Are we going in the right direction?

Bird Droppings March 30, 2011
Are we going in the right direction?

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, or that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden.” John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897

I recall many years ago taking a test that would indicate what we were suitable for and getting called in to the “guidance” counselors who in my day were wives of the football coaches. I never quite figured that out at our high school I was told I should look at technical training because of my grades and such. I was not a very good student in high school 597th 0f 795 students. It seems I was side tracked somewhere in elementary school about education, and periodically I would have a few flare ups of wisdom. The little flare ups during standardized tests were just enough for me to remain in college prep and high functioning classes all through high school.
So I was amused by the guidance recommendations. I was reminded recently of my turmoil in high school of trying to place me in a job before I knew what life was about and what was out there. I was thinking about Special Education and in our IEP’s we do a transitional plan at age fourteen. What do you want to do is asked and I have had three want to be a rappers on transitional plans over the years.

“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

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

For nearly thirty years I have had a Chinese proverb hanging on my wall.

“You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day: You can teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”

Having been to teenagers funerals to many times and thinking about all the kids I talked with there and on emails I really wondered, as I sat thinking this morning about trying to figure out what these students will be doing in twenty years. It made me think of my own life. I was thinking what do we really need to teach. With the advent of federal and state legislation demanding certain standards be met it is interesting how teachers and parents get left out of the loops and legislators decide.
As I look at John Dewey and John Gardner’s comments while differing in philosophies a point of interest. Dewey mentions a process of living give your teaching context making it meaningful. Gardner says not just cut flowers but to teach then how to grow the flower, not simply facts. What does this mean to me as a teacher?

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” John W. Gardner

“WHEN most people think of the word ‘education,’ they think of a pupil as a sort of animate sausage casing. Into this empty casing, the teachers are supposed to stuff ‘education.’ But genuine education, as Socrates knew more than two thousand years ago, is not inserting the stuffing’s of information into a person, but rather eliciting knowledge from him; it is the drawing out of what is in the mind.” Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Speaking, What true education should do?

It has been nearly four years since I did this lesson and it was quite an experience. It seems like yesterday I had two students in my class room and several were out during second period suspended or in School Suspension (ISS), this was a really rough group of kids. I had decided to do a class project that the class wanted to do. I set parameters that were relatively simply borrowing on my Foxfire teachings and trying to set up a democratic classroom.

1. Project had to be of interest to all students
2. Project had to be school appropriate
3. Students had to be able to learn academics in the context of the project
4. As the teacher I had to be able to measure learning
5. There had to be a culminating project and end point during the semester

So a day or two later when every one was in school we started by first coming up with ideas for the project. The class came up with several, wrestling, girls, cars, animation, photography, building and several very inappropriate for school if not in violation of state and federal laws.
One however that continued to peak interest and has been an integral part of my class as I use digital photography daily and every student has taken a camera home and taken literally tens of thousands of pictures. As the discussion progressed photography seemed to be the choice and eventually the project became a photography contest within the school sponsored by my second period class.
While tedious in the beginning as ideas it all started and soon took on a life of its own eliciting thinking from these kids. Naturally thinking was the big word and was the main task and for a few of them it was tiring but then on to next step. How do we get permission? Actually after the class decided I gone and gotten permission but students would have to proceed as if they do not have it and formally get permission.
Watching the thought process evolve from students who often simply do worksheets and or get in trouble. For students who read several grades below their actual level throwing ideas around about having a voting process and different categories and digital versus film it was a pretty amazing discussion. I argue day in and day out about having context to a lesson. When a student has context for the content it has life and meaning.

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living” John Dewey

“If we are succeeding in our efforts to establish an excellent quality of present experience, people, teachers, students, administrators, parents should enjoy being in school; there should be fewer incidents of violence and nastiness; there should be more acts of kindness, more expressions of concern for others; more open conversation and fewer acts of control on the part of adults.” Nel Noddings

As a teacher I get frustrated knowing that information, understanding and knowledge of what is education and learning are out there in the nebulous but get rejected by a cookie cutter mentality that requires easy quick fixes and various publishers’ approval. I found this article from Nel Noddings and was amazed at her suggestions that follow many European and Asian approached to schooling. First that excellence in schooling is not that everyone meets a collegiate curriculum and succeeds in it but that individually we are providing and excelling in directions that we are suited for that individual student be that art, music, technology, industry or academics. This was written several years ago and if you get serious John Dewey was writing about this in 1897 over one hundred years ago and why do we never pay attention. The article is Excellence as a guide to Educational Conversation by Nel Noddings, Stanford University, 2004. We have to as teachers go beyond in many cases what we have been taught in education classes, which has been to do what is expedient versus real. It has been to try and not just teach “stuff” as Harris indicates. We have to bring life to education make it alive. As a parent and now grandparent this comes home as well and parents need to be involved. We need to wake up parents instead of simply letting them sleep through their child’s school experience. This is a community effort not simply one teacher and one student. Even though that is where it starts. Sydney J. Harris uses an illustration of an oyster and a pearl.

“Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. The job of teaching is not to stuff them and seal them up, but to help them open and reveal the riches within. There are pearls in each of us, if only we knew how to cultivate them with ardor and persistence.” Sydney J. Harris

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

I got a bit carried away today. But as I read this last quote by Einstein who was left behind more than once in his educational experience at an early age can we as a society begin to look at each other as potential pearls instead of just sausages? I wonder as this school year is winding down and a new school year approaches all too soon. Try today to please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Caregiving and cared for we need both

Bird Droppings January 17, 2011
Caregiving and cared for we need both

“To care and be cared for are fundamental human needs. We all need to be cared for by other human beings. In infancy, illness, or old age, the need is urgent and pervasive; we need caregiving, and we need the special attitude of caring that accompanies the best caregiving if we are to survive and remain whole.” Nel Noddings

Here on a day dedicated to a man who cared pondering the true aspects of caring and the impacts on the human condition. Dr. Nel Noddings discusses how we need to care and we also need to be cared for, both sides of the coin. It is not an either or situation. On the news this morning volunteers prepared a meal for twenty thousand homeless and working poor in Atlanta in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Hosea Williams who started a feed the hungry program in our major city. In that same news cycle two news commentators had been criticized for making violent comments in regards to other people. One made reference to shooting the founder of Wiki leaks in the head and the other in a panel discussion addressed reinvading Iraq for oil to keep the prices down.
Caring is not seeking war for oil especially so major oil companies can further profit. It is true the countries where the oil is located do reap fortunes from the pumping of oil but outside of Venezuela most oil is pumped, shipped, piped and processed by a select few large oil companies who have continually made significant profits while all other industries are losing money. Interesting as well is Iraq’s oil is now being pumped by mostly US companies who are making money. Another aspect left by the wayside when we pick on a country about oil prices is Wall Street where oil is a commodity traded and US investors are driving the price up or down depending on their profitability not our needs. Most oil is owned by investors not countries. Why do we not invade Wall Street and the stick exchange and stop auctioning commodities and dealing in the so often bogus paper of the stick market? This is not about caring other than for ones self.
I am amused on this day as I recall my father, a former Navy man, a die hard republican and he always voted straight republican on his ballot, telling me this was one of the greatest speeches he had ever heard. My father made his living with his booming voice and had addressed audiences across the globe. He had sat and listened too many of the greatest speakers of the twentieth century in various capacities. My father had lectured and had his message translated in nine or ten languages in nearly forty different countries. I kind of felt for him to say this very liberal southern pastor and black man had just delivered the most powerful speech of modern day was very significant. But I also always knew my father was a caring man about his family, friends, his life’s work, and all those he dealt with around the world.
I was only in eighth grade or so when Dr. King delivered his now famous speech at the Lincoln memorial in 1963. Now we honor the man with a holiday. Many will protest and have arguments that this day should not be a national holiday. I am not one of those. As I read the words and listen to the message in this powerful speech, it is not about racism it is about humanity it is about caring. In the past presidential campaigning Dr. King had been both talked about and commented on. Barrack Obama on a Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, after being lectured by the Pastor that many other great men had spoken at this pulpit had these words to say.

“If Dr. King could love his jailor, if he could call the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time,” Barrack Obama, January 20, 2008, Ebenezer Baptist Church

I watch daily high school kids who still hold racism deep in their hearts. I read passages on student’s websites that talk of hatred and misunderstanding. I Have been in meetings with parents where comments such as “they work too hard and I cannot get a job” in regards to Hispanic construction workers. Racism is still in our society and in our communities. How do we as human beings on a day dedicated to a man who in his lifetime tried to end racism, approach and channel such bigotry and hatred. I wonder as I sit here with school starting back tomorrow after a month off due to holidays, snow and ice how we have come far yet still have so far to go.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington DC, August 23, 1963

Oh what a day it will be when we are judged by our character and not skin color. I have a dream as well borrowing from Dr. Noddings again, “we need the special attitude of caring that accompanies the best caregiving if we are to survive and remain whole” and as I sit and ponder please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Jumping in rain puddles

Bird Droppings January 14, 2011
Jumping in rain puddles

It has been a week of many happenings within our society and within the local community. It has been a holiday season filled with local sorrow, national sorrow and joy and hope for a new tomorrow. Here at our house we have cherished every second with a new grand baby and my daily photo opportunities have not ceased. Having an additional week of holiday due to snow only gave me more time for Charlie’s firsts. It was Charlie’s first snow storm and first night wearing a vintage (vintage Pooh character not a real old sleeper) Winnie the Pooh sleeper I found at a consignment shop. She was bundled up in her white furry snow suit and looked like a polar bear cub as my son and his wife walked out for my wife to take a few pictures.
As I scanned the Atlanta paper and local paper articles on the Arizona shooting still brought tears to my eyes as three men who were wounded from three varying political backgrounds were interviewed. In a letter to the editor a riled citizen wanted to why we were focusing on the Arizona shooting and the snow storm when there was so much more going on in the news. One political cartoon caught my attention as we try and look at rationale and reasons for what happened in Tucson. It was a drawing of a handgun very simple and on the safety switch was the word parenting. Being in teaching I have found the past few years we have been pressured to be so much more than teachers only. Many parents expect teachers to be the parent for their kids. We do not get any credit for the good but if a child does wrong it is the schools fault never the parent.

“Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood, when blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form….. In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes, I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose. I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn. Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.” Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm, Blood on the Tracks, 1975

One of those random songs flitting through your head and you can not get the tune and lyrics out of your mind. One of my favorite Bob Dylan albums of all time, Blood on the Tracks, has many songs that I like but I continually will periodically get this one in my head and ponder a bit the words. As I sit here writing today and thinking about a song and all that has transpired the past few days it keeps coming back to a matter of perception. Perception too is based on how we have become who we are, and why we are who we are, and where we are now. My perception of these words from Bob Dylan will be totally different than many others because when I first heard them my situation was different than those others. The impact of Saturdays shooting on Randy Gardener who was shot in the Tucson shooting and by chance had been at Kent State in 1970 when the National Guard opened fire on students and a friend was killed there is totally different than say someone who was not born at that time or even a person who felt the Guard were justified in the shooting.
I walked out earlier to get a sunrise picture and today with few clouds not much more than a pink glow across the horizon. So I looked for other opportunities in the surrounding area. I found several nice shots of various plants contrasted with the snow and ice glaze, trees still holding snow in pine needles and branches. As I walked I came to my quiet place set off from the house where I will go and sit meditate and or ponder if there is a difference. There was a circle of deer tracks around my spot. It has been nearly five years since I set some river pebbles in a circle here with each point of the compass marked off. Some will call it a medicine circle often seen in Indian rituals and writings. What I found interesting is the deer walked around my circle of stones. Perhaps this simple thing is meaningless to most but to some it will be of importance. It has been years since I first began reading Carl G. Jung’s writings and was then reintroduced indirectly through a book of fiction. But Jung’s word synchronicity daily is made evident to me. Reading the interviews in today’s AJC (our main Atlanta paper) of three men who were at the shooting and wounded each differing in their political views from very liberal to very conservative, each had a previous encounter linked in some way to the event Saturday.

“So now I’m goin’ back again, I got to get to her somehow. All the people we used to know they’re an illusion to me now. Some are mathematicians, some are carpenter’s wives. Don’t know how it all got started, I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives. But me, I’m still on the road headin’ for another joint we always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view, tangled up in blue.” Bob Dylan, Tangled up in blue, Blood on the Tracks, 1975

I am reminded each time I visit my class reunion website or get emails of another sixty plus birthday that we are not teenagers anymore. Each of us has gone different directions and had different events both tragic and joyous in our lives. I have dear friends who have both husband and wife now are cancer survivors. My father survived long after he was supposed to according to the surgeon and we shared many tales in those days together before his passing. I was talking with a young Muslim fellow today at my convenience store where I stop in the morning for a bottle of water, energy drink and paper. I was reading in the paper again how some people were complaining about the atmosphere of the memorial service in Tucson. I started thinking back to my father’s funeral in July of 2007. We had a slushy machine out because of the extreme heat. I was wearing one of my father’s old Philippines shirts he picked up on journey years before and his rattlesnake bolo tie. It is a Navaho turquoise and silver piece with symbolic rattle snakes circling the main circle and silver snake rattles for the end pieces of the bolo. We had a celebration of his life not a mournful dirge. A stuffed African lion was leaping literally from the bamboo near the grave site. My brother could not pass it up at an auction at Burt Reynolds old homestead in Loganville. My dad loved that lion being a big African wild life fan. I was moved by the service but that was my perception because of who I am and I respect those who saw differently.
As President Obama ended his portion of the service he used several lines that were next to the picture of Christina Taylor Green who was born on September 11, 2001. I share a fondness for that day as it was the day I went back to teaching. Christina had three wishes or hopes by her photo.

“I hope to help all those in need.” I hope when you sing the National Anthem you put your hand over your heart.” “I hope you jump in rain puddles” Christina Taylor Green

I read these lines several times this morning along with Bob Dylan wandering through my head and a tear rolled down my cheek as I thought of my own grand daughter and will there be a lesson in life to learn from this day. I have as a teacher always felt students are children first and how we see them should be that. They are not little adults but they still are individuals who have not experienced what we have and see the world in a differing light than we do as adults. You won’t find many adults jumping in mud puddles they don’t want to get their designer shoes dirty. So perhaps one of the first things I will do as soon as our puddles thaw is jump in one in honor of Christina Taylor Green. Another day of cold and as I have ended my droppings for so many years please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Caring is a very precious commodity in teaching

Bird Droppings January 9, 2011
Caring is a very precious commodity in teaching

As I am pondering my last hours before the holiday is over. The air temperature is nineteen outside and we are under a winter storm watch tonight through Tuesday morning. The anticipation of several inches of snow and up to a half inch of ice is what weather people are proposing. I am a bit disconcerted although I have thoroughly enjoyed my holidays between a grand baby and family it has been wonderful. I have found as I read comments from teachers and administrators that have facebook accounts there are differing degrees of involvement. Some use solely with a few friends, some especially younger teachers have a large number of college peers and work related friends, some teachers have former students, and some have student’s teacher’s administrators and professors and numerous others. Reading statuses and updates coming from my psychology background I see many teachers who are concerned and caring people. After being back in teaching ten years I find caring is a very precious commodity in teaching and one that is difficult to teach.

“Teaching is to move people to choose differently.” Dr. Maxine Greene, educator, author and caring person

Working in what was once a rural county now not much more than an extension of Atlanta there are many who still adhere to the old ways, politically, religiously, culturally, socially and even educationally. I can write my name that is enough. We just experienced an assassination attempt on a sitting congress women in Arizona and rhetoric is focusing on the heated debates and arguments from the media people on both sides as to fanning the flames of violence. However it was not that many years ago in this county people would be lynched, moonshine was the main industry and killing someone and losing a body was part of doing business. Early I issued a line or two about mental institutions closing and how there were many who twenty five years ago would be residents of said institution are now in politics, religion, military, jail, homeless and or waiting on the right trigger to set them off. It has been made very clear the individual involved in the shooting yesterday was mentally ill which will play well in his court hearings and trial. But how do we as teacher’s help children choose differently.

“… Martin Buber had what he called a life of creativity in mind, and also a capacity for participation and partaking. He said that all human beings desire to make things, and what children desire most of all is their share in the becoming of things. Through their own intensively experienced actions, something arises that was not there before. This notion of participant experience- and sharing in the becoming of things- comes very close to what we mean by aesthetic education.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

Maybe I should post the Foxfire Core Practices that I have been writing about for several years. I like this idea of participant experience. We need to be actively involved in learning both as teacher and as students.

“Not only do we want to keep the aesthetic adventures into meaning visible and potent in the schools, along with the other ways there are of making or achieving or discovering meanings. We want to keep enhancing them with some understanding of contexts- movements, styles, traditions- and connections among diverse works at different modes of history. For one thing, we know very well that none of us comes to any work of art devoid of context or with what has been called a totally ‘innocent eye.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

I have watched a new math curriculum reek havoc with students and teachers. The idea to simplify titles of courses to Math I, II, III, and IV does not do justice to the texts being used or curriculum proposed. Several years ago the test groups failed the first proto type test miserably and continually the curve has to be extreme to provide some passing numbers. The teachers are the same ones who were good and great teachers just a few months back but a simple change in state curriculum and we go backwards. The content needs context and it needs reasons.

“I hope you think about the wonder of multiple perspectives in your own experience. I hope you think about what happens to you- and, we would all hope, to our students- when it becomes possible to abandon one- dimensional viewing, to look from many vantage points and, in doing so, construct meanings scarcely suspected before.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

I am being hard on the math curriculum but the idea we are so far behind is not a valid one. In the US of all the major industrialized countries we are the only one that mandates education for all children. On international testing we tend to be down the list in part because of the greater number of children of all makes and models being tested. There are ideas within Maxine Greene’s words from 2003 that could help a teacher or teachers improve how they respond to students. Changing perspective looking from a different vantage point rather than simply that podium in the front of the room can make a world of difference. A simple thought but world changing.

“Our object, where public schools children and young people are concerned is to provide increasing numbers of opportunities for tapping into long unheard frequencies, for opening new perspectives on a world increasingly shared. It seems to me that we can only do so with regard for the situated lives of diverse children and respect for the differences in their experience.” Dr. Maxine Greene, Educator, Author, Philosopher, Professor and caring person

Seeing the differences in children is a sign of a great teacher. For it is in being able to see each child as unique and then in turn being able to, pardon the word diversify the teaching enough to interest all children. That is in and of itself a huge task.

“It is sometimes said that ‘all teachers care.’ It is because they care that people go into teaching.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher and a caring person

I honestly do think, no one goes into teaching not caring. Somewhere along the line maybe they forget and get too caught up in teaching to the test, making sure they cover every miniscule detail in the curriculum map or just trying to get a good appraisal. As I have watched good teachers and great teachers it is that caring aspect that sets them apart. They tend to build relationships with students. They try to understand why a student comes to school the way they do not just simply give a zero for a missed assignment.

“In a caring relation or encounter, the cared-for recognizes the caring and responds in some detectable manner. An infant smiles and wriggles in response to it mother’s care giving. A student may acknowledge her teacher’s caring directly, with verbal gratitude, or simply pursue her own project more confidently. The receptive teacher can see that her caring has been received by monitoring her students’ responses. Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.” Dr. Nel Noddings, Author, Educator, Professor, Philosopher and a caring person

Teaching is so much more than a job and if only that were a teachable topic. For many years I have searched for what it is that sets apart the truly great teachers and simplified into one word it is caring. If only we could magnify and personify and spread that word through the world. For far too long I have ended my droppings each day with the same line. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.