Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering and reflecting all in a few minutes?

Bird Droppings June 12, 2022
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
And reflecting all in a few minutes?

I drove to southeast Georgia over ten years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was a face-to-face follow-up with my committee of professors and, in turn, responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen-page papers; my total was closer to eighty or so. I always enjoyed the drive down, generally going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make. One is a Georgia-native plant nursery, and the other is the world’s best barbecue, bar none.

I got to Statesboro, Georgia, at about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday. Hence, several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town, and I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept a little anticipating my oral exam the following day. Much of my discussion with my professors was optimistic and enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting, I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference, and we discussed the right and left wings of education which have been heavy on my mind recently.

I am far too often on the balance beam’s extreme left, and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses in Mountain City on the Foxfire property, I often found myself outside discussions. So many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days, I found that my success and lack were based on whether I was following a specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, for ten years in a resource room all day and for six years in co-teaching. I never had more than seven students in resource; seven were often emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required significantly more attention. In shifting to co-teaching, the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.

Just before I retired for the first time, I was being evaluated by an administrator who saw education for the first time in many years, which is very similar to how I see education. Special education is anything but black and white, has numerous shades of gray, and is often multi-color. All of my evaluations during those couple of years were excellent. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the past training programs up in the mountains, I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it that one teacher does well without just teaching to test? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?

Over the past years, in Atlanta’s leading paper, numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties faced criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the scoring process, they found numerous erasers and corrections, which were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also, the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average. These administrators and teachers are faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.

In education, we are in a vacuum as to what success is in school. Is it genuinely test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration, a particular math test had no one passing. How can a specific grade test, over a given grade subject curriculum, be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session measure what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere that someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were testing about.

As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire, and now new teachers are learning about this idea for my dissertation, I have had the pleasure of communicating with students who have been in the program for nearly forty years and even fifty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. Interestingly, they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes and are still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test, “teaching to the test” that all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in many schools. In my reading, most recently, many great educators talk about lifelong learning and that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly, many teachers have gotten away from this.

It was refreshing in my exam ten years ago to sit with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam, and now in my procrastination am working on finishing my dissertation. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today, but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. It could be the mountain air I am looking forward to is getting to me, or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. A little smarter, a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever another prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column, Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better than most, but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group and a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone, often out of choice, and my monasticism is coming out. But for me, alone time reflects what has been happening during a given day.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers, yet a little more of it sinks in each time. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time. As I read his words, the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier. A compelling statement in our selfish society is that it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away; the difference we make is the level at which we change the environment and, in some instances, our ability not to make the change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily. However, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives, but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside, we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves honestly and learning to like and love ourselves is crucial to success. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort, yet success can be attained with the heart and the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning, it was interesting how various people defined success. In many situations, wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth, and others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches, and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement, or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.

Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key? This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson, as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself, I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it as about your impact and the difference you make. Still, I cannot help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in their life or, even better for me, that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by the guru of quality Phillip J. Crosby is exceeding the customer’s expectations. To draw a simple parallel, success exceeds what someone else expects from you. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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