About birddroppings

I am a College professor and retired Special Education high school teacher in Georgia. I have been teaching most recently for fifteen years. I have an extensive graphic arts background and industrial management training experience. My education includes undergraduate work in psychology, graduate degrees in behavior disorders, curriculum, education and theology.

Teaching can be successful

Bird Droppings June 25, 2019
Teaching can be successful

 

As I do on many mornings when I get the time I try and find a quiet spot to ponder a few minutes, on vacation my balcony beckoned. At home developers have purchased the bank owned land in our development and new houses have taken the place of trees and shrubs. After twelve years of solitude on our lot we might have neighbors. No more quiet and peaceful time, bulldozers and construction folks have been clambering around. First it was a bush hog machine that came through and destroyed the pathways and rabbit warrens. So what was nestled in a patch of weeds and brush where I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning is now the neighbors back yard.

 

My daughter in law pointed in in the direction of a writing spider at breakfast yesterday a few photos this morning might hit the spot. For any years I have been amazed at the orb weavers spinning the massive circular webs to ensnare insects. I have accidently walked into many over the years the strands of spider webbing to native are part of the interconnectedness of nature, still hanging connecting everything. The scientist part of me knows that they are simply webs from wandering spiders the previous night out hunting but the mystic in me sees the connections. I do see the interconnections but many do not.

I am concerned about learning not education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is supposed to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal polity contradict and totally destroy the ability to provide learning experiences for children. Yesterday several editorial cartoons were sent through the internet showing a group of students all connected with wires from their heads staring ahead and one trying to climb out a window to the outside and nature, it has been around for some time but caught my attention. The just of the image was education reform wants us all to be education zombies all learning the same thing at the same time. If we cannot reverse the decline in learning our children will be simply pawns of whoever is or whatever is in power at the time.

 

“The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.” Ted Sizer

 

I received an email yesterday or I should say a response to a Facebook post I shared from a friend. The video clip I shared many months back was directed at the Teach to the Test mentality that is sweeping education due to high stakes testing being mandated by states and federal law. A young man a recent college graduate stated he could not get a job because his method of teaching was more hands on than what administrators were looking for. Daily I see the frustration of my son who was trained to teach in experiential manner and is now limited by what is on the curriculum map today. I am co-teaching with teacher in physics who likes to provide context to the learning. This past Friday one of our physics classes in getting ready to study the concepts of velocity and acceleration did a slip and slide lab to take our data in order to calculate acceleration and velocity. It will be interesting to see if they can make physics come alive for these kids and still comply with the curriculum requirements. If I was wagering I would definitely say they will.

 

“A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk

 

“Too much emphasis has been placed on reforming school from the outside through policies and mandates. Too little has been paid to how schools can be shaped from within.” Roland Barth

 

Just a few days ago I addressed the fact we are educating more diversified students in the United States than anywhere in the world. I borrowed from Black Elk a Lakota Sioux Holy Man who passed away nearly sixty years ago. Black Elk believed in the power of visions. Roland Barth was a professor at Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. His book Improving Schools from within, was a best seller in 1991. His latest book Learning by heart, addresses the need for school reform and changes and that they need to come from changing the culture of schools. As I read both pieces and thought a Sioux holy man talking about making a vision real and a renowned educator saying we need to look within in order to elicit change maybe we should be listening to them and not politicians.

 

“Rarely do outside of school remedies work their way into the fabric of the schools or into the teacher’s lives, and more rarely into the classrooms. Therefore they only offer a modest hope of influencing the basic culture of the school.” Roland Barth

 

“Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.” Thomas Sergiovanni

 

“The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way.” Theodore Sizer

 

As I ponder my various authors I am reviewing and borrowing from today Barth, Sergiovanni and Sizer in the quotes above I find continuity. These men are all innovators and have made significant and powerful suggestions about education across the nation. Many school systems use the concept of learning communities that Sergiovanni promotes in his writing. I know that Roland Barth’s ideas are taught and re-taught in graduate schools nationwide and teachers seldom leave college without hearing the name of Ted Sizer. What concerns me is why is it with the potential to change education we seem to be in a rut and really going nowhere different. Why do we continue to know what to do to better educate kids and then do not do it. I wish an answer were simple to place in writing but I see blame as being in the leadership of schools. I see blame in school boards and in state education boards and eventually at a federal level. As the ideology leaves the classroom it goes from being real and meaningful to being business and is it cost effective? Can we afford this? Should we spend dollars on this? Somewhere children get left out and learning gets sat by the roadside.

 

“To cope with a changing world, an entity must develop the capacity of shifting and changing – of developing new skills and attitudes; in short, the capability of learning.” A. DeGues, The Living Company

 

“The challenge of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

 

“You cannot have a learning organization without a shared vision…A shared vision provides a compass to keep learning on course when stress develops. The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge

Dr. Peter Senge is a professor at MIT and renowned scholar in the field of learning. His books and theories are used in management schools and education studies. The idea of a collaborative effort in learning falls back into many ideas that have been mentioned in previous droppings dealing with Foxfire and John Dewey and the democratic class room. Students learn more when it is relevant to them and they have some buy in. Proust provides that we need a new perception to see rather than using the same old mythology to view education and learning. We have to develop new skills not just use what is available. Although John Dewey’s ideas are still considered progressive at over a hundred years old always strikes me as interesting.

 

“We learn best from our experience, but we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shred visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from non-conformity, the ability to turn your back on old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesteryear for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We mist dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara African leader

 

“Schools are among the very few institutions that have remained almost entirely unchanged for most of this century.” Judith Aitken

 

“No other organization institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school.” Peter Drucker

 

“Today’s Schools are not Tomorrows Schools. That’s a fundamental misconception.”
David Lange

 

Author, speakers, management consultants, professors, educational leaders and each of them a great teacher in their own right have been outspoken for years about our schools and learning. Why do we let politicians decide what our students should be learning or how we should be evaluating these students? Why do we put arbitrary numbers on children with disabilities as to who can and who cannot exempt or not exempt state mandated tests. One IQ point separates two students one who because they cannot pass the High School graduation tests is and receives a special education certificate of attendance and is counted as a drop out because they did not graduate and the other by submitting a portfolio of what learning occurred in high school graduates with a legitimate high school diploma and is a graduate. One IQ point separates the two and how they are assessed.

 

“The overwhelming number of teachers …are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do.” Alfie Kohn

 

“It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather… I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Haim Ginott

 

“In teaching students to think the emphasis is not on how many answers they know. Rather, the focus is on how well they behave when they don’t know.” Art Costa

 

I recall reading Alfie Kohn for the first time in 2001 at the suggestion of my principal who had formed a book club. The title of the book is The Schools our Children Deserve. As I read through these authors and quotes last night as I researched for my morning wanderings I wonder can we ever really change the industrial complex that drives education? Can we unseat lobbyists and politicians who seek profits at the cost of our children’s learning? I wonder as I finish up today if we can overcome.

 

“In the absence of a great dream pettiness prevails. Shared visions foster risk taking, courage and innovation. Keeping the end in mind creates the confidence to make decisions even in moments of crisis.” Peter Senge

 

I started and end with a vision. “A vision without a task is a dream – a task without a vision is drudgery- but a task with vision can change the world.” Black Elk The great spiritual leader Black Elk spoke of his visions and Peter Senge offers a shared vision. I was once told it took leaders who had vision to truly lead and I wonder if we can find those people within education who care enough about children and about learning to pave the way to a new understanding and realization of our educational system. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Standing in line at Kroger always thinking about teaching

Bird Droppings June 21, 2019
Standing in line at Kroger always thinking about teaching

I am always looking for coincidence. This could be why so often I find it just about anywhere. It might be walking in my yard and seeing an owl sitting in a tree, or standing in line at an odd hour at our super Kroger and finding a book. As it goes I am a creature of some routine, while not rising as early as I did during the school year, when I would leave the house at to go to the high school by five in the morning. I still am up and moving before many even consider the idea. I have been doing well on my intake of caffeine for a couple months.

I left without my tea from the house and trying to avoid my caffeine fix each morning from very high calorie energy drinks I headed to find Black Chai Tea at Starbucks. It has been a few years since I would down big mugs as I wrote each morning and had that urge again. The collection of empty mugs in our cabinet at home bespeaks my former habit. My son was heading to Alcovy to feed our zoo at the high school. So he was up early after he left I proceeded to the store to pick up my tea and headed for the checkout. Just as I entered the line a book cart of sorts a large cardboard box marked book sale. Generally in a grocery store books in a large cardboard box marled for sale are ones no one wants but are discounted so you will buy this now sort of approach. As I bent over to look on top was a little book, “Teachers are Special” by Nancy Burke. The adventure begins, on page seven a nice start to the day as I am always looking for ideas.

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

That summarizes many education courses and how to courses in teaching all in one and here I am always searching for what makes a great teacher. Inspiration is the key as I look back on teachers over the years a very few inspired me. There were some and those I could on my fingers and I am one who has been through many teachers in undergraduate and graduate school. I got thinking back to another morning and I was writing as usual.  My son called me to ask if I was watching the news. One of his good friends was in London on a summer study trip and things were going on not well where his buddy was staying. Jamie came out of it ok and by coincidence I officiated at this same young man’s wedding a few years later. As I thought to the young man whose wedding I had officiated and his tragic death in a half marathon in what seems just yesterday. My son now living in North Carolina I reread the line from this little book and you know the word teacher could be substituted with parent, friend, manager, supervisor and nearly any other word describing relationships. It is so interesting how we all are teachers in life at some point or another.

“Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe

One of my projects today is to finish several thoughts on story telling for my dissertation and pack books for vacation. Story telling is essentially how I teach and get my lessons across. I actually found several Universities doing research on the subject, basically teaching with inspiration, emotion and feeling. What if for today? What if everyone taught, listened, spoke, managed, supervised, coached, and or just was friends with feeling would our world be any different?

“I like teachers to be nice and sweet and cool and let us do our own stuff, and to be kind, really kind.” Meagan, age 7

I wonder what if a child could rule the world what would the world be like, nice, sweet, cool kind, really kind and we could do our own stuff maybe. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts Namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

Bird Droppings June 19, 2019
Should we be pondering the idea of faith?

 

I have been indirectly involved in several discussions lately involving the word faith. So I did a bit of research and thinking.

 

“Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is accelerating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of standards by which to assess technological impact, and to block it where necessary, is a critical survival skill of our times.” Jerry Mander

 

These are the words that begin author Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it. As I prepare for a new school year one of no books only iPods it will be most interesting. We now have a generation of children who do not fear the technology their parents invented and in many cases do not even hold in awe but consider it common place or boring.

Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.

 

“The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of an analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as the “other”, including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human, to be a human subject, and allow ourselves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman.” R. L. Rutsky

 

Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations. Technology is putting the world into an instantaneous realm of immediate.

The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Millennial by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children’s imaginations and creativity. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.

To believe in a god or gods requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of god. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your fingertips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Each of us perceives the concept of god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.

 

“During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological situation of dependency. We are trained, as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us simply to react, “Who will help me?” We are in a dependent relationship to our parents.” Joseph Campbell

 

Campbell sees us as needing someone or something throughout our lives. We are taught the myths and traditions of our parents and culture as answers to what we can depend on. In many situations that could be a concept of god or religion. Campbell goes deeper into his anthropological view of mythology and its focus on life and or on death. Religions down through history have played on either or both aspects. As humans however we seem to find unknowns and it is that unknown aspect of our existence that provides windows or doors, as Huxley states, to understand who we are and why.

 

“From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that at most times and most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to the objective existents, have felt that they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spirituality higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open…What wonder, then if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within.” Aldous Huxley

 

Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time.

Lev Manovich offers his theory on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and his former place of employment was the last hot type facility and was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is melted and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.

 

“If traditional cultures provided people with well-defined narratives, (Myths, Religion) and little “stand alone” information, today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together.” Lev Manovich

 

We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something is missing, it is that something that is not able to tie it all together.

From my own personal experience working with teenagers, I have found many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.

 

“Religion was perhaps the most ancient organizing concept in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline: the ultimately determining instance for national or racial character, the ultimate source of cultural difference itself, the marker for the individuality of the various peoples in history.” Fredric Jameson

 

Looking at teenagers as a whole perhaps it is the technology that is defining them more so than religion. Issues of faith and trust are daily within news and media that teenagers access far more readily than do we as adults. News articles of men of faith who lied and cheated and yet continue to do as they did before getting caught. There are Church’s turning their backs on children who were molested, and/or buying their silence. It is not difficult to see where faith and trust can be subverted. Sometimes it is easiest to go back, and look at a view from a more traditional standpoint. Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, is first and foremost Oglala, he is an attorney, ex-marine pilot having flown 110 combat missions, and he has participated in seven sun dance ceremonies. He writes extensively on spirituality and the earth. McGaa discusses deeply religion in his book Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way.

 

“Who is God? Before I can begin to answer such a question, I must explain that any answer, or attempt to answer, is based on my background, my personal experiences and that which has influenced me upon my personal journey down the Red Trail of life or as some may call it, my journey within the Natural Way.” Ed McGaa

 

As I consider myself a searcher I am always observing and pondering. Many times when talking with youth I will ask them to define god whether they believe in god or not, but to not use pronouns and or scripture. To date very few have succeeded, they are limited by their experiences. So much of who we are is based on where we came from and what we have experienced. In attempting to find what I believe is missing, perhaps rethinking where I have come from.
I attended Candler school of Theology in 1973-75 at Emory University. I have always questioned others views on god and faith. As I took classes in theology and biblical studies, and I would often be on one side of the table alone, as we argued or discussed various views. While I never was a student in Dr. Fowler’s classes I was impressed as I read his books and articles. Dr. James Fowler was a Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, he was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. Dr. Fowler has written numerous articles and books on his concept of faith and on his theory of how faith develops. This idea of a developing faith could impact how technology also fits into human awareness. Could it be through the intensive use of technology we are circumventing a stage in our development? Looking back at Campbell’s thought could it be we are finding in technology a substitute for that parent dependency within society? Dr. Fowler starts his book The Development of Faith with this thought.

 

“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the between times: between meaning amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.” Dr. James Fowler

 

The idea that there is a development of faith even as a child grows physically, in developmental stages, has intrigued me for many years. My own personal journey has been intertwined with my studies and readings as well as experience, dealing with people and with my students. Faith is a word that is very difficult to scientifically dissect and analyze. For different people faith will have different meanings many times associated with religion. In my own journey I found an author, William Eleden, who was a former fighter pilot in World War II and Pastor and is currently at ninety six years of age still an author and columnist.

 

“Words can lead us into dead end canyons, and what is the bottom line? In this: Words fool us into thinking we have experienced what we talk about. Take water for instance: I can read volumes about water listen to a thousand lectures on water and develop an exhaustive vocabulary about water, without having ever experienced water. I will know more about water after drinking a glass full, or diving into a lake then if I attend lectures on water for the rest of my life.” William Edelen

 

The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.

In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

Bird Droppings June 17, 2019

Why do we wish, wonder and wait?

 

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

 

It has been nearly thirteen years since we moved last and found ourselves in this house.  I wasn’t sure from where to start several ideas have been running through my thinking the past few hours. It has been thirteen years since I read and heard the news on Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s death. As I do my best pondering when alone I went outside thinking and wondering about the shortness of life. I looked about my back yard that I know so well in the dark spending more time here in the early hours than during day light it seems at times even taking pictures by flash of night blooming flowers and tree frogs. We do become attached to routines and people and things. Each new semester being with new teachers co-teaching it takes a few days to adjust granted I actually do like it and am enjoying co-teaching with the teachers I am with. Next year basically I am with the same teacher all day co-teaching biology. The funny thing was I fought the idea of co-teaching for several years and in my first ten years of special education never co-taught a class.

 

On another topic grandbabies, my wife and I have been discussing ideas of rearranging and decorating our official grandbaby’s cave (room). Two of our sons all are moved out and or in careers. I have never planned an endeavor previously in detail and actually thought out why and how but in these grand babies change for us as we find new sustenance. My wife and I will sort through the preponderance of materials we have collected over the years, memories from raising three sons. I am a pack rat no doubt about it, but I am sure among the boxes there will be items that we might can use. Many times it is hard looking back at those pieces of our lives together good, bad, calamity, tragedy; up lifting experiences somehow it seems there has always been a light.

 

Fourteen years ago I recall my first email of the day was from a dear friend, Dr. James Sutton who wrote a beautiful forward for my first book to be of Bird Droppings, A teacher’s journey if and when I finish it. Although now it seems my droppings are becoming my dissertation twenty plus years of reflections. I was opening emails not too long ago and another note from Dr. Sutton.

 

“It’s great to be affirmed. A chuckle: I mentioned in a training session one time that we need to always be aware that the boy in our class who can’t keep his hands to himself may well hold a scalpel someday and save our life. One lady in the audience gasped: ‘Oh my God! I just pictured Johnny with a KNIFE!’” Dr. James Sutton

 

In a Saturday BD a few weeks back I was talking about being reaffirmed as a teacher from a previous students comment. But for Today I go back to words from two songs that have been running through my head for some time now. Both are older songs but to me significant. Country Stars Big and Rich claim to fame is the song; Save a horse ride a Cowboy, not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame. It is another song on that same album which to me is a far more powerful message entitled, Holy water. I heard this song a nearly thirteen years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. But as songs go I heard them wrong as we so often do.

 

Holy Water

By Big and Rich

Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I use to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now you’d never tell

Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

 

The first time I heard this song tears welled up I was listening to the words of holy water as if the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I used the words in class many months ago. I took the CD in to sort of a listen and translate for students and asked what is this song about and one of my red necked skate boarders piped up and set me straight.   “Mr. Bird she wants to be held like holy water – special sacred.” The old saying could not be truer, from the mouths of babes. How many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water. I thought back to a quote from Parker Palmer from I used a few days ago. As I think to the ethereal aspect of holding water.

 

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

 

Months back for lunch my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV a Martina McBride music video was showing entitled, God’s Will. It hit me again this time I was in tears and a powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching of exceptional children so many years ago.

 

God’s Will

By Martina McBride

 

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first

His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt

Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood

[Chorus:]
I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will

Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when

Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him

[Chorus]

Before they moved to California
His mother said, they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her, that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you

I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

 

My son asked, “Dad are you crying again” as I watched a powerful music video and song for some of us who are where we are to be. Over forty years ago my brother John was born. My mother was in labor nearly two days and John was born with cerebral palsy, severe brain damage. When he was two while in Florida he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John lived with his family sharing in all gatherings all the time he never spoke a word. He was never toilet trained yet he left his mark on each of our lives. So much of the past two days got me thinking back in time.

 

The impact my brother John had spanned several states as his influence spread. In 1972 or so the city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the teachers of exceptional children who after babysitting or being around John chose this field to teach in this field and in other areas of education including myself, two sisters, my oldest son and several nieces and nephews. My own family ended in Georgia because of John. He is buried on a hill out by my brothers’s home in Walton County and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if he had not happened to our family.

 

My mother has answered in a series of poems and thoughts she has put together over the years. Each of my brothers and sisters has responded in their own fashion and me I respond in Bird Droppings. Sitting here thinking of the passing of a good soul in Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and my brother John and thinking of  these two songs maybe we can begin to set aside differences and challenges and calamities and start seeking out each other. Peace my dear friends and thank you all for the support and emails over the years please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Don’t cross word puzzles take some time?

Bird Droppings June 16, 2019
Don’t cross word puzzles take some time?

 

Towards the end of my last History class that I taught in college one of my students was working on a particular assignment and had to define bias. She was not sure which definition was correct and asked my opinion. I explained in history bias is that of the historian doing the writing. It is how they see the event and happenings that may have come from that event. A few days ago I threw out an author’s name I have learned much from and enjoyed, Ronald Takaki and his book, A Different Mirror.

 

“More than ever before, there is a growing realization that the established scholarship has tended to define America too narrowly. For example, in his prize-winning study, The Uprooted, Harvard historian Oscar Handlin presented — to use the book’s subtitle – ‘the Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People.” But Handlin’s “epic story” excluded the “uprooted” from Africa, Asia, and Latin America — the other “Great Migrations” that also helped to make “the American People.” Similarly, in The Age of Jackson, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., left out blacks and Indians. There is not even a mention of two marker events — the Nat Turner insurrection and Indian Removal, which Andrew Jackson himself would have been surprised to find omitted from a history of his era.” Dr. Ronald Takaki

 

Takaki offers that so often in history it is the winners that write the history and the politics of the time define said history. It was not that long ago Andrew Jackson forced the migration of Creeks and Cherokees from their homelands in the southern US to Oklahoma and the Indian Territory only to be taken again during the land rush. Andrew Jackson is a dirty word in Okmulgee Oklahoma.

 

“When a man begins to understand himself he begins to live. When he begins to live he begins to understand his fellow men.” Norvin Mcgranahan

 

Often I have a tendency to say something or write something that was intended to be one thing and it is understood to be something else. It might be translated from my meager use of language into a distortion of the direction it was intended.

 

“We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.” Adlai Stevenson

 

So many times our direction changes in midstream and we look hurriedly for a new rock to step too to keep from stumbling. Looking a step or two ahead can often prevent your falling into the water when crossing a stream.

 

“Where I am not understood, it shall be concluded that something very useful and profound is couched underneath.” Jonathan Swift

 

Sometimes it seems as clear to us as we write and discuss and yet to others a fog creates a distance or barrier to what it is we are trying to convey. Swift alludes to a vague understanding being hidden, you know something is there but cannot quite grasp it.
When many look at Einstein’s formulations in physics some see chicken scratching others see magic.

 

“Perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.” Andre Breton

 

Returning to graduate school after nearly thirty years away has been many times simply remembering things I have put aside for a time and many times the frustration is seeing as you get older how much you have forgotten.

 

“No person was every rightly understood until they had been first regarded with a certain feeling, not of tolerance, but of sympathy.” Thomas Carlyle

 

“It has taken me all my life to understand it is not necessary to understand everything.” Rene Cody

 

As you grow older several things happen you can see deeper into occurrences because you have a broader base to draw from which makes it sometimes difficult to explain to some people and what appears as prophecy may simply be experience rearing up. I explain the idea of coincidence and Karl Jung’s synchronicity to teenagers and when doing this use a timeline of many years. Most teenagers do not have the timeline to see events pan out and to see that a happening now affects you twenty years from now. Today’s puzzle pieces work in junction with every piece before and every piece yet to fall in place.

 

“I started out with nothing. I still have most of it.” Micshael Davis

 

“If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.” Karl Jung

 

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” Karl Jung

 

In so many of Jung’s thoughts balancing, understanding and seeking to understand are so crucial as he looked at the dreams of his patients and as he tried to put pieces of their puzzles together. As I sit here writing and thinking, in sort of a symbolic way Freud worked with Lego blocks and Jung worked with blocks of Jell-O. For Jung there was barely form and often there was fluidity as pieces would meld into each other. Life is not quite the solid pieces of a Lego set and really isn’t perhaps as fluid as some thinkers would like to think but between the two maybe a plasma sort of effect for lack of terms maybe it is indescribable.

 

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux, 1868-1937

 

“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

 

I have used this quote from Crowfoot recently possibly even several times. This statement from Crowfoot to me is very profound. Recently I asked the question can you define your God without scripture and without pronouns. As I look and see at Crowfoots statement of life there are so many mysteries. Another author I enjoy William Edelen author of “In search of the Mystery” offers that understanding is a key but seeing all that is presented and not simply individual pieces of life’s puzzle. It is not about looking at life through a toilet tissue tube as I say maybe too often keep use as an example. A wonderful day so far and so many ahead please keep all in harm’s way in our minds and hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Learning and teaching are not the same and yet intertwine

Bird Droppings June 15, 2019
Learning and teaching are not the same and yet intertwine

 

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

 

Dr. Adler founded the Center for the Study of Great Ideas and has been the Chairman of the Board of Editors for Encyclopedia Britannica; he focused on Philosophy and Liberal Education. One of my traditional writing assignments in class is I have students write an essay for one hundred twenty five words and you get a seventy percent, for two hundred fifty words you get an eighty percent, three hundred seventy five words for an ninety percent and five hundred words for one hundred percent and your choice of plain or peanut M&M’s. The title of the essay was “How should I be taught”. I work with students on using their research, finding and using quotes and citing authors so copy and paste was possible to bulk up a feeble attempt. In a class I did this with three did five hundred words, one fell asleep he didn’t feel good and two only made one hundred and twenty five words.

The funny thing is I deliberately do this by writing on the white board and not one time asking anyone to work. One of the first completed in one class was a student who doesn’t care, wants to quit school and uses the great word of words “whatever” more times a day than his entire balance of vocabulary.

 

“Our schools are not turning out young people prepared for the high office and the duties of citizenship in a democratic republic. Our political institutions cannot thrive; they may not even survive, if we do not produce a greater number of thinking citizens, from whom some statesmen of the type we had in the eighteenth century might eventually emerge. We are, indeed, a nation at risk, and nothing but radical reform of our schools can save us from impending disaster. Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

 

So, a student did an assignment for a pack of M&M’s is that really amazing I have over the years grown away from extrinsic motivation but still occasionally will, just to point things out to kids. In this case, I did not have to coerce, beg, ask, or even remind students I simply wrote on the board and stated the day’s assignment is on the board. Of all my students that one period the one finishing first is the only one who I have to push constantly. The rest knew my tricks basically. I did give him a pack of M&M’s and you know what his essay while not the greatest was complete a first. Since coming back into the teaching field I have found several key factors in teacher student involvement especially in high school, first the student has to want to be in that class, in that same light the student has to have a reason for what they are to do, relevance for that student. It has to be their reason not one imposed by a teacher and ideally that will become a self-fulfilling purpose and or reason to acquire more information as to learn more and move on in life.

Initially it may be a pack of M&M’s but the point of that exercise was to see if this student given a motivator would try versus simply “I do not care I am not doing the work”. Interesting note later in the day I received an email questionnaire about his progress on goals in relationship to his IEP. I have had this student a total of five weeks and reviewed his goals many of which are based on motivation and at least trying. Options to answer are introduced (I) and Progressing and of course a P, and then mastered and a capital M. His case manager said I ruined his report; I said progressing on all counts and was actually optimistic while all others were saying the opposite. I have a major issue and problem, how can you be teaching if a student is not progressing at all.

 

“If, in some way, the generations to come would learn what a good life is and how to achieve it and could be given the discipline, not only of mind but of character, that would make them willingly responsive to the categorical ought’s of a teleological ethics, perhaps, then, the moral and educational revolution might begin and take hold. To hope for this is to hope for no more than that the restoration of a sound and practical moral philosophy will enable enlightened common sense to prevail in human affairs.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

 

The idea and organization Paideia, is an educational concept founded again by Dr. Adler. The principles of this organization are as follows:

PAIDEIA PRINCIPLES
1. That all children can learn;
2. that, therefore, they all deserve the same quality of schooling, not just the same quantity;
3. that the quality of schooling to which they are entitled is what the wisest parents would wish for their own children, the best education for the best being the best education for all;
4. that schooling at its best is preparation for becoming generally educated in the course of a whole lifetime and those schools should be judged on how well they provide such preparation;
5. that the three callings for which schooling should prepare all Americans are (a) to earn a decent livelihood, (b) to be a good citizen of the nation and the world, and (c) to make a good life for oneself;
6. that the primary cause of genuine learning is the activity of the learner’s own mind, sometimes with the help of a teacher functioning as a secondary and cooperative cause;
7. that the three kinds of teaching that should occur in our schools are didactic teaching of subject matter, coaching that produces the skills of learning, and Socratic questioning in seminar discussion;
8. that the results of these three kinds of teaching should be (a) the acquisition of organized knowledge, (b) the formation of habits of skill in the use of language and mathematics, and (c) the growth of the mind’s understanding of basic ideas and issues;
9. That each student’s achievement of these results should be evaluated in terms of that student’s capacities and not solely related to the achievements of other students;
10. that the principal of a school should never be a mere administrator, but also a leading teacher who should cooperate with the faculty in planning, reforming, and reorganizing the school as an educational community;
11. That the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and
12. That the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching.
Copyright © 1991 by The Paideia Group, Inc. The Paideia Group, Inc. Board of Directors: John Clark, Rosa Blackwell, Vann Langston, Rita Kaplan, Cindy Rutz, John Van Doren, and Patricia Weiss. Honorary Chairman is Mortimer Adler

I read through these principles and was somewhat intrigued, especially in points eleven and twelve, “that the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and that the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching. I have mentioned numerous times over the past years of Henry David Thoreau leaving the teaching field to become a learner. Thoreau felt in order to teach you have to be a learner first. Several years back in working on a paper for graduate school I used the word osmosis as a representation for teacher student feedback. That student I first mentioned who did not care about school was able to be motivated it was finding a re-enforcer.
Borrowing from the great behaviorist B.F. Skinner for every behavior there is an antecedent and then there is a consequence. We can change behavior by changing consequence and or the antecedent. Ideally we would like the antecedents and consequences to become intrinsic but to get the ball rolling sometimes an extrinsic means can and will work. But extrinsic means generally are only temporary solutions shy of electric shock which is illegal in most states.

 

“If acquisition of the liberal arts is an intrinsic part of human dignity, then the democratic ideal demands that we should strive to see to it that all have the opportunity to attain to the fullest measure of the liberal arts that is possible to each.” Robert M. Hutchison, The Great Conversation

 

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

 

I have used over and over again this quote from Albert Einstein and it is perhaps one of my favorite. How can we make are teaching so potent? We as teachers as parents as friends need to strive to actively pursue learning in order that those children around us will see and model that behavior and want to learn for learning’s sake. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

Bird Droppings June 14, 2019

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

 

I was asked at dinner one time when did I start teaching and I responded at age twelve. The group I was with was thinking I was being my typical sarcastic self. Then I explained I started teaching swimming with my father to beginners at twelve. So my father got me into teaching. I have been thinking about him quite a bit lately. Dad passed away in 2007 but for some reason lately it amazes how much he influenced my philosophy and understanding of teaching.

 

So from my father’s start at teaching swimming lesson now nearly sixty years later it has taken many twists and turns in the journey for my own philosophical view of life and teaching to evolve. That journey has wound around many switchbacks, trails and pathways and now focuses on the interconnectedness of all that is.

 

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

 

I am sitting in my writing nook at home this morning on a quiet cold day. As I think back on the excitement and power emanating in a room full of teachers at my last Foxfire course I realize how much I miss that interaction. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my reflective effort yesterday. 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 streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and of art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer 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

 

Back in the early 1900’s Carl Jung coined a word, the term synchronicity to describe meaningful intertwining’s in life that appear to be by chance yet have so much significance. My life has been a constant trail of coincidences and synchronous events. I attended a co-teaching seminar some time ago at our School Board office and was immediately drawn into dialogue with one of the instructors. She had mentioned several points that intrigued me and I went up to talk with her at the first break. I found it amusing to be talking to someone born after I started working with special needs kids who is now teaching the class I am taking. I walked away revitalized over an idea that her thoughts emulated and was on Facebook when I sat down at my computer.

 

“Students, who are loved at home, come to school to learn, students who aren’t come to school to be loved.” Nicholas A. Ferroni

 

I found this simple statement by Nicholas Ferroni, who is an educator, mostly teaching lower-income students focusing on history and deep personal commitment, concern and care. I found it to be a profound thought and shared on my own Facebook page. In class when I had used this there was more follow up about what I consider to be at the heart and soul of teaching and that is building relationships and community.

 

This time of year I am traditionally back and forth to North Georgia or so it has been for the past twelve summers to a program taught by faculty from Piedmont College and housed on the Foxfire Property in Mountain City Georgia. The course was taught to teachers from literally around the world who show up to learn about this simple approach to teaching. Over the years of my own research I have met and discussed learning and education with hundreds if not thousands of students, teachers and trainers. One thought that has stuck with me is from Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame. “It’s not about the teaching it’s about the learning”

 

“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

 

With all the hoopla about testing and evaluation of teachers it is truly difficult for teachers to see the real fruits of their labors their students twenty years from now. In my own research I have discussed and talked with many former students of the Foxfire approach to teaching who were taught in this manner some nearly forty six years ago. A few years back on an afternoon while at Foxfire a good friend joined us who had been a student of the Foxfire program in 1970 and staff member of Foxfire from 1971-76. Laurie Brunson Alteri. Laurie talked about many things in the two hours she kept the teachers and teachers to be entranced with her love of and enthusiasm for the program. But she warned it is not a template to follow it is far more and that is where so many teachers fall short. We all tend to be lazy and want to open the box of education and poof everything falls in place and that is not how it works. Laurie used an example that has stuck with me. “In biology when you dissect a frog and look at all the parts after you are done all you have is a dead frog”.

 

As I thought sadly far too many dissect and then miss the whole point of a way of teaching or way of life. As Laurie spoke she referenced the idea of an organism, a living organism and my small bit of Greek language from my seminary experiences in a bygone era I remembered the word Koininia, which literally is community. Laurie suggested a classroom should be like an organism alive and growing changing as it adapts. This is how she described her experiences in Foxfire.

 

Another student in the class during the following discussions pointed out how teacher personalities often create those great classrooms. But personalities of teachers cannot or is difficult to be replicated. Ron Clark’s school came out in the discussions and his success. However as I thought I began seeing parallels between various programs and approaches to teaching.  Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers, Alfie Kohn, Robert Fried, Maxine Greene, Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Phillip Crosby, my father, Carl Jung, Ivan Illich, and numerous other authors, thinkers, teachers and philosophers.

 

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

 

I have borrowed as I developed my own thinking from Carl Rogers, William Ayers, Max Thompson, John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, and of course the Foxfire Approach. Many of these thinkers were controversial in their own time, considered too progressive and their ideas are still considered perhaps utopian to borrow words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching that in and of themselves are controversial as well. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas, perceptions and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations.

 

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

 

For nearly twelve years every summer I have returned to the mountains of North Georgia to revitalize my teaching heart and soul. An approach to teaching based on the philosophies of John Dewey. Technically it is simply a program of thought focused around ten core practices.

 

  1. From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.

 

  1. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.

 

  1. The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.

 

  1. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

 

  1. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

 

  1. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

 

  1. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.

 

  1. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

 

I think the past attendance in this course in North Georgia revitalizes me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon us mandated state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

 

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

 

On one of my ventures as I walked into the main conference lodge and sort of was introduced since it was in the middle of a presentation I sat down and listened to an excellent group of teachers.  The first one I heard and I am sorry I did not hear everyone presentation was already underway.

 

The first presenter I heard raised questions why does the concept of Foxfire not get going? Why not have every teacher required to attend Foxfire courses? What happens when teachers leave Foxfire that it is not continued? Questions I have raised more than once and come back to teacher personalities. Foxfire is not a template as Laurie Alteri said several years ago. Foxfire is more of simply what good teachers do. I have the Ten Core Practices posted on my wall in my room and daily review and would ask myself am I doing this or attempting that. I connected with this presenters questions. As I sat down thinking I began to more in detail realize how we are connected as teachers. I recalled a quote from a speech in 1854 by Chief Seattle.

 

“Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, 1854

 

The next presenter raised more questions in regards to her own teaching and use of what she had experienced at the program. Laura handed out puzzle pieces to each member of the group and asked them to what about an experience this past week on the back of the puzzle piece. She has only been teaching for a year and was excited about Foxfire and then had the group put the puzzle together. She talked about John Dewey and embracing what we each bring in terms of experiences and the pieces of my own web continued connecting. I shared my business card with her which is covered in puzzle pieces. I have long held education is about putting the puzzle of the child together.

 

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

The next presenter continued to interact and connect with the group and I thought it was directly at me. The presenter explained how she had been diagnosed with ADD and was put on medications and as a teenager stopped and forced herself to cope as to not be different from other kids. I thought back to my own high school experience and my own interactions with kids on medications as a special education teacher. I thought back to my Thursday conference and an instructor throwing ideas out that many had never experienced. She brought up the idea of a safe place for kids. An idea I have for many years called a sanctuary. There needs to be a place where a kid who may have an issue can sit down and talk with someone. I tend to not a big fan of many guidance counselors who simply say come back at 2:18 and we will change your schedule. She offered more questions and more interconnections. Teaching is about relationships right up my alley.

 

“Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.” On Purpose Associates

 

A young lady came up to present and started crying she shared her life experience of being in an interracial marriage and the impact that this made on her. As she talked she said her life revolves around the love of her family. I knew immediately even before sarcastically asking if she was a cheerleader in high school and found she actually coached cheerleading now in high school. She had everyone pick up a paint chip sample card and write four important words to them on the card. She was going to make a booklet and send around so each member of the group could add thoughts to the project. Relationships continued to be a building block in the day. A key thought people only ask once when questioning about her interracial marriage. I thought at first how difficult for all of those once’s and then it hit me one times one is still only one.

 

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

 

The young fellow who went next never thought he would be a teacher but an entire sequence of coincidences led him into the MAT program at Piedmont and into teaching. A component of the Foxfire approach that had significance to him was freedom, the ability to do whatever you want. Granted in education and in school there are norms and rules within which that freedom is imposed but still students have input. Motivation came up and a great illustration of a six pack of air in a bottle. Even Foxfire air could not be sold for any amount of money. We tend to try and motivate ids in school using things which they do not want. My Thursday conference went into this same area of thought. It is difficult to motivate if there is no desire for the consequence. The words

 

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

 

My Friday flowed one presenter to the next each adding to my own amazement with how we were so connected. One of the presenters put tape on the floor and used a warm activity from the Freedom Writers. She emphasized that all kids are different and have to be met where they are. She was excited about her week at Foxfire and shared what she was taking home. We need to focus on kids. So many teachers forget they are teaching for the sake of kids and not simply to teach. She confessed it is not about what I want. I shared with her a Harry Chapin song “Flowers are red”. All teachers should listen to it.

 

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

 

The last presenter of the afternoon that I was able to stay for took the group outside and did a simple game several items that were recyclable were placed on a poster board and each member of the group was to go towards and build a  group around an item With that what else could that item be used for. Everyone had a use for the many pieces of junk. After some discussion she asked, how are you feeling and everyone wrote a word on the poster board.

 

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

 

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “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.”

 

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.” William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

 

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

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

 

There were so many events through the past few days it is hard to pinpoint any one single event that stands out. There are people I have met and talked with and people who I barely had a word with. I was coming home last night and stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. A young man came up to me and asked me about antifreeze. He was holding a jug of antifreeze and asked if it was the right kind for a 1993 Ford. On the label very clearly it read 1989 and newer. It hit me he could not read. As all of the events of the past few days made sense the presentations and conferences, discussions and conversations all came together. We are all connected please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

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