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.



Words can be significant and or meaningless

Bird Droppings December 13, 2011

Words can be significant and or meaningless


            So often when we open our mouths to speak do we really think about what it is we are going to say it sort of just spills out. Occasionally we wonder I wish I could have held on to that word or used a different word. Others often do not hear the word the way it is intended or perceive the thought in a similar vein than we were thinking. Working in public school we face daily kids who have limited vocabulary which so much of is learned at home.  Standing in front of a group of kids offering an answer only to find you need to explain the answer can be difficult. I was going over a test in literature with some students and most did not know words that were answers to question. How do you answer a question about the meaning of a word if you do not know the words in the answers? Over the years I get responses from folks who read my Droppings and one is a good friend from Texas Dr. James Sutton, a leading speaker on Psychological disorders with children.


“Your “Droppings” got me to thinking this morning. To me, existential means the basis for existence, which involves many things, I suppose, and it does have implication into the education process. (For instance, I describe a certain kind of behavior in young people as “desperate behavior.” It’s existential because I believe some youngsters feel they HAVE to do what they do, or something terrible will happen … like they’ll evaporate or something … i.e. cease to exist.)


I got into some conflict in a university faculty lecture talking about this stuff once because one professor jumped on the word “existential” and tried to take it all in a whole philosophical direction. I guess the point is that the words we use are important sometimes … especially if they can be misinterpreted.


Experiential (to me) means to witness for oneself with the senses, and to be able to draw conclusions based on the experience, such as what Montessori taught a century and a half ago. (Isn’t it always interesting, Frank, how we think we come up with so many new ideas, only to find out that good teachers like yourself were doing these things hundreds of years ago?)” Dr. James Sutton, Child and Adolescent Psychologist


            On a simple basis two words perceived totally differently yet intertwined for some and radically different for others. As I read and ponder about education and life in general I find how we receive a word from another person often may have been not exactly as they intended. As we move through the scope of human kind in advertising and politics which are very similar, words are being molded and placed in positions and times when they can most impact a certain population. Pondering as I do I cannot but help think about my little granddaughter and words she may hear as she grows up. For it is in words that she will learn to read and write at some point in her life. It is in words that she will describe her feelings to her mother and father as she gets older.


“These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward.” Albert Einstein


Over the years I have found Einstein’s wit and wisdom very interesting and powerful. As I read this I started thinking here is a man who was thinking of things that had not been named yet. No words were attached to the thought as he pondered… which in many ways provides freedom. In a spiritual light American Indians would call what they could not describe as the great mystery while in other parts of the world a definition soon was attach to any conception of a God that might come down the pike. Soon thousands of God and Goddesses wandered about each with a new name and title and definition. Why is it we so eagerly need a definition and a name for whatever we come in contact with? Perhaps this great thinker is a good example he chooses to wait till later to attach words and sort of wallow in the beauty of the idea first.


“How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.” Black Hawk, Sauk


“Words alone cannot fully convey the realities of the soul or the greatness of the human spirit.”  William Shirley


            In today’s headlines the word entitlement can convey a negative meaning and yet as I read the paper a group of high school activists in Georgia in response to some Georgia legislators implying that the Georgia HOPE scholarship is not an entitlement as the State looks at reducing the amount awarded to students.


“If it’s not an entitlement, stop advertising it like it is. We are beaten to death in high school that HOPE is there and that we need to do is maintain a 3.0 and our tuition is covered. We should feel entitled to this because a promise was made.” Hira Mahmood, Georgia Students for Public Higher Education


In my own high school we have scholarship contests. Each advisement is encouraged to have students apply for and try and receive as much in scholarship including HOPE as they can. Students are pushed to maintain that 3.0 grade point average because they will receive HOPE. Across our state students in high school and in college are concerned as legislators make suggestions for this program. It is such a simple word, entitlement, but for some a bad word and others it has significant meaning. A very similar situation was National Teacher certification several years back when Georgia teachers were promised a bonus if they received National Board certification a two year intensive process. Recently after nearly eight years of bonus money it was stripped from education budgets and laws made linking it to whims of current legislators.


“Once I was in Victoria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with interest. We are Indians and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.” Chief Maquinna, Nootka


            For several years I wanted to find a copy of a book, To Walk the Red Road, Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwa People produced by the high schools students at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. It is not a fancy book but one of few words and many photos. The photos are all black and white and many over a hundred years old. In 1989 Dr. Kent Nerburn was the project director and with the students in his classes accumulated and found the historical information that became this book. It was a combination of providing a vehicle to instill pride in their history and to give some relevance to their literature and language classes. In 1965 Elliot Wigginton used a similar approach developing with his students what would become the Foxfire magazine and books. I am saddened when a student has a difficult time conveying what they feel due to a lack of vocabulary or an inability to put it into words. Listening to students it is that sixteen hours away from school where most of their understanding and language comes from. How can we as teachers promote improving vocabulary at home?

            It is our language that drives us and our society. It is the words we choose to use that indicate to others feelings ideas thoughts and dreams. Trying to provide each minute a means of conveying understanding and new words to students occasionally feels frustrating as the stumble and slip and fall over context and content. We are in process of finishing up our End of Course Tests for this semester and our schools over all grades should look good. In the midst of higher averages than previously are still those kids slipping through the cracks. I will admit the cracks are getting smaller but it is still sad to watch a child flounder in his own language and words. Well I need a new acquisition of a room pet or two. My son found some axolotls for me and while pink and almost transparent they are pretty cool. This amphibian is one that maintains its larval stage for its entire life. It never leaves the water. So I end today with a vocabulary word for all those Scrabble fans that need to use an x for a good score, axolotls.  So for today teach someone a new word of meaning and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and remember to always give thanks.