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.

Pondering early in the morning in my search for wisdom

Bird Droppings May 15, 2019
Pondering early in the morning in my search for wisdom

 

I started my day as I routinely do fixing breakfast for my wife and myself. I walk out checking the outside ambient temperature and air, clean up the kitchen from dinner and proceed to my writing area upstairs. I have been sort of out of sync being off on Monday for a dentist visit, but my plans for upcoming Memorial Day weekend and students finishing the year are getting me fired up. I am seriously ready to get going on yard work, writing and a finishing up several pieces of my research since I have been lazy.

I will be running by my second most favorite store, Quick Trip to grab a morning grapefruit cranberry drink and a couple of energy shots after a shower. I had planned on picking up a few parts to work on my old Isuzu at the auto parts store eventually and always seem t put off till tomorrow. I sent out a few emails and did my postings on social media and the sun is still not up. I forget not all people live by my sunrise to sunset standard. So I will head on about the day and go by my favorite store, Kroger after work to pick up things for grilling for supper. Hopefully between grading student’s projects and make up tests today I can get serious about paper work and grading.
On the front page of today’s paper the lead story was how high school graduates are not ready for college and right next to it was an article on an assistant principal who is still being investigated in a past Atlanta’s school system cheating scandal claiming she did not know they were cheating only cleaning up eraser marks so testing machines would not err. One comment was essentially in Georgia twenty five percent of the graduates have to take remedial courses in college. As I thought about this pondering as I do I recalled I too took a remedial language arts course my freshmen year in college. Actually took it twice since the first time I did not go to class very often. How valid is taking a remedial class in terms of success in school?
Why did I have to take a remedial college course and yet I was accepted into all three colleges I applied too. My SAT was a few points too low for the school I applied too on the verbal portion and yet today it would be more than enough to get into any college without remedial classes. As I think to my days in High School Literature with the exception of maybe one or two years I hated it and could not understand why we needed to listen to a teachers opinion on why Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick. As I think back I really did not like Math classes, Spanish classes and all but one science class. Considering we had math, literature and science all four years of High School I really did not like high school and perhaps my GPA reflected this. Even though my SAT scores were what got me into college and conversely in a remedial class, my saving grace in education was standardized tests which I seemed to always do well on.

My first set of SAT scores were in today’s terms over 1300 for verbal and Math which really would get me into most undergraduate schools shy of Ivy League today. The second time I took SAT I decided I would see how fast I could actually take the test and in twenty three minutes had completed the SAT and scored only a few points lower than my previous testing. So where am I wandering today. My conclusion that I came to after reflecting on my own High School experience and many kids I talk with in High School today is that we are teaching subjects that many consider irrelevant to them, even kids going to college. Some students will strive and get high grades seemingly acquiring the content that is provided so they take End of Course Tests and do great. But as I look at High school subject matter and even the photo used in explaining how deficient students today are in Math I looked at the problem on the board behind the teacher being interviewed and in real life shy of being in physics or math as a job you will never see that material.

Real learning is what is missing from education today. It is about that desire to learn and making it relevant to students who more than likely do not even want to be in that class. So how do we get teachers on board that have been brought up in the same system? We have taken the passion out of learning. We have stripped learning of imagination and creativity.

“The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge. The wise, ever satisfied, have abandoned all external supports. Their security is unaffected by the results of their action; even while acting, they really do nothing at all. Free from expectations and from all sense of possession, with mind and body firmly controlled by the Self, they do not incur sin by the performance of physical action.” Bhagavad Gita 4:19-21

I can easily substitute learning and wisdom as I read through this ancient passage from a Hindu holy text. It is a matter of who you are with and when and how you have been told is this learning? But as I read this passage that is many years old, a person is wise when what you do is done without anxiety about results. You are not concerned about your grade or what college or who has the highest GPA. We sadly live in a competitive world where being number one is even a marketing tool for advertisers. I often wonder if politicians get stressed out, other than around elections over what they do. I always thought of my grandmother as wise for her understanding of life. As a small child perhaps I saw only that her knowledge was what she needed to know to raise her children justly and correctly and how to make really good Grandma Seitz chocolate chip cookies. As I grew up there was a different understanding on my part of her deep faith and wisdom maybe one day I can possible come close too?

“This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety….It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.” The Dalai Lama

As a society we seem to encourage anxiety and stress often at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Our previous elected government pushed to spread democracy through numerous wars and our current government has continued and added a war or two to the pot which has caused a tension and insecurity in our children according to Progressive Curriculum Theorist Henry Giroux. Is it turning to a deeper meaning a spiritual center as “the only firm base” as The Dalai Lama states.

“If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate well, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day.” Alex Noble

How many of us take this approach to life I use often the term of being a searcher in that I am always searching. When walking in the forest I have the urge to check under rocks could be the unrelenting herpetologist in me searching for a snake or lizard. As I sit or stand in the hallway at school observing, searching faces, listening, empathizing and trying to understand.

“To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” Dietrich Bonheoffer

I used a statement several weeks back about seeing the bubble in a thousand clear oceans. Bonheoffer addresses that same issue here. In education it is about context not content, that is being able to apply what knowledge we have and that can be more significant than an encyclopedia of information.

“I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” Helen Keller

Many the times, I will sit and think about people I would like to meet. My biological grandfather on my mother’s side is one, Gandhi another and Ralph Waldo Emerson but if I was allowed another it would be Helen Keller. There are few people who have overcome such insurmountable odds and then accomplish what she did. The title to the book about her life does not do justice to the real life situation, The Miracle Worker.

“It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” Henry David Thoreau

I need to be more cautious as I write, the other day Thoreau was searching for clam rather than calm, spell check does not read minds as of yet. But Thoreau eludes back to that thousand plus year old statement from the Bhagavad Gita,” when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results”. Being wise is being in tune so to say with all around and to borrow another word perhaps harmony could be used.

“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.” Immanuel Kant

In education there are in The Common Core Standards points of reference in each subject to attain or to have knowledge of. We in Georgia had a system in place of Performance Standards and previously to that Quality Core Curriculum which literally was each and every aspect of what the educational committee thought was important in that subject. Teachers were teaching to QCC’s and it was almost purely content. There was excitement as new standards came out and the school administrations “curriculum” people got hold of them and unpacked and now we have curriculum maps and curriculum pacing and what was to be wonderful has become a monster. The heart and soul has been stripped out and in its place organizational overload.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang

I have several times used my example of a liter bottle and having three gallons to put in it, how do we do it? A funnel still only fills to a liter and the rest spills out. I use this illustration in educating special needs kids and I believe it applies to all children and adults. It has been a few months since my last trip to Mountain City and the Foxfire property. I am heading up in a week or so. If you are in Mountain City Georgia take a look it is well worth the drive up the mountain. The museum will provide a guide to take you around. I recall the late Robert Murray and numerous walks with him around the property, here and there he would pick a plant leave or three or four telling about what they could do and what they can be used for.
As he would go building to building explaining mountain life he eventually gets to a shed with a large copper coil sort of device and asks “So what is it” and answers run the gambit? Finally laughing he explains it is a condenser for making moonshine. If you have watched the miniseries Hatfield and McCoy’s you will know. So how do we fill a liter bottle? We condense and we synthesize and much like making cane syrup we boil the cane juice down to get the good stuff. Wisdom is knowing what the good stuff is and being able to transcend the frills and extras.

“The perfection of wisdom, and the end of true philosophy is to proportion our wants to our possessions, our ambitions to our capacities, we will then be a happy and a virtuous people.” Mark Twain

Make that number five on my list of people who I would like to meet somehow Mark Twain could always have the right words and thoughts. As I meander about today searching for books and ideas, tilling in my garden and planting plants I will end with a line from a founding father and one maybe our current in power folks should read.

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” Thomas Jefferson

I hope we will listen to Jefferson please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Life and acceptance is often getting over fears

Bird Droppings May 14, 2019
Life and acceptance is often getting over fears

 

As I stepped outside into a beautiful clear chilled morning, we were hoping for a stop to the rain but the humidity still hung in the air. The grass was like walking on a sponge soggy and wet but then again it could be from my wife pressure washing the porch and sidewalk. I was thinking of one of my recent classes actually what should be the easiest class was the hardest to teach. Kids that could do but do not are much harder to work with than kids who have real physiological or psychological problems. These kids choose to not learn and a group of them feeds each other and then you have acceptance of that do nothing norm. My premise is that this do nothing is based indirectly on fear. In education it could have started as a fear of failure or lack of self-esteem but relegates itself to doing nothing rather than risk ridicule.

 

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers

 

As my days go often in opening a book or researching a thought quote or statement I am curious about, I fine ideas and inspiration that leads me further in my own endeavors. It was last year about this time I was thinking about being retired and having just completed four surgeries and a clean bill of health, I was getting ready to go back to teaching after a long break.  I missed the clamor of the hallways and interactions with students I got to thinking, I actually find I draw energy from the communications and feedback. I found a statement that for many reasons drew me to it. I found more as usual. I am working on an idea that deals with a student’s depression and so often getting that student to open up and to talk about their issues aids in overcoming the withdrawal and educational barriers of depression.

 

Rogers’s statement is not a paradox as much as a truth. In 1967 Carl Rogers wrote, The interpersonal relationship in the facilitation of learning, in which he emphasized three factors. The first factor is, realness in the facilitator of learning, secondly prizing which is acceptance and trust and third empathetic understanding. As I went through graduate school and came back to teaching I had been looking for explanations on how and why my teaching style worked. Amazingly I see this in Rodgers three points. Yesterday I was discussing why some teachers are so much better than others and it was these three issues.

 

“When the facilitator is a real person, being what she is, entering into a relationship with the learner without presenting a front or a façade, she is much more likely to be effective. This means that the feelings that she is experiencing are available to her, available to her awareness, that she is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate if appropriate. It means coming into a direct personal encounter with the learner, meeting her on a person-to-person basis. It means that she is being herself, not denying herself.” Carl Rogers

 

Looking back nearly fifty years, pronouns for teachers were consistently she and her and I recall a dear professor at Eastern College telling me there should not be men in elementary or special education. As I look at Rogers words teaching and education could be set aside and life reinserted. We should enter into all relationships without facades and utilize ourselves as human beings not trying to be someone we think we should be instead. Our best visual aid is ourselves and we are the example for life and others.

 

“There is another attitude that stands out in those who are successful in facilitating learning… I think of it as prizing the learner, prizing her feelings, her opinions, her person. It is a caring for the learner, but a non-possessive caring. It is an acceptance of this other individual as a separate person, having worth in her own right. It is a basic trust – a belief that this other person is somehow fundamentally trustworthy… What we are describing is a prizing of the learner as an imperfect human being with many feelings, many potentialities. The facilitator’s prizing or acceptance of the learner is an operational expression of her essential confidence and trust in the capacity of the human organism.” Carl Rogers

 

I have written about trust so many times, it is in accepting people and trusting people inherently that we find difficulty. Almost ten years back for my former professor in Human Development, Dr. Udhe at Piedmont College I did a paper on the development of Trust. I had researched the concept of faith and found faith and trust literally synonymous in definition and in development. Dr. James Fowler a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology wrote a book on the development of faith borrowing from educational developmentalists including Piaget and Erickson. As I read Dr. Fowlers work and looked at others I found parallels in the development of trust and evolved over several months a chart.

 

Watching my grandkids as they grow up I am seeing this now as they are acquiring the ability to choose through their little responses to life. Only a few years ago they would cry when hungry or wet. Last weekend as I played with them I had been noticing how they will use words to describe and words to clarify what they wanted but still occasionally here and there and then little whimpers that escalate if they do not get their way. It may be they want to sit different, or want their momma, or a specific toy. They have learned this ability rather quickly. Last weekend on one occasion as one of them whimpered and turned towards her momma from my lap she pouted her lower lip and whimpered her mother said come to momma and picked her up and she looked over her shoulder right at me and smiled her impish little smile. That is acquired learned behavior at its best.

 

The Bird development stages of trust
Stage 1 – Unconditional Trust – a baby’s view of trust totally unconditional
Stage 2 – supportive Trust – a child begins to feel trust in the support of family and parents
Stage 3 – Learned Trust – venturing out the learn and acquire trust
Stage 4 – Experienced Trust – trying and experimenting they experience trust
Stage 5 – Questioned Trust – first love and friendship and questions arise
Stage 6 – Answered Trust – slowly we work through events and answer questions
Stage 7 – Universal Trust – As we mature we find trust is there
Stage 8 – Unconditional Trust – very few come back to unconditional trust

 

The graphic that I did is very colorful and I have put into comparison other devlopmentalists in various fields including Kohlberg and Gillian. We do move through these stages as we go in life, some fixate at one point and never move past. But in Rogers statement acceptance is paramount to trust. The third component of Rogers’s thoughts is empathy.

 

“A further element that establishes a climate for self-initiated experiential learning is emphatic understanding. When the teacher has the ability to understand the student’s reactions from the inside, has a sensitive awareness of the way the process of education and learning seems to the student, then again the likelihood of significant learning is increased…. [Students feel deeply appreciative] when they are simply understood – not evaluated, not judged, and simply understood from their own point of view, not the teacher’s.” Carl Rogers

 

Nearly a year ago I ended a paper on my philosophy of teaching with the idea that empathy was a key element. There is an aspect to life that some people have and many do not. I have watched my wife with patients as a nurse practitioner understand where her patient is coming from and then able to better deal with that persons illness. Years back reading a sales book by Harvey McKay I recall a secret of his. When walking into an office of a customer take notice to what is there build a repertoire. Do you see University of Georgia signs, bulldogs and or logos? Where did they graduate from college and high school? Build a relationship was McKay’s secret and then he made notes for the next meeting. As I am sitting here remembering from way back when, I still keep notes on people. Today when I meet a new student and or anyone I try and find a common ground to start with. I try and not to prejudge and push aside but try and find where we are similar. Sometimes in life this is hard but understanding goes far and empathy is also powerful tool in life. As usual looking for Harvey McKay’s book I found another aspect of Mr. McKay’s writing his daily moral or quote so for today coincidently.

 

“Teachers strive not to teach youth to make a living, but to make a life.” Harvey McKay

 

Far too often we get caught in the trying to make a living and lose the three elements of Rogers thoughts and that applies across the board not just to teachers but parents too and friends. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and as the great Sioux Chief and Medicine man Sitting Bull offered to always give thanks namaste.

 

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

 

In the pursuit of excellence

Bird Droppings May 13, 2019
In the pursuit of excellence

I was listening to crickets and tree frogs as the sounds of morning surrounded me with the rustling of leaves in the steady breeze as I sojourned out in the wee hours with our dog. It is a great day to walk this reality thank you.

“We are surrounded by actors who cannot act…singers who cannot sing…teachers who cannot teach…writers who cannot write…speakers who cannot speak…painters who cannot paint…and we pay them fortunes for their mediocrity.” Ernest Hemmingway

I was looking for a starting point today as I read through the news and such earlier. Several emails had me wondering about why we do what we do and how we do it. Seldom do I question my teaching capabilities but as I read an email I received last night with suggestions, it makes me think and sometimes as I ponder why do I teach the kids I do reasons elude me. I happened on a Labor Day talk by William Edelen, entitled “In praise of excellence”. Contained within Edelen’s essay was the following excerpt.

“Observe, I suggest no sense of service. More hypocrisy is poured out to youthful ears in the name of serving mankind than would fill a library of books. I can remember the droning on that score that I had to listen to, that I should become a drudge in some distasteful pursuit to assist a mankind not visibly affected by similar endeavors. If it be selfishness to work on a job one likes, and live as one wants, because one likes it and for no other end, let us accept the podium. I had rather live forever in a company of Don Quixote’s, than among a set of the walking dead professing to be solely moved to the betterment of one another. Let us then do our jobs for ourselves and we are in no danger of deserving society. Though six associations, groups, companies, combinations of societies for the improvement of mankind, with their combined boards of directors, secretaries, stenographers and field agents were to be put into some scale against six honest carpenters who liked their job and did their work with excellence, they would kick the beam as high as Euripides. The six honest, excellent, carpenters may serve as a beacon for all time, and men will love them, but be that as it may, six honest carpenters who do their job with excellence because they like it and for no other reason will save themselves. That is quite enough to ask…” Judge Learned Hand

I sat thinking about the idea of excellence in whatever it is we do. Judge Hand used the illustration of carpenters as he explained excellence. In doing your job with excellence as the goal, imagine what a world we would have. I have been reading and sharing a book by Charlotte Danielson on evaluating teachers, in her book she points toward developing excellent teachers, distinguished teachers. Piedmont College in their Specialist program uses a rubric for evaluation of candidates based on Danielson’s ideas and has named it using an acronym STAR. When I was in teaching in the early 70’s I felt a need to have an evaluation tool that could pinpoint quality teachers and could then help establish teaching excellence.
In carpentry we can see excellence as the pieces come into place, within the fit and finish of the item being built. In many areas the product can be seen or touched or heard and excellence is easily evaluated. In teaching it becomes more difficult.

“If we lose the sense of excellence in our daily labor we will become weak as a people and as a nation. If we lose our respect and admiration for craftsmanship, our vigor as a people will decline.” William Edelen

“Those who lack talent expect things to happen without effort. They ascribe failure to a lack of inspiration or ability, or to misfortune rather than to insufficient application. Thus…talent is a species of vigor.” Eric Hoffer

Each day I hear the words I am passing that is enough. Trying to instill in students who have known nothing but failure in their lives and defeat can be difficult. As I was writing this morning my dog wanted another outside break and I walked out into the near darkness of the early morning with some slight cloud cover. It is easy to feel the start of the storm around the corner there is a slight chill in the air and a breeze, but still warm enough for the crickets. It would be silent save for the drone of crickets even in their monotonous chirp, a harmony.

“People do not stumble into excellence. It requires application and tenacity of purpose.” William Edelen

As I ponder there are tens of thousands of crickets chirping and yet it sounds as if only one is sounding off, it is so easy to get lost in the midst of s cricket chorus. We do this every day as we go to work, we get lost in the cricket chorus, the constant chirping of the same note, the same beat and soon those around pick up and soon everyone is in tune and all is well but no excellence.

“Our schools are crying for uncommon teachers who are excellent, outstanding and distinguished.” William Edelen

It is difficult to sound and act different in a world of constantly chirping crickets, to perhaps change the note or pitch and try and get more done or get it done better. It seems that status quo is not enough for some people. I went into school one morning as I do another teacher was sitting putting in grades. It seems this teacher was sent a message about parents complaining about their teaching style. One note and a teacher is upset and here I am pondering not a complaint or but a suggestion and only because without fanfare that suggestion had been done and completed but not advertised it was just part of the normal daily activity. I thought back to my friend who was writing notes and questioning the style of teaching that had been done and at what point do we ever grade the desire of students and the political repercussions people viewing from without.

“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” “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 have used the term osmosis to describe the teaching relationship. Perhaps I should add to that excellence in osmosis. No matter what the field, we need to strive for more than just passing; we need to push for excellence in parenting, in friendship, in all of our endeavors. We as teachers have a tiny window, for me a hundred or so minute window to impact a student and if every teacher that student has are equally as impacting, about a seven to eight hour window each day. But when evaluating and judging excellence that student has a sixteen hour window or more like a garage door to unravel and totally disperse any impact received during school. It could easily be parents who are angry, upset, out of work, sick physically or mentally, friends who put peer pressure on them, jobs, athletics, relationships and the list could go on and on. It has been many years since I jokingly referred to this as a sixteen hour syndrome and wondered if we could develop a vaccine. 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

Trying to find a way back to normal or is it abnormal: Is your child a hippy?

Bird Droppings May 12, 2019

Trying to find a way back to normal or is it abnormal: Is your child a hippy?

 

“Your son or daughter may be flashing warning signals that he or she will soon drop out of society and join the “hippie” movement. If you know what to look for, you may be able to prevent it.” Jacqueline Himelstein, How To Tell If Your Child Is a Potential Hippie and What You Can Do About It, 1970 P.T.A. Parent Education Pamphlet

 

I noticed a note a while back on Facebook in a rather interesting site, Word of Mouth Critical Pedagogy that I am a member of and post to.  It caught my attention being a post for parents to catch warning signs of their children becoming hippies which I have been called over the years many times. I recall a hone coming dress up day not too far back, it was decade day for homecoming week and I pulled out a tie dyed short. As I read through I found it most interesting and actually having been involved to a degree in that era of change seeing the reminders from back in the day struck a chord. The first sign is “a sudden interest in a cult, rather than an accepted religion”. I found this intriguing as so many of our large churches literally are cult followings sort of thing and now considered main stream. The second followed the first with “the inability to sustain a personal love relationship drawn more to group experiences. In so many instances I see being part of a group now more significant than individuality for so many people. One of my favorite musical artists in Neil Young and falling right into that period of time seems about right.

 

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio. Gotta get down to it soldiers are cutting us down should have been done long ago. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground how can you run when you know?” Neil Young

 

Perhaps it was just a wandering thought it has been a few days since our last school shooting, it has been about six years since the shooting in Arizona of a congresswomen. But while I was sitting thinking and pondering now a few days back one afternoon listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall, the song Ohio played and stuck with me. It has been a long short week. Testing most of week literally trying to find my way back to normal and it is taking a few days or more to do it.  I miss and want to hold my grandbabies and then I remember they are not here. I am amazed at how quickly we change our life style and focus as grandparents. Anyhow back to my original thought I was listening to “Ohio” by Neil young and the song sort of stuck with me and as I pondered how you ever get to normal after an event like that. Incidentally one of the shooting victims from the Arizona shooting was at Kent State nearly forty plus years ago and lost a friend. I went looking for a few notes on the song and borrowed from Wiki-pedia the following:

 

“’Ohio’ is a protest song written and composed by Neil Young in reaction to the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was released as a single, backed with Stephen Stills’ ‘Find the Cost of Freedom,’ peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although a live version of the song was included on the group’s 1971 double album Four Way Street, the studio versions of both songs did not appear on an LP until the group’s compilation So Far was released in 1974. The song also appeared on the Neil Young compilation album Decade, released in 1977. It also appears on Young’s Live at Massey Hall album, which he recorded in 1971 but did not release until 2007.” Wiki-pedia

 

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders from all those who would profit by the new order.  This luke warmness arises partly from the fear of their adversaries who have the law in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind who do not just believe in anything new, until they have actual experience of it.” Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)

 

My mother sent this Machiavelli quote to me and back in the day and today so many similarities in our public awareness on both sides of the fence. I skip back to this past holiday season and for us as teachers in our county an extended break with a shortened calendar year and longer days to save money and then an extra week due to ice and snow. I find I am seriously a creature of habit and being out of routine for so long it is very hard to get back to normal. As I look at the national scene in politics and legislation I often wonder if we ever will actually do things for the people of the country and no longer for sponsors of politicians. On a passing thought maybe politicians should be required to wear stickers like in NASCAR of sponsors.

 

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau

 

It has been some time since I came back to Thoreau. I recall reading about him and Walden back in high school but it was just an assignment at that time. I as a student was living this quote. I was going through the motions of a being student but never quite really understood what it was I was doing there or why. Somewhere in Macon Georgia at Mercer it clicked and I became a student and found that being a student and learning were two completely different things. This is sort of like realizing how engrained our routines actually are in our daily lives. I come into school clean my room each morning and get ready for the day sit and write read a bit feed my various room critters and get ready for students. I had more to do since my classes changed almost daily this past week students  in and out so my personal writing time was affected in the morning and now not having all day to run errands it is confined to a narrow window in the afternoon and then home to cook dinner and rest for another day.

 

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. “ Henry David Thoreau

 

I took a picture on January fourth of this year at sunrise and posted on facebook like so many images I post. I wanted to use a Thoreau quote on my “Wall of Fame”, at school and in looking through my images this sunrise was so intense it just seemed right and so it became a poster for my photo wall at school. As I read over several times this quote from Thoreau started to sink in. I need to think over and over those deep thoughts that I want to attain and accomplish and rather than procrastinate go about following my path way to completion. So I am slowly getting back to normal and just emailed a friend after a long break it takes four or five days to get back in the groove. We have as a nation, state, county, school and family so many things ahead of us we need to begin working through and around and over so we can get back to normal. Then of course I really don’t think normal is where I probably ever will be according to many. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

At what point do we exist

Bird Droppings May 10, 2019
At what point do we exist

 

Yesterday was an ordinary day other than being my daughter in laws Piedmont College Nursing School, pinning ceremony.  Most folks outside of a nursing family would not even think twice. Shortly after all the smoked cleared my daughter in law posted two images, a few years back my sons pinning ceremony with the family and then last night’s image. She has entered a select group of people. My wife has been a nurse for over forty years along with several other family members, so for nurses this is a big deal.

 

The pool guy took the cover off our pool today and grandkids are already to jump in asking if they could come over later today and swim, swim and swim. I will start my day tomorrow with a half mile of pool walking. Thinking back to the program last night one of their nursing class is currently deployed in the Middle East. The class had an open chair as the honored his service and students, and family members who have passed away during their program in school.

 

Over the years thinking back to high school, I did not know very many who had died in the military other than listening to my father and his stories of World War II, to us as children they were stories only. As we got closer to graduation from high school several brothers of friends had been killed in Viet Nam and significantly more meaning came to having friends in the service. I was getting ready to head to a tenth high school reunion when a list of those who died was published. Guys I was hoping to sit down with and joke again were dead.
When I graduated from high school and went to college on a student deferment from the draft I was very aware of the draft in that I did not want to get drafted and go to Viet Nam. The news kept us up to date well almost, as often Viet Nam breaking news would be several days or even weeks old when we heard it. I honestly do not think Viet Nam would have lasted in today’s instantaneous news. After my freshmen year and being asked not to return to college since my grades were not that great, I was drafted in the first draft lottery along with many of my fellow class mates who did not go to class perhaps enough times to satisfy professors and somehow in college passing and attendance is important. It was at this point in my life it hit me.
I failed my draft physical which allowed me to continue searching for a school that would let me in. I moved to Texas for school a small college in Plano Texas the University of Plano which was at that time the only school that would take me. Across several states and colleges I eventually landed in Macon Georgia. I finally finished my undergraduate education and graduated from Mercer University in 1974. Along the way I lost touch on the most part of my former classmates in high school and without the internet and cell phones I infrequently had word from my hometown on events and people. Over the year’s piece by piece word got to me of the death of this friend or that friend in Viet Nam and when all of the numbers were tallied nearly ten fellows from our graduating class or classes around us died in Viet Nam. Memorial Day became very significant now.
It was at this point in my life that remembering and honoring our veterans, on special days such Memorial Day or a graduation ceremony at nursing school hit home. It was several years till I was able to visit Washington DC and go to the Viet Nam memorial. I walked down so unsure of why and where I was at the time. Yes I was in Washington DC on a High School Band trip with my son but here I was looking at a wall that seemed to stretch endlessly along the pathway. I went to the registry book and found the names I recalled and the locations on the panels and wrote these on my hand with a marker. After several minutes I composed myself and walked along finding names amidst the tens of thousands on the wall.
I watched sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers touching names, dropping flowers, and standing with tears streaming down their cheeks staring at the cold black stone slab winding along a pathway. I often speak of sacred being a spot where many come to honor, pray, ponder or worship and here in Washington DC this was a sacred place. It was nearly a half an hour later my son was calling to me and I found myself sitting on a bench looking down on the wall. Our bus was ready to leave and they could not find me. I do not believe in war and have not for most of my life, this is a personal belief that for me is not about fearing death or dying for a cause but that it is not what is to be.
However I honor those who in their efforts and belief and have given their lives for me so I can believe in what I do and for those who have provided the opportunity for others worldwide. Yesterday was not about political or religious ideology but about people who believed in what they were doing and in that effort died for that belief. As we honor now young men and women who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is bringing home this idea of Memorial Day to recent graduates of high schools across the nation. I wish one day the concept of war would be out dated but until that time please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

Bird Droppings May 9, 2019
Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

 

For nearly sixteen years I have been involved writing about, as a student, an instructor, visiting, taking photos and or offering my two cents at the Foxfire Approach to Teaching Course. The program had been put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia at the Foxfire museum. This course was an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. While the course is still offered it is now in the class room at the college. A good friend contacted me about perhaps another course simply creative writing focusing on the Foxfire property. That intrigues me as well.

 

The experience with Foxfire for me has been almost addicting. One Monday afternoon a few years back as I made my way home in the pouring rain from Black Rock mountain I had been invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. Within the course we had talked about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I would come away excited about teaching and education as well and couple that with the many new friends made during the day or two I would be involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off it is a great experience.

 

About six years ago as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in, Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

 

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto,
The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts one’s self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leaving its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

 

I now have read through this paragraph many times and each time found a bit more. I have been glancing through several books this morning one is an autobiography of the founder of Foxfire who came into this idea purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to several of his former students and all consider him to be a great teacher, some have said one of the best they have ever had. A thought on my mind for nearly forty years as I have watched enthusiastic young teachers start out and within five or six months they go from creative dynamos to doing as so many others do running worksheets and gong page by page through the text book. The founder of Foxfire was addressing this in his book and offered the following.

 

“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   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

 

Keeping the energy flowing and rejuvenating the brain and soul are crucial to being a good if not great teacher. I find my trips to the Foxfire courses and interacting with current and new teachers to be offered me an ongoing window into what possibilities are out there. Thinking back to my seminary days so many years ago and the affiliated churches there was the use of evangelists going church to church to re-inspire the throngs to the church and its mission. Over the years the programs at mass teacher events that are designed to do this is far more often too similar to a tent service alongside the road and fish oil hucksters working from their peddlers wagon for most teachers to believe. In education as John Dewey over and over again points out.

 

“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

 

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalized 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

 

Over the years I have done this type of exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses we develop a good teacher/bad teacher listing which often would be very similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I actually sat here this morning developing a rubric based on Lisa Delpit’s introduction. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.
I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers years ago but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who will see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which and that due to being a resource teacher in special education addressing differing earning styles and needs. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.

 

“Studies of teacher evaluation by principal observation and report have been found to be under representative sampling, biased reporting, disruption caused by class room visit, and limitations of the principal imposed by misleading or truncated reporting systems such as checklists and narrow anecdotal systems.” K. Peterson

 

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned, and sadly actually more of a reading score than subject matter. That is leaving out a crucial piece, for example with students that have a State End of Course Test in their class that test counts twenty percent of their final grade and we say try and not teach to the test.
Perhaps in my zeal from having been to and going back to Foxfire classes over the years I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers to engage students and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day 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

 

How do we make learning successful?

Bird Droppings May 8, 2019

How do we make learning successful?

So as I do on many mornings when I get the time I walked out to a quiet corner of my back yard. Nestled in a patch of weeds and brush I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning. It is still too dark when I head to school to glimpse the sunrise or the threads of life as I call them glisten in the early morning light. These are strands of spider webbing that are 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.

 

As I see my grandchildren and interact I become concerned deeply with their education. I am concerned about learning even more so than education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is supposedly to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal politcs 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 escape outside to nature. 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. I have raised a simple question for nearly twenty years. I can through “DATA” show a direct correlation between the standardized biology and literature tests in Georgia and reading levels.

 

A co-teacher was using terms and numbers, that I questioned and said these are the numbers the state uses to evaluate schools. Basically it was 80% and above. Of all the scores I checked 100% of students with 80% or higher in biology 2019 EOC test in our school read on grade level or very close. I randomly checked to find where the magic cut off was for failing and found a lexile score of less than 950 had 94% of students failing that test. We were asked to find ways of teaching biology differently. I raise the question how do we teach kids to read in high school? Different teachers same results. Read on grade level pass below and fail.

 

“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 have co-taught with a teacher in physics who likes to provide context to the learning. In order to study the concepts of velocity and acceleration we did a slip and slide lab to take data in order to calculate acceleration and velocity. It was interesting to see physics come alive for those kids and still comply with the curriculum requirements. If I was wagering I would definitely say we did.

 

“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, ant 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