Do we fail ourselves?

Bird Droppings March 15, 2011
Do we fail ourselves?

I left the house just before the rain, sort of sounds like a song starting off. An old Neil Young song Last Trip to Tulsa starts something like that. Anyhow I drove on down the road went by QT since I forgot my water bottle at the house. I have got to have that Smartwater. It seems by the time I got to the school it was really raining hard and as buses started coming this morning traffic was running behind. It was a news story that caught my attention and a comment I made to another teacher as I walked in. The concept of loss control is not a new one. The news in Japan is not getting better as the nuclear reactor is slowly disintegrating and fears of a melt down are accelerating. Many loss controls measures were in place but it seems not enough for a nearly nine point earthquake and tsunami. So often it is if we do not want to learn living on a fault line can have its issues.

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner

I began the morning looking through articles written by several authors. One was a favorite, William Edelen, a former pastor and fighter pilot who writes about numerous topics. Two others that caught my eye this morning were by Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology both were extensive writers. As my reading went further some how I ended up back on John Gardner.
I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning for some time. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One of the students shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard. Another of the students said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. As I looked another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart and I thought back in each of their lives that I had was aware of. All failed in part or all of graduation tests in high school. One of the students failed a portion three times by a total of eight points. This student did not graduate and she opted to get a GED she was tired of failing or risking failing again.

“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I’m going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron

For so many of us we take defeat failure in stride and move on, but for some students failure is a daily event.

“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki

“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose

Amazing as I think back on life to when I was in fourth grade and a teacher was grading me harder than those around me. I think she thought I wouldn’t notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A and I had two wrong and a C. My mother asked what was going on during a parent conference and the teacher stated I wasn’t working up to my ability so she was grading harder. I quit trying in school for some time actually until about two years into my undergraduate studies in college.

“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you’ll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

We set in motion at young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. As I am watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn I have found example is the best teacher and they watch parents. If we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed?

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole

I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one exhibit is a barrel of light bulbs that were all failures and the sign reads it took over 10,00 failures to succeed. But it did work, as I went further and read Coles thought about drowning and was applying it to students that I have currently. Many students have given up because the school and society has given up. In graduate school you take statistics and you gather data, sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail and soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to there graphs and charts

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards” – “Learning by doing, common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name — so let’s call it “teaching by doing.” Alfie Kohn

“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them

Alfie Kohn has been writing about issues in public school for the past few years he is a proponent of public schools and it is how we teach he is trying to address. He promotes instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that desire and promoting success rather than failure. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success as well as their futures. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Sometimes I wonder what it is all about.

Bird Droppings January 21, 2011
Sometimes I wonder what it is we are about.

I started working with a small group of gifted students yesterday getting ready for the AP psychology exam in May. As I talked with them a question I posed as we talked was what motivates them to want to learn, to attempt a college level extracurricular class in psychology. Perhaps it was that in the midst of reading a text on motivation as I tend to do, several other ideas popped up in regards to learning and students I work with. I was thinking of the behavior sequence of antecedent, behavior and consequence. I was trying to determine where and when motivation plays into the sequence. Motivation can be that reward at the end the consequence but what about intrinsic motivations and this was sort of where I Left it.

“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done — men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.” Jean Piaget

Maybe some day I will be famous too for studying my own kids or grandkids, although now that they are in college it would be all memories albeit some good ones. Piaget while limited in his scope of research came up with some very insightful ideas on children and education. Something that intrigues me however is how much time Piaget spent with his children observing, listening, and I wonder did he interact.

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

It is so interesting how John Dewey who died in 1952 was making statements like this in 1914. John Garner former Vice President under F.D.R. was making this statement in 1960.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” William Yeats

Many times as I have written I have borrowed from the late great syndicated columnist Sidney J. Harris, who compares education to stuffing a sausage or finding a fine pearl. I wonder which we would prefer. Many so called teachers liken education to bucket filler, we only have this amount to put in, and then it’s full, in this confined space. It is a limited space at that. I prefer to think that a child is like a vast field or forest and when applied correctly and in a manner appropriate, fire can make that field grow and flourish. In agriculture and timbering it is called a controlled burn. Years ago lightening would do it now with society so restrictive it is controlled, how similar to education.

“Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.” – Francis Keppel

We are each directly involved in our own education as well as the education of every person we come in contact with. We are teachers to friends, family and even our teachers, professors, and even enemies. Education is something that occurs continually not simply in school or college but it is elemental to existence.

“Education, we see, is not merely gaining knowledge or skills helpful toward productive work, though certainly that is a part of it. Rather it is replenishment and an expansion of the natural thirst of the mind and soul. Learning is a gradual process of growth, each step building upon the other. It is a process whereby the learner organizes and integrates not only facts but attitudes and values. We have been told that we must open our minds and our hearts to learn. There is a Chinese proverb: Wisdom is as the moon rises, perceptible not in progress but in result. As our knowledge is converted to wisdom, the door to opportunity is unlocked.” Barbara W. Winder

So education is far more than the confines of school, or of a class, it is a task we are participating in from the day we are born till the day we cease to function as human beings upon the earth.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

For many years I have had upon my wall a banner with this saying upon it, a simple concept. But when you apply it to knowledge to education it becomes so much more powerful.

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

Dreams and aspirations can be achieved through education; we can and will fulfill our dreams if we continue to learn and to advance in our journey in life. It is those who halt, who stagnant and flounder in the stream who never achieves their dreams. A movie title “What dreams may come?” offers more about a concept of afterlife, but as I look back life here now is what we make of it.

“Our dreams – if we can think of it we can attain it” Frank E. Bird Jr.

My dad once told me that when I was a child and as I think back watching him putter with pieces of plastic, metal and such on the kitchen table nearly fifty years ago looking at various safety toe shoes as he puttered. I wasn’t sure what was going on but somewhere he had an idea a dream and eventually it became a metatarsal guard for heavy industry and reduced foot damage significantly. Dreams aided by education and we can accomplish anything.

“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Slowly I am getting back into the swing of things and maybe by next Monday to really be back on track. To end this first week back to school after our extended holiday and to finish off one last quote from nearly 3000 years ago and with that have a great week and keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

“Only the educated are free.” – Epictetus