Are we going in the right direction?

Bird Droppings March 18, 2020
Are we going in the right direction?

 

I am sitting reviewing the status of my student’s online work. A couple of surprises and some that were not. When the virus finally moves on and the smoke clears some grades will be going up and some will be dropping. We have been told we need to allow time for make up work. There is so much floating around some pro-education and some criticizing and demeaning teachers.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I got a bit carried away today. But as I read this last quote by Einstein who was left behind more than once in his educational experience at an early age can we as a society begin to look at each other as potential pearls instead of just sausages? I wonder as this school year is winding down and a new school year approaches all too soon. Try today to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart’s namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

 

Where is the beginning or end in a circle?

Bird Droppings March 17, 2020
Where is the beginning or end in a circle?

 

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

 

Over the past few weeks’ my school has been wearing me out physically, could be the last few weeks of getting through a meaningless testing barrage, or could be I gave up my last physical support after my injury my trusty scooter for getting around. It could even be dealing with really obnoxious ninth-graders and an imbalance of discipline. I think it shows I am getting old. I went out earlier wandering around as I do looking for pictures to take often images others would pass up although today in the haze there were few.

 

Last night we had a coyote wander down the road by the house. As I went out into the darkness this morning I looked no deer and or coyote. It was a bit colder than the past few mornings still clouds hanging around from the front and the moon was covered, but it is to warm up and be a pretty day the weather folks say. It was about fifteen years back a good friend dropped by for a couple days. This was the first time he had been back in this area for some time. In our course of topics as we talked late into the evening on two nights was the idea of teaching as an art form. We talked about views on life and how so often I have on occasion seen things others have not.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

Bird Droppings March 17, 2020
Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

 

My mind wandered back fifteen years to a county-wide teacher kick-off meeting perhaps since we as teachers are on vacation so to say still monitoring our lessons from computers but not in the classroom. Many communities are banning gatherings of fifty or more. With a wife in health care, I hear the medical side and being an old fart, I would rather stay home and be safe. Back to my story, traditionally the county would have a packaged inspirational meeting and welcome back for the new school year hosted by an outside speaker. The county would pay big bucks to an inspirational speaker. Paid to come in and inspire us as teachers I found out quite a bit. It could be a comedian or professional speaker and it seemed every year the county would try a new approach. Not too long after this one the superintendent with austerity cuts, cut this program out first which most teachers did not have an issue with.

 

Although I would have paid to hear and would enjoy going to hear Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu maybe Jimmy Carter but so far, no such luck. In the past, before the county cut out the startup program, we would carpool over to the high school gym nearest the county office and sit in the bleachers listening to pep talks and such and most teachers leave wishing they had called in sick. I once considered asking for a substitute but our secretary did not think the county would cover a sub.

 

A recent speaker to my current high school senior class reminded me of that meeting nearly fifteen years back. A young black college professor stood in front of us. He made his point quite powerfully. In the proceeding minutes before the start of the program, not one person approached him as he boogied through the crowd prior to the meeting. The guest speaker for our seniors made this point as well about first impressions. So, I start today with a quote from a young college professor.

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings March 13, 2020
Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

 

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

 

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

 

“The work teachers and students do together 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-Or’s, 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 does 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. 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 the next set of Dick and Jane books.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

After being in education and training for nearly 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 settings even easier to teach.

 

“The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.” Foxfire Core Practice eight

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

Bird Droppings March 12, 2020
Teaching and life are simply feeding wolves

 

As I opened my computer this morning a virus leads the news stories. A year ago, the numerous news stories and jokes were addressing the college guidance company that was busted for getting wealthy kids into college for money. Today we are faced with a pandemic and a year ago it was college entrance cheating. I recall the urban myths of a college SAT test taker who would be using fake ID take an SAT for you and get whatever score you wanted. He now has surfaced in this circus of events and is a real person. Perhaps what bothers me the most is now the idea of going to college is tarnished further since it shows how if you have money anything is possible. Greed and power rule evidently in our world. It has taken almost two months for our president to realize he cannot intimidate a virus. Viruses do not care about money or stock markets.

 

I am teaching in a school that is socioeconomically on the lower end of the scale. I see kids who eat at school as their meals of the day. If school closes many kids will be hungry. If schools close many children will lose the only stabilizing force in their world. I am sitting pondering twenty days of lessons.  I was in a conversation this week with a student about whether they would have a place to go home too and or a parent to go home too. Mark Cuban is upset about the NBA canceling games. He might lose some money. Investors in the world of stock markets are worried and oil companies who take money from the government already are asking for more because their profit margins are down. Suggestions for doing this or that to stimulate the economy. I wonder why travel is banned from all European countries except ones with certain golf courses?

 

I watched a video or series of videos from one of the children of the wealthy parents busted this past week in college scheme. “She was in college for parties and football games” according to her testimony. A teenager who was making a load of money doing Instagram and Utube. She did not care about education only money and fame. Her sponsors left but as I listened to the five or so minutes of her parading around her dorm room bragging about her lifestyle and in a later segment apologizing for being a brat essentially, I wondered about parenting and basically stayed up thinking last night about students I have now who have seen this on the news. I saw a Facebook post from a student I know from a few years back enjoying watching the wealth of a certain area and desiring to be like that. The confusion of the world is at hand and we keep putting on band-aids.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Our teaching can make a difference every day

Bird Droppings March 11, 2020
Our teaching can make a difference every day

 

I was looking through data yesterday as I sat through a special education training session. This is an interesting situation. I was reviewing data from a recent benchmark test in biology. An extremely poorly made and designed test that students know they are going to fail.  Approximately ninety percent of students failed the test. I read the test reviews and raised questions. I read the test a day or two ahead and raised more questions. I gave the test and sat watching the student’s answers show up on my computer. Students failed in droves. I wondered who makes this up and why? There I am after reviewing for two weeks for a test with kids and no one can pass it. Roughly fifteen percent passed. In a group of sixteen kids, one student during makeup made a sixty-eight highest score in my test groups of students with disabilities and raised the class average three points.

 

I plotted data and looked at the information provided. Scores were in direct parallel to reading levels. Granted test itself was poorly done and worded poorly. But students with reading problems had a distinctly more difficult time with the test. I have been told those in power do not listen so curious to see where my own dialogue goes.

 

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world” Paulo Freire

 

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educationalist and one of the most influential thinkers of the late twentieth century. He became famous for the ongoing use of the term dialogue in his writing. As I read a bit about Freire this morning there is a word in his vernacular that is interesting, praxis. In a teacher’s bag, praxis is the horrible battery of tests for certification. For Freire, a meaning with import, “acts which shape and change the world”

 

“Man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the “this-sidedness” of his thinking in practice…. All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mystics find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice…. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Karl Marx, 1845 Theses on Feuerbach: II, VII, XI

 

It is through thinking that events change and draw meaning it is not simply thinking but applying these thoughts.

 

“It is not simply action based on reflection. It is an action that embodies certain qualities. These include a commitment to human wellbeing and the search for truth, and respect for others. It is the action of people who are free, who are able to act for themselves. Moreover, praxis is always risky. It requires that a person ‘makes a wise and prudent practical judgment about how to act in this situation” Carr and Kemmis 1986

 

Wise and prudent are not often used terms in most human situations. It is infrequent that most people go about thinking in terms of world good even community good we live in this more self-oriented society, a society of hedonism.

 

“Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. The process is important and can be seen as enhancing community and building social capital and to leading us to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing.” Mark K. Smith, 1997

 

There are pieces here. I started with a word dialogue and have moved rather rapidly through the concept of praxis but reading Mark Smith’s comments the idea of human flourishing impresses me. I find it is what we do that perpetuates the species and ideals and thoughts of the humankind. I did a questionnaire for the state department of education on Thursday last week. The questions were discussing standards and assessment and such combine that with teachers who are so uptight with only five weeks or so left two till the end of course tests. This is now standard in most states but part of the quantifying. I still question are we making strides in education in this manner. It becomes all about cramming pieces of information into the minuscule brains of teenagers. I recall Sydney J. Harris’s comparison to stuffing sausages. In our great effort to quantify we have stripped quality.

 

“Educators have to teach. They have to transform transfers of information into a ‘real act of knowing” Paulo Freire

 

So in effect cramming and pouring vast quantities of information into students to take a test that had to be pushed up due to the calendar and state parameters makes a lot of sense. (I am seriously being sarcastic here) Over the years I have said how much water can be poured in a one-liter bottle? Then I ask how many state officials will it take to figure out that one? I recall a summer or two ago reading tests to students with learning disabilities almost a paradox in and of its self “reading graduation tests”. I looked across at my water bottle and that thought hit me can we put more than a liter of water in a liter bottle. Immediately I was thinking freeze it water expands when chilled then heat it again expansion and so how do we put a gallon of information in a one-liter container or is it actually ten gallons of material?


It was back several winters ago, on a trip to the mountains and a walk through a visit to the Foxfire museum that the reality of doing this hit. It is possible to fit ten gallons of knowledge in a one-liter container. The museum curator and guide held up a copper tubing device and talked about the mainstay of mountain life years gone by, “moon shining”. The device he held up was a condenser used in making white lightning, grain alcohol, or moonshine. In theory, you can condense and distill those ten gallons to whatever capacity you want. Granted the more condense the harder perhaps to use it in contextual settings. You teach the necessary aspects borrowing from Freire, “transform transfers of information into a ‘real acts of knowing”. This is the key taking the content and applying context then it will be remembered and provide the latitude to advance thinking and that person’s direction in life and to making a difference. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind 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

Should I be a wolf or dog in education?

Bird Droppings March 10, 2020

 

 

In light of watching current news and political turmoil I recalled a trip to the Atlanta Zoo. I was approached as I walked up the hill at the Zoo by an elderly man. I had never met this man previously and hope to never meet again. He saw my camera around my neck and asked if I saw the rare creature ahead. I asked him which one as several endangered animals are housed at the Atlanta Zoo directly down the hill. His next comment took me by surprise. It was a derogatory racially motivated jab at nonwhites. My first reaction was numbness. Why did this racist man out of all the random people pick me to talk too?

 

Synchronicity as I say. I watched him walk away down the hill thinking how in this modern world does a man like that even live? How can someone be so jaded and hate so much? Yet every time I sit down to my computer and read even a few social media posts there is a more virulent infectious racism countered with, “but I am not racist.” Over the years I have mentioned world peace and even offered up the passage of peace be with you, borrowing from the Eucharist. Wayne William Snellgrove, an artist from South Florida and medicine man, started my morning right today with a line or two from Black Elk.

 

“Peace… comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells Wakan-Tanka and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) OGLALA SIOUX

 

It has been some time since I first read the book, Neither Wolf nor Dog, which happens to have been written by one of my favorite authors Kent Nerburn. Listening to political gibberish and sitting watching twitter comments through indigenous newscasts the issue of the Native Peoples has never gone away and is perhaps equally as appropriate as we are in a situation as a nation that went from a nontraditional president who happens to be of a different life view than what many Americans would prefer, to a boisterous man who fans the flames of racism and many are afraid to say this is going on. So easy to say “I am not racist, and his church affiliation is for show.” I recall reading a few posts and seeing images of people professing to be not racist yet through their images on social media are confederate flags and pictures of them in t-shorts stating blatantly, “Make America White again”.

 

I was reading some of several of my former student’s posts discussing politics and always a little other reason somehow gets mentioned. Listening to polls and news similar rationales seem to prevail although cloaked in Republican or Democratic jargon. I saw a poster recently of an Indian woman stating something to the effect anyone not speaking Lakota, and listed numerous more dialects and languages need to leave as you are trespassing illegally on Indian land. We Europeans quickly disseminated across the country through the philosophy of manifest destiny and such jargon.

 

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, (Tatanka Iyotake), Lakota Medicine man and chief

 

This great warrior and a holy man died in 1890 shot by his own people as foretold in a vision he had many years before. At the time the federal government was concerned with his affiliation with the ghost dance cult, which was sweeping the reservations. Armed Sioux officers were sent to bring him in and as the legend goes he was reaching for his grandson’s toy and the officers perceived a gun and shot him multiple times. Sadly most of the officers themselves were killed in mysterious ways the next year or so. Perhaps the officer’s deaths were retaliation for the killing of a great leader from the Sioux nation. Perhaps it is the paradox of the Indian wars.
It always seems interesting to me how it was patriotic for soldiers to kill Indians and yet the statement “I would die for my people and country,” is a very patriotic statement we still hear from all patriots down through history.

 

Today around the world we are witnessing similar events in many countries and we are the invaders again. It just depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on as to who is patriotic and who is the enemy. I recall on a public broadcast a “former” rock star that is also an alleged draft dodger from the Viet Nam era and is very pro-guns was blasting our former president and came awful close to threatening him. Many considered that tirade as patriotic, at least the NRA convention crowd applauded. I actually went to one of his concerts for thirty seconds back in the 1970’s. It was so bad I left.

 

“To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle.” Confucius

 

“Only in quiet waters, things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is an adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

 

With each word spouted from some conservative’s lips about lowering gas prices and yet never do we ask oil companies to decrease their ever-increasing profits. I have not quite figured this out how we as citizens will save if oil companies increase profits. Perhaps it is looking for new lands to subdue which is the credo of so many conservatives and their religious affiliations. Taking away lands from wilderness to own and subdue and to plunder. Sometimes I wonder if we have run out of the wilderness to conquer as I watch world events. Even the rumor mill is involving Haiti now as a possible new territory for the US. Do we need another General Custer and another battle of the little Big Horn? I was thinking back in my own time and war, Viet Nam, and to the Malai massacre but those folks had no weapons and only were standing around not fighting back. I am always amazed that Custer was a hero and yet he disobeyed orders and egotistically rode into battle outnumbered and was slaughtered. Perhaps it was the fact the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors had the newest weaponry, repeating rifles and Custer’s men still had breech-loading single-shot rifles. Interestingly enough word had it the unit was offered the new weapons but felt the old ones were good enough for what they were doing killing Indians.

 

“What white man can say I never stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say that I am a thief. What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian.” Sitting Bull

 

I went to school for a semester in Texas in 1968 and experienced racism I had never seen before to that degree. Hatred for Indians nearly one hundred years after the wars were over. Geronimo and Chief Joseph were both refused on their death beds by sitting presidents to return to their sacred lands for fear of uprisings. Nearly seven years ago on a Monday a South Texas town abolished an anti-Hispanic segregation law more than seven decades after it was enacted in Edcouch Texas. More recently Arizona enacted even stricter laws that are currently in court and today before the US Supreme Court. Back in the day, we were the illegal immigrants and we stole land and destroyed culture after culture taking and subduing. In the Georgia government and in several other states today they want to forget that type of history in US History classes since it ruins our image (European white) as an elite people.
In 1973 I met the contingency of Creeks who were working at the Okmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon Georgia, we became friends and I was honored to be invited to take medicine at the Green Corn dance. Nearly 150 years earlier under Andrew Jackson’s orders, the Creeks were taken from Georgia to Oklahoma, the now infamous Trail of Tears. With the Creeks gone all the land became available. I found searching for information on my Leni Lenape, great, great grandmother an article about my great-great-grandfather George Niper who lived to be one hundred and fourteen years old and was the last living person to have voted for Andrew Jackson. I found it interesting Jackson was a Democrat; I do not think he would be in today’s politics.

 

“Now that we are poor, we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights.” Sitting Bull

 

I wonder what slogans were used in the 1880s in presidential elections, Grant wanted a third term and Garfield supported Grant interesting how Garfield’s speech for Grant got him the nomination over Grant and elected. Tariffs were the main issue, high tariffs were what Garfield backed and possibly that which he was assassinated for. The plight of the Native Peoples was a small issue during the years recovering from the governmental corruption of Grants time. The government seems to be by nature corrupt. We watch as senators and congressmen argue over health care and yet they have universal health care for life. Maybe if on equal footing legislation would be different and maybe if the threat of you could lose yours was on the table things would be different.

 

“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile to the white man…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight.” Crazy Horse, Tashunwitko

 

Interesting how an invaded people fought back yet we condemned them and how history changes the views. I have been reading a book that I entitled today’s wandering about, Neither Wolf nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn. It is an interesting book about an old man’s effort to explain who his people really are. Nerburn was asked to write the words of an elderly Indian, a member of the Sioux nation, to explain why and how. One day maybe someone will offer explanations for the issues of today that go beyond the political views of warring parties and ideologies as we wander today. I am sitting with the lingering aroma of sage and haunting flute music of Carlos Nakai in the background please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please always remember to give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Can we teach again a love of learning

Bird Droppings March 9, 2020
Can we teach again a love of learning

 

This has been a perplexing time of my life. I recall an event, a car wreck in which a young man was killed and his passenger who was a good friend of my youngest son was severely injured. My thoughts rambled back to when I drove to my son’s accident site and watched as medics pulled him out of his car and life flight took him to Grady Memorial Hospital. We were called to a staff meeting first thing and told of one of our teachers who had been in an accident and there were fatalities. She was ok but in the other car two died. Lives were changed radically in a brief few minutes as I read posts in Social Media. I had co-taught with this teacher and went to class unsure of what to say and do. I shared my heart yesterday and most students simply walked away as they do so often with blank stares, earphones plugged in and or giggles about a friend’s texting. I saw the apathy we as adults have taught so well.

 

It has been a few years back when a young lady who happens to work in a western wear store had on a Dixie Outfitter’s shirt. One of the issues with the Dixie Outfitters clothing line is the confederate flags which adorn the T-shirts. Most schools today have dress code rules against defamatory and or controversial logos and or slogans. Malcolm X shirts and Dixie Outfitters are actually listed in most dress code rulings. This shirt looked like a Dixie Outfitter shirt the same colors and a sequence of colors but no Confederate flags. The interesting statement on the back was to the effect you can ban the symbol but not the meaning of colors. I watch the politics play out and the colors are there for sure.

 

“The greatest glory in living lies not, in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson Mandela

 

I recall a year or so ago and a stubborn student. We had been trying to look at why do we have a dress code which was again based on a student wearing a Dixie Outfitters sweatshirt and my students’ reason was as to why wear a shirt you know is against dress code, was generally whatever or because. How he responded was that he knew he could get suspended since he had been warned numerous times. However, the larger issue is how children at such a young age quit learning and quit questioning life. Why are they suppressed and defeated to a point of using whatever, as an answer? Whatever, is a quitter’s statement? Had that student answered with arguable statements from the rightwing Dixie Outfitters website I would have known there was thought behind the action and not ignorance.

 

“From an early age we all question. As children grow, their questions are often answered, explained, and rationalized until their natural curiosity begins to be submerged. Yet sensitive persons, at one -time or another, find themselves again asking those same questions: “Where did I come from? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I die? Why is there so much hatred and violence? Who am I?” Zenson Gifford Sensei, Abbot of the Northern Zen Sangha

 

I had another student stop in and thank me for lending them Kent Nerburn’s book Small Graces and as we talked for a few minutes she asked “Mr. Bird you love learning don’t you” I am not easily sat back but I had to think for a moment and somewhere between the two quotes is an answer. I have never been satisfied with an answer always seeking, looking and enjoying the search to find out more about whatever it is I was pondering. I responded to her question with several answers, I basically said yes, but that is the hardest thing to share a passion for learning. Robert Fried’s book “The Passionate Teacher” is a good example as he discusses sharing a passion for learning.

How do we again instill the questioning? In 1962 Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life for questioning the then-current government of South Africa and was released from prison in 1990 to become the first black elected in a general election, and to the office of President of South Africa. Mandela could have quit and had he succumbed to his captors’ desires and been released. He chose to stay in prison for nearly twenty-seven years.

 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.“ Nelson Mandela

 

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nelson Mandela, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom

 

Mr. Nelson Mandela was awarded the Noble Peace prize and helped South Africa in their start towards real democracy. He did this through persistence and never quitting and always questioning.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.“ Albert Einstein

 

Why children stop questioning and stop desiring to learn I am not quite sure. Perhaps it is their home life. Perhaps for some, it is boredom. Perhaps they have all they need to feed and clothe themselves and that is enough.

 

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Maybe it is just too easy to follow the path each day and walk where others have tread. Years ago, when I would regularly get into the woods looking for wildlife we would find rabbit trails and deer trails worn by constant use. Children do the same simply following in the footsteps of the one in front one after another.

 

“People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I guess I have a difficult time with people sometimes seeing them as ignorant when they use “because” as an answer, as it is used so often. Perhaps second in usage is “whatever” from teenagers and so many people when they choose to not answer a question.

 

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Sitting around waiting for “luck” or the sky to fall whichever comes first. As a child, I remember the story of Chicken Little and the sky is falling soon the whole barnyard was afraid of the sky falling all because an ignorant little chicken got hit in the head with a pebble and assumed the sky was falling and enough others listened.

 

“But education is more than schooling. It is a cast of mind, a willingness to see the world with an endless sense of curiosity and wonder. If you would be truly educated, you must adopt this cast of mind. You must open yourself to the richness of your everyday experience — to your own emotions, to the movements of the heavens and languages of birds, to the privations and successes of people in other lands and other times, to the artistry in the hands of the mechanic and the typist and the child. There is no limit to the learning that appears before us. It is enough to fill us each day thousand times over. “Kent Nerburn, On Education and Learning

 

I have used this passage before but I have also used the FIDO principle before too and never can we emphasize enough when offering an idea especially a good one. It has been nearly fifty years since it was conceived, the idea of Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again hence the anachronism, FIDO. Continue questioning never stop become a child again in learning these are things we need to do. When I was asked do I love learning what should have been asked is what got me questioning again? That is the secret that gets us back to that place where we crave learning and we love learning as we did when we were small children and every aspect of life was a question and answer. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind namaste.

 

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Religion is what you make of it

Bird Droppings March 8, 2020
Religion is what you make of it

 

“A poor devotee points to the sky and says, ‘God is up there.’ An average devotee says, ‘God dwells in the heart as the Inner Master.’ The best devotee says, ‘God alone is and everything I perceive is a form of God.’” Ramakrishna

 

Ramakrishna was a spiritual leader in India in the early and mid-1800s. He had a belief in the unity of God, a oneness of existence, the divinity of all living things and harmony of religions. He felt religion was simply a means to accomplish a goal. I receive numerous emails of an inspirational nature each morning and this quote from a Hindu email I receive struck me. How often do we want to place our faith somewhere away, up there, out there, anywhere but here? How often do we limit our faith to a Sunday morning worship service? How often is our religious experience simply mouthing the traditional words in a traditional ritual?

 

“We also have a religion which has been given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us their children. It teaches us to be thankful, to be united, and to love one another! We never quarrel about religion.” Red Jacket, Seneca orator

 

“We know that the God of the educated and the God of the child, the God of the civilized and the God of the primitive, is after all the same God; and that this God does not measure our differences, but embraces all who live rightly and humbly on the earth.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Sioux

 

I have read extensively in Native American and Eastern philosophies and I have seen many similarities between Eastern thought and Native American beliefs and philosophies. I am not trying to advertise but a good inspirational book “The Wisdom of the Native Americans” which is an edited volume of Native thought is edited by Kent Nerburn. The book is a collection of thoughts and ideas that can give a wonderful insight into a new day.
I walked out and watched the moon and stars this morning sitting and listening as the light came into the world with a slow rising plume of smoke from a sage leave as a companion. I wish I were more awake I am still recovering from my Physical therapy evaluation on Friday. Several mornings back around three in the morning a loud bird was singing off in the distance, a few doves were cooing and calling nearby. Around four that morning owls and whippoorwills joined in as well as a few tree frogs. By five that morning as I started seriously getting ready for school there was a chorus of crickets, frogs, birds, and who knows what else but nearly melodic. Always interesting as I walk out in the mornings with no one around it is quiet and peaceful for a few hours before the deluge of a neighborhood and mankind.
I went into school that day to sort and clean my room, feed critters and work on research for various projects for graduate school and for my classes that I am working on. I have been developing for several years my own collection of writings and spend a few moments in-between as a break working on those as well. Mornings are a good time for me to think and write as my thought processes seem keener and sharper. One of my “friends” tells me it is old age, as by afternoon I tend to forget names.
It has been many years since I was the youth director of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Macon Georgia. I had my 23rd birthday in that capacity so many years ago, forty-seven years now. Sitting on my shelf at the house is a Living Bible I received as a birthday gift, as I look back how appropriate in its name. This book is alive with notes, thoughts, and pictures from people along the way, even phone numbers and underlined verses with various kids’ autographs as they would select their favorites. Occasionally I will open this old bible and spill out the tidbits and reflect on days gone by, on philosophies changed and evolved. It had been many years since I called one of the numbers in the inside cover written nearly forty-seven years ago. Back then Katharine was a high school student and a regular in our group. She is the one that gave me that bible for my birthday those many years ago. That call was a spur of the moment thought. I found she was in Europe at that time doing work in Bosnia for a mission board based out of Africa. As I opened up my emails a day or two later I read through and sorted deleting spam and junk messages and how this one caught my attention.

 

“I am in Dili, East Timor now still working with Catholic Relief Services. In this rather “gypsy” life I lead of moving in and out of remote and often isolated places, it is very nice to know that I still have links with people I have known for more than 40 years. However, as it happens, in this life we also face challenges with email communication … I love getting the Bird Droppings daily, but with the very limited access we have here to send, download and receive, I am afraid that I am going to have to ask you to take me off your list. I can only get to email about once a week and downloading large documents that come daily really does slow down the whole system. I work and pray daily for peace and healing… please hold that thought for me. A note now and then would be fine and appreciated. Wishing you all the best and peace.” Katherine Pondo

 

We now keep in touch through a blog I write to. I speak often of the puzzle of our lives falling into place piece by piece each little intricate facet interconnecting to the next. Today as I sit writing and thinking of all the pieces over the years all the lives intertwined I offer this morning that when you get a chance to keep the Katherine Pondo’s of the world in your hearts and thoughts as often they are on the front lines of human trials and tribulations. Looking back over my wanderings today this is a small world and we so often try and segregate, delegate, and relegate belief. Over the past years, religion has sparked political battles and upheavals. I honestly do not think Ramakrishna as he thought of harmony among religions would have foreseen the drama and often fighting that exists because of religion. So today please as always keep those in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.
“Aho Mitakuye Oyasin ” is a simple yet profound statement. It comes from the Lakota Nation and means all my relations. It is spoken during prayer and ceremony to invite and acknowledge all relatives to the moment. To most of us today, relative means a blood relation or another human in the family lineage. We have not been taught that an entity, other than humans, could be a relative. Understanding this simple statement and contemplating it, could change your outlook on life forever. If you love and honor your relatives, you would be loving and honoring most of what is on this earth, if you lived by this meaning of “relative.” What a different world we would be living in!

 

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

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The inability of surmounting learning difficulties

Bird Droppings March 6, 2020
The inability of surmounting learning difficulties

 

It has been a few months since my surgical procedure to repair my Achilles tendon. I have been extremely occupied with school lately testing and IEP’s. I had forgotten that two years or so ago I had four surgeries over about eight weeks. Two weeks back I had several doctor appointments, ultrasounds, blood work, and more, I was running a fever and had a urinary infection. It was a crazy few days but all is well. It seems in my old age my bladder and prostate got the best of me. I am electrified and can no longer go through a metal detector.  In what theoretically was one of my last IEP meetings the student was reaffirmed, yes you do have a deficit in reading. However, choosing to not do the work and or even try is a choice. There is nothing I can pull out of my bag of magic tricks I explained. Funny thing yesterday while testing and watching ninth-grade students zip through a standardized test that is ten percent of their grade the same philosophy of life came forward. In theory with multiple choice and four answers guessing you should mathematically get a twenty-five. How do you get an eleven?

 

Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

 

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them.” Phyllis Bottome

 

An interesting start to a morning thought process after a wonderful experience last night. I was trying to get some sleep. I had an epiphany sitting thinking of columns of numbers and manipulating data. This can be whatever I want depending on wording and what variables I apply. I have often come to this conclusion when looking at research. Ever since I was told a reading program was data based and I called asking for the demographics of the research. The sample was so small and biased the data was in no way viable. But schools were buying the program in leaps and bounds. As for my thoughts and opening quotes, one from John Dewey and the other a British novelist with over thirty-four books to her credit. Working with at-risk kids so often in life I find in general we tend to avoid difficulties, we walk away, we steer clear, and we postpone and or we argue.

 

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” Isak Dinesen

 

Many years back I was watching a student working on what for some was a quick assignment merging several different graphics and or creating graphics into a calendar during a project. Each student went in totally different directions. One in a matter of minutes had created a Mario brothers calendar based on old Mario Brothers clips each significant to him. One was on deer hunting there was even a Care Bears focus. However, one fellow was taking each frame and altering photos in a photo program eliminating back grounds and only using specific aspects of each image. Each day he would accomplish only a small portion of what others were doing yet he was totally immersed in his task. In the end, he will have a really nice artistic piece but many hours are involved.

 

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” John Holt

 

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Winston Churchill

 

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.” Dan Rather

 

There are times when a student procrastinates and I have had several who are world-class procrastinators but watching this student work at his project meticulously detailing each image is not procrastination.

 

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.” Dan Rather

 

What intrigued me with this project was that this student was normally lazy but this project became of interest to him. Each photo that he had taken in that past semester was being edited and formatted in minute detail and had literally become an obsession. He got in trouble in another class and asked if I would get him out of ISS so he could work on his project. As I looked at the Dan Rather quote I wondered if when he stated that he knew he would lose two days’ work when he tried to download to a floppy more than it would hold and crashed. Or that editing a photo pixel by pixel takes time.

 

“It is surmounting difficulties that make heroes.” Louis Kossuth

 

“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” Carl Gustav Jung

 

What amazes me is that this student has begun to grow. In many ways, he still is very lazy and often will start an assignment in great zeal only to stop before it is completed and be content with a 70%. His attitude is one of I am passing and so what.

 

“You can’t fly a kite unless you go against the wind and have a weight to keep it from turning a somersault. The same with man. No man will succeed unless he is ready to face and overcome difficulties and is prepared to assume responsibilities.” William J. H. Boetcker

 

“For every difficulty that supposedly stops a person from succeeding there are thousands who have had it a lot worse and have succeeded anyway. So can you.” Brian Tracy

 

As I look back over the past few days of thoughts it is in finding that spark, that trick that bit of inspiration that fires a student up and gives them incentive to move forward in life always seems so elusive. That particular student found a task he wanted to complete that could be a step forward for him in other areas as well sort of as we tie a tail on a kite for balance as Boetcker states. Often it is finding that balance that a person’s finds that provides us the direction to go forward in life. I received an n email story the other day that was a tear jerker. Granted it probably does not pass the fact check and such but still a good story. Let me share this story with you whether you are a teacher, parent, student and or just a friend.

 

“There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

 

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.” His second-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.” His third-grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

 

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’ laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour.

 

On that very day she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. And she paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class, and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.” A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

 

Four years after that, she got another letter saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.

 

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you for much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.” A boy named Teddy, Author Unknown (Over the years I have searched and never verified this story but it is a good one and I am a storyteller)

 

I would like to hope I can be like Mrs. Thompson and sometimes all it takes is a teacher or a friend that cares.

 

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

 

I am sitting here finalizing my thoughts to teach an existential lesson, as I joke about so often being an existentialist. Yesterday as I walked down my hall with another teacher we were commenting on how many teachers had been here six or more years and it was more than half. Last night I ran into a teacher who no longer teaches at our school from our hall. The teachers who are gone had learned those that remain are learners interesting as I think back and forward reading Hoffer’s thought. Hoffer was a self-educated man, a philosopher coming from the docks of New York City his first book True Believer was written in the early 1950s in his middle age and he never slowed down till his death in 1982.

 

“Do more than belong; participate. Do more than care; help. Do more than believe; practice. Do more than be fair; be kind. Do more than forgive; forget. Do more than a dream; work.” William Arthur Ward

 

So today as I sit wondering about so many things perhaps about how to be a learner and not be simply learned. 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)

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