Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

Bird Droppings June 30, 2019
Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

I walked in the house from vacation after unloading my car, swam about a half mile and sat down to write. I will be having my eighteenth first day of school teaching high school in a few weeks. I will just assume it will not be as tense and hectic as my first on September 11, 2001. While driving home I was thinking back to a song one of my students chose to write about several years ago, Live like you were dying by Tim McGraw. A dear friend passed away and it is difficult as I write today to not think about how many friends, do I want to see and talk to one more time. I have been sorting through books and files and found a small inspirational book based on that song. The song came up when I had given a writing assignment to pick a favorite song, find the lyrics then explain the song. There is something about country music and lyrics and emotions that hit you.

As various music genre came forth that one song stood out among all the rest that day. Here we can argue genres and such although I did use Beyoncé and Bob Dylan in a sarcastic graphic mainly pointed at our system of measuring schools. Bob Dylan if anyone is not aware has been chosen as the greatest song writer of all time. Some can argue and I got into this the other day with a fellow teacher and friend as I was picking on his heavy metal blaring after hours. I used the rock and roll hall of fame as an example and Dylan has songs covered by the greats, Knockin on Heaven’s door, All along the watchtower to name a few.

“You have to do what you love to do, not get stuck in that comfort zone of a regular job. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.” Lucinda Basset

“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

Searching for words midst a deluge of thought I got caught up in Tim McGraw’s words from that assignment so many years back.

“I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about” Tim McGraw

We take life so often for granted, wasting precious moments, missing bits and pieces as we go hurriedly to the next event of the day. My dear friend I had not seen since 1978 but we communicated regularly on Facebook. Sharing all of those years in photos and one line captions.

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” Josh Billings

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

“I went Rocky Mountain climbing I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu and then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I watched an eagle as it was flying and he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Tim McGraw

All week in the morning I walked out as I do, although this week it was to the sunrise on Pawley’s Island beach sitting taking pictures listening to the surf and breeze.  Over the years so many mornings early in the day, to my right a clearing the pines often a great smile of a moon almost half a full moon but still a smile. The stars add to the effect and surrounding me that great chorus of crickets and tree frogs, it was literally over whelming. I have yet to figure how crickets in our neighborhood can harmonize. Perhaps they were singing for my friend.

“The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion.” Nadia Boulanger

“On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.” Buddha

We each search and try to find the pathway that is best for us as we journey through life. How and why we go the direction we do is our choice and the attitude that we have again is our choice. As I am reading again the words from Tom McGraw’s song and listening to teenagers respond is interesting, living each day to the fullest is not just about riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds or mountain climbing in the Rockies. It is more about loving deeper and speaking sweeter, it is the moments not the events, it is extracting as much as possible and giving as much as possible in each second of each day.

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t and I became a friend a friend would like to have” Tim McGraw

Again a flash back, to a phone call several years ago. It was again a few years back another incident struck me, my middle son called from college and sounded upset there was an un-easiness in his voice. A female student had killed herself in the dorm; several of his friends were peer leaders on that hall. In another situation I was informed two students I have been talking with for three years were both pregnant distant events each encompassing in its own, a life ended and lives starting. One of the girls came by to tell me personally after I had heard rumors.

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

“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

It has been many years since I would walk out into the pastures at night and hear the snorting of our buffalo. It is so hard to explain seeing a bull buffalo’s breath blowing across the grass in the wee hours of the morning on a cool day, or watching fireflies skirt the kudzu and sumac of our back yard. A young lady takes her life, she had a plan with a stopping point I wonder if she lived as if she were dying or was she dying so she could live? What a paradox we set in motion as we journey each day.

“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

“I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end how’s it hit you when you get that kinda news man what’d you do…….live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about what’d you do with it what did you do with it” Tim McGraw

I won’t be riding bulls or skydiving but I will be smiling and I will love and I will be living each moment that I have got and hopefully set an example for the students I teach. I may make a few more day trips this summer to spend precious moments with friends. So my dear friends take a moment and truly think about it, live your moments to the fullest and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please be sure to give thanks for the moments namaste.

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

 

What am I doing looking for clues?

Bird Droppings June 29, 2019

What am I doing looking for clues?

 

We all enjoy mysteries and trying to solve the secret before the end of the movie or novel. We all seem to go through life looking for the one big clue and answer to all of the mysteries that surround us. I typed into the address bar, searching for answers, and one million one hundred thousand hits later I still had no answer. I tried a favorite book from years back, “In search of the mystery”, by William Edelen and got his view or what he had found along the way in his search.

 

“From Wakan-Tanka, the Great Mystery, comes all power. It is from Wakan-Tanka that the holy man has wisdom and the power to heal and make holy charms. Man knows that all healing plants are given by Wakan-Tanka, therefore they are holy. So too is the buffalo holy, because it is the gift of Wakan-Tanka.” Flat-Iron, Maza Blaska, Oglala Sioux

 

Wanka-Tanka loosely translated from the Lakota Sioux language is, the great mystery. Nearly thirteen years ago this week a miniseries was on one of the cable channels, “Into the West” which was produced by Steven Spielberg. This was a grand soap opera of the history of two peoples brought into conflict as each had differing intentions for the land. The term Wakan-Tanka is used as the holy man one of the Native American brothers depicted in the movie often states, he is one with. Author, pastor, fighter pilot, and philosopher William Edelen borrowed from this Native American thinking in one of his books essentially in his writing trying to find the mystery only to discover it was still there.

 

Several years back in Kansas a debate was brewing that more than likely could seriously have impacted education in that state, intelligent design versus evolution was to be taught in schools. A mystery is simply something we are not currently sure of what it is. So often we solve our mysteries with whatever we can think of. In years gone by astronomers could only conceive of a sun going around the earth and even Columbus was a bit concerned as days rolled on and no land was found that maybe the flat earth idea had merit. Visually I recall the scene from the movie when he gets to land and falls flat on his face on the beach. I think he was more excited than we will ever know that the flat concept was dispelled.

 

It takes research and thinking and pondering to resolve and search for mysteries. For Native Americans to conceive of a great mystery allowed for new ideas for them the limitations were minimal since everything is the great mystery. Across the sea we needed more concise and clarity and developed theologies that provided anthropomorphic symbolism and containment and eventually even intelligent design. We did not want a mystery; we wanted a friend, a brother, father, cousin, or just another human being. As interesting as life goes forth I am wandering today in my own mystery. Watching again this series of the western encroachment reliving how we desecrated a land and continue to do it. Even in court a person’s home can be taken for the encroachment of development. Years back in Connecticut a riverside home lived in for six generations was bulldozed for an office complex in for the betterment and progress of society. Our current administration is trying to get an energy bill hyped to bring down our gas prices that includes drilling in the pristine wilderness of Alaska that will take ten years to produce a drop of oil yet we think it will affect gas this summer. The fact we cannot refine more crude oil in our own country does not ever pop up since no new refineries have been built recently actually in nearly thirty years. No one reads about how US refineries and oil companies are exporting gas and oil since we have too much. Hopefully for us a bill to reduce emissions back to previous levels in 1970’s was rejected. How appropriate is the series as we continue to expand our philosophy of greed and materialism even today? The mystery is of little use if no one cares to search and is content to wallow in material things and contrivances. My friends 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

 

Life is making a quilt

Bird Droppings June 27, 2019
Life is making a quilt

It was nearly twelve years ago today my wife walked in and told me that my mother said this was to be a happy time a joyous occasion as we celebrated my father’s life on Sunday. She said I think we are even having a snow cone machine. I thought to myself it gets hot in Georgia on an afternoon in June. About this same time another event was transpiring in our family’s lives. I helped my son with a project of repairing the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech. Twelve years ago my son and acquaintance a 1968 Ga. Tech graduate of Tech and I were talking about a body shop and getting the Wreck ready for first football game. Somehow or other the idea of how things fall in place came up and after they headed out I started on my idea of a quilt.

I had started thinking about my father again talking with my son’s friend and how he had been all over the world lectured and taught in countries most people will never know. Another email I recall mentioned how dad was always giving something; it could be a necklace with a rock from South Africa or a bola with some African trinket or South American artifact as the clasp. Sometimes it was a story or just wisdom from his years working with people. It hit me his life was like a quilt.

“People come out to see you perform and you’ve got to give them the best you have within you. The lives of most men are patchwork quilts. Or at best one matching outfit with a closet and laundry bag full of incongruous accumulations. A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.” Jesse Owens, 1913-1980, American Olympian

I use the comparison to a puzzle often nearly each day as I write. But when I read this idea of a quilt of our lives it hit me. A patchwork quilt, with each piece a significant event in life yet alone not enough to make the whole. Each piece of the quilt is still independent of each other piece. My wife has a quilt from her grandmother whose grandmother made it; each little piece of fabric is sown to the next each little section connects to the next and in the end a quilt. We have several quilts made for our sons by a friend’s mother many years ago. A good friend in Holland is a quilter and she post pictures of each intricate masterpiece as she sews.

For nearly thirteen years during my summers I go up to the mountains of North Georgia and have been involved with the Foxfire program for teaching. The instructors have used an exercise where each participant makes a piece and together a quilt is created each session. The quilt is hanging on the wall with pieces added as the week progresses. Traditionally in the mountains there are sixteen stitches per inch which is the measure of a quilt I learned that while up at Foxfire talking with one of the women at the museum center. Often when I am talking with kids I will use timelines to piece together but I think I will try this idea of a quilt each piece adding to the whole yet alone just a scrap of fabric. As I look back at so many memories and you know it seems to all be flowing piecing together, I like the idea of a quilt. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

 

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

Bird Droppings June 26, 2019
Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

I was asked at dinner one evening 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 how I viewed 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 condo in Pawleys Island South Carolina writing. A few minutes ago I walked out on the beach to a sunrise and low tide. I do miss my June retreats to the mountains f North Georgia and gatherings of teachers to discuss John Dewey and Foxfire. As I think back on the excitement and power emanating in a room full of teachers nestled on the side of Black rock Mountain, I started thinking about what I was going to write about today. Perhaps a continuation of my reflective effort yesterday. However 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 Thursday 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.
This time of year I am traditionally back and forth to North Georgia or so it has been for the past ten or so 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 forty six 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 thirteen 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 are you feeling and everyone 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 snake’s cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teacher 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

Teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings June 25, 2019
Teaching can be successful

 

As I do on many mornings when I get the time I try and find a quiet spot to ponder a few minutes, on vacation my balcony beckoned. At home developers have purchased the bank owned land in our development and new houses have taken the place of trees and shrubs. After twelve years of solitude on our lot we might have neighbors. No more quiet and peaceful time, bulldozers and construction folks have been clambering around. First it was a bush hog machine that came through and destroyed the pathways and rabbit warrens. So what was nestled in a patch of weeds and brush where I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning is now the neighbors back yard.

 

My daughter in law pointed in in the direction of a writing spider at breakfast yesterday a few photos this morning might hit the spot. For any years I have been amazed at the orb weavers spinning the massive circular webs to ensnare insects. I have accidently walked into many over the years the strands of spider webbing to native are part of the interconnectedness of nature, still hanging connecting everything. The scientist part of me knows that they are simply webs from wandering spiders the previous night out hunting but the mystic in me sees the connections. I do see the interconnections but many do not.

I am concerned about learning not education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is supposed to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal polity contradict and totally destroy the ability to provide learning experiences for children. Yesterday several editorial cartoons were sent through the internet showing a group of students all connected with wires from their heads staring ahead and one trying to climb out a window to the outside and nature, it has been around for some time but caught my attention. The just of the image was education reform wants us all to be education zombies all learning the same thing at the same time. If we cannot reverse the decline in learning our children will be simply pawns of whoever is or whatever is in power at the time.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Standing in line at Kroger always thinking about teaching

Bird Droppings June 21, 2019
Standing in line at Kroger always thinking about teaching

I am always looking for coincidence. This could be why so often I find it just about anywhere. It might be walking in my yard and seeing an owl sitting in a tree, or standing in line at an odd hour at our super Kroger and finding a book. As it goes I am a creature of some routine, while not rising as early as I did during the school year, when I would leave the house at to go to the high school by five in the morning. I still am up and moving before many even consider the idea. I have been doing well on my intake of caffeine for a couple months.

I left without my tea from the house and trying to avoid my caffeine fix each morning from very high calorie energy drinks I headed to find Black Chai Tea at Starbucks. It has been a few years since I would down big mugs as I wrote each morning and had that urge again. The collection of empty mugs in our cabinet at home bespeaks my former habit. My son was heading to Alcovy to feed our zoo at the high school. So he was up early after he left I proceeded to the store to pick up my tea and headed for the checkout. Just as I entered the line a book cart of sorts a large cardboard box marked book sale. Generally in a grocery store books in a large cardboard box marled for sale are ones no one wants but are discounted so you will buy this now sort of approach. As I bent over to look on top was a little book, “Teachers are Special” by Nancy Burke. The adventure begins, on page seven a nice start to the day as I am always looking for ideas.

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

That summarizes many education courses and how to courses in teaching all in one and here I am always searching for what makes a great teacher. Inspiration is the key as I look back on teachers over the years a very few inspired me. There were some and those I could on my fingers and I am one who has been through many teachers in undergraduate and graduate school. I got thinking back to another morning and I was writing as usual.  My son called me to ask if I was watching the news. One of his good friends was in London on a summer study trip and things were going on not well where his buddy was staying. Jamie came out of it ok and by coincidence I officiated at this same young man’s wedding a few years later. As I thought to the young man whose wedding I had officiated and his tragic death in a half marathon in what seems just yesterday. My son now living in North Carolina I reread the line from this little book and you know the word teacher could be substituted with parent, friend, manager, supervisor and nearly any other word describing relationships. It is so interesting how we all are teachers in life at some point or another.

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

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

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

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

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

Bird Droppings June 19, 2019
Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

 

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

 

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

 

These are the words that begin author Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it. As I prepare for a new school year one of no books only iPods it will be most interesting. We now have a generation of children who do not fear the technology their parents invented and in many cases do not even hold in awe but consider it common place or boring.

Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.

 

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

 

Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations. Technology is putting the world into an instantaneous realm of immediate.

The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Millennial by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children’s imaginations and creativity. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.

To believe in a god or gods requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of god. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your fingertips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Each of us perceives the concept of god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time.

Lev Manovich offers his theory on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and his former place of employment was the last hot type facility and was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is melted and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.

 

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

 

We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something is missing, it is that something that is not able to tie it all together.

From my own personal experience working with teenagers, I have found many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.

In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird