and welcome you to his church. Mike had never been to public school, he had Downs Syndrome which in 1971 meant you would never do well in school. He was at that time a student and employee of The Macon Association for Retarded Citizens workshop.
Mike has passed away since that day, but that smile and joy were infectious and many the people were cheered up by Mike as he greeted people joining him for church services.

“Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see bird that had the blues? One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.” Dale Carnegie

 

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” Hugh Downs

 

I was thinking that I was a creature of routine, after a long weekend it is hard to get sorted out and back on track. I am still getting sorted out from a being off from school a few weeks ago. What is funny our dog is out of sync too. After having my son move home sleeping on his bed and me sleeping late she is a bit mixed up. Mine however is not as much routine as missing contact with students and with people. Interacting is where ideas and thinking permeate. When someone thinks different pulling away is not the answer it is immersing in and offering the differences. Who knows what doors may open or windows close?

 

“There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means — either may do — the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier.” Benjamin Franklin

 

As I close for the day leave it to Ben Franklin to have the solution but for today 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

Can we even compare ethics and politics?

Bird Droppings June 22, 2018
Can we even compare ethics and politics?

 

I picked up a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution some time ago one morning. The front page had various articles but one caught my attention. Having been a student in psychology at Mercer University in Macon and required to go on a field trip to Central State Hospital. The hospital, at that time in 1973 was the largest residential mental facility in the nation. A few months later I was doing a six month internship at the same facility. Today I have several direct links, through patients now being served by Georgia Mental Health. As I read the paper the article hit me hard. It was focused on an appointment to the directorship of Georgia State Mental Health. The person appointed by our Governor was not a psychologist or mental health employee of any sort but the former calendar keeper of the previous governor. Another tie is that she is the girl friend to the current governor’s spokesperson. The new head of mental health even makes twenty five thousand more than previous director. Interesting too in that Georgia is under investigation by federal authorities for the state of its mental health. Is ethics even a consideration of politics?

 

In our local newspaper was a half-page ad stating one of politicians running for congress in the state runoff election was removing his opponent’s signs and there was a video link. There is a video of campaign folks in of course t-shirts for their candidate removing the other man’s signs and replacing with theirs. All I could do was laugh since I would not if paid vote for either. It really made my day when a thought crossed my mind from a line a dear friend uses in his conferences. Years ago I went to a training seminar in Macon Georgia on Conduct Disorders. Dr. James Sutton from Texas was leading the conference. He started asking who was from elementary schools, middles school and finally high schools. He apologized to the one or two high school teachers myself included in the crowd saying if kids have gotten to high school with conduct disorders and little has been done there is a ninety nine percent chance they will end up in jail, used car salesman, evangelists and or dead. I happened to being driving by a used car lot run by a former pastor when the thought hit me about the ad since one of the politicians is a pastor. I am not saying these particular politicians are sociopaths just a statement in a conference from fourteen years ago sort of hit me.
Today’s reality in Georgia our Congressmen can vote a raise. Democrats are trying to tie minimum wage to their own raises which is nice and many workers who are on minimum wage are below poverty level and often for whatever reason limited or hindered in the types of jobs they can get.

 

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 

I find it funny why should we worry about money and success who needs it when gas is nearly four dollars a gallon we all are looking for bargains and stretching each dollar. It is true many folks have not the need to keep up with the trends and are content with what they have. But it is how we tend to overlook selfishly those with less. The raises each year proposed for congressmen per year would be more than the fulltime minimum wage paycheck for a year of a lesser worker. That is sort of like saying I am more than your equal so I deserve this money a slap in the face to so very many. Sadly they have no one to answer to but themselves.

 

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 

At what point is a lot of money too much. I find it so hard to fathom what some people do with billions of dollars.

 

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, and he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

 

We have to be able to dream and often that is stripped away with attitudes and structures imposed by various sectors of society.

 

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.” Henry David Thoreau

 

The ideas of self-esteem, self-understanding and knowing thy self as the ancient Greek philosopher said so many years ago are crucial. We need to know who we are and why. I started arguing about the selfishness of so many people including our leaders in Washington who I am sure will justify their raises in some fashion and I am sure through lobbyists they will justify not granting a raise to minimum wage. It is amazing what a few fast food lobbyists can do along with other wealthy business owners. Maybe that is how you justify a raise for yourself with the savings from not raising minimum wage. A long day today discussing and reading so 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