Learning and teaching are not the same and yet intertwine

Bird Droppings June 17, 2020
Learning and teaching are not the same and yet intertwine

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

Dr. Adler founded the Center for the Study of Great Ideas and has been the Chairman of the Board of Editors for Encyclopedia Britannica; he focused on Philosophy and Liberal Education. One of my traditional writing assignments in class is I have students write an essay for one hundred twenty five words and you get a seventy percent, for two hundred fifty words you get an eighty percent, three hundred seventy five words for an ninety percent and five hundred words for one hundred percent and your choice of plain or peanut M&M’s. The title of the essay was “How should I be taught”. I work with students on using their research, finding and using quotes and citing authors so copy and paste was possible to bulk up a feeble attempt. In a class I did this with three did five hundred words, one fell asleep he didn’t feel good and two only made one hundred and twenty five words.
The funny thing is I deliberately do this by writing on the white board and not one time asking anyone to work. One of the first completed in one class was a student who doesn’t care, wants to quit school and uses the great word of words “whatever” more times a day than his entire balance of vocabulary.

“Our schools are not turning out young people prepared for the high office and the duties of citizenship in a democratic republic. Our political institutions cannot thrive; they may not even survive, if we do not produce a greater number of thinking citizens, from whom some statesmen of the type we had in the eighteenth century might eventually emerge. We are, indeed, a nation at risk, and nothing but radical reform of our schools can save us from impending disaster. Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

So, a student did an assignment for a pack of M&M’s is that really amazing I have over the years grown away from extrinsic motivation but still occasionally will, just to point things out to kids. In this case, I did not have to coerce, beg, ask, or even remind students I simply wrote on the board and stated the day’s assignment is on the board. Of all my students that one period the one finishing first is the only one who I have to push constantly. The rest knew my tricks basically. I did give him a pack of M&M’s and you know what his essay while not the greatest was complete a first. Since coming back into the teaching field I have found several key factors in teacher student involvement especially in high school, first the student has to want to be in that class, in that same light the student has to have a reason for what they are to do, relevance for that student. It has to be their reason not one imposed by a teacher and ideally that will become a self-fulfilling purpose and or reason to acquire more information as to learn more and move on in life.

Initially it may be a pack of M&M’s but the point of that exercise was to see if this student given a motivator would try versus simply “I do not care I am not doing the work”. Interesting note later in the day I received an email questionnaire about his progress on goals in relationship to his IEP. I have had this student a total of five weeks and reviewed his goals many of which are based on motivation and at least trying. Options to answer are introduced (I) and Progressing and of course a P, and then mastered and a capital M. His case manager said I ruined his report; I said progressing on all counts and was actually optimistic while all others were saying the opposite. I have a major issue and problem, how can you be teaching if a student is not progressing at all.

“If, in some way, the generations to come would learn what a good life is and how to achieve it and could be given the discipline, not only of mind but of character, that would make them willingly responsive to the categorical ought’s of a teleological ethics, perhaps, then, the moral and educational revolution might begin and take hold. To hope for this is to hope for no more than that the restoration of a sound and practical moral philosophy will enable enlightened common sense to prevail in human affairs.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

The idea and organization Paideia, is an educational concept founded again by Dr. Adler. The principles of this organization are as follows:
PAIDEIA PRINCIPLES
1. That all children can learn;
2. that, therefore, they all deserve the same quality of schooling, not just the same quantity;
3. that the quality of schooling to which they are entitled is what the wisest parents would wish for their own children, the best education for the best being the best education for all;
4. that schooling at its best is preparation for becoming generally educated in the course of a whole lifetime and those schools should be judged on how well they provide such preparation;
5. that the three callings for which schooling should prepare all Americans are (a) to earn a decent livelihood, (b) to be a good citizen of the nation and the world, and (c) to make a good life for oneself;
6. that the primary cause of genuine learning is the activity of the learner’s own mind, sometimes with the help of a teacher functioning as a secondary and cooperative cause;
7. that the three kinds of teaching that should occur in our schools are didactic teaching of subject matter, coaching that produces the skills of learning, and Socratic questioning in seminar discussion;
8. that the results of these three kinds of teaching should be (a) the acquisition of organized knowledge, (b) the formation of habits of skill in the use of language and mathematics, and (c) the growth of the mind’s understanding of basic ideas and issues;
9. That each student’s achievement of these results should be evaluated in terms of that student’s capacities and not solely related to the achievements of other students;
10. that the principal of a school should never be a mere administrator, but also a leading teacher who should cooperate with the faculty in planning, reforming, and reorganizing the school as an educational community;
11. That the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and
12. That the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching.
Copyright © 1991 by The Paideia Group, Inc. The Paideia Group, Inc. Board of Directors: John Clark, Rosa Blackwell, Vann Langston, Rita Kaplan, Cindy Rutz, John Van Doren, and Patricia Weiss. Honorary Chairman is Mortimer Adler
I read through these principles and was somewhat intrigued, especially in points eleven and twelve, “that the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and that the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching. I have mentioned numerous times over the past years of Henry David Thoreau leaving the teaching field to become a learner. Thoreau felt in order to teach you have to be a learner first. Several years back in working on a paper for graduate school I used the word osmosis as a representation for teacher student feedback. That student I first mentioned who did not care about school was able to be motivated it was finding a re-enforcer.
Borrowing from the great behaviorist B.F. Skinner for every behavior there is an antecedent and then there is a consequence. We can change behavior by changing consequence and or the antecedent. Ideally we would like the antecedents and consequences to become intrinsic but to get the ball rolling sometimes an extrinsic means can and will work. But extrinsic means generally are only temporary solutions shy of electric shock which is illegal in most states.

“If acquisition of the liberal arts is an intrinsic part of human dignity, then the democratic ideal demands that we should strive to see to it that all have the opportunity to attain to the fullest measure of the liberal arts that is possible to each.” Robert M. Hutchison, The Great Conversation

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

I have used over and over again this quote from Albert Einstein and it is perhaps one of my favorite. How can we make are teaching so potent? We as teachers as parents as friends need to strive to actively pursue learning in order that those children around us will see and model that behavior and want to learn for learning’s sake. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

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

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

Bird Droppings June 16, 2020
Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

I was asked at a teachers dinner one time when did I start teaching and I responded at age twelve. The group I was with was thinking I was being my typical sarcastic self. Then I explained I started teaching swimming with my father to beginners at twelve. So my father got me into teaching. I have been thinking about him quite a bit lately. Dad passed away in 2007 but for some reason lately it amazes how much he influenced my philosophy and understanding of teaching.

So from my father’s start at teaching swimming lessons now nearly sixty years later it has taken many twists and turns in the journey for my own philosophical view of life and teaching to evolve. That journey has wound around many switchbacks, trails and pathways and now focuses on the interconnectedness of all that is.

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey

I am sitting in my writing nook at home this morning on a unusually quiet cold day. As I think back on the excitement and power emanating in a room full of teachers at my last Foxfire course almost five years ago, I realize how much I miss that interaction. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my reflective effort from a previous day. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and of art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer using Aldus Huxley who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley, Content and Pretexts

Back in the early 1900’s Carl Jung coined a word, the term synchronicity to describe meaningful intertwining’s in life that appear to be by chance yet have so much significance. My life has been a constant trail of coincidences and synchronous events. I attended a co-teaching seminar some time ago at our School Board office and was immediately drawn into dialogue with one of the instructors. She had mentioned several points that intrigued me and I went up to talk with her at the first break. I found it amusing to be talking to someone born after I started working with special needs kids who is now teaching the class I am taking. I walked away revitalized over an idea that her thoughts emulated and was on Facebook when I sat down at my computer.

“Students, who are loved at home, come to school to learn, students who aren’t come to school to be loved.” Nicholas A. Ferroni

I found this simple statement by Nicholas Ferroni, who is an educator, mostly teaching lower-income students focusing on history and deep personal commitment, concern and care. I found it to be a profound thought and shared on my own Facebook page. In class when I had used this there was more follow up about what I consider to be at the heart and soul of teaching and that is building relationships and community.

This time of year, I am traditionally back and forth to North Georgia or so it has been for the past twelve summers to a program taught by faculty from Piedmont College and housed on the Foxfire Property in Mountain City Georgia. The course was taught to teachers from literally around the world who show up to learn about this simple approach to teaching. Over the years of my own research I have met and discussed learning and education with hundreds if not thousands of students, teachers and trainers. One thought that has stuck with me is from Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame. “It’s not about the teaching it’s about the learning”

“We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

With all the hoopla about testing and evaluation of teachers it is truly difficult for teachers to see the real fruits of their labors their students twenty years from now. In my own research I have discussed and talked with many former students of the Foxfire approach to teaching who were taught in this manner some nearly forty six years ago. A few years back on an afternoon while at Foxfire a good friend joined us who had been a student of the Foxfire program in 1970 and staff member of Foxfire from 1971-76. Laurie Brunson Alteri. Laurie talked about many things in the two hours she kept the teachers and teachers to be entranced with her love of and enthusiasm for the program. But she warned it is not a template to follow it is far more and that is where so many teachers fall short. We all tend to be lazy and want to open the box of education and poof everything falls in place and that is not how it works. Laurie used an example that has stuck with me. “In biology when you dissect a frog and look at all the parts after you are done all you have is a dead frog”.

As I thought sadly far too many dissect and then miss the whole point of a way of teaching or way of life. As Laurie spoke she referenced the idea of an organism, a living organism and my small bit of Greek language from my seminary experiences in a bygone era I remembered the word Koininia, which literally is community. Laurie suggested a classroom should be like an organism alive and growing changing as it adapts. This is how she described her experiences in Foxfire.

Another student in the class during the following discussions pointed out how teacher personalities often create those great classrooms. But personalities of teachers cannot or is difficult to be replicated. Ron Clark’s school came out in the discussions and his success. However as I thought I began seeing parallels between various programs and approaches to teaching. Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers, Alfie Kohn, Robert Fried, Maxine Greene, Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Phillip Crosby, my father, Carl Jung, Ivan Illich, and numerous other authors, thinkers, teachers and philosophers.

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

I have borrowed as I developed my own thinking from Carl Rogers, William Ayers, Max Thompson, John Dewey, and of course the Foxfire Approach. Many of these thinkers were controversial in their own time, considered too progressive and their ideas are still considered perhaps utopian to borrow words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching that in and of themselves are controversial as well. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas, perceptions and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations.

“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 like 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

For nearly twelve years every summer I have returned to the mountains of North Georgia to revitalize my teaching heart and soul. An approach to teaching based on the philosophies of John Dewey. Technically it is simply a program of thought focused around ten core practices. Recently the Core practices have changed and I will be writing about that shortly.
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.

I think the past attendance in this course in North Georgia revitalizes 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

On one of my ventures as I walked into the main conference lodge and sort of was introduced since it was in the middle of a presentation I sat down and listened to an excellent group of teachers. The first one I heard and I am sorry I did not hear everyone presentation was already underway.

The first presenter I heard raised questions why does the concept of Foxfire not get going? Why not have every teacher required to attend Foxfire courses? What happens when teachers leave Foxfire that it is not continued? Questions I have raised more than once and come back to teacher personalities. Foxfire is not a template as Laurie Alteri said several years ago. Foxfire is more of simply what good teachers do. I have the Ten Core Practices posted on my wall in my room and daily review and would ask myself am I doing this or attempting that. I connected with this presenters questions. As I sat down thinking I began to more in detail realize how we are connected as teachers. I recalled a quote from a speech in 1854 by Chief Seattle.

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

The next presenter raised more questions in regards to her own teaching and use of what she had experienced at the program. Laura handed out puzzle pieces to each member of the group and asked them to what about an experience this past week on the back of the puzzle piece. She has only been teaching for a year and was excited about Foxfire and then had the group put the puzzle together. She talked about John Dewey and embracing what we each bring in terms of experiences and the pieces of my own web continued connecting. I shared my business card with her which is covered in puzzle pieces. I have long held education is about putting the puzzle of the child together.

“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

The next presenter continued to interact and connect with the group and I thought it was directly at me. The presenter explained how she had been diagnosed with ADD and was put on medications and as a teenager stopped and forced herself to cope as to not be different from other kids. I thought back to my own high school experience and my own interactions with kids on medications as a special education teacher. I thought back to my Thursday conference and an instructor throwing ideas out that many had never experienced. She brought up the idea of a safe place for kids. An idea I have for many years called a sanctuary. There needs to be a place where a kid who may have an issue can sit down and talk with someone. I tend to not a big fan of many guidance counselors who simply say come back at 2:18 and we will change your schedule. She offered more questions and more interconnections. Teaching is about relationships right up my alley.

“Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning.” On Purpose Associates

A young lady came up to present and started crying she shared her life experience of being in an interracial marriage and the impact that this made on her. As she talked she said her life revolves around the love of her family. I knew immediately even before sarcastically asking if she was a cheerleader in high school and found she actually coached cheerleading now in high school. She had everyone pick up a paint chip sample card and write four important words to them on the card. She was going to make a booklet and send around so each member of the group could add thoughts to the project. Relationships continued to be a building block in the day. A key thought people only ask once when questioning about her interracial marriage. I thought at first how difficult for all of those once’s and then it hit me one times one is still only one.

“The gap is so great that the required subject matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

The young fellow who went next never thought he would be a teacher but an entire sequence of coincidences led him into the MAT program at Piedmont and into teaching. A component of the Foxfire approach that had significance to him was freedom, the ability to do whatever you want. Granted in education and in school there are norms and rules within which that freedom is imposed but still students have input. Motivation came up and a great illustration of a six pack of air in a bottle. Even Foxfire air could not be sold for any amount of money. We tend to try and motivate ids in school using things which they do not want. My Thursday conference went into this same area of thought. It is difficult to motivate if there is no desire for the consequence. The words

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

My Friday flowed one presenter to the next each adding to my own amazement with how we were so connected. One of the presenters put tape on the floor and used a warm activity from the Freedom Writers. She emphasized that all kids are different and have to be met where they are. She was excited about her week at Foxfire and shared what she was taking home. We need to focus on kids. So many teachers forget they are teaching for the sake of kids and not simply to teach. She confessed it is not about what I want. I shared with her a Harry Chapin song “Flowers are red”. All teachers should listen to it.

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

The last presenter of the afternoon that I was able to stay for took the group outside and did a simple game several items that were recyclable were placed on a poster board and each member of the group was to go towards and build a group around an item With that what else could that item be used for. Everyone had a use for the many pieces of junk. After some discussion she asked, how are you feeling and everyone wrote a word on the poster board.

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “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.”

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.” William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

Over the years my room at the high school had been the school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

There were so many events through the past few days it is hard to pinpoint any one single event that stands out. There are people I have met and talked with and people who I barely had a word with. I was coming home last night and stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. A young man came up to me and asked me about antifreeze. He was holding a jug of antifreeze and asked if it was the right kind for a 1993 Ford. On the label very clearly it read 1989 and newer. It hit me he could not read. As all of the events of the past few days made sense the presentations and conferences, discussions and conversations all came together. We are all connected please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart namaste.

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

Keeping the stories going remembering a dear friend

Bird Droppings June 11, 2020
Keeping the stories going remembering a dear friend

In years gone by I would visit, take photos and offer my two cents at the Foxfire Approach to Teaching Course put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia. This course is an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. The experience with Foxfire for me is 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 talk about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. As always I would come away excited about teaching and education. 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 the sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought. Today as I remember a dear friend it is so poignant.

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 have read through this paragraph many times over the years and each time found a bit more. Today I am pondering nearly forty years plus of knowing a person. We never truly know each other as we always tend to withhold pieces of our own puzzle even from friends.

“It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity.” Kaoru Yamamoto

While we would disagree often on some topics we agreed on many more. As I think about my friend and how many times we shared stories of family, current and past students, politics, religion, art and always sheep shows a tear comes to my eye. So many times she would stop by my room and “borrow” stuff, an ugly face jug, a skull, my huge eland mount, sometimes a live animal and occasionally she would ask could I print this seemingly impossible jpeg out for her. I read her note to me from my retirement last May several times yesterday as I thought and wondered what do I say or think.

I was glancing through several books this morning one the autobiography of the founder of the Foxfire program, who came into this idea purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to many of his former students and all consider him one of the best and or the best teachers they have ever had. For nearly forty years I have watched as enthusiastic young teachers start out and within six months are doing as so many others do printing out worksheets and going page by page through the text book. Looking at these words I thought of my friend.

“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 like 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

I could envision my friend saying something very similar. She loved teaching and loved her students. Some might have argued no way she was concerned about them but I always knew better and as an advisor I sent her some winners. As I thought about my research and readings and having also had this teacher work for me outside of the teaching profession in graphic arts for a year or two I could see her repeating Elliot Wigginton’s words as her mantra.

“I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field”

I have shared with her that almost immediately you can pick the teachers 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 mandates from county, 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. This is my friend.

“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

As I read the paragraph above it hit me seldom do we 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 have been following posts from students who shared my friends obituary notice and reading each post can see how students would have graded her. We teachers seldom get to hear from former students and how we influenced and or impacted their lives. Sometimes it takes finality to bring us to voice our thoughts. My friend and I often shared and we both enjoyed what we were doing even though we came at teaching from differing philosophies. It has been years since my oldest son left a quote for me on my computer. A line from an Aerosmith song.

“Life is about the journey not the destination.” Steven Tyler

On more than one occasion my friend and I discussed this idea. We both struggled with how do we engage and inspire students to choose to learn and achieve. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we engage and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? As would happen I have been thinking a lot lately of storytelling and my friend was an avid story teller relating pieces of her own life and offering out to make a point in her classes. Stories are what students remember and hold on to and it is those pieces I will remember as I go forward from today. Forty years of stories I cherish and hold in my heart. So tomorrow we remember my dear friend officially but for today Helen I will miss you dearly. 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

Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering and reflecting all in a few minutes?

Bird Droppings June 9, 2020
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
and reflecting all in a few minutes?

I drove to south east Georgia over ten years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was basically a follow-up face to face with my committee of professors and in turn responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen page papers my total was closer to eighty or so. I always enjoyed the drive down generally always going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make one is a Georgia native plant nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none.

I got to Statesboro Georgia about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday so several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town. I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept little anticipating my oral exam the next morning. Much of my discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference and we discussed the right and left wings of education which has been heavy on my mind in recent days.

I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses up in Mountain City on the Foxfire property I often found myself on the outside of discussions as so many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days I found my success and lack of success was being equated on whether I am following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, for ten years in a resource room all day and for six years in co-teaching. I had never more than seven students in resource and often that seven were all emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required significantly more attention. In shifting to co-teaching now the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.

I have been evaluated over the last few years by an administrator who sees education for the first time in many years very similar to how see education. Special education is anything but black and white and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it one teacher without just teaching to test does well? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?

Over the past year’s in Atlanta’s main paper numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators and teachers were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.

In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration the particular math test had literally no one passing. How can a specific grade test, over a given grade subject curriculum, be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session be a measure of what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing about.

As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire and now new teachers learning about this idea for my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in the program nearly forty years and even fifty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talk about lifelong learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly, many teachers have gotten away from this.

It was refreshing in my exam now ten years ago to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam and now in my procrastination move to another stage in my doctorate. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. Could be the mountain air I am looking forward too is getting to me and or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group as well as a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone often out of choice. Sort of my monasticism coming out I will say. But for me alone time provides reflection time on what has been happening during a given day.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves clearly honestly and learning to like, to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people. In many situations many wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth. Others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.
Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key. This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it is about your impact and difference you make but I cannot help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in his or her life or even better for me that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by guru of quality Phillip J. Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding what someone else expects from you. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and to always give thanks namaste.

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

Trying to teach an unteachable child

Bird Droppings June 7, 2020
Trying to teach an unteachable child

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

As I walked out from the house today stars greeted me for the first time in some while. Orion was shining over the pines somewhere to the southeast. My mind was filled with many thoughts’ grandkids, graduate school, finishing my dissertation, and how to deal with some cooking this weekend. I was working with some students just before school was out when one who continually has been a problem for various reasons. It was easy, far too easy to see the problems than to look past to any possible ability issue. Teachers were not teaching to students. As I pondered with as to what to do it kept coming back to find the positive aspects of this situation rather than the very obvious negative, reinforce the positive.

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotle

“Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.” Allan Bloom

I recall when we met for a faculty meeting and one of the topics was the Governors Honors program which is six weeks during the summer for top students. My son was privileged to go about ten years ago. When he came back, he had a great difficulty dealing with students who did not want to learn. After spending a summer with peers who learned on their own and sought additional learning to come back to school coming back to high school where many students simply ride the wave and are just there, even in honors classes was hard. My oldest son in his capstone presentation used the example of showing our passion for our profession or subject as a means of instilling in students a passion for learning. Far too quickly we write off so many students as unable to learn or mediocre. He had been having some issues with students in his classes, and I told him take in a snake. He needed a reason, and finally, he figured enzymes. Long story and biological but he took in some snakes and the principal came by to see the demonstration and loved it as did it engaged and enthrall the students, hook, line and sinker.

“Getting things done is not always what is most important. There is value in allowing others to learn, even if the task is not accomplished as quickly, efficiently or effectively.” R. D. Clyde

“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” Edward Everett

It is difficult to try and inspire those who prefer ignorance to education those people who are content in life being unaware. I often joke that you could go all day in a high school with seven or eight words. If you listen many teenagers can communicate with a few statements and words and , you could walk through any high school in America and use those few phrases and words and communicate all day long. Unfortunately most perpetuate ambiguousness, my favorite is whatever, used perhaps more in a day than any other word in the English language at least in high school.

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

“What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed and paralyzed so that by the time most people are mature they have lost their innate capabilities.” R. Buckmaster Fuller

So often we discourage rather than encourage often due to behavior as I think back to my incident several months back and a student who was acting out. My first reaction was to get rid of him, get him out of the class, and I am someone with a behavior disorder background. Maybe in my old age I am taking the easy way out. I would march him down to the administrator and be done with it. The student did not want to learn and did not want to be in school. His attitude was “I am only here for insurance if I am not in school I do not get covered.” It is an interesting enough thought process to understand the reality of the world. So this student is in effect stuck somewhere where he doesn’t want to be yet currently not willing to learn.

“We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.” David P. Garner

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

“If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” John W. Gardner

One of the great thinkers and reformers of education and society of the last one hundred years John Garner saw aspiration in students and society.

“Josh Billings said, ‘It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too.’ Human beings have always employed an enormous variety of clever devices for running away from themselves, and the modern world is particularly rich in such stratagems.” John W. Gardner

As I think back to my student with a problem we could get into a deep discussion of this rationale of why kids are in school and if we include the students we may be able to find the antecedent to the actual behaviors.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

I got into a discussion after our faculty meeting with another teacher are, we truly educating students, are we preparing them for what they may encounter in the real?

“Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.” Engaging Kids, Funderstanding http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm

Recalling John Dewey’s lab school and the idea you cannot learn about something truly learn without doing it as Dewey would say. In discussing with this teacher, we drew a similar conclusion it takes hands on for students to learn beyond simply pouring facts into the mold. Going back to my problem student of yesterday perhaps looking at where was he coming from and where did he want to go and why and accentuating those issues would provide a pathway for him. Each day is a new day and each thought adds to the thought pool and process, it is about lifting up rather than tearing down. Today 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

I wonder what my favorite store is; Then again is it even important?

Bird Droppings June 5, 2020
I wonder what my favorite store is;
Then again is it even important?

Interesting I had two thoughts earlier in the week as I started the day out. One I heard on the radio going to get some air in my wife’s tire in her car from a satellite radio announcer recalling an old Bush quote, and the other thought is from Harry Potter. Amazing what pops up before dawn as I ponder and wander and a trip to one of my favorite stores, Quick Trip. QT is still my favorite since they are open twenty four hours a day however it is only since our Super Kroger went to a shortened day closing around 1:00 AM through 6:00 AM. You just never know when you might need something. It had been rather hectic this week between exercise, cooking, writing, cutting grass, reading, doing laundry and catching up on emails and amazingly it has been relaxing. What a glorious week still ahead?

“It is not about the goods we accumulate but about the good we do” George W. Bush

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” Professor Dumbledore to Harry in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” by J.K. Rowling

I wish it would be possible to believe the first, but with trying to drill for oil in wilderness Alaska, off shore in Florida and other parts of the country and friends in high places that were reaping huge profits and a war costing trillions of dollars that was bogus from many people’s standpoint while he was in office and it makes it hard to grasp philosophically. Although perhaps as some people indicated in writing and articles he was simply a puppet of others. Still at the time war efforts and accumulation seemed more important than doing any sort of good. Of course, the philosophy of the ends justifies the means could possibly be applied.

That was sort of the approach when the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati zoo and some people had the attitude well it’s only a pigeon. Sadly once there were billions flying over the forests of the east coast, and yes it is only a pigeon except we can never at this time replicate that one, it is gone. The Alaska wilderness even though a great expanse when it is gone it is gone and can never be replicated. But if the end justifies it many people see no problem. However as I sat this morning, perhaps a better brighter thought from J.K. Rowling thorough the character of Dumbledore “it is our choices that show who we really our”. I wonder how soon Harry Potter books will be classics and teachers will be analyzing the plots and developing theories as to why Rowling characterized Harry as a boy or teenager and why an owl as his companion versus a weasel.

I recall eleventh or twelfth grade English and my teacher Ms. Stern and the Melville novel classic, Moby Dick. According to her lessons and teachings, the ship represented the world and Ishmael the wanderer got stuck on that ship. What was Melville really telling us besides a great story and history of New England’s whaling industry? I really enjoyed the story but not the analysis, and when I wrote my opinion based on my own love of history, it was wrong according to Ms. Stern. Many years ago the choices we make not our abilities was the credo. I do think however had I been in a different teacher’s class my idea of a historical novel on the short lived whaling industry would have been applauded.

”Ability is of little account without opportunity.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary.” Thomas A. Edison

It is about being at the right place at the right time or is it a choice we make. It is also about applying and choosing when opportunity provides a window, and then plot thickens. In some of my more recent readings several differing views and yet again somewhat in a line of thought that is parallel the following quote.

“All things are made of energy. Thoughts and feelings, for example, are nothing more than energy. Through the choices, we make, our thoughts and feelings, and even our actions, take on a distinctive nature according to the direction in which they are moved.” Dr. Michael Garrett, Walking on the wind

“It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test.” Elbert Hubbard

Ability is an added aspect of today’s search and seeing in others that ability almost is an intuitive aspect of humanity.

“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T. Washington

This morning as I was being a bit energetic, I went to Physical therapy before breakfast. I went to Kroger and then fixed some brunch. I did however go out and sit pondering on my back porch for some time. I was listening intently to nature and even sort of intermingled man’s interactions with an occasional car or truck sound in the distance. I have started walking daily in our pool. I am up to a mile and half each day. Amazing how much better I feel as I get through each day. I am reading and writing today for my dissertation.

I enjoy my time where I can read and answer emails and work on my photography often downloading a gazillion photos to Facebook and working in my gardens. One of my emails from a now senior in high school recently was about realizing school was nearing the end and graduation was only a year ahead. They would have to make a way in life. In that same email concern for a friend stationed in the Middle East was almost heart rending. Watching the news doesn’t give justice to friends and families with loved ones overseas still in harm’s way, as I think, choices we make. Yesterday as I went home I recalled seeing a flag our town had a memorial to a recent fallen local fellow who was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan. In other emails with a suggestion of a book to read and out of 70 or so yesterday and this morning maybe those three really truly caught my attention.

I started with a Bush quote and maybe that applies to a job search that I am starting. So many of the following what we do with our lives is our choice how the world will see that choice is dependent upon the direction and choices we make. It is not the ability that you will be known for or how great an actor or musician or football player but what you do with your talent is what is seen. Aspects of family are so crucial and friends equally as well and always seek to learn to know more reading, writing, thinking and reflecting.

“If there were no writers there will be no readers” unknown source

“Choose wisely”, it has been said and in the end some do and some will not. So today take stock of where you are and look at the road ahead and pick that path way that will direct you where you need to be.

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho

In today’s hectic world we all look for quick solutions, five minute abs, six minutes to wisdom, and one minute egg. Wisdom is not on the stock exchange; it is not a brokered commodity. It is there, and it is a journey. The journey is not an easy one and to even be involved in finding wisdom is difficult. It is only those who actually travel that road who truly become wise.

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

Several nights ago I was bored no American Idol, Netflix was acting up, no new NCIS, House is gone, and I put on a video of Star Trek of all things, “Star Trek Insurrection”. The plot revolves around a planet where all is at peace. The few residents, all 600 have forsaken technology for art, or literature, for the aesthetics in life and for all that they can make of themselves. Interestingly a weaver studies 40 years to become an apprentice and apprentice another 40 to become a master weaver of rugs and tapestries. These people live on a planet whose innate radiation prolongs life and rejuvenates them cellular, so they have time to accomplish what it is inside them. It sounds so easy when the time allows it.

Daniel Day Lewis, actor went and became a cobbler. He took a five year hiatus from movies to study cobbling, (shoe making) in Europe from the masters. As the Star Trek movie progressed a comment was made about a perfect moment, a special moment that stands out above all else. Captain Pickard mentioned seeing earth from space for the first time; many astronauts recall that moment. For me it was a sunrise over the Atlantic one morning on Cumberland Island with the waves splashing about and the most brilliant reds and oranges I have ever seen. A shrimp boat slowly moved through this picture yet in its awesomeness the boat was insignificant.

As Pickard spoke with this woman on this planet of a perfect moment, she then offered now to learn to make every moment prefect, and the movie continued and soon he was seeing a hummingbird flit to a flower or pollen blown from a flower.
“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am intrigued as I read various thoughts on wisdom and for some reason I am always drawn to Emerson. He was controversial to some in his time yet perhaps one of the greatest thinkers as well as poet of his lifetime. He was alluding to wisdom as a temporary entity in his statement. The next quote is an interesting statement from a President oft misunderstood

“Wisdom oft times consists of knowing what to do next.” Herbert Clark Hoover

“Wisdom begins at the end.” Daniel Webster

So often we spend time simply doing, not seeking, we spend time worrying about which path to travel or preparing our needs for the journey and worrying about the destination. We forget to go, and there we are no better and no worse, only we are where we were to start still. Somewhere in among all things is the destination but the destination is not necessarily the end but a point B of the line AB and still out there is C and D and E and much more. My procrastinating journey of my doctorate, wandering taking pictures which lead me flower to flower and occasionally to one I have never seen and actually a few years ago I photographed an Atlantic pigeon wings or butterfly pea, Clitoria marina. It was growing along a dirt road near an old homestead sadly now in some construction it is gone, and I have found it nowhere else in the area but did find a source for seeds today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Is curriculum sacred?

Bird Droppings May 25, 2020
Is curriculum sacred?

 

My wife and I are talking about taking a few days hiatus to head to the South Carolina coast with no schedule and little baggage. We will head north Saturday morning no plans. Thinking back to our last crazy trip our last journey included a nursery or two, some tourist traps a museum and always some good food. As I sit here thinking so often even a miniscule idea will trigger with me a significant memory.

 

We have a standing joke at our house about the rabbits that live around our yard. My wife continually mentions the book, Watership Downs, when addressing the bold creatures. A few days ago, I was heading to the front door when a young rabbit was standing at the door. The rabbit had no sales flyers or sample case so I am sure it was not a traveling sales bunny. But as I pondered and I did get photos of our door tapping rabbit I thought back to one of my earlier undergraduate experiences. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo; he was and still is a professor of sociology. He has made more of an impact on me in the years since I sat in his class and it was not because he was not a great professor for he was but it has been in reading and pondering his books since.

 

“While the would-be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our ‘advanced’ capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

 

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the just of who we are that inner being getting to know where we are in the world and why. Dr. Campolo was a theologian first and often would use Greek as he taught periodically to make a point.

 

“Koinonia, (fellowship) supposedly can be generated simply by drinking the right beer” Dr. Tony Campolo

 

As I have been reading in some curriculum texts it is an interdisciplinary event as well as it is an all-encompassing lived in totality undertaking? Curriculum is not just the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ. Seeing curriculum as the tracks that my life’s train is riding on is perhaps a metaphorical stretch at best yet in the true sense of understanding it is so.

 

“It is through a concern with problems as they are relating to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliot Eisner

For many years I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leave, twig, rock, animal and human being.

 

“It was a quote from Krishnamurti that said – he was talking about education being the understanding of the self, and he said, ‘For it is each of us the whole of existence is gathered.’” K. Kesson

 

For me spiritual is simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within me. I see curriculum in a similar manner one of sacredness of spiritual and fulfillment more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day. As I read curriculum theorists it is this group who are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

 

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the “secret” that “sits in the middle and knows” – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” “I think the problem we are up against is that we are crippled in this modernist culture in speaking about this dimension, and the people that have experienced it throughout history – the mystics, the sages – it seems to me they do come back and report it as a deeply meaningful and moral realm.” Ron Miller

 

I was first introduced to Black Elk by a Creek friend whose grandfather was a holy man as well. He said I should read the book and get a feeling for what spirituality is about. Interesting as I read I also found this is what learning is about.

 

“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 again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves” Black Elk

 

This is the outlook of Black Elk, Oglala Sioux holy man in his discussions and narrative of his visions as a child and as elder in the tribe with John Neihardt in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. This view Native Americans have of life we civilized folk have a difficult time with. Black Elk perceived that there was an all-encompassing view of all that is. In my naive beginning study of curriculum theory, I see aspects of this philosophy in curriculum theory and my analogy of a track a circular journey in life of education and learning.

“One of the paradoxes of our times is that in an age pervaded by the clash of conflicting ideologies so little effort is spent in enabling students to critically examine their values and beliefs.” Elliot Eisner

 

We tend to lose individualism in trying to accomplish everything and to standardize and sanitize and provide “curriculum” to our schools. I became a big fan of Elliot Eisner studying at Georgia Southern University so borrowing from Eisner again.

 

“As David Hume suggested, one cannot logically proceed from a description of what is to a conception of what ought to be.” “If the concept of mankind were used as an organizing element in the curriculum, certain differences in school programs might emerge.” Elliot Eisner

 

Curriculum is a living thing ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers presume. I think I have been pondering to long today and who knows maybe there are answers after all please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

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

 

In the pursuit of excellence

Bird Droppings May 24, 2020
In the pursuit of excellence

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I sat thinking about the idea of excellence in whatever it is we do. Judge Hand used the illustration of carpenters as he explained excellence. In doing your job with excellence as the goal, imagine what a world we would have. I have been reading and sharing a book by Charlotte Danielson on evaluating teachers, in her book she points toward developing excellent teachers, distinguished teachers. Piedmont College in their Specialist program uses a rubric for evaluation of candidates based on Danielson’s ideas and has named it using an acronym STAR. When I was in teaching in the early 70’s I felt a need to have an evaluation tool that could pinpoint quality teachers and could then help establish teaching excellence.


In carpentry we can see excellence as the pieces come into place, within the fit and finish of the item being built. In many areas the product can be seen or touched or heard and excellence is easily evaluated. In teaching it becomes more difficult.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

 

I have used the term osmosis to describe the teaching relationship. Perhaps I should add to that excellence in osmosis. No matter what the field, we need to strive for more than just passing; we need to push for excellence in parenting, in friendship, in all of our endeavors. We as teachers have a tiny window, for me a hundred or so minute window to impact a student and if every teacher that student has are equally as impacting, about a seven to eight-hour window each day. But when evaluating and judging excellence that student has a sixteen-hour window or more like a garage door to unravel and totally disperse any impact received during school. It could easily be parents who are angry, upset, out of work, sick physically or mentally, friends who put peer pressure on them, jobs, athletics, relationships and the list could go on and on. It has been many years since I jokingly referred to this as a sixteen-hour syndrome and wondered if we could develop a vaccine. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

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

At what point do we exist

Bird Droppings May 21, 2020
At what point do we exist

 

“We exist in multiple places simultaneously. We are where we are physically but also in the hearts of our loved ones and friends where they are.” Frank Bird

 

A year ago, 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. A great memory for our family.

 

Our pool guy is coming next week to take the cover off our pool and grandkids are already begging to jump in asking if they could come over as soon as cover is off. Sadly, once cover is off there is a day or two chemistry process then swim. I too can’t wait it was last July after coming home from vacation I hurt my left leg and was unable to swim for the rest of the year. I am blaming my leg injury for my own lack of exercise but tomorrow I go for a heart catherization to check on some blockage issues in my heart. Thinking back to the program a year ago 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

 

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

Bird Droppings May 20, 2020

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Perhaps it was just a wandering thought it has been a few days since our last school shooting granted most schools are closed. It has been about seven years since the shooting in Arizona of a congresswomen. But while I was sitting thinking and pondering now a few days back one afternoon listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall, the song Ohio played and stuck with me. It has been a long short week physically for me as I wait on my cardiologist report. We were to be testing most of the past two weeks, but no testing this year. I am literally trying to find my way back to normal and it is taking a few days or more to do it.  I miss and want to hold my grandbabies and then I remember they are not here and not traveling. I am amazed at how quickly we change our life style and focus as grandparents. Anyhow back to my original thought I was listening to “Ohio” by Neil young and the song sort of stuck with me and as I pondered how you ever get to normal after an event like that. Incidentally one of the shooting victims from the Arizona shooting was at Kent State nearly forty plus years ago and lost a friend. I went looking for a few notes on the song and borrowed from Wiki-pedia the following:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird