Engaging curriculum through Story Telling

Birddroppings March 31, 2022

Engaging curriculum through Story Telling

I am sitting at my computer, getting my thoughts together, writing about how to reach students, and thinking about being a student with a dissertation defense ahead. So today, a piece of my thoughts as I sit reviewing notes and setting up various programs to engage students through media and telecommunications. Engaging students is crucial, and I will grant spending the past year or so physically struggling with heart concerns; I enjoy not being interrupted as I spin a yarn on live feeds. Those not engaged can turn off, but those listening and watching can hear the entire story.

Engaging students in their curriculum can be a challenge. Great educators have searched for the holy grail of learning and engagement for many years. Teachers’ and students’ needs often run counter to each other in a learning environment (Glasser, 1998). Engagement of students can be as simple as getting students’ attention to a unique thought and or finding something of interest to students. Educator and teacher Andrea Turner uses the technology of Podcasts to spread her ideas on education. I happened upon one while sitting in the doctor’s office looking up storytelling on the Internet. She started her Podcast, The Power of Storytelling in Teaching, with these words, “Tell me a fact I will learn. Tell me a truth I will believe. Tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever. This idea of a story taking residence in permanent memory is attributed to a Native American Proverb in multiple sources of research (M.T. Garret, 1996).

Walking into a classroom, the teacher is partly a distributor of information and partly a catalyst for the learning to come and a particular part, an entertainer. Over my years of teaching, I have found significant power in the story as a teaching tool. Storytelling provides a window into strengthening learning and subsequent retention of that learning (Egan, 1986). Over the years, as I taught students in college, high school, and even one of my favorite groups to work with, four-year-old children in early childhood development classes, storytelling has always met with success. As I develop this paper, my goal is to share the idea of storytelling to engage students in the curriculum and help teachers tell stories that can assist in giving context to the content. This idea is not a cure-all, as many packaged educational tools claim, but a tool in a teacher’s toolbox that is very powerful when used appropriately and with other lines of learning (Egan, 2008). During telling a story, we can often begin with a classic line that evokes familiarity and helps children learn better using imagination over the more traditional, linear lessons (Egan, 1986; Egan, 2008).

Once upon a time, in a land far away, approximately 739 ½ miles north of Georgia Southern University, a baby was born on a cold All Saints day 70 years ago. The baby’s father was on the Albright College football team playing as the baby was born. Of course, as in all good stories, they won their game, and the dad received the game ball; after all, he was a new father. That must have been a fantastic first Father’s Day. In those days, fathers were not allowed in the hospital room with the mother and baby, so he watched from the door. Somewhere in my files, I have that photo of my dad standing at the door of that hospital room; I still have that game ball.

Thirteen years ago, I started in a cohort at Georgia Southern to begin my doctoral journey. My thoughts for a dissertation have been in an evolutionary state ever since, growing, developing, and becoming a daily learning experience. My wife tells me I am procrastinating, and I add I am along for the journey, and the story keeps getting better. Obstacles have been placed in my way one after another. Some of my own making and others came into being. However, I would not change any of it as each is a piece of this story. My original focus in my dissertation work was around a teaching program started in Rabun County, Georgia, in 1966, Foxfire (Smith, 2018). There will be references and implications as I progress with this tale, as the Foxfire Core Practices have had and are a direct influence on my story and my teaching (Smith, 2018).

In a more recent graduate class, it was suggested that I use the idea of teaching as improvisational art (He, Review of paper, 2017). During that class, to get back up to speed, after a seven-year hiatus and a couple of grandbabies, I had the privilege to work with Dr. He and Dr. Schubert, who encouraged me to consider this idea. As I looked at the rationale for my dissertation, I realized my teaching is often improvisational (He, Schultz, & Schubert, 2015), taking a student’s interest and or question and building into our lesson that teachable moment. I found myself building a story with the student and the class. I have often said I would generally write lesson plans after the fact. However, next time I teach that topic in my plans, I include that event and reflections. My teaching often becomes a tapestry of stories woven into the lesson and with the students in the class. Each class brings new and unique pieces to the weaving of the tapestry. It pulls ideas and flows through the class using the student’s interactions and interests to build on.

I have had the goal of eventually teaching new teachers to be in a college setting to inspire and energize young teachers of the future. Education students should be encouraged to look towards the ideas of imagination and storytelling to provide their students with the engagement of the curriculum. As I thought one morning about the idea of an education class, the teaching of storytelling would be excellent. So often, new teachers come in excited and then become overwhelmed by paperwork and the administrators putting a teacher into a specific box and categorizing, which seems always to occur. Building and telling a story is not simply walking in and teaching whatever content is provided to teach in an improvisational manner. It is preparing and knowing the subject and or content and being able to follow the flow of the individuals within that class and add to the story (cite?). I have nearly fifty years of teaching stories to borrow from, along with events and learning experiences that have made me the teacher I am (Schubert, 1999).

We live in a reality that is nonfiction while we live it. We choose what it is to be, and then the story becomes fiction after the fact. I have found that I tend to embellish my nonfiction as the months and years go by. So many things come into play to effectively implement Story Telling, such as imagination and creativity, as spelled out by so many great educators (cite). We are pulling pieces of our experiences together and forming our reality (Schubert, 1999). During the processing, we are essentially living a fictional story. In discussion with my son, also a teacher, he left me with this thought:

“From a historical standpoint, you do something significant worth being told and retold from one generation to the next. From a biological standpoint, genes are immortal and are passed from one generation to the next. Your DNA tells a story.” (F. Bird, 2018)

As I thought more about the discussion with my son, his words highlighted an essential piece of the puzzle in learning because if students find significance in what is being expressed to them, they will learn and engage. Good teachers can also learn how to develop relationships with students to know if the material is significant as a tool. For example, in a recent zoology project, foam swim floats cut into six-inch pieces became models of sponges in his class (Bird, 2018), which provided a great learning experience where content became context (Dewey, 2004).  So as I sit here in semi-isolation, my wife when home from her medical practice, and my oldest son comes by to attend to various creatures and his dog. I wish peace to all, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and today keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Why should life be a difficult journey?

Bird Droppings March 30, 2022
Why should life be a difficult journey?

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Henry Van Dyke

About four years ago, I visited with my mother, and I walked by my father’s and brother’s gravesites or stood by them. I recalled the day I was called from work almost nineteen years ago; my brother had passed away during the night. I looked about the hillside where he was buried, and now my father is buried there. The farm had been home to many families over the years. Most recently, a family of share croppers tilled the land planting cotton for nearly sixty years and ran a dairy farm for a local land baron and financier. He has passed away and left his name on a local church gym and road signs around the county.

As I looked out at now soccer fields and houses where not too many years ago boll weevils were poisoned and mules driven along furrows plowing terraces to keep what remaining topsoil in place, I saw a crow land in an old cedar tree. I walked over and watched the crow for a few minutes and recalled that when you see cedar trees six or so in a row, there was once an old fence line traditionally in Georgia. I knew this particular row well, for I had taken the old rusty fence many years ago that ran along through them.

I wanted to sit a moment at my brother’s gravesite as I thought back several years to a similar time when I was waiting for my father to come home from the hospital sitting in this exact spot. I was sitting, and I wondered at all that had happened in the eighteen years since. What journeys had I been on? As I thought, I glanced over at several burial markers from before the civil war from a family that had lived on this land so many years ago. Little granite houses fashioned from slabs of rock into body-sized houses. There are four that can still be seen through the thicket of old honeysuckle vines and sumac stalks.

I was thinking back to the days when my children, nieces, and nephews made the mosaics tiles to lay on my brother’s grave. There is one for each of my mother’s grandchildren. Each is a piece fashioning their ideas into a mosaic of individual tiles and pieces of glass. There were several music notes on one, an ibis on another, flowers on several, an art design with a heart and arrows coming from it on another. I thought it would be great to have a guidebook explaining each color and tile piece to know why and where, and who placed each one.

On a different thought, I received an email from a dear friend in Pennsylvania many days back responding to a dropping from a few days ago. She added a thought, “The past cannot be changed, but the future is whatever you want it to be.” She was not sure where it came from. I searched this morning and came up with an unknown author. But as I looked and wondered about our mosaics in life, my own in particular, what road was I on, where was I going. Would one day I look back and see the tiles in place in my own life and try to recall why and where and how a most challenging journey has been.

I recall days I would have wished on no one and am sorry I lived, but I wonder. I went out earlier and watched the moon faint behind a bank of clouds slowly moving across the morning darkness. It was so quiet, nearly silent, as I walked around this morning with only a car in the distance to mark civilizations’ intrusion on my peace.

“We are what we think. All that we are arises from our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.” Buddha

I wonder about this as I look back on my heart surgery. The last few moments were spent joking with nurses and the doctor before the sedative took effect while I was having surgery. What if we wander from our thoughts drift astray for a moment or two? Does our world change manipulate by where we are at the time?

“Things do not change; we change.” Henry David Thoreau

It has been a week of seeking answers to questions within absolutes that are obsolete, wondering if, and trying to find which pathway is easier to tread. I am changing my life to live, and I will be watching what I eat rather than simply eating anything in sight. Additionally, I need to lose weight and start a regular exercise program. Most significant to me is returning to my morning meditation and interaction with all that is.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Throughout my life, I have made choices in despair many times rather than from exhilaration and, on some occasions, made a mistake. As I sat wondering reading Twain’s words, it caught me so often that complacency ties us in, cast off the bowlines, explore dreams, and discover, as Twain so eloquently stated. I have always been a searcher traveling through this life, exploring the myriads of trails and pathways. I am always looking, always exploring, wondering, talking, asking questions, and seeking answers to questions without any answers, wearing out shoes as I travel. Many are the times, I would walk barefoot rather than stop.

I recall a brief journey where I had to take off my shoes and, in doing so, learned several lessons. You cannot break in new boots on a weeklong hike. Number two is that moleskin is a beautiful invention, and third, it will protect your feet. Your feet can be the difference between another journey and sitting down waiting. I have wandered today trying to resolve for myself issues that may never be resolved, ideas that will perpetuate my soul for some time. I have, yet as Mark Twain stated, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do.” So as you go, take another step, search down another pathway, find a new trail in life, but do not try and break in new boots as you go. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and heart and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen more

Bird Droppings March 29, 2022
My pedagogy is evolving as I learn, see and listen more

“We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

Sitting at home reading several essays by Carl Rogers made for an exciting start to my morning just after picking up stuffed animals and fun stuff from a couple of days with grandkids. In our world of No Child Left Behind and whatever other acronym the federal government and state education departments throw out, teaching Special Education for me, I see the ones that tend to get left behind. As I read this thought from Rodgers, I enjoyed the thought of no tests and no grades. Over the years, in one graduate class after another, the idea of a portfolio following the student through their school career has always intrigued me. I have done much in my resource room while in that resource setting.

I thought this morning would not be some portfolio or culminating or an ongoing project that indicates mastery or development of learning better than a multiple-choice test done with a number two pencil on a scantron answer sheet. Of course, we might have a few explosions in chemistry if learners were not listening along the way. In my understanding of the Dewey-based Foxfire program, Core Practice eight developed into the Foxfire magazine for Elliot Wiggington’s students at Rabun Nantahochee School in 1966. I find it fascinating how often great teachers follow parallel routes, albeit with different wording, yet seem to find the same ideas. Going back to John Dewey and his premise that experience is the best teacher.

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

“Learning doesn’t stop at 3:15. You can help the teacher do a better job by encouraging your child to show you something he’s working on at school, suggests Ron Martucci, who teaches fourth grade in Pelham, New York. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: ‘Ask him to demonstrate how he does long division or read his book report aloud,’ says Martucci. ‘Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he knows, it builds confidence.’” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Publications

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Pulling together my first thoughts this morning as I unravel the essential Bird Pedagogy, previous or past experiences of the learners is a crucial starting point, as I discussed yesterday to a degree. Building on that as the learner progresses, trying to find ways to show how the learner is developing rather than static limited tests and grades. I like the idea of Rogers about how grades and tests are endpoints and should be simply points along the line, rephrasing a bit as I go. Education is more of a continuum than a finished product. Sadly, so many want to have education be a period. Even as I accumulate degrees, I am constantly learning, not focusing on that end point but on where I go from there.

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey

“The potential choice of a man at any time, therefore, represents all the final choices of his past life. Each link in the chain of violations, from the present back to his first exercise of choice, has involved these elements.” Dr. James Mark Baldwin, Professor University of Toronto, Handbook of Psychology, 1894

I am sitting in my writing nook at home this morning on a quiet day, visitors have headed home, and I can my time pondering with spring break ahead. As I think ahead of this week of driving back up to visit Foxfire, I hope to see some spring in the mountains. I started thinking about what I was going to write today to continue my previous efforts. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two intertwined streams of thought: experiential, constructivist thinking, and/or art and aesthetic-based learning. I answered or should say started to answer yesterday using Aldus Huxley, who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.

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

As I read this simple line by Huxley, I could not help but go back to my readings on John Dewey and his direct influence on educators and education past, present, and future. Dewey saw education as the basis for society.

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth and is continuing shaping the individuals powers saturating his consciousness forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions.” John Dewey Pedagogic Creed

In my classroom, I try and tie to contextual aspects of where we are in the content-oriented material that students are being taught. An example would be the word taxonomy that came up the last semester in our biology class. Most students had no clue what this word meant, and by some prompting, we compared sheep and goats; one of the student’s families raises goats, and we learned about taxonomy. We could show differences and similarities, which is how we classify living organisms or do taxonomy in terms of biology. One of my favorite examples of context and content is going back many years to listening to my father explain tying a square knot; you learn best when you do it rather than hear it explained.

As I explore my pedagogy, I am drawn back to my earliest college and work in psychology. Dr. Abram Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs that I have used many times over the years, showing an idea of how people relate and understand in this world of ours. Maslow started with five needs and added some additional clarification over the years.

“Maslow’s five needs:
Physiological needs are to do with the maintenance of the human body. If we are unwell, then little else matters until we recover. Safety needs are about putting a roof over our heads and keeping us from harm. If we are rich, strong and powerful, or have good friends, we can make ourselves safe. Belonging needs introduce our tribal nature. If we are helpful and kind to others they will want us as friends. Esteem needs are for a higher position within a group. If people respect us, we have greater power. Self-actualization needs are to ‘become what we are capable of becoming,’ which would be our most outstanding achievement. Maslow added over the years three more needs. These are the needs that are most commonly discussed and used. In fact, Maslow later added three more needs by splitting two of the above five needs. Between esteem and self-actualization, two needs were added. Need to know and understand, which explains the cognitive need of the academic. Also added was the need for aesthetic beauty, which is the emotional need of the artist. Self-actualization was divided into self-actualization, which is realizing one’s own potential, as above, and transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential.” Maslow and Lowery, 1998

As I move towards a defining point in my essential Bird Pedagogy, bits and pieces of Rogers and Dewey, and Foxfire are intertwined with Maslow’s ideas. We need and seek socialization, and we are social animals. We seek recognition and want to be secure in our lives. Maslow adds cognitive, which Rogers uses, and aesthetic, which Rogers alludes to, and Dewey and Elliot Eisner build on this. Each day as I sit pondering, reflecting on my pedagogy, my ideas seem to flow a little more freely. I believe pedagogy is an individual entity and has fluidity to it. There is no endpoint or limit, or there should not be since we need to be ongoing learners and thinkers. Perhaps I will, as the week progresses, resolve my ideas and be a bit more definitive in my pedagogy, but for today, 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)


Is it passion or just obsession?

Bird Droppings March 28, 2022
Is it passion or just obsession?

“All games have an important and probably decisive influence on the destinies of the players under ordinary social conditions, but some offer more opportunities than others for lifelong careers and are more likely to involve innocent bystanders.” Dr. Eric Berne, The games people play

This past week while emotionally difficult, I had many moments of solitude, sitting and pondering. I had a thought. Why are we passionate about our jobs, friends, families, and perhaps life? I started thinking, and yes, perhaps I think and even obsess too much. I use the word ponder as I call it, often over trivial thoughts for some meaningless dribble, little shadows that many never see. Can we be passionate about something any other way?

Fourteen nearly fifteen years ago today, I filled in a form for a young man who was very obsessive in so much of his life. He was and still is obsessive to the point of distraction from reality many times. If you mentioned Jeff Gordon’s number or name and his eyes would light up, and immediately, in a torrent of language almost as fast as most people can understand, there would be statistics, information on this NASCAR race or that and this sponsor or that and soon you would wish you never mentioned Jeff Gordon. I bumped into his mother a few days ago at her job.

With Obsessive-compulsive individuals changing the subject often will solve the immediate symptoms. I used Jeff Gordon to pull him back from another subject or thought that he would have been obsessing on that was less reality-focused while in my class fifteen plus years ago. Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, OCD, can manifest in many different ways, often crippling a person with routines and rituals that have to be fulfilled. As I sit here, I see the passion in that obsession. Perhaps there is an obsession with passion.

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. 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.” Chief Seattle, recorded by Dr. Henry Smith, 1854

So often in life, we do or say things that seemingly are independent thoughts, random utterances that mean only a bit to us as we pass at that moment. Yet the ripples, the effects, and the flow of direction from that utterance can carry and evolve far beyond that moment and place. As in a game where one person manipulates a piece, and often the other parties involved are unaware of strategy and plan, nothing is soon left. I think back to that obsession and what may be said in meaningless thought or pursuing a thought or idea driven by some physiological mechanism we do not control. Is passion mistaken for that an errant whisper and dream? Could passion be an obsession with a simple concept mistaken as a true passion for that concept?

“Passion and prejudice govern the world, only under the name of reason.” John Wesley

“Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Let men tremble to win woman’s hand unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their miserable fortune, when some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her as the warm reality.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

It was perhaps John Wesley’s obsession that led to his passion. Wesley was one of the founders of the United Methodist Church. Wesley was an Anglican Priest who was methodical in his thinking, often having communion 30 times in one day. He would often be on his knees in prayer for hours on end or composing hymns and music as his brother Charles did. The web of life has so many strands woven in and about. Was John Wesley a man obsessed, or was he passionate about his calling?

Hawthorne sees a different picture of man, one of seeming change of personality, differences, and varying capabilities. Emerson’s ideas I often find in my thinking as I do, and in his ideas, there is a close kinship between obsession and passion. Passion is a powerful spring, but it is so challenging to regulate.

“Without passion, man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark.” Amiel, Journal, December 17, 1856

“Passion is universal humanity. Without it, religion, history, romance, and art would be useless.” Honoré de Balzac

“Every civilization is, among other things, an arrangement for domesticating the passions and setting them to do useful work.” Aldous Huxley

I look at how we see the passion and, conversely, obsession and wonder if often the two are not synonymous, bearing attributes of each other and offering similarities within the differences. It is easier to offer you are passionate about your job than obsessed with it when discussing it with others. It is far easier to accept a passionate person than an obsessive one. Religion needed obsession to succeed as I look at Wesley and so many of the Saints, yet passion for their beliefs is a more robust and believable offering. Within the world of art, I see Vincent Van Gogh, who would have never painted with the feverish pitch and effort that he did and his paintings today would not be selling for tens of millions of dollars without his obsession. Yet to many in his time, he was crazy, and his painting barely kept him alive. Some will see passion as he sent his ear to a girl he loved, while the poor girl saw obsession.

Can we turn that obsession into valuable and meaningful work? Often in the game of life, as I started this morning, passion is turned not against the passionate but for the person holding the winning hand.

“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.” Elbert Hubbard

I have known many who even take medication for OCD, and some of us can tell when and how much they took based on their interactions. I wonder how we deal with passion. Do we manipulate and propagate as needed, medicate when not needed, or push under the rug when the deed is completed and the game is won? Passion is a challenging course in life to ponder. Do we possess it, or is it simply obsession. Please keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind, and be sure always to give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


A morning meandering while the moon is glowing

Bird Droppings March 27, 2022
A morning meandering while the moon is glowing

Almost eight years ago, after tutoring in an after-school program with a student who needs constant repetition of material to remember, I read through several old emails from my doctorate and graduate cohort friends as some are defending their dissertations in the coming weeks. Another set of emails was based on an article on teaching memory reviewed by several teachers who had several comments on how these particular readings provided insight into the successful educational adaptation of this program. I found I had enjoyed the readings, and it made me recall a teaching principle I learned from my father, who used it in the steel industry many years ago. I was taught this concept in a Red Cross course for instructors in 1968. It is called the FIDO principle, hence Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again. If you repeat something, often enough, it will sink in. In today’s educational system of teaching to the test, we might be using FIDO a bit too much.

“I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race and use his own powers for social ends. I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, The School Journal, Vol. LIV, No.

I look at John Dewey’s ideas from nearly a hundred years ago, and how we still call those ideas progressive education, it amazes me. Many are only a few years old with all of the educational materials out now, and they are still called traditional when compared to Dewey. One of our topics was looking at performance versus social support. I am, of course, leaning in the social support direction as this is an integral part of my day when I am teaching, even with general education students. This is how I see kids and deal with kids. I go back to my idea in one of the postings I read earlier today of getting away from a pendulum swing and going in the direction of a pulse, no swing either way but a steady beat or energy.

We should try and steer away from that concept of right or left swing and go towards what is best for the kid, not always for society. I have worked with many kids from a specific low-income housing area nearby. Many are very bright, and all are very poor. As I call it, the sixteen-hour syndrome is alive and well in that area. As I go by often several times a day between my mother’s house and my own, I see kids I have had and often new ones but always similarities. As I look back at the last twelve years of teaching EBD students, I have had more kids from that one spot in the county than any other specific spot. Sadly in actuality, many are marrying within that small community. More kids are being born coming from that environment. Many are on the fringe of society. Many of the kids are anarchists, punkers, suffering from divergent behaviors, drug addicts, alcoholics, and few have jobs. As I drove by thinking of past kids from this enclave, I wondered why. Several are serving a seriously hard time; some have escaped and moved away, many will be going to our newest high school down the road next year. I wonder if anyone in that community was approached about their participation in the greater good.

Interesting as I am having difficulty getting started this morning, wandering off a bit as if I had just driven by that community. I am always trying to stay up with my youngest son; I recall a day he decided to do a Godzilla marathon of the old Godzilla movies, and I did not make it through the first one. THE VIDEO WAS STILL ON when I got up the following day, and he crashed somewhere after five this morning watching the twenty-eighth movie featuring the man in a monster suit. He just found the latest installment, which features every major other monster and a walk-on by the computer-generated Godzilla. I often wonder if Godzilla has a hidden meaning, the mighty beast who always eventually has a weakness. Sort of the David and Goliath of nature and humanity, and my youngest, of course, came to the rescue, offering that the original concept of the monster was an antinuclear effort.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Van der Post

I have been intrigued by this man I had not heard of before finding a quote several years ago for many years. Yet, he has literally written hundreds of books and articles on Africa and other countries. He was raised by an African Bushman woman and taught their ways and his philosophy of life. His writings are permeated with nature and the thoughts and aspirations of these primitive people. Van der Post was knighted by the Queen many years ago and actually is the Godfather to Prince William, and he is the only non-royal to have ever been given that honor.

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennett

“What is to give light must endure the burning.” Victor E, Frankl

As I sit this morning so often, conversations and happenings of yesterday drive the thoughts that inspire me as I write. Yesterday I talked with some friends about where they had been and where they were going; adversity is a good word as we spoke. It is about looking the lion in the mouth and walking away knowing you have survived. Only a few days ago, I was talking with a former student. She was a graduate of a respected associate’s program and was floored at one point by her rejection at a four-year school. She had gone to the two-year program on a full athletic scholarship and suffered grade-wise to play on a nationally ranked junior college team. As the graduation time came close, she had to quit softball and lost her scholarship to raise her grades and put more time into studying. She had conquered her adversary and now was trying to move on. After graduating with a four-year degree in business, she was still working as a waitress, but just a few days before our talking had been interviewed and got a job she had been dreaming about.

“Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” Maori Proverb, the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.

“Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.” Laurens Van der Post

“The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depends on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny.” Colin Powell

Overcoming adversity begins with action, a step forward, realizing shadows are cast by light with knowing that growth comes from effort. It is difficult to cross a stream if you never take the first step. In borrowing from the Zen teachings, “You can never cross a stream the same way twice.” I was sitting here remembering old stories and thoughts in the past. We would hike up a stream in north Georgia, the Toccoa Creek, and in that hike, transverse about 500 feet uphill over rocks and boulders and such climbing up the creek. In the process, water is continually flowing against you, and depending on the rainfall, it could be a good bit. Cracks and crevices abound, and more than several times, you swim in rock channels ten feet deep and eighteen inches wide, all uphill, but at the top is a waterfall.

“The view at the top is always worth the climb,” Sir Edmond Hillary

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)


Caring is a very precious commodity in life and some thoughts from Maxine Greene

Bird Droppings March 25, 2022

Caring is a very precious commodity in life

And some thoughts from Maxine Greene

As I am pondering, sitting at my computer working on my dissertation, I can hear the sounds of the neighborhood outside my window. I just finished reading an article dealing with charter schools and how they exclude many students. The air temperature is chilly outside. We are under a small blanket of clouds, much like education is shrouded in this mist of uncertainty, even more so with a new Secretary ahead. We have climbed over the mountain in Georgia regarding budget cuts and possible increases in education spending. I spoke with one of the administrators today about possible retirement; I am a bit disconcerted by discussions and newspaper articles recently across the nation regarding teachers. I love teaching and will likely try and get back into working with teachers in public schools and teaching some college. I have thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit with grandbabies; it has been fantastic.

As I read comments from teachers and administrators who have Facebook accounts, I have found differing degrees of involvement in this teaching profession. On the one hand, I find this medium a valuable tool, while some use it solely with a few friends. Younger teachers have many college peers and work-related friends; some teachers have former students, some have student’s teacher’s administrators and professors, and numerous others. Reading statuses and updates coming from my psychology background, I see many teachers who are concerned and caring people. After being back in teaching for over twenty years, I find caring is a precious commodity in life and teaching teachers to care is complicated.

“Teaching is to move people to choose differently.” Dr.  Maxine Greene, educator, author, and caring person

Working in what was once a rural county now not much more than an extension of Atlanta, many still adhere to the old ways, politically, religiously, culturally, socially, and even educationally. I can write my name, and that is enough. We experienced an assassination attempt on a sitting Congress Women in Arizona only a few years back. There was a mass shooting in a school in New England, and rhetoric focused on everything but the shooting of school children. It was not that long ago we had a stand-off in Oregon that had people on both sides fanning the flames. However, it was not that many years ago in this county people would be lynched, moonshine was the primary industry, and killing someone and losing a body was part of doing business.

Early in the week in my writings, I issued a line or two about mental institutions closing and how there were many who twenty-five years ago would be residents of said institutions are now in politics, religion, military, jail, homeless, and or waiting on the right trigger to set them off. It has been made apparent the individuals involved in the numerous shootings were mentally ill, which will play well in various congressional, court, and civil meetings, hearings, and trials. But how do we teachers help children choose differently borrowing from that great educator Maxine Greene?

“… Martin Buber had what he called a life of creativity in mind and also a capacity for participation and partaking. He said that all human beings desire to make things, and what children desire most of all is their share in the becoming of things. Through their own intensively experienced actions, something arises that was not there before. This notion of participant experience- and sharing in the becoming of things- comes very close to what we mean by aesthetic education.” Dr.  Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor, and caring person

Maybe I should post the Foxfire Core Practices that I have been writing about for several years. I like this idea of participant experience. We need to be actively involved in learning both as teachers and as students.

“Not only do we want to keep the aesthetic adventures into meaning visible and potent in the schools, along with the other ways there are of making or achieving or discovering meanings. We want to keep enhancing them with some understanding of contexts- movements, styles, traditions- and connections among various works at different modes of history. We know very well that none of us comes to any work of art devoid of context or with what has been called a totally ‘innocent eye.” Dr.  Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor, and caring person

I have watched a new math curriculum wreak havoc with students and teachers, not just in math, as math dictates the entire school schedule. The idea to simplify titles of courses to Math I, II, III, and IV does not do justice to the texts being used or the curriculum proposed. Several years ago, the test groups failed the first proto-type test miserably, and continually the curve has to be extreme to provide some passing numbers. The teachers are the same ones who were excellent teachers just a few months back but a simple change in the state curriculum, and we go backward. The content needs context, and it needs reasons.

“I hope you think about the wonder of multiple perspectives in your own experience. I hope you think about what happens to you- and, we would all hope, to our students- when it becomes possible to abandon one- dimensional viewing, to look from many vantage points and, in doing so, construct meanings scarcely suspected before.” Dr.  Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor, and caring person

I am hard on the math curriculum, but the idea we are so far behind is not a valid one. In the US, of all the major industrialized countries, we are the only one that mandates education for all children. There is a significant demographic left out of scores: children who live in poverty. We tend to be down the list on international testing because of the more significant number of children of all makes and models being tested. There are ideas within Maxine Greene’s words from 2003 that could help a teacher or teachers improve how they respond to students. Changing perspective looking from a different vantage point rather than simply that podium in the front of the room can make a difference: a simple thought but world-changing.

“Our object, where public schools children and young people are concerned is to provide increasing numbers of opportunities for tapping into long unheard frequencies, for opening new perspectives on a world increasingly shared. It seems that we can only do so with regard for the situated lives of diverse children and respect for the differences in their experience.” Dr.  Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor, and caring person

Seeing the differences in children is a sign of a great teacher. For it is in being able to see each child as unique and then, in turn, being able to, pardon the word, diversify the teaching enough to interest all children. That is in and of itself a considerable task.

“It is sometimes said that ‘all teachers care.’ It is because they care that people go into teaching.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher, and a caring person

I honestly do think no one goes into teaching, not caring. Somewhere along the line, maybe they forget and get too caught up in teaching to the test, making sure they cover every minuscule detail in the curriculum map or just trying to get a good appraisal. As I have watched good teachers and great teachers, that caring aspect sets them apart. They tend to build relationships with students. They try to understand why students come to school the way they do, not just simply giving a zero for a missed assignment.

“In a caring relation or encounter, the cared-for recognizes the caring and responds in some detectable manner. An infant smiles and wriggles in response to its mother’s caregiving. A student may acknowledge her teacher’s caring directly, with verbal gratitude, or simply pursue her own project more confidently. The receptive teacher can see that her caring has been received by monitoring her students’ responses. Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher, and a caring person

Teaching is so much more than a job, and if only that were a teachable topic. For many years, I have searched for what sets apart the truly great teachers and simplified into one word: caring. If only we could magnify and personify and spread that word worldwide. I have ended my droppings each day with the same line for far too long. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart and give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Can we find answers?

Bird Droppings March 24, 2022
Can we find answers?

Several years ago, I would have said there were answers to almost any question that could be asked. Today sitting here, I wonder granted; first, you have to ask what is the question or questions, but now I have a different attitude that allows for an unanswerable question. I was researching yesterday and reading about W. Edward Deming’s and his solutions, which were relatively simple to most quality issues in life. Deming believed in quality first, and as I ponder education, is it too pie in the sky to try and do such a good job that there are no questions any need to check (assess) at the end of the line. Is it too high and mighty to offer that there is no need to inspect or challenge and or no need to test if the quality is built-in?

When other than the day of a holiday, would I be sitting pondering, eating a ham and cheese omelet, and sipping a real strong black tea with agave nectar over ice and waiting on a sunrise to pose such a question? A bit disappointed with no sunrise with the cloud cover. But Deming’s ideas keep coming back to me. I will diversify my thoughts as I wander to a discussion yesterday with a regular education teacher, a good friend who has concerns about education.

I was working on an idea on using academic achievement to address issues with Learning Disabled students by using a rubric that is a way to provide quality versus simply quantity to an evaluation. This sort of led into as I headed toward school a discussion. As I sat driving around yesterday after discussing with another teacher the subject of autism and dealing with where do these kids go after school is over? On a more critical note, what is even available? I had a brainstorm, which was partly due to the thoughts that came out in our discussion. Over and over again, parents were concerned about how their child’s life was being directed by people who did not know their child. Often changes in staffing will occur, and parents do not even know. For nearly fifteen years, I have recommended teachers of some students track students more effectively, perhaps including group meetings of staff up and down the line who will have or have had that student. More often than not, we deal with a cold folder of someone else’s opinion. Knowing a kid can make the difference so many times between success and failure. This concept also ties into the current discussion of educational issues being decided by non-educational people with our state and federal legislators.

Several years back, at a conference, I met a caregiver who provides daily living assistance for several Asperger’s syndromes and autistic young men in a group home. One of the young men who lived in this facility was also involved in the discussion. (This fellow lives essentially on his own and has Asperger’s syndrome, a high function form of autism but is legally blind. Sadly for years, the visual impairment concealed the pervasive disorder). Often, the caregiver who works for an organization involving disabled adults who need some assistance is referred to know the person well. He and this young man have a language many would not understand part of this young man’s disorder idiosyncrasies that the caregiver has learned to understand.
So often in schools and workplaces, we want all the ducks in a row, and someone a bit different doesn’t fit in, so push them aside. Charter schools, the excellent reform answer in and of its nature, limit what students can come to that particular school with its charter. I could not help but think of IEPs and such and even further to Deming’s ideas. My day yesterday was pondering achievement, a rubric, and Deming. It has been a while since I sat as a student in class, but I can’t count the time education professors have said we need to think outside the box. Yesterday as we talked to two teachers walking the hallways of knowledge, we discussed opening the box. So often, we limit, as Deming pointed out when we have “the inspection,” we only really get what we ask for. This has been researched in the industry numerous times; if you want to find twenty percent defective parts, you will get twenty percent defective parts. My mind jumped to those students for whom seventy percent is passing, and we get seventy percent from many.

I have watched meetings where the group set IEP goals of eighty percent compliance on behavior in such areas as not swearing at authority figures. I would have liked that back in several of my high school and college classes. That translates into two out of ten times I could swear, and it is ok since I am achieving my goals. This is precisely what Deming is saying; you get what you ask for. So how do we imply quality and success without setting limits or parameters? How do we measure achievement without providing a box even within the confines of a rubric? How do we measure friendship without having parameters to measure from? Hopefully, the last one perhaps is one of the easiest to escape from. We measure friendship, hopefully not in some testing situation and not in some box-ready format, but we measure friendship in love and emotion which often is not a measurable and quantitative form; it is in simply knowing. Why do we have a difficult time in education? Far too often, teachers do not know students. A school identity number and seat on a floor chart, and we are off to educate.

“Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” Dr. W. Edward Deming

This can apply in many different fields, including education, but it will take some effort to teach teachers how to know students. It will take a different mindset for teachers to look for quality rather than quantity. It will take using innovative ideas to evaluate learning rather than standardized tests that so often are not even valid in the context of what they are testing. How valid is a test that students can score about the same in the beginning as in the end? I have not proved this point, but I would wager on most High School Graduation tests; if given to ninth graders, they would come close to passing in effect if they could pass the test in eleventh grade. I have similar thoughts on End of Course Tests. Sadly the difficulty is developing within students and workers another of Deming’s thoughts.

“Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service…” Dr. W. Edward Deming

Listening to parents over the years always makes me think. We seriously need to address perhaps differently children and even each other so often we come at life in general rather than looking for specifics in an individual. We approach each aspect from past experiences that are still important and do not let that experience of the moment have its way for that person. We lose individuality in mass production, even in our view of things. I am constantly reminded that first impressions are based on experience and not on anything to do with this person far too often. We need to see and hear who this is before passing judgment, and we need, as those parents, repeatedly offered to get to know the natural person, not just the symptomatology. I sit here trying to figure out how to create an open-ended rubric, some method of scoring that has no parameters and no limits, and that is an exciting venture for the day ahead and week ahead of planting, gardening, mowing, and reading. 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)


The inability of surmounting learning difficulties

Bird Droppings March 22, 2022
The inability of surmounting learning difficulties

It has been a few days since my last post. I have been extremely occupied with surgery Tuesday and recovering the past few days. Last week I had several doctor appointments, ultrasounds, blood work, and more doctors made it a crazy week. It seems my bladder has got the best of me. Now I am electrified and can no longer go through a metal detector. Hopefully, I will get back on track in my writing. In one of my last IEP meetings, the student was reaffirmed, yes, you do have a deficit in math. However, choosing not to do the work or even try is a choice. As a Junior wanting to graduate next year, you have to choose whether you want to get out of school. I explained that there was nothing I could pull out of my bag of magic tricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Winston Churchill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the groom’s mother. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.” A boy named Teddy, Author Unknown

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

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

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

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

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


Looking for reasons for why kids go bad

Bird Droppings March 21, 20022

Looking for reasons why kids go bad

“Come; let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can create for our children.” Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux

Nearly twenty years have passed since I did a research paper on the causes of various emotional issues with children. When I first started back to teaching, it was not all that much different from the early seventies when I last taught. When I wrote the paper, I looked for commonalities among children who had more serious school and life issues. I listed drug use, alcohol use, jail time, probation, age, sex, driver’s licenses, wealth, social status, childhood illnesses, and whatever else I could find measurable numbers or information. I did not question students; this was on their school and public record. As I looked deeper at my students, and most were still children, I concluded that most problems were made; they did not just happen. Indirectly we created each of the issues that manifested it. I found an article in Divorce Magazine entitled Help for Generation. They listed statistics that in 1970 seventy-two percent of the adult population is married and in 1999 only fifty-nine percent. This was an interesting statistic, and the number of divorces granted is down per one thousand people but up per number of new marriages.

As I researched years ago, in that group of students that I was using for my data, only two out of twenty-eight lived with their biological parents, I should say both biological parents.

“It seems that the divorce culture feeds on itself, creating a one-way downward spiral of unhappiness and failure.” David Brenner, New York, July 14, 1999, Associate Director of the Institute for American Values

“There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.” Leon R. Yankwich

Before Netflix and other streaming services, I was hooked on reruns of Law and Order, SUV, the hit TV show that now runs all day long in one form or another. I am captivated by the errors and flaws within our society. As I watched old reruns, similarities to former students’ families came out.

“Having children makes one no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

As I researched deeper reasons children have issues, I found issues were learned, and the examples were set at home. It could be drugs, abuse, alcohol, and literally, any issues presented had been directly related to home situations. “Children learn what they live,” both positively and negatively, as Dr. Laura Nolte, a favorite of mine, a leading psychologist, writes extensively about and which is featured in her Children Learn what they live poster of the seventies and programs for children. I Shared her poster from 1972 yesterday.

Yesterday, the news was filled with stories of teenagers, young people who had gotten into trouble, and teenagers trying to make a difference—thinking back over eighteen years to an event in Minnesota where a young man killed nine people in a shooting spree at his school. For whatever reason, this incident seldom is mentioned in schools shootings. Elsewhere drug arrests and gangs make the news, several young black men unarmed have been killed in shootings by police.

I recall several years back when I was walking outside my room, and a student came up sheepishly, hugged me, and apologized. I am so sorry for what happened; only a few weeks prior, this student was in a fight with another student in the cafeteria, and I was pulling them apart. She is now a teacher with three kids. It was a strange feeling being thanked for breaking up a fight by one involved. At that same time, I was at a basketball game, and parents were yelling at each other over and about their kids in front of the audience to a point a resource officer was involved. It is no different from forty-plus years ago when I coached basketball in Macon Georgia and the kids liked this old crude gym better than the new one. I finally asked why and all the kids said parents could not fit inside and kids could play basketball with no parents yelling at them.

“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.” Dr. C. Everett Koop

I never met the man, but my father always spoke highly of him as he was my brother’s physician in Philadelphia back in the mid-1960s when my brother John was at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. In later years Dr. Koop was Surgeon General of the United States and one who was always looking for answers midst all the questions.

“Children are curious and are risk-takers. They have lots of courage. They venture out into a world that is immense and dangerous. A child initially trusts life and the processes of life.” John Bradshaw

Perhaps it is the breaking of trust that causes issues to arise. Years ago, I did a graph on the development of trust—stages in how trust evolves with a child and then into an adult. We are born with a universal trust as an infant sort of you instinctually trust we then learn not to trust and eventually come full circle learning to trust again.

“Trust evolves. We start off as babies with perfect trust. Inevitably, trust is damaged by our parents or other family members. Depending on the severity, we may experience devastated trust, in which the trust is completely broken. In order to heal, we must learn when and how trust can be restored. As part of this final step, if we cannot fully trust someone. then we establish guarded, conditional, or selective trust.” Dr. Riki Robbins, Ph.D., The Four Stages of Trust

I have over the years read a book by Dr. Temple Grantin, Animals in Translation. Dr. Grantin’s unique view is that she is autistic and provides insights as she looks at animals differently than we usually do. She can understand and operate on that instinctual level. She still functions in a world of trust and maintains trust. In a family setting, what more so than parents leaving could display trust in a child, let alone destroy trust and then want them to lead everyday lives.

“When a parent is consistent and dependable, the baby develops sense of basic trust. The baby builds this trust when they are cold, wet or hungry, and they can count on others to relieve their pain. The alternative is a sense of mistrust, the feeling that the parent is undependable and may not be there when they are needed.” Eric Erikson, Eric Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life

Sitting in my writing area in our grandkid’s room, I look at pictures of my three sons who are all adults now, it is so easy to say no problem, but that would be lying. Then I clicked to Yahoo News, and as I described the event in Minnesota those years ago, the Red Lake shootings and headlines of this or why a 15-year-old would kill nine people and himself.

“Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again 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.” Black Elk, Oglala Sioux, Holy man

In 1973 or so, I met a young man in Macon, Georgia at that time; he was a year older than me and still is from last I heard from his brother a few weeks back. His tribal name translates to Red Clay; he was an artist. My family has many of his pieces of sculpture, drawings, and paintings. In 1975 or so, he divorced right after his wife miscarried their first baby. Every day that I have known him, he has been drinking. Once, he was the most requested teacher in Bibb County, now retired, he has been an itinerant carpenter and professional feather dancer. Although I have been told he recently retired from dancing and is now a lead drummer in Pow Wow circles. But a comment stuck with me and an image he had painted a miniature acrylic painting that my mother has hanging in her office area. It is of three burial platforms in the prairie. The platform in the foreground is one of a chief or man of importance, the second his wife, and the third a small infant burial platform, his unborn baby from so many years ago. He told me nearly forty years ago he would not live past forty. He is now almost seventy-five as I look back and think of how we respond and set that example for our children.

I started reading Kent Nerburn’s books several years ago. He taught at the Red Lake High School in Minnesota, and you can find his editorial and blog about this event on his website. As I wandered in my thoughts, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and remember always giving thanks namaste. 

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

So close to finishing

Bird Droppings March 20, 2022
So close to finishing

So often, as I start my writings each morning, there has been an experience recently to build upon. It is utilizing these previous experiences that provide windows and doors into future experiences. I was driving through our town, and a shop I had seen numerous times caught my eye. It is a store that caters to cooks, selling fancy cheese, wines, and utensils. I stopped in, and I needed a good knife to cut and chop herbs as I cooked. A wonderful lady greeted me as I walked in, and we talked for nearly an hour about education and cooking. She was also a teacher of Emotional and Behavior Disorders before retirement. A small world, or is it synchronicity? I think I know what Dr. Carl G. Jung would say. My graduate school major is always confusing as most teacher graduate students go for that Leadership degree required for administrative positions, and mine was in Emotional Behavior Disorders.

It has been nearly fifteen years since I started my doctoral studies at Georgia Southern University, and I am nearly completed. Hopefully, I will have my final defense this spring. My major, for some, may be a bit obscure, being in curriculum theory with an emphasis on teaching and instruction; it is a relatively new endeavor entitled in the course catalog as Curriculum Studies. In his book What is Curriculum Theory, one of the first pieces that caught my attention in my early readings was “the autobiographical method of currere, a method focused on self-understanding” by William Pinar. As I discussed with this retired teacher and now shop owner and purveyor of fine cheese, wines, and meats, we talked of education, along with various cuts of meats and where my livestock background came out.

I have been listening as I read, write and study for many years now to R. Carlos Nakai, a Navaho-Ute from Arizona. Nakai is a classically trained coronet and trumpet player who took up the Native American seven-note flute thirty years ago. He carves his flutes from cedar, and his haunting melodies stir the soul and calm the wild beast. I play his music in my room at school. As I thought of Pinar’s thoughts on the autobiographical method, I recalled a note in one of Carlos Nakai’s CDs.

“A lot of what I’ve been taught culturally comes from an awareness of the environment. …How I feel is based on my impressions of being in certain spaces at certain times. Thinking back…on personal tribal stories and the history of my culture figures into how I organize my music.” R. Carlos Nakai

One of the founders of pragmatism in philosophy is John Dewey, who is well known for his contributions to education and progressivism. Many of his ideas are from the early 1900s, and Dewey based his thinking on our experience.

“Every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and create subsequent experiences.” John Dewey

Dewey is a challenging read, and since I was only looking for a quote, he is back on the shelf for now, but only a minute or two as I am using several Dewey books in papers I am currently working on. As I switched CDs to a Hawaiian-themed CD where Nakai and Keola Beamer, a Hawaiian slap guitar master combine for “Our Beloved Land,” another jacket note caught my eye.

“We were put on the earth to experience life in its totality. And if you’re not doing that, you’re essentially wasting your time.” R. Carlos Nakai

I thought of my professor in that first doctoral class as I read and a comment she made about how many of the courses are online and the evaluations that follow online of professors. She said she always gets better reviews with the online courses than in person. On one of the first days in class, she wore a black suit and starched white shirt long sleeves with dark shoes and argyle socks. She had one pirate-type earring in one ear. After removing her jacket and rolling up her sleeves, tattoos to her wrists covering her arms, it was interesting, especially to one such as I, who is constantly observing human nature. When she offered, she was in counseling and on meds for psychosis; things made better sense.

As I watched my class watch her as she came in being mostly relatively conservative southern teachers, the reactions were interesting. Still, as I thought to my professor’s comment about why she did not understand why she always gets better reviews online, I thought as I listened to her lecture being a recognized scholar in curriculum theory. Maybe the biases of the masses of people in the world are insignificant. You need to live life, and if you are not doing that, you are wasting time.

I got the impression within a few minutes; my professor was not wasting anyone’s time. She is who she is and is comfortable with that as maybe we all should try and be who knows what might happen with self-understanding and experiences. It comes down to all of the pieces of our life’s puzzle falling into place. As I close as always, please keep all who are in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts, and always give thanks.

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