Bird Droppings October 26, 2011
Having a heart
It is chilly out in northeast Georgia with evening temperatures still hanging in the high forties or low fifties but rumor of a near frost hanging out there has most of us gardeners bringing plants in. We have still a couple weeks till we are off from school again for Thanksgiving and a fall break. I was watching TV last night and an historical show of sorts a movie about the Pilgrims coming over to the New World is coming up soon. I find it funny how after that first Thanksgiving relationships between the native Indians and Pilgrims went downhill fast and it was not long till red skinned natives were the spawn of Satan and were to be eliminated by whatever means feasible. Pilgrims were not much different than today’s politicians as it was land was involved. I found it interesting how things changed so fast. Why is it we only have heart occasionally and some people never do? Maybe Thanksgiving is to remind us about heart?
“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha
It has been several days since I was working with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people and seeing how much of an impact learning styles actually make on students it amazes me that such a simple thing is not seen previously. How we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways visually, auditorally, and kinesthetically, in other words we see, hear or touch. Yesterday I went through the idea of perception as well and how we hear see and touch along with how we interpret is a factor. The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out currently. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings from 2006. In a few moments about 45 seconds images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us.
Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied significantly. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide and several reiterated the Red Lake Shootings. One however focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self motivated as so many of us are. He derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself be it passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know or speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher. The idea of disrespect is an understatement but it all is self focused so to say here I am.
“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” Dictionary.com
For quickness I use dictionary.com and there is defined the word sympathy as an interaction between two people or things affecting both. As I thought back to my self-centered fellow I wondered as he focused all day on himself does he have sympathy? In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects those being charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.
“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker
There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and worldwide.
“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot
As I searched this morning deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason. Perhaps it is for gain thinking back to the Pilgrims. Is it human nature to be so wary so distrustful of others.
“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso
“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity is not enough.” Simone Weil
Several semesters back I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs. It was a reflection on teaching in a way but really it was a reflection on life. My premise being we should all be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the Frog Kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested. All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years to avoid turning into a human being perhaps.
But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students. In reality we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place. As I pondered it was obvious as to where and why teachers quit. I see John Dewey’s ideas and the example of Dewey in the classroom through The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and all these great idealistic thoughts and then they seem to disappear into educational lala land.
What were to be great teachers seem to be eventually lost midst the flow and ebb of educational bureaucracy and never get a chance to be who they are. For many years I have wondered are today’s students and teacher automations doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I recall a Harry Chapin song I use often about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher a hard row to follow.
“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha
I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape is translated as charity. In Greek three words translate for love; Eros, Philos and Agape. Agape often is also translated as a supreme unlimited love or God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity, an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action and is a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something and perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. Having a heart as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is active engaging. For nearly six years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harm’s way in your heart and on your mind, originally I started with the attack September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart is an action it involves doing not simply mouthing words. I recall nearly eight years ago in the state of Vermont which still operates on a town meeting basis and several towns were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont to the Middle East. Vermont had lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Action some are sending cards reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as GI’s return. It is about active involvement, kissing frogs, having a heart, it is about voting and sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.