Setting priorities on a chilly spring morning

Bird Droppings March 22, 2019
Setting priorities on a chilly spring morning

 

“Keep in mind that you are always saying ‘no’ to something. If it isn’t to the apparent, urgent things in your life, it is probably to the most fundamental, highly important things. Even when the urgent is good, the good can keep you from your best; keep you from your unique contribution, if you let it.” Steven J. Covey

 

My youngest son when he was home back in the days would dig up old Guinness books of world records or old Sports Illustrated magazines to attend to issues he might have in the bathroom. Just by chance or coincidence for whatever reason I picked up an old Sports Illustrated magazine just before writing this morning, Rick Reilly’s “Life of Reilly”, the editorial on the last page and it is about one of the worst NCAA basketball programs in history, Caltech.

 

“There is a T-Shirt you can buy in the university bookstore that reads CALTECH FOOTBALL: UNDEFEATED SINCE 1993. Possibly because Caltech hasn’t had a football team since 1993” Rick Reilly

 

As I read through Rick Reilly’s article it was interesting there are two players on the basketball team with prefect SAT scores, five faculty members have won Nobel prizes, one professor has discovered the tenth planet in our solar system just recently, but in NCAA basketball 21 years without a win. How is that for priorities?

 

“It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person, in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” James Baldwin

 

This statement hit me hard, we talk and use test scores as measuring sticks yet somehow between it all football and basketball scores are still more significant more meaningful than SAT scores or academic awareness. The academic bowl team fights to get a bus and the football team rides on a charter bus in many schools. The last line of Reilly’s article struck me. As I look even at the high school’s I have taught in, I doubt anyone could tell you when we last won a state championship in an academic bowl. Most can tell you who is current state wrestling champ, softball champ, baseball champ or which team was in elite eight.

 

“As an opposing player – whose team had just slaughtered the Beavers (Caltech) – said as he shook each Caltech player’s hand, ‘Now go out there and cure cancer for us.’” Rick Reilly

 

Here on a day when college admissions is under fire amazingly in many schools coaches will find ways for athletes to pass or systems will find ways to pass them. It may be tutors, special programs, and I heard somewhere TV money paid for the expansion of Georgia’s football stadium. Perhaps it is myself who has priorities wrong. Many of my students will never find a cure for cancer and or be on a winning football or basketball team, some may not ever hold much of a job. Many the day as I look back over students from the past that I can use jail time as an indicator. But I think back to a former student who as a senior had the runner up essay I state competition. I am probably the only one who can name him. What about former students who are in college and or have graduated and are raising families and many said they would never graduate high school. Somewhere along the way maybe a kind word or thought gave the push in the right direction.

 

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

 

As I periodically do find answers in John Dewey, perhaps the priority is teaching that life is about learning daily. We tend to lose focus occasionally with whose team is winning and who is losing and of course who has the biggest TV contract for next year. Money becomes the crucial element. It is difficult trying to teach around money. We have jaded our society so much with materialism. Kids are more concerned with things than how they are going to earn the income to purchase that thing, I call it Hedonism 101.

 

“I have little patience with scientists who take a board of wood, look for its thinnest part, and drill a great number of holes where drilling is easy.” Albert Einstein

 

I went out earlier into a chilly damp morning for March but a beautiful sky. I will go shortly to a school filled with students, some will want to learn, some are here walking the halls socializing, some are here due to parental concern, some are not sure why they are here and many seek the thinnest portion of the board to drill their holes. Some may be like the Caltech students who play basketball knowing they will lose yet in the lab tomorrow may uncover the cure for cancer. I have found we are each unique in life and each have a significant part to play.
Finding that piece to our puzzle is the hard part. But having the desire to look is step one. Sitting in a file folder next to me a folder labeled goals, my student’s goals for the year. In meetings we establish goals, teachers, parents and the student come up with annual goals and objectives. What if every student had a folder labeled goals and one of those goals is, as a student of life, I will master two of the following objectives. Eighty percent of the time I will live life to the fullest. Eighty percent of the time I will endeavor to treat every person I meet as an equal. Eighty percent of the time I will be the best that I can. I am allowing for variance and error with only requiring eighty percent, what if only we could live that way.

 

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

 

Yesterday I was watching a shooting star no such luck today, but will that stop me from looking tomorrow? Probably not I am always searching and looking. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart namste.

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

 

 

Are we going in the right direction?

Bird Droppings March 21, 2019
Are we going in the right direction?

 

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden.” John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897

 

I recall many years ago taking a test that would indicate what we were suitable for and then getting called in to the “guidance” counselors who in my day were wives of the football coaches. I never quite figured that out. In 1965 at our high school I was told I should look at technical training because of my grades and such. I was not a very good student in high school 597th 0f 795 students. It seems I was side tracked somewhere in elementary school about education, and periodically I would have a few flare ups of wisdom. The little flare ups during standardized tests were just enough for me to remain in college prep and high functioning classes all through high school.
So I was amused by the guidance recommendations. I was reminded recently of my turmoil in high school of trying to place me in a job before I knew what life was about and what was out there. I was thinking about Special Education and in our IEP’s we do a transitional plan at age fourteen. What do you want to do is asked and I have had quite a few want to be a rappers, pro football players or basketball players on transitional plans over the years.

 

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

 

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

 

For nearly thirty years I have had a Chinese proverb hanging on my wall.

 

“You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day: You can teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”

 

Having been to teenagers funerals far to many times and thinking about all the kids I talked with in that setting and on emails I really wondered, as I sat thinking this morning about trying to figure out what these students will be doing in twenty years. It made me think of my own life. I was thinking what do we really need to teach. With the advent of federal and state legislation demanding certain standards be met it is interesting how teachers and parents get left out of the loops and legislators decide.
As I look at John Dewey and John Gardner’s comments while differing in philosophies a point of interest. Dewey mentions a process of living give your teaching context making it meaningful. Gardner says not just cut flowers but to teach them how to grow the flower, not simply facts. What does this mean to me as a teacher?

 

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” John W. Gardner

 

“WHEN most people think of the word ‘education,’ they think of a pupil as a sort of animate sausage casing. Into this empty casing, the teachers are supposed to stuff ‘education.’ But genuine education, as Socrates knew more than two thousand years ago, is not inserting the stuffing’s of information into a person, but rather eliciting knowledge from him; it is the drawing out of what is in the mind.” Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Speaking, What true education should do?

 

It has been a few years since I did this lesson and it was quite an experience. It seems like yesterday I had two students in my class room and several were out during second period suspended or in School Suspension (ISS), this was a really rough group of kids. I had decided to do a class project that the class wanted to do. I set parameters that were relatively simply borrowing on my Foxfire teachings and trying to set up a democratic classroom.

 

1.Project had to be of interest to all students
2. Project had to be school appropriate
3. Students had to be able to learn academics in the context of the project
4. As the teacher I had to be able to measure learning
5. There had to be a culminating project and end point during the semester

 

So a day or two later when everyone was in school we started by first coming up with ideas for the project. The class came up with several, wrestling, girls, cars, animation, photography, building and several very inappropriate for school if not in violation of state and federal laws.
One however that continued to peak interest and has been an integral part of my class as I use digital photography daily and every student has taken a camera home and taken literally tens of thousands of pictures. As the discussion progressed photography seemed to be the choice and eventually the project became a photography contest within the school sponsored by my second period class.
While tedious in the beginning as ideas it all started and soon took on a life of its own eliciting thinking from these kids. Naturally thinking was the big word and was the main task and for a few of them it was tiring but then on to next step. How do we get permission? Actually after the class decided I gone and gotten permission but students would have to proceed as if they do not have it and formally get permission.
Watching the thought process evolve from students who often simply do worksheets and or get in trouble. For students who read several grades below their actual level throwing ideas around about having a voting process and different categories and digital versus film it was a pretty amazing discussion. I argue day in and day out about having context to a lesson. When a student has context for the content it has life and meaning.

 

“I believe that education, therefore, it is a process of living” John Dewey

 

“If we are succeeding in our efforts to establish an excellent quality of present experience, people, teachers, students, administrators, parents should enjoy being in school; there should be fewer incidents of violence and nastiness; there should be more acts of kindness, more expressions of concern for others; more open conversation and fewer acts of control on the part of adults.” Nel Noddings

 

As a teacher I get frustrated knowing that information, understanding and knowledge of what is education and learning are out there in the nebulous but get rejected by a cookie cutter mentality that requires easy quick fixes and various publishers’ approval. I found this article from Nel Noddings and was amazed at her suggestions that follow many European and Asian approached to schooling. First that excellence in schooling is not that everyone meets a collegiate curriculum and succeeds in it but that individually we are providing and excelling in directions that we are suited for that individual student be that art, music, technology, industry or academics. This was written several years ago and if you get serious John Dewey was writing about this in 1897 over one hundred years ago and why do we never pay attention. The article is Excellence as a guide to Educational Conversation by Nel Noddings, Stanford University, 2004.

 

We have to as teachers go beyond in many cases what we have been taught in education classes, which has been to do what is expedient versus real. It has been to try and not just teach “stuff” as Harris indicates. We have to bring life to education make it alive. As a parent and now grandparent this comes home as well and parents need to be involved. We need to wake up parents instead of simply letting them sleep through their child’s school experience. This is a community effort not simply one teacher and one student. Even though that is where it starts. Sydney J. Harris uses an illustration of an oyster and a pearl.

 

“Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. The job of teaching is not to stuff them and seal them up, but to help them open and reveal the riches within. There are pearls in each of us, if only we knew how to cultivate them with ardor and persistence.” Sydney J. Harris

 

“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

 

I got a bit carried away today. But as I read this last quote by Einstein who was left behind more than once in his educational experience at an early age can we as a society begin to look at each other as potential pearls instead of just sausages? I wonder as this school year is winding down and a new school year approaches all too soon. Try today to please keep all in harms 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

 

 

Where is the beginning or end in a circle?

Bird Droppings March 20, 2019
Where is the beginning or end in a circle?

 

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Albert Einstein

 

Over the past few days’ school has been wearing me out physically, could be the last few weeks of getting through a meaningless testing barrage, I think it shows I am getting old. Last night we had a coyote wander down the road by the house. As I went out into the darkness this morning I looked no deer and or coyote. It was a bit chilly this morning and a moon was hanging over head but it is to warm up and be a pretty day. It was about twelve years back a good friend dropped by for a couple days. This was the first time he had been back in this area for some time. In our course of topics as we talked late into the evening on two nights was the idea of teaching as an art form. We talked about views on life and how so often I have on occasions seen things others have not.

 

Wandering around as I do looking for pictures to take often images others would pass up.
One of our discussions over breakfast we talked about intuition and empathy as crucial aspects of being a good teacher. Another topic was how so often in life we tend to view daily happenings as mundane and yet in that moment of the mundane miracles are happening. In our backyard we have since we have moved here put in numerous flower beds in one bed we have several ferns along with angel trumpet plants and several other flowering shrubs. Nearby one bed is special nearly every flower attracts hummingbirds.

 

Coincidentally we planted quite a few butterfly and hummingbird friendly plants last year around the yard and I was pulling dead flowers off when I heard a loud humming buzzing sound. I was being dive bombed by a hummingbird. My wife had me place a hummingbird feeder in the tree which centers on that bed. The hummingbird food was constantly getting gone and I had just refilled it, it has become one of my jobs to keep the feeders filled come summer time. It will not be too long till they are back from Mexico and as I look up hearing the buzzing I will see hummingbirds feeding directly beside me and who knows maybe this year I will get a good picture.

 

When I sit each morning and write about fireflies dancing across the edge of my world in my back yard or whippoorwills echoing through the dawn and dusk it is recognizing the mundane in life. Should I not be there to hear they will still be calling and should I not be watching the fireflies they will still light the night. My own view is still limited by darkness, my own vision and my own perception. I try and instill in my students to look past images everyone else sees and try and find that which is theirs and theirs alone. I am saddened when a great idea and creative mind is silenced by peer pressure.

 

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

For someone a thousand miles away it is only words that I write yet I see it and experience it and yet for someone here nearby unless they are willing to rise at 4:00 AM they too will not see or hear what I see and hear. So in effect a writer offers glimpses of another experience and another world to those willing to read. I offered as my friend and I talked it is about renewing our perception sharpening our senses to see and hear and feel more than we do today.

 

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

 

Many considered Einstein to be an atheist for his very often blunt statements about religion, yet if you read very many of his nonscientific statements there is a spiritual aspect to them. He was an artist and a philosopher as well. Thinking back again eight years it was a day not unlike most other days I have experienced with my friend talking with many old thoughts and memories that we discussed years ago. Sitting and reminiscing about his days in seminary and choosing to go back to teaching and how that impacted his life. There is an end and a beginning of every journey and at one point I even asked him if he was in the right place now. Without blinking an eye he responded he was never happier and knew this was where he was meant to be now in his life journey as I know I am where I am too be for now.

 

“We do not chart and measure the vast field of nature or express her wonders in the terms of science; on the contrary, we see miracles on every hand – the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in a lightening flash and the swelling deep.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Sioux

 

Perhaps one day I can sit idle as I started thinking a few moments ago and rock on my front porch, but not today. For now I crave that thought process and questioning and curiosity of learning and teaching. Whenever I drive through Kentucky I cannot help but think of Daniel Boone finding his way which was for him a wilderness and yet for Native Americans of that place it was home not a wilderness. Even in that day trails and pathways were worn from the passage of moccasin feet.

 

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Albert Einstein

 

In a paper for graduate school several years ago I referenced my recent experience, as somewhat of a clearing of a haze from things I had forgotten. It was as if things were clarifying from many years ago. Often what is learned is not just from books but from experiencing, living, seeing and believing. Each day I travel a road many others have journeyed on and many others have succeeded in going beyond that road. Yet it is new to me each day for I choose to see more than the day before. For me it is wilderness opening new trails not yet approached by civilization. For me it is fresh and vibrant even though many see only the mundane and stale.

It might be in the flight and blinking of a firefly or the snort of breath as a buffalo crossed the pasture years ago, or the call of a whippoorwill off in the trees. It may be in the feather left for me as a hawk soared through the sky. I recall a movie where the start and end was nothing more than a piece of fluff blowing about until it gained import with Forest Gump and was placed in a special place in his life. We do not know from moment to moment how someone will react to anything we do or say or write. I spoke with my friend about interconnections and how this is the art of our existence. It is in the perception, the seeing, feeling and hearing of our own heartbeat.

 

I ran into a former student yesterday. She had moved and happened by chance to be in our town and we met at my favorite store Quick Trip. Seems she now lived in another county and will not be attending our local school next year. She just wanted to say hi and in the conversation asked what do I teach everyone wants to know, it seems I have many students who just come by my room and officially are not in my classes. I told her I Use to have a sign on my door stating; Period One – The philosophy of learning about how and why we learn what we do, Period two – the same, Period three planning, and Period four again the same. She said that sounds interesting.

 

For nearly three years she wondered what I taught and wanted to be in my class. I would always respond you haven’t been in enough trouble yet. As she left after I explained Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, she said even though I wasn’t in your regular classes except for Biology in summer school I learned a lot. How is that for an ego boost? By chance I was reading as I do and emailing my friend pointing out several websites and books. Two passages caught my attention as I end my writings today.

 

“On the basis of the belief that all human beings share the same divine nature, we have a very strong ground, a very powerful reason, to believe that it is possible for each of us to develop a genuine sense of equanimity toward all beings.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Good Heart

 

“Strength based in force is a strength people fear. Strength based in love is a strength people crave. It is as true today as it was then and as true for nations as it is for individuals. Unfortunately, too few of each are listening.” Kent Nerburn

 

Nerburn was addressing a friend’s comment about Viet Nam and those of us old enough to have been drafted and or serve in that time of war. Looking at the news and comments from politicians the past few days this passage from the Dalai Lama struck a chord with me. One of the things my friend and I did while he was hear was see each of my sons since my friend had been involved with them in youth work and music. Of course that included along the way riding down to Georgia Tech and going for a campus tour in the Georgia Tech mascot, the Ramblin Wreck. Recently I was watching old videos and the other night spending several hours with my sons catching up reminded me how significant today can be. Now I can end for this morning of cool wet weather after the weekend is another week before spring break so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

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

 

When did Bird Droppings start?

Bird Droppings March 19, 2019
When did Bird Droppings start?
On February 3, 2003 I officially started titling my daily emailing and blogging, Bird Droppings. I went back in my files and pulled up a few old thoughts and ideas. As I was reading the local paper today a street poll was included asking locals about gas prices. In a morning of memories I recalled an email from my mother about starting a gas war. It was a forward from my uncle to my mother. A simple concept we as consumers stop buying gas from the two biggest gas companies and only buy from smaller ones which will drive pricing down. Idea was emailing to 30 people this idea which gets mailed to 30 more, sort of pyramid gas war tactics.

 

I started using the name Bird Droppings and put out several issues of newsletters technically to encourage my students to write and thin, under that name.  I thought at the time “Bird Droppings” a good title and subject. Looking back to that day in 2003 much was occurring around the nation as NASA tried to pick up pieces of a space shuttle and sort out the disaster that happened over east Texas. These explorers chose their profession and knew the risks one crew member being remembered by her cousin, said she would prefer to die in space doing what she loved. Space was a passion for each member of the crew; it was about the searching and inquiry.

 

I can remember the Challenger accident before some of you were even born. It was a shock just as this tragedy was. But as a brother of a Challenger crew member said the morning after, “their work continues”. Often events in our lives make no sense at that point of happening and later clarify as we go further into the journey. There is really no solace to a family when a loved one is lost even when you knew the risks they were involved in. It is the thoughts and assurances of friends and family that can make the pain bearable.
A number of years ago my brother died during the night in his sleep. When I received the call at work I was in shock and hurried to my parent’s home. Within moments calls and emails and faxes began to arrive from around the world from my parent’s friends and family. That support made that moment so much easier to bear. Back in 2007 with the death of my father in-law and my own father the support of friends and family eased the pain and passing. I recall that day in February 2003 and was running a bit late that morning as I listened to the news and watching a nation morn seven heroes. It is funny how bits and pieces of memory come back to remind us of the frailty of life and the finiteness as well.

 

Today I found a quote that for some may not apply and for others who knows, as I do each day. Many years ago I read a series of books written by an anthropologist about his studies of herbal medicine among the Yaqui Indians of Mexico. Being a hobbyist botanist and student of medicinal plants and herbs. I have always been fascinated with his writings. He eventually found his way to a medicine man that used the Anglo name of Don Juan. After a number of trips and many years Castaneda became an apprentice to Don Juan in his efforts to become a Yaqui Medicine man. Carlos Castaneda wrote of the trials and tribulations of his adventure and studies and his books are used in many classes as case studies still today even though his research has been shown to be fiction in many instances.
“We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.”
Carlos Castaneda

 

One of the simple truths he found in his studies under Don Juan was how much we ourselves are directly involved in our own situation. That sounds simple but so often we blame the world around us for our plight. A student of life can only blame themselves for all choices made they are ours and no one else’s to make. So in effect we make ourselves happy or sad and only we can redirect the pathway. Those heroic astronauts who gave their lives they could have chosen another path a simpler path and less risky path, but they wanted and chose the direction and they were on and where they were to be. We now can choose how to continue their journey ending in a crash or building upon that and going beyond the stars. Remember the families of those brave men and women who died and keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always seek peace namaste.

 

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

 

PS As In much of life I have found synchronicity. I started my titling in humor and yet as I grew in my writing and thoughts over the years the name as well took on power. A birddroping can be so much more than simply a white splash on a windshield or side walk. It can become sacred and meaningful to some. A feather drifting in the wind. A feather picked up along the pathway. For some a feather has power and sacredness. I have found over the nearly twenty years of writing that daily one maybe two or three people are impacted by a thought I may share. That has made it worth my time.

Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

Bird Droppings March 18, 2018
Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

 

My mind wandered back fourteen years to a county wide teacher kick off meeting, traditionally a packaged inspirational meeting and welcome back for the new school year hosted by an outside speaker. The county would pay big bucks to an inspirational speaker. Paid to come in and inspire us as teachers I found out quite a bit. It could be a comedian or professional speaker and it seemed every year the county would try a new approach. Not too long after this one the superintendent with 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 Jimmy Carter but so far no such luck. In the past before the county cut out the startup program, we would car pool over to the high school gym nearest 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.

 

A recent speaker to a senior class reminded me of that meeting nearly fourteen years back. A young black college professor stood in front of us. He made his point quite powerfully. In the proceeding minutes before the start of the program not one person approached him as he boogied through the crowd prior to the meeting. The quest 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 forty five years since I was in his class yet I still consider him one of the best teachers I ever had. Over the years I have set at the feet of some great teachers in college classes and in industrial seminars and as a professional management training coordinator.

 

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

 

I had a former student come by to visit me a few years back he had walked across the stage nearly eleven years ago to accept a special education diploma and then went on and officially finished high school and received his general education diploma and went on to college. It was a good feeling to be sitting there talking with a student who kept at it and succeeded even though all the odds were stacked against him.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings March 17, 2019
Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

 

In a ninth grade literature class that I happened to co-teach in many years ago, I was introduced to the book, Freedom Writers Diary and the film based on the book. In some ways the story is similar to the story of Foxfire. Erin Gruell a first year brand new teacher in an inner city school circa 1992 is baffled as to how and approach literature with her classes. Elliot Wiggington in 1966 was just as baffled as a new teacher of literature in the mountains of Rabun County Georgia. I recall my own first time teaching verbal students I should add as I taught several years working with severe and profoundly disabled students who all were nonverbal. I will say my earliest teaching experiences with non-verbal students did instill in me an appreciation for empathy and intuitiveness. That first verbal student class picture is on my wall in my room today from 1976.

 

Over forty years ago I saw the same issues Wiggington and Gruell faced walking into a class of students who did not want to be there. Lesson one is always the hardest.

 

“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.” Foxfire Core Practice three

 

I was given a class of thirteen I was told that they were learning disabled students. As day one progressed I found someone put down the wrong disability on most of these kids. My principal emphasized reading and I found very quickly the highest reading level in the entire class was three or four years behind. I was not privileged to see folders of students I was to only know they are learning disabled. Our readers were the Dick and Jane type books from first grade and my youngest student was twelve. I learned day one these books we were reading would not work period after having one nearly miss my head. At least my teacher’s podium was not set on fire as happened to Elliot Wiggington back in his first teaching job. When I went home that night I swore day two would be different.

 

“Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in terms of Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities. When forced to recognize that the extremes cannot be acted upon, it is still inclined to hold that they are all right in theory but that when it comes to practical matters circumstances compel us to compromise. Educational philosophy is no exception. The history of educational theory is marked by position between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

So many college education programs across the country teach a classroom should be like this with a picture of rows of desks all neat in a row and board in front and so forth like so many classrooms we all have seen. Dewey labeled this traditional education and points to the industrial revolution as the basis for this. In current educational reform which in effect is not reform in terms of improving education for children but an effort to streamline and make more efficient the processes of education so as to be more profitable for corporations now buying into education through charter schools. In effect even a stronger sense of traditional education except now imagine the ideal reform classroom banks of computer carousels with students focused on screens room after room and somewhere a “teacher” monitoring programming of computers. No longer would certified teachers be needed only a programmer. Room after room all sitting in rows focused on the screen. Definitely not the classroom I would want for my kids or grandkids.

 

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

 

This is why perhaps I am drawn to John Dewey’s writing. In the turn of the century he knew education was the key to democracy and the key to the future. Dewey set a lab school at the University of Chicago that still is operating. It was after several years and a graduate school course that Elliot Wiggington realized he was using ideas from John Dewey.

 

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core Practice two

 

I found on my own it was about learner choice and interaction between students and teachers that learning occurred not in some magically programmed curriculum guide. I asked on day two what my students liked to read and nothing was the basic answer from all of them. So what do you like to do was question two. Now we started to get some answers. A rush of favorites started spilling out wrestling, cars, girls, fast cars, baseball, football and it grew quickly. So day three I brought magazines about cars, wrestling and I did leave playboy at my house but I was tempted. By the end of year reading levels soared and my principal was so excited she ordered next set of Dick and Jane books.

 

As I watched the film Freedom Writers my thoughts went back to why did this teacher succeed and why did Wiggington succeed. As I looked up information on the Freedom Writers I found in the references a list of teachers on the Wikipedia page. Listed in the references and for further information Ken Carter, education activist and former high school basketball coach portrayed in the 2005 film, Coach Carter, Joe Louis Clark, high school principal portrayed in Lean on Me (film), Ron Clark (teacher), portrayed in the 2006 film, The Ron Clark Story, Pierre Dulaine, dancer and dance educator, Jaime Escalante, high school teacher portrayed in the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, Marilyn Gambrell, parole officer-turned high school teacher portrayed in the 2005 Lifetime movie, Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story, and LouAnne Johnson, writer, teacher and former U.S. Marine featured in the 1995 film, Dangerous Minds. All of these teachers also were successful with their classes. Why were these teachers successful and others perhaps trying to emulate have not succeeded.

 

“As Foxfire grew and gained national recognition, beleaguered teachers all across the country looked at The Foxfire Magazine, and saw an opportunity to change things. They started producing their own magazines in an attempt to “do Foxfire.” Most of these teachers met with partial or little success because they had missed the very heart of why Foxfire succeeded—student choice.” Foxfire Fund website

 

After ten summers of Foxfire teacher’s courses I have found only a few teachers use the ideas and are successful and it comes back to allowing students to take some ownership.

 

“The success of the Foxfire program was due in large part to the fact the students chose to create a magazine. Since the magazine was their choice, the students were deeply invested in the work of creating it. The magazine product itself was not the solution to classroom woes that so many teachers thought it would be. Kaye Carver Collins, an early magazine student and later a Foxfire staff member for 13 years, explained the problem like this: ‘It seemed that people couldn’t understand the importance of the difference between the magazine, which was the choice we made, and the fact that we made a decision.’” Foxfire Fund website

 

After being in education and training for nearly forty five years I have found it is much easier to ask someone to do something than tell them. I have found it is easier if it is of interest to that person and if it applies to that person outside of educational setting even easier to teach.

 

“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.” Foxfire Core Practice eight

 

Hanging on my wall over my head in my classroom the Foxfire Core Practices and another poster of children learn what they live. One poster the Foxfire one shows me I am a learner as well as a teacher, more a facilitator. Dr. Laura Nolte’s poster shows me to set the example the children are watching. So progressive versus traditional where does this lead?

 

“The traditional scheme is, in essence, one of imposition from above and from outside. It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. 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. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

Teaching should not be simply a control issue. Education needs to be less of a prison and more oriented around creating an atmosphere of learning. Down through history developmentalists including Piaget and Erickson have shown children are learning different than adults and in effect are developing in their learning styles and means. Yet we assume they are operating on an adult level almost from day one. I have brought up several issues why some teachers, who are progressive are successful and others not and why is traditional education not succeeding but simply staying almost on a level progression even reformers ideas are not impacting just making someone somewhere wealthy. I have wandered a bit today and will clarify in days to come trying to raise some questions. As today progresses please keep all in harm’s way on your minds 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

Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

Bird Droppings March 15, 2019
Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

 

As I opened my phone numerous news stories and jokes were addressing the college guidance company that recently was busted for getting wealthy kids into college for money. I recall the urban myths of a college SAT test taker who would using fake ID take an SAT for you and get whatever score you wanted. He now has surfaced in this circus of events and is a real person. Perhaps what bothers me the most is now the idea of going to college is tarnished further since it show how if you have money anything is possible. Greed and power rule evidently in our world. I am teaching in a school that is socioeconomically on the lower end of the scale. I see kids who eat at school as their meals of the day. I was in a discussion this week with a student about whether they would have a place to go home too and or a parent to go home too.

 

I watched a video or series of videos from one of the children of the wealthy parents busted this past week in college scheme. “She was in college for parties and football games” according to her testimony. Her sponsors are now leaving but as I listened to the five or so minutes of her parading around her dorm room bragging about her lifestyle and in a later segment apologizing for being a brat essentially I wondered about parenting and basically stayed up thinking last night about students I have now who see this on the news. I saw a Facebook post from a student I know from a few years back enjoying watching the wealth of a certain area and desiring to be like that. The confusion of the world is at hand and we keep putting on band aids.

 

I have heard and seen this in many forms. “’One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.’” From Jodie Schmidt, 2005

 

Many years ago in my travels and in reading emails I read this story sent by a friend. Only a few days ago it was on Facebook. As I read over this short story and by chance I was thinking about how children respond to various situations. We adults then commend or condemn them, feed them. Those two words are so closely spelled yet so far apart in meaning and understanding. Yesterday morning a young lady came in and was visibly upset but more of a moping kind of upset. Seems her boyfriend and she were sort of at odds. I shared the Thomas Merton quote I have hanging on my wall and have used here so many times.

 

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we see in them.” Thomas Merton

 

I asked the young lady to look up Merton and see some of his other writings and who he was which she did before school and then she left with a copy and a Kent Nerburn book, Calm Surrender. As we talked I thought of this quote about the wolves inside of us and how we all are fighting as she told me of conflicts in her life and in her boyfriends.
Several days back my wife and I were discussing kids as we tend too and the topic of learned behavior came up. We teach kids through our actions and inactions and yet we then punish them for the same exact thing. An attorney was on TV saying parents who knew kids were drinking at a party at their house should not be held responsible for any actions of drunken teenagers. The discussion was on a point, counter point discussion and then the other side mentioned that the person who was involved in the accident had been arrested previously for DUI and the parents knew that so there was a history established.
So I sat listening to this back and forth, an underage drinking party led to a teenage driver killing a child. The underage drinker who was driving had left the party at that particular parent’s home with their knowledge he was drunk and had been drunk previously, both parties were found guilty. On the one hand the defense attorney was saying kids will be kids and on the other a dead child.
I look back at the story which wolf is being fed. We are responsible as teachers, parents and we and others need to be more actively involved in keeping such situations from happening. Whether it be teenage love or teenage drinking there is harm being done around the corner and often under our noses. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird