Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings December 13, 2019

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

 

A few years back in a ninth-grade literature class that I happened to be co-teaching in, I was introduced to the book Freedom Writers Diary. We also watched the film based on the book. In some ways the story is similar to the story of how the Foxfire program started. 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. Foxfire founder 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 enable 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 infuse the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one

 

This is why perhaps I am drawn to John Dewey’s writing and Foxfire. 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 manifest 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 Lou Anne 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 more than ten summers of Foxfire teacher’s courses I have found only a few teachers use the ideas and are successful and it almost always 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 fifty 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 new classroom the Foxfire Core Practices and another poster, Laura Nolte’s 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

Who would have thought of a buffalo snort in the dark?

Bird Droppings December 12, 2019

Who would have thought of a buffalo snort in the dark?

 

“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for  the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” George Bernard Shaw

 

In all of my years of searching, pondering and wandering about it seems the pathway always continues ahead of me. Many times, I am stepping from one stone to another to get across the stream placing one foot ahead of the next trying to stay out of the water. I think I have always tried to leave that life as I wander a little better than when I got there. It does not always work out but I do believe I try. When I am walking down the hall ways at school I always trying to smile, joke with students, get others smiling and joking, and enjoying that precise moment of life. We equate time in seconds and that is only the blink of an eye and so easy to miss.

 

“None of us is promised tomorrow. Today in all its beauty and sadness and complexity, is all we have. This light we see may be the last such day we have on this earth. There is no certainty, beyond the fact that one day we will have no tomorrow, and that it is not ours to know when that day will be.” Kent Nerburn, Small Graces

 

Just before school was out week I had to report an incident that was told to me by a student. It is difficult to when told in confidence yet the situation was severe enough to warrant reporting. In my same conversation with this student I was asked if my children ever got in trouble and I said no although tongue in cheek. The student responded, “They have never run away or sneaked out or….” and again I said no. Immediately I asked instinctively if both parents lived at home. The response was hesitant but came, “no I live with my mom”, “but I don’t misbehave for my dad” and so forth. It comes to be the incident was not a onetime deal it is a regular occurrence and as I talk with parents and students I find my life is not “NORMAL”. It seems normal is having kids who are in trouble, causing problems yelling at their parents etc. It seems it is parents who are hitting their kids drinking with and such that is what society seems to deem as normal. Philosopher Michael Foucault would use the idea of looking at abnormal first to determine normal.

 

“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

 

I woke up from a vivid dream while I was getting my hair cut a few days back and I never fall asleep while getting my hair cut. Just as the hair was being brushed away from my neck and I looked up at a clock on the wall it was 2:30 and I had to get going. But as I am thinking back to my dream, my dreams are generally simple ones with complexities woven in and throughout. As I thought back nearly fifteen years to my starting back to graduate school. In preparing for my final presentation in my master’s program, my advisor was continually using the word “weave”. Our project was about weaving all the pieces together. I actually at one point of my thinking was going to produce two covers and weave them together in a symbolic gesture indicative of my professors thought. Life is a weaving in reality as I look at each aspect intertwined with the next. It could be that child growing up in the context of arguing and issues at home finds that is normal and yet asks what it would be like to live in my family where that doesn’t exist. I smile and joke and offer solace for the moment I have with that student not so much as to change the pattern of weaving but to offer stronger thread or a tighter warp to the pattern. I think of my grandkids as they each are traveling in life. How do they see events unfolding and changing around them?

 

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

 

Nearly seventeen years back I first wrote about the Sixteen Hour Syndrome and how as a teacher I had eight hours to undo the sixteen hours parents and family have to deal with a child. Mathematically it doesn’t work and logically it doesn’t work and some parents do not want it to work, they have chosen the direction for their children and that is that.  Many times, it seems futile as a teacher to even try and make a difference knowing what some children go home to. Jokingly two boys sitting in a physics class said to me they were waiting for antique farm equipment to move so they could do the lab. I was taken back a minute and said what? They looked over at lab counter and six black kids were working on lab. I responded as I do often sarcastically first it bothers me that you both have that kind of attitude but since I know the grades of all six and yours using that as an excuse only proves how ignorant you really are. Neither responded and they know where I stand on the subject.

 

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

 

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

 

Just before school let Friday last week out a particular student asked me about absolute truths. I responded and had a response from a dear friend and so forth a dialogue and the context was a positive one as we shared ideas and thoughts. Again just a few days before that I reported an incident that had happened to a student and was told that it was ok, it was discussed. Sadly, that child went home thinking this is how life really is. It simply is ok. Normal parents and kids do yell at each other and hit each other and throw things at each other, it is ok.

 

“We dribble away our life, little by little, in small packages — we don’t throw it away all at once.” Robert A. Cook

 

“Life is a succession of lessons enforced by immediate reward, or, oftener, by immediate chastisement.” Ernest Dimnet

 

B.F. Skinner the man behind the concept of behavior modification once said he could change anything and anyone through behavior modification. Who knows maybe he is right, maybe if we continue picking away and smiling and joking and living life as un-normal as it may be to some others will catch on. Who knows maybe just maybe when tomorrow comes that child who was asking about have my children ever run away will be asking how much they study each night instead or what books they have read or what college are they going to.

 

“Every morning I wake up saying, I’m still alive; a miracle. And so, I keep on pushing.” Jacques Cousteau

 

I have a teacher friend, a breast cancer survivor who said something very similar to me. For her “each day is a blessing to make the most of”. How profound and almost understated is amazingly her students love her. She honestly cares about them and they know it. A simple bit of attitude goes very far when wielded in honesty and good faith.

 

“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

 

Many years ago, I raised buffalo and as I would walk out each morning into the dark I would hear an occasionally snort and blow of air from our bull as he checked the cows and calves walking about in the morning haze. I knew life then and even today as I walk out and greet the morning though different sounds living in a subdivision but still I can hear if I listen hard that faint echo of a buffalo snorting in the fog as it drifts in. Life is what we choose to make it and how we weave or how we step into the day it is our choice. In teaching I emphasize setting the example and I have hanging on my one of the walls in my room at school a poster from my hippie days 1971 or so. Of course, it is a black light poster. The posters title is “Children learn, what they Live” and it goes on from there. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and set the example in your own life for others to see and follow and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

I am just sitting, pondering and thinking wiping away a tear or two

Bird Droppings December 11, 2019

I am just sitting, pondering and thinking wiping away a tear or two

 

I was outside very early today to check the air and temperature. In the darkness I could hear a great horned owl it might have been what was irritating our dog keeping him up. It seems it was more than one as around me several were calling back and forth in an eerie chorus. The hooting had my dog going perhaps it was just the echoing of the owls through the trees which altered direction and location. I often joke about my monastic ways. It seems I am alone more than in a group and enjoy that. While joining science folks for lunch most days I still will secret away to my sanctuary of my room. Perhaps trying to mingle is not in my nature yet I do enjoy joking around and even at times trying to be the focus or center of attention. Perhaps we all do seek attention each in our own way.

 

“Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last.  I can change, I swear, oh, oh, see what you can do.  I can make it through, you can make it too.” Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

 

Every morning when I get on my computer including some Saturdays and many Sundays I religiously check my emails and as I sat down today reading emails. Somehow an old email popped up or accidently found its way to my notice. It was a note I had received in Xanga (is that even a word anymore) a good while back came to mind. My son had posted a note in which he related that he read the lyrics to a song by Joni Mitchell. Many youngsters will not even know the name Joni Mitchell, one of the great folk singers of the antiwar movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s, back in my day, the Viet Nam era. On a side note Joni is also considered by many as one of the premier guitar players known for her intricate tunings and chord variations.

 

Back to reading emails. Literally daily I receive emails from friends or readers of my blog and I end up getting to the word synchronicity and how words may be for this person or that and they may be just what was needed for this person now. It has been a few days since I wrote about morality and an email came back about a ninth-grade class where the discussion went into the morality of gene therapy and the students were unsure of the concept of morality. They had to discuss morality first.

 

I am sitting in Georgia writing to friends around the country and a few overseas thinking about all that happened yesterday pondering on what will happen today and thinking about why my son was drawn to this song so many years ago. I use words from songs quite often in correspondence and in counseling and working with teenagers. Words can be so powerful and so moving and conversely words can destroy and conquer. I share these words today a simple plea from a folk singer with a quiet powerful voice, Joni Mitchell.

 

The fiddle and the Drum

By Joni Mitchell

 

And so once again

My dear Johnny my dear friend

And so once again you are fightin’ us all

And when I ask you why

You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall

Oh, my friend

How did you come?

To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say I have turned

Like the enemies you’ve earned

But I can remember

All the good things you are

And so I ask you please

Can I help you find the peace and the star?

Oh, my friend

What time is this?

To trade the handshake for the fist

And so once again

Oh, America my friend

And so once again

You are fighting us all

And when we ask you why

You raise your sticks and cry and we fall

Oh, my friend

How did you come?

To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say we have turned

Like the enemies you’ve earned

But we can remember

All the good things you are

And so we ask you please

Can we help you find the peace and the star?

Oh my friend

We have all come

To fear the beating of your drum

© 1969 Siquomb Publishing Corp. (BMI)

 

As I listened to the words I was reminded of a dear friend in Pennsylvania that I have known for many years and with whom I correspond regularly through email, the words reminded of his writings.  He had been researching a drummer boy from West Chester Pa.  He was the youngest person killed in the Union forces during the Civil War. My friend in his own way was obsessed with the story and actually is writing a book about his findings. After many years of searching he found the grave of the drummer boy. He had been to that spot numerous times as the drummer boy’s parents were buried there. A poplar tree marked the grave between the parents. A tree planted as a living memorial to their son who died in war.

 

I recall a day when one of my student friends now a mother of two great kids, came by upset her brother had just joined the Marines. She comes from an extended family eleven kids in several marriages and step dads and moms. It is great at Christmas time and bad at times like this. How do you explain to a teenager war? The little drummer boy in Pa. was twelve when he died in battle. Recently I ran into a former teacher who had joined the National Guard he was rejected after going through training and suffering a stress fracture. When it came up he had been treated for depression he was upset he could not go and fight. Sadly, this story went on and ended harshly several years later.

 

I recall a good friend in high school we would play ice hockey at GO Carlson’s pond in the winter pick-up games and he and I would talk often as we waited for others to show up. He did not even live in our neighborhood but would come to play. He played the bassoon in the High School band and was on the soccer team. He and I both flunked out of the same college our freshmen and were drafted within days of each other. I am epileptic and though I have not had a seizure since childhood I received a 4Y permanent deferment. He went to Viet Nam. Many years later thinking I would see him at a reunion as I drove to my tenth I found out he had been killed in Viet Nam. It took several moments to sink in and immediately I thought this wasn’t possible and I sat back and wondered while more names were read. Each moment as I sat another name was mentioned another life had passed away in a war soon to be not a war soon to be merely history.

 

Only a few years ago I went with my son to Washington DC riding the bus along the way we are told how to find names of relatives and friends in the index books located at the ends of the Viet Nam memorial. I walked down the walkway reluctantly at best to find a name then two and three and four and I can no longer look up names as I write where on the wall they are located on my hand in black ink. A recent email from a friend who lost her husband he had come back from Viet Nam and so many thoughts. I walked down the line found the spot and the name emotions tears welled up I walked hurriedly away as far as I could get and sat on a bench looking down across the wall. A squirrel wandered through my field of vision. It was an hour or so and my son found me “dad the bus is leaving we need to go”. I do not remember thinking just staring at that wall and that squirrel that wandered back and forth interrupting my thoughts.  There have been few moments in my life where I have been unable to control my emotions and sitting here thinking back tears wander across my cheek again perhaps for another reason time will tell.

 

So many thoughts as I think back as we continue to fight another war and another war I in all the talk of freedom and patriotism and macho soldier talk I still have a difficult time with the concept of war. Joni Mitchell states so eloquently, “But we can remember all the good things you are and so we ask you please can we help you find the peace and the star oh my friend we have all come to fear the beating of your drum.”  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

How we perceive is often the beginning of the discussion

Bird Droppings December 7, 2019
How we perceive is often the beginning of the discussion

 

A dear friend brought up a conversation with a flat earth believer the other day. This person he had been talking with essentially disavowed science in many areas. My son offered is Mars visibly round from a telescope and or for that matter any other visible planet? Interesting and as usual religion can so easily pop into discussion. I raised the question in line with a Literature lesson some of students had been working on dealing with fiction. I asked is history fiction and or nonfiction. Most of students said it is nonfiction and two said it could be either it depends on who was looking at event.

 

“I love a people who have always made me welcome to the best that they had. I love a people who are honest without laws, who have no jails and no poorhouses. I love a people who keep the commandments without having ever read them or heard them preached from the pulpit.” George Catlin (1796-1872), Artist and Chronicler

 

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I can remember growing up seeing the fascinating prints of George Catlin’s paintings of American Indians throughout the US. Many of his images are all we have of tribes that in later years were decimated through disease and slaughtered by white soldiers. Catlin saw a different people than did most. So often we all tend to misuse our perception we see only what we want to see and not what is really there. Perhaps it becomes difficult to tell the difference as we tend to push our own ideas on others.

 

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist

 

This is an interesting outlook from one of the world’s leading biologists. It still becomes how we each see this amazing world. Some will go at life seeing how much they can squeeze from the earth much like an orange being put through a juicer. Others see as Dawkins does “a sumptuous planet sparkling with color”. Many of the authors that reflect on Native thought look at the interconnections and how they are so critical to our continued existence.

 

“I know that our people possessed remarkable powers of concentration and abstraction, and I sometimes fancy that such nearness to nature as I have described keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with unseen powers.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Eastman, Santee Dakota, Medical doctor and author

 

In the movie Wounded Knee, Dr. Eastman is depicted being trained as a physician in the late 1800’s one of the first Indians to go through medical school. Dr. Eastman was the attending physician to the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. His views were conflicted by his immersion in the white culture and yet as he grew away from this his writing tried to show the other side, the Indian side. Yesterday I was sitting in my co-teaching class of ninth grade biology we were going over the idea of various forms of evolution. The lead teacher flashed an image on the wall one of an owl sitting in a tree and I listened to the various comments from the group as to what they saw. Ideas varied and often would be more about a color or shape that they were reminded of. It became evident to me that as we talked it became evident that our ideas come primarily from our experiences. Even the teacher of the class being a seasoned teacher with limited experiences was limited in what she was adding to the talk.

 

I saw a duality as I viewed the picture of an owl. Using native thought in which from tribe to tribe owls are viewed differently. My dear friend who is Creek believed owls to be a harbinger of death. Other friends from western tribes see the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. So, in my own thinking I see wisdom and fear as parallels running along together never quite touching but also flowing in a symmetrical pattern that ties the two together.

 

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda

 

Being a fan of Carlos Castaneda even though controversy surrounds his writing I recall several stories in his books of various times when his mentor kept after him to look deeper not just what was presented. He might being seeing an owl sitting on a post but what Don Juan his guide would say would be to look into the owl beyond the owl what is there that is meant for you to understand. As my friend feared owls I came to embrace the calls at night often calling back to the great horned owls that would nearly surround me in the early morning hours calling to each and to me.

 

“All civilization in a sense exists only in the mind. Gunpowder, textile arts, machinery, laws; telephones are not themselves transmitted from man to man or from generation to generation, at least not permanently. It is the perception, the knowledge and understanding of them, their ideas in the Platonic sense, that are passed along. Everything social can have existence only through mentality.” Alfred L. Kroeber, The Superorganic

 

A very deep thought and as I ponder this morning perhaps the novel of a group of young boys marooned on an island comes to mind. All civilized thought seems to pass away and instinctual and survival modes kicked into gear. It is the thinking processes that are passed on. As I watch students in school one comes to school already reading and one is not even ready to read and when you look to the family each child came from you see one where education is a key and the other where it is simply mandated. I was talking with an assistant principal at one of the local high schools yesterday about just this thought. We teachers are often considered the bringers of education, morality, normalcy, commonality and who knows what else when we only have one third of a day for less than two hundred days a year. It is that sixteen-hour syndrome of another perception that so often dislodges any sort of attempt at helping a child find a way in life and so often then carries into school especially in older years. In thirteen years of teaching and working with emotional issues at a high school I have yet to find a student who also did not have some sort of contributing factor from home.

 

“There is, perhaps, one universal truth about all forms of human cognition: the ability to deal with knowledge is hugely exceeded by the potential knowledge contained in man’s environment. To cope with this diversity, man’s perception, his memory, and his thought processes early become governed by strategies for protecting his limited capacities from the confusion of overloading. We tend to perceive things schematically, for example, rather than in detail, or we represent a class of diverse things by some sort of averaged “typical instance.” Jerome S. Bruner, Art as a Mode of Knowing

 

As I read again this thought from Bruner it makes more sense we tend to after several experiences establish a mean and mode of experiences and then treat each new experience based upon the average. Rather than embracing a new experience we simple take it as what has happened previously and soon you find students saying I am bored. We as teachers have not expanded the perceptions of our students to see the details that are presented. In a hurry to teach and get through a specific amount of material in a given time we too form averages and then teach to averages and soon a world full of simply averages exists and there is no longer a bell-shaped curve but we are flat lined.

 

“Every man feels that perception gives him an invincible belief of the existence of that which he perceives; and that this belief is not the effect of reasoning, but the immediate consequence of perception. When philosophers have wearied themselves and their readers with their speculations upon this subject, they can neither strengthen this belief, nor weaken it; nor can they show how it is produced. It puts the philosopher and the peasant upon a level; and neither of them can give any other reason for believing his senses, then that he finds it impossible for him to do otherwise.” Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man

 

Sadly, so sadly as I finish my journal for today this statement is true. We all tend to so strongly believe in our own perceptions we disavow the possibility of any other even when we know it is so. But our perceptions are based only on the experiences previously held and if those are limited by averages as in paragraph above then rather than a “a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life”, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently describes we have just a boring façade that never changes and never goes anywhere. I wish for each of you to exceed the mean and mode of what you presume to be your perceptions and for a day or two try and see more and hear more and do more. As I end my daily sojourn as have for nearly fifteen years now 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

Naughty or Nice, might be in the semantics

Bird Droppings December 6, 2019

Naughty or Nice, might be in the semantics

 

“The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.” William Wordsworth

 

One day when you look back and try and remember what was that act I did or when did I do it, you may not remember but the person to whom that small act of kindness was paid will. Over the years I will hear comments from my home town of Coatesville, even though I have not lived there since 1972 it still seems to be home. I have had several recall day camp at Camp Ringtail one of my own ventures in my back yard. I even used an event recently as I talked with a group of high school students. I used to have a large Eastern Indigo snake. This was before the endangered species act. One day in a nature demo my snake barfed up on some unwary campers a large bullfrog half digested. That is easy to remember.

 

As we get into the serious end of the holiday season at least for kids. It is time to tally up naughty or nice points for Santa. I recall a certain visit from Santa Claus as he does every year visiting the family gathering for Christmas Eve. Coincidently a he had with him a letter of sorts more of a naughty and nice list. At the top of the naughty list of course was Uncle Frank along with several other Uncles and my grand niece’s daddy. At the top of the Really Nice list was my granddaughter of course and several grandnieces and a brand-new niece in law. The kids enjoyed and made jokes about their poor uncles who would get coal that year.

 

As I think back to small events and acts, several years back we had our oldest niece come over and with Santa they looked at all the names as I read them to her. She was so excited about two of them. Of course, she ran around the room showing everyone. What was so funny was it was her daddy’s name on the naughty list that intrigued her. She knew why exactly; her daddy scolded her a few days before. It is funny the list was a total after thought yet my niece took it home that year. As I sit here thinking back just a day or two and my granddaughter was mad at her daddy and told him he would be on the naughty list.

 

Now I have electronic means of determining naughty or nice. My app with a simple press of a finger makes some noise and eventually gives a reading. My granddaughter will check every time she comes by and of course it is always reading you are an angel. If only life wee that easy. Unfortunately, she also figured out how to customize the responses and will change it for her little brother.

 

Every once in a while, I will run into to someone in person or on line who had met my father over the years. It has been a number of years since he last spoke publicly, back in the day as my youngest son says. He taught numerous Red Cross courses along with his actually teaching, as a profession in the field of Industrial Safety and Loss Control. Many people mentioned how his Red Cross first aid class saved a life here and there or some interaction with another where he did this or that changed their life. Occasionally when I would mention to him he would remember the event but often it was simply his way of living how he went about the day.

 

One of my favorite stories about my dad is one from South Africa about forty years ago. He was there teaching and lecturing for the Chamber of Mines and one of the senior officers of The Chamber lent his personal driver and car to Dad while he was there. A young black South African, a member of one of South Africa’s many distinct tribes; this young man had come into the city to earn enough money so he could go home and marry. Many young men would leave their homes some for as long as twenty years to earn enough money to go back to their villages and marry. Dad spent eight weeks in South Africa on every trip and on this trip much like others traveling to many of the mines around Johannesburg and in the back country. This young man was always ready always on time and kept Dad on time many times getting him to numerous meetings and functions in this foreign country all in a day.

 

When it was time to head home, Dad had really come to like this young man and as he dropped him off at the airport Dad tipped him the remaining South African money he had, about five hundred equivalent US dollars in their currency. He came later to find out that was equivalent to three years of work or so. Dad got a telegram as soon as he got home from his good friend in South Africa asking what my father did to his driver.  As soon as he got back from the airport he quit his job and went back to his tribe. It seems Dad had given him enough money to go home and be married; a seemingly small act of kindness, a tip to this young man changed his life.

 

“Once in a century a man may be ruined or made insufferable by praise. But surely once in a minute something generous dies for want of it.” John Masefeild

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

 

Scattered about in our lives are the bits and pieces events we often do not remember but that person to whom we responded kindly or in a way that helped them will remember forever.

 

“The flower of kindness will grow. Maybe not now, but it will someday. And in kind that kindness will flow, for kindness grows in this way.” Robert Allan

 

“Is there any one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life? Surely the maxim of loving kindness is such: Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you.” Confucius, from the Analects

 

Interesting this statement sounds so familiar it was first written nearly 500 BCE by Confucius in China in his Analects, a series of statements and stories, repeated many times then in other cultures and religions and even prior in words of others.

 

“Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” Fredrick W. Faber

 

“If you were busy being kind, before you knew it, you would find you’d soon forget to think ’twas true that someone was unkind to you. If you were busy being glad, and cheering people who are sad, although your heart might ache a bit, you’d soon forget to notice it.” R. Foreman

 

There are far too few cheerleaders in the world although there are days I would say too many, especially with all the drama with the cheerleaders at our high school over the years. At school many times the cheerleaders come by my room, it seems I am the one taking photos at events and Mr. Bird’s wall of fame is a focal point for many students coming to see who has been added. One cheerleader in particular has never once had a frown; she is always excited and happy. She is always saying a good word to friends. I have never seen her gossip or speaking badly of another person and amazing I have never heard a bad word about her. So often in the morning as I observe the hallways her personality is contagious. When she is walking down the hallways with others soon all are laughing.

 

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.” Washington Irving

 

“He was so benevolent, so merciful a man that, in his mistaken passion, he would have held an umbrella over a duck in a shower of rain.” Douglas WilliamJerrod

 

“To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.” Samuel Johnson

 

It is seldom that someone will complain about another person being nice to them. Maybe Dr. Seuss’s character the Grinch, but even he fell sway to the little Who, Cindy Loo Who. Kindness can win battles. Kindness can win a war, or prevent a war. Random acts of kindness can provide the catalyst for world change.

 

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” Mother Theresa

 

“If someone were to pay you $.10 for every kind word you ever spoke and collect $.05 for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor?” Nonpareil

 

Many times, as I sit and write each morning I wonder if anyone is reading or hearing what is said. Daily I get notes and emails; I know today this word or that word touched someone. How many words need to be spoken or need to be emailed to have world peace? If it is a hundred million let’s start now if it is a hundred billion then again let’s start now. We all know there is a number and we all know one day we will attain that goal. One day maybe I will never have to end Bird Droppings ever again this way but with a Georgia State Patrolmen shot in the line of duty last night after a car chase not today, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Is there topsoil left midst an erosion of soul?

Bird Droppings December 5, 2019

Is there topsoil left midst an erosion of soul?

 

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Simone Weil

 

“The need for roots,” I saw this idea earlier as I web surfed thinking and pondering this morning or perhaps as I was scrolling through thoughts I had saved over the years along with all of my young herb plants sitting beside me near the window and the concept caught me, to be rooted. Out in the garage I have root stock from several medicinal plants I ordered that I need to get into soil soon along with seeds. In a world where family ties are eroding away faster than we can reconnect we find our roots need topsoil.

 

“There is a longing among the young of my nation to secure for themselves and their people the skills that will provide them with a sense of purpose and worth. They will be our new warriors.” Chief Dan George

 

I have been intrigued with students recently have had little or no concept of much more than grandpa and grandma if that. The idea that their relatives came from elsewhere and were not American is difficult to grasp. I am doing a substantial amount of work with The Foxfire concept and so much of that in its origin is based on roots on history and family. After several years of looking I found a copy of the Red Lake Chronicles, a history of the Red Lake Ojibwa reservation, edited by Dr. Kent Nerburn an author I do enjoy reading and whose focus has been Native Indian Spirituality.

 

“We have to hate our immediate predecessors to get free of their authority.” D.H. Lawrence

 

I noticed this idea from Lawrence and as I was thinking maybe this was a clue to not wanting to remember your roots, your past or your history but traditionally in many poor areas it is those family ties that keep these people going. In a discussion with a young man recently talking about a brother in jail again and sister in trouble maybe separating from roots is necessary at times. Yet is there a tie between Weil and Lawrence while nearly polar opposites. I could generalize and say people who are lost have few roots or few ties to their heritage and to traditions; they are not grounded or anchored in any way. The reasons for this could be to escape, to wanting to be away from or distant from as Lawrence advocates.

 

“What a man sows, that shall he and his relations reap.” Clarissa Graves

 

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.” Margaret Mead, noted anthropologist

 

Margaret Mead may have hit the nail on the head perhaps we as a society have been stripped away by our constant boxing up and categorizing. Maybe we have delineated the need for roots and tried to unsuccessfully replace it with little or nothing but the good of society. If we go back to talking about society and people and using the analogy I have of plants most plants without roots are parasitic. As I look out at how we have set up our world is this not maybe a good comparison we have set up for parasitism among people.

 

“The government is becoming the family of last resort.” Jerry Brown

 

Many years ago, in a tenth-grade literature class that would be about 1965, we read at that time a very controversial book by George Orwell, “1984”. Contained within the book the total elimination of family and the government become your “Big Brother”. You were part of a whole and only an insignificant part at that. Various sociological and philosophical experiments have come and gone that have literally tried to destroy family and traditions and roots. They have been always stripping away the top soil, laying bare to the hardpan of a man’s soul. But within it all still with some people persistence, vigor, and desire was still there.

 

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” Confucius

 

This is not just a modern-day issue, Confucius raised questions over two thousand years ago and used a simple word to explain, integrity. For Confucius it was the integrity of the home and perhaps this is the key to roots. Solid roots can be found in the integrity of a family and home. Is it possible to look at people and judge their character by their roots, by how they were raised, by their family, or by their genealogy much like reviewing the potential of a good horse or cow? Back in the day we used EPD’s to judge the quality or potential quality of a breeding animal. I used to know what that meant but specifically in cattle it is the performance data that has been gathered for generations many times and potential for that animal based on that gathered collected data to be a suitable parent given traits you are looking for.

 

“If Mr. Vincent Price were to be co-starred with Miss Bette Davis in a story by Mr. Edgar Allan Poe directed by Mr. Roger Corman, it could not fully express the pent-up violence and depravity of a single day in the life of the average family.” Quentin Crisp

 

As I look at ideas and concepts and even jokingly at EPD’s used with cattle I find there are answers. EPD’s work because someone cared enough to check to save the information and data. Interesting we care about our cattle and horses yet so often neglect our own kind. Daily I encounter families that put the fictional family depicted by Mr. Crisp to shame. Over the years situations that most authors have not conceived of on a daily basis I see in real life. I walked into a local convenience store and noticed a lady standing at the counter I had seen her at the high school arguing to a point of being removed from the school. She was giving the store attendant a hard time and I felt immediately she is not a happy camper. Most fiction has base in fact unfortunately I have found. So where do I go in this round about effort especially on as we head into so many various holidays for many.

 

We are faced daily trying to support people who are trying to grow and succeed with little grounding and often with little if any support. It may be a simple smile or handshake that keeps them going today maybe even a happy holiday greeting. It may be a hug or kind word or ear to listen. But take some time to share to care and 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

 

Teaching as improvisational art using learning as the pallet

Bird Droppings December 4, 2019

Teaching as improvisational art using learning as the pallet

 

I wrote the basics of this article nearly fifteen years ago and at the time was thinking of an artist friend now a computer programmer who was trying to define her art as well as searching for her own meaning in life. My friend often reflected her political views and emotions through her art. It has been a few years my family had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games and eat of course. It seems in all family gatherings eating is an integral part and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Perhaps one day I will write on the socializing aspects of a family get together and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just prior to committing suicide?”

 

“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others” Vincent Van Gogh

 

By chance the answer was Van Gogh. When I first read this, I started to think about an ear coming in a box, and how unromantic that is. Perhaps sending body parts while you are alive is an art form. But trying not to be sarcastic, many aspects of our lives could be construed as an art form, such as love, teaching, and caring. Each goes beyond a simple definition. Within each are pieces that you do not learn in class. I am sure if Vincent Van Gogh showed a picture he drew or painted during one of his manic spells, the art teacher would have told him to take art lessons. Today those same paintings are considered classics of impressionism. I am sure Picasso was laughed at, somewhere along the line for drawing women in cube form or simply as a splash of color upon his canvas.

 

What defines an art form versus simply reality? I would not pay millions to have a Picasso or Van Gogh even if I had the money lying around. Perhaps for me I would prefer to see and experience rather than to own. It seems those who pay millions are often more about the publicity than the art.

 

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” William Faulkner

 

Defining the moment in words, paint or sculpture, perhaps even a bit of broken glass is art. I saw a in a tiny chapel outside Atlanta stained glass windows many years ago created by a renowned artist, an elderly Trappist monk from Conyers. This was his last work at the age of ninety two. The brilliant abstracts in the windows were in reds and purple depicting the Christian sacraments. The windows were literally alive as you sat in the chapel bathed in the brilliant light from the windows.

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” Henry James

 

I was thinking about Faulkner’s idea of art. How we can take a piece of life and preserve it. Artists are in many ways taxidermists each working within their own medium so to speak. Is love simply that special moment carried further as a reminder of what once was? Could teaching simply be a passing of pieces of reality to another who will have those pieces at some point in time? Even in the painting of Van Gogh is his art just the capturing of an image. Interesting how we do so easily now with digital cameras, scanners and computers. Even in my own photography playing with color and movement as I capture images.

 

“Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.” James Joyce

 

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” John F. Kennedy

“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” Henri Matisse

 

Nearly seven years ago Mel Brooks was honored at the Kennedy Art Center for his contributions. I found myself drawn to these writers’ quotes today especially as I read this statement by Henry Matisse. There is a secret hidden within Matisse’s words, for all forms of art. We are so often limited by our history and previous experiences, be it love or an art form, for Matisse then each love, each new piece of art should be new. Each should be special. It is in trying to categorize and synthesize that we lose the true essence and aspect of love, and of art. When we try to define and label the box of love do we lose pieces as we can in art? Teaching is in a very similar situation. Far too often teachers try and teach each lesson as they taught the last. First you have to forget all the classes that were ever taught, a difficult task for any teacher.

 

“If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.” Grandma Moses

 

“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors.” Pablo Picasso

 

It has been nearly ten years ago that a student brought in several dozen photos she and her sister had taken of each other. One of the photos caught my eye. Neither of the girls saw any significance as do very few others when I see things in photos. But for me that one photo caught the personality of the student and I put it on my wall in my class room. That is art for me. Recently one of the sisters came by to visit and noticed the picture was still there and how much that meant to her. Where and how does it become art for everyone? How does teaching become energized to a point that it is art?

It has been some time since I wrote a rather long email to a dear friend who is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I used the word empathy several times. An artist in whatever medium they choose has to have empathy. A pastor is an artist dealing with the spirituality of parishioners and so much more. As I researched art many paradoxes seemed to crop up even within the definition.

 

“A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.” “A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer. “Dictionaery.com

 

Art is nonscientific yet it is also very specific in other ways. I find art perhaps more scientific than science. It is interesting in art we attach theory to reality and in science we try to attach reality to theory. Teaching in and of itself is taking reality and attaching theory to it. We have a block of information that by various means we have to interpret to a student and hopefully they will come close to what we are actually trying to teach. For several days I have been discussing or mentioning symbols and recognition of symbols as how we understand our reality. It is through symbols we convey information about reality.

 

“To impart knowledge” Dictionary.com

 

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man’s nature.” Ayn Rand

 

I was thinking back several years to a teacher searching the closet for teacher’s manuals and transparencies to teach a subject they had taught for forty years. I was a bit taken back. How do you teach a subject for forty years and now get stressed over a manual and transparencies? You should know the material and it should not be the exact same for every class. The delivering of the material is the key issue here. I was curious as I watched and observed the mounting stress for this teacher as no teacher’s manual and transparencies could be found. Fortunately for the students their regular teacher made it back in time.

 

“There has to be one how did anyone teach this class before me.” A former teacher

 

That same week I watched a teacher take the same subject and walk into class dressed as a knight, maybe it was a goat herder, with literally a virtual reality game. This was in a history class and it came alive. The teacher divided the room and each team was given various attributes such as being near water, having fertile soil, possessing seeds or goats etc. One group was given a gold mine and nothing else. There was a bit of reflection and a bit of thinking for the students. Then the essential question was asked, how are you going to develop your civilization? I am curious which group learned more about the start of world civilization, from the forty year experienced teacher or the lowly goat herder. Art is an interpretation. In teaching we often interpret ideas and events. It is also providing the opportunity for the student to interpret and learn from that thinking process.

 

“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Augusto Rodin

 

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.” Jahal-Uddin Rumi

 

“Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith.” Salman Rushdie

 

We each can be artists in our own field, and perhaps empathy is the key. It is being able to reach that inner spark in others so they can feel what you feel what you see and hear and understand what it was that inspired you.

 

“Great art is never produced for its own sake. It is too difficult to be worth the effort.” George Bernard Shaw

 

“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” John Ruskin

 

Ruskin has perhaps defined what constitutes a great artist, be it in whatever medium used, or whatever pallet you choose. I wish we could as easily declare peace throughout the world. I wonder if we can bottle and sell empathy then maybe peace could be a reality. I worked a bit in my herb garden yesterday trimming dead branches and stems. I had been watching the sky and the afternoon sun setting. I was listening to the quiet of my back-yard walking about this was very soothing. I wonder can growing herbs be considered an art form? 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

 

 

I wrote the basics of this article nearly fourteen years ago and at the time was thinking of an artist friend now a computer programmer who was trying to define her art as well as searching for her own meaning in life. My friend often reflected her political views and emotions through her art. It has been a few years my family had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games and eat of course. It seems in all family gatherings eating is an integral part and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Perhaps one day I will write on the socializing aspects of a family get together and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just prior to committing suicide?”