Looking for the simplicity

Bird Droppings December 15, 2011
Looking for the simplicity

My reading and writing has taken a beating with the getting ready for the end of the semester and four day jaunt to a wedding in South Carolina and babysitting my granddaughter (actually a lot of fun). Of course nothing would have stopped me from spending time with the grandbaby. But I am looking forward to my son and his new wife visiting for the holidays and of course my youngest son, his wife and granddaughter coming home as well. I also look forward to having nearly three weeks of catch up. I have much gardening to do and a lot of research and reading and writing. It is always that I find solace in my Indian readings and in their understanding of life and reality. Perhaps it is my great grandmother’s influence that draws me to this and various other bits and pieces of my life’s journey along the way. The air was not as cold as I walked out into the early morning hours a few minutes ago silent as it still is a bit cold for tree frogs and crickets although before settling in for the night they were chirping yesterday evening.

“For the Lakota there was no wilderness, because nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly, Lakota philosophy was healthy – free from fear and dogmatism. And here I find the great distinction between the faith of the Indian and the white man. Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

After a week of testing for End of Course tests here in high school, teachers are on pins and needles and with student’s grades in classes counting on a passing grade on the test tensions run high. Teachers are reviewed based on these batteries of standardized tests. Sadly Georgia may go soon to a standard that twenty five percent of a student’s course grade is the EOCT in those classes with the tests currently at twenty percent which even so in some classes is ridiculous. The subject knowledge of students will be focused on their capability of taking a computerized test not truly on whether they know the material or not. Content not context is the rule of thumb in political arenas. We as a dominant society continually have to prove our worth whether it be it through conquest in olden days or testing as it seems now. A constant struggle to show we are the best.

“There is no ‘happiness index’ for the children in our public schools, and certainly not for children in the inner-city schools where happiness is probably the last thing on the minds of overly burdened state officials.” Jonathan Kozol, Letters to a young teacher

A good friend using a combination of context and content achieved very well with his students on the Biology EOCT. His combination of hands on and relevant experiments in his biology class provide so much more than a cramming for the test that is down in many schools and in so many classes. Several times during the semester he will bring his students by to see various animals as they are studying or grab a beaker of algae water from my turtle tanks. I think as I read the quote from Jonathan Kozol I was thinking of Foxfire and kids wanting to be in classes and teachers that kids want to go see and classes they want to experience. Many the times, I will have kids walk in my room and ask what class do you teach I want this class. Although I am tired right now and my exuberance is exhausted as we wind down these last few hours before the holidays I am still pondering next semester.
As I was getting ready to leave school yesterday a former student stuck his head in the door. “The room has not changed much”, as he peered around checking every nook and cranny and in my room there are many. We held a nice polite conversation catching up for several minutes and I was amazed while still hyper and fidgety he was calm. The inner anxiousness was gone. No one can ever say he is not hyper active but the sadness that permeated his day seems to be at least in a major way lifted. He was smiling from ear to ear and telling about college and a possibility of four A’s and art work he was working on including one of me holding my granddaughter. We walked over to see another teacher friend of his and talked the entire time catching up on five years he had been my student and a year now in college. A simple visit and my day was made. His photo hangs in my room one of him walking across the stage and the other showing his award from the state department of education for his award winning essay last year. I have shared with many his poignant essay of getting ready to go to his brother’s funeral. In showing to hundreds of people many who did not know him always a tear is shed.
As we talked I shared with him a discussion with another visitor just before he arrived. She is heading to Spain and Italy for spring semester to study abroad. Another favorite student although she was never in my class we talked often and we spent ten minutes talking about her upcoming trip. As I talked with her I mentioned seeing “the Pieta”, carved from marble by Michelangelo. In 1964 which was one of the rare visits out of the Vatican for this work of art when it was displayed at the New York’s World Fair. I waited in line nearly an hour to see this magnificent piece of work. As I walked by I explained my feeling to these two students visiting at t=different times yesterday. I felt warmth as if you were waiting for Mary in white marble to breath. I wanted to touch the hand of Christ to see it was soft rather than cold stone. I had never been moved by a piece of art work as much as this had touched me.
Somewhere along the line I have heard art, real art is when you can convey a tiny piece of what you felt and saw as you created the work. Not just show another version but allow an individual to see a portion of what the artist saw as the stone was chiseled away. It is said Michelangelo could see his work in the stone. The quarrymen would call for him as a particular piece of rock was unearthed and quarried. Some he rejected but when he chose a piece of marble the creation was not to make a something for others but to reveal what was in the marble. I thought back to my friend and his essay and how he conveyed a tiny portion of what he felt to everyone who read that story. Perhaps the reason he seems happier is that he has allowed us after so many years to understand a small bit of who he is and why. My morning is closing about me and there are many things to do to get ready for my grand baby’s arrival so please this holiday season keep all in harm’s way on you mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

Can we demand or should we earn respect?

Bird Droppings December 14, 2011

Can we demand or should we earn respect?


Nearing the middle of a month and with a New Year coming, it seems spring is only a few days away. A few Saturday’s back was an interesting day as I ran my errands. As it happens often, I ended up at a Barnes and Nobles bookstore and got caught up in looking about for books, several caught my attention.  A relatively new book by Dr. Temple Grantin, a small book entitled Listening with your heart by Dr. Wayne Peate, and a book by Dr. William Glasser, The Quality School. Three doctors was one similarity as I look for other connections and why these particular books caught my attention.

In the Introduction to Listening with your heart, which is an inspirational book, a comment is made as he was asked a question. “Dr. Peate, which do you think is best for my husband, alternative or modern medicine?” this being asked by the wife of one of my patients. My answer was, “Whatever works”. As I look at the words coming from this man who is a trained physician, trained in modern medicine and yet willing to allow an alternative ancient medicine to be used if it works. “Whatever works”

Dr. Glasser looks and analyzes education in his book The Quality School with perhaps a more definitive outlook, yet still trying to find what works in any particular school. In his criteria for a quality school Dr. Glasser starts with point one.


“Relationships are based upon trust and respect, and all discipline problems, not incidents have been eliminated.” Dr. William Glasser


Going a step further in 2002, Dr. Bradley Greene describes what this first point looks like in a rubric.


“Students and staff can learn both independently and cooperatively, have strong relationships built on trust and respect, contributing through community service, peer tutoring, mentoring, and various forms of group process. Students will learn to get along in a variety of learning experiences. Teams, cooperative learning, and classroom meetings…..and primary belief of school is that every student can improve” Dr. Bradley Green, Quality School Rubric


As I look at my own relationships with students I have found students relate to teachers who trust them and have respect for them. I have been in situations as a case manger where even though I was the one who had to refer a student because I did respect and trust them, they understood why I had to refer them or initiate proceedings against them. When a teacher operates out of distrust and little or no respect it is difficult to teach and or even walk in a room or even down a hallway. So often I hear teachers and even substitutes, want a class to respect them because they are the teacher. Respect is a word that we tend to throw around very easily.


“To feel or show deferential regard for, esteem. To avoid violation of or interference with: To relate to or refer to: A feeling of deferential regard: The state of being regarded with honor or esteem. It is a willingness to show consideration or appreciation.” Dictionary.com


I was trying to find where in the respect handbook it says teachers by nature of the word demand respect. I hear that often, I demand respect from my students. That is like wearing a sign that says you will respect me. Many years ago I recall a TV show, Kung Fu, starring David Carridine. Often during the course of the show it would flash back to his teacher an old blind man who called him grasshopper. The young apprentice had tremendous respect for the old man for his wisdom of the world and his skills in martial arts. Many times as we travel in life people want respect that others have gained, earned such as all teachers should be respected. I have always had a difficult time with this statement, partly because there are sorry teachers and how can a student be expected to respect them. I have always been one to believe you earn respect not demand it. Then the issue becomes how does a teacher earn respect?


“Fools take to themselves the respect that is given there office” Aesop


“Respect commands itself and it can neither be given or withheld when it is do” Eldridge Cleaver


So often people expect respect and demand respect because they are insecure. They themselves are unsure of who they are and where their place is in society. Being in a position of respect albeit a teaching position which is associated with respect has paradoxes affiliated with it often. There may be rules to back up being respected and referrals slips and consequences for disrespect. You can be suspended for disrespecting a teacher or adult figure in many schools. In effect there are written rules that demand respect for teachers.

I wonder how many students write up teachers for disrespect. I wonder what would happen if teachers were under a referral system and had consequences. If students learned by referral as teachers seem to believe as many times they teach by referral. If you disrespect me I can write you up or if you use foul language or are inappropriate in class. I wonder what sort of anarchy would occur within a school; say a democratic school when all are held accountable for learning and understanding. I find Dewey’s idea intriguing of a Democratic school and the Foxfire Approach to teaching which is the basis of my dissertation, is done in this manner.

Another program using this approach is the Sudbury school that I have mentioned over the years which is totally a democratic school and perhaps a bit more so that John Dewey speaks of in his writings. Could schools bear more student involvement in a large public school forum, or is that issue one of more teachers being aware of students. Could it be we need more student directed learning, or more student interaction in the learning process rather than purely a top down teacher to students. It could be a balancing of teachers and students in a symbiotic relationship, or possibly an osmotic relationship where both students and teachers are teaching and learning.


“Motivation to learn derives from the learners estimates of the usefulness of the task and the probability of success.” “For faculty, as for students, trust necessarily precedes the risk of learning something new” Dr.Marilla D. Svinicki,


When do teachers become learners? Sitting here this morning wondering about the direction of where I am going myself. Could students learn more and could teachers learn more, absolutely yes on both counts. Could we have quality schools as discussed in Glasser’s books? Absolutely we could. So why is we do not? Why is it we do not embrace this wealth of research and knowledge and proceed to make every school a school of quality a school of learning and of wonder?

I think Dr. Svinicki hits the nail on the head “trust precedes the risk of learning something new”. If we do not trust one another as teacher student and administration it is difficult to move beyond where you are. A lack of trust in our society hurts us, and we ourselves perpetuate that distrust. Think about daily life, with speed limits, tax loop holes, and the list goes on. We demand respect yet in turn have little ourselves. I am opening up quite a window with that idea. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.



It takes more than one strand to make a rope

Bird Droppings October 28, 2011
It takes more than one strand to make a rope

“You cannot contribute anything to the ideal condition of mind and heart known as Brotherhood, however much you preach, posture, or agree, unless you live it.” Faith Baldwin

Each day as I talk to my students I try and set an example and not every day am I successful. But as I think this beautiful fall morning trying to decide if I should when I Get home today work in the yard or be lazy I thought I would take a few moments to write. Many of the children I talk to everyday stand alone, often due to their own choosing.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne

It has been several years since I did an experiment with a group of young people using sewing thread. I had a thread for each person and then I asked each of them to break the thread which of course was simple and easily done.

“The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin

After breaking the threads I gave each of them another piece of thread and one by one we joined the threads together. In the end we had a thirty strand piece of string/rope and we twisted it slightly to keep threads together.

“In union there is strength.” Aesop

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” Alexander the Great

Amazingly enough no one could break the new combined rope even when several folks pulled on each end it would not break.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Bahá’u’lláh

I still carry that piece of string/rope in my wallet. It surely does make a great example when talking to students.

“I look to a time when brotherhood needs no publicity; to a time when a brotherhood award would be as ridiculous as an award for getting up each morning.” Daniel D. Michiel

It has been a few years back that I attended a demonstration up in Mountain City Georgia. The lecturer at the Foxfire Museum was using a couple of folks in the group and had them twisting and turning six strands of twine into a rope.

“Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.” Mahatma Gandhi

Real unity that is the question, and in today’s politically charged atmosphere unity is nowhere to be found. I showed my students so many years ago that even though having multiply strands of thread all together in a bundle was significantly stronger each time you cut a piece it weakened exponantionally.

“In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Booker T. Washington

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

Each day as I sit outside my door at school I witness differences in attitude and differences in brotherhood. Many are similar and in a high school that old cliché of school spirit is generally a good indicator of a semblance of brotherhood, a joining force in a body of humanity. But still there are strands of thread dangling outside weakening the whole.

“Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” Virginia Burden, The Process of Intuition

I will never say everyone has to be identical. I like Booker T. Washington’s statement of each of being a finger yet still being able to be a hand. I use to think it was cool when I would see a six fingered person and in my old stomping grounds of Lancaster and Chester counties often you would see an Amish fellow with an extra finger. There was a recent ad where everyone was upset with Joe who had extra fingers because he could type so much more and do so much more, the ad showed him typing away and multi tasking with his extra fingers. But the ad was also about change and new equipment equalized the office space. So often we cannot accept the differences.

“I have often noticed that when chickens quit quarreling over their food they often find that there is enough for all of them. I wonder if it might not be the same with the human race.” Don Marquis

In life far too often we spend our time fretting over differences and not looking for similarities. How can we work as a group a team? Watching college football Saturday for a few minutes along with The Rally to stop the insanity, teamwork makes all the difference in a win or loss. The winner is not always the better team. Always better teamwork will win and it can be only a minute difference, a single strand could change a game and or a life.

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Kenyan Proverb

Interesting while writing about unity and still believing in individuality it is a difficult task. I come back to Booker T. Washington’s quote; I can be a thumb and still work as a hand when needed. It is in believing and in trusting we gain that unity and that brotherhood. Watching the rally yesterday one thing kept coming up why all the negative why not work together the problems are here and solutions can be had if there were teamwork. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.