Taking and making the most of each moment and learning about moleskin: I think we need to find the moleskin in education along with switchbacks

Bird Droppings January 6, 2022

Taking and making the most of each moment and learning about moleskin: I think we need to find the moleskin in education along with switchbacks

Sometimes I miss waking up to our dog barking because he needs to run outside for a second. Not always the best way to wake up. My oldest took Timber with him when he got married. My son was away for a few days, and we doggie sat a few nights, so duty fell on me. I put on my easiest put on shoes and grabbed the leash, and went for a walk in the brisk dark morning air. As I sit here and the morning, my birddroppings title keeps growing. This isn’t about quick fixes or band-aids; it solves the problem.

I recall nearly nine or ten years ago after a similar morning. On that day, I received a call midday that my mother had to be hospitalized, and my wife was heading over to meet the ambulance at the hospital. One of the Assistant Principals had come to my room to tell me to call my wife since my cell phone did not pick up service in that building. Since only one or two can be in the emergency room area with the patient, I felt it a better use of my time to finish my classes and then head over. I drove by my house on the way to the hospital, and as I opened my car door, a hawk was calling. I was not paying attention at first, but then I looked, and again he called several times and flew immediately over my head to a pine tree not too far from the house. I knew all was well.

This morning as I shuffled items from one pair of pants to another, my swiss army knife, my father’s ARAMCO pocket knife, a G2 pen, my handy Australian marine toad money pouch. I thought back to taking mom a BBQ plate from her favorite restaurant for dinner; she was ninety and doing great. There are moments I miss my parents and try and make sure to tell grandkids all the stories.

Today is a colder gray day, although the sun has come out now, and we have no rain, at least for now.  

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 

But as I sit thinking, hopefully, winter is coming to an end, and my writing will finalize in the next month. The schools will soon get back into their daily routine again in many of our lives this second semester. Our teachers are walking the hallways faced with state and federal mandates in test scores going to training and meetings to teach better the submit test material to children. Soon we will be facing that challenge as spring comes around and the annual test cycle begins anew. As I think back to days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and all the switchbacks, how we approach testing and teaching is much like that mountain climb.

You can often see the trail above your head and go straight up rather than following the trail. It may seem more accessible, but it is wiser to carry a fifty-pound back and walk the switchbacks for an extra seventy-five feet and not struggle to hang on sometimes. For those uneducated and mountain illiterates among you, a switchback is a more gradual ascent usually taking a bit longer, sort of a handicapped ramp but in reality, safer than scaling a cliff. I see a similarity in how we teach today, teaching massive amounts of content to score well on tests and little context to have that material stay with the student.

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert W. Service

Walking for hours with a grain of sand digging into your foot can be painful and from firsthand experience taking your shoe off to try and complete the journey sometimes is even harder. Far too often in education, we have taken off the shoe. Carefully address the grain of sand when you notice it rather than waiting until it is way too late.

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Jimmy Carter 

I walked many miles barefoot years ago because I would not take care of a sore foot when hiking, and finally, I succumbed to the experience of those around me and learned the value of moleskin. I was five miles from a road and a fifty-pound pack to carry, and I was in charge of a group of kids; the choices do change occasionally. I had blisters on blisters, and they were getting infected from not taking care of a small spot on my foot when it first had occurred a few days earlier. I was saved by a thirteen-year-old boy scout (and me a former Eagle Scout and scout leader) when he handed me a piece of what looked like soft thick cloth, which turns out to be called moleskin. The good Doctor to the rescue so high on a mountain in North Carolina and me who knew all about hiking, I learned a simple lesson from a much younger teacher than myself.

“Few people have any next; they live from hand to mouth without a plan and are always at the end of their line.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never again went hiking without moleskin and shared moleskin numerous times after that, and needless to say, I never again had a foot problem hiking. As I look back over my thoughts today, all can be applied to education and life in general mountains can be issues we face daily family problems, friends, and work. They are but winding trails, and there can be solutions.  Sometimes we think far too simple than an all-out confrontation a grain of sand. It could be a rumor that starts so small and grows and festers and soon is crippling.

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”  Jimmy Carter

I have often surprised myself and achieved far more than I ever intended to in many aspects of life.  I am sitting here procrastinating, getting serious about getting back into my research, sorting out files, and looking over records and all the fun stuff of teaching. I am back to writing for graduate school and my dissertation, hopefully finishing up in a few weeks and more reading and writing and learning. I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of education perhaps more than the content being taught in some cases, and often in that friendship, you learn as well. I was reminded of my ending each day in an email from a dear friend in Texas, and he offered a thought from his weekly comments on his website nearly five years ago. Dr. James Sutton is a clinical psychologist and lectures around the country on Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Conduct Disorders.

Dr. Sutton had been in a meeting and thought about his son-in-law in Afghanistan and how his daughter had recently sent photos of their baby by fax. There had been a bomb in Kabul when his son was there, which elicited these thoughts.

From Dr. James Sutton’s website:

  1. We might think otherwise most of our lives, but none of us are ever completely exempt from what happens in this world. The tragedy is not reserved for others only; even the innocent suffers sometimes. That’s just the way it is, and we are not going to change it. If we fail to understand this, our recovery from deep pain and loss can be seriously affected. 
  2. We need not be selfish in our empathy. Just because my son-in-law was spared shouldn’t detract from the fact that others were not. An expression of caring and empathy, even toward folks we don’t know, is a good thing.  
  3. We should all make it a point to never have any unfinished business with our loved ones. (I think I was alright on this one.) Life is a precious and fragile thing. Opportunities to reconcile, embrace and reaffirm might be more limited than we think.

It is difficult to follow such choice words, and as I responded to Dr. Sutton, we as humans have to try and do no harm to others, and that should be our sole purpose in existence. Unfortunately, too many are not adhering to or even considering, and again I will say, please today keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and may peace be with you all and above all, please always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

Bird Droppings January 5, 2022
Quietly listening to Bob Dylan and pondering the word inspiration

I woke up a bit earlier than usual, although I did have an excellent night’s sleep. I started thinking about a day thrown off by an administrator’s discipline talk. The afternoon immediately following, we dealt with behavior issues the rest of the day. Simply doing classroom management was not my style. I enjoy storytelling and authentic hands-on teaching, and I finally reached a point where I said to myself, “To hell with this,” there are ten minutes left in the day. Let us survive. That bothered me. The saving grace was seeing my grandkids that Friday afternoon. I got up this morning and went to my computer to try and do a few things before the day got underway. Blood on the tracks, by Bob Dylan quietly in the background. So, I will borrow a few words from Dylan going back to the sixties.

“Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind; the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Bob Dylan

I was pretending I just did not see all that day. A simple idea caught my attention. In biology, I gave a talk about pepper moths and evolution and mutation. The research was done in England with a moth and industrialization. White speckled moths slowly shifted to black as pollution from factories darkened the sky and soot-covered trees. Of all ideas to pop and make me realize I wasn’t teaching, only filling in minutes just blowing in the wind. A peppered moth did me in. Inspiration is a key but lifelong challenge for teachers.

Nearly twenty years ago, at a county-wide teacher kick-off meeting which was traditionally a packaged inspirational meeting and welcome for the new school year, led by an outsider brought in canned speaker. The county pays big bucks to an inspirational speaker paid to come in and inspire us as teachers. It could be a comedian or professional speaker, and it seemed each year the county would try a new approach. With all the austerity cuts, a new superintendent cut this program out first, which most teachers did not have an issue with.

Although I would have paid to hear and would enjoy hearing Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu maybe even Jimmy Carter, we never had that privilege. In the past, before the county cut out that start-up program, we would need to carpool over to one of the high school gyms near the county office and sit in the bleachers listening to pep talks and such, and most teachers leave wishing they had called in sick. I once considered asking for a substitute, but our secretary did not think the county would cover a sub. However, a recent speaker to our seniors reminded me of that meeting nearly fifteen years back. A young black college professor stood in front of us. He made his point not one person approached him as he boogied through the crowd before the meeting. The guest speaker for our seniors also made this point about first impressions. So, I start today with a quote from a young college professor.

“You can teach anyone anything once you get their ATTENTION.” Dr. Adolph Brown, III

Before the aforementioned annual teacher’s inspirational gathering in the county, this same professor walked about the crowd clad in hip hop attire, the baggy pants and shirt and baseball cap with a dew rag. He could have been from any street corner in Atlanta or Monroe where the school is located, and he was just a young black man as they announced Dr. Brown, a very distinguished man in a business suit and such, rises and heads towards the podium. The hip hop fellow moves toward the mike, take charge and announces he is Dr. Adolph Brown III from Hampton College, professor of psychology and education. He is a worldwide consultant and motivational speaker.

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.'” Dan Rather

We, teachers, sat listening to this young professor talk about faith, trust, and getting students’ attention.

“In teaching, you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” Jacques Barzun

New teachers want to change students’ lives immediately, but the fundamental differences are often years later. Recently a former history teacher joined our high school group site, and many of our members were offering memories of this great teacher’s efforts in the classroom and as a coach. Mr. Ross Kershey was one of the winningest basketball and track coaches in Pa. and a genuinely great teacher inspiring students to learn in the classroom. It has been over fifty years since I was in his class, yet I still consider him one of the best teachers I have ever had. Over the years, I have sat at the feet of some great teachers in college classes and industrial seminars and as a professional management training coordinator.

“Most teachers have little control over school policy or curriculum or choice of texts or special placement of students, but most have a great deal of autonomy inside the classroom. To a degree shared by only a few other occupations, such as police work, public education rests precariously on the skill and virtue of the people at the bottom of the institutional pyramid.” Tracy Kidder

I had a former student come by to visit me a few years back. He had walked across the stage nearly seventeen years ago to accept a special education diploma and then went on and officially finished high school and received his general education diploma, and went on to college. Now he is teaching Special education and head coach of a wrestling team with four straight state championships. It was a good feeling to be sitting there talking with a student who kept at it and succeeded even though all the odds were stacked against him.

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

This is what teaching is about, it is the inspiration, and I wish all teachers could have heard those comments we heard in our Walton County teacher’s meeting that year when Dr. Brown offered the critical component in teaching it is our example. It is setting an example for students. I have heard that before many times and somehow, it does not sink in with most teachers. So, the next few weeks will be interesting as COVID-19 cases are climbing across the country as we head towards a weekend. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Examining the threads of life

Bird Droppings January 4, 2022
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 naturally 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 birds rustling through the bushes trying to find the feeders and whatever other great creatures haunt 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 the remote panic button.

Cold weather will be returning to the area, and our warm temperatures during the day are gone; my aching body can feel the weather change. I seem every morning to check for sunrise to the east. Today I am alone and the center of my world on most mornings. When temperatures allow, silken strands find their way from grass stem to weed stem literally covering hundreds of feet on some mornings. It is an interconnecting web of life. Perhaps that is what drew me to this statement from Chief Seattle. So often go about life as 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 is 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 cogs a thread in a great machine or web of life. It is a modern man who sees themselves as the center of all.

“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 indeed 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 sat outside my room observing students and teachers pass by, I saw 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. One version has even been suggested as having been written for Hollywood and a movie. I read the end of the address, 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 from living off the land to trying and surviving on it? Not that long ago, a family could live and do well on a small farm raising what they needed how quickly things changed. I recall a scene from a recent movie, “The Missing.” A farm family in the west was raising horses and cattle. At a fair, the oldest daughter goes to town to see all the new-fangled contraptions to make life easier. Perhaps it is here we changed from living to wanting. When we stopped making what we needed and started buying things to make life easier?

Soon we needed things to do with the time freed up, and leisure became a significant 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 a “good” time. The film was about a clash between old and new in old faith and new science, and there was the underlying 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 that what we do is of significance, perhaps never noted in meetings or from friends, but someone carefully notes down each step, each whisper, each smile, 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 the back streets of Calcutta. How much easier and safer is it for some of us to live our lives as we do not pay 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 heart and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Sitting thinking of a circle

Bird Droppings January 3, 2022

Sitting thinking of a circle

I am looking through various shows, movies, and miniseries for a series I enjoyed, Into the West. I will find it one of these days. The series starts and ends with a circle of stones with a line going east to west and one going north to south through the circle. In our yard’s back area, we have been off and on building a memory garden. It is a rock garden with numerous succulents and sedums planted among the rocks that are special to us. The garden, when finished, will be a circle. Each quadrant has a space that eventually will be filled with young trees. A Japanese cedar was given to us when my wife’s father passed away by my friends at the high school and now stands nearly forty-foot tall. A Live Oak honors my father at the opposite side as we finish our project, hopefully, one day. We side-tracked with a rock garden pond, planted with sedums and various other plants, some aquatic.

“You have noticed that everything, as Indian does, is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. 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 nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back 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 Ogallala Sioux Holy Man

It has been over fifty years since I wrote a short poem about myself. At that time, perhaps, it was self-analysis or a self-description, “One little circle – alone – unopened.” It has been nearly twenty years since I headed towards Piedmont College to start my graduate studies, and I thought is the circle alone and or unopened. I had grown very close to the people in my cohort. As I attended graduate school, I became a much better teacher as I became a better student. Henry David Thoreau was a teacher until he realized he must be a learner first, and he needed to be a student again, and in doing so, he became a better teacher.

As I look at the circle I have in my education, and it is only the beginning, not the ending and the process of friends and fellow learners in my cohort at Piedmont and now as I continued my education at Georgia Southern and the teachers at my various schools all touch unto that circle and in effect keep it spinning and evolving. Black Elk, an Ogallala Sioux holy man, using nature to define this circle nearly a hundred years ago and Follow the Buffalo, holy man of the movie series “Into the West,” who was sitting in the sacred circle in the North Dakota hills throughout the movie addressed the white man with various other characters. My son once told me of a circle’s definition in geometric terms borrowing from Wikipedia.

“In Euclidean geometry, a circle is the set of all points in a plane at a fixed distance, called the radius, from a fixed point, called the centre.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As I sit here thinking, pondering, my circle has grown and furthered my education. My circle includes all I have met, emailed, talked with in grocery stores, schools, colleges, and numerous other places worldwide. The circle continues and grows with each step, word, sensation, and breath I take while I am privileged to live. As you think about your circle, keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Why should there be no teasing?

Bird Droppings January 2, 2022
Why should there be no teasing?

“Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, and is it true, does it improve on the silence?” Hindu proverb

So often speak first and clean up afterward, simply walking away quite generally, leaving whoever I am conversing with confused and bewildered. Having a long week ahead and hoping to get some serious writing in later today, I was cleaning up my email when I found one from a dear friend from nearly twenty years ago. It was the first one of that day and was about a subject we both were deeply involved with working with high school students.

My friend was a youth leader in the Atlanta area and an organic gardener. Several years back, we discussed teasing and its effects on children and how what is said can often be more potent than any physical contact, especially with teenagers. My friend offers this check on teasing and three things to look for.

“I have always said you recognize “teasing” if three things are present: There is a shred of truth to what is said, someone has their feelings hurt, you wind up saying …’I was only teasing’. We can’t take those moments back, and they are often some of those life-changing moments, often not for the “good” Yea, we humans need a 10-second delay like TV so we can adjust what we say…sure would make for a kinder world.”

With another Superbowl around the corner for those old enough to recall, I wonder if Janet Jackson would take her ten seconds back from that Superbowl slip up.

“Jests that give pains are no jests.” Miguel de Cervantes

As I was wandering about the internet, I came upon a website for The Center for Effective Parenting; they offer information for parents. Often, that same information can be totally applicable to teachers, and we as teachers often see children for more hours awake than parents do, sadly. The Center for Effective Parenting offers a possible guide:

“Parents should try to find out from their children some specifics. For example, parents should try to find out what the teasing is about, who is doing the teasing, where the teasing is occurring, how their children have reacted to different episodes and what occurred afterward. Parents should try to keep track of such information for a few days to find out what precipitates teasing if there are things their children may be doing to encourage teasing, and if there seems to be some pattern to it.” TCEP, website

“Teach appropriate responses, ignore it, develop a quick tongue, Practice, provide lots of love and encouragement, Discuss it with teacher or daycare provider” Kristen Zolten, M.A., and Nicholas Long, Ph.D., Department of Pediatrics, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

As I look at the expert’s rationale, it is a simple ABC’s, the Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence scenario which I have brought up many times in looking at behavior. As I was reading this morning and thinking about zero tolerance for bullying in most schools, I came upon an interesting website, author, and ideas.

“Every minute spent in school handling interpersonal problems is a minute taken away from education. Students are all-too-eager to get away from academics. When they discover their teacher is willing to stop what he’s doing to deal with social problems, it is child’s play to fill up the school day with problems.” Izzy Kalman, Bullies to Buddies

As I think back to my teaching style, I redirect, ignore often, and come back. Very seldom do I slow down to let teasing take the forefront. Izzy Kalman borrows heavily from the adage of “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Kalman takes an opposite view to many educators in that aggression is not learned but genetic. It is an active part of the human condition and should be dealt with in that manner. Many books, articles, and doctoral theses have been written about bullying and teasing. The TABS, the Teasing and Bullying survey, is produced by The Mental Research Institute and can be a good resource and tool for teachers and parents.

As I sit here pondering, listening to the water running in my aquarium by the window and R. Carlos Nakai on the seven-note cedar flute hauntingly playing on my hearing aids, I can crank up most days a bit louder than normal while at home. This issue of bullying is real, and it is in us, and maybe far too often, we sidestep and look away as kids tease each other.


I look back to that first statement from so many thousands of years ago, “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?” We can choose what we say that is not genetic that is learned and an active ongoing behavior subject to ABC. We can set an example for children, and that too is known and not genetic. So, if we set an example, can we change the world and, maybe through natural selection down through time, do away with teasing and bullying. Research is still out, but I am still willing to put in an effort. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart, and regardless of your political followings, people are hurting and dying in Haiti who need our prayers and help and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Trying not to trip on a grain of sand on the first day of a new year

Bird Droppings January 1, 2022

Trying not to trip on a grain of sand on the first day of a new year

A new year ahead, so many things to see and do, I was so remarkably close to starting this day with the title of Bentley; however, as I thought further, some might elude that nomenclature to a rather expensive car. It was an old post on Facebook from a former student about moving, and she needed help cleaning her apartment that got me on Bentley. I had a swimmer on the high school swim team many years back. This was nearly twenty years ago, and before I became the founder of the INWTCSTA society (I never want to coach the swim team again), I met a young lady. She had two sisters, and that is another story at that time. However, she mentioned that her youngest sister was in ninth grade and was a handful, always getting into trouble. The next day as my coincidences go, I met her in the hall, standing with an assistant principal being written up for a dress code violation and talking back. As the years went on, she and her sister had numerous dress code issues. They had the blonde and black hairstyles before anyone else knew about it and were always a little too short of skirt or one too many piercings.

The two older sisters graduated as the years went on, and I was left with that ninth-grader who had a temper at times. It seems she was constantly in ISS, in-school suspension. It wasn’t long till near every day she ended up in my sanctuary, my old classroom studying or using the computers, often she would be asked to leave by her teachers. Finally, as her senior year was coming up, she was frustrated and went the route of homeschooling through a local program and graduated ahead of schedule. I recall running into her at a local mall, and she was due to have a baby. She is told me she was naming her little boy to be Bentley. I remember thinking and wondering how youngsters have children will impact them. So now, years later, I am not at all concerned about it; she is an awesome mom with a great son. She is still taking everything in stride and not losing sight of her goals ahead, working as a costume designer for the movie industry in Georgia.

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert Service

Over the years, I have seen similar quotes several from Zen writings. Robert Service, best known as the Yukon poet, was quite a character, having lived the length and breadth of Canada. As we tend to do so often in life, we flounder on the small things. So often, how we see things affects what we do and how we do it. For many years I have been of the persuasion that life presents itself moment by moment; the puzzle is slowly falling in place, each piece one at a time. So often, many people get locked in on a piece and not the whole final picture, and they become limited in where, when, and why.

I recalled a puzzle several years ago. An artist designed the ultimate puzzle. It was white on both sides, with no actual edges as it was an odd shape, with very similar pieces, yet each piece only had one place it would work. The solving of the puzzle was even quite impossible, and an award was offered of $1,000,000.00 to the first person to solve this puzzle was offered. The problem was you would get so involved in each similar piece and could not see a whole, and without a context to work with, the content went nowhere. I have said something similar about education so many times.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Sometimes I wonder if we forget Yogi’s words in education, we get so caught up in the grain of sand we forget where we are going or do not know to begin with but still try and go. We end up someplace else totally and often alien.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan

Several happenings yesterday offered me ideas for today; one was listening to a former student comment on staying in school to get a high school diploma, so he wouldn’t have to work at a fast-food restaurant all his life. Another was another former student who had quit school in ninth grade, homeschooled, and was coming back, and she missed socialization and found every job application had a check box for high school graduates.

“The person with a fixed goal, a clear picture of his desire, or an ideal always before him, causes it, through repetition, to be buried deeply in his subconscious mind and is thus enabled, thanks to its generative and sustaining power, to realize his goal in a minimum of time and with a minimum of physical effort. Just pursue the thought unceasingly. Step by step, you will achieve realization, for all your faculties and powers become directed to that end.” Claude M. Bristol

As I worked in Special Education, we wrote IEP’s for students, Individual education plans. In those plans were goals. Often they can be meaningless; seven out of ten times, seventy percent of the student will not talk back to the teacher. Fortunately, most students do not read their goals. I could envision an intelligent kid sitting there with paper and pencil keeping data just as EBD teachers do. Thinking to themselves, ok, I talked back twice today out of six times. I spoke with my teacher. I will save up for later and be nice for a while. So just before the bell, this student hammers the teacher, and the teacher starts to write a referral and this wise student pulls out their goal sheet and says I am only meeting my goals; seven out of ten times, I did not talk back, so you cannot write me up. I am mastering my goals.

“I learned that, before you reach an objective, you must be ready with a new one, and you must start to communicate it to the organization. But it is not the goal itself that is important.” Jan Carlzon

“One day, Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? She asked. Where do you want to go? Was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.” Lewis Carroll

Perhaps where I see the issue is the student is one hundred percent in compliance with a mastery of only seventy percent. If I graded daily on mastery, that student gets an A for the day, barely passing; you learn quickly seventy percent is all you need to achieve most goals, and once knew, that isn’t easy to get rid of. Why not have a goal that states that a student will not talk back to the teacher and be evaluated daily by a self-check rubric? Now seventy percent means seventy percent, and the student is responsible for actions.

“The goal you set must be challenging. At the same time, it should be realistic and attainable, not impossible to reach. It should be challenging enough to make you stretch, but not so far that you break.” Rick Hansen

So often in education, we run around with buckets of sand and keep filling our shoes, and never get even to see the mountain we are forever cleaning the grains of sand out one at a time. As Robert Service stated, “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” However, if we carefully remove that grain and start building a sandcastle, every mountain starts as a grain of sand. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)

bird

Venting a bit on a Thursday morning

Birddroppings December 30, 2021

Venting a bit on a Thursday morning

I wrote yesterday and was going to be lazy today to get ready for the holiday. Lately, I had a doctor’s appointment and a rapid test, and I did test negative for COVID-19 again for the fourth time, which relieved my asthma has been acting up a bit. Last night and this morning, I read several alarming posts on various friend’s pages. I followed links, leading to paramilitary groups discussing declaring civil war. Another older link was supposedly about former President Obama forcing Trump into declaring Marshall Law in December with no information, just a title, and graphic. This link led to another about how the white race would be gone in twenty-five years. I read all the comments about our President being a communist and socialist, and my response is, neither socio-economic system is even closely being approached in this country. Then I watched Look Up, a satire about politics and science and greed, last night.

We are in super overdrive capitalism here in the US; greed rules above all else. We have the highest stock market and the most significant difference between the wealthy and the rest of us ever in the history of our country. The great income difference is what Marx saw and wrote about as he pondered communism. However, our government and both parties continue the process that maintains that the elite few tend to govern. Oil companies, defense contractors, pharmaceuticals, insurance, and banking are booming in profits. That’s not communism and or socialism. The recent election is a good example. With the balance of power changing, much of the budget being suggested by the current ruling party impacts the very people who voted them in cutting social security, tax credits, child care deductions, etc. These are all in the suggested budget of various members of congress and the senate.

Better yet, a desire to privatize Social Security and let an insurance company run it. Kind of like health insurance, where the top five health insurance carrier’s CEOs are paid more than 15 million a year each plus bonuses. Taking away from any group of people is not socialism and or communism. I was told recently we are losing our freedoms, and I asked which ones. Our freedom to not buy health insurance, for example, was the reply. I offered to cure yourself or pay your bills when you are sick. They asked, you mean you would let me die? And I said no, you let yourself die. The worst post of the day was our highest turnout in years. Almost 160 million people voted, and on black Friday, virtually that many went shopping. That speaks to me more than the idiotic posts and blogs about communism and socialism and civil war. As long as we get what we want, we don’t care about anybody else. So I will borrow from Christian scripture.

Matthew 19:16 Just then, a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 19:17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only good One. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 19:18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19:19 honor your father and mother,’ c and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 19:20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 19:21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 19:22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth. 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 19:24 Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God.” NIV

I am not one to use scripture often, but those spouting all the innuendoes mentioned in various blogs above use scripture. We could debate what this passage means since it is framed by an ancient Hebrew commonly used expression for something difficult, a camel through the eye of a needle, but I look more at the excess in our world and specifically in our country. No one cares about the environment, starving children, or a few other things other than making a buck. The XL pipeline is a great example. A few years back, a massive group of Koch industries employees, 35,000, promoted it through phone calls and conversation. Koch Industries owns 1.5 million acres of tar sands in Alberta. The pipeline is not carrying oil to benefit us here in the US, and it is already in plans to go to Asia, predominantly China.

The tar sands have been out of the news due to the cost of production and cheap world oil. Gas prices in the US will not be impacted, and why should they in a world of supply and demand price is based on who will pay the most we are bidding when we have paid over 4.00 a gallon with Chinese willing to pay more. Granted, currently, our gasoline is going down again, and the US is exporting more oil and refined oil products than any time in the history of our oil industry. The revolution that needs to occur is not one of military/militia/vigilante/gangs but people who care about others. Interesting note tar sands oil is losing money if oil is under 80.00 a barrel now and the pipeline is unnecessary.

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Mahatma Gandhi

Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)

bird

Why is seeking peace so difficult?

Bird Droppings December 29, 2021
Why is seeking peace so difficult?

I started and stopped several times writing this piece. My grandson wanted to watch Mickey Mouse with me and eat popcorn, so I was away from my computer. Around the world, armies are moving as I write. There are missiles are being aimed, and tanks are rolling. War is a profit-driving machine for industry and sadly more about money than ideology. I have always been against war and have felt other ways to solve issues.

“In this week of great destruction, we must each choose what road we are to walk and live. The road of destruction is war; it has always been so. The road of creation is deeper and more complicated; it has always involved forgiveness, love, light, prayer, and spirit. In these new millennia, we have a chance to change the way we see other beings to one of connectedness and unity. We have a chance to let go of the ancient ways of war and conflict, which is right, better, and senseless killing. This week has thrown us back on the old model of the last millennia.” Michael Samuels M.D. and Mary Rockwood Lane, Ph.D., Path of the Feather

I miss being in the Foxfire class during the summer months. Although in my current dissertation writing mode, research and reading are hours a day. However, there is something about spending 24 hours a day with other teachers discussing education and learning that is significant. Thinking back during one moment between classes and meetings, I happened to be sitting in an Ingles Store in North Georgia that happened to have a Starbucks. A young gentleman walked by with two peace symbols tattooed on his calf. It caught my attention and got me thinking back to several summers ago when I was driving up to this same spot to visit the Foxfire museum. I watched seven people marching for peace in the small town of Clayton, Georgia. Today, my writing started with a few lines from a Navaho prophecy edited by Dr. Samuels and Rockwood. In my searching, reading, and writing, so often, the contrast of peace versus war comes up, as do so many dualities in our world.

“The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, I was wrong.” Sydney J. Harris

For many, Sydney J. Harris is simply an old forgotten columnist from bygone days when people read hardcopy. I frequently use quotes from his essays and columns. His words are powerful, and I thank a dear friend from nearly twenty years ago for showing me his work. Often as I find articles he wrote from the sixties and seventies, and I wonder why I missed them then. I am reminded that it was not the time, as I reference my Jungian philosophy and orientation. All of the pieces were not in place for me to understand and recognize what he was saying. In my emails and communications, often I see misunderstanding and ignorance, myself included. I recall a friend writing from his heart, and others only could criticize and or turn away and not understand, so often not even reading the words.

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Sydney J. Harris

“An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.” Sydney J. Harris

Sitting here most mornings, it is so easy to formulate solutions and fantasize about a world free from strife and turmoil and I as I write this morning sitting at home in my writing area having read the current news, talk of new troop deployments in Yemen, which are hinted from Saudi Arabia my heart sinks. But then I walk away from my computer and wonder what we are trying to do in the world. Tomorrow morning a big sale at one of the local department stores, with the early bird sale masses of humanity will line up to get the best deals and gasoline will still be artificially high, so our excellent gas company’s profits can recoup several years of cheap gas and bolster or hinder the economy, depending on whose view you take.

I often wonder who came up with thinking like that in any other business sooner or later someone would see the ridiculous, it has been nearly ten years that Exxon just about every quarter has the highest profits ever in one headline and on another gasoline is at its highest ever, such an interesting parallel we seem to miss. However, a good point is that at least someone is thinking with the high court decisions made this week, and as our Supreme Court judges age slowly, a poll was taken as to what type of judge should replace any who should step down. Most now want a moderate there are still a few wanting conservatives, and only about a quarter want a liberal. Somewhere there was an extra three percent. I am assuming they were undecided.

“Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” Sydney J. Harris

That simple reminder from Harris needs to come up every day. It is always good to wake up to a new morning and water my herb garden. We each need to look at our pathway and see which direction we are going. Looking back at the first quote, we choose the path of destruction or creation as the Navaho say. My dear friends, 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

Should children be left behind?

Bird Droppings December 22, 2021

Should children be left behind?

“I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your      tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end    and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of nature. Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude. But I hear the outcry which replies to this suggestion: – Would you verily throw up the reins of public and private discipline; would you leave the young child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies, and call this anarchy a respect for the child’s nature? I answer, – Respect the child, and respect him to the end, but also respect yourself. Be the companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of his virtue, – but no kinsman of his sin. Let him find         you so true to yourself that you are the irreconcilable hater of his vice and the imperturbable slighter of his trifling.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about his idea of education and fortunately for me he wrote it down. Over the last ten years I have been directly involved in an educational program, Foxfire, which is based around John Dewey’s ideas on education. I was talking last Friday just before lunch with a fellow teacher and a local representative from PAGE, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, about education of all things. We discussed the idea of teaching top down as we in Georgia are being directed to do with new national common core standards. Here is where we are going and now how do we get there? That is more of real questions than why did you not get where you are supposed to be? Interestingly enough this first statement is what Emerson and Dewey were talking about. As we talked I mentioned Foxfire and how it was in effect how good teachers teach without even knowing. Really it is not something new and outlandish it is just putting a name on good teaching habits and providing a frame work of ten core practices to work with.

Coincidently my friend who was involved in the discussion had retrieved from the discard book cart some old Foxfire books. Periodically our media center discards old and or tattered books for teachers to get first crack at before throwing out. It seems that I have built a library on discarded books. My friend had salvaged four old Foxfire books from the cart earlier in the day.

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden. I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form. Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be brought into contact with it without either confusion or distraction; he is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going on, so that he loses his own power of orderly reaction, or he is so stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely called into play and he becomes either unduly specialized or else disintegrated.” John Dewey

Learning is not a time limited, space limited, and or school building limited activity as many teachers think. It is not tied to a specific curriculum and text. Real learning is alive, ongoing, continuous, actively participatory and an integral part of societal involvement. As I looked at the Foxfire core practices it becomes apparent these are good teacher practices, these are good life practices, and this is where learning can truly occur.

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

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

3 • 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.

4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

8 • 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.

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

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

Foxfire fund Inc.

What intrigued me from my first involvement with Foxfire was how even the approach to learning our school system is using which is called Learning Focused Schools is within these eleven principles. This past summer in my research I found most good and great educational ideas actually incorporate or parallel these simple practices. Literally hundreds of good teachers in actual practice helped develop this concept over a long period of time. Emerson and Dewey were thinking along the same lines long before most of us were born. This is not a new fad it is simply good teaching. It is interesting, I recall long before I read Dewey or Emerson and or anything about Foxfire which was little more than a mountain word for a glowing fungus on a hillside. I have been in graduate education classes learning from teachers who taught in this manner, and have watched students learning as they were involved in this approach to education. So why is it so hard to get across to teachers of today? Could it be because it takes more work from the teachers to implement? You will see the word rigorous in Foxfire quite a bit and it is. But good teaching is rigorous. It is dynamic not static.

As I am working on my dissertation and researching about The Foxfire Approach to teaching I find teachers telling me they prefer to teach in this manner but often are criticized by peers and administration for not following curriculum maps and guides. An article in NEA’s weekly newsletter pointed to how so many new teachers are coming into the ranks with little or no true training in education and often a point and click mentality is all they have. They are bodies filling a space and pushing kids through. I have met several great teachers who have come through alternative approaches to teacher training, myself sort of although I did have a minor and major in education along the way I just never student taught. I switched my major to psychology along the way at the last minute to avoid taking a foreign language which was required for education majors at Mercer University in 1974.

I would suggest we need to instead of more new curriculums instill more adrenaline in teachers. Perhaps we could install a super energy drink machine outside of each teacher’s classroom and just prior to starting class require every teacher to get a caffeine jolt. Energy can be a very powerful thing in so many ways especially when it involves the passion for teaching. I have wandered and pondered enough for one day and will get off of my soap box for today but please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart 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

There are always possibilities

Bird Droppings December 21, 2021
There are always possibilities

“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” Les Brown

I was sitting talking with one of my sons yesterday, remembering when I was their age. I should say that trying to remember when I was their age would be more appropriate. I was thinking back to a day when my son and I had lunch with my mother, and as they would, they got picked on each other, and she always would enjoy the show. My oldest had recently completed his first entire semester of graduate school, and I recall one of his last semesters he was having some difficulty getting registered because his student loans had been electronically fouled up. I was trying to tell him to take each moment as it comes, deal with it and move to the next. He was upset, and as the day progressed, the lesson was learned; it seems the wording in the college catalog allowed him a “loop” hole so he could register and get started in school that semester while the paperwork of his student loan was resolved.

“It is necessary; therefore, it is possible.” G. A. Borghese

Perhaps as I get older, I find nothing is impossible when we set our minds to it. Somewhere along the line, I took a picture of my son crossing a stream, stepping rock to rock. He had fallen in playing several times, but he was still trying to maneuver across even soggy and wet, stepping rock to rock. I have used this illustration so many times and even have a picture of the stream hanging in my room at school as he does in his bedroom. So often, life is like crossing a stream, a stone at a time, and we fall in quite a bit—the ones who are successful in life climb right back up soggy and wet and keep going.

“Oh, man! There is no planet sun or star could hold you if you but knew what you are.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have come to like Emerson over the years, almost as if he wrote some lines specifically for me to use those many years ago, and they have been sitting and waiting.
I altered Emerson’s words slightly, “If we but know what we are,” and what a powerful statement. We go through life trying to understand where and who we are, and many of us spend the better part of a lifetime searching. Some will find themselves at a young age, and the rest of us, it seems like an eternity trying to know.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.” Dag Hammarskjold

While not a household, Dag Hammarskjöld is the name of the former United Nations Secretary-General during some of the world’s craziest times. The Cold War was one of the most significant historical events between Russia and The United States. His statement of waiting till you attain your goal before you stop to measure is so crucial. So many of us, when we stop to look and see where we are going, become frustrated and slow down or stop altogether.

“Of course, we all have our limits, but how can you possibly find your boundaries unless you explore as far and as wide as you possibly can? I would rather fail in an attempt at something new and uncharted than safely succeed in a repeat of something I have done.” A.E. Hotchner

Each day when I was teaching. I would post a new quote on my door to offer a challenge to students, open doors, expand wisdom, stick their necks out, and go beyond where they are now. Each day, hundreds of people go by my door, and some will crane their neck to peek inside the door; some will stop and talk as I sit in my office outside my room between classes at my door. What is that thing, what do you teach, and r whose room is? Each day is an effort to open boxes and pry the lids off sealed containers of minds and thoughts.

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as a possibility!” Soren Kierkegaard

It has been many years since I heard Dr. Norman Vincent Peale speak in Macon, Georgia, in 1973 when he recognized a small church my brother attended, The Church of the Exceptional, as the National church of the year. That was over thirty-five years ago, yet his ideas are as relevant today now at this moment as I write this cold morning in Georgia.

“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or are, raise your sights and see possibilities — always see them, for they’re always there.” Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

A possibilitarian always sees possibilities, what an exciting thought in a day and time when we are often subjected to negative and belittling concepts and ideas. So many students quit long before they ever get a chance to succeed. We see many seniors leave high school or at least our school at this time of year due to graduation tests. They have tried numerous times, and while they will have enough credits and may even have been a B student or better cannot pass one of the five Georgia High School Graduation Tests. Many will seek enrollment in a small private school that does not adhere to the same standards and does not require State testing and will graduate in May on time only after they graduate from that school.

“How far is far, how high is high? We’ll never know until we try.” Song from, The California Special Olympics

Some time ago, I followed UCLA’s basketball program more closely than I do now, and on the team was a red-haired fellow who just happened to be 6 foot ten inches tall. He becomes a premier professional player and, in retirement, one of the great commentators of sports Mr. Bill Walton. I recall a night that the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team tied the eighty-eight-game win streak of Coach Wooden and Bill Walton’s team.

“No matter how good you get, there’s always something further out there.” Bill Walton

There is more than one aspect to all lessons and more than one possibility. It is seeking, understanding, and achieving those numerous other possibilities by never simply stopping because you made your initial goal. Now set higher goals to achieve more and better grow further and farther, always lifting continually. I was reading several small pieces this morning as I started writing. We all are givers and takers at one time or another as our lives balance out, try and balance to the giving versus the taking. You will never run out giving, but when you take soon, doors will close. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks Namaste

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird