Go up another rung!

Bird Droppings January 31, 2019
Go up another rung!

 

I walked outside just a few minutes ago into a chilly breeze, we are having our coldest days of winter right now. The sky was clear and the only sound was the flapping of the neighborhood flag against the flag pole. I looked around as my dog does, in that whatever dogs do when they go out and listened carefully trying to hear things. Perhaps it is listening for some signs of spring on the way. Sadly only the clicking and flapping of the flag. We are into a finishing a week and the mountain is nearly summited as we approach the midpoint of a grading cycle. I am even with my aversion to shopping looking forward to the weekend and possibly going shopping with my wife and will even brave the masses of the mall although I have an ulterior motive I have run out of my favorite loose tea and the shop is by chance at the mall. Perhaps that is why I am even considering going to the mall although I do enjoy observing and trying to figure out people. So as I sit finishing up here my meditation and writing this morning pondering a weekend jaunt maybe it is time to go up another rung in life.

“One only gets to the top rung of the ladder by steadily climbing up one at a time, and suddenly all sorts of powers, all sorts of abilities which you thought never belonged to you–suddenly become within your own possibility and you think, ‘Well, I’ll have a go, too.’” Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain and was in her time the most powerful woman in the world. This is her philosophy of success that she discusses here in her quote and it is simple, a one step, one rung at a time to the top. So many folks want to jump from the ground to the top and forget there is so much in between.

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.” John Foster Dulles

One of the major ways that we as humans learn is through trial and error. However true success is not repeating the error again and again and that is when we are succeeding. With students it often takes multiple tries but it is up to the teacher to assure that the rungs can be accomplished with the right effort and not to deliberately create such difficulty that a student flounders and as some do eventually quits. Teachers measure the rungs on the ladder not too easy but attainable.

“What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” Benjamin F. Fairless

As I read this note and the four simple rules or ingredients to success I was amazed at the simplicity. First love what you do, and then give it your best, thirdly seize opportunities, and finally teamwork and success can be yours. As I walk through the doors of our school and look at teachers so often you can tell good teachers by who is smiling a sure sign that they want to be there. For these teachers it is not just a job and they love what they do and do give the job their best. In no other field have I ever seen people seize opportunity such as in teaching. When paper is allocated or budget cuts restrict supplies you learn quickly to be resourceful and work with others it is so much easier to accomplish as a team then working independently.

“Success is that old A B C; ability, breaks, and courage.” Charles Luckman

We acquire ability through learning and effort and it is learning when to take advantage of breaks that come along, always keeping your eyes open and always being ready. Courage is that character aspect of us that is that inner drive that can lead a person upward.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell

As he lead US forces back a few years and now then as the retired Secretary of State Colin Powell has simply put it all in order as far as life goes, in order to find success you must prepare do your homework. Then you do the work and get it done and finally learn from your errors, from your mistakes and use them to succeed. As I read this morning between walking dogs and writing I found a thought I would like to end with.

“It is more important to be of service than successful.” Robert Kennedy Jr.

For many people success is a selfish thing, but finding true success is when what you do is affecting others positively. Today in this with so many opportunities to be of service to others try and be of service and always 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 define our own success?

Bird Droppings January 30, 2019
Can we define our own success?

 

Yesterday in a teachable moment I drew upon my experiences and while discussing the phylum arthopoda and one of my favorites the black and yellow garden spider, Agriope aurantia, or writing spiders. I then proceeded to offer a Creek Indian view of early morning. Few see this unless you go out early in the morning. I will often go and sit watching the sun rise in the east. If you look carefully through the weeds and grass in the wee hours of morning you can see gossamer strands of spider silk literally touching everything. Creeks will call this the web of life where all is connected and as I told the story for my teachable moment this group of ninth graders all were silent listening.

I left yesterday with several critical calls to make, errands to run and several feelings of people I needed to see and or talk with. As I traveled about going to a meeting a day late for a former student to start there were quite a few people along the journey. I spoke with a retired Air Force electronics expert who had two years ago undertaken a vision quest with the Blackfeet tribe in the western US. I ran into several former and present students, parents and friends of mine. I would consider yesterday very much a success. As I went through the day yesterday I thought about what is it the idea of being successful? Is there some magically way we can tell if we are successful in what we do?

Going deeper in thought I would like to consider myself successful at what I do and I think most people would want to feel this way. Wanting to be successful however has its basis on how you define success. It has been nearly twelve years since a fellow teacher handed me an article by Sydney J. Harris, a prolific writer and columnist from thirty five years ago. Harris at one time was syndicated in over four hundred papers.

 

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

 

“Success is just a little more effort” from his column Strictly Speaking

 

As I read this passage I realized how true it is. So often it is one more step, another few words, fifteen more minutes that make the difference between success and failure or in being just average. In high school sadly getting seventy percent and passing is considered successful by far too many. There are some who do not succumb and try to attain better. It is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much work or effort. This is not strictly limited to students teachers as well fall into the taking the easier road syndrome as well. If a teacher choses to only do seventy percent just what is needed and is working with seventy percent students that equates to about forty nine percent of what should have been learned and is a failure in most societies. I often wonder and I am a procrastinator myself what constitute too much effort or too much work.

 

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

Being of a monastic nature I find some days this to be difficult, to include others. However we need others to succeed in life and to move ahead if only to provide support. Succeeding is more often than not an effort of a group rather than just one person.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last two lines; it becomes so significant that success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society of excess and greed.

 

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

 

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

 

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Victor Frankl

 

Seeing ourselves clearly, honestly, and learning to like to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

 

“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

 

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people down through history. Many wealthy people defined success in terms of accumulation of wealth and yet others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons that are available as I looked, accomplishment, outcome, and achievement were all listed as definitive words for success as I read.

As I think back to two of the quotes I used today Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key, this man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates defines success as that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define. It is about your impact and difference you make on others and success is not measured as much in volumes as in quality. If we take quality as defined by Phillip Crosby which is exceeding expectations and draw a loose simple parallel. Then success is exceeding others expectations. A week is drawing to an end and as I have for many years now ended my daily entries 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

 

 

Taking and making the most of each moment

Bird Droppings January 29, 2019

Taking and making the most of each moment

 

Waking up to my dog barking because he needs to run outside for a second is not the best way to wake up, although a beautiful sky greeted me. I recall nearly six years ago a similar morning. On that day I received a call midday that my mother had to be hospitalized and my wife was heading over to meet ambulance at the hospital. One of the Assistant Principals had come to my room to tell me to call my wife since my cell phone does not pick up in much of our building. Since only one or two at the most can be in the emergency room area with the patient I felt it a better use of my time to finish my classes and then head over. I drove by my house on the way to the hospital and as I opened my car door a hawk was calling at first I had not paid attention but then I looked and again he called several times and flew immediately over my head to a pine not too far from the house. I knew all was well. I went by last evening taking a BBQ plate for dinner for my mom. She is ninety and doing great.

 

Today it is a beautiful sky clear and cloud free and not too cold but an arctic blast is coming. Area schools are closing ahead of mid-day snow projections. Students and teachers alike were in anticipation of school closures although it appears so far I am headed to work.

 

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 

 

But as I sit thinking hopefully winter is coming to an end and school and classes soon will be a part of our daily routine again in many of our lives in this second semester. Our teachers are walking the hallways faced with the challenges of state and federal mandates in test scores going to training and meetings to better teach the submit test material to children. Soon we will be facing that challenge as spring comes round and annual test cycle begins anew. As I think back to days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and all the switch backs how we approach testing and teaching to tests is much like that mountain climb.

 

Many times you can see the trail above your head and going straight up rather than following the trail and it may seem easier but carrying a fifty pound back and walking the switch backs for an extra seventy five feet and not struggling to hang on sometimes is wiser. For those uneducated and mountain illiterate among you, a switch back is a more gradual ascent usually taking a bit longer sort of a handicapped ramp but in reality safer than scaling a cliff. I see a similarity in how we teach today teaching massive amounts of content to score well on tests and little context to have that material stay with the student.

 

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert W. Service

 

Walking for hours with a grain of sand digging into your foot can be painful and from firsthand experience taking your shoe off to try and complete the journey sometimes is even harder. Far too often in education we simply have taken off the shoe. Carefully address the grain of sand when you notice it rather than waiting until it is way too late.

 

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Jimmy Carter 

 

I walked many miles barefoot years ago because I would not take care of a sore foot when hiking, and finally I succumbed to the experience of those around me and learned the value of moleskin. I was five miles from a road and a fifty pound pack and I was in charge of a group of kids the choices do change occasionally. I had blisters on blisters and infected from not taking care of a small spot on my foot when it first had occurred a few days earlier. I was saved by a thirteen year old boy scout, (and me a former Eagle Scout and scout leader) when he handed me a piece of what looked like soft thick cloth, moleskin. The good Doctor to the rescue so high on a mountain in North Carolina and me who knew all about hiking, I learned a simple lesson from a much younger teacher than myself.

 

“Few people have any next; they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of their line.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I never again went hiking without moleskin and shared moleskin numerous times thereafter and needless to say I never again had a foot problem hiking. As I look back over my thoughts today all can be applied to education and life in general mountains can be issues we face daily family problems, friends, and work. They are but winding trails and there can be solutions.  Sometimes we think far too simple than an all-out confrontation a grain of sand. It could be a rumor that starts so small and grows and festers and soon is great.

 

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”  Jimmy Carter

 

Many times I have surprised myself and achieved far more than I ever intended to in many aspects of life.  I am sitting here procrastinating getting serious about getting back into my research and sorting out files and looking over records and all the fun stuff of teaching. In a few weeks it will be back to writing for graduate school and my dissertation and more reading and writing and learning. I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of education perhaps more than the education and often in that friendship you learn as well. I was reminded of my ending each day in an email from a dear friend in Texas and he offered a thought from his weekly comments on his website nearly five years ago. Dr. James Sutton is a clinical psychologist and lectures around the country on Oppositional Deviance Disorder and Conduct Disorders.

 

Dr. Sutton had been in a meeting and was thinking about his son in law in Afghanistan and how his daughter had recently sent photos of their baby by fax. There had been a bomb in Kabul during the time his son was there which elicited these thoughts.

 

From Dr. James Sutton’s website:

 

  1. We might think otherwise most of our lives, but none of us are ever completely exempt from what happens in this world.Tragedy is not reserved for others only; even the innocent suffer sometimes. That’s just the way it is, and we are not going to change it. If we fail to understand this, our recovery from deep pain and loss can be seriously affected. 
  2. We need not be selfish in our empathy.Just because my son-in-law was spared shouldn’t detract from the fact that others were not. An expression of caring and empathy, even toward folks we don’t know, is a good thing.  
  3. We should all make it a point to never have any unfinished business with our loved ones.(I think I was alright on this one.) Life is a precious and fragile thing. Opportunities to reconcile, embrace and reaffirm might be more limited than we think.

 

It is difficult to follow such choice words and as I responded to Dr. Sutton we as humans have to try and do no harm to others. That should be our sole purpose in existence. Unfortunately too many are not adhering to or even considering and again I will say please today keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and may peace be with you all and above all please always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

How do we know if we are still human?

Bird Droppings January 28, 2019
How do we know if we are still human?

 

Perhaps it is from growing up in a situation where we were aware of special needs children and adults directly from the birth of our younger brother till his passing almost fifteen years ago that those in my family have had connections with exceptional children directly or indirectly in our careers and life’s endeavors. A number of us went the route of teaching and even there most are in Exceptional Education. Several are in the medical field and several are going into psychology. My brother linked us as a family to the humanness of mankind.

 

“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Albert Einstein

 

Over the years in my studies and internships I have experienced situations many will never know exist. I recall walking through wards in a state institution where tiny infant looking patients lay in bassinets connected to tubes and not moving. Some were born with no brains and kept alive by feeding tubes and respirators. I asked one of the attendants during a walk through in 1968 how old was this one particular infant. I was informed this was not an infant but probably older than I was I being twenty and the baby at twenty three. The attendants turned the children to prevent bed sores and occasionally would talk to their charges. Later as I worked on finishing my psychology degree at Mercer I visited several more units very similar at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and a Regional Hospital in Atlanta. These units were filled with fifty to sixty patients each. Central State Hospital had more than one ward.

 

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Our society exists through a historical development from a time when the first humans started living in villages and using commodities as exchange for other goods. Many historians and anthropologists will offer that society and civilization began when this early bartering started and a value was placed on a particular thing. A goat is worth a bushel of wheat or rice and banking began. Soon more precious commodities were found metal for weapons and tools, precious stones and gold for adornment. Granted this process happened fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of things and soon someone decided they could get more for an item since they had most of it and price gouging was begun. It was in these days that an imperfect infant would be tossed off a cliff or fed to the sharks.

 

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein

What got me started on the idea that maybe we are losing or have lost our humanity? Over the years I will get in discussions and some get a bit out of proportion and over board and some I will walk away from but when we look at cutting programs that provide housing and food for people who do not have anything I take issue. I take issue with the greed that drives bonuses and profits that tax most families to a point of frustration all in the name of capitalism. I get upset when education is first on the chopping block not because it could impact my own pay but because it is through education we can possible regain our humanity. In a recent discussion on drug testing those on Medicaid, Food stamps or any Federal assistance because all on welfare are on drugs and using welfare money to buy drugs I asked what do we do and was suggested I use my own money if I think they need help. Almost immediately in curiosity I should have questioned what religion are you? A legislator from Kentucky wants to cut nearly every federal program. I find it ironic that down through history men and women who try to help others find themselves hated by those in power and usually end up dead.

 

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Credited to Jesus Bar Joseph, known to many as Jesus the Christ, Mark 10:42-45

 

So how is it, a religion based on self-sacrifice is so greedy? How can the image of a religious leader driving a Rolls Royce and living in one of their many multimillion dollar homes be comforting to anyone? How can anyone say it is a federal healthcare bill that drove up there insurance when a CEO of a health insurance company is making over one hundred fifty million dollars and can deny a claim or treatment due to cost at any given moment? I recently watched the leader of the majority in the house of representatives roll his eyes at comments the President of the United States as he spoke in his State of the Union Address. Of course Utube flashes the image over and over again as well.

 

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.” Parker J. Palmer

 

Having worked in service oriented jobs, pasturing, teaching, and counseling I have seen people who do not wish to be poor. It is through no choice of theirs that they have a congenital heart defect and cannot stand for longer than a few minutes let alone try and work. I have seen mothers whose husbands left when a baby was born with severe birth defects and requires constant care so the mother does not work and cares for the child. I have seen families torn apart by mental illness and former patients pushed out into a not so caring world to fend for themselves only to end up homeless and destitute. These are not unique cases but magnified many thousands of times over. Sort of like the stories of welfare mother with six kids driving to family and children’s services to pick up a check in an Escalade or Mercedes. Not all on welfare are using the system and not all on welfare are using drugs. Is our system perfect by no means but it is the lack of human civility that bothers me. It is how we can say we are of a religious persuasion and literally live an entirely different life when not in church.

 

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Black Elk

 

In most Indian societies all were taken care of and provided for. I am not promoting a return to the primitive but to a more natural view of life. Indians held all as sacred and in doing so would not demand or extract more than was needed from the land or from another person. It was a very humanistic world view. We stripped away the sacredness of the land and used the resources till they were gone in the name of progress. We do not as a society want to help others is the sound board of many people. I was informed last evening if I want to help others use my own money to which I replied I do. I have for my entire teaching career given to a local charity a portion of my paycheck a very small portion yet it amounts each year to nearly ten percent of the giving from the teaching staff at my high school and I am less than one percent of the staff numbers.

 

“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.” Tecumseh, Shawnee

 

Our dominate society has all but eradicated the indigenous populations of the Americas from the first slaughters by Cortez’s men in Mexico to cutting of funding to the reservations. Suicides and infant mortality in Indian societies is considerably higher than dominate societies around them. It has only been a few days since I watched the movie about Wounded Knee and slaughter of unarmed Indians the last major Indian war battle even though only one sided. Around the world natives peoples are eliminated for wealth and power.

 

“I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

In a recent set of materials given to me by my mother on the Bushmen of South Africa who call themselves the Sans I noticed the date on the literature and it was pre-mining leases in the Kalahari. There were beautiful pictures of hunting and villages. The Bushmen moved as they needed following the herds of animals and seasons of plants. Today much of the Kalahari Desert has been sectioned off into diamond mine leases and the Sans moved to concrete buildings on a reservation. They are a people losing their identity and culture so greed can fill the void.
I recall watching American Idol and I am enjoy the softer image. The last contestant of the day was a young man if you did not watch whose fiancé was severely brain injured in an accident and is in need of constant care. He dedicated his singing which was awesome to her and is involved in her daily care. I wonder how many people who want to cut funding would have given up much of his own life to care for their beloved fiancée as this young man has. Needless to say I was touched as was everyone watching with me. Still harboring within the midst of us is hatred rampant and rancid that keeps rearing up. A few years back during an election a young man drove his mother’s car to school with an OBAMA bumper sticker which was torn off in the parking lot and replaced with a derogatory note and the extra addition of never park here again or it will be worse. We have come so far to be so lost. I wonder if it is with a deaf ear I offer each day 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

Who is at the center of your universe?

Bird Droppings January 27, 2019

Who is at the center of your universe?

 

“Tung-shan was asked, ‘The normal mind is the way; what is the normal mind?’ He replied, ’Not picking things up along the road.’” From Teachings of Zen, edited by Thomas Cleary, © 1998

 

One aspect of the Zen teachings is the process of thinking that often is involved in sorting out the statement to begin with. Many times a day I am faced with defining what is normal versus what is not. It may be working with children and or adults who in some situations who often skirt around what many normal people consider the parameters of normalcy. Sometimes I sit back and wonder who is really normal. Who is out there that can truly define normal. When I read this approach earlier I was thinking about High School students and towards teachers. How easy to define simply those persons who pick up trash alongside the road are they normal if you saw them waking along bag in hand cleaning up after others. Conversely obviously if you throw trash out alongside the road you are definitely not normal. I am amused as I think to how so many just treat their surroundings as disposable maybe that is the point of this statement treating the earth well. It is not just dumping but picking up after others is what should be normal, concern for others.

 

“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” Confucius

 

“Human history is the sad result of each one looking out for himself.” Julie Cortazar

 

Several friends are teachers, who also coach cheerleading, which more often than not is predominately girls. Several years back I placed on my door to my room a sign stating as a parent I have only boys. I had been joking with the coaches at how girls can be so difficult at times. There seemed to be a civil war over a boy going on within the ranks of the cheerleaders, accusations back and forth, parents involved to a point of a restraining order. Yesterday in Yahoo news an article about Lovesickness is physiological as well to add to the fray.

 

“If we were not all so excessively interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.” Arthur Schopenhauer

 

“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.” Carl Jung

 

I often wonder working with kids with disabilities if at times ego is not a factor as so many are depressed. Some children have a poor self-image and for example many ADHD and more overt children have inflated views of themselves. One in particular as I think when talking is totally absorbed in herself. Sitting here thinking many high school students tend to be this way even those without recognized disabilities. I would say a vast majority sadly are self-focused self-involved and easily could say self-centered. Alas the majority would not pick up alongside the road conversely then normal is in retrospect not the majority as so often thought.

 

“Egotism is the art of seeing in yourself what others cannot see.” George V. Higgins

 

“The nice thing about egotists is that they don’t talk about other people.” Lucille S. Harper

 

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.” Frank Leahy

 

We all tend to become self-absorbed. The past few weeks I have been fighting with a cold, when you are ill you tend to become more self-involved, it is so much easier to ask for a drink or blanket when you cannot breathe or have a running nose. But even with a cold I would still pick up from the side of the road and do my best to avoid saying something bad about my neighbor.

 

“Loving is the only sure road out of darkness, the only serum known that cures self-centeredness.” Roger M’Ckuen

 

“The one who overcomes egotism rids themselves of the most stubborn obstacle that blocks the way to all true greatness and all true happiness.” Coltvos

 

Often I will search the internet when I find a quote or saying to use to see who this person was and why they said what they said. Both of these authors have wonderful words in their quote yet neither is to be found outside their statement. As I sit here this morning wondering at this phenomenon of self-centeredness of egotism, I wonder could we train students to be more aware of others to be less self-centered, to pick up alongside the road.

 

Years ago I remember a family moving across country and we were driving south to Naples Florida to visit relatives. This was long before interstates and all roads to Florida were two lane and periodically crossed rail road tracks. This family evidently had been pulling a trailer and it was hit by the train and scattered everything along the road for what seemed like miles. I am sitting in the car my dad was concerned about anyone being hurt he was the first aid guy back home. I just remember seeing all the debris and the road was a litterer’s paradise and out of the wood work came people walking up picking up a piece here and there and as we watched the road was being picked up, sadly for today’s quote most were gathering for their own use literally stealing away this family’s belongings as they sorted through the pieces.

 

Perhaps I recall the scene as this was about the time of Lady Bird Johnson’s plea for cleaning up the roads. It used to be you had a coke bottle and were done you threw it out the window no thinking involved. As I think to the first statement of the morning perhaps that is the tie in, normal is picking up no thinking involved, no Lady Bird Johnson to plea and no reminders just it is what we should be doing. So a new morning a new day and which direction will we take. Please keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Passion: Can it be rekindled?

Bird Droppings January 25, 2019
Passion: Can it be rekindled?

 

Many days I wonder who I write for in the morning. Perhaps no one, maybe a teacher who needs just a thought but occasionally I write for me. I needed an uplift, an adrenaline shot so to say. Starting in a new school with a totally different demographic than I had been used too. Apathy has gone rampant in past five years to an epidemic proportion among high school kids in terms of learning. So I am writing for me and anyone else who wants to read today.

 

“To speak so listeners long to hear more and to listen so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646

 

When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural I thought of the Einstein quote I used to use at the bottom of Bird Droppings for several years. I first used this quote in a presentation for my Capstone in my master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly five years ago. For me real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from Tirukkural always considering it to be simply Hindu literature, by chance I looked it up further and over 2000 years old its original religious significance is questioned by scholars yet both the writer and words are considered holy.

 

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

 

As I read about the Tirrukkural, while in translation the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a very specific number of words per line and per couplet to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my own classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not, paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Candy always works many teachers would say, but M&M’s, extrinsic bribery aside what do we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words.

 

“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried

 

Perhaps not all, how about many lose their drive and passion for learning. I had a “student” whose discipline records went back to preschool and his referrals were numerous until he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten.(Think about that psycho-ed at four or five) I am still trying to figure out how you get in that much trouble in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious, we as teachers along the way train that out of them. We work towards nice straight lines and always quiet and yes mame or no sir, and no sir and really straight lines and red flowers when drawing only. I recall that Harry Chapin song often as I work with children of any age and see creativity lost at times on uniformity. (Flowers are Red)

 

Not that long ago we made cookie dough from scratch, even in my youth which is a life time ago you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes. You could take it out and make big cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Now days you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, we like uniformity.

 

”That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn

 

I started my Master degree capstone presentation at Piedmont College with students have to want to be in class. If a student does not want to be in school we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. I had a student when I asked what would make him want to be in school say, “pay me to come, you get paid to be here”, and it made me think. Recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub looked at the numbers and with a smile showed my student my pay check. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have electronic deposit and my pay check has zero listed on the amount line. But I really got mileage out of that. I said I enjoy being here I explained and I actually I do, he knew that, but the zero pay check really hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?

 

”Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn

 

I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available on line at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years in numerous articles on teaching Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed students the sterile classroom has been the norm, no distractions. I found in a trail and error sort of way the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and look from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this inquisitiveness occurs learning can easily happen.
Of course you will still have that child who started in pre-K;

 

I remember the day a few years back when I asked him why do you not want to learn to read. This was a tenth grade student who is a behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters and we were working on writing letters for a school project and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad”, a side note spell check works great if you can read, when you can’t it does not always help. Well he still is obnoxious but slowly the idea there are teachers who do care about him and want to help him is sinking in I think back to Robert Fried’s title for a book “The Passionate Teacher” that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why are we teaching, is it purely for M&M’s, are we simply being bribed or is there underneath the passion an intrinsic rational. Please keep all in harms 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

 

Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

Bird Droppings January 24, 2019
Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

I woke up a bit earlier than normal although I did have a very good night’s sleep. I left the class room frustrated yesterday I had not taught. My day had been thrown off by two co-teachers being out and I was dealing with behavior issues basically most of afternoon.  Simply doing class room management s not my style. I enjoy story telling teaching and I finally reached a point where I said to myself “To hell with this”, there are ten minutes left in the day let’s just survive. That bothered me. I got up this morning and went to my computer to try and do a few things before the day gets under way. Blood on the tracks, by Bob Dylan quietly in the back ground. So I wil borrow a few words from Dylan going back to the sixties.

“Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Bob Dylan

I was pretending I just didn’t see all day, even the past few weeks. A simple idea caught my attention this morning. In biology I talk about pepper moths and evolution and mutation. A research done in England with a moth and industrialization. White speckled moths slowly shifted to black as pollution from factories darkened the sky and soot covered trees. Of all ideas to pop and make me realize I wasn’t teaching only filling in minutes just blowing in the wind. A peppered moth did me in. Inspiration is a key but the lifelong challenge e for teachers.

Nearly fifteen years ago at a county wide teacher kick off meeting which was traditionally a packaged inspirational meeting and welcome for the new school year, led by an outsider brought in canned speaker. The county pays big bucks to an inspirational speaker paid to come in and inspire us as teachers. It could be a comedian or professional speaker and it seemed each year the county would try a new approach. A new superintendent back with all the austerity cuts, cut this program out first which most teachers did not have an issue with.

Although I would have paid to hear and would enjoy going to hear Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu maybe even Jimmy Carter but we never had that privilege. In the past before the county cut out that start up program, we would car pool over to one of the high school gyms near the county office and sit in the bleachers listening to pep talks and such and most teachers leave wishing they had called in sick. I once considered asking for a substitute but our secretary did not think the county would cover a sub. However a recent speaker to our seniors reminded me of that meeting nearly fifteen years back. A young black college professor stood in front of us. He made his point not one person approached him as he boogied through the crowd prior to the meeting. The guest speaker for our seniors made this point as well about first impressions. So I start today with a quote from a young college professor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a former student come by to visit me a few years back he had walked across the stage nearly seventeen years ago to accept a special education diploma and then went on and officially finished high school and received his general education diploma and went on to college. Now he is teaching Special education and head coach of a wrestling team with four straight state championships. It was a good feeling to be sitting there talking with a student who kept at it and succeeded even though all the odds were stacked against him.

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

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

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

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are 

Bird Droppings January 23, 2019

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

I was asked at dinner one night when did I start teaching and I responded at age twelve. The group I was with was thinking I was being my typical sarcastic self. Then I explained I started teaching swimming with my father to beginners at twelve. From that point now nearly sixty years ago it has taken many twists and turns in the journey for my own philosophical view of life and teaching to evolve. That journey has wound around many switchbacks, trails and pathways and now focuses on the interconnectedness of all that is.

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

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

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

 

Back in the early 1900’s Carl Jung coined a word, the term synchronicity to describe meaningful intertwining’s in life that appear to be by chance yet have so much significance. My life has been a constant trail of coincidences and synchronous events. I attended a co-teaching seminar on several years back at our School Board office and was immediately drawn into dialogue with one of the instructors. She had mentioned several points that intrigued me and I went up to talk with her at the first break. I found it amusing to be talking to someone born after I started working with special needs kids who is now teaching the class I am taking. I walked away revitalized over an idea that her thoughts emulated and was on Facebook when I sat down at my computer.

“Students, who are loved at home, come to school to learn, students who aren’t come to school to be loved.” Nicholas A. Ferroni

 

I found this simple statement by Nicholas Ferroni, who is an educator, mostly teaching lower-income students focusing on history and deep personal commitment, concern and care. I found it to be a profound thought for a Thursday afternoon and shared on my own Facebook page. In class Thursday there was more follow up about what I consider to be at the heart and soul of teaching and that is building relationships and community. In years past I would spend a few weeks back and forth to North Georgia or so it has been for the past eight or nine summers to a program taught by faculty from Piedmont College and housed on the Foxfire Property in Mountain City Georgia. The course that is taught is for teachers from literally around the world who show up to learn about this simple approach to teaching. Over the years of my own research I have met and discussed learning and education with hundreds if not thousands of teachers and trainers. One thought that has stuck with me is from Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame. “It’s not about the teaching it’s about the learning” 

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

 

With all the hoopla about testing and evaluation of teachers it is truly difficult for teachers to see the real fruits of their labors their students twenty years from now. In my own research I have discussed and talked with many former students of the Foxfire approach to teaching who were taught in this manner some nearly fifty years ago. A few years back on an afternoon while at Foxfire a good friend joined us who had been a student of the Foxfire program in 1970 and staff member of Foxfire from 1971-76. Laurie Brunson Alteri. Laurie talked about many things in the two hours she kept the teachers and teachers to be entranced with her love of and enthusiasm for the program. But she warned it is not a template to follow it is far more and that is where so many teachers fall short. We all tend to be lazy and want to open the box of education and poof everything falls in place and that is not how it works. Laurie used an example that has stuck with me. “In biology when you dissect a frog and look at all the parts after you are done all you have is a dead frog”.

As I thought sadly far too many dissect and then miss the whole point of a way of teaching or way of life. As Laurie spoke she referenced the idea of an organism, a living organism and my small bit of Greek language from my seminary experiences in a bygone era I remembered the word Koininia, which literally is community. Laurie suggested a classroom should be like an organism alive and growing changing as it adapts. This is how she described her experiences in Foxfire.

Another student in the class during the following discussions pointed out how teacher personalities often create those great classrooms. But personalities of teachers cannot or is difficult to be replicated. Ron Clark’s school came out in the discussions and his success. However as I thought I began seeing parallels between various programs and approaches to teaching.  Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers, Alfie Kohn, Robert Fried, Maxine Greene, Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Phillip Crosby, my father, Carl Jung, Ivan Illich, and numerous other authors, thinkers, teachers and philosophers.

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

 

I have borrowed as I developed my own thinking from Carl Rogers, William Ayers, Max Thompson, John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, and of course the Foxfire Approach. Many of these thinkers were controversial in their own time, considered too progressive and their ideas are still considered perhaps utopian to borrow words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching that in and of themselves are controversial as well. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas, perceptions and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations.

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

 

For nearly fifteen years every summer I have returned to the mountains of North Georgia to revitalize my teaching heart and soul. Piedmont College in conjunction with The Foxfire Fund teaches a course on the Foxfire Approach to teaching. An approach to teaching based on the philosophies of John Dewey. Technically it is simply a program of thought focused around ten core practices.

  1. From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.
  2. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
  3. The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
  4. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
  5. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
  6. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
  7. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
  8. The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
  9. The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
  10. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalizes me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon us mandated state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

 

On one of my ventures as I walked into the main conference lodge and sort of was introduced since it was in the middle of a presentation I sat down and listened to an excellent group of teachers.  The first one I heard and I am sorry I did not hear everyone presentation was already underway.

The first presenter I heard raised questions why does the concept of Foxfire not get going? Why not have every teacher required to attend Foxfire courses? What happens when teachers leave Foxfire that it is not continued? Questions I have raised more than once and come back to teacher personalities. Foxfire is not a template as Laurie Alteri said several years ago. Foxfire is more of simply what good teachers do. I have the Ten Core Practices posted on my wall in my room and daily review and would ask myself am I doing this or attempting that. I connected with this presenters questions. As I sat down thinking I began to more in detail realize how we are connected as teachers. I recalled a quote from a speech in 1854 by Chief Seattle.

“Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, 1854

 

The next presenter raised more questions in regards to her own teaching and use of what she had experienced at the program. Laura handed out puzzle pieces to each member of the group and asked them to what about an experience this past week on the back of the puzzle piece. She has only been teaching for a year and was excited about Foxfire and then had the group put the puzzle together. She talked about John Dewey and embracing what we each bring in terms of experiences and the pieces of my own web continued connecting. I shared my business card with her which is covered in puzzle pieces. I have long held education is about putting the puzzle of the child together.

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

The next presenter continued to interact and connect with the group and I thought it was directly at me. The presenter explained how she had been diagnosed with ADD and was put on medications and as a teenager stopped and forced herself to cope as to not be different from other kids. I thought back to my own high school experience and my own interactions with kids on medications as a special education teacher. I thought back to my Thursday conference and an instructor throwing ideas out that many had never experienced. She brought up the idea of a safe place for kids. An idea I have for many years called a sanctuary. There needs to be a place where a kid who may have an issue can sit down and talk with someone. I tend to not a big fan of many guidance counselors who simply say come back at 2:18 and we will change your schedule. She offered more questions and more interconnections. Teaching is about relationships right up my alley.

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

 

A young lady came up to present and started crying she shared her life experience of being in an interracial marriage and the impact that this made on her. As she talked she said her life revolves around the love of her family. I knew immediately even before sarcastically asking if she was a cheerleader in high school and found she actually coached cheerleading now in high school. She had everyone pick up a paint chip sample card and write four important words to them on the card. She was going to make a booklet and send around so each member of the group could add thoughts to the project. Relationships continued to be a building block in the day. A key thought people only ask once when questioning about her interracial marriage. I thought at first how difficult for all of those once’s and then it hit me one times one is still only one.

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

 

The young fellow who went next never thought he would be a teacher but an entire sequence of coincidences led him into the MAT program at Piedmont and into teaching. A component of the Foxfire approach that had significance to him was freedom, the ability to do whatever you want. Granted in education and in school there are norms and rules within which that freedom is imposed but still students have input. Motivation came up and a great illustration of a six pack of air in a bottle. Even Foxfire air could not be sold for any amount of money. We tend to try and motivate ids in school using things which they do not want. My Thursday conference went into this same area of thought. It is difficult to motivate if there is no desire for the consequence. The words

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

 

My Friday flowed one presenter to the next each adding to my own amazement with how we were so connected. One of the presenters put tape on the floor and used a warm activity from the Freedom Writers. She emphasized that all kids are different and have to be met where they are. She was excited about her week at Foxfire and shared what she was taking home. We need to focus on kids. So many teachers forget they are teaching for the sake of kids and not simply to teach. She confessed it is not about what I want. I shared with her a Harry Chapin song “Flowers are red”. All teachers should listen to it.

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

 

The last presenter of the afternoon that I was able to stay for took the group outside and did a simple game several items that were recyclable were placed on a poster board and each member of the group was to go towards and build a  group around an item With that what else could that item be used for. Everyone had a use for the many pieces of junk. After some discussion she asked, how you feeling and everyone are wrote a word on the poster board.

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

 

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.” 

“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

 

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

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

 

There were so many events through the past few days it is hard to pinpoint any one single event that stands out. There are people I have met and talked with and people who I barely had a word with. I was coming home after dropping off my mother’s dinner last night and stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. A young man came up to me and asked me about antifreeze. He was holding a jug of antifreeze and asked if it was the right kind for a 1993 Ford. On the label very clearly it read 1989 and newer. It hit me he could not read. As all of the events of the past few days made sense the presentations and conferences, discussions and conversations all came together. We are all connected 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

LIFE

Bird Droppings January 22, 2019
LIFE

Morning is a special time a beginning. Several aspects make it special first one of taking the dog out and talking with them as he sniffs and does his thing in the yard. Then I go to my writing and reading which has become my meditation for the day and has become in many ways a significant part of each of my days. I walked out this morning and felt the chill but the clouds had diminished and the nearly full moon was setting in the west. I looked out across the meadow and the big dipper was rising above the trees and the stars were crystal clear in the morning darkness through the pines and oaks.

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

It has been several years since as I left my room after classes and walked through the guidance office saying hello to several people, checking up on files and paperwork that I saw a person was missing. I noticed and never questioned as the day went on. I sensed an absence yet still had not questioned. As the day ended I heard from over the announcements one of the staff had suffered a heart attack during a stress test and was having surgery.

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality–not as we expect it to be but as it is–is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.” Frederick Buechner

Last night I sat down thinking and trying to put down words and pictures that may have significance to a project I am working on for my research. It was hard getting to work after eating dinner and lounging for a few minutes. I emailed several people last night just touching base although my iPhone was ready to call it a day.

“If, after all, men cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one.” Albert Camus

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

As I moved through that day a few years back sensing something was amiss and even after knowing it is difficult to offer from a distance any sort of comfort. Most people as the day finished never missed a stride there were a few tears from friends and those that knew but all in all the day went on as normal. It seems we all are creatures of habit and our routines kick in and sort of lead us through the day.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

I have used this quote so many times and each time it seems appropriate. I remember as a child chasing fireflies across a meadow gathering those life forces in a mason jar to light my room and then releasing into the night watching them float away in the darkness. That time seem an eternity ago on a hill in Pennsylvania.

“It’s not how long life is but the quality of our life that is important.” Roger Dawson

“Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.” Charles Dickens

Often as my week progresses and days roll by I wander back thinking of reasons why and always end up thinking of my younger brother. In 1996 my brother passed away and my family was faced with a new beginning. We all had literally built our lives around my little brother. He was severely disabled and our being in Georgia was directly related to him. As we celebrated his life reviewing the intricate webs that were laid each moment and people touched and lives affected what seemingly had been was now an enormous out pouring of life.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sitting here among my books and artifacts I know we each approach the morning in a different way. I embrace the day and begin with my writing seeing each moment then unfold. Since 1996 I have taken many different roads and journeys and as I look back each has had meaning and direction and led me to the moment of now.

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

It has been several years since I received an urgent call from my nephew. We had gone to an away football game up in North Georgia and actually were out of cellular range for some time. The call was about a friend that had been in a car accident and as that day unfolded I spent the night in the Athens Hospital holding a young man’s hand as monitors beeped and droned and he lay unmoving. I sat watching banks of meters, gauges and dials. I was hoping that the numbers on the dials would change. Throughout the night nothing indicated brain wave activity and by morning our dear friend was pronounced dead. When I arrived home on my computer was this quote from an Aerosmith song. Seems I come back to that note ever so often in my writings. In 1968 as I left for Texas for college I received a book from my parents that I still have on my shelf, it was a Bible and on page 596 a verse that has stuck with me.

“To everything there is season, and a time, to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Many years ago Pete Seeger a folk singer and environmentalist wrote music for the words and a song was born “Turn Turn Turn”. To every season turn, turn, turn there is a reason turn, turn, turn and a time for every purpose under heaven. The song became a hit, and was sung by a group called the Byrd’s coincidently.

“Nothing is beneath you if it is in the direction of your life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” Robert Frost

So often poet’s words offer comfort or give direction back to the journey set off course in but one moment time. There is no filling of a void. Yet when looking at life and all that has been and when looking at the journey to now there truly was never a void. There is a turn in the road, a new direction, all that has led to this point has not changed and it is there behind us, lifting us, guiding us, and strengthening us as we continue. I remember back to a photo of my son crossing a stream in north Georgia already sopping wet from falling in but still intent on making it across stone by stone, crossing the stream on the rocks as he jumped.
We all can cross in our time and there times when a hand is welcome. Years ago I set up a website for a youth group and today I will close with the starting line from that website “Friends are never alone”. Keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and today and keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand Namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Our goal in teaching is for students to create new questions

Bird Droppings January 18, 2019

Our goal in teaching is for students to create new questions

 

Over the past month now back in active teaching again, I have been pondering. I have received advice through email and even a billboard or two driving home from Mount Yonah on a quick trip with my son a few weeks back. With all of the college and pro football games being played I got thinking back to one, New Year’s Eve 2008. I was sitting in a huge stadium and I was overwhelmed by the noise and often mob type rule that so often occurs when fans get together. Inside an enclosed stadium like we have in Atlanta the sounds echo and echo even off echoes and become nearly deafening. As I sat there it amazed me how fans boo or cheer starting with one person could soon encompass the crowd. I was thinking back to the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe and a comment by the bad guy who uses the coliseum to control the crowd, the mob. Individualism is lost somewhere on row 125 seat 6 section A. started me thinking we are in a way at that moment in our own country and politics.

 

“Our faith comes in moments… yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I was wondering after reading a comment yesterday and thinking back to that bowl game we attended and of course it was a Georgia Tech game. I was as always pondering of sorts as to what and why we think as we do which is a constant process for me. As I thought comfort is a factor, just being comfortable even group pressure could be comfortable if you go with the flow so to say. It sounds good perhaps this could be an answer. Someone else told me and well I do not have time to think about it really in a large stadium with the decibels literally through the roof there is no time to think to ponder to even clear a thought. As we gain in age it becomes easier to look back and see where thoughts evolved from and how and or they were imposed on us. Somehow I can always go back in my Emerson notes and find a simple explanation such as the quote I started with today.

 

“To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty… this knowledge; this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” Albert Einstein

 

“Non-violence is the article of faith.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

“All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul, which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light, but though I seem to be driven out of my country as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.” James Joyce

 

Searching midst others thoughts and dreams Einstein so often accused of being without faith but as I read his letters and ideas there is very much the opposite as he so often was on the fringe of thought as most people understand. Gandhi looking at life and reality through the eyes of a mystic saw in non-violence the essence of man, as man could be if worldly matters did not interfere. I thought to my experiences and of that bowl game and if mob rule did not interfere. Then as I read Joyce’s comment it is interesting how some people see no faith in men of very deep faith. These three by many standards are men of no faith to many people yet their comments and writings truly indicate otherwise.

 

“Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.” Soren Kierkegaard

 

Easy words easy thoughts from a seemingly impossible word to define. We each ascribe our own thoughts to faith. We each try and place a value, a norm upon what we see as faith. This may be where the difficulty arises. A simple word has so many pathways, for each thinker a new avenue opens, for each individual heart a separate door is there. Looking back this could be where religion tried to focus combining various faiths various ideas and focusing allowing individuals to free up thought and ideas for other gain. Perhaps this is why so many have packaged faith so to say. I could see someone walking to a mike last night midst the drunken football fans and taking over the crowd, here now believe this and now you can go about your business and the crowd would follow that person.

 

Einstein’s difficulty with conventionalism and with organized religion perhaps was this factor that thinking was removed and it became a mote point which for him was wrong. I was reading one of my son’s Xanga entries from so many years ago and was intrigued by the rational that he found. All of existence is somehow intertwined and that with math equations that can be developed to resolve all issues and to provide basis for all. Granted my son is thinking in math terms that I am totally unaware of but it was of interest to me. While a bit beyond my own math thinking as you look at reality and while chaos theory exists and is a mainstay in many thought processes there is structure and consistency, even if we often do not see it. As he mentions in his passage from Xanga, “equations we have yet to learn” there is so much out still to be found if we continue thinking and looking.

 

Often we human beings decide we have found it and quit thinking. When each doorway leads to another and each idea only clarifies the last and makes another possible why should we stop. Perhaps the vastness of the stadium and the magnitude of all I was immersed that evening in 2008 in did truly over whelmed me as I sat there watching a football game. Today is a new day and in this day whenever possible 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