At what point do we exist

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

How do we make learning successful?

Bird Droppings May 8, 2019

How do we make learning successful?

So as I do on many mornings when I get the time I walked out to a quiet corner of my back yard. Nestled in a patch of weeds and brush I laid claim to my quiet spot and look toward the east in the morning. It is still too dark when I head to school to glimpse the sunrise or the threads of life as I call them glisten in the early morning light. These are strands of spider webbing that are still hanging connecting everything. The scientist part of me knows that they are simply webs from wandering spiders the previous night out hunting but the mystic in me sees the connections. I do see the interconnections but many do not.

 

As I see my grandchildren and interact I become concerned deeply with their education. I am concerned about learning even more so than education. That is a strange statement to make coming from a teacher by trade. We have institutions established called schools where learning is supposedly to occur. Sadly various interfering elements within state and federal politcs contradict and totally destroy the ability to provide learning experiences for children. Yesterday several editorial cartoons were sent through the internet showing a group of students all connected with wires from their heads staring ahead and one trying to climb out a window to the escape outside to nature. The just of the image was education reform wants us all to be education zombies all learning the same thing at the same time. If we cannot reverse the decline in learning our children will be simply pawns of whoever is or whatever is in power at the time. I have raised a simple question for nearly twenty years. I can through “DATA” show a direct correlation between the standardized biology and literature tests in Georgia and reading levels.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Can we be about healing?

Bird Droppings May 7, 2019
Can we be about healing?

 

I came out earlier today into the darkness and the first thing I heard was a bullfrog off in the distance calling that’s the first one of the year. As I listened I heard more I heard many birds starting to chirp, whistle and call. Somewhere to the left of me was a whippoorwill going way back into the distance to the right great horned owl. My question for pondering today is, what is prayer? People define prayer in many different ways most I find tend  to confine to the parameters of religion. I recall reading Larry Dossey many years ago and now he defines prayer is more of a simply directing energy perhaps towards someone or something and even an idea perhaps. For me prayer is simply being able to sit and release myself from not necessarily the burdens of reality but the stranglehold that we allow ourselves to get into almost daily.

 

Prayer becomes those moments that are not necessarily quiet, not necessarily peaceful. As for me I am sitting here right now in my rocking chair on the front porch looking out, the sun will be up in the next 30 or 40 minutes and it is peaceful. Prayer could be simply thinking, pondering reflecting. I like the word reflecting, it’s like seeing a mirror image and yet it’s not really what you say or feel. Reflecting can have the ripples going through it like looking at an image on a lake. Life is maybe is like that image. It’s not the lake that’s rippling it could be our life.

 

I love how John Dewey would teach that through experience we learn. However it is through experience and reflecting on the experience where the real learning occurs. I try to spend a little time perhaps too much time pondering every day I can get caught up then simply sitting and listening. It would be very easy for me to go in my backyard sit on our swing and spend the day there just listening to the world around me.

 

As I’m getting older my hearing my sense of smell things are kind of dwindling. But I do surprise everyone occasionally when I do hear, see and smell minute things others miss. I’ve always been colorblind but my colors are more vivid than most peoples. I may be losing my hearing but I still hear more than most people. Smell I’m not going to go there I smell garlic since I really like garlic a lot and use in everything. The birds are starting to get serious in their calls and whispers and twerps. Prayer is a key in healing personal and in others.

 

“People cannot know how sacred power, or medicine truly works, but almost every Native American knows something of its ways. Often seen as a mysterious force that is fluid, transmissible and important malleable, sacred power can be manipulated by those who possess it – either for good or for worse” Larry Zimmerman, The Sacred Wisdom or the American Indians

 

It is so easy to get up knowing my children and grandchildren are safe and walk out into a morning unafraid, I have never been in the situation my parents were faced with my two younger brothers and me. Shortly after I was born they were unsure as young parents of the medical issues and why their new born was having seizures. I out grew that and moved on to polio at about three and a few small minor other health issues in my childhood. My youngest brother also started with seizures and almost immediately the intensity increased and I think back to how my parents must have felt at that time. My middle brother contracted a bone infection and was on antibiotics and bed rest for weeks.
Watching my own children grow up with so few problems has been easy. A good friend has two small children one diagnosed with diabetes the other with health issues of another sort. A few years past on a Monday a dear friend went in for brain surgery, not something that you volunteer to do, she knew that she may not walk away from it. But in this situation options were minimal, an aneurism on the main artery in her brain could rupture at any time and she would be gone. She had her surgery and survived and is doing fine. We have daily medical miracles unthought-of even when I was a child.
There was calm this morning as I went outside before even heading upstairs to get on my computer. It was an uneasy calm outside, as if a storm is coming or maybe just a weather change, yet so peaceful and still. I was absorbed in the quiet, and the stillness, perhaps the storm will come we can always use more rain (sarcasm there after two inches in the past few weeks). But perhaps the calm will stay and continue. I have a spot in the yard actually I call it my medicine circle where I often go to sit and to listen. As I sat birds were chattering about me and I was looking for answers and to what today would be for me. Sometimes I wander in thinking to defining infinite and nothing. Two simple words yet so much of philosophy and life revolve around attempts at defining those two words. Religions are based on and built on finding answers to the infinite and or understanding what is nothing.
Last evening I walked to my car to get my phone that I had left on the charger. At this time in the evening with little traffic in our neighborhood my front porch is a quiet resting spot as well. I sat down in the rocker and was listening. A buzzing or more humming sound caught my attention and I was face to face with a hummingbird. We stared at each other for some time till the tiny bird flew off into the expanse of pines alongside the road. Had I been a few minutes later or sooner I would have missed the hummingbird.

 

“Creative breakthroughs and prophetic knowing will become ordinary. Empathy and compassion will flower as a result of our deeper connection with one another. The awareness of immortality takes the pressure off living and dying. This will not happen automatically, however. We have to do our share and set our biases and prejudices aside. These are urgent matters.” Dr. Larry Dossey, Healing Words

 

It has been quite a few years since I read Dr. Larry Dossey’s first book. I coming from a seminarian background, my library is filled with books on prayer and the healing power of prayer. Every day in the local paper articles and advertising for various churches allude to the power of prayer. There have been times in my own life when prayer was a significant issue. I recall my father telling the story of my brother lying in a bed at The Philadelphia Children’s hospital this was in the mid 1960’s and the head doctor Dr. C. Everett Koop (The former U.S. Surgeon General circa 1981-1989) offering a prayer over John. I recall a comment my father said years ago that Dr. Koop offered in all of his years in medicine and dealing with terminally ill children had he ever met anyone who refused prayer. Dr. Larry Dossey in his work however is looking at prayer as a thought of healing intentions. Dossey even removes religious connotation from prayer as he looks at the power of prayer, in a California study where a group focused on the individuals in a critical care heart unit and healing occurred.

 

“This is actually been tested in certain studies, and has achieved positive results. For example, at the University of California San Francisco Medical School, they actually tested healing intentions, which were initiated at a great distance by several individuals, for people with advanced AIDS. This was a double blind study. The people who received the healing intentions statistically did much better than people who did not. So this is not just fantasy. This is a valid phenomenon, which has been tested.” Dr. Larry Dossey

 

I am rambling a bit, a dear friend emailed back a few months several incidents of healing and intuition recently, while she was a pastor in Delaware. A good friend would end his emails to me sending energy south. For a number of years now I have ended Bird Droppings with a simple line, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart, each day. A very simple statement, as I sit and think imagine if we each would do this daily how profound an impact would that make on the world.

 

“We are made of prayers. With prayer we listen to what is important inside of us and all around us.” Navajo healer

 

“We are not alone. The spirits of those gone before guide our steps, our traditions, our beliefs. We are not alone. The care of those around us leads us to healing and wholeness and comfort. We are not alone.” Mohawk/Onondaga healer

 

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.” Chief Seattle

 

A good friend from the mountains of North Georgia introduced herself to me slightly over a year ago as a healer and soothsayer. I have many hours talked with her about medicinal plants and other healing topics. I was reflecting how as I learned more about certain plants I seemed drawn to specific ones. Her response, she has been healing and working with folks for nearly fifty years, they will let you know when they (the plants) are needed. So I close today someone needs a soothing tea I have included a recipe and taking a spare book and a plant to a friend tomorrow. If we focus on those in harm’s way if we try and alleviate suffering and harm being done to others within our own realm of being, that will spread that will encompass soon all of mankind and the world will be touched. Today make it a point to keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and a special thought for a little girl in North Georgia and a local woman in Athens who just came out of surgery and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin ve

(We are all related)

bird

 

Every day a new journey begins

Bird Droppings May 3, 2019
Every day a new journey begins

 

“School divides life into two segments, which are increasingly of comparable length. As much as anything else, schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them.” Ivan Illich, 1971

 

I started my wanderings this morning with this statement from Ivan Illich who was an Austrian philosopher, former Roman Catholic priest, and “maverick social critic” especially of institutions within contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development. From my own stand point it was his short book or essay, Deschooling Society, 1971 that caught my attention in an education philosophy class in graduate school almost forty years after he wrote the book.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.” Ivan Illich, 1971

 

Deschooling society, this short book brought Illich to the attention of the general public. I want to emphasize one sentence. “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring” After a couple of weeks of John Dewey and Foxfire I find this very significant. I really like the concept of educational webs. In Foxfire teaching the connections made in life and in education are emphasized. In the 1850’s Chief Seattle spoke about the web of life and I have used his words often in my writing.

 

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle

 

I find as I ponder teaching, education and learning I continually come back to my father and his impact on my own concept of teaching. I remember all of the acronyms and quick one-liners he would use to emphasize points. As I was thinking it hit me that it is the nearing the eleventh anniversary of the last time I spoke with my father. It was June 27, 2007 and I had dropped off some medicine at my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey I needed to make.
I drove down to Oxford Georgia after leaving to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife stayed home as she was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several follow up calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drank Evian back then more recently switching to Smart water liters as they fit in car drink holders. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy.

 

As I headed from my parent’s home just before dusk almost on the county line a dead tree trunk stark white against the darkening surroundings was to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark it was white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and by that time I had reached my destination. In Native American thought often animals are linked to us in a special way and provide us with bits and pieces of what we need as we travel in life. Sometimes a boost seeing a hawk fly by just as you are driving or walking outside. It could be a deer standing watching as you drive away almost seeing through you.
I arrived just before the program started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University so I walked around a bit. The grounds date back to early 1800’s, and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his now world famous rendition of Axel Rose and Bob Dylan singing a duet on that famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago, it was featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

 

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. He tends to stay up longer than me on almost every night. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey into night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because she was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.
I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son had to go work this morning so I thought I would wake him up and he walked by. I had several vivid dreams over the last two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my son and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.
I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and told my oldest son and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock in the morning June 28th. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought, listened and pondered for a few minutes. I enjoyed the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rose in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some river stones I had gathered from a special stream for me in North Georgia that I had previously placed on the ground in a circle medicine wheel some might say when we first moved to this spot.
I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and she was fine. It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnecting and meeting people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather as well as teacher, author, thinker and innovator in Industrial Loss Control management. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and all were his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.

 

Yesterday as I drove around I recorded stories of my friend Trooper who passed away a year ago. Basically telling stories of our crazy antics back in the 1970’. I was alone in the car just rambling on story one, two and soon story fifteen. Saturday we will share stories and memories.
“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps resounding as I recall my sons singing that night eleven  years ago and it was so many years ago another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I thought back again to May 2007 when my father in law passed away, a former student who I considered a dear friend as well died in a car crash, and then my dad. All these thoughts racing around as I think about my friend Trooper. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish all well on their journeys and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Peace to my father and all of my friends and please always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Pondering and researching education while remembering a waterfalls

Bird Droppings May 1, 2019
Pondering and researching education while remembering a waterfalls

 

It has been seven years since I was staying at the Sylvan Mills Bed and Breakfast in a room literally over a waterfall. I went up to North Georgia to recharge perhaps another word might be to rekindle my passion for education and learning. For nearly thirteen years I have been participating in and attending Foxfire training programs. I started writing before day break listening to nature’s sounds today the whippoorwill chorus was surrounding me. It was quite an experience staying in a room overlooking a waterfall. At night with my windows open wide taking in the sounds some of my best night’s sleep ever.

 

However trying to write in the lulling sound of water running was difficult and I would doze off. With the sun up I would move my computer to the porch overlooking the falls fully intent on pulling out my Bose ear phones and listening to Crosby Still Nash and Young. The sounds and energy of the water mesmerized me. I walked about the area just before dark taking pictures.  I  have been pondering the John Dewey and Foxfire program and the implications that can made in a teachers classroom. I am behind in my reading as of the moment, so I will try and get some additional reading and writing done this weekend.
With the bulk of education in the early 1900’s following closely the Industrial Revolution and mass production, a few great thinkers took the concept of the individual child in psychology and education in new directions as to its relationship to children. How children were viewed became the basis for several educators to develop their theories and ideas. Child psychology and child centered educational ideas flowed from these thinkers. John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends. Alfie Kohn educator and author refer to Dewey and to his idea of providing for a lifetime of learning. In his book What does it Mean to be well educated?, Kohn points out, “many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students, instantly responded with the phrase life-long learners.”
Dewey was not alone in his thinking which was in direct contrast to the traditional educational practices of his day. Dewey was frustrated with the rationale of educators when he wrote

 

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so in trenched in practice. That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process.” John Dewey

 

The traditional philosophy of education was a focus away from children and their interests, and not trying to understand children simply seeing them as small adults. Traditional education is about efficiency and production which were carryovers from the Industrial revolution. It was time for serious educators to get away from the assembly line processes of traditional education. One of these new educators a thinker, author, scholar, and advocate for children Alfie Kohn throughout his writing illustrates this point.

 

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: “What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.” Alfie Kohn

 

In a burst of educational energy just prior to the turn of the century numerous educators and scholars were developing ideas that often parallel John Dewey as they sought to come up with a better way to teach children. Howard Garner in his book The Unschooled Mind states discusses some of this basic history of progressivism.

 

“Progressivism is most frequently and most appropriately associated with the name of John Dewey. In fact, however the practices of progressive education had already begun to be implemented in the period before 1896…Leaders like Francis Parker, first superintendent of the Quincy Massachusetts Public Schools, later principal of the Cook county Normal School in Chicago, and finally a founding member of the Chicago Institute, which ultimately gave rise to Dewey’s educational facility at the University of Chicago.” Howard Garner

 

While Dewey was establishing himself in educational history in the United States across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe Dr. Jean Piaget was developing child centered education which would lead along with Dewey and Vsygotsky to the concept of constructivism. Piaget believed each aspect of child development followed clearly defined stages and this did not change child to child but could occur at differing speeds. Dewey saw the past experiences of children so often not even being recognized and yet at that point is the basis for their ability to learn.
In a similar fashion a medical doctor working with mentally disabled children in a residential setting in Europe was looking at the child centered aspect of education as she developed methodology with a developmental learning process in mind. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Advanced Montessori Method describes her philosophy and understanding of educating children.

 

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori

 

Another psychologist looking at children in a developmental approach was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky whose work was not discovered by the western educators till the later part of the twentieth century. Vygotsky also saw experience as a significant factor in children’s development. Retention of previous experiences facilitates adaptation to the world around them and can give rise to habits when those experiences are repeated. Vygotsky differed with Piaget in that he said learning can precede developmental stages. We can acquire use of a given tool in order to attain a certain stage of development. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development which is “the distance between actual development determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

There are some similarities to Dewey with Vygotsky; much like Dewey he also felt there was a significant element of group interaction needed for education to be meaningful. The ideal school for Dewey was one that took the form of an “embryonic social community,” one in which students were encouraged to cooperate and work together and learn from each other as well as their teachers.
The originators of constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey all started with psychology and that the child is a unique individual as they developed their interpretations and understandings of learning and education. Even today the child is not the focus of education. One need only to leaf through the tables of contents in recent educational journals to discern that the individual child is not the focus of educational reform. Each of these great educators believed in the act of doing as a way to learn and as Ted Sizer points out that there is context. “What I have learned is context is everything….. The memorable learning was that you have to be very respectful and very sensitive to the values, to the attitudes that youngsters bring into class, that their parents have, which the community has”. Montessori and Piaget leaned towards the developmental stages in child development and Dewey and Vygotsky while accepting developmentally sound stages as real felt the community, peer group and teachers elevated learning past developmental points of reference. Maybe it is time to look back to Dewey.

 

“Curriculum has held our attention for generations because those who think seriously about education understand its inherent possibility. Maxine Greene’s call for a return to the search for John Dewey’s great community, her call to rise to the challenge of coming together without losing each person’s unique way of being in the world challenges our educational imagination.” Mary Aswell Doll

 

For Dewey an educational experience had to be connected to the prior personal experience of students and also to a widening or deepening of future experience. It was through reflection that Dewey saw the ability to go beyond where you were now. John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do “resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes”. The act of reflection is taking a given reference and moving ahead to a new possibility. Often it is the teacher who provides the window for reflection to occur.

 

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Parker Palmer

 

It was in this reflective, imaginative undertaking of Dewey’s that provided ideas and thoughts that led Elliot Eisner to Art Education. In his writings Eisner looks to the arts as a basis for education and his ideas and thoughts offer a new stream from Dewey. John Dewey once commented that the stamp of the aesthetic needed to be on any intellectual idea in order for that idea to be complete. It is this feel both imaginative and sensible that the so-called academic studies would foster if they were modeled after the arts. Dewey identified making things as one of four fundamental interests of children. Unhappily, because schools put so little value on making things, most of us grow up with contempt for work done with our hands. Eisner drew often from Dewey’s idea on needing context and relevance for learning to be genuine and to be lasting. Eisner places experience at the center of learning.

 

“It is through the content of our experiences that we are able to perform two very important cognitive operations: we are able to remember and we are able to imagine…. Imagination …works with the qualities we have experienced. What was not first in the hand cannot later be in the head.” Elliot Eisner

 

“One of the potential virtues of situated learning is that it increases the probability that students will be able to apply what they have learned. When the conditions of learning are remote from the situations or tasks in which what is learned can be applied, the likely hood of application or some would say transfer is diminished.” Elliot Eisner

 

The idea of imagination needing to have a basis in reality, in the context, is of significance. It is imagination that brings meaning, purpose, and application to what is learned.
“Imagination for Dewey, explores alternative possibilities for action within a selected context of ongoing activity. Imagination enables the search for ideas that can reconstruct the situation. It takes the context and its data, including emotional sympathetic data, as intuited and determined by selective interests and transforms them into a plan of action, an idea that if acted upon might allow the agent to achieve the desired ideal in reality.” Jim Garrison

 

Elliot Eisner believes in diversity, that this is the key to education and learning and through this provides richness for our culture as well. Continuing in that same line of thought, Maxine Greene educator, philosopher and pioneer sees reality after all as interpreted experience and that to limit learners to a single dominant mode of interpreting their experience may be to frustrate their individual pursuits of meaning and consequently, their desires to come to know, and to learn.
With much of her work is based on the concept of caring, Nel Noddings defines education “as a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation”. Eisner and Barone understand that the aesthetics of experiences is what builds those in our minds and provides the means to imagine and be creative. The concept of Aesthetic Learning and Education is one of understanding, of perception and ultimately of creativity. Eisner looks at teaching as artistry, it is the ability to craft a performance and to provide the students with the mediums and means to perceive and understand their world.
For John Dewey, aesthetic experiences are not confined to high art, but arise from within the interaction of human organisms with their surroundings. Thomas Barone points to Dewey being the primary thinker that envisioned art and aesthetics having a central role in education and in learning. Thomas Barone is concerned as are many other progressive educators with the linear format of traditional education.

 

“If students are not given access to metaphoric learning activities, if the shape of their learning is always linear and closed, how will their capacity for creativity and invention be developed?” Thomas Barone

 

Perhaps in my research and reading I am getting a bit over board with Dewey and education but I see tie ins to daily living, to how we respond to others, to what the future holds for us and our grandchildren. If each of us took a bit more time to try and understand why so much of what is going on in society is going on maybe just maybe we could finally realize much of this does not need to be happening. So again after nearly thirteen years of daily writing I ask as I do every morning please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Trooper, pondering, remembering and digesting the stories  

Bird Droppings May 1, 2019
Trooper, pondering, remembering and digesting the stories

 

Forty six years ago I was a student at Mercer University in Macon Georgia. I had moved south only a few months before from Pennsylvania. Macon was new to me and I will admit I was a bit naive at the time. In the student center for those of us who lived off campus it was a place we could go grab some food and study between classes and socialize. I recall the day I met Trooper. Never one to be quiet and demure he demanded attention. You knew when he was around. Back then his typical outfit was a pair of ragged cutoff jeans and t-shirt thinking back that was just about year around. On that day several girls were gigging and screaming in the canteen as Trooper strolled by. He had inadvertently pulled down a tube top or two as he walked by. In today’s world the campus police would have been called in the 1970’s the girls were asking for an autograph. The fine line of perception.

 

I was working in a center for special needs children and adults and out of the blue this character shows up to volunteer. I see another side of this larger than life fellow from Mercer Campus. At that time he was not a student but would audit courses he liked. He worked for a band promoter as a bouncer of sorts keeping the guys in the bands in line. Needless to say we became good friends. Somehow he ended up volunteering at my center and a few weeks later I am a character witness at his drug trial. Was it synchronicity and or deliberate. If not for the next few years knowing him I would have said deliberate and my father thought that till the day he died. Trooper continued working at various programs after he escaped from jail and moved out of Macon. Never really sat down with my dad and went over all of that. Several stories there.

 

As I think back it’s the stories of all those years. Boys Club camping trips to North Carolina, a rustic cabin in Dahlonega, trips to Albany Georgia, meeting the sales rep for an archery company and a good one my wedding and him pulling a big Buck knife out to carve some frozen grapes from a table display. I weigh the god and great stories over the one or two bad ones.

 

Good stories, great stories and several sad stories all intermingle as I think back. About a year ago his daughter called and informed me he had been hospitalized. A year ago today great news he may be getting out of CCU and going to a regular room. Then a short time later he suffered a massive heart attack and they could not revive him. So a year later I sit thinking of all the stories. I had a long night of dreams last night. I thought back to how upset I was I had not traveled to visit him in many years and he visit me, we always had a reason. We had kept in near daily communication through social media arguing politics and remembering our stories.

 

With my mother passing a few weeks back and now thinking back to Troopers passing I am remembering time is often an enemy as we grow older. Our bodies are in a daily fight with us. You can do this but not that today. Can I get another minute with a friend or another conversation? A dear friend in Pennsylvania came up with this in an email. “Every time a classmate (and I would say friend) dies it means we’re closer to being the next one to go or closer to being the last one alive. The problem is, when I find out the answer to that question, I won’t be able to tell you.” I need to spend my time with family and friends more wisely.

 

I was reminded a few days back about stories my father would tell. I promised my brother and sisters I would write them down. I need to get them down. Now another group of stories need to be put on paper so they can be retold. It is our stories that give us life. I wish my my mother and my good friend trooper well in their new journey namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird