Constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey and others

Bird Droppings June 20, 2018
Constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey and others

With the bulk of education in the early 1900’s following closely the Industrial Revolution and mass production, a few great thinkers took the concept of the individual child in psychology and education in new directions as to its relationship to children. How children were viewed became the basis for several educators to develop their theories and ideas. Child psychology and child centered educational ideas flowed from these thinkers. John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends. Alfie Kohn educator and author refer to Dewey and to his idea of providing for a lifetime of learning. In his book What does it Mean to be well educated?, Kohn points out, “many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students, instantly responded with the phrase life-long learners.”

Dewey was not alone in his thinking which was in direct contrast to the traditional educational practices of his day. Dewey was frustrated with the rationale of educators when he wrote

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so in trenched in practice. That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process.” John Dewey

The traditional philosophy of education was this focus away from children and their interests, and not trying to understand children simply seeing them as small adults. Traditional education was about efficiency and production which were carryovers from the Industrial revolution. It was time for progressive thought to get away from the assembly line processes of traditional education. One of these new educators a thinker, author, scholar, and advocate for children Alfie Kohn throughout his writing illustrates this point.

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: “What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.” Alfie Kohn

In a burst of educational energy just prior to the turn of the century numerous educators and scholars were developing ideas that often parallel John Dewey as they sought to come up with a better way to teach children. Howard Garner in his book The Unschooled Mind states discusses some of this basic history of progressivism.

“Progressivism is most frequently and most appropriately associated with the name of John Dewey. In fact, however the practices of progressive education had already begun to be implemented in the period before 1896…Leaders like Francis Parker, first superintendent of the Quincy Massachusetts Public Schools, later principal of the Cook county Normal School in Chicago, and finally a founding member of the Chicago Institute, which ultimately gave rise to Dewey’s educational facility at the University of Chicago.” Howard Garner

While Dewey was establishing himself in educational history in the United States across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe Dr. Jean Piaget was developing child centered education which would lead along with Dewey and Vsygotsky to the concept of constructivism. Piaget believed each aspect of child development followed clearly defined stages and this did not change child to child but could occur at differing speeds. Dewey saw the past experiences of children so often not even being recognized and yet at that point is the basis for their ability to learn.

In a similar fashion a medical doctor working with mentally disabled children in a residential setting in Europe was looking at the child centered aspect of education as she developed methodology with a developmental learning process in mind. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Advanced Montessori Method describes her philosophy and understanding of educating children.

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Another psychologist looking at children in a developmental approach was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky whose work was not discovered by the western educators till the later part of the twentieth century. Vygotsky also saw experience as a significant factor in children’s development. Retention of previous experiences facilitates adaptation to the world around them and can give rise to habits when those experiences are repeated. Vygotsky differed with Piaget in that he said learning can precede developmental stages. We can acquire use of a given tool in order to attain a certain stage of development. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development which is “the distance between actual development determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

There are some similarities to Dewey with Vygotsky; much like Dewey he also felt there was a significant element of group interaction needed for education to be meaningful. The ideal school for Dewey was one that took the form of an “embryonic social community,” one in which students were encouraged to cooperate and work together and learn from each other as well as their teachers.

The originators of constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey all started with psychology and that the child is a unique individual as they developed their interpretations and understandings of learning and education. Even today the child is not the focus of education. One need only to leaf through the tables of contents in recent educational journals to discern that the individual child is not the focus of educational reform. Each of these great educators believed in the act of doing as a way to learn and as Ted Sizer points out that there is context. “What I have learned is context is everything….. The memorable learning was that you have to be very respectful and very sensitive to the values, to the attitudes that youngsters bring into class, that their parents have, which the community has”. Montessori and Piaget leaned towards the developmental stages in child development and Dewey and Vygotsky while accepting developmentally sound stages as real felt the community, peer group and teachers elevated learning past developmental points of reference. Maybe it is time to look back to Dewey.

“Curriculum has held our attention for generations because those who think seriously about education understand its inherent possibility. Maxine Greene’s call for a return to the search for John Dewey’s great community, her call to rise to the challenge of coming together without losing each person’s unique way of being in the world challenges our educational imagination.” Mary Aswell Doll

For Dewey an educational experience had to be connected to the prior personal experience of students and also to a widening or deepening of future experience. It was through reflection that Dewey saw the ability to go beyond where you were now. John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do “resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes”. The act of reflection is taking a given reference and moving ahead to a new possibility. Often it is the teacher who provides the window for reflection to occur.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Parker Palmer

It was in this reflective, imaginative undertaking of Dewey’s that provided ideas and thoughts that led Elliot Eisner to Art Education. In his writings Eisner looks to the arts as a basis for education and his ideas and thoughts offer a new stream from Dewey. John Dewey once commented that the stamp of the aesthetic needed to be on any intellectual idea in order for that idea to be complete. It is this feel both imaginative and sensible that the so-called academic studies would foster if they were modeled after the arts. Dewey identified making things as one of four fundamental interests of children. Unhappily, because schools put so little value on making things, most of us grow up with contempt for work done with our hands. Eisner drew often from Dewey’s idea on needing context and relevance for learning to be genuine and to be lasting. Eisner places experience at the center of learning.

“It is through the content of our experiences that we are able to perform two very important cognitive operations: we are able to remember and we are able to imagine…. Imagination …works with the qualities we have experienced. What was not first in the hand cannot later be in the head.” Elliot Eisner

“One of the potential virtues of situated learning is that it increases the probability that students will be able to apply what they have learned. When the conditions of learning are remote from the situations or tasks in which what is learned can be applied, the likely hood of application or some would say transfer is diminished.” Elliot Eisner

The idea of imagination needing to have a basis in reality, in the context, is of significance. It is imagination that brings meaning, purpose, and application to what is learned.

“Imagination for Dewey, explores alternative possibilities for action within a selected context of ongoing activity. Imagination enables the search for ideas that can reconstruct the situation. It takes the context and its data, including emotional sympathetic data, as intuited and determined by selective interests and transforms them into a plan of action, an idea that if acted upon might allow the agent to achieve the desired ideal in reality.” Jim Garrison

Eisner believes in diversity, that this is the key to education and learning and through this provides richness for our culture as well. Continuing in that same line of thought, Maxine Greene educator, philosopher and pioneer sees reality after all as interpreted experience and that to limit learners to a single dominant mode of interpreting their experience may be to frustrate their individual pursuits of meaning and consequently, their desires to come to know, and to learn.

With much of her work is based on the concept of caring, Nel Noddings defines education “as a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation”. Eisner and Barone understand that the aesthetics of experiences is what builds those in our minds and provides the means to imagine and be creative. The concept of Aesthetic Learning and Education is one of understanding, of perception and ultimately of creativity. Eisner looks at teaching as artistry, it is the ability to craft a performance and to provide the students with the mediums and means to perceive and understand their world.

For John Dewey, aesthetic experiences are not confined to high art, but arise from within the interaction of human organisms with their surroundings. Thomas Barone points to Dewey being the primary thinker that envisioned art and aesthetics having a central role in education and in learning. Thomas Barone is concerned as are many other progressive educators with the linear format of traditional education.

“If students are not given access to metaphoric learning activities, if the shape of their learning is always linear and closed, how will their capacity for creativity and invention be developed?” Thomas Barone

Perhaps in my research and reading I am getting a bit over board with Dewey and education but I see tie ins to daily living, to how we respond to others, to what the future holds for us and our grandchildren. If each of us took a bit more time to try and understand why so much of what is going on in society is going on maybe just maybe we could finally realize much of this does not need to be happening. So again after nearly eleven years of daily writing I ask as I do every 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

 

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

Bird Droppings June 17, 2018

Amazing how intertwined the strands of life really are

 

I was asked at dinner one time when did I start teaching and I responded at age twelve. The group I was with was thinking I was being my typical sarcastic self. Then I explained I started teaching swimming with my father to beginners at twelve. So my father got me into teaching. I have been thinking about him quite a bit lately. Dad passed away in 2007 but for some reason lately it amazes how much he influenced my philosophy and understanding of teaching.

 

So from my father’s start at teaching swimming lesson now nearly sixty years later it has taken many twists and turns in the journey for my own philosophical view of life and teaching to evolve. That journey has wound around many switchbacks, trails and pathways and now focuses on the interconnectedness of all that is.

 

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” John Dewey

 

I am sitting in my writing nook at home this afternoon on a quiet day and one of excitement as I think back on the excitement and power emanating in the room full of teachers at my last Foxfire course. I started thinking about what I was going to write today as a continuation of my reflective effort yesterday. My thoughts took me back to a question on my Doctorate Comprehensive exams offered to me by one of my professors and then how I responded. Out of John Dewey came two streams of thought although intertwined, that of experiential constructivist thinking and of art and aesthetic based learning. I answered or should say started to answer using Aldus Huxley who had published a book in 1932, Content and Pretexts.

 

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley, Content and Pretexts

 

Back in the early 1900’s Carl Jung coined a word, the term synchronicity to describe meaningful intertwining’s in life that appear to be by chance yet have so much significance. My life has been a constant trail of coincidences and synchronous events. I attended a co-teaching seminar on Thursday at our School Board office and was immediately drawn into dialogue with one of the instructors. She had mentioned several points that intrigued me and I went up to talk with her at the first break. I found it amusing to be talking to someone born after I started working with special needs kids who is now teaching the class I am taking. I walked away revitalized over an idea that her thoughts emulated and was on Facebook when I sat down at my computer.

 

“Students, who are loved at home, come to school to learn, students who aren’t come to school to be loved.” Nicholas A. Ferroni

 

I found this simple statement by Nicholas Ferroni, who is an educator, mostly teaching lower-income students focusing on history and deep personal commitment, concern and care. I found it to be a profound thought and shared on my own Facebook page. In class when I had used this there was more follow up about what I consider to be at the heart and soul of teaching and that is building relationships and community.

 

This time of year I am traditionally back and forth to North Georgia or so it has been for the past eleven summers to a program taught by faculty from Piedmont College and housed on the Foxfire Property in Mountain City Georgia. The course was taught to teachers from literally around the world who show up to learn about this simple approach to teaching. Over the years of my own research I have met and discussed learning and education with hundreds if not thousands of students, teachers and trainers. One thought that has stuck with me is from Max Thompson of Learning Focus School fame. “It’s not about the teaching it’s about the learning”

 

“We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.” Carl Rogers

 

With all the hoopla about testing and evaluation of teachers it is truly difficult for teachers to see the real fruits of their labors their students twenty years from now. In my own research I have discussed and talked with many former students of the Foxfire approach to teaching who were taught in this manner some nearly forty six years ago. A few years back on an afternoon while at Foxfire a good friend joined us who had been a student of the Foxfire program in 1970 and staff member of Foxfire from 1971-76. Laurie Brunson Alteri. Laurie talked about many things in the two hours she kept the teachers and teachers to be entranced with her love of and enthusiasm for the program. But she warned it is not a template to follow it is far more and that is where so many teachers fall short. We all tend to be lazy and want to open the box of education and poof everything falls in place and that is not how it works. Laurie used an example that has stuck with me. “In biology when you dissect a frog and look at all the parts after you are done all you have is a dead frog”.

 

As I thought sadly far too many dissect and then miss the whole point of a way of teaching or way of life. As Laurie spoke she referenced the idea of an organism, a living organism and my small bit of Greek language from my seminary experiences in a bygone era I remembered the word Koininia, which literally is community. Laurie suggested a classroom should be like an organism alive and growing changing as it adapts. This is how she described her experiences in Foxfire.

 

Another student in the class during the following discussions pointed out how teacher personalities often create those great classrooms. But personalities of teachers cannot or is difficult to be replicated. Ron Clark’s school came out in the discussions and his success. However as I thought I began seeing parallels between various programs and approaches to teaching.  Over the past few days I have been exploring my own idea of pedagogy how do I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers, Alfie Kohn, Robert Fried, Maxine Greene, Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Phillip Crosby, my father, Carl Jung, Ivan Illich, and numerous other authors, thinkers, teachers and philosophers.

 

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

 

I have borrowed as I developed my own thinking from Carl Rogers, William Ayers, Max Thompson, John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, and of course the Foxfire Approach. Many of these thinkers were controversial in their own time, considered too progressive and their ideas are still considered perhaps utopian to borrow words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching that in and of themselves are controversial as well. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas, perceptions and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations.

 

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

 

For nearly eleven years every summer I have returned to the mountains of North Georgia to revitalize my teaching heart and soul. An approach to teaching based on the philosophies of John Dewey. Technically it is simply a program of thought focused around ten core practices.

 

  1. From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.

 

  1. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

 

  1. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

 

  1. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

 

  1. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.

 

  1. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

 

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalizes me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon us mandated state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

 

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

 

On one of my ventures as I walked into the main conference lodge and sort of was introduced since it was in the middle of a presentation I sat down and listened to an excellent group of teachers.  The first one I heard and I am sorry I did not hear everyone presentation was already underway.

 

The first presenter I heard raised questions why does the concept of Foxfire not get going? Why not have every teacher required to attend Foxfire courses? What happens when teachers leave Foxfire that it is not continued? Questions I have raised more than once and come back to teacher personalities. Foxfire is not a template as Laurie Alteri said several years ago. Foxfire is more of simply what good teachers do. I have the Ten Core Practices posted on my wall in my room and daily review and would ask myself am I doing this or attempting that. I connected with this presenters questions. As I sat down thinking I began to more in detail realize how we are connected as teachers. I recalled a quote from a speech in 1854 by Chief Seattle.

 

“Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, 1854

 

The next presenter raised more questions in regards to her own teaching and use of what she had experienced at the program. Laura handed out puzzle pieces to each member of the group and asked them to what about an experience this past week on the back of the puzzle piece. She has only been teaching for a year and was excited about Foxfire and then had the group put the puzzle together. She talked about John Dewey and embracing what we each bring in terms of experiences and the pieces of my own web continued connecting. I shared my business card with her which is covered in puzzle pieces. I have long held education is about putting the puzzle of the child together.

 

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

The next presenter continued to interact and connect with the group and I thought it was directly at me. The presenter explained how she had been diagnosed with ADD and was put on medications and as a teenager stopped and forced herself to cope as to not be different from other kids. I thought back to my own high school experience and my own interactions with kids on medications as a special education teacher. I thought back to my Thursday conference and an instructor throwing ideas out that many had never experienced. She brought up the idea of a safe place for kids. An idea I have for many years called a sanctuary. There needs to be a place where a kid who may have an issue can sit down and talk with someone. I tend to not a big fan of many guidance counselors who simply say come back at 2:18 and we will change your schedule. She offered more questions and more interconnections. Teaching is about relationships right up my alley.

 

“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

 

A young lady came up to present and started crying she shared her life experience of being in an interracial marriage and the impact that this made on her. As she talked she said her life revolves around the love of her family. I knew immediately even before sarcastically asking if she was a cheerleader in high school and found she actually coached cheerleading now in high school. She had everyone pick up a paint chip sample card and write four important words to them on the card. She was going to make a booklet and send around so each member of the group could add thoughts to the project. Relationships continued to be a building block in the day. A key thought people only ask once when questioning about her interracial marriage. I thought at first how difficult for all of those once’s and then it hit me one times one is still only one.

 

“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

 

The young fellow who went next never thought he would be a teacher but an entire sequence of coincidences led him into the MAT program at Piedmont and into teaching. A component of the Foxfire approach that had significance to him was freedom, the ability to do whatever you want. Granted in education and in school there are norms and rules within which that freedom is imposed but still students have input. Motivation came up and a great illustration of a six pack of air in a bottle. Even Foxfire air could not be sold for any amount of money. We tend to try and motivate ids in school using things which they do not want. My Thursday conference went into this same area of thought. It is difficult to motivate if there is no desire for the consequence. The words

 

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

 

My Friday flowed one presenter to the next each adding to my own amazement with how we were so connected. One of the presenters put tape on the floor and used a warm activity from the Freedom Writers. She emphasized that all kids are different and have to be met where they are. She was excited about her week at Foxfire and shared what she was taking home. We need to focus on kids. So many teachers forget they are teaching for the sake of kids and not simply to teach. She confessed it is not about what I want. I shared with her a Harry Chapin song “Flowers are red”. All teachers should listen to it.

 

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.” W. Whitman

 

The last presenter of the afternoon that I was able to stay for took the group outside and did a simple game several items that were recyclable were placed on a poster board and each member of the group was to go towards and build a  group around an item With that what else could that item be used for. Everyone had a use for the many pieces of junk. After some discussion she asked, how are you feeling and everyone wrote a word on the poster board.

 

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

 

Laurence Van der Post lived some might say in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert he was raised by a Bushmen nanny and later named as the first non-royal Godfather, in history to Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen as well as numerous articles and books of his travels around the world. While a very solitary and reclusive people in part due to encroachment and government pressures the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe and people and to them community was life itself. I started thinking back to my paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “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.”

 

“Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening…The average American should be content with their humble role in life, because they’re not tempted to think about any other role.” William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 1889

 

Over the years my room at the high school had 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 constraints imposed with standards and a teachers understanding of what is to be accomplished in a given time.

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Henry David Thoreau

 

There were so many events through the past few days it is hard to pinpoint any one single event that stands out. There are people I have met and talked with and people who I barely had a word with. I was coming home after dropping off my mother’s dinner last night and stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. A young man came up to me and asked me about antifreeze. He was holding a jug of antifreeze and asked if it was the right kind for a 1993 Ford. On the label very clearly it read 1989 and newer. It hit me he could not read. As all of the events of the past few days made sense the presentations and conferences, discussions and conversations all came together. We are all connected please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Why is seeking peace so difficult?

Bird Droppings June 13, 2018
Why is seeking peace so difficult?

 

Around the world armies are moving as I write. There are missiles are being aimed and tanks rolling. War is a profit driving machine for industry and sadly more so about money than ideology. I have always been against war and always have felt there are other ways to solve issues.

 

“In this week of great destruction, we must each choose what road we are to walk and live. The road of destruction is war, it has always been so. The road of creation is deeper and more complicated; it has always involved forgiveness, love, light, prayer, and spirit. In these new millennia we have a chance to change the way we see other beings to one of connectedness and unity. We have a chance to let go of the ancient ways of war and conflict, of who is right, of being better, of senseless killing. This week has thrown us back on the old model of the last millennia.” Michael Samuels M.D. and Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD, Path of the Feather

 

I miss being in the Foxfire class during the summer normally this time of year. Although in my current dissertation writing mode writing, research and reading is hours a day. However there is something about spending 24 hours a day with other teachers discussing education and learning that is significant. Thinking back during one moment of time between classes and meetings I happen to be sitting in at an Ingles Store in North Georgia which happened to have a Starbucks. A young gentlemen walked by with two peace symbols tattooed on his calf. It caught my attention and got me thinking back to several summers ago when I was driving up to this same spot to visit the Foxfire museum I watched seven people marching for peace in the small town of Clayton, Georgia. My writing today started with a few lines from a Navaho prophecy edited by Dr.’s Samuels and Rockwood. In my own searching reading and writing so often the contrast of peace versus war comes up, as does so many dualities in our world.

 

“The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, ‘I was wrong’.” Sydney J. Harris

 

For many Sydney J. Harris is simply an old forgotten columnist from by gone days when people happen to actually read hardcopy. I frequently use quotes from his essays and columns. His words are powerful and I thank a dear friend from nearly thirteen years ago for showing me his work. Often as I find articles he wrote from the sixties and seventies and I wonder why I missed them then. I am reminded often it was not the time, as I make reference to my Jungian philosophy and orientation. All of the pieces were not in place at that time for me to understand to recognize what it was he is saying. In my emails and communications often I see misunderstanding and ignorance, myself included. I recall a friend writing from his heart and others only could criticize and or turn away and not understand, so often not even reading the words.

 

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” Sydney J. Harris

 

“An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.” Sydney J. Harris

 

Sitting here most mornings it is so easy to formulate solutions and fantasize a world free from strife and turmoil and I as I write this morning sitting at home in my writing area having read the current news, talk of new troop deployments in Yemen which are hinted from Saudi Arabia my heart sinks. But then I walk away from my computer and wonder what is it we are trying to do in the world. Tomorrow morning a big sale at one of the local department stores, with the early bird sale masses of humanity will line up to get the best deals and gasoline will still be artificially high so our wonderful gas company’s profits can recoup several years of cheap gas and to bolster or hinder the economy, depending on whose view you take.
I often wonder who came up with thinking like that in any other business sooner or later someone would see the ridiculous, it has been nearly ten years that Exxon just about each quarter has the highest profits ever in one headline and on another gasoline is at its highest ever, such an interesting parallel we seem to miss. A good point however at least someone is thinking with the high court decisions made this week and as our Supreme Court judges slowly age, a poll was taken as to what type of judge should replace any who should step down. Most now want a moderate there are still a few wanting conservatives and only about a quarter want a liberal. Somewhere there was an extra three percent I am assuming they were undecided.

 

“Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” Sydney J. Harris

 

That simple reminder from Harris needs to come up every day. I am excited to be at home today with our son, his wife and our grandbaby visiting from North Carolina. It is always good to wake up to a new morning and be able to go watered my herb garden. We each need to look at our pathway and see which direction we are going. Looking back at the first quote are we choosing the path of destruction or of creation as the Navaho say. My dear friends 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)

bird

 

I wonder what my favorite store is; Then again is it even important?

Bird Droppings June 5, 2018
I wonder what my favorite store is;
Then again is it even important?

 

Interesting I had two thoughts earlier in the week as I started the day out. One I heard on the radio going to get some air in my wife’s tire in her car from a satellite radio announcer recalling an old Bush quote, and the other thought is from Harry Potter. Amazing what pops up before dawn as I ponder and wander and a trip to one of my favorite stores, Quick Trip. QT is still my favorite since they are open twenty four hours a day however it is only since our Super Kroger went to a shortened day closing around 1:00 AM through 6:00 AM. You just never know when you might need something. It had been rather hectic this week between exercise, cooking, writing, cutting grass, reading, doing laundry and catching up on emails and amazingly it has been relaxing. What a glorious week still ahead?

 

“It is not about the goods we accumulate but about the good we do” George W. Bush

 

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” Professor Dumbledore to Harry in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” by J.K. Rowling

 

I wish it would be possible to believe the first, but with trying to drill for oil in wilderness Alaska, off shore in Florida and other parts of the country and friends in high places reaping huge profits and a war costing trillions of dollars that was bogus from many people’s standpoint while he was in office and it makes it hard to grasp philosophically. Although perhaps as some people indicated in writing and articles he was simply a puppet of others. Still at the time war efforts and accumulation seemed more important than doing any sort of good. Of course, the philosophy of the ends justifies the means could possibly be applied.
That was sort of the approach when the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati zoo and some people had the attitude well it’s only a pigeon. Sadly once there were billions flying over the forests of the east coast, and yes it is only a pigeon except we can never at this time replicate that one, it is gone. The Alaska wilderness even though a great expanse when it is gone it is gone and can never be replicated. But if the end justifies it many people see no problem. However as I sat this morning, perhaps a better brighter thought from J.K. Rowling thorough the character of Dumbledore “it is our choices that show who we really our”. I wonder how soon Harry Potter books will be classics and teachers will be analyzing the plots and developing theories as to why Rowling characterized Harry as a boy or teenager and why an owl as his companion versus a weasel.
I recall eleventh or twelfth grade English and my teacher Ms. Stern and the Melville novel classic, Moby Dick. According to her lessons and teachings, the ship represented the world and Ishmael the wanderer got stuck on that ship. What was Melville really telling us besides a great story and history of New England’s whaling industry? I really enjoyed the story but not the analysis, and when I wrote my opinion based on my own love of history, it was wrong according to Ms. Stern. Many years ago the choices we make not our abilities was the credo. I do think however had I been in a different teacher’s class my idea of a historical novel on the short lived whaling industry would have been applauded.

 

”Ability is of little account without opportunity.” Napoleon Bonaparte

 

“The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary.” Thomas A. Edison

 

It is about being at the right place at the right time or is it a choice we make. It is also about applying and choosing when opportunity provides a window, and then plot thickens. In some of my more recent readings several differing views and yet again somewhat in a line of thought that is parallel the following quote.

 

“All things are made of energy. Thoughts and feelings, for example, are nothing more than energy. Through the choices, we make, our thoughts and feelings, and even our actions, take on a distinctive nature according to the direction in which they are moved.” Dr. Michael Garrett, Walking on the wind

 

“It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test.” Elbert Hubbard

 

Ability is an added aspect of today’s search and seeing in others that ability almost is an intuitive aspect of humanity.

 

“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T. Washington

 

This morning as I was being a bit energetic I walked a mile in the pool before breakfast. I did some weed eating and fixed breakfast. I did however go out and sit pondering on my back porch for some time. I was listening intently to nature and even sort of intermingled man’s interactions with an occasional car or truck sound in the distance. I have started walking daily in our pool. I am up to a mile and half each day. Amazing how much better I feel as I get through each day. I Am writing today the balance of my dissertation preprospectus.

 

I enjoy my time where I can read and answer emails and work on my photography often downloading a gazillion photos to Facebook and working in my gardens. One of my emails from a now senior in high school recently was about realizing school was nearing the end and graduation was only a year ahead. They would have to make a way in life. In that same email concern for a friend stationed in the Middle East was almost heart rending. Watching the news doesn’t give justice to friends and families with loved ones overseas still in harm’s way, as I think, choices we make. Yesterday as I went home I recalled seeing a flag our town had a memorial to a recent fallen local fellow who was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan. In other emails with a suggestion of a book to read and out of 70 or so yesterday and this morning maybe those three really truly caught my attention.
I started with a Bush quote and maybe that applies to a job search that I am starting. So many of the following what we do with our lives is our choice how the world will see that choice is dependent upon the direction and choices we make. It is not the ability that you will be known for or how great an actor or musician or football player but what you do with your talent is what is seen. Aspects of family are so crucial and friends equally as well and always seek to learn to know more reading, writing, thinking and reflecting.

 

“If there were no writers there will be no readers” unknown source

 

“Choose wisely”, it has been said and in the end some do and some will not. So today take stock of where you are and look at the road ahead and pick that path way that will direct you where you need to be.

 

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho

 

In today’s hectic world we all look for quick solutions, five minute abs, six minutes to wisdom, and one minute egg. Wisdom is not on the stock exchange; it is not a brokered commodity. It is there, and it is a journey. The journey is not an easy one and to even be involved in finding wisdom is difficult. It is only those who actually travel that road who truly become wise.

 

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton

 

Several nights ago I was bored no American Idol, Netflix was acting up, no new NCIS, House is gone, and I put on a video of Star Trek of all things, “Star Trek Insurrection”. The plot revolves around a planet where all is at peace. The few residents, all 600 have forsaken technology for art, or literature, for the aesthetics in life and for all that they can make of themselves. Interestingly a weaver studies 40 years to become an apprentice and apprentice another 40 to become a master weaver of rugs and tapestries. These people live on a planet whose innate radiation prolongs life and rejuvenates them cellular, so they have time to accomplish what it is inside them. It sounds so easy when the time allows it.
Daniel Day Lewis, actor went and became a cobbler. He took a five year hiatus from movies to study cobbling, (shoe making) in Europe from the masters. As the Star Trek movie progressed a comment was made about a perfect moment, a special moment that stands out above all else. Captain Pickard mentioned seeing earth from space for the first time; many astronauts recall that moment. For me it was a sunrise over the Atlantic one morning on Cumberland Island with the waves splashing about and the most brilliant reds and oranges I have ever seen. A shrimp boat slowly moved through this picture yet in its awesomeness the boat was insignificant.
As Pickard spoke with this woman on this planet of a perfect moment, she then offered now to learn to make every moment prefect, and the movie continued and soon he was seeing a hummingbird flit to a flower or pollen blown from a flower.

“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I am intrigued as I read various thoughts on wisdom and for some reason I am always drawn to Emerson. He was controversial to some in his time yet perhaps one of the greatest thinkers as well as poet of his lifetime. He was alluding to wisdom as a temporary entity in his statement. The next quote is an interesting statement from a President oft misunderstood

 

“Wisdom oft times consists of knowing what to do next.” Herbert Clark Hoover

 

“Wisdom begins at the end.” Daniel Webster

 

So often we spend time simply doing, not seeking, we spend time worrying about which path to travel or preparing our needs for the journey and worrying about the destination. We forget to go, and there we are no better and no worse, only we are where we were to start still. Somewhere in among all things is the destination but the destination is not necessarily the end but a point B of the line AB and still out there is C and D and E and much more. My procrastinating journey of my doctorate, wandering taking pictures which lead me flower to flower and occasionally to one I have never seen and actually a few years ago I photographed an Atlantic pigeon wings or butterfly pea, Clitoria marina. It was growing along a dirt road near an old homestead sadly now in some construction it is gone, and I have found it nowhere else in the area but did find a source for seeds today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.

 

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

Bird Droppings June 4, 2018
Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

 

I just finished my first year of teaching retirement from high school. Thinking back my last day was rough but not quite as bad, tense and hectic as my first on September 11, 2001. I began my last day of teaching thinking back to a song one of my students chose to write about several years ago, “Live like you were dying” by Tim McGraw. A dear friend passed away a few weeks back and it is difficult to think in terms of not seeing him again. As I write today thinking more about how many friends are still around, do I want to see and talk to each, one more time.

 

I have been sorting through books and files and found a small inspirational book based on Tim McGraw’s song. The song came up when I had given a writing assignment to pick a favorite song, find the lyrics then explain the song. There is something about country music and lyrics and emotions that hit you.

 

As various music genre came forth that one song stood out among all the rest that day. Here we can argue genres and such although I did use Beyoncé and Bob Dylan in a sarcastic graphic mainly pointed at our system of measuring schools. Bob Dylan if anyone is not aware has been chosen as the greatest song writer of all time and now a Nobel Prize winner for literature. Some can argue and I got into this the other day with a fellow teacher and friend as I was picking on his heavy metal blaring after hours. I used the rock and roll hall of fame as an example and Dylan has songs covered by the greats, “Knockin on Heaven’s door” and “All along the watchtower” to name a few.

 

“You have to do what you love to do, not get stuck in that comfort zone of a regular job. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.” Lucinda Basset

 

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

 

Searching for words midst a deluge of thought I got caught up in Tim McGraw’s words from that assignment so many years back.

 

“I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about” Tim McGraw

 

We take life so often for granted, wasting precious moments, missing bits and pieces as we go hurriedly to the next event of the day. My dear friend I had not seen since 1994 or so but we communicated regularly on Facebook. Sharing all of those years in photos and one line captions.

 

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” Josh Billings

 

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

 

“I went Rocky Mountain climbing I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu and then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I watched an eagle as it was flying and he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Tim McGraw

 

Yesterday morning I walked out as I do so many mornings early in the day, to my right clearing the pines a great smile of a moon almost half a full moon but still a smile. The stars and always present clouds added to the effect and surrounding me that great chorus of crickets and tree frogs, it was literally over whelming. I have yet to figure how crickets in our neighborhood can harmonize. Perhaps they were singing for my friend.

 

“The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion.” Nadia Boulanger

 

“On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.” Buddha

 

We each search and try to find the pathway that is best for us as we journey through life. How and why we go the direction we do is our choice and the attitude that we have again is our choice. As I am reading again the words from Tom McGraw’s song and listening to teenagers respond is interesting, living each day to the fullest is not just about riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds or mountain climbing in the Rockies. It is more about loving deeper and speaking sweeter, it is the moments not the events, it is extracting as much as possible and giving as much as possible in each second of each day.

 

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t and I became a friend a friend would like to have” Tim McGraw

 

Again a flash back, to a phone call several years ago. It was again a few years back another incident struck me, my middle son called from college and sounded upset there was an un-easiness in his voice. A female student had killed herself in the dorm; several of his friends were peer leaders on that hall. In another situation I was informed two students I have been talking with for three years were both pregnant distant events each encompassing in its own, a life ended and lives starting. One of the girls sought me out by to tell me personally after I had heard rumors.

 

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

 

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

 

It has been many years since I would walk out into the pastures at night and hear the snorting of our buffalo. It is so hard to explain seeing a bull buffalo’s breath blowing across the grass in the wee hours of the morning on a cool day, or watching fireflies skirt the kudzu and sumac of our back yard. A young lady takes her life, she had a plan with a stopping point I wonder if she lived as if she were dying or was she dying so she could live? What a paradox we set in motion as we journey each day.

 

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

“I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end how’s it hit you when you get that kinda news man what’d you do…….live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about what’d you do with it what did you do with it” Tim McGraw

 

I won’t be riding bulls or skydiving but I will be smiling and I will love and I will be living each moment that I have got and hopefully set an example for the students I teach. I may make a few more day trips this summer to spend precious moments with friends. So my dear friends take a moment and truly think about it, live your moments to the fullest and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please be sure to give thanks for the moments namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

Bird Droppings May 31, 2018
Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

 

For nearly fourteen years I have been involved as a student, instructor, visiting, taking photos and offering my two cents at the Foxfire Approach to Teaching Course. The program has been put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia at the Foxfire museum. This course is an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. While the course is still offered it is now in the class room at the college.

 

The experience with Foxfire for me has been almost addicting. One Monday afternoon a few years back as I made my way home in the pouring rain from Black Rock mountain I had been invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. Within the course we had talked about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I would come away excited about teaching and education as well and couple that with the many new friends made during the day or two I would be involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off it is a great experience.

 

About four years ago as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in, Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

 

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto,
The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts one’s self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leaving its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

 

I now have read through this paragraph many times and each time found a bit more. I was t I have had glancing through several books this morning one is an autobiography of the founder of Foxfire who came into this purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to several of his former students and all consider him to be a great teacher, some have said one of the best they have ever had. A thought on my mind for nearly forty years as I have watched enthusiastic young teachers start out and within five or six months they go from creative dynamos to doing as so many others do running worksheets and gong page by page through the text book. The founder of Foxfire was addressing this in his book and offered the following.

 

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals   myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

 

Keeping the energy flowing and rejuvenating the brain and soul are crucial to being a good if not great teacher. I find my trips to the Foxfire courses and interacting with current and new teachers to be offered me an ongoing window into what possibilities are out there. Thinking back to my seminary days so many years ago and the affiliated churches there was the use of evangelists going church to church to re-inspire the throngs to the church and its mission. Over the years the programs at mass teacher events that are designed to do this is far more often too similar to a tent service alongside the road and fish oil hucksters working from their peddlers wagon for most teachers to believe. In education as John Dewey over and over again points out.

 

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalized me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon us mandated state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

 

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

 

Over the years I have done this type of exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses we develop a good teacher/bad teacher listing which often would be very similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I actually sat here this morning developing a rubric based on Lisa Delpit’s introduction. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.
I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers years ago but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who will see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which and that due to being a resource teacher in special education addressing differing earning styles and needs. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.

 

“Studies of teacher evaluation by principal observation and report have been found to be under representative sampling, biased reporting, disruption caused by class room visit, and limitations of the principal imposed by misleading or truncated reporting systems such as checklists and narrow anecdotal systems.” K. Peterson

 

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned, and sadly actually more of a reading score than subject matter. That is leaving out a crucial piece, for example with students that have a State End of Course Test in their class that test counts twenty percent of their final grade and we say try and not teach to the test.
Perhaps in my zeal from having been to and going back to Foxfire classes over the years I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers to engage students and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day 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

 

 

Cultivating the soul and or inner self

Bird Droppings May 25, 2018
Cultivating the soul and or inner self

 

I started my morning today with a swim. I should say a walk in water. Several years back I was directed by my orthopedic doctor to use water therapy for my back. The only place near was difficult to get an appointment. Long story short we put in an above ground twenty four foot pool. I walk in circles around pool and count laps. Today I started the day with a half mile of laps. While walking in the water I had R. Carlos Nakai flute music on sound system. As I walk I see nature around me. A hummingbird checking our feeders. First one I have seen this year. A squirrel running the fence line heading to nut trees. I was thinking as I walked how quiet the people sounds were all I heard was Nakai and nature. No road sounds or Air Conditioners humming. I was able to feel the water hear the wounds and see the green of life.

 

“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 a very spiritual undertaking for many tribes, 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, former California University Student, friend, mother, Delta Stewardess, and often philosophy genius

 

Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning although she was a country away in California 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)

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