Reconciling the importance of present, past and future

Bird Droppings November 6, 2019
Reconciling the importance of present, past and future

 

I spent the better part of yesterday avoiding my direction so intent on the moment I was missing cues to the past and future. As an empathetic human being I get caught up at times in the emotions and feedback of the present. When I allow my wisdom to kick in and help determine pointing the way so to say I can be a formidable teacher and advocate. John Dewey writes about experiences past, present and future and how they are interrelated and interchanged often. I am working on a notion of curriculum that is continuous not finite as most teachers try and do in practice. William Pinar discusses curriculum as running the course that it is ongoing it intersects each aspect of life and time. So as I sit here today pondering my previous day, present moment and future I see the interplay that so easily can be hidden in focusing solely on the moment. So a swig from my meditative mug of strong chai tea and into today’s thoughts.

 

“I do not write from mythology when I reflect upon Native American spirituality in this book. In my own opinion, mythology leads to superstition; and superstition has proved fatally destruction to many millions down through time. It is ironic, then that Dominant Society accuses Native practices of being based on myth.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

 

My wanderings in general are the expanse of my almost sixty-nine years of life experiences over several days of traveling, thinking and observing mankind. Just a few nights ago my son and I walked out to a choir of coyotes just a few yards away deep in the pines. It was literally an opera of coyotes howls and yells. While only a few minutes the sounds were an eerie reminder that even in a civilized world nature was only a few feet away in its wildest. I was walking this past Sunday morning just in my back yard. I have been away from my quiet spot due to some developer work and bush hogging near my home in Between Georgia. Around me birds would occasionally fly into and out of the trees but most of the time without a sound. I was essentially alone sitting listening while everyone else was inside. Only a few hours earlier I had a wonderful experience watching nearby my house as the sun came up and starting this particular book Nature’s Way.

 

Ed McGaa is a Lakota Sioux and an attorney by education. He chooses his words wisely and does not simple offer a book to fill a spot on a shelf. He points to observations as a basis for our spiritual views rather than heresy or simply taking the word of another. It has been a few weeks since we drove home from a quick trip to see my son and his wife and our grandbabies we noticed nearly fifty hawks sitting on the wires watching as we drove by. If you have ever seen a hawk hunting observation is a key. Every detail is seen as they look for a food item crawling or scurrying along the ground.

 

Clearly, we are meant to think, analyze, and deliberate. And yet humans seem to have some sort of fear (or is it plain ignorance?) of exercising the simple freedom to think. Why are we so prone to let others do our thinking for us – to lead astray and control us?” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

 

Only a few years back we have been through one of the most biased and perhaps most sheep lead to slaughter election campaigns I have ever experienced in my life. The negative ads were the vast majority of all from either side. Issues were simply something that would be dealt with after the election and even then that was questionable. Here in Atlanta several of the mega churches are going through serious upheavals with pastors who after years of preaching and blasting various human characteristics and or issues are coming out themselves and in turn being who they preached against for twenty years and built empires against. One of the themes I have seen in politics and religion so blatant in the past year is the “letting of others do our thinking for us”. I received a copy of a book in the mail from a friend in New York after he published. I had known the title for months prior but seeing it and beginning my initial reading the title hit me. “Hustlers and the idiot swarm”, how appropriate is that to our society today. Opening up Reverend Manny’s book and turning to the very first page there is a quote and thought that permeates our society if even unknowingly.

 

“For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, Ch. X

 

It was within a day or two of first setting foot in Washington that a newly elected Congressman who ran on a ticket of repealing the newly legislated Health Care bill was upset that his government health care insurance did not start immediately and he had to wait twenty-eight days and made a scene in his first official meeting. During the course of the past year lies about the health care bill made headlines more so than points that were significantly important to many families. I grew up in a family with a severely disabled brother who would never have been insurable under most standard insurance due to preexisting conditions. Even more significant is my son still in nursing school who is over twenty-five but is covered with new health care law. If not for that not sure where we would be after his accident in May of this year with over three hundred fifty thousand in medical bills that were covered.

 

I really did not want to get into the idea of politics since reality is not an issue there sadly. I started my thoughts the past few days thinking about how we find our own center and understanding of the world around us.

 

“The Sioux believe that lies, deceit, greed, and harm to innocent others will never be erased, and neither will good deeds of generosity and caring. Dominant society on the other hand, leans towards “forgiveness” theory which claims that bad deeds can be purged.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, Nature’s Way

 

As I started getting into this idea of each of us formulating and ratifying our own understandings of all that is about us it became clear this will be more than a quick note. I walked out of the house earlier and had on R. Carlos Nakai on my ear phones and rather loud. The CD is one of Nakai who is a seven-note cedar flute master playing with a symphony his various melodies and it was almost haunting as the visage of a clear sky and quiet surrounding the trees. I had to stop listen to the music and see this quiet still image before me. The two interplayed as I got ready to leave the house. As I turned from observing I noticed a flat tire on my son’s truck which brought me back to reality and the moment.

 

To close this quick dropping and getting on with the day I remind everyone to please keep all in harm’s way on their minds and in their hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

It is a new day, a new start, and always day one

Bird Droppings November 5, 2019
It is a new day, a new start, and always day one

 

Feeling old today now that I am working on my seventieth first year of life and a cold front coming in, my bones are aching. I remember nearly thirteen years ago as we got closer to the last day in our old house it was actually appropriately to be the last day of the month. Sitting here at the dining room table since stairs keep me from my writing nook, thinking back. This morning it is a new day a glorious day and who knows what this day may hold. I wonder each day as I start who I will meet, talk with and what new ideas may come around. Being accustom to early rising I am sitting here at my computer typing away getting thoughts down, organizing notes and a semblance of preparing for teaching on my own a few days. It is a good day a sixty percent chance of rain and or a forty percent chance of sun. I like the weather reports on the news they are always so vague and always covering every angle neither cloud nor sun for sure but possibility of either. I found this thought today as I sit and ponder.

 

“Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.” Matthew Flickstein, Journey To The Center

 

When I saw this, I thought of a dear friend who passed away what seems decades ago today and was only a few years. A teenager who I would have never suspected had a feeling for Robert Frost. So, for those of you who knew him, a special word for Travis, a special someone who could light up a room and generally get someone mad at the same time.

 

Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

When I went to the funeral of Travis and heard this poem read I was in tears. This was his favorite poem. I had to think, I had to ponder and for myself I could not have remembered that verse though I am sure I read it somewhere in my wanderings. Travis was not a scholar and I do not mean that in a bad way he was quite the opposite so to say. Yet this verse was of significance to him, he carried it with him on a piece of paper in his wallet. Earlier today I wrote, responding to an email, about doing right and or doing good.

 

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.” Mother Teresa

 

A friend from Ohio sent me this quote and paraphrased if you are an atheist cover your ears, well actually your eyes unless someone is reading this to you. An atheist friend responded with. “All atheists have to do is substitute another word (like ‘conscience’) or thought for ‘God’ in the final sentence, and it works just as well. Or better, eliminate the final sentence, and it works even better, since the reader must come up with his own justification for doing the right thing.” As I think back to Travis, I honestly do not think he intentionally did wrong ever. Everything he did do, while annoying at times, loud at times, was joyful. It was often funny as I sit here, that was the word that popped in my mind, joyful.

 

I agree with that great philosopher and guru of gurus a dear friend from the Philadelphia area Dlog Nala, that leaving out the last sentence changes the passage a bit. So often in life we need excuses to do something even though it is right, what is in it for me that extrinsic motivation that drives mankind. Even in this analogy of doing for God there is a reason for doing good, rather than simply because it is right. While I am reminiscing going back many years to an argument in seminary. I was always intrigued how the mafia Godfather, on his death bed would have last rites and absolution even though he had murdered many people and pillaged the city through crime. I listened to many messages of salvation from sin.

 

I had a professor and an entire discussion group tell me how upset they were over the fact that this group of people we had just worked with, were going to hell because they could not accept their way of believing. The particular unit was a severe and profoundly disabled unit at Central state hospital back in the days of institutions, a large complex of buildings and humanity in Central Georgia in the early 1970’s. Many of the patients in this unit were bedridden and connected to feeding tubes, literally comatose. They were turned every hour or so to prevent bed sores. I always thought it was interesting that these folks in that unit were lost and the mafia godfather was not. The science of theology has a way of doing that.

 

It has been a number of years since another friend and I walked five miles every day discussing life and theology. Many the talks as we walked, of where and when and how and many of Travis and his impact on our own lives. I am amazed at how a sixteen-year-old could affect so many people.

 

“Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.” Matthew Flickstein, Journey To The Center

 

We tend to get greedy when we have a good thing and never want to let go of it. I have been writing each morning for nearly fourteen years and on that morning, after holding Travis’s hand for most of the night a story I have told so many times. I had been watching monitors go the direction I was hoping they would not. The doctor said it was up to the family they would harvest organs when given permission. Travis was an organ donor, it was his wish and he even talked about it often. I went to my own home, after we had taken all the high school friends of Travis back after a night in the hospital. I sat down at my computer and I have related this so many times previously. There affixed to the monitor a yellow post-it note from my son.

 

“Dad” it was addressed to me. “Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

 

It was funny how it took my teenager, at that time, son to give me perspective. I learned more in that moment than I had in many years of discussion and classes. We all are on a journey each of us wandering often far from the path. My son now a teacher of science and I really do not think he knows how much he taught his old man in one line. Some of us never step out of the way from their travels. For many people it is always a straight and narrow pathway. However, some of us choose to go down this side road and up that path. It is the journey we are on that is so important and it is on that journey we need to borrow from Mother Theresa and do what is right, do it anyway. Sitting here my computer alarm went off time to get busy. As I was reading the news on Yahoo a few minutes back, maybe a change in how we view our world situation is in the horizon coming up. I would hope so; life is so precious it is not a commodity like so much of our economy. We are not human capital as so many politicians and even educators would like to think. So as always for today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

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

Teaching is always climbing up another rung

Bird Droppings November 4, 2019

Teaching is always climbing up another rung

 

I had a great night sleep. I was planning on writing this morning. I have three IEP’s to do final draft, and only a few pages left to edit for my pre-prospectus for my dissertation I would like to have competed by tomorrow. I have been unseasonal relaxed with seasonal allergies till this morning’s sinus issue. It has been a bit off since smoking a twenty-pound beef brisket all day yesterday. The smoke from North Georgia wiped me out around this time three years back. On top of that our house is heated with gas and the dry heat does me in every year although we have only turned the heat on twice so far, we went back to AC when temps went up again. Combine that with turning seventy and pondering what to do next with my life and makes for interesting mornings.

 

I have to complete and things I need to attend to and seem to put off always waiting on tomorrow. I have a book idea to send into a publisher, a good friend suggested idea to publisher and they contacted me. Three years ago, I was trying to survive a class of kids where several had no intent of making it to graduation and would spend a day or two with us and then are be in school suspension and or out of school suspension and or don’t come at all. Years ago, I would have spent time looking why. Now I am content to watch them fall off the face of the earth. You have to pick your battles with limited resources physically, emotionally, and mentally. I think that was a reason I sought retirement with the drain of apathy among high school kids today. Some days I wonder why I went back as apathy among teachers and students is high.

 

Thanksgiving break is in two weeks and family gatherings to be looked forward too.  Even with my aversion to shopping and being crippled this year I will be coerced into going out with my wife to brave the masses of the malls and do the holiday shopping. I won’t be toting a ton of gifts anytime soon so I have that going for me. I am looking forward to the holidays, while grandkids are out from school for nearly two weeks. I am looking forward to spending time with friends and family. We have multiple Christmas’ going around the south visiting South Georgia and North Carolina. I am seriously looking forward to sitting down and doing some writing and some serious holiday eating and cooking.

 

I am finishing up my meditation and writing this morning after an evening filled with sitting watching TV with my oldest son. This morning I started the day reading old posts from friends to a fellow teacher and family friend whose husband was killed in an automobile accident nine years ago. It is a difficult time of year for families to deal with a loss but as I read through hundreds of posts and support from friends literally all over some even returning home for the holidays to be with their friends in this time of sorrow and joy. Some days I am disappointed in the human spirit but this is not one of those days.

 

“One only gets to the top rung of the ladder by steadily climbing up one at a time, and suddenly all sorts of powers, all sorts of abilities which you thought never belonged to you–suddenly become within your own possibility and you think, ‘Well, I’ll have a go, too.’” Margaret Thatcher

 

The first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain was in her time the most powerful woman in the world. It is her philosophy of success that she discusses here and is simple, one step, one rung, one at a time to the top. So many folks want to jump from the ground to the top and forget there is so much in between. Seldom do you here negative comments about Prime Minister Thatcher of her time in office and the great dignity and poise she brought at a difficult time in our world’s history.

 

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.” John Foster Dulles

 

One of the major ways that we as humans learn is through trial and error. However true success is not repeating the error again and again but doing anew and that is when we are succeeding.

 

“What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” Benjamin F. Fairless

 

As I read this note and the four simple rules or ingredients to success I was amazed at the simplicity. First love what you do, and then give it your best, thirdly seize opportunities, and finally teamwork and success can be yours. As I walk through the doors of a school and look at teachers so often you can tell good teachers by who is smiling, a sure sign that they want to be there. For these teachers it is not just a job they love what they do and do give the job their best. In no other field have I ever seen people seize opportunity such as in teaching. When paper is allocated or budget cuts restrict supplies you learn quickly to be resourceful and work with others it is so much easier to accomplish then working independently.

 

“Success is that old A B C; ability, breaks, and courage.” Charles Luckman

 

We acquire ability through learning and effort and taking advantage of breaks that come along and keeping your eyes open and always being ready. Courage is that character aspect of us that is that inner drive that can lead a person upward.

 

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell

 

As he led US forces back a few years and then as Secretary of State Colin Powell has simply put it all in order as far as life goes, in order to find success, you must prepare do your homework. Then you do the work and get it done and finally learn from your errors, from your mistakes and use them to succeed. As I read this afternoon between cleaning and shopping I found a thought I would like to end with.

 

“It is more important to be of service than successful.” Robert Kennedy Jr.     

 

For many people the idea of success is a selfish thing, but finding true success is when what you do is affecting others positively. As I think back to so many who are taking time today and yesterday to help with the pain of losing a loved one and so many others pieces of life’s puzzle let us all take heed of our time we have. Today in this coming holiday please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

I still like the seagull book

Bird Droppings November 3, 2018
I still like the seagull book

 

As I get older and I really feel old today now seventy years and two days old. Once upon a time, that line has started so many stories in my day that perhaps it would be a good way to start today. Many years ago, as I drove my kids to school each morning I would spin yarns of various Indian tribes and of Great Grandpa Niper. Some were stories told to me by my father and now being passed down to my children and soon to grandchildren. My youngest son would offer one of his lines, back in the day which has been one of his favorite sayings relating to anything past his own recollection. However, many years ago before the idea of “New Age”, back when such books were often considered simply whimsical, a former test pilot and fighter pilot wrote a short book entitled Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Richard Bach’s book was an easy read, a one sitting sort of book that was actually for several years back in the 1970’s was a best seller. As I look back maybe in my own naiveté of the day maybe he opened the door for the many “new age” writers to come out of the wood work so too say. I recommend his book, and if you have not read it previously, try and borrow a copy or buy one and read it. It is a fun read and relaxing. A bit of advertising, Amazon has it discounted to five or six dollars; it is a simple story about a seagull who wants more than diving at fish.

 

“Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” Richard Bach from Jonathan Livingston Seagull

 

As I read this quote for the first time in many years I found it related very much too several current situations in our society, nation and me personally. We so often tend to limit ourselves by standards imposed or self- imposed by others and or work, school, church or society. I have watched friends argue for their limitations and guess what that is where they end up. Rather than always reaching higher people get so caught up in their own limitations they flounder and wither away. In the book the lead character Jonathan Livingston Seagull reaches for the sky and eventually he gets it.

 

“The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.” Richard Bach from One

 

As much as I will complain about something more often than not it is not because I do not like doing it but it is about fitting into my supposedly rock solid schedule. I recently spent a few hours learning a new software program formatting videos for a friend, layout, graphics, formatting and using still photos to animate into a video. While on one hand it was a pain it gave me ideas for my teaching as well. It gave me practice at something I had not done in a few years and I got to use my creativity and imagination, it was not work. As I looked through several books from Richard Bach, ideas and thoughts and several good quotes but as I looked at this particular one for some of you younger folks maybe it is not significant, but for old timers like me it really makes sense:

 

“The simplest questions are the most profound.
Where were you born?
Where is your home?
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change.”
Richard Bach from One

 

As I sit this morning, reflecting back on an era that spawned JLS and in reality, raised the question about which we were and why that “new agers” still are working on. Maybe the answers were there all along and marketing ploys and skeptics have kept the ball rolling either downhill or up depending on your view. I think Bach raised a question about our spiritual side, for so many years the word spiritual meant a specific church or religion and Bach opened a door that later writers would access, direct and guide. Bach’s characters were fictitious, a thinking talking seagull and more recently his books are based on ferrets. Reading JLS you are first reading a story of a seagull searching for more to life, then you reflect and on second reading and see aspects that may or may not correspond to your own existence, and then you see a spiritual side.

 

“We are each given a block of marble when we begin a lifetime and the tools to shape it into sculpture… We can drag it behind us untouched, we can pound it into gravel, and we can shape it into glory.” Richard Bach from Illusions

 

I once read Michelangelo could see his art work in the marble before he would chisel his masterpieces. It was for him a work of art waiting to be exposed. As I look back over Bach and his writings I think he too was trying to show us, each of us. There are artworks in side waiting to be exposed waiting for the self-imposed limitations to be lifted waiting for the procrastination to be gone.

 

“We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent the life we’ve created for ourselves? Who’s to blame, who’s to credit, but us? Who can change it, any time we wish, but us?” Richard Bach from Illusions

 

Maybe a few will search out and read a few lines or get on the internet and look up this writer who may have opened a door years ago who for some and is little more than a fancy but I will end with one final Bach quote.

 

“Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.” Richard Bach from Illusions

 

In my reading today I found this one thought sort of wandering through my whimsical ideas today. With all that is going on in the world it could be we need to refind that innocence of childhood and then maybe we can resolve our issues. Nearly every day, information we have been lead to believe is refuted and each day a new explanation is given by our “adults” in charge. Negative feelings held deep inside and manifesting in our government and actions worldwide, a sad state we are in.

 

“Look at children. Of course, they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Imagine All the People

 

So, reflect, ponder, dream and use your ideas to grow trees from the seeds not just allow those seeds to mold. Raise your expectations and exceed them and above all until our friends and family members are home and safe, keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Education is turning an ugly face jug not pouring in a mold

Bird Droppings November 1, 2019
Education is turning an ugly face jug not pouring in a mold

 

It has been a few years since the last time I talked with and watched the late Cleater Meadors turn a jug on the potter’s wheel at Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts fair in Perry Georgia. A simple lump of clay in a skilled artist’s hands can become a work of art as each moment passes. In today’s world of folk art collecting, Cleater Meador’s pots and jugs fetch many thousands of dollars. He learned the family trade as he was the nephew of the world-renowned folk potter Lanier Meadors and the son of Cheever Meadors also a renowned potter, and Lanier’s brother. That is if you are looking up folk pottery in the book, Brothers in clay, by Burrison, 1983.

 

As I thought about Mr. Meadors and the many fond memories of days gone by I saw a similarity to education. How do we see our students that come into our rooms each day? Do we see them as unique, like the ugly face jugs of mountain potters that have no restraints in size or shape or do the current legislative policies limit us to seeing them as a just a commodity, research based, or a standard much like the graduated cylinder with a very specific and fixed amount of space that we are required to fill?

 

My middle son by chance graduated from Georgia Tech however when he was eight years of age had the opportunity to be hands on with Mr. Meadors at his wheel making a small pot. I asked my son recently if he remembered that time and he recalled each step in the process. I asked him if he remembered his third-grade teacher which was about the same time period and how she taught. He did not recall her name let alone what he was taught. A few moments spent working with an artist is long remembered in minute detail and yet his third-grade year in school somehow escapes him. Are we missing something in this standardized system that is becoming education? As I watch within my own school system piece by piece we are losing art, creativity, imagination in classes and in our children.

 

“When we say that a work of art is an experiment in living, we mean exactly that it presents to us the pros and cons, what it feels like to be a murderer or the victim as a result of which you feel somehow that you have entered into the lives of other people.” J. Bronowski, The Visionary Eye

 

Maybe we should consider our students as works of art rather than commodities. As I tried and understand how my son recalled that moment with Mr. Meadors so clearly, and yet his class-work and teacher seemed forgotten I wondered about our educational system and Bronowski statements. Bronowski was a teacher and he said “you have to touch people” in his television series, it is about emotions and feelings and living. I use the phrase from my Dewey studies of giving context to content and I thought to my own classroom. I try to provide to my students all of whom all are classified as being in special education and many are emotionally behaviorally disturbed, opportunities for discovery. My room is a cornucopia of things from a 1955 Tonka truck, photos everywhere, posters, daily quotes from famous authors, to Stevie, the ball python and the rest of our zoo. It is by no means a sterile environment. I try and put context in the content. I try and instill imagination and creativity.

 

“How strange should curriculum become? Unless one can see the possible in or beyond the actual, they cannot frame a moral ideal of what ought to be; they are slaves to the actual. Imagination acquires moral import in the effort to unite the real and the ideal. Imagination is the chief instrument of the good…the ideal factors in every moral outlook and human loyalties are imaginative. In the active relation between ideal and actual imaginative art may become more religious than religions…. art is more moral than moralities. Spirituality involves expanded perception; therefore, education in all fields must involve educating the creative imagination.” John Dewey

 

We need to go beyond content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and we are losing this. Dewey continued this idea of as he discussed the idea of spiritual in reference to art and expanding creative imagination. There is so much more to curriculum for teaches to consider.

 

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

 

Can we come back to imagination, context, and creativity, and the individual? How do we try and rekindle that desire in teachers and most importantly in students? Please my friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and let us look inward namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

The Journey Part 2

Bird Droppings October 31, 2019
The Journey Part 2

 

I had the opportunity to visit and observe in a class room many years ago. To actually visit and see this particular class had been a dream of mine for some time. I have been a fan of Foxfire for many years since I first picked up the Foxfire 2 book in 1973. I used Foxfire ideas in my own teaching for many years even before I knew it was an actual teaching method. Foxfire had been a class at the Rabun County High School for over forty years continuously until a slight shift in the dynamic two summers ago. The current class has continued the tradition of producing the semiannual Foxfire magazine of articles and lore of Appalachia but more of an internship than a specific class now. After my visit I went to lunch with the liaison between Foxfire and Piedmont College and then on to the Foxfire museum to research my dissertation which of course is in part about Foxfire.
Years ago, as I did write about and significant research on hand spinning and sheep production in Georgia I had the opportunity to meet many of the folks that the magazine has written about over the years. Needless to say, it was a busy day and a heartfelt and great time for me as I photographed and wandered about North Georgia. If all goes well the holiday week of Thanksgiving I will be heading back up hopefully I will be able to get around. later in the fall and winter if all goes well several more visits and hopefully as next semester comes round quite a few visits.

 

“And how high can you fly with broken wings? Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

 

For so many years I have seen a line from this song by Aerosmith, taken from the context of the song, Awesome, “Life is a journey not a destination”. I think back to when I first saw it posted on my computer after spending the night at the Athens Regional Hospital in Athens Georgia holding the hand of a sixteen-year-old young man who had been hit by a semi after doing a u turn on a back road. My oldest son and his band played and covered Aerosmith tunes quite often at the time and he was very familiar with the music and words. But this line was from a song that in and of itself was significant for him and for me at that moment in our lives.
For me it evolved as I saw how my own life was a journey each day and each moment. As we see each aspect of life crucial to the next and that one to the next as pieces fell into place. In days prior I had been reading numerous books on the purpose in life and or on finding Meaning in life, trying to find a focus for myself but also as I engaged teenagers this is always a topic that comes up. Back when I first saw this quote I was floundering in business and trying to get a foothold and a yellow post it note on a computer after sitting with a dying teenager came to be a life changing or life refocusing moment. My blurry vision seemed to clear.
It was perhaps a moment to piece together the few days before. This young man was a clown, the life of any party, a real character and all felt that way about him. I knew him from a youth group at a local church where my own children were involved and I helped out periodically. The weekend before the accident we had all been tubing in North Georgia. As we do we stopped for dinner after being on the river all day. I think it was a Colonel Sanders fast food sort of place. As we were getting ready to leave this young man walks up extending his hand to me as he always does and always at the last minute he pulls it away and makes a joke just not fast enough Mr. Bird or something along that line. But this time the hand doesn’t move no laughing and no jokes he commented to me “not this time”.

 

We shook hands for a longer moment than normal and it did not sink in as that was the last I saw him till I sat with him at the hospital. That was a number of years ago and when I returned to the house to write as I do every morning a small yellow note attached to my computer read in my son’s handwriting “Life is a journey not a destination”. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how profound for my son barely older than the young man who was killed to have found this concept and I had been searching for nearly fifty years and still had not seen. My own life started to focus and clear and ideas thoughts seemed to flow and make sense. Earlier in the week I was answering an email from someone I have never met. I was talking with several teachers, professors and students in my visits how we can in today’s electronic age communicate with so many people all in a touch of a computer keyboard or mouse click.

 

Many times, that message includes photos, graphs, power points and such attached, we are into multimedia. But the message is still so clear, it is about the journey.
Another email answered was “If you believe in God respond” sort of if you do not you are going to hell. As I read the note and thought how easy to respond one way or another perhaps in a theological dissertation on ramifications of believing or not and or of what it is you do or do not believe in. It was then the journey hit me again it is about the journey not the destination. So I offered the writer it is so easy to say you believe in God or the tooth fairy it is far more difficult to live the life you say you believe in but this is what is seen and felt by others. For it is others who see your journey not your destination. So I wrote on and wandered as I do I tried in several previous quotes I had used about out the journey, parents, teachers, friends and that it is the example we set that picture we paint for others to see that has significance and meaning.
What would a child learn from a teacher who yells at an extremely high decibel other than to cover their ears? What does a child learn from a parent who abuses them other than abuse? What does a friend learn from a friend when they betray them other than distrust? Within the fragility of our experiences we need examples of direction of positive journeying. I am still fascinated with a friend who had been doing work with eldering, helping young people along the pathway in life.
Each day I wonder why kids come by my room just to smile and say hi and other times to ask for a word or two of advice. Thinking back nearly a ten years as I addressed the Foxfire class I asked how many of you want to be in this class right now. All raised their hands and I said when students want to be in a class they learn and cannot help it. It is those who do not want to be in that class that makes it hard for everyone else. Even staying in Loganville I journeyed yesterday and every moment was a new experience. Life is about the journey and may we all be cleaning the pathway rather than dropping builders for others to trip on. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

 

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

Walking along the way in my own journey

Bird Droppings October 30, 2019
Walking along the way in my own journey

 

As I think back over who I am as a teacher and as a person I often wonder as to how I came to be the way I am and why do I take such a differing outlook than so many teachers to my endeavor. I recall my father essentially teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. Tell, Show, Test and Check was a favorite of his for teaching a subject or even a skill. I have used the FIDO principle many times over the years Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again.
As I attended college and began thinking about teaching as a profession I had courses in how to teach and what to teach to various groups of children and adults. We talked theory and realities we practice taught and were observed by professors. I look back and wonder, how does a professor who has never taught outside of college level teach anyone how to teach, say elementary school age children? But within it all I became who I am as a teacher, parent and person. I see this enterprise as an ongoing continuum and one that truly is never complete. Going back to my favorite Aerosmith quote that I have used so many times, “Life is about the journey not the destination.”

 

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who does not know how to read.” Mark Twain

 

I spend a good bit of my day reading and find it so hard to understand when I see comments of I do not read or I do not have a favorite book. I may in the course of a day look at ten or twelve books looking for thoughts or ideas for my writings. But to profess to not reading how can you consider yourself even semi-intelligent. For it is through reading that we increase our vocabulary and understanding of the world around us. It is through reading that we develop and progress beyond where we are today. It is thorough reading that we move along the journey.
I was speaking with a fellow teacher today about such things. Why do kids not read for example? Some is a lack of encouragement at home during those hours away from school. Some is the example set by parents who are not readers. But I think a large portion is our current style of teaching to the test. We are teaching kids to pass tests that in some school impact the teacher’s annual appraisals and in some cases even salaries are test scores based. When we take away significance and choice and mandate specific memorization for test content we lose an aspect of who the child is.
Paulo Freire is a radical in terms of education and his outlook on what teaching and education should be about. Freire was a teacher, activist, thinker, innovator and college professor in various stages if not all of his life.

 

“As a teacher in an educational program, I cannot be satisfied simply with nice, theoretical elaborations regarding the ontological, political, and epistemological bases of educational practice. My theoretical explanation of such practice ought to be also a concrete and practical demonstration of what I am saying.” Paulo Freire

 

How much more is gained when you can touch or apply what it is you are learning. There is another side of Freire’s philosophy that interests me as well and that is very similar to Dewey that democratic process is crucial to a classroom and that the teacher is a learner as well as learners are teachers.

 

“In the context of true learning, the learners will be engaged in a continuous transformation through which they become authentic subjects of the construction and reconstruction of what is being taught, side by side with the teacher, who is equally subject to the same process.” Paulo Freire

 

An ongoing back and forth process one that provides both teacher and learner with answers and questions. I once considered this process to be symbiotic but as I learned and looked deeper it became osmosiotic. There was a constant flow back and forth between teacher and learner; it was not a reliance on one or the other.

 

“The teacher who thinks, ‘correctly’ transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.” Paulo Freire

 

I wonder how much of Dewey Freire read. Many of his thoughts run parallel to Dewey as Dewey saw experience as a critical piece so often left out when teaching. All of the experiences brought to the classroom by the students are bits and pieces that can be built on and added to. I am amused that Freire uses quotes around the word correctly. How many teachers are teaching correctly in the world? When you look at how a teacher is evaluated in Georgia with a six or seven question checklist and relatively simple responses and yet the process is one that is complex and not conducive to yes and no check boxes.

 

“It is easier to stick with what teachers have always done and believed, rather than go about the painful process of changing current thinking about teaching” Charlotte Danielson, from the book, Teacher Evaluation, Discussing why we continue to evaluate teachers in an archaic model

 

We continue to evaluate and judge teachers based on models that have been used since the early 1960’s and tend to focus on ease and the most simplistic methods. Time seems to be always a factor. I am wandering a bit today as I think about where I am on my own journey.

 

“There is no valid teaching from which there does not emerge something learned and through which the learner does not become capable of recreating and remaking what has been thought. In essence, teaching that does not emerge from the experience of learning cannot be learned by anyone.” Paulo Freire

 

I will have to admit Freire does get deep and philosophical at times. But this aspect of doing that aspect of experiencing that runs through his words to me is significant. Many teachers try and keep everything to a minimum in terms of how they teach. I was involved in a discussion on a new math program and was informed we only want students to learn function not how it works. So students memorize a line on a graph which is this or that and that gets answers A-D but in effect they never understand or learn what that really is or why.
On the other side I have watched a model of a watershed during a graduate class along with an explanation of what was happening when rain or excess water was present and how it impacted the surrounding area. Our lecturer was versed in experiential teaching. He builds on teachable moments and on hands on experience. For myself even thinking back to summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during regular session, my main objective was to have them pass a comprehensive exam approved by school and department. We would spend the first hour each day learning vocabulary, doing what I hated but without vocabulary you cannot even read a biology test let alone answer questions.
After that we organized and categorized all the trees on campus. We studied hands on ecology and interactions. We watched videos of various settings deserts, (The Living Desert by Disney Studios), Jungles, and the Arctic (National Geographic films). Occasionally we would get out one of my ball pythons and talk about reptiles and amphibians. I have had live animals in my room since I started back teaching eleven years ago. Amazingly all of them passed the finals and in the three years I taught intersession only one student quit coming and it was a family problem. As the system changed and went to seat time as the criteria and worksheets were the lessons I stopped doing summer school. It was no longer teaching simply babysitting.
I wonder often as to the whys and how’s of so many teachers and think back even in our own high school to great teachers and ones I consider great. Those are the teachers who get kids excited about learning and who look for ways and means to bring life to the lesson and who are always learning as well. There are only a handful of teachers I would consider great as I think back and always a story or two. My middle son had biology in ninth or tenth grade and a presentation was made in that presentation a overhead slide was used that he knew was incorrect and waiting till class was over went to the teacher and told her. At first the teacher was reluctant to listen until he said my brother has that animal in his salt water tank and I am familiar with it. She said she would fix it so it would be right. Several years later in an advanced class Zoology again the slide and again the wrong name and scientific data attached. This time being more mature and angrier he stopped the class and said the slide was wrong. So here is a student who tried to help a teacher who was not interested in learning.

 

“Why not, for example, take advantage of the student’s experience of life.” Paulo Freire

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of the actual experience by environing conditions, but that they recognize in the concrete what surrounding are conductive to experiences that lead to growth.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

Dewey taught we need to build from not exclude the past experiences in our endeavors to teach children. I have found this in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching to be a critical element.

 

“New activities spiral gracefully out of the old, incorporating lessons learned from past experiences, building on skills and understandings that can now be amplified.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 7

 

In my one of the books I have read several times, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, The discussion of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians is a key element. I wonder if we learned anything in looking at how we treat children in schools even today. We make them live by our rules and standards imposing guidelines that fluctuate from class to class often teacher to teacher. Granted the days of the boarding school may seem somewhat at odds with today’s schools but in reality, there is little difference. In a diversified culture we demand language that may or may not be known. Coming from a special education back ground I am always amazed at how we expect children who are poor readers in their own language to read and learn in another. Research shows you cannot in most cases exceed the level of attainment in a second or third language that you have in your first.
So I wandered and pondered this is my reflection for the morning a wondering and thinking about what can we do to truly change education as we know it. Freire points to Critical reflection as a means for educators to learn as well as teach. John Dewey builds on reflection as does Foxfire.

 

“In the process of ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that critical reflection on one’s practice. Thinking critically about practice, of today, or yesterday, makes possible the improvement of tomorrow’s practice.” Paulo Freire

 

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

 

As I read this morning and thought through my various readings I wondered if the commonalities I was seeing in Freire and Dewey were perhaps things as educators we should be trying to attain rather than so often fight against. In Foxfire Core practice nine a thought that has for me been a key element of any teaching I do and that is making what I teach relevant and meaningful and have it been something the child can leave the room with and it makes sense outside of class.

 

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear. “Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

 

I just wonder many times what if teaching and teachers would ever catch on and really be concerned more about the kids than the content, more about the community than the curriculum, and more about humanity than the National educational initiatives. So, I will stop and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

 

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