Learning to Understand and or

Bird Droppings September 23, 2011
Learning to Understand and or
Trying to come to grips with terminal consequences

Most recently the state of Georgia’s attention was drawn to a state prison in a small rural community just off the interstate. The Jackson State Prison is home to at least one inmate that I know a former student serving three life sentences. When I left teaching in 1977 I left a group of thirteen kids all of whom had learning issues simply classified as Learning Disabilities. One student in particular I had on several occasions asked and in writing proposed he be psychologically evaluated. This young man worked for me my summer after leaving teaching on our family farm and I will never forget after going to see a midnight showing of George Romero’s original zombie movie of how he and the other former student of mine who was working as well for me that summer did not want to stay in the quest house and asked to sleep in my wife’s and mine living room.
My last semester teaching in South Georgia this particular student had turned fifteen and was a strong average size kid although obviously from his demeanor had some physical and possibly mental issues. There was a slight speech impediment, a bit of shuffle to his gait very similar to what you might see in mild CP kids. The aspect of his behavior that concerned me was his self abusive bouts of tantrums where he would bang his head on a tree or brick wall when mad at himself. One day for a show and tell he brought his favorite pet that he talked about every chance he could his fluffy hamster. During a break several of the kids came in sort of scared and informed me he had stomped his hamster. I went out and he had already buried his hamster I asked what happened and was informed the hamster had bitten him so he stomped it. Over the next few weeks before I left that program he never brought up that incident again it was a terminal consequence.
Two years later I get a call to come south again this time to go to his mother’s funeral she had been diagnosed with cancer about a year earlier. I went to the funeral and this young man looked haggard and depressed. Through his life time his mother basically did everything from him or I should say provided directions. He had a difficult time deciding what to do or how to do things. About this same time his sister lost a baby to infanticide, the boyfriend angry over attention baby was getting smothered the baby while he slept. The family was having little time to cope with any grief. My former student now eighteen and legal drinking age was drinking heavily and wandering the streets of his town arrested several times and finally in an attempted rape of his former principals housekeeper institutionalized at the largest mental hospital in the world. He begged to stay since they told him what to do but after six months as downsizing was beginning he was released to a group home. Somehow he was allowed to babysit for two children. One day he stabbed the mother killing her and almost killed both children and police found him sitting on his bed with the knife in the kitchen sink. He was sentenced to three life sentences without any chance of parole. He has spent the last nearly thirty years living at the mental unit of Jackson State Prison.
On Wednesday another inmate made famous through his recent attempts to have a stay of execution Troy Davis was executed. As a society we have terminal consequences for specified crimes against humanity. While I cannot question the situation as I am not privileged to the case and facts I do know from what I have read this man was not a good man. He was involved in another armed robbery and supposedly was pistol whipping a homeless man at the time of fatally shooting an off duty police officer. Perhaps my point is the terminal consequence. For twenty two years appeals and repeals have cost the state millions of dollars and in effect kept the victims family on hold. I am not in favor of the death penalty as a deterrent to violent crime it has continually been shown to do nothing to prevent violent crime. Ted Bundy and Jeffery Daimler still would have killed all the people they allegedly killed death penalty or not. In the Old Testament one of the Ten Commandments states, thou shall not kill. As the story goes it only took a few minutes for the Hebrews to begin making amendments to the law. Within years over six hundred amendments covered a slave killing a Hebrew which was far worse than a Hebrew killing a slave. So where does that leave me this wet morning in Georgia and we need the rain so I am not complaining although I do have bus duty today. It is understanding why.
I was home alone for part of the weekend just a week or two back and while I probably do not get into the trouble the young man does in the movie version. I can always seem to find things to do and well not always what I had planned or my wife had planned for me. I did good on this weekend however shrubs got planted and flower beds mulched numerous animals cleaned up and moved out of the house. However Saturday night while everyone was gone I had an interesting incident. About 12:30 my dog woke me up wanting to go out. She had been pretty good lately been a night or two since a three or four dog night. We went out to a glorious moon, not quite full but almost. Off in the distance I heard my first coyotes in the area. I have seen coyotes as far back as 1978 but never heard one around here.

“Yearn to understand first and to be understood second.” Beca Lewis Allen

“I don’t understand you. You don’t understand me. What else do we have in common?” Ashleigh Brillant

I would attribute these thoughts to teenagers but unfortunately it seems we all seem to fall in this situation. We strive to be understood and in retrospect feel we are not understood. We walk around in a paradox, could be why there is so much anxiety in the world.

“It has taken me all my life to understand it is not necessary to understand everything.” Rene Coty

“I started out with nothing. I still have most of it.” Michael Davis

It is a learning process filtering out what we need to know, to understand and what we maybe should know and understand and what really is not needed. This is what teaching and learning should be about. So often in modern test driven curriculums it is simply memorize and documents and we are done.

“To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts expressed — That can make life a garden.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” Leonardo Da Vinci

Seeing that sparkle when the light bulb comes on in students often makes the days of frustration meaningful. One success can counteract many failures. When a child grasps and understands a concept or piece of information as a teacher that is when you feel successful. I use the analogy of a cloud or fog, and to be able to know after being in a cloud, opening your eyes and seeing or hearing when for so long not understanding has been the verdict. It is an amazing time.

“The thing is plain. All that men really understand is confined to a very small compass; to their daily affairs and experience; to what they have an opportunity to know, and motives to study or practice. The rest is affectation and imposture.” William Harlitt

“If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.” Carl Jung

We all seem to when confronted with an unknown to be defensive and back away rather than seeking to resolve and know. Often labeling and categorizing in a manner to belittle and push aside, being in Special Education I see this daily. Many kids will hide the fact they are in Special Ed. Even though maybe only for consulate services.

“There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” Charles F. Kettering

“A man must have a certain amount of intelligent ignorance to get anywhere with progressive things.” Charles F. Kettering

Kettering was a simple inventor yet profound when all was said and done. His inventions and ideas still since his death in 1958 surround us and his legacies of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute are pieces of a far greater puzzle. But for him knowledge was simply the fact understanding was seeing what was inside and made that piece work.

“When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely — the mind being your heart, your nerves, and your ears- when you give your whole attention to it.” Jiddu Krishnarmurti

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.” John Locke

Knowledge is the beginning but only is it when we can share that piece of the puzzle we understand. It is when it has become a part of us that we truly understand.

“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.” Baruch Spinoza

“We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.” Adlai Stevenson

In 1960 after a tumultuous political past and two campaigns for President Adlai Stevenson was selected by President John F. Kennedy to represent the United States in the United Nations. Stevenson fought through the 50’s against the ignorance of McCarthyism and came under attack often. Spinoza states so eloquently “to understand is to be free”. We need to learn for understanding and teaching children to understand could change all around us and perhaps prevent that which has happened in the past and could happen again. I think back often about what ifs and could I have done anything different. A new dawn is near please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart.

Trying to clear my head

Bird Droppings September 20, 2011
Trying to clear my head

“The hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” Carl G. Jung

I have been a fan of Carl Jung for some time. Many teachers know some children will learn so much faster when the hands are engaged as well tactile sensation adding to intellectual pursuit. I was working with my eldest on some graduate studies last night and the text was based on research in high schools in the early seventies and the questions than pointed towards high schools today. My first point was many of the premises made in the late sixties and early seventies no longer applied considering technology and economics alone. I was thinking back to my own high school graduation.

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Lorraine Hansberry

One of the draws for me to John Dewey is his constant discussion and introjections of reflection into education process. For it is in reflection that we analyses and truly give credence to ideas and thoughts. I picked up a Smithsonian magazine this morning and was looking through various articles when I stumbled on an ad for The Rosette Stone language system. One of the principles of the system is to immerse you in the language you are learning. John Dewey would have liked Rosette Stone. As I pondered and reflected reading the ad I recalled various Human development courses and how we are told language acquisition is an early childhood development and Rosette Stone is saying immersion unlocks that aspect of our brains.

“Adults possess this same powerful language learning ability that orchestrated our language success as children. Sadly our clashes with vocabulary drills and grammar explanations force us to conclude it’s hopeless.” Rosette Stone Ltd.

“No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your head.” Terry Josephson

Perhaps some of us do far too much internalizing of where we are and why sadly so much of our existence is in our heads in perceptions and beliefs.

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Soren Kierkegaard

I have often wondered about freedom of speech when so few even consider that unless it is generally in a manner contrary to popular thought. But then is it freedom of speech when we make laws to prohibit that which is free by limiting and delineating specific terms and conditions of what is said or not said.
“Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John F. Kennedy

“Some people get lost in thought because it’s such unfamiliar territory.” G. Behn

Some people get lost because what is seen as reality is too painful for them. Working with numerous people over the years who due to whatever circumstances deem that the “real” world is harsh and bitter and withdrawal into a private realm is deemed far more enjoyable and safe.

“We spend our days in deliberating, and we end them without coming to any resolve.” L’Estrange

Each second of each day so many people squander their own reality spinning about never seemingly going anywhere. I have many times found myself in this trap looking for something to grasp, to get hold of and pull out.

“Few people think no more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once a week.” George Bernard Shaw

When I read this, I thought of blue collar comedy and my local favorites rednecks. Where in the definition of redneck is it that we so often need to use the word ignorant. But as Jeff Foxworthy has built his fame and industry on redneckism it is interesting his kids go to one of Atlanta’s most exclusive private schools which is ironic and sort of paradoxical redneckism.

“Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” Buckminster Fuller

Reading Buckminster Fuller often is sort of a head clearing kind of thing and when I read this, I thought back to the dark ages when society was imprisoned by those who could read and write and think freely. Sadly it was predominantly “the church” and all thought was restricted to thought allowed by the church. How many great thinkers actually perished in wrong thinking?

“Irons rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” Leonardo da Vinci

I have found the more I study the more I think the more I want to study and learn more which is an interesting thought so few aspects of life are self perpetuating such as thinking although going back to the immersion idea of rosette Stone perhaps language is as well.

“A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I could not have expressed myself better than my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson. Politics takes away any sort of thinking or seriously tries to. Someone stuck an extremely conservative article folded up in my teacher’s mailbox yesterday. There are so many political aides who simply spin reality in favor of that person or ideology they have chosen to support right or wrong there’s will be most likely to be picked and do not let the populous think too much or give them time to think.

“Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don’t bite everybody.” Stanislaw Lec

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein hit the nail on the head we have to change our thinking or else it will become as Emerson and Fuller stated become belief and or a sect or party. It is a circular effort we begin to think which becomes common place and soon everyone follows suit and that idea becomes law and belief and then we have to rethink everything all over again. What if human nature was not so lazy and would stay in motion if thought would continue instead of constantly wanting a break.

“No amount of energy will take the place of thought. A strenuous life with its eyes shut is a kind of wild insanity.” Henry Van Dyke

So true and so much a part of so many so for today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.