Finding Soul in looking at Curriculum or Can I get a nickels worth of cheese please

Bird Droppings July 27, 2021
Finding Soul in looking at Curriculum
or Can I get a nickels worth of cheese please

There is something about the first light on a summer’s morning. It could be about trying to discern how many different birds are singing and calling back and forth as they are waking up. It could be pondering whether the frogs and crickets are harmonizing or more into jazz. Nearby a wisp of smoke from the smudge bowl is floating along the old fence line trying to rise and is dissipating into the trees. I left the house before sunrise trying to get a few images of the impending sun rising above the clouds. The clouds and haze blocked much of it but led me on a synchronistic journey this morning.

I had not had breakfast before leaving and decided to stop at an IHOP as I passed by. It was closed for another thirty minutes so I chose to drive a bit further to see if I could find a decent shot of the sun coming up. As I pulled to a place, I have taken some good photos in the morning I went by a Waffle House. I was hungry and pulled in ordering my normal omelet and hash browns. I had forgotten my hearing aids so listening was deliberate and careful while I sat. The lead waitress was obnoxious and loud but not offensive. The other night shift waitress spent her last few moments complaining about another crew member who was outside smoking. As I ate my breakfast nearly every ailment known to humankind came up in various discussions among night shift and incoming day shift. Childcare, lousy boyfriends, repossessed cars, pay not enough to cover bills, washing dishes, tattoos, health care and some topics I cannot mention. I a customer was sitting there and even without my hearing aids heard way too much. Granted as conversations got good, I leaned into them.

I left and headed home and caught a few glimpses of the sun creeping through the clouds and haze. I needed a bag of ice and stopped at my local corner store. A former student from six or eight years ago was standing in line. He said hello and we talked a moment. As I got home a Facebook post caught my attention. It was from a former student, and I will say on my list of top ten students she is near the top. She was the sort of person who lives live to the fullest not in a selfish way but in a giving, way always leaving those around her smiling feeling better than then they were. She is starting to teach this year in a pre-K class, and I am so excited those little ones will have her as a teacher. Subject matter is only a tiny portion of education it is the empathy and compassion that is shown that helps develop trust and other positive emotions in children. She is one of the most compassionate humans I know and I look forward to watching her grow as a teacher and learner herself.

It has been many years since I studied psychology at Mercer University in Macon Georgia and a quite a few since my seminary studies at Emory University. Sitting here before sunrise as I continue to wander through my educational career, I find new authors and new favorites and often I recall a few from days long gone that have significance right now. I have been a fan of Carl Gustav Jung for many years and in my miscellaneous readings the past few years have come upon James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Kent Newburn and James Kavanaugh.

I am reading right now an article by Mary Aswell Doll for my dissertation I writing. Doll is known for her work in curriculum and the teaching of literature at the Savannah College of Arts. As I read her paper which is an introduction to her book “Like Letters in Running Water; A Mythopoetic of curriculum.” it is entitled “Fiction as food.” She referenced several times Jung, Moore, and Hillman. In my own search for further reading and understanding of who I am and why the concept of soul in education came up. Mary Aswell Doll uses the word soul as a medium for learning and growing almost as an art form.

“In another attempt upon the idea of the soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” Thomas Moore, writing about his mentor, James Hillman

Over the past few months, I have seen the word soul used quite frequently and yet, is it ever defined clearly? Over the years, I have worked with adults and children who I sense (very scientific term and definitely not research based) a void or you could say a vacancy that I have referred at times as a lack of soul. It is not looking at this in a religious sense, and as Moore infers other possibilities as well could be drawn. In this sense of vacancy perhaps learning issues as well could occur. Doll in her writing emphasizes making a connection with content and existence, bringing the two together.

“First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore defines soul as that piece that becomes a piece of your reality not just a fact memorized and categorized. As I read through Doll’s article, other issues came to mind. I find in today’s educational settings we as a society and attempt to cram as much curriculum into a very specific given space as possible regardless of whether it will make sense later and in that we seem to lose something. Just get a test over with, and I am out of here, I have heard that line from teachers and students many times. I have raised the question of filling a liter bottle with two gallons of information as an analogy. As always though where does that lead us. I think Thomas Moore sees us stripping away any soul we may have or not taking time to nurture the soul that could be there.

“But the culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world? All of this anxiety and depression casts doubt on whether I can make it as a heroic John Wayne-style individual.” James Hillman

Could it be we are killing off or siphoning off soul in kids and adults? I was watching Law and Order just before I went to sleep last night. It was an old show about a father who was so enraged with a hockey coach after the game from not playing his son enough, the scouts from colleges his son wanted to attend were there that he beat him and killed him. His defense was parental rage, losing control, and the attorney for the state came back with how we can excuse this man. His rights stopped when he put his fists up to the coach. We cannot accept road rage, parent rage any rage. Then I read Hillman’s statement. What is our self-view? What leads to psychological depression, is it because we are all supposed to be John Wayne.

Borrowing from a thought, I read a day or so ago from Steven Pinker that behaviors are not manifestations of our environment but our genetic makeup and environment triggers behavior.

“Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, and makes you damn miserable. So, you know it functions,” James Hillman

Is it in this rat race society where being John Wayne, never stopping, emailing till all hours of the night, working 24/7, getting no sleep and pouring down energy drinks (I tend to like the five-hour energy shots) is how we live and feel justified? I remember seeing my first bottle of Coke BLAK, a short-lived coffee flavored Coca-Cola a few years back as the Coke man was loading coolers at a nearby convenience store. It reminded me I was one who stopped drinking Coca-Cola when new coke came out.

Hillman sees our increase in depression as a response to our competitive society. That we are leaving behind something perhaps, it is our soul. Hillman authored a bestseller, “Soul Code” and Moore authored the best seller “Care of the soul.” These two men are not just flyby nights. James Hillman studied under Carl Jung in the 1950’s and Moore a former Monk studying for the priesthood has a doctorate in psychology and music studied under Moore. Interesting he is a pianist as well as a therapist. Both men are concerned about this thing we call soul. In Doll’s article, she emphasizes children learning literature in a manner that stirs the soul. By going back to Moore’s first definition, “First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” John Dewey sought to pull the experience into learning to make it a crucial aspect of his philosophy. I have many times related to context and content being equal partners in learning.

“According to the German poet Novalis, “The seat of the soul is there, where the inner world and the outer world touch. Where they permeate each other, the seat is in every point of the permeation.” Thomas Moore

Over the years, I have read several of Moore books. One thought he referred to often is that primitives die from water-borne disease and in modern society the primary cause of death is stress related illness. That thought has made me think about how we teach as well. Are we taking the soul out, leaving only the content much like a tape recorder, children simply give back facts? In Doll’s article, she describes several things to help teach fiction. One is deliteralization and getting back to imagination. Another is letting imaginations run wild. Doll uses the word fluidity and one statement that is significant for me is.

“…fiction is food, fiction feeds the soul’s hunger.” Mary Aswell Doll

“Second is a teaching method for fiction probably not favored in surveys courses: slowness” Mary Aswell Doll

I have been wandering, thinking, and throwing out far too many ideas today. It could be that I have been reading too much over my summer vacation days even while I have been teaching classes and attending classes a large portion of the summer. However, a slight change of thought but very much in line, borrowing from James Kavanaugh, several lines from his poem Men too gentle to live among wolves.

“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men to gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.
There are men to gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men to gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.”
James Kavanaugh

I wonder if we could slow down or change gears or maybe find that which is missing from so many. I get excited when I read Moore and Kavanaugh hoping maybe as a society we will find answers. But then I turn on the TV, or pull news on Yahoo and, for example, this a few mornings back a news story about a high up official in Homeland Security, who was arrested for soliciting sex with an underage girl over the internet. He had been reported using secured cell phones and computers for his obsession. A crazy what if going back a few years; The Katrina mistakes were because a memo slipped up during a computer session. I was thinking back to when every day it seemed another mega conservative influential person was found being naughty. Now in a more liberal political setting and still scandals pop up I was thinking back to the Governor getting in trouble for trying to sell the Senate seat from Illinois.

Like the parent rage on Law and Order, I am sure someone will say this man has an illness. I would say it was too borrowing from Pinker’s thoughts it was in his DNA. Maybe he just needed something to bring it out and fortunately this time it was an undercover officer posing as a fourteen-year-old girl online. But what if terrorists figured him out and got into his secured files, what if it was blackmail? I spent the better part of several hours discussing politics and ethics in schools yesterday with peers. I concluded a politician by definition cannot be ethical. A politician will vote the way someone wants them to vote not how they know in their heart they should. I might email Thomas Moore maybe we need a repair book for souls.

Another week ahead and so much going on through the world, I will try and be optimistic and continue to hope for peace. I was at my current favorite store Kroger yesterday getting a few provisions for the family and while standing at the Deli counter an elderly man and myself got into a conversation recalling the old days and country stores. When I first moved into Walton County back in 1978, you would still see mules occasionally plowing fields and an outhouse here and there as well. But a found memory is the hoop cheese at the corner country store. The elderly man and who am I to be calling anyone elderly so I should say two old men got talking cheese at Kroger. I get the Boars Head black wax cheddar which is very close to the old hoop cheese. Well, as we discussed smoked turkey and how thin it should or should not be hoop cheese came up, and I got to listen to a story that I will share.

My partner in cheese talks said do you remember that hoop cheese back in the day and of course I said we would get it just up at the corner store, a wedge wrapped in wax paper for a few dollars made an excellent lunch. I shared my just sliced Boars Head black wax cheddar, and it was just about as good he said. He offered back about fifty years ago Joe Smith was a kid then and would come up to old Mr. Jones store couple times a week and ask for a nickel’s worth of cheese. Old man Jones would get out of his chair and ever so carefully slice a paper-thin slice of hoop cheese for that kid. I seriously do not know how he did it. You just cannot slice cheese thin it falls apart, but that old man could do it. I listened to this story from someone I never met before, and it hit me how each day we respond to how many people. How often do we find ourselves in conversation seemingly about nothing important and yet this was a crucial story for this man to tell me? It made his Kroger trip I would like to think as it made mine. I find new ideas new friends as I journey along lives trail. I thought that I would share with those of you who read my daily droppings and or are reading for the first time. However, I still find it necessary to end please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

I am listening to a chorus of frogs, crickets and an occasional owl

Bird Droppings July 26, 2021
I am listening to a chorus of frogs, crickets and an occasional owl

“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.” Doug Floyd

Most every night and early morning when I walk about especially early in the morning, I am listening to the choral arrangement of tree frogs, crickets, whippoorwills and an occasional owl. None in tune with the other yet so much together an interesting mix of harmonies and melodies as they do what they do in the trees and forests around our house.

A few years back I am guessing my wife and I got alarm clocks for the boys that had earth sounds for going to sleep as well as CD or radio to wake you up, one of the sounds of the ten or so to fall asleep was crickets and frogs and an occasional owl. I have found it haunting as I listen to this at night live. Many the night back in the day while camping I have fallen asleep to that chorus. As I look perhaps a bit deeper and further in our society, this quote rings true as well it takes differing of opinion to make all work in unison. As I read this short thought from Doug Floyd who is the editorial page editor for The Spokesman-Review I thought how appropriate to the issues at hand. A single voice would never succeed as much as we would like to think as I listened to the green party nominee this past election cycle for president as they ran not so much to win as to offer a thought, a differing voice, a change, or an alternative.

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” Albert Einstein

“The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing –to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts. Not a select party.“ John Keats

As I think to my chorus of frogs and crickets it is not a mix of voices with simply chance bringing it together there are specifics as the insects and amphibians call looking for mates or signaling territory. Each is very clear and concise and there are reasons and responses to each note and call.

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” John Stuart Mill

Thinking back a week or so to that day we celebrate our country’s independence which is a day where opinions became free to express, a day where as I watched the movie the other day Majestic, with Jim Carrey, where a young man is accused during the McCarthy era of being a communist and he draws his defense not on whether or not he is a communist since the committee had already decided that but that he was entitled by the constitution to free speech The First Amendment. You know it is the opinion and thoughts of others that allow us to have room to think to pursue and grow to achieve beyond where we are. As I sit here listening to the sounds from outside to the chorus of frogs and crickets and an occasional owl, I am pleased we can in this country have differing opinions and hope one day maybe most will be opinions of peace. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all of our relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should we look within to who we really are?

Bird Droppings July 23, 2021
Should we look within to who we really are?

Amazing what a day or two out of routine will do. I actually did not get on my computer and do anything of a writing sort the past two days knowing with the rest of the coming week my last few days off I would be writing in significant quantity. As I look back on my life good and bad I would not change anything of course. I was reunited with some friends from a long time ago just recently on Facebook. I worked at a summer camp the summer of 1970 and had many great experiences. Just a week or two ago I had lunch with the former Dean of education at Piedmont college reflecting on ideas and thoughts over Thai food.

In that process of looking back and catching up I was reintroduced to James Kavanaugh in a roundabout way. I recall in the 1970’s having read some of his poetry as he was popular for several reasons in the hippie culture of that period. He was a renegade Catholic priest as he wrote out against the church and was rather quickly no longer a priest in the Catholic Church legal term of the word. His conferences, seminars and books were a cult favorite in the time. He has since passed away this a year or two back.  

I began my master’s degree Program at Piedmont College in the spring of 2002 side tracking some of the basic entry requirements with a very high Miller’s analogy score. As I progressed it seems I needed to be interviewed for acceptance into the Education Department which was odd since I was nearing the end of course work for my Masters. I set an appointment and went to my interview. The line was about twenty people who were all there for an initial interview. Here I was already completed and doing an initial interviews sort of the cart before the horse perhaps. I went in and was asked several questions relating to the mission’s statement of the Piedmont College Department of Education.

“The School of Education’s mission is focused on mastering the Art of Teaching: Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of All Children. Supporting this mission, we strive to prepare reflective, scholarly, proactive educators. These practitioners effectively educate their students to become knowledgeable, inquisitive, and collaborative learners in diverse, democratic learning communities.” Piedmont College Education Department

As I thought about my questions and answered and proceeded to head home, I felt good and was ready to finish my master’s program. A few days later I received a letter stating I had failed my interview immediately I called my advisor who called the Dean and set up another interview with the Dean of the Education Department. So here I am failing my initial interview and I can rub some people the wrong way relatively quickly, but I had felt good about my interview back a few weeks and was confused. As I went into the Dean’s office the Assistant Dean was present also. My first question was from the Dean, how do I get on the Bird Droppings email list? I seriously liked this conversation already and proceeded to pass my interview.

I continued from my master’s at Piedmont directly into their Specialist Program and met with the Director of that program to set up my plans for a course of study. It was interesting as the professor who failed me in my interview was by chance one of the professors in the cohort recommended to me by the Director of the program and I was sweating bullets. It was not until a few months later we met and have long since been good friends it seems that one interview day was a bad one for him, a wrecked car, his Porsche on the way among other things. As my specialist classes unfolded this professor would start and or finish each session with James Kavanaugh as point of inspiration. Within a few weeks I was acquiring copies of Kavanaugh’s work. After nearly forty years again I am a fan. I wanted to share this piece today from his book, Quiet Water, published in 1991.

In the Center of Your Soul
By James Kavanaugh

There is quiet water
In the center of your soul,
Where a son or daughter
Can be taught what no man knows.

There’s a fragrant garden
In the center of your soul,
Where the weak can harden
And a narrow mind can grow.

There is a rolling river
In the center of your soul,
An eternal giver
With a rich and endless flow….

There is a land of muses
In the center of your soul,
Where the rich are losers
And the poor are free to go.

So remain with me then,
To pursue another goal
And to find your freedom
In the center of your soul.

I read through this poem now twenty times this morning each time getting a bit more and each time literally another tear. I look into my tiny granddaughters’ eyes, and I see this poem. I have always felt the eyes hold the soul of a person. These are very powerful words for today. I do believe in this day and time we all need to have some inspiration and additional meaning to our lives. You could ask, what the soul is, and go off on numerous tangents and wanderings but for today have the soul be that of who you are. The soul is your essence borrowing from James Hillman and Karl Jung. So many days ago, I started asking as I wrote to please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and today is no different with headlines blaring of so many in pain and suffering through the world. Again, a very quick reminder search your soul and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind 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

Did you know trees can talk?

Bird Droppings July 21, 2021
Did you know trees can talk?

“Did you know that trees talk? Well, they do. They talk to each other, and they will talk if you listen. Trouble is that white people do not listen. They never learned to listen to the Indians, so I do not suppose they will listen to other voices in nature.” Tatanga Mani, Stoney tribe

Most people would laugh at the comment trees can talk. I thought it was a bit odd as I first read the quote from Tatanga Mani or Walking Buffalo a Stoney Indian from Canada who after being educated in the modern world never gave up his reverence and respect for nature. A friend posted a note like in Lord of the Rings, which is what I thought of as I read this quote earlier today. I had been by the cottonwoods beside the Indian cemetery at Fort Sill and stood looking across the plains listening. The rustling of the cottonwoods along the creek can provide a sense of communication unlike anything I can describe. It has been a few years since I was last at Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma, but the memory lingers. This morning I went out before the sun came up and stood listening to the night. Pine needles create a sound unlike the leaves of many deciduous trees. Fading in the background, the crickets and tree frogs chirped along keeping time with a slight breeze. 

“For the Lakota, mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and the woods were all in finished beauty. Winds, rain, snow, sunshine, day, night, and change of seasons were endlessly fascinating. Birds, insects, and animals filled the world with knowledge that defied the comprehension of man.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

While I sit, I am listening my mind seems to be at ease and trouble seems simply to wander off. Around me the sounds of nature and when the sunlight finally makes its way through the dark the awareness of all around me. Butterflies and flowers are all about me, and each has a specific purpose and each often occupying and living a very delicate balance in our hectic world. Many people give no mind to a butterfly that only survives with a specific host plant much like the Monarch that only feeds only milkweed and related species. The Monarch also needs a very select forest to winter in as part of its natural cycle. In Mexico, timbering is wiping out the winter resting spot for northern Monarchs and soon we may see a decline in Monarch populations.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library, and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms, and blessings of the earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel the beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensify human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy, if necessary, but without complaint.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I have many times written about the sacredness of life and all about us. Perhaps in greed we lose this sense of nature. Over the past few years, I have learned to be more revenant to the world around me and in turn to people as well. I spent a large part of yesterday talking with a friend about how I see all like a puzzle a great jigsaw puzzle with each piece interconnected to all the others to form a picture of life. Some people hear my puzzle analogy and do not understand. It has been some time since listening to a great speaker Dr. Norman Vincent Peale talk about how we each influence at least ten people every day. He was referring to the fact that positively or negatively every person we come in contact with is impacted by what we do. The example we set is what is seen by others and carried away. Life is a constant interconnection of people, places, things, and ideas.

“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, Blackfoot warrior and orator

It has been sometimes since walking across the fields near my old home I could hear the buffalo snort and paw the ground agitated by my prescience and letting me know I must move on. Many of the times as a child I caught fireflies and filled a mason jar to light my bedroom at night with their glow. There is a point of understanding and reverence that we lose in our greed and selfishness. We tend to rush by and miss so much the world has to offer. I am sitting, writing, listening, and wondering as I finish today. My dear friends 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

Why would some rather send a photo than write?

Bird Droppings July 20, 2021
Why would some rather send a photo than write?

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

In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth grade English Class. The book we were reading was Brave New World, written in 1932. You would think that a book thirty years old at that time would not have been that controversial. However, for our class and the reading list we had our English teacher was let go. What amuses me is how these books we read did impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a catalyst for thinking that was developed.

Today in 2021 with a new school year about to start English teachers use the books my tenth-grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list, as do many high schools across the country. These were 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World which were so controversial in their time more than fifty six years ago. Still today these same words can inspire students and adults to think and ponder. I fear the undercurrent in politics in some areas of the country towards education may again squelch such reading.

“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo, I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot

“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill

Each morning as I sit down and wonder about the direction that the ideas may or may not flow, I try and find a spark a starting point for the day. It is sort of my kick-start to the day to revitalize my own cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier but within the semantics of the word so many limits to the concept of experience. I was seeing a teacher and most as I read were seeing experience as a limit, coming back to a note the other day and actually I used yesterday talking with future teachers, the idea of a container as per students. That was until I read this line from Huxley.

Over the past few days numerous emails from former classmates in high school perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few in Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me nearly fifty years later. But the direction changes as I look, it is through writers and writing that we convey so much.

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner

Each day I walk outside and look at the sky on clear mornings today a slight mist and cloud cover greeted me. For some the stars and constellations provide direction and as the seasons pass the constellations change which denotes time of day and position in the sky and often as I go out, I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky appearing before my front door. If by chance I am writing at home and not at school as I have for a few months now I can go out into the back yard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon, and oak trees depending on where I stand much will be obscured and I see only a shrouded sky laced with the branches.

As I read Faulkner’s note so often this is true, we do not think about something till we read what we have written. Many the times I will return to a piece week and months later and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at the time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper and until it was returned with comments, I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. A journey that began in reading, then in experience and moves through writing for it does take written word to read.

“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

It is as true as I write each morning glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles and emails and any books handy at that moment looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. Often my morning consists more of reading than actually writing words to paper or computer screen. It is so many times a search for an idea a thought that has eluded me.

“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin

“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener

What comes so easy for some it has been said may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails and then go onto class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing since that makes it so much easier to write. As I think as to where that student is coming from, maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because somewhere, somehow, and or someone did not give them the opportunity.
In my room often it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative. I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked I made an error I had typed “Children learn what they love”. As I thought a bit you know what? That is just as true too. So how do we help children love learning, and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Let us all set an example today and 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

Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Bird Droppings July 19, 2021
Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

In the course of a few days several storms passed through quickly each a very definitive front literally flying by and all ending with rainbows, or so I have been told. On one occasion a twin rainbow. On the other hand, my sunrises have been off this summer, in part due to clouds and an inability to scramble out and get photos. Sunrises and sunsets are simple things just numerous clouds blocking the sun and offering just an orange or pink band briefly as the sun enters our reality. So, a few brief moments and just enough to illicit a smile. After a brief few moments and double checking the rainbow end for that pot of gold, it doesn’t hurt to hope.

This has been a different sort of summer for me. Pat and I try to get to the South Carolina Coast a couple times a year. Two years back I came home and doing some yard work ruptured my Achilles tendon. So, I am still recovering getting strength back, but every day is better. I live in the water in warm weather and the pool has been a great help just doing lap after lap walking. I do not recommend damaging Achilles’ tendons as a fun thing to do. But still all in all it has been a good summer Yesterday my wife reminded me about a spur of the moment road trip where we ended up in Nantahochee-Rabun gap. We stopped at Billingsly’s nursery which is a favorite stop. Sitting in the valley or gap the mountains are on both sides. It was a beautiful day and great time. I have not made it up to my favorite spot this summer due to the virus and I miss it.

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

Perhaps in the scheme of things there are people who are inherently grouchy and or by Lincoln’s view they simply want to be grouchy. Sitting here pondering this morning I can recall bumping into many people like this. They are inherently grouchy. Perhaps we should label these folks and simply walk away. As I look deeper into the simple words above, we all can be happier as I think about Lincoln’s thought it is just wanting to be that way.

“Whatever happiness is in the world has arisen from a wish for the welfare of others; whatever misery there is has arisen from indulging selfishness.” Buddhist Proverb

I had not thought of happiness previously as simply as this idea. Happiness is oriented around others and therefore unhappiness more self-oriented. Lately a series of commercials the focus of the ad is cows in various situations of being happy, as the ads portray; happy cows make California cheese or some such thing. One commercial is a cow escapes from Wisconsin and the other cows are watching and one asks the other how long she has been gone and it has been several days, and the cow is only a few feet past the fence. Maybe happy cows cannot make limburger cheese?

“True happiness arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of oneself, and in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.” Joseph Addison

“Happiness is a sort of action.” Aristotle

Happiness seems to be different for different people for some it is in doing for others, for others it is friendship. As I read this morning, I agree with Aristotle it is a word of action.

“The really happy man never laughs — seldom — though he may smile. He does not need to laugh, for laughter, like weeping is a relief of mental tension — and the happy are not over strung.” Prof. F. A. P. Aveling

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” Mildred Barthal

As I think of students and occasionally there are some who shift from happy to sad, I try and make a point of asking them if everything is ok. I can think of one student I do not even know her name who always looks unhappy, never a smile and often alone and perhaps it is in the aloneness is the unhappiness. When I am out in large shopping venues which I try and avoid, a mall or such many times I will simply observe people while my wife does whatever women do at malls. That really isn’t a sexist statement, but I still am trying to figure out what malls are for other than observation projects for doctoral dissertations. I know there are various stores with goods and literally run the gambit of humankind, perhaps it is a social gathering place to meet other people.

“When one is happy there is no time to be fatigued; being happy engrosses the whole attention.” Edward Frederic Benson

“The world’s literature and folklore are full of stories that point out how futile it can be to seek happiness. Rather, happiness is a blessing that comes to you as you go along; a treasure that you incidentally find.” Louis Binstock

It is difficult to explain a way of seeking happiness. Perhaps we cannot truly seek happiness. I recall several months back even in today’s modern age a rainbow was blazing in the sky and people were parked as close to the end as possible looking for the end and who knows a pot of gold. Thinking about happiness I ponder what makes me happy. It could be as simple as laughing in the hallway with students, and fellow teachers. Back in the day my Para pro and I would stand at my door deliberately talking to students. Often students who are quiet and many times alone we would try and single out. One day we might ask if they were lost or looking for a room. We are not good ones for directions we have been known to give wrong directions around school, but we try and laugh with students. We would try and make passing by our door more than just like everyone else’s. We ask about their weekend or who won last night’s softball game or basketball game. We are actively involved, and you know what unintentionally we come back in after the bell and we are happy usually laughing pretty good at least smiling ourselves.

“It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first. The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self.” Hugo Black

“The truth is that all of us attain the greatest success and happiness possible in this life whenever we use our native capacities to their greatest extent.” Smiley Blanton

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world. It is having; someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

If only all were so simply and yet maybe life is this simply and as we move through what we do and what we hope for and just seem to grow proportionately. Our needs and wants to tend to fluctuate around being wanted and our understanding of that. What would it take for me to be happy and content today may be different than forty years ago and forty years from now more different again if I am still around?

“Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again — this is the brave and happy life.” J. E. Buckrose

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.” Albert Camus

I remember years ago watching the infectious smiles and happiness in a small church in Macon Georgia, The Church of The exceptional. The church founded in 1971 the idea was a place where mentally and physically impaired children and adults could worship together. Many times, parents would leave children home and or not go to church. I recall one fellow Mike Porch who would greet everyone as they came in the door. He had a smile ear to ear and would shake your hand like there was no tomorrow and welcome you to his church. Mike had never been to public school, he had Downs Syndrome which in 1971 meant you would never do well in school. He was at that time a student and employee of The Macon Association for Retarded Citizens workshop.

Mike has passed away since that day, but that smile, and joy were infectious and many the people were cheered up by Mike as he greeted people joining him for church services.

“Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see bird that had the blues? One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.” Dale Carnegie

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” Hugh Downs

I was thinking that I was a creature of routine, after a long weekend it is hard to get sorted out and back on track. I am still getting sorted out from a being off from school a few weeks ago. What is funny our dog is out of sync too. After having my son move home sleeping on his bed and me sleeping late, she is a bit mixed up. Mine however is not as much routine as missing contact with students and with people. Interacting is where ideas and thinking permeate. When someone thinks different pulling away is not the answer it is immersing in and offering the differences. Who knows what doors may open or windows close?

“There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means — either may do — the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier.” Benjamin Franklin

As I close for the day leave it to Ben Franklin to have the solution but for today and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Is it only a dropped feather?

Bird Droppings July 15, 2021
Is it only a dropped feather?

“If we consider the eagle feather with its light and dark colors, we could argue that ‘the dark colors are more beautiful and, therefore, naturally more valuable,’ or vice versa. Regardless of which colors are more beautiful, or necessary, or valuable, the truth is the bottom line: Both colors come from the same feather, both are true, they are connected, and it takes both to fly.” Dr. Michael Garrett, Medicine of the Cherokee

A seemingly inconsequential event, that of a bird dropping a feather, only to be found along the way by someone like me or you. I am always amazed at how special that moment becomes. Maybe back when I started this morning venture of rising early to journal, read and write for me it was a way of dropping feathers and it seems nearly every day one or two emails reinforce my thoughts.

“All birds, even those of the same species, are not alike, and it is the same with animals and with human beings. The reason Wakan Tanka does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly alike is because each is placed here by Wakan Tanka to be an independent individuality and to rely upon itself.” Shooter, Teton Sioux

It has been several years ago we had several large ferns on our front porch and I was checking the fern and forgot about the nest of purple finches who had adapted our ferns and front porch, three babies sat there looking at me as I checked the fern for moisture surprising me as much as I them. There were three tiny babies sitting huddled in a fern basket all expecting breakfast and it was only me. As I think back I am not sure who was the most scared, me by the shock of three hungry mouths gaping or those tiny birds with a big hand poking in checking the moisture of the fern.

“We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit.” Tom Brown, Jr., The Tracker

It has been several years since my first trip to Piedmont college and I am sure there will be many more to come as I am working on my doctorate in conjunction with several faculty members at Piedmont. However, that first trip was one of meeting the Dean of Education for acceptance into the School of Education when I was working on my master’s degree. It seems I had forgotten getting accepted in the education department and that aspect of my journey, something you are to do first rather than last, be accepted into the education school. As I left the education building walking to the parking lot a flock of geese met me walking along weeding as they do across lawns at Piedmont back before the lake was drained, fifty or so Canadian geese scurrying about looking for tender shoots in the morning coolness. As I walked a bit of down crossed my path a tiny feather. I picked it up and my immediate thought was of Forrest Gump sitting on a bench waiting for a bus and the feather that starts and ends the movie.


I thought deeper as I saved the feather and still have it pressed in a book on my shelf. So often that little bit that tiny piece of fluff that we often miss it doesn’t have to be a feather it could be a kind word a hand shake, a certificate from first grade for spelling everything right and it can provide the catalyst for the next day and for some a lifetime. As a teacher, parent friend many times we are the ones who have to drop a feather now and again a tiny piece of fluff to keep another person going.

“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” Qwatsinas (Hereditary Chief Edward Moody), Nuxalk Nation

In primitive societies a feather can be a very sacred and holy thing. The Aztecs made the cloak for the king from Quetzal feathers emerald green iridescent and no one else could even own one of these feathers under penalty of death. Native Americans would use feathers as signs of bravery and honor awarding an eagle feather for counting coop which is not killing your enemy simply touching and riding away and other great acts of bravery. I am intrigued as we now wage war often from an office with drones and smart bombs. What a battle that must have been back in the day to see a brave ride in touch a few people and ride out.

We have come so far in today’s world we “nuke em” no need to touch no need for honor for a bit of fluff blowing along the ground. As I walked about my yard a few nights back getting some exercise along with my wife who was checking her plants to see if any bulbs were sprouting and a feather caught my attention. It was a black tail feather from a crow. My day was made as I placed it on my desk with a hawk feather and owl feather from previous walks. It is the tiny pieces that count on our journeys. So, for today 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

Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings July 14, 2021

Are we experiencing genocide of learning?

In the midst of my daily journals entries lately it gets hectic. I am trying to recover from my pacemaker surgery and do my writing for my doctorate program, visit with friends, research, reading and discussing when I can. For the first time in a year, I can do yard work without getting dizzy. I have hired help for some major yard and tree cleaning up. I am trying to maintain some semblance of order in my herb gardens it is more like recovering. Did I mention trying to get ready for what I want to do now that I retired again through emails and phone calls. I am under still under limited house arrest with Covid 19 since I am old and just had heart surgery.

So here in the morning as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title. In this crazy world of viruses and conspiracy theories they only add to this idea. Some will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off real learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and massive standardized testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned. I left in class teaching this past March due to the Covid19 virus. We were in a matter of days forewarned set up with various software programs and hastily set up to implement at home learning. I was disillusioned in March with one of my assistant principals who I totally disagreed with. Teachers are to fall in line and be coachable I was told. Hell, I am an old fart and I will speak out when what is being done is wrong. So, I retired under duress so to say. However, I am glad I did. I am looking forward to completing my dissertation and hopefully teaching college next spring face to face.

I have over the past few days used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that learning which stays with us. I will allow a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.

I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measurable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

To put into another perspective author Capitalist and Libertarian hero and favorite, Ayn Rand at the 1974 West Point address had this to say about Native Americans.

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.” Ayn Rand, Address 1974 West Point

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would respond with that is a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.

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

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

Children come to school as avid learners I often use the term sponges, having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are truly sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems.

I cannot help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.

“…. all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Over the years I was involved a day here and there with the Foxfire Approach to Teaching courses up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I would try and attend as many days as I could. It was more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. One evening a few courses past I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1970 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses.

A few years back I had the great privilege of meeting one of the former Foxfire instructors from the early days, Mr. George Reynolds. In only a few minutes of talking to the group his passion for learning and teaching was evident. He had been in Mountain City for a reunion of sorts visiting several former students who had made music their careers.

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of greed.” Jonathan Kozol

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit-making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the result, when only profit is a goal and success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in surrounding counties to not loose teachers but adjust in other areas. Class sizes and numbers of students per class have been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened.

Money obviously is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed a few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So, when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our “Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day blueprint within education to make good consumers.

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With common core standards and standardized testing, the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought. The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I have been working on a simple formula along the lines of if we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning we can then build upon for future learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated, and found an interesting thought.

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

It has been nearly twenty years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.

We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front-page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course, my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.

So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and in her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So, is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high-test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county comparing our local system which generally does well.

We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However, one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly, there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning.

I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. As I head into more Foxfire my idea I have been pondering of Education as a stream and the Foxfire Core practices as stepping stones gains momentum. So, solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and hopefully after three weeks of being embedded in the Foxfire Approach to teaching I will be ready for another school year. 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

Can we use the word sacred truthfully?

Bird Droppings July 13, 2021
Can we use the word sacred truthfully?

“Teachers who do not take their own education seriously, who do not study, who make little effort to keep abreast of events have no moral authority to coordinate the activities of the classroom.” Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of freedom

I have been a student and learner for some time. I would like to say I am a teacher at times sharing pieces of what I have experienced over my seventy one plus years of existence. For me, it is more about sharing those pieces then using the word instruction. I somehow always conceive of instruction involving step by step directions and pieces to glue together with what we used to call airplane glue. My life has been one of numerous pathways and trails leading to the point at which I am now. Sitting writing about education and about living a life trying to maximize each breath and overturned pebble. I find it amusing as I talk with teachers those that turnover rocks as they journey looking for new creatures seem to be some of the best teachers. I admire those who are constantly looking and learning.

“Man did not weave the web of life – he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.” Chief Seattle, 1854

These few words are a portion of the surrender speech of Chief Seattle in 1854, as translated by Dr. Henry Smith from a column in the Seattle Sunday October 29, 1887. So realistically on a cloudy morning what is sacred? Sounds like a silly question but for some it is the sacraments of the Church and others the Holy Bible or Qumran or Torah. Throughout the world, we could find Saturdays or Mondays or numerous differing holy days that people would be objectifying their beliefs. Native Peoples were perhaps too simplistic in their search for the concept of sacred. William Edelen, author and former pastor titled one of his books, In Search of the Mystery. I was reading emails earlier today, and a good friend from many years back wrote about easing of environmental laws for corporations and how a thimble full of mercury could contaminate all the fish in the lake and the lessening of restrictions on mercury by chance in chemical processing in the industry will release tons into our environment all because someone needs to make another buck. In the last administration the head of EPA and four or five of Supreme Court Justices all worked for the same chemical company and have been involved in favorable legislation for that company.

“Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or for worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subjects, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle teaching holds a mirror to the soul.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to teach
Teaching for Palmer is a sacred thing as we impact as teachers’ children who literally are learning as we speech in just watching us as teachers. It is hard not to tie back to a mini history lesson as the first settlers wanted to buy land, and the indigenous people said it was not for sale it was sacred only to be used as needed not exploited. As the legend has it that we civilized people will destroy all animals and plants, and one day be gone when it is of no use to us anymore, and the buffalo and deer will come from hiding, and the trees will return and then “the people” can return home.

We all look at life around us in differing perspectives some seeing a large tree as firewood, others a wondrous living thing to share with grandchildren. Yesterday for the second day in a row a hawk was circling screaming as it flew in circles. On a previous Sunday my wife, granddaughter, son and I first heard this hawk as it circled a great sycamore tree near the house. We have had a pair of red-tailed hawks hunting around our house for as many years as we have lived here. When we first moved in they were doing a mating flight over our house circling and diving together. My first impulse was one of the hawks had died. I did a search yesterday around the sycamore tree and found nothing. The great hawk flew circles over the pines next to our house again screaming continuously. I stood in silence watching the circle follow the wind updraft and then drop again only to rise screaming every minute or so.

Perhaps some teachers might not need to go to work on some days as I thought back to my reading of Parker Palmers book. The idea of a mirror image of an inward look ties in with ideas of my own idea of trust, of building a comfort zone with students and then as I look beyond teaching is this not true for every aspect of our lives, teacher or not. Should we each not be going further than simple existence? Palmer describes the process as coming from within untangling convolutions and touching the soul. The word project is used and truly we do project our inner selves as we walk through life? Dr. Laura Nolte states so eloquently “children learn what they live.” Are we comfortable with who we are and where we are?

Daily I will find people who are seeking answers. Sometimes simple questions other times more perplexing and deeper are asked of me. It is this process of looking for answers that build who we are and develops for us what I am calling sacred. It is this process of inquiring that adds to our ability to deal with and go beyond daily issues. It is taking what seemingly is defeat and turning that into victory.

“It goes on one at a time; it starts when you care to act; it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say we and know who you mean, and each day you mean more.” Marge Piercy, The low road

I recall a trip to a plant nursery the other day perhaps one of my favorites in the area. They specialize in native plants and herbs along with landscaping plants and traditional garden varieties. They were going out of business not because they do not believe in what they do and enjoy it but because plants like so many aspects of farming prices have been rather stable for thirty years and the cost of living has not. Another landscaping business closed its retail outlet a few years back, but I recall just outside their office was a boulder with a hole drilled in it and a fountain bubbling out of the hole. This package was one thousand five hundred and fifty dollars installed. Next to the price is what constitutes the fountain, two hundred fifty pounds of river rock, two hundred pounds colored crushed lava rock, a drilled boulder which had to be near a ton, a pond liner, ten landscape timbers, 1000 pounds crushed granite and a pump kit. It took numerous pieces make a whole.

I was amazed by the simple fountain and how peaceful it was water bubbling out of a rock flowing over into the river stones it was a whole that was the sum of its parts. Without a pump kit to push the water and create a fountain, it was just a rock. You could say without the boulder it would have been only a bubbling of water in a pile of rocks. I have found each of us is similar we are pieces of a whole and inside a driving force as Palmer uses the word soul and heart interchangeably in his book, and it is here we determine sacred for ourselves. If that pump stopped working on that simple fountain, all effect is gone we need maintenance on our heart and not just our physical heart, but that of our emotional heart so that that fountain flows and the entire package has meaning as we go out in our days. So dear friends please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and n your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Doing what you love is not really work

Bird Droppings July 12, 2021
Doing what you love is not really work

I watched four different news channels this morning and ended on One America News. They banter about everyone else being fake news and I listened to the twisting and manipulation of words, and I am not sure how they are allowed to stay on the air. Granted it is one of the few outlets for My Pillow left and I sat through two Mike Lindell ads.

“To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?” Katharine Graham

For many local teachers there are only a few more weeks until getting back to school for teacher workdays. I am sitting here getting ready to plan my week and do some writing. Retirement for second time is wonderful when the weather is warm. Having a new lease on life with a pacemaker does not hurt either although makes me want to go back to work. Graham’s statement for me has been true about teaching for all my life. It seems I learn something every day as I wander about the internet and books I find along the way. My life’s journey the past fifty years has been one of excitement and constant challenges.

Back when I closed my business of twenty plus years and left publishing, I first tried to stay in that industry but very few companies hire older folks in sales. I had been away from production far too long and computers had replaced most of what I had done when I started in graphics doing everything by hand. I had been talking with a graphics teacher in high school and literally the graphics industry is now almost totally on the screen in front of you. No more negatives and paste ups even plates for presses are generated by computer direct to press.

One note of interest is as I find quotes I tend to either save or use directly in my writing however today the starting quote is from my father’s book of quotes that he had saved over the years which is a three-ring binder full of quotes he had used or was pondering using. This quote caught my attention as it is how I see teaching for me. I love teaching and each day I am working with students I feel it matters maybe not today but one day. As I looked up Katharine Graham I found that in her time she was one of the most powerful women in Washington. Publisher of the Washington Post it was with her permission Watergate scandal was reported and published in the Post. She was on the elite social list in Washington and personal friends with John and Jackie Kennedy, Jimmy and Roselyn Carter, Ronald and Nancy Reagan and she never had to sneak into White House functions which seem to be the fad these days.

As I looked further into her life and very interesting as her husband was for many years’ CEO and publisher of The Washington Post however it came to be known that he suffered from Manic Depression and after a series of nervous breakdowns and residential psychiatric treatment took his own life in 1963. Upon her husband’s death Katharine took over the company and through careful planning built it into the company it is today. I found the following quote that hit me as red further.

“We live in a dirty and dangerous world…There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” KG, speaking at the CIA Headquarters in 1988

As I watch our news and media sources banter about half-truths and often totally misleading stories I wonder as to is there material even in our high-speed world that needs to be withheld. So often in apocalyptic movies the president hesitates from telling everyone the earth is in line to be hit by a planet size asteroid and destroyed, or that the sunspots are flaring up and we will be crispy critters soon. Is it better to panic and get crushed in the milieu or simply not know and fry at some point in time? I come back to my original quote and for me it is finding that place in the circle of life that makes sense to you and that you enjoy doing. For me it is teaching. I recall when I was down about not finding work in the publishing world and my wife kept saying go back to teaching you really enjoy that. I was at the right place at the right time. Synchronicity as Karl Jung would say. A very progressive principal had just had a teacher quit due to a nervous breakdown and a job opening was there working with Emotionally Disturbed High School students. Next thing I knew I started back to teaching September 11, 2001.

“I teach because, for me, it’s the most effective and most enjoyable way to change the world. That’s the bottom line: We need to change this world, and this is the way I’m choosing to do it. Teaching allows me to work on hearts and minds, to guide people in becoming empowered, literate, engaged, creative, liberated human beings who want to join in this effort to change the world.” From the blog of Elena Aguilar School Improvement coach from Oakland, California, 2008

I am talking with former students and teachers of the Foxfire Program in Rabun County and in other Foxfire teaching settings around the country. I am finding that so many former students were influenced beyond the academics of the classes. They had each a different story but as I gather the words together each was influenced in a positive manner and each has used what they learned as the go about their journeys in life. I happened to find a site discussing a book based on the idea of why I teach. Each section of the book draws from teachers around the country and their feelings towards teaching. I Like this concept of a life-toucher.

“As a teacher, I want children to leave school with a social conscience, an appreciation for diversity and life, a thirst for learning, and an understanding of how knowledge can allow them to achieve their dreams. I also want them to leave the classroom with good memories because, since teachers are life-touchers, we want to be a part of children’s childhood memories. Other teachers might not admit this, but I will: Even if I might never get to hear it from their lips, I want my former students to recall their time in my class. I want them to remember something worthwhile, great or small that happened there. I hope that my students will remember my class not because it was perfect, but because of its unique flaws. Hopefully, they also will remember that I was a teacher who truly cared and strived to teach them. This is my definition of a life-toucher.” Kerri Warfield, Visual Arts teacher, Westfield, MA

As an former teacher I hope in my own way I am influencing kids positively so they can better manage the journey ahead. Perhaps my own rationale that it is equally about that life journey as well as academics learned along the way is in contrast to the current teach to the test idea that is driving education now. Sadly, it is a long time later that the daily life touches as Kerri Warfield states are seen. It might be ten years after you have a student and you see on Facebook a father holding a little boy and discussing how much something meant to him back in high school. That something just happened to be a small gesture you made giving a book or a word of advice in time of need. So many directions to go today and as I wind down, as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste my dear friends.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,


Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird