Bird Droppings January 31, 2022
Solitude is within one’s soul and heart

“No person, standing before this mystery, has the wisdom or the knowledge to see across the curtain. But for those who stand before their dead with aching hearts and tear-filled eyes, one affirmation endures. One truth remains…and one light shines clear. Where there has been love, there has been Life. Its birthplace was the human heart where, for thousands and thousands of years, with all peoples in all cultures, it has brought joy…built hope…been the mother of beauty…overcome fear, and given a richness and significance to the living of days that otherwise would have been absent.” William Edelen

I have just read through several of William Edelen’s sermons, or Sunday symposiums as he calls them. He passed away a few years ago at ninety-three. He was and will always be considered a remarkably free thinker who wrote about politics, religion, and love in this instance. It has been a few years since my wife visited her grandmother’s gravesite in South Central Georgia. My wife, mother, and sisters journeyed together and walked about the small church’s graveyard with their mother narrating and explaining who was who and their relationships to them.

Whenever I get a chance, I walk out behind my brother’s house and walk to my mother, father, and brother’s gravesite, situated on a hill overlooking a soccer field where children play nearly every day. It just hit me how appropriate for their resting spot. Perhaps the recent funeral of a friend and such made me think in this manner. Why do we wait for death to impart to our loved ones our innermost feelings? Why do we often find the time to go to graveyards to honor and muse about what we should have done when they were with us?

Solitude is within us,

An inadvertent meandering through Life.
I wander as I journey.
Glimpsing pieces of my Life’s puzzle.
Pondering each more intricate than the last.
Sadly I grow weary from so many missteps
Along the boulder-strewn pathway.
Every day older, my physical capabilities diminish
And my mental aptitude slows.
Names come more slowly
And memories are often either exaggerated or forgotten
Guide my thoughts.
What few seem to come to me
All linking me to past, present, and future
Pondering reality midst the travels.

Frank Bird III

It has been a few years since I rode on a bus in Washington DC from the hotel to the Viet Nam Memorial Wall. I was riding with a busload of high school kids, all giggling, laughing, singing, and yelling, and I was sitting brooding, wondering how I would react. I measured each block as we drove closer. I soon saw nothing but The Wall, a black ribbon wandering what seemed forever through the park. Students were given a token flower to place at the Wall. I walked over to a large bound volume that was on a table. The book contained the list of names on the Wall and a guide to finding where those fallen were found on numerous panels. Carefully on my hand, I wrote the names of friends from High school who perished in Viet Nam. I never got to say goodbye to any of them; I lived in Georgia before most went to war or had been too busy at school or work to realize they were gone. When I left high school, it seemed I had not kept tabs with anyone. Perhaps it was assuming I would see these guys at reunions and such. It might have been my ever-zealous desire to not be in high school anymore.

“Absolutely speaking, do unto others as you would that they should do unto you is by no means a golden rule, but the best of current silver. An honest man would have but little occasion for it. It is golden not to have any rule at all in such a case.” Henry David Thoreau

After several minutes of paging through the large book, I found a name, and it hit me. It had been nearly twenty-five years since I had seen this guy, and in my mind, he had been very much alive. His name was on the Wall about waist height, carved into the black face of an enormously large piece of rock. At that moment, the Wall stretched for miles in my mind, and I had to walk away.

“The whole circle of consciousness is an added fact to that of movement. For this reason, we cannot speak of thought as occupying space or having exact locality.” Dr. James Mark Baldwin, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, University of Toronto, 1890

Several minutes later, my son found me sitting atop a hill on a bench, looking down at the Wall. A squirrel had been running back and forth trying to get my attention, probably wanting a peanut or popcorn, of which I had neither. “Dad, it is time to go” was my pull back to reality, and I walked with my son to the buses.

“Where there has been love, there has been Life.” William Edelen

Looking back and wondering, even pondering today, do we need to take the time to realize what it is that gives us Life. Do we need to recognize how we feel now while we can more profoundly and openly? Or should we wait to eulogize and postulate as we close the lid and bury our friends and families? Or should we wait twenty-five years and stand at a Wall or monument or memorial to fallen heroes and loved ones only to lay a flower on cold marble or hand it now to warm hands. I think I will remember my friends as I sit here writing so peace, my dear friends, and 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)


Symbolic Totem Pole

Bird Droppings January 30, 2022

Symbolic Totem Pole

Growing up in my family, my father had made numerous totem poles in our backyards over the years. Each was painted images of creatures. Eagles, bears, wolves adorned the totem poles. The last one was torn down or fell only a few years ago. In Cub Scouts, when I was eight years old, we made balsa wood totems carved with our scout knives. I have depicted totems in my artwork over the years. Perhaps that is what intrigued me about this exercise.

It has been some time since I even accessed my Myspace account. I borrowed this from a friend on myspace years ago because I liked the idea. The point is to list the ten things, people, animals, concepts, etc. Which are of the most value in your life? Like my friend Tikarma, I have listed the things I treasure in the traditional Native American way. So, here is the totem pole I have built with words. As I have already said, the essential elements are listed at the bottom of the pole. I decided which things belonged on my list before I put them in order, and putting them in order took ten times more time and effort than writing them.

We live in this world as a matter of symbols. Around us are symbols in many shapes and forms. Before they could read, my children knew the golden arches of McDonald’s. I found a book a few years back while searching for another book actually in Barnes and Noble. The book is titled The Sacred Tree and is written by several Native authors who put the book together to assist Native youth in recovering their past.

“Symbols express and represent meaning. Meaning helps provide purpose and understanding in the lives of human beings. Indeed to live without symbols is to experience existence far short of its full meaning; Ways of expression and representing meaning include the symbols systems of mathematics, spoken and written language, and the arts.” The Sacred Tree p. 8

I am not tagging anyone, but I recommend this self-examination exercise. It is always surprising to discover where our hearts, souls, and values lie in the scheme of what we deem necessary in our lives. If any of you do this, please send me a note. I would like to read what you write – bird

10. Gardening has become a point of reference for me over the past few years, and my herb garden is a meditative point in my life.

9. Photography has been a crucial part of my life for forty years or more, and the many tens of thousands of images I have taken and saved are each a piece of who I am. Often, I will go back and look at old black and white photos from the late 1960s and ponder the moment.

8. Understanding and patience have been a blessing for me as I deal with students and people I have met in life.

7. A sense of humor is perhaps a bit far away from the starting point but essential to being a human being and being a good teacher.

6. The ability to read and write would be next on my list as these are integral to what I do daily.

5. Education and learning are essential to me, and I do not see myself stopping any time soon. In being a learner, I find I can teach better.

4. My extended family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws are scattered about the country and are always in my thoughts and wanderings.

3. My mother and father had influenced me, directed me, and aided me when I was in need and when I was not. Along with this are my immediate family, brothers and sisters, all of the nieces and nephews, and grand nieces and nephews. This, too, would lead me to my brother John who has been an inspiration and blessing though he never spoke in all of his years. He led the way to Georgia those many years ago and influenced each member of my family in so many ways.

2. My family is of utmost importance to me as I walk this earth. My grandchildren, sons, and wife all have special meaning, and I cherish each moment I have with each of them.

1. The sacredness of all and empathy for all within. That would be where I would start my totem. That is what I treasure the most in life, and through it, I can more fully grasp all else about me. I consider all sacred and have come to this over many years of searching for that sacredness of all and for all that is a driving force in my life.

I first did this nearly twelve years ago, and many of my words have gone unchanged. Take a moment and try jotting down the top ten items for your symbolic totem pole. Today I have been pondering a bit much as I have gone through the day will you please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


Where have all the teachers gone?

Bird Droppings January 29, 2022

Where have all the teachers gone?

I first wrote a variation of this essay nearly fifteen years ago. Over the past few days, I have been talking with a few new college seniors who are student-teaching. As I head around getting my odds and ends done for the week and feeding the critters in the office today, I could not help but notice the lack of young new teachers. I spoke with several principals earlier this week, and all said only a few applied this past year, and only they hired five new teachers although we have an Australian with an E3 visa. I spoke with this fellow from Australia and had to get my Crocodile Hunter questions first and then ask about E3 visas. It seems we now have an allowance of E3 visas, which allow indefinite stays to work. Of course, they apply to needed areas in specific fields of which teaching is one.

But why are we running out of teachers? I recall an article I read and my principal also quoted was that by 2010 the US would be seven million teachers short. I complain about no child left behind, and it seems by 2010, there will be a lot of children left behind because there will be no teachers left to teach them. Amazing how things work out. We survived that teacher shortage barely, and now more teachers are leaving the field than at any time in modern history.

I Googled the question Where have all the teachers gone? I had over seven million hits. The first hit was a paper entitled; where have all the teachers gone from nearly ten years ago.

“It was earlier noted that the quality of teacher preparation and the number of available teachers are not independent. A traditional interpretation of this statement is that higher preparation standards by limiting access threaten the supply of teachers and the staffing of schools. It would be unfortunate if the projected need for more teachers were to cause an erosion of standards for teacher preparation. This scenario leads towards lower student performance, less job satisfaction, higher teacher attrition, increased public discontent, and further erosion of standards. Easier teacher preparation programs and emergency permit hiring are expedient solutions to short-term employment needs. However, such expediency may bring about greater long-term problems. “Mark Eric Fetler, Ph.D., California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

This is not something that just happened. Dr. Fetler addressed the issue in 1997. I recall many years ago when I was an undergraduate student in education and experienced a class where the professor believed men should not be in elementary education. My graduate school classes have been enlightening and uplifting, as both colleges I have attended are progressive in their scope and views on teacher education. So why do we need teachers so badly? I should say, why do we need good teachers so badly? I keep humming the folk song where have all the flowers gone except inserting teachers instead of flowers.

Teachers are not created simply by a certification process contrary to the beliefs and understandings of many politicians. Teachers are not merely trained, and like an assembly line, we produce teachers, which so many people think happens. This may be a silly example. Something so simple as it takes a hundred years to grow a hundred-year-old tree may seem stupid, yet we do not want to wait that long in our hurry-up world. We genetically engineer, manipulate, and bring in exotics that grow faster in our climate and then sell old remaining trees to Japan.

A hundred-year-old tree isn’t all that old, considering the 500-year-old plus redwoods and sequoias on the west coast and other countries will pay fortunes for them. Easterners revere and honor the age of the wood and intricate and tight beautiful grains that produce veneers and furniture near priceless. Interestingly, a 500-year-old redwood takes 500 years to replace; Easterners understand such things as fast-paced immediate answers people do not.

Another interesting thought as I get started this morning I picked up a book, actually several, at Barnes and Nobles the other day and just got started on them. One was “The Tao of teaching,” which is so far intriguing. A comment is used that I like “the art of teaching.”

“When I see – I forget, when I hear – I remember, when I do – I understand” Ancient Chinese saying

As I go deeper into my reading, I will share, but teaching as an art form is engaging. Reading this ancient passage is akin to progressivism’s John Dewey thinking on experience and learning. As I consider the term art of teaching, it is like some folks will always be finger painting and others painting masterpieces from day one. School for a good teacher always starts tomorrow, and school for some folks never starts. It is just a job.

“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.” Amos Bronson Alcott

Questioning investigating teachers should inspire, not constrict, such endeavor. I always go back to the famous Moby Dick question, “In your opinion, what was Herman Melville trying to accomplish with his writing of this book?” Ms. Stern did not appreciate how he was writing a historical fictional rendering of the whaling industry and its financial impact on the society of New England. I received an “F” and responded, “That’s the wrong opinion.” I never knew an opinion in the US could be wrong, maybe different, but not wrong.

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” John Cotton Dana

 Until recently, I never realized how true this was as I came back directly to teaching a few years back. I was going back to graduate school and reading more lately than when I was in school years back, all 12 years of public school and all 20 years of college and such.

“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

How in life do we make any lesson important enough “potent” to borrow from Albert (I am on a first-name basis now)? This came up over the years. A teacher needs to be excited about what they teach, which excites the students.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Making something hard easy, someone who can make it potent, is always learning but is humble, and is a true teacher.

“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw 

As I look at Georgia Performance Standards, GPS’s, and all the standardized Testing and such,  is knowledge pursuing the child, or do we not teach enough art recognition in teachers’ teaching and too much mechanics. I can show anyone color and texture, and each will offer back a finished piece, and rarely will they be the same and, every once in a while, a masterpiece. We should search for teachers as we search for masters, find those who can, and then seriously educate children.

I was cleaning my vast store of old files in my closet. Things that when I saved them were crucial. I have thinned out the ten or so boxes to one now and found a spring of 2004 newsletter, “Reaching Out,” produced by Dr. James Sutton. An article on page five with only a paragraph or so about Stevie, the wonder snake.

“Frank Bird is a teacher in Georgia. He believes strongly that a classroom should have student appeal. After all, it’s about them anyway, so why not make it interesting. To this end, Franks classroom is pretty untraditional, even cluttered, but it’s full of all kinds of “kids stuff.” Frank has a classroom assistant, Stevie. Stevie is a Ball Python… a snake (a very large snake). Students will do anything (even work) to hold Stevie if Stevie can sleep in their laps. Now that’s a pretty creative way to keep a student in a seat.” Dr. James Sutton, reaching Out

It has been some time since I talked about this with James Sutton. But it reminded me of my central tenet in my classroom and during schools period. Kids have to want to be there to learn.

“Students will learn better when they are somewhere they want to be… Opportunities expand for learning when a student comes in wanting to be there… Learning is constructed by the learner and must be a social experience before it is a cognitive experience” Max Thompson, Learning Concepts

If only teachers would listen in their Learning Focused Schools Seminars and Professional Learning sessions. If only teachers would respond to students as people rather than things, as Dr. Glasser points out in The Quality School. If only it is a big issue in education. Today I have been pondering a bit much about a critical issue and will please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


PS. “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

The fragility of life

Bird Droppings January 28, 2022

The fragility of life

I was awakened a bit early with a very vivid dream early this morning. I am also getting old and needed to take a potty break. Hearing what I the rain and a teenager, I assume tearing out of our subdivision about two in the morning, did not help my sleep as well. Around four, I went back to sleep and, having nothing special to do, slept late. In my dream, some of what I thought was rain was the bathroom water still running. I forgot to jiggle the handle. When I finally got to my computer, I decided to catch up on emails and do some reading.

A dear friend sends out numerous emails, much as I do, and I opened up an old one with the subject line A letter to the Editor. Over the years, I had seen this several times when he would address local or national issues, and I was pretty much ready for anything but what he wrote. After reading his comments about arming teachers and more gun talk focusing on the political pressure from NRA and other groups, more recently than in previous years. Most of the effort is profit, not constitution-oriented; I did get thinking. Just think about it major industrialized countries. We have nearly ten times as many legal guns and twenty times more homicides per hundred thousand residents. With every gun control scare, ammo and gun sales skyrocket. I often wonder about capitalism and sarcastically think, is it not a great entity?

“Respect for the fragility and importance of an individual life is still the mark of an educated man.” Norman Cousins

I got thinking back, and in another situation, just several years back, a neighbor in our subdivision, not the one tearing out at two earlier, was called while in Tennessee to hurry home. His daughter had come down with a high fever and was rushed to the hospital, and before he could get to Atlanta, she had passed away. Several different issues, a malfunctioning spleen, and a severe infection had caused her death.

“…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all being.” Sogyal Rinpoche

I heard the story from my son, who knows our neighbor better than I do, and I was taken back and recalled raising three children through all of those years and illnesses and trials and tribulations. My wife commented several times over the holidays about how it is a miracle that any child gets to be an adult as she played with our grandchildren, almost holding them every second she had available.

Fourteen years ago, my wife and I lost our fathers within a few months of each other. I recall leaving my father’s bedside where he lay still, not talking anymore, as I drove to hear my son at a choir camp he had attended for several years in a talent show presentation. He had become locally famous for his blues harmonica and his rendition and cover of two great singers. Maybe I should say a great songwriter and a singer; some folks will never like Bob Dylan’s singing. He combines Bob Dylan and Axl Rose’s in a duet version of Knockin’ on Heavens Door. This morning a photo of two hawks together in a tree posted on Facebook by a fellow teacher reminded me of that day.

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knockin on Heavens Door by Bob Dylan, 1973

 As I drove to hear my son sing, I passed a nearly pure white dead pine tree alongside the road. Sitting guarding the Way was a pair of red-tailed hawks. Seldom have I seen two together sitting. The following morning, I received a call. I knew my father had passed away. I still have this song on my mind daily as I use it as my son’s ring tone on my cell phone. My father had lived a full life, and we celebrated his life in his passing. My father shared an affinity for Native American culture and understanding throughout his life with me. It was late in his life he had found his great grandmother; my great-great-grandmother was Leni-Lenape (Delaware), who were part of the Algonquin nation. It was later I learned she had been a medicine woman. In many societies, women hold equal if not more power than men, and among the native peoples, from tribe to tribe, you find some differences. As I was reading, I found this thought. Many legends exist within the Sioux Nation of The White Buffalo Calf Woman. She was the first of the Sioux, and all came from her. Along with that legend and story is this simple lesson for life.

Lakota Instructions for Living

Friend do it this Way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.

And if you do it that Way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.

If you do it that Way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.

Words passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman

I recommend that those interested in Native peoples read Black Elk Speaks. I recall a dear friend offering his copy for me to read nearly forty years ago at Mercer University. Since that time, I have given away several copies. The lesson from Black Elk is that we are all interconnected, and all of life is a circle from beginning to end and back.

“Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.” Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

My days and evening often end or start with a swirl of smoke. I will place a bit of white sage, sweetgrass, several Ursa leaves and a few other bits and pieces in a bowl and watch the smoke curl skyward as I ponder the day. The burning of sage and sweetgrass is a cleansing act and sacred to many people. Last night I walked out to silence as a light breeze took away the smell of the rain and mist. As I fanned the embers with a hawk feather and watched the last few wisps of smoke rise, a tiny single brilliant white cloud passed by me, heading towards the stars and moon.

I opened an email unknowingly, thinking this was another political gesture or comment on the financial crisis impacting each of us, and found a letter from a father who had lost a son just a few days ago. It was a letter of words he needed to say, and many were unspoken. As I went through the day yesterday thinking about how tomorrow I would be surrounded by teenagers and life, my thoughts were with my friend and his wife, who were grieving the passing of a vibrant and youthful son.

It has been several years since my mother handed me a note entitled, What if I had never been born”. As I read her thoughts addressing myself, my brother, my sisters, and our children, she told me the story of her grandfather, who should have died in a coal mining accident so many years ago. We talked about how we each have a purpose, even the smallest amongst us. I often refer to my vision I had many years ago of life as a magnificent and grand puzzle. Each piece is multifaceted and minute, yet each unique and interconnected to the next. I try to understand when it seems that nothing makes sense. Each piece of the puzzle is hard to see when alone. It is within the pieces falling in place that the picture is made whole. What if I had died when I stopped breathing numerous times in seizures as a baby? What if I had not come home from the West Chester Hospital when I was three years old and sick with polio? What if I had not awakened from surgery when I again stopped breathing as a teenager? But these pieces of the puzzle, those aspects of who I am, have made me, and each piece provides us with strength and courage to see other pieces fall into place.

It has been over twenty years since my oldest son left me a post-it note with a quote on it when I got home from sitting through the night with a young man who had been in a car accident. I watched monitors bleep and blip, and they never went the direction I wanted. When morning came, he was declared gone. I sat listening to discussions and comments and wondered till I got home and found my note.

“Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Steven Tyler

As I read that letter again from my friend, I knew my friend’s son had loved life; he had made a mark on each of his family members, wife, and all who knew him. I thought back to that small cloud passing over my head as I went out last night in my meditations. My friends, please keep all in harm’s Way on your minds and hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


Selecting your pallet

Bird Droppings January 27, 2022
Selecting your pallet

I wrote the basics of this article nearly twenty years ago and was thinking of an artist friend trying to define her art and searching for her meaning in life. My friend often reflects her political views and emotions through her art. As I sit here this afternoon realizing I have been friends on social media with Liz for almost eighteen years, she is now writing code and a programming engineer, but she speaks of her work with the same passion as she does her art.

It has been some time since my family all was in town. We had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games, and eat, of course. Eating is an integral part of all family gatherings and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Maybe one day, I will write on the socializing aspects of a family get-together and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just before committing suicide?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art is nonscientific, yet it is also definite in other ways. I find art more scientific than science, and DaVinci and others have shown the mathematical formulas and calculations needed in art. It is interesting in art, we attach theory to reality, and in science, we try to connect reality to theory. Teaching in and of itself is taking fact and linking theory to it. We have a block of information that, by various means, we have to interpret for a student, and hopefully, they will come close to what we are trying to teach.

“To impart knowledge”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We each can be artists in our field, and perhaps empathy is the key. It is reaching that inner spark in others to feel what you see and hear and understand what inspired you.

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

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

Perhaps Ruskin has defined what constitutes a great artist, be it in whatever field or pallet you choose. I wish we could as easily declare peace throughout the world, and I wonder if we can bottle and sell empathy, then peace could be a reality. I worked a bit in my herb garden yesterday when I came home trimming dead branches and stems. Watching the sky and the sun setting as I was listening to the quiet of my backyard walking about was very soothing. I wonder, can growing herbs be considered an art form. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart, namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Reconciliation of trust

Bird Droppings January 22, 2022
Reconciliation of trust

I came upstairs to work on my dissertation and got sidetracked talking with my wife headed to a funeral in Dublin, Georgia, for her aunt, who just passed away. Her G.P.S. was taking her a different route than she had planned. However, the route she was following was nearly twenty minutes quicker than the route she had planned. Sometimes in life, tradition routine does hinder us from new experiences. How often do we get caught up in routine and not take a side road or different pathway? I get caught up in my routine and then wonder why I got nothing done. Would it not be great to have a G.P.S. checking each move we make psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally? Today I write that trust has come up several times lately for me.

“It’s the examination of conscience. Unless you examine your conscience, you don’t know what you have to be sorry for and what to confess” Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., Ten Tips for Better Confessions, The Gift of Reconciliation

Sort of difficult on a Saturday morning to start with a vocabulary word and one we seldom actually use. I think we perform the process, but somehow never understand what we are doing when we do. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has for its definition of the word reconciliations the following:

“The state of being reconciled which is based on reconcile or to restore to friendship or harmony” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

It has been a long time since I was called up to the principal’s office for supposedly writing a note for a student to go home, something I would not do and did not do. This student was someone I had trusted and now had seriously betrayed that trust. The following day I asked my students to write about what would they do if someone betrayed their trust, not referring to the incident that had occurred? Many of my students often feel betrayed as a part of their disability. They have difficulty trusting anyone and betraying that bit of trust they may have is so hard even to accept that it hits them extremely hard.

Some of the examples are “I would never speak to them again,” “I would consider them no longer existing,” one student went so far as “I would kill them.” I was hoping that was a figurative term only. When I look back a few lines to Webster’s thought, reconcile is a “restoring of harmony.” Not being able to trust affects my existence in how I perceive each person that I now encounter. Often being on guard, wary, not a sensation that I liked, or even the effort of being cautious.

“Trust is a firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. It is a reliance on something in the future, hope. The condition and resulting obligation of having confidence placed in one: One in which confidence is placed.”

Trust is a simple word as I looked for definitions, and a bit more understanding can be had in words such as reliance, confidence, hope, integrity, and character. These are all words used in defining trust. By going a bit deeper, trust is synonymous with belief and faith. When we trust someone, we have faith in them, confidence in them. To tear this down is a serious issue and difficult to repair. This is perhaps why my students had difficulty pondering what you do when someone betrays your trust. It was from that point I wondered if we could reconcile.

Within most of the world’s religions, forgiveness is paramount to any attempt at moving forward. It is about forgiving and reconciling within some religions, as in my first quote based on reconciliation. Within the Catholic Church, where reconciliation is a sacrament, there is a restoration for the most part for many people. In the religion, that restoration is often with God or the church. Still, deeper when that reconciliation is between two people, there is a “restoration to friendship and harmony,” as Webster eloquently states.

“The man who trusts men will make fewer mistakes than he who distrusts them” Conte di Cavour, Camillo Benso

That state of distrust is uncomfortable for me. When I trust life, it flows and moves so easily from point A to B. In a state of distrust and looking back over my shoulder continually, my neck gets tired, and my soul as well? Therefore, I find working with students who do not trust so easily. Many teachers prior to my room do not trust them, and I, until proven wrong.

“All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud, you have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is so much easier to function in life in a state of trust than distrust; perhaps reconciliation is such a powerful tool bringing back that harmony that smoothness in life, restoring faith in others in yourself. I came to school after that incident in a state of distrust and, as the day went on, unsure which direction to go. Walking to my room, the student who betrayed my trust came up to me and asked if we could talk after school; I said. There was desperation in the voice, a need for reconciliation, a need to restore harmony and friendship. School went by, and the day ended; I was oblivious to my conversation earlier of talking after school. This student comes in and tries to explain, tears so close to welling up, “I am sorry.”

It is amazing how several days of pondering what to do are melted away so quickly with three words. The days of should I do this or that or should I do that are wiped clean, reconciled, and harmony is restored. My good friend Emerson compares to a bud. Nearly eight years ago, I found a pin, one of those simple metal stick pins with a slogan on it. It was given to me on my twenty-third birthday by a dear friend in a youth group I worked with, a 1970’s pin as it goes, “Bloom where you are planted” with a flower or two around it. I affixed it to my I.D. badge lanyard; from days gone by, what a simple message that still carries impetuous. It is still so true and still what teaching is about for me. It is helping students bloom wherever it is that they are and more so about life in general. We all should be trying to bloom where we are planted. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


It would be great if we could script great teachers

Bird Droppings January 19, 2022
It would be great if we could script great teachers

I watched several various movies about teachers over the years. It hit me as I thought it would be great if we could somehow provide a package to new teachers to do great teaching. Suppose someone could write that perfect script that anyone could follow and allow anyone to be a great teacher. Then it hit me hard, indirectly that is what curriculum, in theory, is for and various educational packages that publishing companies stake their names on. But as I sit back thinking, why does it not work?

I was inputting my last bit of data for a research project and was finding and gleaning pieces of my various former students’ puzzles as I went. Most of my students I have served in the last twenty years had improved grade-wise when they were in my classes, and I was the case manager. Granted, I do not teach like most teachers, and I rely heavily on empathy and innovative, creative ideas to stimulate and make the time they have in my class a learning experience and fun. I thought back to the teacher movies; it is hard to imagine Morgan Freeman not being a great teacher. But I know he studied his character, Joe Clark, thoroughly as good actors do, and his interpretation was an accurate one from what I have read.

There is a personality that you cannot package and bottle in everyone. The greatest possible program in the hands of a sorry teacher will not change the fact they are a sorry teacher. So far, to my knowledge, we do not do personality transplants. In “The School of Rock,” while Mr. S was for a moment content to idle away and collect his substitute paycheck, a note of music hit literally. He found a mutually exciting interest in the students and himself. This is something many teachers do not look into. Are we as teachers enjoying what we do?

Bit by bit, as I watched Julie Roberts’s character, have to reexamine where what and why and then get hit with traditions and the boxes of societal demands. I know this happens every day. I have talked with my professors many times about my concerns, how so many teachers go to a graduate school program and do not make meaningful use after they leave. I am genuinely concerned! I have watched numerous graduates collect their additional money and not once utilize what they have learned, researched, read about, and even seen in practice.

How do we bottle and or script a great teacher? I wish I could come up with a solution and a straightforward method. It is about the person inside. It is about empathy. It is about experiences and utilizing those pieces. There is an adage that many teachers are simply folks who can do nothing else. The drab, boring monotone teacher, even knowing all the content in the world, will teach few. It is about entertainment. Maybe scripts have been written, but then the audience changes, and what do you do? We live in a society of change of flux of disequilibrium. It is about balance but keeping enough leaning over towards keeping growing. It is perhaps about the pathway.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Elwyn Brooks White

Often, I reflect on the journey of life. The many directions I have traveled. I have always been a passionate observer watching other’s step by step along the way. I listened as some stumbled and were lifted when pebbles and boulders were in the way. At times, there are choices which pathway to take as a fork approaches, and we must choose.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” Christopher Morley, Thunder on the Left

“Life is a cement trampoline.” Howard Nordberg

I am wondering why so many of us each day think, perhaps too much, obsessing over reasons and rationale and tripping over our inadequacies and imperfections. Are we truly desperate, or is this a façade to cover up our lack of enthusiasm and desire? I wonder when I see a young person acting as a mime standing still facing an empty wall and unable to move forward or back, simply immobile dressed in funeral attire waiting for an end? What has slowed their journey to this point? What is it they have missed along their pathway as we cross?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost anyhow.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” Erich Fromm

“To live remains an art which everyone must learn and which no one can teach.” Havelock Ellis

There is no road map and no specific travel itinerary as we journey along each day; it is unique for me as it is for others. Nietzsche offers a why as a reason to live, Fromm simplifies further only a happy moment or a bright morning is all that is needed, and Ellis states an art form, life is an art form perhaps it is the wielding of the brushes and what colors we wield as we paint.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

“Following straight lines shortens distances, and also life.” Antonio Porchia, Voices, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

We set the boulders in our pathway; we throw out the pebbles that force us to stumble. We create the forks in the road that force us to choose. I would not have it any other way as I step along the path. However, we need to be aware that we must also clear the pathway. We also must make the choices as to which road to follow. I see my life’s map as a series of zigs and zags, an easy journey constantly sidetracked. It may have been once a straight line between A and B now the page is covered in this way or backtracking and circumventing in overstepping and under stepping. I have come a long way in my climbing of boulders and pushing some out of the way.

In my daily teacher journal, I have used Bird Droppings, a saying by a Native American Orator from back in the day many times.

“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

For many, this may not mean anything. It has been years now since I could hear a buffalo snort and walk across the pasture and see the buffalo’s warm breath blown in the cool of winter. It has been years since I have seen fireflies dance across my front field, now covered in houses and roads. But I still see the little shadow as the sun sets, and I still hear the breeze in the morning, tree frogs calling, and the red-tailed hawks forever crossing my pathway. Our scenery changes, but life goes on. I watched the news last night and all the carnage of an earthquake, so as I have for nearly ten years ended my daily meanderings with please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

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

Can we say true heroism and humility are spelled the same?

Bird Droppings January 18, 2022
Can we say true heroism and humility are spelled the same?

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe

Even though I am one of the worst spellers in this local area, I know heroism and humility are technically spelled differently. I will concede to using words to develop a perhaps catchy title for my daily morning wanderings. I sat and listened to our past President after the shooting of Congresswoman Gilford nearly ten years ago. He spoke to a group in Arizona at a memorial service for those killed in the shooting in Tuscan. I will admit his words moved me as I think most people in this nation were. It is another special person who was at the scene as it happened words I will start today with.

“Though I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the title of hero because I am not one of them,” “We must reject the title of hero and reserve it for those who deserve it.” Daniel Hernandez, twenty-year-old intern of Congresswomen Gilford, credited with saving her life by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and by President Barrack Obama

As he was interviewed, Daniel went on to say the real heroes were the First responders’ and doctors and nurses that cared for the injured and prevented any additional loss of life. As I ponder this morning, a young man jumping into the fray as he heard gunshots, as do many servicemen and women, and saying he is not the hero is a humbling moment for me.

I recall my father and stories of World War II and the battle of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific. For you non-history buffs, the US military brass had come up with a plan to island-hop through the South Pacific to Japan as a means to end the war. Knowing we would lose many men, this idea was formulated as the Japanese were well fortified and dug in. The battle on Iwo Jima was a blood bath. US Marines were dropping as they left the landing craft or pontoon bridges from the LSM’s. My father was a medic on an LSM. This was a boat with a drop open front to allow landing craft and tanks to roll out into shallow water or onto pontoon bridges along with the Marines who were on board as well. As my father tells the story, a young Marine nineteen at the time had fallen between two pontoons. These structures are large enough to support a tank and chained together to make bridges from sea craft to shore.

My father heard the young man’s call for help and jumped from his ship to the pontoons. As he looked over the scene, it was not good that the young man’s leg had been tangled in the pontoons’ chains. His right leg was in shambles and nearly sheared off from the chain’s movement with the waves. My father had to move quickly. Tanks and waves were shoving the pontoons together as they moved. Dad jumped down between the pontoons explained he would need to amputate the young Marines leg to get him to safety. He offered a swig of whiskey that he carried in a flask for such ordeals in his back pocket. The young Marine said he did not drink. Using his Navy survival knife, he poured some of the whiskey on the knife and proceeded to take off the Marine’s leg.

As the pontoons came together, dad threw the young man up onto the nearest pontoon, climbed up and cauterized, and sutured his wound. Add to this machine-gun fire and mortar rounds all around as well. Dad then lifted the young man and carried him down the beachfront to the hospital outgoing landing craft.

Across my father’s Navy shirt was embroidered his nickname on board the LSM, DOC. The Navy and Marine corpsmen saw him, heard him barking medical orders about the injury, and assumed he was an officer. The young man was given priority and made it to the hospital ship and did survive. Sounds simple, yet during the several hundred-yard walk down the beach, the dug-in Marines were yelling at my father to get down, and bullets were whistling all around him. As he told the story, a guardian angel was watching over him is all he could recall. He said he was in a daze as he carried the young Marine; it was what he had to do to save his life. Another few minutes were wasted, and he would have died on the beach.

It was days later when questioned about the incident by his commander, he was offered a heroism medal from the Navy, but being a young college man himself, he asked if he could get a raise instead of a medal. It was not until many years later, when he was going for health care to the VA hospital, he put in for a purple heart to get a better-handicapped parking space. He was in his eighties at the time.

Heroism and humility are spelled differently, but there is a fine line connecting the two. It has not been that long ago that the first Medal of Honor was given to a living soldier in many years. We seem to have far too few heroes in today’s world. I look to a shooting in Arizona and see several. There was a nine-year-old girl who believed in her country and in her congresswomen enough to be there to see her. A congresswoman chose to meet with her constituents one on one in public. While he claims he is not the hero, a young man did not hesitate when the shots rang out and did what he could. I also saw our past President, whose gray hair was more noticeable now standing before the families of those lost and grieving, talking about healing. We have a nation of heroes; it seems we so chose to look about as I think back to that day and another comment by Daniel Hernandez.

“On Saturday, we all became Arizonans, and above all, we all became Americans,” Daniel Hernandez

It isn’t easy on some days to try and sort and reflect. Yet, in our reflections, we can find solutions in government, family, friends, or education that I tend to tie in loosely each day I write. Today let us all reflect on our heroes and keep all of those in harm’s way on our minds and hearts and always give thanks namaste.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.” Thomas Merton

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

I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk

Bird Droppings January 17, 2022

I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk

It isn’t significant for many as I look at that statement; a red-tailed hawk crossed my path as I traveled nearly ten years ago, flying across the road and landing in a tree. Behind our house, a pair of hawks has hunted the fields and hedge rows since we moved in. For some, there is significance as each sighting of a specific animal has meaning to them. I have had an affinity for red-tailed hawks for many years. By my desk at school and home are tail feathers framed and even my daily meanderings; Bird Droppings is based on the idea that not all bird droppings are nasty, a red-tailed hawk feather as an example.

It has been nearly sixteen summers since I had the privilege to teach in our summer school program. We changed to a two-day class time and did worksheets, sort of intercession, and the fun is gone. It was a lot of fun back in the day as we surveyed flora and fauna of the campus. On day one of class, I asked how many plants were on the campus, meaning different kinds of plants, and the answers ranged from ten to fifty.

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” Maimonides

That statement has significance in education and politics today. As the summer school session went by, we pressed and labeled over 100 different plants, trees and shrubs all directly on the school campus and still had many more to go. So, where is the significance to a red-tailed hawk? It is only one of several species of raptors in Georgia. It is not uncommon to be seen sitting along the roadside quite often waiting on prey in cleared areas, easements and fields. However, it has been nearly a month since I have seen one, which is significant because I look for them. Much like my students, they really did not know how many plants were so close at hand until they looked.

I am also always amazed when we are looking too hard we miss what is in front of us. Yesterday I was not directly looking for a hawk, and it appeared. A single second or two later, and I would have missed it. Life is much like this as well. I have spent many hours looking for something simple and only have it be where I looked, to begin with, and did not see it.

I usually do not save an editorial page today, and I found one from many, many years ago that I had filed away. I happened to glance through the pages from the AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and several editorials on one page caught my attention. One opinion was about the sin tax proposed by the governor on cigarettes and alcohol. Now legislators are looking for other ways to cut budget and not do good things like green space purchased by state, layoff in the university system, and cuts TANF. It was finding 400 million dollars of other ways to cut rather than tax cigarettes; it is interesting how we think.

Across the page, a short article on underage drinking and how teenagers consume 25% of alcohol and interestingly alcohol tax and cigarette tax were both indirectly conceived to cut down teen consumption. It has been a few years since the state flag issue, and it got an eighth of a page and several letters to the editor, including a letter from a man in Griffin, Georgia, quoting Gandhi.

“Any country would prefer its own despot over a foreign controlled system no matter how benevolent that government might be” Mahatma Gandhi

This letter was about our taking over Iraq, and the Gandhi quote was about Britain’s takeover of India so many years ago. Now I recall why I saved these pages nearly eight years ago. There was also an interesting letter concerning France. “France might be the voice of reason.” Another headline read to the effect, “US States IRAQ compliance, not the issue we will go to war it is only a matter of when.” I am rambling, looking for red-tailed hawks and reading twelve-year-old AJC editorials all in one sitting and still only three quotes for today.

I am concerned are rational as we wake each morning and go about our days. We have been watching a war unfold and now refold, which is really for most of us simply on the news, although numerous deaths have been hitting home daily. Still, even though many of us know friends and family involved, it is over there. Several days ago, I looked for a red-tailed hawk and was frustrated because no matter how hard I looked, I could not find one. My son would see one and state dad a hawk, and I would miss it. The hawks were there, but I did not see it for some reason; I did not turn quick enough, or maybe it flew by and was gone. It was not until I stopped forcing the issue did the hawk appear. We can set lofty goals and seek to fulfill them, but so many times in our straining miss the accomplishments along the way.

Going back to that old newspaper, Rose Kennedy’s quote spoke of the moments versus the milestones. I used a former professor at Eastern College, Dr. Tony Campolo “CARPE DIEM,” several days back. It is the title to one of his books and is Latin for seize the day. I was skeptical about using a quote with a religious twinge, but C. S. Lewis is not a typical theologian so I may borrow a quote from Mr. Lewis.

“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” C.S. Lewis

It is about the moment to seize the day, put aside the milestones and seize the moment as I reread Lewis’s quote each time a different view or understanding. Perhaps as I was looking for a hawk, I missed the point until I stopped looking and, in his words find the answer. Each day is a chance again to start anew, fresh as if we can begin again and ponder, think or seize the day, again and again. So for today, CARPE DIEM, and as always, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and please always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Passion: Can it be rekindled?

Bird Droppings January 16, 2022
Passion: Can it be rekindled?

Stirring up Foxfire: Rekindling Personal Passion for Teaching through Storytelling is the title for my paper. It has been an interesting weekend pondering my dissertation and the impacts I am finding, granted I am perhaps stretching the idea a bit. Friday, I found a passage by chance over two hundred years old from an African Bushmen.

“Thou knowest that I sit waiting for the moon to turn black, that  I may listen to all the people’s stories… For I am here in a great city. I do not obtain stories; I do simply listen, watching for a story which I want to hear, that it may float into my ear. I will go to my house that I may listen, turn my ears backwards to the heels of my feet on which I wait so that I can feel that a story is in the wind.”

These are the words of a convicted Bushmen serving time nearly two hundred years ago at the Cape of Good Hope, a penal colony for South Africa. The passage is from Laurens van der Post’s, A Story Like The Wind. Laurens von der Post wrote about Bushmen from a unique perspective. His nanny on the edge of the Kalahari desert was a Bushmen woman. He explains as he notes that the imprisoned Bushmen’s words are some of the most profound he has encountered in the world’s literature. “The living spirit needs the story for its survival and renewal.” As I read further in his book, he compares colonization of the Bushmen and Africans to stripping away the stories and imagination and imposing a rigid fixed belief structure that is foreign. There are similarities to today’s stripping away of creativity and imagination from small children entering school.

Many days I wonder who I write for in the mornings. Perhaps no one, maybe a teacher who needs just a thought, a stir or spark, but occasionally I write for me. I needed an uplift, that adrenaline shot, so to say. I recalled three years ago; I started at a new school with a different demographic than I had been used to. Apathy has gone rampant over the years I have been teaching and is now in epidemic proportion among high school kids in learning. So I am writing for anyone who wants to read today.

“To speak, so listeners long to hear more and to listen, so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646

When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural, I thought of the Einstein quote I have used for nearly twenty years. I first used this quote to present my Capstone in my Master’s degree program at Piedmont College about twenty years ago. For me, real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from Tirukkural, always considering it to be simply Hindu literature; by chance, I looked it up further, and over 2000 years old, its original religious significance is questioned by scholars, yet both the writer and the writer and words are considered holy. For several years, I had ended my emails with this thought by Albert Einstein from his commencement address at Swarthmore College 1938. Just the other day, I mentioned to a future teacher friend Einstein was equally a philosopher and scientist, and most never will take the time to see that side of him.

“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

Going back to Tirrukkural, while in translation, the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a precise number of words per line, and per couplet, to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not; paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Many teachers would say Candy always works, but M&M’s, extrinsic bribery aside, what we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words is what matters.

“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school, many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried

Perhaps not all; how about many lose their drive and passion for learning. I had a “student” whose discipline records went back to preschool, and his referrals were numerous until he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten. (Think about that psycho-ed at four or five) I am still trying to figure out how you get in that much trouble in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious; we train that out of them as teachers along the way. We work towards nice straight lines and always quiet and yes mame or no sir, and no sir and straight lines and red flowers when drawing only. I often recall that Harry Chapin song as I work with children of any age and see creativity lost at times on uniformity. (Flowers are Red)

Not that long ago, we made cookie dough from scratch; even in my youth, which was a lifetime ago, you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes and take it out and make giant cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Nowadays, you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, and we like uniformity.

“That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn

When I started graduate school with my Master’s degree at Piedmont College, all the students wanted to be in class as I did. If a student does not want to be in school, we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. When I asked what would make him want to be in school, I had a student say, “pay me to come; you get paid to be here,” and it made me think. Recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after-school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if the program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub, looked at the numbers, and showed my student my paycheck with a smile. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have an electronic deposit, and my paycheck has zero listed on the amount line. But I got mileage out of that. I said I enjoyed being here. I explained, and I I do, he knew that, but the zero paycheck hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?

“Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn

I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available online at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years, in numerous articles on teaching Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed students, the sterile classroom has been the norm, with no distractions. In a trial and error sort of way, I found the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and looks from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this curiosity occurs, learning can quickly happen.

Of course, you will still have that child who started in pre-K; I remember the day a few years back when I asked him why do you not want to learn to read. This tenth-grade student is a behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters, and we were working on writing letters for a school project, and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented, “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad” a side note spell check works great if you can read; when you can’t, it does not always help. He still was obnoxious, but slowly the idea some teachers do care about him and want to help him is sinking in.

As I think back to Robert Fried’s title for the book, The Passionate Teacher, that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why we teach. Is it purely for M&M’s, are we being bribed, or is an intrinsic rationale underneath the passion? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart Namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)