Listening with the heart

Bird Droppings May 24, 2011
Listening with the heart

So often in life we tend to hear words we rationalize those utterances and develop an opinion and then logically state a response. Sitting discussing existentialism with my grand daughter last night as she coos and babbles trying her best to formulate words her emotions however are conveyed. It was only a few weeks back when she would be upset she would cry and you would know her diaper was wet or she was hungry now that has become more sophisticated and she whimpers her distaste at being held a certain way or that she wants to go for a walk or grand dad stop the infernal conversation on existentialism and lets go read The grumpy caterpillar again. We hear with our heads it is those vibrations from another persons vocal cords transmitted through the air that strike the inner workings of our ears and we in our thought processes put meaning to that sound.
When I see or hear the word dog I immediately visualize a four legged barking life form and it literally pops in my mind. Far too often we let the dictionary do our thinking we simply respond to the word contained on a page and how that definition has been explained to us or that has been taught to us. We do not hear with the heart. Although a grand baby teaches you quick otherwise. Occasionally a tear or smile will give away from where words are coming and good listeners will understand and hear the inner workings of the words not just the definitions.

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, we should then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” Carlos Castaneda

It has been a number of years since I first read the meanderings of Carlos Castaneda and his journey as an apprentice medicine man in the mountains of Mexico. Many writers and scientists consider his books to simply be fiction a very intricate fabrication as he developed his doctorial dissertation. I find myself however fascinated with his stories of a Yaqui holy man who took him in and taught this college educated man the old ways. While the possibility of fiction is there for me it is the story line which is depicted in the statement above. Far too often we modern day people far too often choose a path of logic of definition, one of clear concise rational thought. We forget the aspect of heart. We hear words that in Webster’s Dictionary, or when looking up online when reviewed and analyzed have a specific meaning and soon we leave behind what was being said. People speak not in clear and concise words but in emotions and feelings, we speak from the heart.
Many years ago a great story teller spoke of becoming like children and his follower’s immediate response was we can not be reborn, physically. The author of this story was speaking of listening with the heart as do children. They haven’t learned all the words and still do not know the definitions so heart is all they have and you know what they generally get it right. As I watched my grand daughter last night grip her upper lip in her two new bottom teeth making faces at us while sitting in her grand mothers lap she knew the response she would get and a whimper her and there and people were jumping getting toys a clean diaper. There were no words spoken simply communication direct from the heart. Please keep all n harms way on your mind and most of all in your heart.
namaste
bird

Children Learn what they Live

Bird Droppings May 20, 2011
Children Learn what they Live

It is such a beautiful morning and quiet out side, I had the opportunity to sit and meditate for nearly an hour under the full moon today. I took our dog out and the air was still and nearly silent however the quiet and sounds that permeated were fantastic. A great horned owl periodically pierced the quiet along with a whippoorwill. As I listened a bit more carefully, still little noise even in the background other than handful of crickets and a soft breeze in the trees. I had burned some sage leaves in a bowl with a smidgen of sweet grass and the aroma added to the ambiance. For the first time in some time there were few human interferences available. Air conditioners were still as it was cool, cars were not quite moving on the nearby roads, and most normal animals and humans were still asleep. I started thinking about my on views on education and raising kids. I came back to some old ideas I have had around for some time.

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” Will Durant

I have used this story several times over the years having shared this short thought in previous droppings and in classes. It is a story entitled “Our nature” which is from ancient Zen thought and writings I found this on a professor from Rdyer University’s website after seeing the story numerous times thrown out on the internet.

“Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, ‘Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?’ ‘Because,’ the monk replied, ‘to save it is my nature.’ “ Dr. John Suler, Ryder University

As I look at this story there are many possible reactions. How foolish is the monk who gets stung, first he knows it is a scorpion, then he also knows scorpions will sting, and lastly he has been already stung once. What lesson is being taught in this passage? There is also a similar story Dr. Suler uses from Native American lore of a fox and scorpion crossing a stream. I find there are applications to parenting, friendship, and teaching within the context of a stinging scorpion. As I read this morning looking through various articles by Dr. Suler and Sydney J. Harris I came up on this article from Harris’s column Strictly Speaking. .

“The student, who could really get an A if he wanted to, cannot really get an A because he really doesn’t want to. And the wanting to is an essential part of the achieving, not a separate thing, as parents imagine, that can be injected into him like a shot of adrenalin. All genuine and meaningful and lasting motivation comes from the inside, not from the outside. The carrot and the stick work maybe only as long as the carrot is in front and the stick behind. When they are withdrawn, the motivation ceases. You can get a mule to move this way, but not a person for very long.” Sydney J. Harris, Motivation, a key part of Talent

Yesterday in class I was listening to students tell why they have low grades as we get into finals. One made the comment “but I am passing I have a 70” and another blurted out “what do I need this crap for anyhow”. As I listened and looked through various notes and ideas I wondered how we instill the idea of motivation in a child or student. How do we change the attitude of so many? Most of the students yesterday when told about the monk getting stung would say he was stupid, just step on the scorpion or why waste your time. Occasionally a person will pop up and say, “The scorpion has a right to live too and that is why the monk helped it”. Somewhere when I first started working with children back in the dark ages I found a poster around 1972 or so in a shop outside Philadelphia. The poster is entitled “Children Learn what they Live” and was written by Dr. Dorothy Nolte in 1972 and goes as follows:

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves
and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Everyday I look across my room and there hanging is that ancient poster still as viable today as it was in 1972. Sydney J. Harris couldn’t put a finger on motivation but he mentions in his article how parents want it to be like adrenaline and we could give a shot of motivation. The monk showing kindness to the scorpion, an attribute that had been learned by observation by seeing and by example, is it that motivation is from inside. Harris states and as Dr. Nolte so eloquently points out in 20 or so statements it is what children see and feel as they grow up that provides them with that inner drive that inner spark.
Children do learn what they live and as parents and teachers we are modeling their future. We are what they will be and can be.

“If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.” Dr. Nolte

It really is not that difficult. How can we expect a child to be motivated to succeed if we take away any of the twenty possibilities presented. No matter how big the carrot dangled in front of us it must come from within as well and eventually we as teachers, parents, and friends need to be providing that support and effort. Today a beautiful day please keep all in harms way in your hearts and on your minds.
namaste
bird

PS. Maybe, just maybe it is Dr. Nolte’s thoughts hanging on the wall in my room for the past thirty nine years that has kept me going and not to stepping on scorpions.

Empathy; Do we have it?

Droppings May 15, 2011
Empathy; do we all have it?

“The capacity for consciousness of ourselves gives us the ability to see ourselves as others see us and to have empathy with others. It underlies our remarkable capacity to transport ourselves into someone else’s parlor where we will be in reality next week, and then in imagination to think and plan how we will act. And it enables us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s place, and to ask how we would feel and what we would do if we were this other person. No matter how poorly we use or fail to use or even abuse these capacities, they are the rudiments of our ability to begin to love our neighbor, to have ethical sensitivity, to see truth, to create beauty, to devote ourselves to ideals, and to die for them if need be. To fulfill these potentialities is to be a person.” Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, pp. 74-76

Empathy is a very difficult word to discuss. For many it does not exist and others actually live by this simple word. As I look at May’s idea of empathy which is a capacity for consciousness I consider we are all conscious I would think. But it is being able to see and feel in someone else’s shoes that is the key to this consciousness. Love perhaps becomes an integral aspect of empathy. In my own views I feel empathy is crucial to any field dealing with people be that nurses, teachers, pastors and all who touch lives. For these folks empathy is a must and it is that gift that allows us to be closer and to be able to touch the soul of another.

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession” Sophocles

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Scott Adams

“Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.” Mother Theresa

Key aspects of empathy are kindness, love, and caring and these are all positive attributes of empathy. Adams says there is a ripple effect. I have over the years used the illustration of a pebble in the pond story many times. When you toss a pebble into still water and the ripples emanate out from the point of contact going till they hit the edge of the pond and in effect they return only colliding with the ripples still in coming. That small act does continue many times over. Several years ago a movie was made of small acts of kindness and the impact on a community I always think what if.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” Kahil Gibran

“…successful learners also have insight into the motives, feelings, and behavior of others and the ability to communicate this understanding–in a word, empathy.” B. F Jones, The New Definition of Learning: The First Step to School Reform

“Understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts and motives of one are readily comprehended by another.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

A simple word that can be so powerful if put to use. Empathy can be a tool for teachers, nurses, pastors and a key to the heart and souls of others. Recently in defining my own philosophy of teaching I used the word empathy as a key aspect of my own personal belief in teaching. Having empathy makes for a more meaningful and believable teacher. I was talking with a good friend the other day and discussing consequences. I have never given detention in ten years. I asked is detention a meaningful consequence? What if it is for talking in class as he was writing slips for detention? Well what else do I do? My answer was having class so intrigued they are not talking and mesmerize them to a point of attention.
Most consequences are due to not teaching and not empathizing with students. Trusting, understanding, and caring these are keys to successful teaching. I was asked about referrals and in school suspension and out of school suspension. I have found nine times out of ten writing a referral and waiting a few days for a consequence effectively negates the consequence so why not deal with in class unless it is such that needs immediate response. If the issue is serious enough and requires attention and immediate action; then go directly to administration. But more often than not with empathy it is not even happening so often it is seeking attention or a plea for help.

“In addition to the shared feeling and accurate understanding dimensions of empathy, some writers also focus on the empathetic person’s communication of understanding to the person whose “internal frame of reference” he or she has grasped.” Kathleen Cotton, SIR, Developing empathy in children and adults

“Regardless of conflicting views about the appropriate place, if any, of “values education” in the schools, people are generally able to agree that developing this capacity to understand, appreciate, and communicate meaningfully with others is an important and desirable goal. This enables us to move away from our differences of opinion about the specific CONTENT of “good character,” focusing instead on the PROCESS whereby people come to care about one another and communicate that caring through their behavior. “Kathleen Cotton

One of those times I wished I could say I wish I had said that maybe some day. So often we forget that this interaction with others is so critical to success in life. Not only in school but when you walk out the door to your home and to the store. Each moment we are alive we interact with others unless we sit on a mountain top somewhere contemplating about the passing of a cloud although that is not a bad thought. I wonder if there is a decent pay scale for that position. We interact and if those interactions are in an understanding way and I think it is empathy. So much more will be gained by both people. Kathleen Cotton writes further about developing empathy in students and adults and perhaps this is something we should be pursuing. Maybe we all should try and empathize a bit more and maybe then I would not be offering daily please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Trying to find topsoil midst an erosion of soul

Bird Droppings April 15, 2011
Trying to find topsoil midst an erosion of soul

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

I saw this idea this morning as I was scrolling through thoughts saved over the days and the concept caught me, being rooted. I am in the middles of planting seeds and new annuals in my herb garden and gardening references are big with me right at the moment. I had a student not understand the concept of pedigree yesterday. She was totally lost as I tried to explain how we can look at the family tree of a given animal, person, and or plant and see the various traits we should end up with in the off spring. I have been intrigued with students taking this idea a bit further recently, many have little or no concept of much more than grandpa and grandma let alone where they might have originated from. The idea that their relatives came from elsewhere and were not American is difficult to grasp for many folks so entwined in today and the immediate.

“We have to hate our immediate predecessors to get free of their authority.” D.H. Lawrence

I noticed this idea from Lawrence and as I was thinking maybe this was a clue to not wanting to remember your roots and or your past. Interesting in light of the news media and current stories, traditionally in many poor areas it is those family ties that keep people going. Yet is there a tie between Weil and Lawrence, I could generalize and say people who are lost have few roots or few ties to heritage, or to tradition, they are not grounded and anchored in any way. The reasons for this could be escape, wanting away from, to distant from as Lawrence advocates.

“What a man sows, that shall he and his relations reap.” Clarissa Graves

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.” Margaret Mead

Noted anthropologist Margaret Mead may have hit the nail on the head perhaps we as a society have stripped away by our constant boxing up inside. Maybe we have delineated the need for roots and tried to unsuccessfully replace it with little or nothing but the good of society. So in effect we are being told how, what, when and why on just about everything.

“The government is becoming the family of last resort.” Jerry Brown

Thinking as to how politicians on both sides of the fence play to this concept I thought back many years to my tenth grade literature class, it was 1965 to be exact. We read at that time a controversial book by George Orwell, “1984”. Contained within the book the total elimination of family and the government become your “Big Brother”, you were part of a whole and only an insignificant part at that. Various sociological and philosophical experiments have come and gone that have literally tried and to destroy family and traditions and roots, stripping away top soil laying bare to the hardpan of mans soul. Yet still with some people persistence, vigor, or will was still there.

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” Confucius

This is not just a modern day issue; Confucius raised questions 2000 years ago and used word integrity. It was about the integrity of the home. Perhaps this is the key. Solid roots can be found in integrity. Is it possible to look at people and judge their character by their roots, by how they were raised, by their family genealogy much like reviewing the potential of a good horse or cow? It has been a few years since I looked up EPD’s. I used to know what that meant, but in cattle it is the performance data and potential for that animal based on gathered collected data to be a suitable parent given specific traits you are looking for.

“If Mr. Vincent Price were to be co-starred with Miss Bette Davis in a story by Mr. Edgar Allan Poe directed by Mr. Roger Corman, it could not fully express the pent-up violence and depravity of a single day in the life of the average family.” Quentin Crisp

As I look at ideas and concepts and even jokingly at EPD’s used with cattle I found a plausible answer. EPD’s work because someone cares enough to check very specifically. Interesting we care about our cattle and horses yet so often neglect our own kind. I was thinking in terms of End of course tests and graduation tests that we are using to measure effectiveness of teachers and education. In the cattle industry if all you used was the end data you would eventually go out of business. Just because a steer weighs a certain amount in so many days comparing to a test score at the end of a course does not mean you will make money or that that was a good steer. Based on national averages the weight is ideal but how long did it take to grow that steer out? How much feed conversion ratio to weight gain did that steer take? Was the steer’s mother able to raise the calf herself or require a surrogate? What is the actual quality of the finished carcass? Questions when applied to education become significant. What concepts and knowledge does this student retain five years after high school for example?
Daily I encounter families that put the fictional family depicted by Mr. Crisp to shame. Over the years situations that most authors have not conceived of I see on a daily basis. Most fiction has base in fact unfortunately. So where do I go in this round about effort. We are faced daily trying to support people who are trying to grow and succeed with little grounding, little if any support. It may be a simple smile or handshake that keeps them going today from a teacher or friend. It may be a hug or kind word or an ear to listen which costs us a few moments of time. But if we take some time to share and to care what sort of impact will we make. It was so quiet out this morning when I went out with my dog. Weather people are calling for a storm tonight which coincides with last the past two weeks on Fridays nights just we have friends and family coming into town. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Caring is a very precious commodity in teaching

Bird Droppings January 9, 2011
Caring is a very precious commodity in teaching

As I am pondering my last hours before the holiday is over. The air temperature is nineteen outside and we are under a winter storm watch tonight through Tuesday morning. The anticipation of several inches of snow and up to a half inch of ice is what weather people are proposing. I am a bit disconcerted although I have thoroughly enjoyed my holidays between a grand baby and family it has been wonderful. I have found as I read comments from teachers and administrators that have facebook accounts there are differing degrees of involvement. Some use solely with a few friends, some especially younger teachers have a large number of college peers and work related friends, some teachers have former students, and some have student’s teacher’s administrators and professors and numerous others. Reading statuses and updates coming from my psychology background I see many teachers who are concerned and caring people. After being back in teaching ten years I find caring is a very precious commodity in teaching and one that is difficult to teach.

“Teaching is to move people to choose differently.” Dr. Maxine Greene, educator, author and caring person

Working in what was once a rural county now not much more than an extension of Atlanta there are many who still adhere to the old ways, politically, religiously, culturally, socially and even educationally. I can write my name that is enough. We just experienced an assassination attempt on a sitting congress women in Arizona and rhetoric is focusing on the heated debates and arguments from the media people on both sides as to fanning the flames of violence. However it was not that many years ago in this county people would be lynched, moonshine was the main industry and killing someone and losing a body was part of doing business. Early I issued a line or two about mental institutions closing and how there were many who twenty five years ago would be residents of said institution are now in politics, religion, military, jail, homeless and or waiting on the right trigger to set them off. It has been made very clear the individual involved in the shooting yesterday was mentally ill which will play well in his court hearings and trial. But how do we as teacher’s help children choose differently.

“… Martin Buber had what he called a life of creativity in mind, and also a capacity for participation and partaking. He said that all human beings desire to make things, and what children desire most of all is their share in the becoming of things. Through their own intensively experienced actions, something arises that was not there before. This notion of participant experience- and sharing in the becoming of things- comes very close to what we mean by aesthetic education.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

Maybe I should post the Foxfire Core Practices that I have been writing about for several years. I like this idea of participant experience. We need to be actively involved in learning both as teacher and as students.

“Not only do we want to keep the aesthetic adventures into meaning visible and potent in the schools, along with the other ways there are of making or achieving or discovering meanings. We want to keep enhancing them with some understanding of contexts- movements, styles, traditions- and connections among diverse works at different modes of history. For one thing, we know very well that none of us comes to any work of art devoid of context or with what has been called a totally ‘innocent eye.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

I have watched a new math curriculum reek havoc with students and teachers. The idea to simplify titles of courses to Math I, II, III, and IV does not do justice to the texts being used or curriculum proposed. Several years ago the test groups failed the first proto type test miserably and continually the curve has to be extreme to provide some passing numbers. The teachers are the same ones who were good and great teachers just a few months back but a simple change in state curriculum and we go backwards. The content needs context and it needs reasons.

“I hope you think about the wonder of multiple perspectives in your own experience. I hope you think about what happens to you- and, we would all hope, to our students- when it becomes possible to abandon one- dimensional viewing, to look from many vantage points and, in doing so, construct meanings scarcely suspected before.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

I am being hard on the math curriculum but the idea we are so far behind is not a valid one. In the US of all the major industrialized countries we are the only one that mandates education for all children. On international testing we tend to be down the list in part because of the greater number of children of all makes and models being tested. There are ideas within Maxine Greene’s words from 2003 that could help a teacher or teachers improve how they respond to students. Changing perspective looking from a different vantage point rather than simply that podium in the front of the room can make a world of difference. A simple thought but world changing.

“Our object, where public schools children and young people are concerned is to provide increasing numbers of opportunities for tapping into long unheard frequencies, for opening new perspectives on a world increasingly shared. It seems to me that we can only do so with regard for the situated lives of diverse children and respect for the differences in their experience.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

Seeing the differences in children is a sign of a great teacher. For it is in being able to see each child as unique and then in turn being able to, pardon the word diversify the teaching enough to interest all children. That is in and of itself a huge task.

“It is sometimes said that ‘all teachers care.’ It is because they care that people go into teaching.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher and a caring person

I honestly do think, no one goes into teaching not caring. Somewhere along the line maybe they forget and get too caught up in teaching to the test, making sure they cover every miniscule detail in the curriculum map or just trying to get a good appraisal. As I have watched good teachers and great teachers it is that caring aspect that sets them apart. They tend to build relationships with students. They try to understand why a student comes to school the way they do not just simply give a zero for a missed assignment.

“In a caring relation or encounter, the cared-for recognizes the caring and responds in some detectable manner. An infant smiles and wriggles in response to it mother’s care giving. A student may acknowledge her teacher’s caring directly, with verbal gratitude, or simply pursue her own project more confidently. The receptive teacher can see that her caring has been received by monitoring her students’ responses. Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher and a caring person

Teaching is so much more than a job and if only that were a teachable topic. For many years I have searched for what it is that sets apart the truly great teachers and simplified into one word it is caring. If only we could magnify and personify and spread that word through the world. For far too long I have ended my droppings each day with the same line. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.
namaste
bird