Can we find truth in an untruthful world?

Bird Droppings April 21, 2017
Can we find truth in an untruthful world?

 

I went back to a book again for the third or fourth time, a book titled; Every day is a good day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous women, by the late Wilma Mankiller. Mankiller was the past Chief of The Cherokee Nation and a Native American Activist, author, lecturer and several time cancer survivor. I borrowed my status for today on Facebook from her writings. My plans were to be writing this morning about this book but after a week of sinus issues and allergies and working on several new lesson plans this morning I was a bit side tracked with trying to get anything done today. I might need another dose of antibiotics and steroids a last resort of sorts although so far I feel better than I felt yesterday. Today I will be addressing an issue at the foundation of why so many issues of today even exist. The situation is there truth or a lack thereof in our society today.

 

“I don’t think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. “ “In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people. “ Wilma Mankiller

After pondering and reading more of Wilma Mankiller’s book I always find new pieces that just seem to mean more today than they did the previous time reading. One of these aspects is truth. When elected Chief many years back Wilma was the first woman to be elected head of any of the major tribes. She based her life and philosophy on truth. So perhaps it is appropriate today that I will be addressing an issue at the foundation of why so many issues of the day even exist, the truth or the lack thereof.

 

“A king asked a sage to explain the Truth. In response the sage asked the king how he would convey the taste of a mango to someone who had never eaten anything sweet. No matter how hard the king tried, he could not adequately describe the flavor of the fruit, and, in frustration, he demanded of the sage ‘Tell me then, how would you describe it?’ The sage picked up a mango and handed it to the king saying ‘This is very sweet. Try eating it!’” Hindu Teaching Story

 

Sometimes in the simplest way we can get a point across just telling the truth. Nothing can describe more adequately than truth. I have written about truth numerous times and talked with teachers and educational experts about that same subject. It is very hard to always be truthful in our society today. Many times we can question; what is truth much as did the great philosophers of old. As I read the Hindu parable above it hit me. Maybe truth is within the experience, borrowing from the great educator and philosopher John Dewey, truth is within the experience and it is being able to find it through a life event.

 

“It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea: a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth… and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below.” Sir Francis Bacon

“It is unfortunate, considering that enthusiasm moves the world, that so few enthusiasts can be trusted to speak the truth.” Arthur James Balfour

 

As I read what these great thinkers have to say about truth it is sad that they see truth as an uncommon commodity, something that is few and far between. We watch news and read papers each day and choose to believe or not believe what we see. Bat boy is having plastic surgery to look normal was the title of a grocery store tabloid many months back. One of my favorites was when Bill Clinton was in office and he was having sex with an alien. Most of us see these doctored photos and total fabrications and pass them off as such but some people take to heart. There are many who believe Apollo missions were total fabrication due to for example the Van Allen Belts and numerous other events in history were fabricated as well. Conspiracy theories abound about daily happenings all leading to this or that conclusion. Many have been scientifically debunked including the attack of Nine Eleven yet they persist. A local science professor comments in class while teaching genetics that the Apollo mission is a hoax. How can one thing he never saw be bogus and yet teach again something he never saw.

 

“Between truth and the search for it, I choose the second.” Bernard Berenson

 

“When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.” Otto Von Bismarck

 

Why is it, that truth is so elusive? I find it so hard to understand that we go at life literally intent on fabrication, deceit and deception. Bismarck’s comment though near a hundred years old is still very much true.

 

“Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.” William Blake

 

“Truth lies within ourselves: it takes no rise from outward things, whatever you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness and to Know rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape than in effecting entry for light supposed to be without.” Robert Browning

 

“A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.” Alexis Carrel

 

I look back and see how so many times in avoiding truth the tales grew with each moment and soon a story takes the place of a simple event and soon a novel unravels and the line between fiction and nonfiction becomes literally a canyon.

 

“The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it.” Clarence Darrow

 

“Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Benjamin Disraeli

 

“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.” Meister Eckhart

Isn’t it sad that truth is so difficult and yet so easy, telling the truth eliminates numerous additional words and time that could be spent perhaps going in the right direction rather than pursuing issues that really may not even pertain. It is so simple and yet so elusive to so many.

 

“The greater the truth the greater the libel.” Lord Ellenborough

 

“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

We so easily get caught up in deceit because this is what we want to hear. Watching news of our current president unfold and spun by each side two seemingly different stories almost opposite in content yet the same event. The truth may be painful or difficult to take and so the fabrication becomes the reality. A movie out a few years back portrays the world of a schizophrenic, “A beautiful Mind”. Dr. John Nash is played by Russell Crowe very convincingly. Dr. Nash eventually realizes the duplicity of his reality and learns to deal with it. Many of us never accept the unreal we create each day as we fabricate and manipulate that around us.
We are brought up accepting untruth; we have professionals, politicians who work at telling half-truths and fabricating it to do their jobs, as they run the country. Wouldn’t it be an interesting world if politicians could take a few drops of medicine and become truthful? Problem is we wouldn’t have a use for politicians and anyone could run for office. Would it not be great if we could believe those who run the country for us, elected by us, and not rely on shock jock radio and TV personalities who literally build there listening audience on deceit. What if the president was telling the truth and the commentators who are angling for listeners are lying? As I look at this concept it is truly sad that we have such a short attention span. We tend to listen to the loudest and most exciting version even when we watch an event unfold and know what is real. I wonder how many people believed the photo of Bill Clinton and the Alien back in the day. Recently a movie The Campaign, essentially a comedy jokingly made its way back and forth until just before the end and the fellow who was down in the poles began telling the truth and changed the election.

 

“Respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality.” Frank Herbert

 

“Peace if possible, but truth at any rate.” Martin Luther

 

“You’ll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you have said, and you never forget what you have said.” Sam Rayburn

 

We live in a society where morality is bantered about as a catch word. We live in a world where peace is elusive often because truth is nowhere to be found. We live in a world where politicians are counting how many times the other side has changed their minds and or rhetoric on issues. We live in a world where many are in harm’s way and many of these instances are due to untruths, which we then justify through buying into additional untruthful information and rationales. Do we even remember the what and the why of the actual event? So as I sit reading and writing this morning please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Are we experiencing the genocide of learning?

Bird Droppings April 18, 2017
Are we experiencing the genocide of learning?

 

In the midst of my daily journals entries lately it gets hectic I am trying to get readmitted to a doctorate program I was in through 2010. I have been running back and forth to my various doctors the past three weeks with my gall bladder surgery. We had a grand babies over night for Easter and egg hunt following. So I am back at work with my friends, sitting doing research, reading and discussing John Dewey, maintaining some semblance of order in my herb gardens and final corrections and editing of my chapter for a book on Rural Education. Did I mention getting ready for nearly two weeks of testing that I despise. So here early in the morning today as I write I am working on an idea that has been bothering me for some time. I used the harsh word of genocide in my title as I am working on this idea and some will perhaps object to the concept that we as a society are killing off real learning in our schools. All the talk of increasing rigor then combined with budget cuts and increased class sizes and massive standardized testing and you have the making of decreasing what is truly learned.

 

I have over the past few days and years used Carl Rodgers quotes and he uses the term significant learning that which stays with us. I will allow, a student in school can memorize answers for a test and some might be learning but the joy and passion of learning are stripped away far too many times by overzealous teachers trying to succeed with their students on test scores. I have offered numerous times that a test at the end of a class or subject is not a valid measure of what a student learned with that teacher or in that subject without a baseline point of reference.
Earlier in the day I watched a short video narrated by an Australian who happens to be Aborigine. He discusses sharing and how money has changed that process and how words like, mine, have altered society. I am reading a book currently which is a compilation of essays dealing with Indigenous spirituality, The Inner Journey, edited by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. As I opened the book the first essay is by Vine Deloria Jr., Native author and activist. The title of the essay is, Out of Chaos.

 

“Whites acquire land through purchase and sale, and land is a quantifiable, measureable entity; their primary responsibility as landowners is simply to prevent loss of value; hence any responsibility the land owner may have is only to himself. Indian tribes acquire land as a gift from higher powers, and in turn they assume certain ceremonial duties which must be performed as long as they live on and use the land. Removing an Indian tribe from its aboriginal territory, therefore, results in the destruction of ceremonial life and much of the cultural structure.” Vine Deloria Jr.

 

To put into another perspective author Capitalist and Libertarian hero and favorite, Ayn Rand at the 1974 West Point address had this to say about Native Americans.

 

“They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.” Ayn Rand, Address 1974 West Point

 

One might ask what does this have to do with learning at all. I would respond with that is a good question if I had not witnessed within the learning field a similar situation. If we can substitute learning for land perhaps it will be somewhat clearer.
Over the years my room at the high school has been the school field trip for the Early Childhood classes of four year olds and their high school student teachers. My collection of various snakes, lizards and turtles not discounting spiders and hissing cockroaches always amazes kids and questions can be almost infinite if allowed. On one occasion a four year little fellow asked me how do snakes go to the bathroom. Almost immediately his student teacher said that’s a silly question hush. I jumped in before another word was said not embarrassing the high school student but offering some advice that no question is silly and especially from a four year old. We proceeded to learn about the snakes cloacae. So often children are stifled by time and by constant constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

 

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

 

Children come to school as avid learners I often use the term just like sponges, having just recently learned to talk, walk, play and laugh at humor. Little children are truly sponges absorbing all about them. Far too often we approach these children with our adult understandings and views and miss the fact that perhaps while avid learners we have gone beyond their understanding and even instinctual capacities to learn. We want straight rows and hands on the desk and quiet and no questions. It takes only a short time till children become robots and those that do not conform are labeled as behavior problems. I cannot help but think of Geronimo when he petitioned Teddy Roosevelt to go to the White Mountains of New Mexico to die amongst his homeland and birth place, his ceremonial home and was refused. A child comes to school with few rules yet morals are established and understood but the conforming rules of the society and times deemed appropriate to eat, nap and or read. No more reading because you want to but now because you have to. John Dewey wrote about this in 1938 and was considered a progressive at that time.

 

“….all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be involved a day here and there with the Foxfire Approach to Teaching courses up in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire Property. I try and attend as many days as I can more for me to recharge and learn than to add to the class selfishly. One evening a few courses past I invited former Foxfire students to dinner with future and current teachers who were learning about Foxfire. Sitting around a table we were discussing the impact of this specific teaching approach on their lives. The former students had been in the Foxfire program going back to 1970 and as current as 1995. All saw their experiences as life changing. They carried a love of learning forward with them. What amazed me was the anonymous overwhelming praise for this style of teaching and not just one teacher but these former students have had several different teachers all using the same approach which allows me to say it was the approach and yes teachers do matter. We had a great evening as conversations drifted from today to the past and back. The teachers to be videoed taped as they asked questions of these former students and they gave their responses. Last year I had the great privilege of meeting one of the former Foxfire instructors from the early days, Mr. George Reynolds. In only a few minutes of talking to the group his passion for learning and teaching was evident. He had been in Mountain City for a reunion of sorts visiting several former students who had made music their careers.

 

“The best reason to give a child a good school …. Is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in the competing with Sony … There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of greed.” Jonathan Kozol

 

Within our society education has become a business if you are watching the news on any given night school board budgets and teacher cuts are literally daily. Charter schools for profit are being formed and profit making corporations are trying to get their way into public education. With that in mind what is the result, when only profit is a goal and success of a given student is no longer an issue. We have been fortunate in our county to not loose teachers but have made adjustments in other areas. Class sizes, the number of students per class has been adjusted and our school day lengthened and school year shortened. We are actually slowly coming back and adding some teachers, reducing class sizes and shortening the day.

 

Money obviously is a driving force. Going a step further to a state level and a curriculum change for example the math curriculum in Georgia was radically changed almost on an annual basis. A few years ago and this offered hundreds of millions in text book purchases to someone in the publishing business. This year again the Math Curriculum is changing again and more books. Education is a big business when you get to this level and literally someone owns it being a bit sarcastic. So when looking at the monetary aspect of education it is very similar to land someone has possession of it. National education policy is driven by economic issues. Most progressive educators would say the industrial complex is educating consumers. Our “Native” culture has been stripped away and replaced with a planned and orchestrated day by day blueprint within education to make good consumers.

 

“Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence education should be everywhere the same.” Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America, 1936

 

Hutchins would be happy in today’s educational world where daily you hear such phrases from administrators “if I walk into a biology room in Georgia it should look like a biology room in New Jersey”. With common core standards and standardized testing the norm and curriculum maps and every moment choreographed Hutchins would love where education has gone. So perhaps I can blame Hutchins with the genocide of learning thought. The great educator Maxine Greene in her essay reflecting on John Dewey offers in referring to this passage by Hutchins.

 

“Emphasizing absoluteness and universality, he (Hutchins) insisted that the idea of progress was meaningless. Education had to be properly understood as the cultivation of the intellect. It could only be contaminated when windows were opened to the social, public, and political world outside.” Maxine Greene

 

John Dewey bases much of his thinking on experience be it current or past. We build on the past experiences and if done right these flow into future experiences building a learning for life scenario. Over the past few days I have been working on a simple formula along the lines of if we have an experience which combined with thoughtful reflection provides learning we can then build upon for future learning. Many hours can be hashed around deciding on what is learning and what is experience to that matter what is thoughtful reflection?

 

“Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

As I think about Dewey and education and how we are increasing rigor I was reading in Alfie Kohn’s book, What does it mean to be well educated” and found an interesting thought.

 

“To judge schools by how demanding they are is rather like judging opera on the basis of how many notes it contains that are hard for singers to hit. In other words, it leaves out most of what matters.” Alfie Kohn

 

It has been nearly sixteen years since a good friend and former principal introduced me to Alfie Kohn’s books in a book club meeting. I miss that sort of philosophical endeavor it seems more standardized reading is the norm these days. I use the idea of increasing rigor is much like demanding everyone break the world record in high jump. In simple terms, it ain’t gonna happen.
We increase rigor to a point where a few students are lost and many struggle trying to be successful. I read a recent front page article on the numbers of students in college in remedial classes prior to getting into college math and literature. It was costing the state so much money. Colleges accept students based on test scores and GPA and some students may need a refresher course. I will admit I had remedial Literature my freshmen year in college and I think I failed it. Of course my rationale was the beach was an hour away and it was warm and listening to some old bat in a literature course was not very much fun. I did turn it around eventually and was on dean’s list my junior and senior years, although there were numerous colleges and many years past the normal four.
So is there a solution to this issue of improving of schools and the education of our children. What is it we need in teachers? What is it we as parents expect from the education our children are getting? I recall a friend who went to Korea to teach English and in her year in Korea several issues came to the front. First families would only accept the best from the kids. They expected their children to work hard in school and at home on homework, my friend emphasized that three hours of homework was considered light. So is it that in some countries more emphasis is put on education than in the US? You will find from data many Asian countries have very high test scores on international standardized achievement tests. But what are the side effects for this pressure? Some of the highest suicide rates in teenagers are in these countries. We need to address our system and we need to go beyond the test scores that literally are meaningless from a validity standpoint. On the front page of our local paper was an article on test scores in the county comparing our local system which generally does great.
We need good teachers and good teachers are not easy to find. I have titled a paper I am working on, Attitude is the secret to teaching: Active, Tangible, Total, Intuitive, Thinking and Understanding of Developing Experience. I do believe attitude is a key to successful teachers. We need a philosophy of education that is fluid and not static that one size fits all. We need to provide relevance and context and all research points to this being a key in learning and in the retention of learning. However one of the elements that for me that is critical is we need to have empathy as teachers. Sadly there are few with empathy and it can go a long way. Intuition and understanding can be of a great assistance in learning. I ended a short article the other day with the word conversations, there need to be conversations between students and teachers in both directions and there needs to be conversations between parents and teachers. As I head into more Foxfire my idea I have been pondering of Education as a stream and the Foxfire Core practices as stepping stones gains momentum. So solving quickly is a near impossibility but the idea is there and hopefully after three weeks of being embedded in the Foxfire Approach to teaching I will be ready for another school year. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

Bird Droppings April 17, 2017
Should we sharpen the machete or bring a shovel?

 

I have been reflecting over the concept of critical pedagogy and in that reflection I recall an incident nearly forty years ago that calls to mind my own interpretation and understanding of what we as teachers are all about. I purchased a book in 1972 or so that was about a method of teaching that for me was what teaching was all about. The book was the Foxfire two, a collection of mountain lore and life. The editor was a man who went into North Georgia to teach English and ended up creating a teaching method or I should say edited a teaching concept in that much of what he developed was previously suggested and implemented with John Dewey. Elliott Wigginton started in 1966 a way of teaching that incorporated the students in the learning process. I am sitting in my room at the high school writing and will be headed back up to North Georgia only miles from where this idea for teaching started in a few days.

 

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

Always in movies with a jungle setting the leader has a machete and hacks away at the undergrowth making the way clear for the group following. D’Angelo is an author of sorts, an author who as a senior at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania wrote a paper “Wellness Works”, which would became the basis for his ideas. While writing primarily about college life he was also offering bits and pieces of wit to help folks make it through the day. He is Author of The College Blue Book and the inspirational series; we are creating a new kind of “school” for a new kind of world. It just so happens my college career started at West Chester State as well although in my feeble attempt at education I was asked not to return and ended up facing a military draft physical only to find I was physically unfit for military service.

 

“After all, the world as we know it is less than 15 years old. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and in 1995 the World Wide Web went up. It is a completely new world for us all. With this new world, come new challenges. With these new challenges, come new ways of educating people for the future and it is our every intention to be at the fore front of this educational revolution. The 20th Century was about Content, but the 21st Century is about Context.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

As I read through the website dealing with empowerment many interesting ideas and thoughts that last line hit me like a ton of bricks. John Dewey was saying the same thing nearly a hundred years ago. Context is the critical component versus content.

 

“Most College Students Get a Degree, But Not an Education.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

The basis and rationale of his thoughts centered on the fact nearly one third of college students drop out. His writings and training (coaching) are meant to change that. Going back again nearly 100 years ago another educational revolutionary had similar thoughts. John Dewey offered a very similar constraint to content versus context with his take on constructivism.

 

“Learners who can adapt quickly by learning in a complex world are more likely to adapt to changing conditions and survive as an individual.” Martin Dougiamas, A journey into Constructivism

 

It has been a quite a few days possibly years since I walked in my yard to show some friends from the South Georgia coast my ever growing herb garden. I was pulling a few leaves here and there comparing different types of thyme and mints but all the same it was a matter of trying to dodge raindrops and our dog running between my legs trying to get back in the house. My friends had gone to the amusement park all day and were worn out but hamburgers and hotdogs off the Bird nest grill and a few minutes catching up and we were into old stories and somehow reptiles. It seems my oldest and my good friend who had come by are both amateur herpetologists and snake talk can go on for hours. As I stood thinking just before going to bed that night it was so quiet other than the dripping of the rain on the house and from trees and shrubs. It was an ethereal undertaking walking out in the remnants of a rain of that evening.

 

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

 

Looking at the surroundings yesterday morning as I walked through the house checking to see if the dog needed to go out for her morning constitutional I saw the light or I should say my senses saw light. I can accept that thought and or pursue why and how I saw a light. It could be perhaps the batteries are low and it is only a glimmer of light. Last year I started a daily log on each of my students writing down as events transpired within my various classrooms, while focusing on education I would also jot down any events or happening with that student that may be important. As I thought daily life is little different as I read D’Angelo’s thoughts, while he focused on college students the application to a lesser degree very easily could be made to own my students who are at high risk for graduation from high school. By pushing that envelope further we have people who are at risk with life itself.

 

“The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning. Since education is inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.” On Purpose Associates

 

As a teacher so often I found myself saying this is my class room and you will do as I say. I even have gone so far as to declare back in the day when I had a trailer, my room as an independent kingdom and issued money, Mr. Bird bucks. I still have the crown although it currently resides on a rather large stuffed antelope head (an eland) on my classroom wall. However in the process of declaring an independent kingdom from the rest of school we as a group signed a declaration of independence. While I said my class room, in effect the room had become the student’s class room.

 

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.” John Dewey

 

Do I simply want to accept the light from the night or pursue finding out more. I recall just before school was out that I spent the better part of my planning period on the phone with a parent. This particular student has been a problem for all of his teachers, numerous physiological reasons can quickly be brought to our attention and various assundery medications have been prescribed over the years. In high school with four different teachers and different outlooks of perception we have a student being daily assessed by four people and four world views. On a particular bad day I jotted down behaviors that were issues. At some point his medications came into the discussion and the student made a comment how he felt that was the issue not his behavior. You might say, “The medicine made him do it”. He as often found excuses for his behavior as we all do.

 

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” Anthony J. D’Angelo

 

I find myself being sort of a renegade in the high school and not willing to accept four other good teachers’ viewpoints without investigating I always dig deeper into the issues of the student’s behavior. Upon referring to a handy Physician’s Desk Reference, PDR, eight of the behavior issues were side effects of his particular medications and all of the medications were recommended for adults. Indicated in bold lettering there are warnings this medication may cause drowsiness and to not operate equipment while taking this medication. The problem this student was being referred for every day was sleeping in class. We gave this student ISS for sleeping and for making comments about how he can’t think straight. All day long we hack at leaves, I tell friends in the north about kudzu. It is so hard to describe a plant that hacking at the leaves only infuriates it, it seems to grow faster. Add to it a couple of tropical storms and hurricanes worth of water dumped on it helps as well. But whether it is in education or family we need to look beyond traditional means. It is about context versus content borrowing from D’Angelo and of course John Dewey.
I was speaking with my son many years ago about teenager issues as we rode home from a band practice. It is so easy to say one thing, hack off leaves and never really get to the roots. He asked me why our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. I offered often lack of education, or simply indifference to the responsibility and focus on the moment we have so engrained in our kids and lifestyles. A year or two later I am dealing with the issue personally with my son. Maybe I should have offered context and less content discussing pregnancy. So I walk out today looking for how come it is so bright outside even in the rain we also need to look at context. We also need to review why we keep sharpening the machete and not look for a shovel and as I finish today harm is an elusive word. A child raised in an environment where tomorrow is questionable is that harm? Students who say whatever and quit school is that harm? Young men and women fighting in various wars around the world is that harm to themselves as well as those around them? Refugees in Sudan tying shelter together with sticks, thread and leaves is that harm? I wonder if we even care at times more worried about the trivial pieces of life what shirt or shoes to wear? So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

 

We need both the Rock and the Smoke

Bird Droppings April 12, 2017
We need both the Rock and the Smoke

 

“If people find no room in their lives to pray or to meditate, to reflect deeply on why they have been created and what they must do with their lives, and to listen with all of their being to the guidance of the universe, then these people are like birds who have not yet learned to fly. All the parts of the bird are present, but something is still missing. To be a whole person is to be alive in a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual way.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

I started reading this short book several days ago, only absorbing a page or two a day not trying to force my read as I do so often and get through it in a matter of minutes. There is an under lying theme with the tree of life so often depicted in primitive traditions. In Native American thought the tree intertwines spiritually and physically with all. Many times in ceremonies a specific tree would be selected after much thought by a medicine man or woman for the occasion. It would be carefully taken down and then “replanted” at the site of the ritual. Sundance ceremonies always would center round a tree as the main focal point of the entire ceremony. I could not help but think of the latest James Cameron movie Avatar and the depiction of the tree that is connected to all on the planet. In my own life my early mornings are to sit read and write for me a mediation of sorts. When I can if time allows although that does not sound good I will wander out into the darkness to think and reflect. Listening and watching as around me life unfolds. For many being alone in the dark is not a comfortable event but as I have now for some time embraced the solitude and quiet.

 

“A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television and or recorded music to fill the silence so do not have to experience themselves as they are.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

Years ago I would walk out into the early morning’s darkness all about me wandering a blanket wrapped about me, thinking and reflecting on things at hand. I found as I was searching I found peace in the solitude and quiet of the early hours. As we moved over the years and my ability to walk around became hindered I started to write and read and reflect as I would sit and ponder. I started writing down my ideas and thoughts and sharing with others. I found in each of my mornings notes; an idea was there for someone. Today as we near a full moon and the night is bright with the moons reflection of the sun perhaps speaking of darkness at night is a bit odd but always I have found within darkness there is light when we seek it. So in effect in my solitude I have found community. It has been a few years since a dear friend shared with me and helped me remember a poet and philosopher of life that I had forgotten so many years ago.

 

“Walk easy on the earth each life has its own fragile rhythm, to be aware of it is to understand, to ignore is to abandon oneself to sadness. It is to search vainly for the wholeness that only comes in surrender to what is.” James Kavanaugh, Quiet Water, 1991

James Kavanaugh passed away a few years back and his works will continue to inspire and awaken emotions in people for many years ahead. There is a spiritual aspect to his writing as he reflects on his own former priesthood in many of his writings. But he also separates from religion that spiritual context that is within each of us. It is that individuality and uniqueness that gives us the essence of who we are and provides us with a desire to continue existence.

 

“Existing is one thing, but making a purpose for your existence is another.” Kendall Gomez, neighbor, former LHS student, friend, Delta Stewardess and often philosophical genius

 

Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning when she wrote this. Many the day Kendall would come by my room at school and talk and even visited a few times after she graduated. She moved into our neighborhood several years ago and it was interesting neither of us knew we were neighbors for nearly a year. Granted she is a half mile away from our house if that would still be a neighbor. As I read her post this morning and one of her responses, that her purpose was to come up with riddles for others to solve, it sort of hit me. Perhaps it is “more better” stated that we find our purpose through our existence and may even find ourselves in that effort.

 

“Another sign that warns the traveler that his heart is empty of the gifts of the west is when a person does not feel respect for the elders or for the spiritual activities and struggles of other people.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

We live in a world so interconnected to each other and yet so disjunctive as well. So many of our interactions that fail and go by the wayside are due to inadvertent differences of opinions, distrust and differences of beliefs than to any other rationales. I recall sitting down so many years ago with a man who was very much a man of faith. He was devout in his beliefs and staunch in his moral codes and ethics. We sat down in a small restaurant in town to discuss a program I had envisioned working with indigent families and people. As a prop knowing this fellow I had brought a bible along. Several verses were marked dealing with helping others and providing for those in need. I did not indicate to this man another religious connection of any sort and almost immediately as we talked he mentioned that Catholics were not Christian. My hand rested atop a Catholic bible. I found it interesting that within his desire to do good and help people was still this animosity for another person he had no idea of any connection to any church or religious affiliation for me other than a Methodist Church I was previously involved with working with high school students. He knew I attended a Methodist Seminary along the way. So already we in some ways were opposed semantically because he found one denomination was wrong and one was right yet both evolved from the same traditions and history. We started a program Shepherd Staff Ministries and up until I left that program over ten years ago we never disagreed on anything and he is still involved on the board of directors. People were served in our community with food lodging and counseling.
“Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things’. It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are common to all.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956

 

As I was selecting passages today I was drawn to both Kavanaugh and Merton were Catholic clergy at one time or another in their lives. Kavanaugh had a falling out as he wrote about an outdated church and left the priesthood. Thomas Merton wrote out against war in a time when such things were not often politically correct and died suspiciously in Southeast Asia electrocuted in a bath tub protesting the War in Viet Nam. Merton was a Trappist monk till his death. When you read these two authors there ideas do flow and interconnect with those of the Native American concept of a world interconnected I started with. Merton often wrote about and was well versed in Eastern thought seeing a connection between all that was. Kavanaugh in his poetry wrote of the world almost as if he were a piece in a vast puzzle a part of the whole.

 

“Thus I am certain that somehow life will never end, because the assemblage of my friends and all the beauty of the world I have known, assures me that in some state, I must have a life of love to say what I feared to say on earth. To give what I tried to give and couldn’t and to thank you with all of me, when gratitude never seemed sufficient. I long to release all hurts and manipulations, any selfish expectation when pain and suffering got in the way of love and forgiveness, when age and self-pity interfered, or when my ignorance and arrogance prevented what I longed to reveal and share. When I realized I’d done the best I could with what I had from the past, when it was apparent that for one as good and fine and loving as you are: A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” James Kavanaugh, A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you, 1996

 

We of this modern era somehow get lost in all that is. We want to categorize and sanitize and package seemingly undefinable ideas and thoughts. We want to be able to research and develop vaccines to cure and control all that is around us. We lose our connections. I was talking with a fellow teacher yesterday a very good friend who has served for nearly twenty five years active and in the reserves with our military. He has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in most areas of conflict in the past twenty years. He has seen death and destruction at the hands and minds of men. We often talk about life in general and while he knows my own believes and perhaps his might differ we often find common ground. I bumped into him on my way to check on a student and we talked. I had an article I had been meaning to bring to him as he teachers history. It is a National Geographic article about a tribe in Africa that is one of the last known hunter gatherer societies left on the earth. What is amazing to anthropologists is that there is no strive, stress, animosity within these people. There are not items of desire or to covet. If you need a bow and arrows you make one. If you need meat you hunt and fruit you gather. As we talked I recalled another friend’s virtual game in history of having students develop society from nothing and how it is not until as humans we begin to own things that strive and turmoil appears.
“We live in a whirl of images and noises, sounds, lights, desires, frustrations, pleasures, sufferings. Our lives are a cacophony; insulated from wind and rain and sun, from heat and cold, we are ensphered in our own catacombs of concrete and plastic. Living in such a world is it any wonder we turn to drugs, to more sensational means of stimulation, to entertainment that renders us catatonic? Insulated from nature, ungrounded, why should we be surprised at our own brutality? Where in such a world is there room for gratitude and for what should we be grateful?” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

I am getting carried away this morning but so often an idea starts and perhaps today I need to draw to a close and continue another day. My dog is barking calling to go out and now back in the moon has set and gone behind the pines and only the stars remain to light the sky. To my right as I walked out our drive way and cars and to the left pines and darkness a seemingly distant world untouched and real. I will use another line from Versluis as he discusses primitive people’s ideas and views.

 

“There is, however a mysterious unity between people and their landscape, between people and the creatures around them. This unity is of a subtle kind not easily explained. But understanding it is essential if we are to enter into a different awareness of our world” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

Another day is near dawning and another day heading to school for finals and to finish up the school year. For all of my students and teacher friends may peace be with you and yours and may we as a nation find some point of reference to draw us together. For ten years now I have ended my morning sojourns with this line, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

 

PS: While sitting in my quiet place among the trees in our backyard a wisp of smoke came from my bowl of white sage, cedar, red willow bark, ursa leaves, and sweet grass and I thought. There is a time for the Rock and a time for the Smoke. Both are essential to the balance of life. The rock holds steady and firm while the smoke ethereal and flowing lifts upward. We need both in our lives.

It is said dreams do not stand alone

Bird Droppings April 10, 2017
It is said dreams do not stand alone

“You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.” Richard Bach

It has been so many years since I first experienced the whimsical book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, this was Bach’s tale of a seagull who dreams of more than simply eating fish entrails at the pier. I was going through my files on my computer and the only book I have had for more than five years is this one. Occasionally when in a quiet place and not too tired so my eyes work I will pull up JLSG and read a few lines thinking back so many years to when I first read the book.

I hear each day and listen to the dreams as student’s talk of where and when, there are some who say whatever and that is hard for me to understand. Having experienced so much in my lifetime good and bad to hear a young person with no concept of tomorrow often because today was dashed it takes me back. I recall several years back on a first day in a class when a student answered a simple goal sheet. Question one: Where will you be in a year? Probably still in school, Question two; where will you be in five years? Probably in jail, and Third Question; where will you be in ten years? Dead was his answer. Gladly that is not the case as I still have contact almost thirteen years later and he is a motorcycle racer and mechanic in Texas although jail part he got right. I have been keeping touch indirectly with him since he has spent the better part of four years in jail and currently is out so he did attain his five year goal. He saw no future and when I talked with him about his answers he really did not want a future because of the present he was experiencing.

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you are alive, it isn’t.” Richard Bach

“I have heard it said that the first ingredient of success — the earliest spark in the dreaming youth — if this; dream a great dream.” John A. Appleman

So often when I meet people and or students who have little thought of a future there is significant past holding them back, I recently wrote a paper on an idea I had of funneling. Our past is a significant part of the antecedents that drive our behaviors. The fellow above in my questions and answers was in this situation. Years ago as I did research for a graduate school paper I found in looking at twenty eight Emotionally Disturbed children in my study only two were still with biological parents only two had not had trouble with law enforcement and not been adjudicated. Only four were not currently at that time on probation.

“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” John Barrymore

“If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?” Thomas Lovell Beddoes
I had not thought of this but what a question to ask young people what if dreams were for sale what would you buy. Often those that do not want to think ahead only see more of the same, for my young man above death was actually something he was looking forward too at that time.

“The moment of enlightenment is when a person’s dreams of possibilities become images of probabilities.” Vic Braden

“You’ve got to create a dream. You’ve got to uphold the dream. If you can’t, go back to the factory or go back to the desk.” Eric Burdon

For some of you the name Eric Burdon is insignificant but for a few of us, back in the sixties three British bands came across and stormed the United States, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals. Eric Burdon was the lead singer for The Animals. He is still around although now living in California and performing often solo or with his new band The Eric Burdon, I Band; he has gone back to his roots, blues. But as I read Eric’s quote and look at Bach’s quote coming from a fictional character the idea of dreaming and possibilities all tie into you have to do something. You have to work to attain the dream. Here is a possibility, the dream and here are the opportunities, life in general. Just Do it as it is scribbled on your shoes.

“When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” Leo Burnett

“There couldn’t be a society of people who didn’t dream. They’d be dead in two weeks.” William Burroughs

William Burroughs name in literary circles often falls with Allen Ginsberg as part of The Beat generation spawned in New York’s coffee houses and universities. But he also is often associated with Timmy Leary and Andy Warhol and in the early nineties before killing himself, Kurt Cobian recorded an album with the then nearly 80 year old Burroughs reading his own words over Cobain’s guitar chords. A drug addict for most of his life Burroughs’s tried to write himself out of where he was and many of his greatest efforts are reflections of his own addictions and reflections on the addictions and limitation others impose on themselves.

“Follow your bliss.” Joseph Campbell

“If your dream is a big dream, and if you want your life to work on the high level that you say you do, there’s no way around doing the work it takes to get you there.” Joyce Chapman

Trying to get teenagers to accept getting from point A to point B requires more than simply saying so, it can be a tough sale. Several weeks ago I was sitting talking with two students both who had dreams of college. One of the fellows said he was going to college and get a scholarship to play football. I thought for a moment and said you have never played in high school how will you get a scholarship? He thought for a minute and said he would go out for the team. He thought because of his size and make he could be a football player. Ok but you would still have to go to class and study and read. His dreams were dashed for him college was simply a football scholarship and playing football sort of the Forest Gump approach. I tried also to explain playing football meant practice four or five hours a day, no TV, no video games, and no four or five honey buns and a coke for snacks. Very quickly he decided to change his goal, too much work, and no fun. He wanted the glory of the football player but did not want the work.

“When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.” Jiminy Cricket

I have always thought it interesting that a cartoon insect could possibly go down as one of the world’s great philosophers. When you believe you can you can I have always been told?

“We’ve removed the ceiling above our dreams. There are no more impossible dreams.” Jesse Jackson

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Robert F. Kennedy

So often I find myself drawn back to an idea or quote, Kennedy’s quote is one of those as is dreaming. Each time I find something new, a new piece to the puzzle, a new thought as I am rambling through my day, pondering on those moments of new ideas and direction. Today reading about William Burroughs and Kurt Cobain who both achieved the immortality of fame and genius, one lived to barely 30 and one to almost ninety only slight differences kept the parameters of their lives from being identical. I often speak of following a path, we do at times, have choices to make, and how far can we veer off the path? How many times can we make a new path without getting lost?

Mathematicians hold the shortest distance between two points is a straight line however by expanding that thought if point A and B if they are next to each other that line makes a circle which has no end or beginning.

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps this is a great point to end on this morning. Over the years well past forty now I have heard this phrase in my head. My father had a worn out a tape recording of the entire speech. Maybe a sermon would be a better word, for it was a sermon to mankind not just the United States. I am subscribed to Russell Means website entitled “it is a good day to die”, which is not one of pessimism but one of approaching life without fear and knowing you believe in that which you are striving for. I believe Dr. King would have embraced the Lakota statement as well as he approached life that every day was a good day to die. Sadly his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet as were many great men over the years. Dr. King, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull all did not fear death for they knew in their hearts they were right.

We less brave in this reality can fulfill our dreams but we have to do the work we have to strive to make that dream a reality be it small or monumental. It is our choice where we place point A and point B and whether our path’s become simply a line or a circle. So this morning please keep all in harm’s way, for one of my dreams is a world in peace. So please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

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

What about adding to reality TV, The great teachers of America?

Bird Droppings April 7, 2017
What about adding to reality TV,

The great teachers of America?

 

I hope to get back to grad school here shortly and finish my twelve yearlong doctorate. I am set up to teach several new college classes when I get back on track which had me started on a new syllabus and lesson plans and that got me thinking. Last night when I got home I was sitting mesmerized by the night sounds when the kitchen door opened and our dog poked his head out I am sure wondering what I was doing. I was not in the mood for TV and the sounds of darkness seem to calm me after a seriously crazy week of Spring Break and too much involvement in the medical field. Off in the distance a whippoorwill was calling to one near the house and crickets tree frogs and an occasional owl chimed in. It was an exceptionally human free intrusion on a quiet night since few people influenced noises were present. I found myself thinking to the idea of; I wonder if this is what it sounded like hundreds of years ago just the various birds, crickets, frogs and owls. A heavy dew and rainwater were dripping from pine needles nearby adding to the ambiance. I gave thanks and headed to bed.

 

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Our former federal education program No Child Left behind was about lifting standards higher to make the United States number one in education. In the news literally daily the idea of raising the bar in our educational process was suggested over and over again. We need more students to succeed so we will raise the standards and graduation rates. So to say raise the bar educationally. The theory is that more students will succeed with higher standards for teachers and students. However changing of teaching methods, changing delivery, and even changing standards does not raise the ability or desire of a given student.
I can’t help but think of high jumping when the idea of raising the bar came up. Let us use as acceptable a height of currently thirty six inches and tomorrow we will raise the bar to sixty inches and you will succeed because we have a new way of telling you how to jump. We will use a megaphone now, and just as you jump we will yell “NOW JUMP”. As silly as this sounds this little exercise which is akin to many educational programs is more how not to succeed than before. Before raising the standard did we look at why the students could not clear thirty six inches. Was it the teaching method, or the physical ability of the student, was it the shoes they are wearing, perhaps the surface of the run way to the jump pit is too soft or slippery, is there a wind that knocks the bar off as they approach. In education time after time the mention of zip codes and test scores comes up and in today’s jargon that’s why we need these charter schools run by businesses who know what to do. So in my naiveté, I wonder how does a real estate mogul or software genius know how to teach or seemingly increase knowledge and cognition over say a teacher? Even more interesting is many of so called experts have not succeeded in school and or did not go through college. But they know what it takes to help poor kids or failing kids how to raise the bar.
Basically in any type of medium if a person cannot jump thirty six inches moving to sixty inches will only assure failure. However with practice and time sixty inches is possible but several factors have to be in place and a key one is the desire and attitude of the person doing the jumping. The coach can be the greatest in the world but if the student is content on failure they will fail. A few years back I watched the induction of John Madden into the NFL hall of fame. Madden has been one of my favorite commentators and coaches of all time.

 

“Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to see and listen to what they don’t want to hear.” John Madden

 

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Ara Parasheghan

 

Coaching and teaching the terms are often synonymous in many ways. It was a number of years ago I raised and showed horses. I had a very good Appaloosa gelding we affectionately called “Spot” and with me riding Spot would be third or fourth but always place. Funny thing was with my trainer on board Spot would win. I once asked about this phenomenon and was told the following.

 

“You put a ten horse, and by ten I mean on a scale from 1-10 out with a 1 rider again on a scale of 1-10 and you have a 5 ride, however you put a 10 horse and 10 rider out and what are your odds” Earl Burchett, trainer and judge of Appaloosa and Quarter horses

 

As I thought of my horse days quote, teaching and coaching are similar. A good teacher can get more out of a poor functioning group of students and a poor teacher will get something out of great students. For thirty five years I have asked how do we distinguish who are the good teachers and or coaches are from a mediocre ones.

 

“Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal.” Don Shula

 

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Vince Lombardi

 

Commitment is a key word in selecting a great teacher and or coach and the ability of instilling that commitment in their students and players. Over the years few coaches have been compared to the great Vince Lombardi who is perhaps the greatest of all coaches.

 

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Vince Lombardi

 

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” Vince Lombardi

 

The ability to succeed is based on hard work desire and determination these are skills that great teachers and great coaches can instill in students and players.

 

“The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else” John Madden

 

Far too often we only see the champion and how many folks can remember who finished second or third in the national championship game. This may be a fault in our society that we settle for only the greatest only the best. We live on a bell shape curve and only a few will ever be the best but it is in the trying and it is motivating students into trying that as a teacher is to excel. It is so easy to succumb to the down side of that curve. Fifty percent will not succeed and that mentality is often so powerful that so why should I try harder.

 

“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.” Knute Rockne

 

A slight paraphrase of this great quote from the great Notre Dame Coach, “One teacher teaching is better than fifty saying they do”. This is what it is about; it is about truly teaching, motivating, instilling determination, and desire. It is about coaching and succeeding rather than failure. I hear every day, but I have a seventy percent I am passing that really makes me upset that a child concedes to a seventy percent. Who gave out seventy percent passes but we do it all the time. Can a thirty six inch jumper clear sixty inches? Many years ago a so-so high jumper changed his form. He was also a student of physics and as such and he noticed jumpers were leading with their foot and the body following. He changed his form and lead with his head and torso and high jumping changed forever. Shortly thereafter a world record and Olympic gold went to Dick Fossberry and the Fossberry flop as it was called is now the jumping style of all record holding high jumpers. Funny thing is, today all high jumpers lead with their head a matter of physics getting the heaviest part over first and those muscles pushing it over last which takes less effort and the world record keeps going up. It is about ideas, determination and commitment and any goal can be accomplished.
Can this apply to teaching and learning? Most assuredly we can, but we have to make an effort and we have to look for the means of accomplishing our goal. Federal standards called for research based programs in educational settings yet there are only a few the field is narrow and the difficultly is doing new research which requires guinea pigs and too many teachers and programs do not want to fail. Teacher’s jobs are at stake as well as administrators and so we in trying to improve may actually have boxed ourselves in by limiting improvement to a narrow window of research proven programs, which in reality may or may not work. Are they researched n the same demographics as the students you teach or will be teaching is always a question? Has this program truly been tested on a large enough group? Is there room for improvement and progress within the program?
From personal experience I have watched administrators then limit programs due to their own limitations in imagination and creativity. One of my favorites is the notorious word wall. A teacher must have six inch letters of vocabulary words on the wall and that is it. So an electronic version that is available at home anywhere on computer is not a word wall or a well-designed graphic as a lead in for a students working notebook in class is not a word wall, a set of personal flash cards is not a word wall, t-shirts with vocabulary, sky writing vocabulary words these are not word walls it has to be six inch red letters not yellow or blue. Teaching gets defeated by limits, impositions and parameters imposed by lesser imaginative administrators and legislators.

 

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I went out walking to my quiet spot before posting today sitting at home. I sat in my quiet spot giving thanks for all that has transpired in the past week for each element good and bad makes all involved a better person. I shared with a friend last night how each person we interact with gives us a piece of our life’s puzzle and  shared my business card which is covered in puzzle pieces and they smiled and said it makes sense now. The pieces are all falling in place. So I end my writing for today and get back to the grind of educating the masses and getting phone calls made and computer forms filled in but still the hard part is keeping all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts and always giving thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

Bird Droppings March 6, 2017

Is there a difference between progressive and traditional teachers?

 

This is perhaps a loaded question in lieu of today’s educational climate. Watching the news and the major effort under way to dismantle public schools through vouchers, “school choice” and other means we need to look at what we want from education. In a ninth grade literature class that I happened to co-teach in, I was introduced to the book Freedom Writers Diary and the film based on the book. In some ways the story is similar to the story of Foxfire. Erin Gruell a first year brand new teacher in an inner city school circa 1992 is baffled as to how and approach literature with her classes. Elliot Wiggington n 1966 was just as baffled as a new teacher of literature in the mountains of Rabun County Georgia. I recall my own first time teaching verbal students I should add as I taught several years working with severe and profoundly disabled students who all were nonverbal. I will say my earliest teaching experiences with non-verbal students did instill in me an appreciation for empathy and intuitiveness. That first verbal student class picture is on my wall in my room today from 1976. Over forty years ago I saw the same issues Wiggington and Gruell faced walking into a class of students who did not want to be there. Lesson one is always the hardest.

 

“The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practice three

 

I was given a class of thirteen I was told that they were learning disabled students. As day one progressed I found someone put down the wrong disability on most of these kids. My principal emphasized reading and I found very quickly the highest reading level in the entire class was three or four years behind. I was not privileged to see folders of students I was to only know they are learning disabled. Our readers were the Dick and Jane type books from first grade and my youngest student was twelve. I learned day one these books we were reading would not work period after having one nearly miss my head. At least my teacher’s podium was not set on fire as happened to Elliot Wiggington back in his first teaching job. When I went home that night I swore day two would be different.

 

“Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in terms of Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities. When forced to recognize that the extremes cannot be acted upon, it is still inclined to hold that they are all right in theory but that when it comes to practical matters circumstances compel us to compromise. Educational philosophy is no exception. The history of educational theory is marked by position between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

So many college education programs across the country teach a classroom should be like this with a picture of rows of desks all neat in a row and board in front and so forth like so many classrooms we all have seen. Dewey labeled this traditional education and points to the industrial revolution as the basis for this. In current educational reform which in effect is not reform in terms of improving education for children but an effort to streamline and make more efficient the processes of education so as to be more profitable for corporations now buying into education through charter schools. In effect even a stronger sense of traditional education except now imagine the ideal reform classroom banks of computer carousels with students focused on screens room after room and somewhere a “teacher” monitoring programming of computers. No longer would certified teachers be needed only a programmer. Room after room all sitting in rows focused on the screen. Definitely not the classroom I would want for my kids or grandkids.

 

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one

 

This is why perhaps I am drawn to John Dewey’s writing. In the turn of the century he knew education was the key to democracy and the key to the future. Dewey set a lab school at the University of Chicago that still is operating. It was after several years and a graduate school course that Elliot Wiggington realized he was using ideas from John Dewey.

 

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core Practice two

 

I found on my own it was about learner choice and interaction between students and teachers that learning occurred not in some magically programmed curriculum guide. I asked on day two what my students liked to read and nothing was the basic answer from all of them. So what do you like to do was question two. Now we started to get some answers. A rush of favorites started spilling out wrestling, cars, girls, fast cars, baseball, football and it grew quickly. So day three I brought magazines about cars, wrestling and I did leave playboy at my house but I was tempted. By the end of year reading levels soared and my principal was so excited she ordered next set of Dick and Jane books.
As I watched the film Freedom Writers my thoughts went back to why did this teacher succeed and why did Wiggington succeed. As I looked up information on the Freedom Writers I found in the references a list of teachers on the Wikipedia page. Listed in the references and for further information Ken Carter, education activist and former high school basketball coach portrayed in the 2005 film, Coach Carter, Joe Louis Clark, high school principal portrayed in Lean on Me (film), Ron Clark (teacher), portrayed in the 2006 film, The Ron Clark Story, Pierre Dulaine, dancer and dance educator, Jaime Escalante, high school teacher portrayed in the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, Marilyn Gambrell, parole officer-turned high school teacher portrayed in the 2005 Lifetime movie, Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story, and LouAnne Johnson, writer, teacher and former U.S. Marine featured in the 1995 film, Dangerous Minds. All of these teachers also were successful with their classes. Why were these teachers successful and others perhaps trying to emulate have not succeeded.

 

“As Foxfire grew and gained national recognition, beleaguered teachers all across the country looked at The Foxfire Magazine, and saw an opportunity to change things. They started producing their own magazines in an attempt to “do Foxfire.” Most of these teachers met with partial or little success because they had missed the very heart of why Foxfire succeeded—student choice.” Foxfire Fund website

 

After ten summers of Foxfire teacher’s courses I have found only a few teachers use the ideas and are successful and it comes back to allowing students to take some ownership.

 

“The success of the Foxfire program was due in large part to the fact the students chose to create a magazine. Since the magazine was their choice, the students were deeply invested in the work of creating it. The magazine product itself was not the solution to classroom woes that so many teachers thought it would be. Kaye Carver Collins, an early magazine student and later a Foxfire staff member for 13 years, explained the problem like this: ‘It seemed that people couldn’t understand the importance of the difference between the magazine, which was the choice we made, and the fact that we made a decision.’” Foxfire Fund website

 

After being in education and training for nearly forty five years I have found it is much easier to ask someone to do something than tell them. I have found it is easier if it is of interest to that person and if it applies to that person outside of educational setting even easier to teach.

 

“The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.” Foxfire Core Practice eight

Hanging on my wall over my head in my classroom the Foxfire Core Practices and another poster of children learn what they live. One poster the Foxfire one shows me I am a learner as well as a teacher, more a facilitator. Dr. Laura Nolte’s poster shows me to set the example the children are watching. So progressive versus traditional where does this lead?
“The traditional scheme is, in essence, one of imposition from above and from outside. It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

Teaching should not be simply a control issue. Education needs to be less of a prison and more oriented around creating an atmosphere of learning. Down through history developmentalists including Piaget and Erickson have shown children are learning different than adults and in effect are developing in their learning styles and means. Yet we assume they are operating on an adult level almost from day one. I have brought up several issues why some teachers, who are progressive are successful and others not and why is traditional education not succeeding but simply staying almost on a level progression even reformers ideas are not impacting just making someone somewhere wealthy. I have wandered a bit today and will clarify in days to come trying to raise some questions. As today progresses please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

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