Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings March 6, 2017

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

 

This is perhaps a loaded question in lieu of today’s educational climate. Watching the news and the major effort under way to dismantle public schools through vouchers, “school choice” and other means we need to look at what we want from education. In a ninth grade literature class that I happened to co-teach in, I was introduced to the book Freedom Writers Diary and the film based on the book. In some ways the story is similar to the story of Foxfire. Erin Gruell a first year brand new teacher in an inner city school circa 1992 is baffled as to how and approach literature with her classes. Elliot Wiggington n 1966 was just as baffled as a new teacher of literature in the mountains of Rabun County Georgia. I recall my own first time teaching verbal students I should add as I taught several years working with severe and profoundly disabled students who all were nonverbal. I will say my earliest teaching experiences with non-verbal students did instill in me an appreciation for empathy and intuitiveness. That first verbal student class picture is on my wall in my room today from 1976. Over forty years ago I saw the same issues Wiggington and Gruell faced walking into a class of students who did not want to be there. Lesson one is always the hardest.

 

“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.” Foxfire Core Practice three

 

I was given a class of thirteen I was told that they were learning disabled students. As day one progressed I found someone put down the wrong disability on most of these kids. My principal emphasized reading and I found very quickly the highest reading level in the entire class was three or four years behind. I was not privileged to see folders of students I was to only know they are learning disabled. Our readers were the Dick and Jane type books from first grade and my youngest student was twelve. I learned day one these books we were reading would not work period after having one nearly miss my head. At least my teacher’s podium was not set on fire as happened to Elliot Wiggington back in his first teaching job. When I went home that night I swore day two would be different.

 

“Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in terms of Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities. When forced to recognize that the extremes cannot be acted upon, it is still inclined to hold that they are all right in theory but that when it comes to practical matters circumstances compel us to compromise. Educational philosophy is no exception. The history of educational theory is marked by position between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

So many college education programs across the country teach a classroom should be like this with a picture of rows of desks all neat in a row and board in front and so forth like so many classrooms we all have seen. Dewey labeled this traditional education and points to the industrial revolution as the basis for this. In current educational reform which in effect is not reform in terms of improving education for children but an effort to streamline and make more efficient the processes of education so as to be more profitable for corporations now buying into education through charter schools. In effect even a stronger sense of traditional education except now imagine the ideal reform classroom banks of computer carousels with students focused on screens room after room and somewhere a “teacher” monitoring programming of computers. No longer would certified teachers be needed only a programmer. Room after room all sitting in rows focused on the screen. Definitely not the classroom I would want for my kids or grandkids.

 

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one

 

This is why perhaps I am drawn to John Dewey’s writing. In the turn of the century he knew education was the key to democracy and the key to the future. Dewey set a lab school at the University of Chicago that still is operating. It was after several years and a graduate school course that Elliot Wiggington realized he was using ideas from John Dewey.

 

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core Practice two

 

I found on my own it was about learner choice and interaction between students and teachers that learning occurred not in some magically programmed curriculum guide. I asked on day two what my students liked to read and nothing was the basic answer from all of them. So what do you like to do was question two. Now we started to get some answers. A rush of favorites started spilling out wrestling, cars, girls, fast cars, baseball, football and it grew quickly. So day three I brought magazines about cars, wrestling and I did leave playboy at my house but I was tempted. By the end of year reading levels soared and my principal was so excited she ordered next set of Dick and Jane books.
As I watched the film Freedom Writers my thoughts went back to why did this teacher succeed and why did Wiggington succeed. As I looked up information on the Freedom Writers I found in the references a list of teachers on the Wikipedia page. Listed in the references and for further information Ken Carter, education activist and former high school basketball coach portrayed in the 2005 film, Coach Carter, Joe Louis Clark, high school principal portrayed in Lean on Me (film), Ron Clark (teacher), portrayed in the 2006 film, The Ron Clark Story, Pierre Dulaine, dancer and dance educator, Jaime Escalante, high school teacher portrayed in the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, Marilyn Gambrell, parole officer-turned high school teacher portrayed in the 2005 Lifetime movie, Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story, and LouAnne Johnson, writer, teacher and former U.S. Marine featured in the 1995 film, Dangerous Minds. All of these teachers also were successful with their classes. Why were these teachers successful and others perhaps trying to emulate have not succeeded.

 

“As Foxfire grew and gained national recognition, beleaguered teachers all across the country looked at The Foxfire Magazine, and saw an opportunity to change things. They started producing their own magazines in an attempt to “do Foxfire.” Most of these teachers met with partial or little success because they had missed the very heart of why Foxfire succeeded—student choice.” Foxfire Fund website

 

After ten summers of Foxfire teacher’s courses I have found only a few teachers use the ideas and are successful and it comes back to allowing students to take some ownership.

 

“The success of the Foxfire program was due in large part to the fact the students chose to create a magazine. Since the magazine was their choice, the students were deeply invested in the work of creating it. The magazine product itself was not the solution to classroom woes that so many teachers thought it would be. Kaye Carver Collins, an early magazine student and later a Foxfire staff member for 13 years, explained the problem like this: ‘It seemed that people couldn’t understand the importance of the difference between the magazine, which was the choice we made, and the fact that we made a decision.’” Foxfire Fund website

 

After being in education and training for nearly forty five years I have found it is much easier to ask someone to do something than tell them. I have found it is easier if it is of interest to that person and if it applies to that person outside of educational setting even easier to teach.

 

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

Hanging on my wall over my head in my classroom the Foxfire Core Practices and another poster of children learn what they live. One poster the Foxfire one shows me I am a learner as well as a teacher, more a facilitator. Dr. Laura Nolte’s poster shows me to set the example the children are watching. So progressive versus traditional where does this lead?
“The traditional scheme is, in essence, one of imposition from above and from outside. It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. 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. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

Teaching should not be simply a control issue. Education needs to be less of a prison and more oriented around creating an atmosphere of learning. Down through history developmentalists including Piaget and Erickson have shown children are learning different than adults and in effect are developing in their learning styles and means. Yet we assume they are operating on an adult level almost from day one. I have brought up several issues why some teachers, who are progressive are successful and others not and why is traditional education not succeeding but simply staying almost on a level progression even reformers ideas are not impacting just making someone somewhere wealthy. I have wandered a bit today and will clarify in days to come trying to raise some questions. As today progresses 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

Life, a journey only made difficult if there is no learning invloved

Bird Droppings February 28, 2017
Life, a journey only made difficult if there is no learning invloved

 

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

 

I was visiting with my mother yesterday and I walked by my fathers and brothers grave site or I should say stood by them. I was recalling the day I was called from work almost twenty years ago, my brother had passed away during the night. I looked about the hillside where he was buried and now my father is buried there as well. The farm had been home to many families over the years. Most recently a family of share croppers who for nearly sixty years tilled the land planting cotton and also running a dairy farm for a local land baron and financier. He too has passed away and left his name on a local church gym and road signs around the county.
As I looked out at now soccer fields and houses where not too many years ago boll weevils were poisoned with arsenic and mules driven along furrows plowing terraces in an effort to keep what remaining top soil was there in place. I saw a crow land in an old cedar tree. I walked over and watched the crow for a few minutes and recalled that when you see cedar trees six or so in a row; traditionally in Georgia there was once an old fence line. This particular row I knew well for I had taken done the old rusty barbed wire myself many years ago that ran along through them.
I wanted to sit a moment at my brother’s grave site as I thought back several years to a similar time when I was waiting for my father to come home from the hospital sitting in this exact spot. I was sitting and I was wondering at all that had happened in the eighteen years since. What journeys had I been on? As I thought I glanced over at several burial markers from before the civil war from a family that had lived on this land so many years ago. Little granite houses literally fashioned from slabs of rock into body sized houses. There are four that can still be seen through the thicket of old honey suckle vines and sumac stalks.
I was thinking back to days when my children, nieces and nephews made the mosaics tiles to lay on my brother’s grave. There is one for each of my mother’s grandchildren. Each is a piece fashioning their ideas in to a mosaic of individual tiles and pieces of glass. There were several music notes on one, an ibis on another, flowers on several, an art design with a heart and arrows coming from it on another. I thought it would be great to have a guide book explaining each piece each color and tile to know why and where and who placed each one.
On a different thought I received an email from a dear friend in Pennsylvania many days back responding to a dropping from a few days or so ago. She added a thought, “The past cannot be changed but the future is whatever you want it to be”. She was not sure where it came from I did a search this morning and came up with, unknown author. But as I looked and wondered about our own mosaics in life my own in particular, what road was I on where was I going. Would one day I look back and see the tiles in place in my own life and try and recall why and where and how a most difficult journey it has been.
I recall days I would have wished on no one and am sorry I myself lived but I wonder. I went out earlier and watched the moon faint behind a bank of clouds slowly moving across the morning darkness. It was so quiet nearly silent as I walked around this morning with only a car in the distance to mark civilizations intrusion on my peace.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Through my life I have made choices in despair many times rather than from exhilaration and on some occasions made a mistake. As I sat thinking wondering reading Twain’s words it caught me so often complacency ties us in, cast off the bowlines, and explore, dream, and discover as Twain so eloquently stated. I have always been a searcher traveling through this life exploring the myriads of trails and pathways. I am always looking, always exploring, wondering, talking, asking questions, and seeking answers to questions without any answers, wearing out shoes as I travel. Many are the times I would walk bare foot rather than stop.
I recall a brief journey where literally I had to take off my shoes and in doing so learned several lessons. Number one you cannot break in new boots on a weeklong hike. Number two is that mole skin is a wonderful invention and third it will protect your feet. Your feet can be the difference between another journey and sitting down waiting. I have wandered today trying to resolve for myself issues that may never be resolved ideas that will perpetuate my soul for some time I have yet it is as Mark Twain stated, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do”. So everyone as you go take another step, search down another pathway, find a new trail in life, but just do not try and break in new boots as you go. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

It is about random acts of kindness

Bird Droppings February 21, 2017

It is about random acts of kindness

 

I was a bit later than I planned to get started this morning. I have a long day of writing for school and personally today. I got up this morning and my son’s faithful dog decided I did not need sleep late. He was quick to run outside and then wanted right back in the house. It was close enough to seven o’clock that I went ahead and got up did a bit of reading and thinking. I used to in previous days use have what I called the great skittles challenge. I would do up a rubric, word search, cross word puzzle something with vocabulary or material we have been going over and the first five or so would win a pack of skittles. One I liked a lot was a Secretariat skittle quiz.  I am a big fan of the great chestnut horse two times, American Jockey Club Horse of the year and with also a very good movie to his credit. Reviewing some horse facts it was 1948 when Citation won the previous Triple Crown and with Secretariat’s win at the Belmont, in a track record, that still stands Secretariat made his way into history.

 

Over the years the challenge has changed and in order to support our FFA I would get Chik Fila sandwiches from FFA club on Fridays. I do make the challenge harder each week. This past Friday the challenge was a president challenge and each student had a different president to find information about. Yesterday I had a student get upset and that hopefully will not continue into next week although we had a student/teacher valuation and I am sure that fellow is my outlier. One thing that has amazed me in our hectic world is how many people forget there are others around. I read an earlier Facebook post from a student and the main theme was, how “does this help me”. I hear and feel that from many people, a very self-centered view of reality.

 

So a crazy day for me late getting started, no school, errands to run and thinking about Secretariat. Last evening as I was getting ready to call it a night I went out on the back porch and listened in the dark. A pack of coyotes was having a concert. Actually it was beautiful listening to one take a lead and others join in. I made sure and turn on spot lights since it was maybe a hundred yards behind the house in a vacant field. But the underlying thought doing something nice for someone else continued to run through my thoughts.

 

“When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.” Rabbi Harold Kushner

 

When I first read this earlier I passed over it and read some from the Dalai Lama and a bit from Emerson. It has been some time since our hometown high school class website had started into the political realm, arguing and presenting issues and rationales for various and sundry campaigns and politicians. Looking back on former presidential candidates as I scanned through Yahoo news both sides hammered on the same nail in different directions perhaps. It was Maslow that said, “If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.”  I am amazed at how much material our politicians provide for late night comedy. They are literally providing material for Saturday night live and other satirists. A couple of years ago the mayor of Dearborn Michigan emailed Senate candidate Sharon Angle about her remarks that Muslims had taken over Dearborn and that it had been put under Shari Law and asked where was she getting her information.

 

“It is my belief that whereas the twentieth century has been a century of war and untold suffering, the twenty-first century should be one of peace and dialogue. As the continued advances in information technology make our world a truly global village, I believe there will come a time when war and armed conflict will be considered an            outdated and obsolete method of settling differences among nations and      communities.” His holiness the Dalai Lama

 

As I sit this morning aside from reading numerous articles in the National Geographic magazine, about Africa, I have not paid much attention today to the news coverage. Many years ago I was a youth leader in Macon Georgia and one of the youth, a red haired young lady, gave me a Bible for my twenty third birthday gift. I still have that book and the handmade felt cover that is tattered and worn. I thought a few years back of calling the number one day in the back of that Bible and getting her mother. After a few minutes, nearly an hour of conversation, I found out my former student was living in Africa, her new adopted home working in the mission field not converting heathens but providing daily care. We so often pass over the good deeds for the more news worthy stories of war and violence. Millions have died in civil war and famine in Africa funny we do not hear about it maybe there is not enough of what we want there.

 

“The United States is not a nation to which peace is a necessity.” Grover Cleveland

 

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” Moshe Dayan

 

These two quotes present a contrast of sorts with a United States former president and an Israeli hero of war and also of peace.

 

“Think not forever of yourselves, O Chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of            continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet             unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.” T. S. Eliot

 

So often we tend to be caught up in the now and forget one day all we do will be reflected in the faces and lives of our grandchildren. Perhaps as I get closer to retirement and old age although most of my students would say I am old it is hitting more close to home.  We get too immersed in today in selfish pursuits of wealth and power, wiping out an entire species, for profit, is fine. It is about destroying wilderness, to make a quick buck; it is fine leveling a country for fun and money.

 

“Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and police.” Albert Einstein

 

“When you’re finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?” Frank Borman

 

It has been many years since I was privileged to visit a high school 45 miles from here we always have preconceptions about what the children will be like, teachers and such as I talked to the journalism class, one of the girls made a statement that stuck with me, “What did you think we would be like”. A loaded question I really had not said a word and already being put in a corner, had someone already poisoned me to who they were or weren’t.  I had been to the same school a few days earlier for a band competition and was impressed. So I was very positive walking through the front door the band program had been very successful so maybe I was biased positively although from the tone of the girl’s voice, I think she was expecting a negative response. Now I had heard horror stories about this school. Interesting fact was, I used to know several administrators there and all I have heard was where they were going, not about where they had been. There were no previous administrators dragged through the mud, no excuses just here is where we will be. Positive goals and building up rather than tearing down. There was a lot of taking down walls and removing barriers between students and teachers, administration and teachers, and parents and the school. There is little difference in making peace in a high school and in the world the playing field is different but directions are similar.

 

“There never was a good war or a bad peace.” Benjamin Franklin

 

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

I am sitting here thinking this morning after watching a beautiful sunset yesterday and a possible a glorious sunrise today and wondering where tomorrow will lead. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and remember to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Teaching is a journey it is not copy, paste or bubble.

Bird Droppings February 8, 2017

Teaching is a journey it is not copy, paste or bubble.

 

“To project an image of what Public Education in the US might become in the 21st Century is more to move back and forth between the predictable and the possible.” Maxine Greene, Colombia University, res: Imagining futures: the public school and possibility, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2000

 

I am reading an article by the late Maxine Greene written nearly twenty years ago. As I read her words ring true as much at this moment and a vote in the Senate as they did when John Dewey wrote over a hundred years ago. Children learn more in the first few years of life, how to walk, talk, read, write communicate and even aspire to religious beliefs than in any period to come later. Maxine in her article addresses the missing piece in today’s so structure driven educational process. Communication, real communication is where learning occurs in the fullest. Technology doesn’t kill off communication but how we use technology can. Standardized tests don’t kill communication but how we use those does.

 

It has been several days well over a week since I had a chance to go out early and ponder as I say. It has been many days since I took a photograph with my good camera since I left the charger at school. But to start my day a thought from a young lady caught my attention. She had posted a status to Facebook that made me think actually think quite a bit. We are all familiar with the Chinese proverb used by many as a poster or card on their walls.

 

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Ancient Chinese Proverb

 

The post that caught my attention was altered a bit. I had a felt banner on my class room and office walls for many years to that effect. Sadly a converse statement was posted which really hit me as I think about politics and education today.

 

 

“Teach a man to fish, and he will still vote for the man who gave him a fish.” Goldman Sachs Elevator

 

I had to search for an author and while I am sure there is a person attached the fact that Goldman Sachs Elevator had posted made my day. This statement is coming from a company that nearly destroyed America and received a paltry slap on the wrist. But I responded to the post. “I would question the teaching and was it simply a matter of test scores.” My comment was removed or did not make to posting. Education is the point here for me not the political implications that others jokingly remarked about. As I traveled around this morning I thought more about this and how we educate kids. I have been talking with several other educators over the past few days and continually the idea of context comes up. We are removing context from our educational system. Think in terms of money being put into computer programs virtual schools so to say. Efficient and cheaper than having a teacher in front of class let alone a laboratory for experiments and context. Goldman Sachs loves it. As I arrived home my son sent me a note that may have been intended for me that came to him. Interesting research is showing tests taken on computers tend to have lower scores than paper tests.

 

 “Good Morning my friend. I have been wrestling with a topic, and I was wondering if you would give it some thought and comment. It might even be a good topic for Bird Droppings. Lately, we have been blasted for kids earning low grades and for not motivating students. The problem, as I have come to see it, is that motivation, specifically self-motivation, emanates from a perception of a desire or perceived “need.” If a student never develops or sees a need for education or never develops a desire to better himself, then all the great teaching in the world falls on deaf ears. I am so frustrated that education has been so standardized, homogenized, and reduced to 4 choices on a page. It has no real value to kids any longer. I am rambling a little, but I know you understand what I’m trying to say. It’s almost like the story of the Lotus Eaters. No needs, no desires, equals no motivation. Getting an A or passing a test, at least to me, is not motivation. Just wondering about your thoughts. Here is a ridiculous thing our county does. Kids take benchmark tests every nine weeks over nothing but the standards. There will be one question such as, “How is the word “superfluous” spelled?” And that measures a kids spelling ability. It’s all a bunch of hooey.” A good friend and teacher in South Georgia  

 

In response another point of interest in my morning travels. I was checking my Facebook and email while sitting in IHOP several days ago with my oldest son. Every once in a while folks are out of town and I get a morning to wander early and feed myself. So I had crepes with fruit and a couple eggs at one of my favorite restaurants. Another friend posted a selfie, one of those photos taken with a smart phone of our selves taken in front of a mirror or window as appeared to be the case here. My profile picture has been a selfie a time or two and I am sure many on Facebook and other sites are as well. I responded to the photo not picking on my friend by any means but my initial thought. My friend is a professor at a Georgia University.

 

“A runner selfie maybe a paper or book out there, in our own self-image as we now instantly see ourselves as others do no longer do we see the reversed image of a mirror. A crazy thought sitting in an IHOP eating breakfast have we taken an omnipotent view of ourselves in this instantaneous world view we have. Are we removing the need for God and prayer for individuality since we now have instant news images at our disposal? There is literally no time for praying and self is then focus of attention.” Frank Bird teacher, photographer, grandfather and ponderer

 

Are we losing that interest as my good friend and music teacher proposed? I am starting to think so as each group of ninth graders comes to high school more self-centered than the last. Are we in our technology leaving out a piece? In this mad rush to standardize and test everything and everybody are we forgetting the self. Are we simply trying to quickly mold each person into a desired person to be and transform society to a copy and paste world? I watch kids copy and paste all day long and even in college classes I teach; I had a paper submitted that registered 99% plagiarized and was still in format of Encyclopedia Britannica on line. Student got a zero I cannot even give partial credit for turning it in that way. Funny thing is kids have a hard time copy and pasting to learn anything only desiring to finish assignment.

 

So where do I go from here today I borrowed a thought for my own Facebook status and photo quote I post from Chief Dan George.

 

“Where no one intrudes many can live in harmony” Chief Dan George

 

I can be quickly monastic and enjoy just like my morning wanderings time by myself. But it is not just about being alone it is about intruding and we as a society intrude constantly on everyone and much is self-imposed intrusion. We post statements about our love lives, partners in crime; some people even post publically their crimes. That is self-intrusion. I enjoy my communications with so many through social media. But I tend to avoid the self-deprecation so many get into. So today I end with my daily rant please keep all in your heart and on your mind that are in harm’s way and please give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Listening to a five note flute and thinking about friends

Bird Droppings February 6, 2017
Listening to a five note flute and thinking about friends

 

I was fishing with my grandson at the Atlanta Children’s Museum, when my wife, who I could see with our granddaughter a hundred feet away playing in the moon sand called me. I looked over as I reached for my phone and she was upset I could see. She informed me my middle son in North Carolina had called and a dear friend of the family had passed away. In my own strange way I was close to this young man who we had known for twenty five years. He came to me almost nine years ago asking if I would perform his wedding service. He and his wife had talked and my name popped up. I had never officiated a wedding and at that time was not ordained. So checking into things I followed up and got ordained those years of seminary and church work paid off.

 

Jamie, Katie and I sat down to plan a service. First thing it was not to be religious, which was easy for me, this was about their love for each other which was infectious to say the least. Second the wedding was going to be in the old Trolley Barn, a venue in Atlanta. The story went on and a wedding service and almost nine years of watching a love grow and flourish on social media and our occasional meetings.  They restored a home in Atlanta and eventually a career move took them to Tampa, Katie kept a running account of their projects and life in a blog. Then a phone call on a Saturday.

 

My wife and I both felt as if this were a dream. We had been through second grade through graduation with Jamie and his parents. Both our boys were band kids and they gathered after school for projects and craziness including several movie projects they all worked on. College many of that crew went to Georgia Tech and Jamie had a loft at Georgia State just a few blocks away. The friendship continued to flourish. I used this passage in Jamie’s wedding service.

 

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball

and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux 1863-1950

 

We each continue our journeys in life. Each morning of school I stop by our local Quick Trip and stock up. Water bottles, protein ng in the moon sandbar, a banana, and whatever else I need to make it through the day. Today was no different till a young man approached me and stuck out his hand, “Mr. Bird great to see you”, and I rushed through my memory banks looking for a name. He began asking about animals in my room, former class mates and was I still teaching. He had seen a photo I posted on Facebook of my room at school and was thinking about me. Funny thing, it just hit me his name was Stephen, we talked for several minutes and I bought his coffee and we parted ways, both of us heading to work.

 

As I drove to work another student popped in my mind. I left teaching in 1977 and this particular student at that time was fifteen. He had several issues all rolled into a neat label of learning disabilities. I knew after two years of working with him more was at stake and administrators did not want to push my more loaded probing. After I left teaching I kept in touch with school and students. He came up the summer of 1979 to work on our family farm for me. We had a day camp and he helped cut grass and work around camp area. One evening he and his buddy another one of my former students asked if we could go to the new movie opening, Dawn of the Living Dead. We did go and about thirty minutes after dropping them off at the camp lodge a knock on our door. Could they sleep in our house that night. Sadly my predictions came through several years later and he is serving three life sentences. I looked him up one day on the Georgia Correctional web page. I recall his sisters desperate call after he was arrested telling me what happened. The family pleaded for life sentences due to psychiatric issues and signed off on no parole he is now a ward of the state.  Could it have been different a gesture here and there a word.

 

I listen quite a bit to flute music played and recorded by Carlos Nakai, a renowned musician and Grammy nominee for Native American music. He plays a handmade wooden five note flute often unaccompanied except by echoes from his own flute. As I looked through news on yahoo earlier this morning an interesting article. The Dakota Sioux are playing scrabble to preserve their language. In the Sioux nation less than 205 members of the tribe are fluent in the old language. A good friend who happens to be Creek told me of going to boarding school in this day and age, he is my age and he was punished for speaking his native tongue, old style Creek. He grew up speaking only Creek from living with his grandfather who was the medicine man to the Creek nation and would only speak Old Creek, while knowing the language he refused to speak English having given up on the white man many years previous.

 

“The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo belonged…. 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

 

I was amazed at offerings that we used to have at our high school. In the previous catalog were courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Latin and yet in our lifetimes or at least in mine we refused an indigenous people the right to their own language. I recall a scene from “Into the West” a several years ago mini-series that recently replayed, it is a rerun on Home Box Office movie with a different slant. Children were brought to the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania from reservations in the Dakotas and elsewhere and we tried to make them “normal”. Actually I am not just about Native Americans today but our feeble attempts at normalcy. Our guidelines we draw and rules we make it was not that long ago left handed children were forced to write right handed. In numerous research papers the concept of mixed dominance came up and showed significant damage being done to left handed children neurologically. Even today many traditional teachers will try and get kids to write with their right hand. Seems it is easier on the teacher. Here I am with a granddaughter who favors her left hand. We tend to forget you are right or left sided as well, eyed, and footed, literally your entire body.
Normal is such a simple word pretty much everything that is not abnormal borrowing from philosopher Foucault. But in schools it is the norms that drive everything. We look for patterns in testing, for averages, for norms all those things we can put numbers on and measure. I recall year’s back I had a student who would go to the door before a period and ask to be let go early because there were no norms about. He did not want to be recognized as a SPED, a Special Education student. I would have snuck him out the back door but we didn’t have one. What was funny it became a joke eventually as I would go to the door and determine who was a norm or not and clear the way when the bell rang.
I think back to my own high school days before IDEA became law in 1974. This was before most disabled children were allowed in schools. I worked in a private center with severe and profoundly disabled children and adults. Our kids were normal and we viewed the rest of the world as disabled and we talked this way. They were disabled because they were unable to experience what we did every day. To have an appreciation for little things, reading your first word, taking a step without a wheel chair, not having a seizure for a day or two.
I read blogs and bulletins about clothes and music and think back. I see jeans purchased with holes in them, we earned ours and yes I had numerous pairs of jeans with holes and patches my sons have claimed them all now. But we earned the holes and patches with wear and tear on and in our jeans. Back in the day we did not have fifty brand named labels to argue over it was simply Levis or Wranglers period and they all had brass rivets on the back pockets. It was funny as a matter of fact in high school we could not wear jeans because of rivets scratching seats at school. This is what we were told and girls could not wear pants although I am not sure other than the puritanical demeanor of dress code in those days. That was over forty five years ago.
Thinking back to what was normal and what a word that is. I recall special education back then and how one student who was special education all her life graduated from college and retired recently as a teacher. Now a days she would have been labeled as learning disabled and I wonder as I sit here thinking where will we be in another forty years. It was once estimated that by 2025 the Dakota Sioux language will be extinct and many said so what. It is sort of like so what if we lose a piece of wilderness for more oil as some politicians are calling for again with the drill baby drill chant at such endeavors as teabag rallies. So what if the Grizzly bear is extinct or eastern red wolf or some nondescript fresh water mussel no one ever sees or a rain forest tribe who is better off in a house and raising crops than hunting in the forest.
Something we tend to forget is all is interrelated, Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related in Lakota), each piece connects to the other and by losing a piece, the puzzle will never be complete. There are selfish people who really do not care about 2025 and whether the Dakota Sioux language disappears or the wilderness is gone as long as they make their billions now. I wonder what you can do with billions of dollars when you are gone maybe that is the part I have a hard time with and on a smaller scale looking at lists that drive popularity on Social networks. Things like do you have a cell phone, IPod, car, Jet Ski, etc. I will admit I do have a few collections, still I keep books and I store literally hundreds of thousands of photos all bits and pieces of my life and understanding.
So where do we go and what do we do? We look for each connection to the next. We look for the coincidences and chance happenings we look for the synchronicity in life. I have found after a day or two of looking you will find amazing things. It is if the pieces fall into place and life takes a whole new outlook and what was important may not be as crucial anymore. Try reading Thoreau, there are several good sites on the internet. He walked about for several years just to learn. Enough of my wandering for today peace be with you all and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Bird Droppings January 31, 2017

A chill in the air but not in the heart, thank you Maya Angelou

 

For several days the now we have been balancing between warm and cold weather in the early mornings which still is too cold for the crickets and tree frogs who need an ambient temperature a bit more warm maybe high fifties low sixties. So for today my orchestra was silent as a near freeze not only permeated but encompassed our back yard and today was one of quietest of this year at the house. I keep recalling why I like Georgia it is supposed to be warmer. Last night I watched a couple of minutes of news and I am concerned about things to come.  Walking through the house earlier today I could not get warm it seemed the cold was seeping in the house. Now as I am sitting here writing it dawned on me I may have left the dampener open from a fire the night before in the chimney. However over the years I have found warmth in reading and pondering as I call it. It seems I can always find the right words when I turn a page or two.

 

“A bizarre sensation pervades a relationship of pretense. No truth seems true. A simple morning’s greeting and response appear loaded with innuendo and fraught with implications. Each nicety becomes more sterile and each withdrawal more permanent.” Maya Angelou

 

As I move my thinking to students and people in general we balance our lives in a series of trust and distrust often a teeter totter or see saw effect. Often we become jaded and calloused through constant distrusting and soon we respond as Angelou indicates in a sterile manner. About once or twice a year I will pull my old guitar out and play. My fingers at first feel each string and after a while pain will tear through my finger tips from the pressure of strings on flesh. Eventually after several days I will callous my fingertips back.

Rock legend has it perhaps even urban rock myth it should be called is that the late great guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn during a concert super glued his calluses back on when his fingers began to bleed. As I read this first quote, we can become callous we can become sterile but much more is involved. I also sense a similar relationship to my own use of the Hindustani word namaste, both a sterile hello or goodbye for some and for others one of reverence and humility. It is in the eyes and ears of the receiver and the giver.

 

“Achievement brings its own anticlimax.” Maya Angelou

 

 “All great achievements require time.” Maya Angelou

 

Maya Angelou writes of paradox of achievement and anticlimax. As I sit and think achievement is an attainment of a goal and with that attainment is a realization of a new goal a new mountain to climb perhaps it is that awareness of the anticlimax and yes most definitely time is always a factor.

 

“All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.” Maya Angelou

 

Maybe most men are prepared would be better. There are many who will still sit on their posteriors. Sitting today reading Angelou’s thoughts is a series of how to and why’s. I have listened many times to Dr. Angelo read her works or discuss topics on talk shows. Her words while calming are twice as meaningful listening to her speak them. There was a passion about her spirit and soul.

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Maya Angelou

 

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” Maya Angelou

 

“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.” Maya Angelou

 

She was philosopher, poet, writer, activist, educator, humanitarian, civil rights leader, and the list goes on but always children are at the center of Angelou’s thinking and thoughts. Any book that can form a habit of reading is good. What a powerful statement in a society that would ban many books in schools and libraries? While not on the news now periodically we have this or as in a nearby county once upon a time, putting disclaimer labels in science books. I often wonder how when opening a book and a label states what you read in this science book may or may not be true is a good way to start a science lesson.

 

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” Maya Angelou

 

“Education helps one case cease being intimidated by strange situations.” Maya Angelou

 

Two words that seem to permeate Dr. Angelou’s writing are courage and education. These two words are constantly mentioned described and eluded to. Perhaps the explanation is in the first of the two statements above, “without courage you cannot practice any other virtue”. As I ponder, education requires courage it is that willingness to achieve to go beyond where you are it requires first courage to make that effort and then education to do it.

 

“I believe that every person is born with talent.” Maya Angelou

 

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform a million realities.” Maya Angelou

 

As I saw this I thought of two individuals far apart historically and in many ways yet similar, George Washington Carver and Bill Gates. Both men through vision and fantasy transformed our realities possibly beyond the actual dreams they originally had.  My morning would be totally different if not for these two men many of the items used in the kitchen reflect ideas from Dr. Carver and my laptop computer and internet use are directly related to Mr. Gates.

 

“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” Maya Angelou

 

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou

 

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” Maya Angelou

 

We are the beginning and the end of the circle. How we live and interact with others continues and perpetuates the circle. I have never been able to understand why this is so hard for people in general to understand. We seem to be having greed as a human trait. How sad that is to inherently assume man is greedy by nature. Animals only keep what they need for survival. Man is the only creature that hordes and amasses wealth.

 

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.” Maya Angelou

 

Caring and concern begins at home and then spreads out from there. It is not about the face you put on when you need to but that which you truly carry in your heart and live and breathe daily. I enjoy Dr. Maya Angelou’s words. The few times I have watched her on TV and in reading her books that are in my own library. She is a person of concern and of caring. She is trying to do her part in her corner of the world for all of humanity. It is for each of us to try and do likewise where we are in the world.

 

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” Maya Angelou

 

So I end another morning as I have now for some time till everyone listens to Dr. Angelou’s thoughts that ring in my heart today let me repeat this last quote one more time.

 

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” Maya Angelou

 

It brings tears to my eyes as I sit knowing I need to continue ending my daily meanderings as I have for so many years, 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

 

Should we be examining the threads of life?

Bird Droppings January 30, 2017
Should we be examining the threads of life?

 

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

 

It has been a few years since I read a National Geographic article where the lead in photo was a superimposed image of goats hanging from spider webs. Genetic engineering was in the process of producing in goat milk the proteins from spider silk webbing. Spider web silk happens to be one of the strongest natural occurring fibers known to man. The biggest problem being there is not much of it. On some mornings as I go out to sit and think many issues are pressing it may be a busy day ahead, or a paper due later electronically, or papers to grade. I generally start my morning listening through the darkness I could hear my dog rustling as he does through the bushes trying to find the elusive chipmunks and whatever other great creatures he hunts in our back yard. A car alarm broke the semi silence and was quickly silenced more than likely someone rolled over and as I do often accidentally hit remote panic button.
Rain and cold has returned to the area and although warm temperatures during the day my aching body can feel the weather change. I seem every morning to check for a sunrise to the east today I was alone and the center of my world. On some mornings, when temperatures allow, silken strands find their way from grass stem to weed stem literally covering hundreds of feet. It is an interconnecting web of life. Perhaps that is what drew me to this statement from Chief Seattle. So often we go about life as being the center of the universe only seeing that all revolves around us. In medieval times this was the cause for much debate being that to them man the center of all that is. I find it amazing that civilized people have a difficult time with this. In most indigenous cultures more primitive people see themselves as merely a cog a thread in a great machine or web of life.

 

“This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected” Chief Seattle, 1854

 

There is much controversy as to actual words spoken by Chief Seattle. Some say the translation written by a friend was not truly what was said and since recording devices were in their infancy and only transcribed translations are available we are left with the words as they are. It is said many were moved to tears as he spoke these words. So many times as I sit outside my room observing students and teachers pass by I see many view life from the center not as a part of all that is.

 

“That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.” Chief Seattle, 1854, these lines are attributed to early 20th C. historian and ethnographic writer, A. C. Ballard added after many years

 

I was intrigued as different versions of Chief Seattle’s speech seem to be recorded. There is one version that has even been suggested as having been written for Hollywood and a movie. I read the end of the speech which is the line above and perhaps Mr. Ballard did add these lines many years later but the last line interested me. “The end of living and beginning of surviving”. How far have we come in civilization to go from living off the land to trying and surviving on it? Back in the day not that long ago a family could live and do well on a small farm raising what they needed how fast quickly things changed. I recall a scene from a recent movie “The Missing”. A farm family in the west raising horses and cattle the oldest daughter goes to town to see all the new-fangled contraptions to make life easier, at a fair. Perhaps it is here we changed from living to surviving. Was it when we stopped making what we needed and started buying things to make life easier?
Soon we needed things to do with time freed up and leisure become a major part of our day. Interesting how we now need to make more income to enjoy our leisure and surviving becomes more than just food and clothing but being able to afford having a “good” time. The film was about a clash between old and new in some ways in old faith and new science. There was the under lying clash of change from living to surviving and from freedom to dependency.

 

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Mother Teresa

 

It is hard to feel at times that what we do is of significance perhaps never noted in meetings or from friends but each step each whisper each smile is carefully noted down by someone and it is meaningful to that person as they go through life. How many thousands of times did Mother Theresa feel like that drop in the ocean as she held the hand of a leper in a back street of Calcutta. How much easier and safer is it for some of us to live our lives as we do not paying attention from one point to another.

 

“Oneness is all inclusive. Nothing nor no one is exempt; that is the way it always has been; that is the way it is; and that is the way it always will be.” Chief Seattle

 

We are all connected, intertwined and each a piece of the web, a thread, a drop and yet all meaningful pieces to this great puzzle of life. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird