Who is responsible?

Bird Droppings October 25, 2011
Who is responsible?

Several weeks ago I was involved in a debate of sorts on the issue of public versus private education; it circled around and about really going not too far. Just a few days ago I picked up our local paper and a letter to the editor caught my attention. It was a blast at public education locally and how we were not growing and how we did not need a school bond essentially a penny tax on sales for new schools and how some of the thirty to forty year old buildings were good enough in their day and were still good enough. There was no growth and why should we not be putting money into operating costs and not buildings.
Then the writer extolled the home-schoolers who sought better education and also private schools where students received supposedly better educations. The federal law, No Child Left Behind even was mentioned and how students from our county could go to another county if our schools who did not meet the standards which really was a stretch of the law. All over not wanting a school bond past. I find it interesting as you drive around our county and see thousands of homes, many vacant and cheap now with housing bubble burst all of which eventually will have families in them with children who go to school.
In so many parts of the country people take attitudes similar to this person who wrote in to the local paper and school systems then have problems. But as the individual pointed out it is up to the public, up to the voters who elect school board members and pass the bond issues. The responsibility is in the hands of the people. Another comment was made about curriculum and how school boards made decisions without community support. Our school board meetings other than specific executive sessions are public and open for community involvement and our current superintendent is even having public forums for parents to give their views and to hear directly from parents and the community. Responsibility is a very big word.

“A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic. Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.” John Dewey, Democracy in Education

We as individuals are responsible if we choose to be and to the extent we chose to be through voting and through communication with elected officials in all levels of government and society. How is responsibility defined? I quickly typed the word into my faithful computer and Dictionary.com came to the rescue.

“The social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force;” Dictionary.com

Responsibility is a social entity a “force that binds”. Being a part of a social group of society then implies responsibility to an extent, rules and parameters that exist to protect us from each other. It could be the guidelines and structures that give direction, perhaps in a way we are guided too much some might say.

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” Walter Anderson

Often as I research an idea early in the morning through books and the internet I find coincidences and several years ago as I found this quote by Walter Anderson, it was one of those. Walter Anderson the writer and editor of Parade magazine and he interviewed and discussed life with leading figures around the world. His book Courage is a three letter word, has been an inspiration to many dealing with anxiety and fear. But as I searched I also found another Walter Anderson in the bayous of Mississippi a painter and artist who for art fans is well worth throwing out, who also in his art dealt with anxieties and fear all of his own making. Walter Anderson the artist from Mississippi was periodically institutionalized for schizophrenia and other mental issues. This man Walter Inglis Anderson painted with a passion not unlike Van Gogh’s later works. So teachers if you need a good reference source when looking at American artists look up Walter Inglis Anderson.
In the end as I read the sentence on responsibility it could have been from either the author or the painter “I am responsible” and it is us, who need to face up to that.

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Ronald Reagan

“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession, a duty.” John D. Rockefeller

One of my former students was an advocate of anarchy, always wearing the popular rock logo on his wrist bands and all over his books notebooks and even his skateboard. When talking with him about the concept he would always go in a circle, what if we did have anarchy and you were only responsible for yourself doing whatever you wanted. As I thought I could see where youthful idealism could manifest itself in such a philosophy. But what if, where do you stop in a society, where there are no boundaries and soon it is whoever is the strongest and most powerful is in control and you have a dictatorship.
Usually he would back out of the discussion when it left him as an individual by himself. He wanted freedom and no one else really mattered. In effect he did not want responsibility.

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will — his personal responsibility.” Albert Schweitzer

“The salvation of mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

As I read and think this morning it is not so much going back to that starting letter to the editor about accepting responsibility, it is that too many people do not want to be involved. They do not want the responsibility of choosing, of interacting, or of involvement. That letter mentioned the growth of home schooling and private schools. I found when I moved to Georgia in 1972 public schools were in peril in some communities students were leaving in droves. It was not because of quality of education but because of desegregation. Many white students did not want to go to school with other ethnic groups.
Today while that is still an issue subverted to a racial slur here and there, so often it is hidden within the pretext of religion as so many schools are billed as “Christian” schools. Many home-schoolers are home schooling because of religious reasons and the idea that public schools are to secular and much too public. Couldn’t help but think of that famous Karl Marx quote, “Religion is the opiate of the people”.

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great person is one who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I always seem to be seeking a monastic life in the midst of society. It is up to us in the end we are who responsibility falls too. Be it about education and or the zoning of a piece of property. But it requires involvement and it requires thought. So it is a new week ahead and so much happening on the world front and locally. So today please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.

Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

Bird Droppings June 9, 2011
Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

I drove to north Georgia on Sunday and Tuesday and have been babysitting Charlie my grand daughter in between. I enjoy the drive up into the mountains always going part of the way on back roads. As I was sitting around yesterday evening my oldest called from the Foxfire course with a question about his group’s project. They were trying to tie science into a restoration of a historical graveyard. I have several stops I traditionally make on my way to Macon and Warner Robins Georgia one is a nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none. However I am addressing the nursery. It is a nursery specializing in native plants, shrubs and tress and I mentioned to my son why not make this historic graveyard also a sanctuary for plants and animals. By selecting native plants and reviewing blooming dates you could almost have flowers year round.
I got to run quite a few errands before I head back in the morning and get a few things written and produced to get reviewed Friday and Saturday. I got thinking back nearly two years to my oral comprehensive exams. Much of the discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable and we all have a similar view of education. What made me think of that exam was a question that I was asked linking Elliot Eisner to John Dewey. Both men saw art as a function of education. We can argue any aspects of education in the US but interestingly enough test scores have been flat for some time. Only ones who tend to see different are ones making money off of education. Book publishers, Testing companies, and all of the consultants who are experts in the field, Georgia recently went with an out of state person in a contract to solve an in state issue. I found the biography of the contracted person very interesting. While a prolific author and professor of administration and an administrator in his own right he has only three years of teaching experience in public schools. THIs back and forth between the right and left wings of education has been heavy on my mind in recent days. I recall not too many months back that I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam.
In the past few days I found my success and or lack of success was being equated on following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I am in an odd sort of teaching role being in a resource room all day. Never more than seven students as often that seven includes some that are EBD and require more attention.
As we look at how to evaluate a teacher I go back a year or two to an administrator who had been evaluating me all year and only saw education in black and white. You find out very quickly that special education is anything but and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations were good and I never thought there was an issue till class assignments for the next year and I was out of my traditional resource and in a co-teaching setting. I came to find it was based on curriculum not success of children. As I compiled data on what students had done with me and in other teacher’s rooms all of my classes were in the top in each category but for a point or two in some where I was second out of four teachers. Some where in this I was told it is not about student success but strictly about the curriculum.
In today’s Atlanta paper two more administrators in a neighboring county are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the school questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators 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? I remember a year or two back on a first administration of the new math test there were literally no passing grades till it was curved. How can a test over a given subject or curriculum be so hard that no one passes. Somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing.
As I talk with and gather information on my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in a program some up to nearly forty five years ago. 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 teachers hate and are the norm in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talked about life long learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this to specific material to get good grades on the test.
It was refreshing in thinking back to my exam to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education and they would be on my dissertation committee as well. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans.

“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 then 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 can not 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 Phillip Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding an others expectations. Please keep all in harms way in your thoughts.

Setting the example

Bird Droppings March 3, 2011
Setting the example

I received an email many nights ago from a friend several months back in Pennslyvania referring to comments I had made in a Bird Droppings, she borrowed from scripture and discussed how a house should be built upon a solid base. She was talking about how we get children to learn to want to learn.

“Education commences at the mother’s knee, and every word spoken within hearsay of little children tends toward the formation of character.” Hosea Ballou

As I think back to when I was a child which was not that many years ago my wife says. We were read to and we were encouraged to read. When I started school I was essentially reading. I wonder as I work with high school students who struggle with reading if their parents ever even opened a book up with them. My grand daughter is read too almost daily and was read to inutero as her mother read Winnie the Pooh.

“Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate to the characters we most admire.” Christian Nevell Bovee

“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other” Edmund Burke

“Children learn what they live”, across the room on my wall from my desk is the poster from Dr. Dorothy Laura Nolte and what amazes me is every once in a while a student is drawn to it and reads through. Several students have situated themselves under my poster during class since I do not have assigned seats yet they sit in the same spot every day and periodically will ask what is this word or that word.

“You have to set the tone and the pace, defines objectives and strategies, and demonstrate through personal example what you expect from others.” Stanley C. Gault

“It is easier to exemplify values than teach them.” Theodore M. Hesburgh

I recall a situation several years back, where a family, dad and both sons were jailed at the same time. Seems this same family was where the oldest son at eleven would drive dad to the liquor store because he was not able to drive. Examples works both ways, today that oldest son is in prison for twenty years. When I think back to that same child as a student nearly eight years ago sitting in my class wanting me to read Dylan Thomas again and then borrowing my book, could I have done a bit more as a teacher.

“Example is a bright looking-glass, universal and for all shapes to look into.” Michel Eyquem De Montaigne

“The first great gift we can bestow on others is a good example.” Thomas Morell

I was fortunate growing up being in the family that I did. Examples were strong and powerful motivators and even today my children are motivated by their grandparents and all that they did in their lives.

“I’ve always led by example and I’m not that vocal.” Scottie Pippen

Pippen is a quiet and essential player that played on six NBA championship teams with the Chicago Bulls. My youngest son and I often talk about that team and the unbelievable stats that they accumulated during their reign.

“Example is leadership.” Albert Schweitzer

“Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people ever read.” William J. Toms

I think back to memorable teachers and each set an example in their lives and how they interacted with students. Looking at my son’s teachers, the great ones example was a key teaching tool. Parents who have inadvertently succeeded in raising children often it is not a special formula but their example that lead their children along the pathway.

“A leader is a model whether he wants to be or not. He doesn’t have to tell the group to follow his example. In fact, he can even tell them not to follow his example, but they will.” Lewis Orens, The Pine Tree Web

As I was researching this morning I found a site Home School World and so often as a public school teacher, home schooling will come up, as parents makes choices as to how to educate there children. The following is in reference to public schools.

“Do responsible parents want their children to emulate the behavior of the teachers and children there? Disorder, ignorance, misbehavior, disrespect for parents and family, and worse are the norms in such schools, so they obviously do not provide the examples we want for our children.” Dr. Arthur Robinson, Children learn by example, 1998

Dr. Robinson is the founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine where he and associates work on several areas of medical research and home schooling curriculum and civil defense (militia) issues. Is example a powerful tool? It is in both directions. I myself do not agree with Dr. Robinsons ideas on public school for there are equally as many and many more good examples that many children would not have at home. One aspect of learning and schooling, if done at home is that the only example is their parents, and who judges them. I watch daily home schooled children who are taught that race is a dividing line in society and only Christians will attain some sort of spiritual awareness. On a good day most of my kids are together and interacting in appropriate manners. Maybe that means learning is working and or I am setting a decent example. That might be asking a lot. I almost forgot, Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.