What could be more sacred than life itself?

Bird Droppings November 1, 2011
What could be more sacred than life itself?

Perhaps having been born on All Saints Day in St. Joseph’s Hospital gives me a better insight into the sacred than most normal folk. Of course then I have to consider that soon after I was born the Church dropped All Saints Day which I hope had nothing to do with me. I could have been born on Halloween. As I sit and ponder having been away from my computer for several days with illness and family activities my thoughts go towards that of a spiritual nature. It has been sometime since walking along a dirt road in the midst of hundreds of acres of pasture listening to buffalo and cattle snorting and waking in the early morning I came to find this outlook on life.

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, singer and song writer, university professor and actually along the way a cast member of The Survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University in 1980, and Oklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within.” Perhaps this is a good place to stop As a Today Show guest she stated “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I end up with a line from an Aerosmith song as it always seems to fit in.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

I used Dr. Lee’s quote and the preceding paragraph on September 7, 2009 in my daily wanderings. An email earlier this week reminded me of this quote and some thoughts along the way with several books I picked up over the past few weeks at Barnes and Noble, I should get a commission for mentioning bookstores and Quick Trip. I state on my Facebook page my religious belief is that all is sacred. That in and of itself is a powerful statement and one I adhere to or at least attempt each day I live. Many can argue from their own religious perspective and or theological viewpoint as to what is sacred or not. On a recent journey to Macon I went by the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Park. I speak of the place in a reverent manner as for thousands of years many people have held this place as a sacred spot. When I climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound and look to the four directions I imagine what it was like before the Macon skyline was visible to the north or the visitor center to the east.
Sitting on my table as I write is a Bushmen water container. It is simply an ostrich egg emptied out with a hole in the top and carvings of animals and designs etched into the shell and then filled with ash to leave a black line. This egg is over fifty years old and brought back by my father from South Africa many years ago and given to me. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa and to the Sans as they wish to be called, we use the term Bushmen this is a sacred vessel. It is one of many that would be stashed plugged with grass and placed at a specific spot identified by the markings belonging to a particular hunting group it would be filled with water and stored for the next trip through that spot.
Over the past few years I have read many books on spirituality, Native American thought, Curriculum, Education, Teaching methods, Religion, Counseling, Psychology, Herbs, Medicinal plants, Reptiles and Amphibians, and even a few fiction books mainly Harry Potter. One author who has always kept my attention and I still periodically check up on his essays is William Edelen. Edelen is a Presbyterian pastor, former fighter pilot, former agriculture teacher, author, speaker, and free thinker extraordinaire. While his books of essays are not best sellers on a few years back one title was the United Methodist Women’s book of the year, In Search of the Great Mystery. Edelen incorporates many ideas from Native American thought into his writing along with Thomas Jefferson and Thoreau.

“The question I so often ask is this: Why are the vast majority of people so willing to turn over their life, values, priorities, and decisions to such authoritarian institutions? Are they insecure, that fearful, that blind, that they cannot assume personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth? ‘Your own reason is the only oracle given to you by God,’ wrote Thomas Jefferson.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Edelen was addressing millenniums of mass church building and increasingly larger congregations that demand from their parishioners. I always found it humorous that one Atlanta church required a credit report to join.

“People often ask me, “What are you …… what do you believe…. Are you a Christian…. Taoist … Buddhist …. what? In a joking mood I may tell them I am a Taoist, Druid, Agnostic shaman. But when I answer the question seriously, I tell them I live within the historical stream of mysticism, and that orientation, world view, cosmology, or philosophy of life is the same whether one lives in a Taoist society, Buddhist, Christian or secular.” William Edelen, Spirit Dance

Needless to say William Edelen is a character, he still has many listeners and readers and even in his nineties he still speaks in Palm Springs each week delivering a new essay. There is a website where these are posted. But there are many views of life, spirit and sacred what compromises these. Continuing on today another writer whom has drawn me to them is Thomas Merton. A Trappist Monk he is considered to be one of the foremost spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century. Merton died in a hotel room in Southeast Asia in 1968 protesting the war in Viet Nam.

“To unify your life, unify your desires. To spiritualize your life, spiritualize your desires. To spiritualize your desires, desire to be without desires.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

“Everyone has an instinctive desire to do good things and avoid evil. But the desire is sterile as long as we have no experience of what it means to be good.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Almost John Dewey words in needing to experience good in order to desire to do good. Both Thomas Merton and William Edelen use the concept of opposites prevalent in Eastern philosophy as well as in Native American thought. Merton and Edelen often quote The Dalai Lama in their writings and as he is spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhists, he is respected worldwide.
Over the years I have been a fan of the writings of the Dalai Lama myself, at age six or so he was chosen to be the successor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and left his parent’s small farm to go to the capital of Tibet in Lhasa and here was tutored in Buddhist traditions and writings. He through his young years had tutors from England as well who taught other subjects and provided a world view for this humble boy from a small farm in Tibet. Today he is considered one of the great thinkers of our time and has received the Nobel Peace Prize among other numerous awards. His many books help bridge, and make an effort to provide insight into Buddhist philosophy and understanding of the world. One of these thoughts within Buddhism is the theory of emptiness.

“According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded on the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence in untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things are therefore entirely self contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact and exert influence on other phenomena.” Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom

I walked into my local convenience store this morning to get a couple of bottles of Smart water; I have switched after years of drinking Evian only. No, it does not increase my IQ by more than a small percentage with each bottle, but it has no metallic taste and it is essentially distilled water with electrolytes added. Another advertising pitch I could make a fortune if I was signed with all of these commercial entities. As we talked with one of my Muslim friends I wished him a Happy Halloween, and it hit me. Halloween was an attempt in the old days of allowing pagan rituals into the Christian domain back in the days of assimilating cultures as you conquer. What was interesting is how it was then followed by All Saints day, which had been today until the holiday was dropped by the Church, to beg forgiveness for the previous day.
But it is always interesting where our traditions and history take us and will take us. Borrowing a line from the Dalai Lama’s above quote. “All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence.” At the time it was a necessary evil to allow All Hallows eve and get the pagans to follow in line. As the day changed and it seemed All Saints day was no longer needed it was discounted as a holy day by the church. It might have had something to do with me being born on that day as well.

“My plea is that we bring our spirituality, the fullness and simple wholesomeness of our basic human values, to bear upon the course of science and the direction of technology in human society. In essence, science and spirituality, though offering in their approaches, share the end, which is the betterment of humanity.” The Dalai Lama

“The whole point of science is that there are no facts, only theories. You don’t believe these things they are working hypotheses that the next bit of information can transform. We are taught not to hang on but to stay open.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I read The Dalai Lamas words it reminded of the passage from Campbell, recognized as one of the leaders in comparative mythology.

“The first fact that distinguishes the human species from all others is that we are born too soon. We arrive incapable of taking care of ourselves for something like fifteen years. Puberty doesn’t come along for twelve years or more, and physical maturity doesn’t arrive until our early twenties. During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological dependency. We are trained as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us to react.” Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

As I sat thinking on this passage my mind drifted over to a book I am reading currently Kent Nerburn’s latest, The Wolf at Twilight. Nerburn goes back to the Sioux reservation to help an old friend in a search for his sister who has been gone now nearly eighty years. One of the comments made is in a discussion on hand shakes. Nerburn questioned how they could tell he was unfamiliar with the Sioux ways and they said by the handshake. A white man shakes hands hard exerting force wanting to maintain control, power, be a man. A Sioux shakes hands lightly, softly not imposing their dominance over the person whose hand is being shaken. It is a matter of how we are raised. The cultural biases and societal influences provide the basis for who we are. Perhaps this is where I am concerned in our quest in education and society so often for simplicity and measureable data. Are we leaving out the spiritual and actually leaving science by the way side? We seem to want answers solid data and facts. So many people want laws in science and not theories. So many people want one way in religion and forget the spirituality aspect of what it is they seek.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves…… The connectedness made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as a place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I first read Parker Palmer about nine years ago in a book club meeting where our principal used this book, The Courage to Teach, as one of our readings. Parker Palmer emphasizes in his writing that teachers choose to teach because of heart because they desire to do something for humanity. Many of his themes touch on the spirituality within teaching. It is this idea of connectedness that toes in to my thoughts today and with some of the others I have quoted and used. In recent months I have become a fan of Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, former Department Chair of Guidance at the University of Florida. His books along with his father’s are based on the Cherokee Nation. Many of his thoughts on guidance reflect his own understandings and outlooks based on his Native American heritage.

“Native peoples view all things as having spiritual energy and importance. All things are connected, all things have life, and all things are worthy of respect and reverence. Spiritual being essentially requires that individuals seek their place in the universe; everything else will follow in good time. “Dr. Michael Tianusta Garrett, Walking in the Wind

I have wandered today and yet perhaps not strayed from where I was going in my journey and will end with perhaps my favorite author Kent Nerburn.

“Spiritual growth is honed and perfected only through practice. Like an instrument, it must be played. Like a path, it must be walked. Whether through prayer or meditation or worship or good works, you must move yourself in the direction of spiritual betterment.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

“It is the sense that comes over us as we stare into the starlit sky or watch the last fiery rays of an evening sunset. It is the morning shiver as we wake on a beautiful day and smell richness in the air that we know and love from somewhere we can’t quite recall. It is the mystery behind the beginning of time and beyond the limits of space. It is a sense of otherness that brings alive something deep in our hearts.” Kent Nerburn, Simple Truths

I had actually started to be rather short and be done with it today but sort of got caught up in my own wanderings and readings. It has been over ten years I have ended my daily thoughts with this phrase and again looking at the news and listening to what is going on in the world I will again close with my traditional last statement. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 27, 2011
A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been back in teaching now eleven years and have watched teachers burn out and fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting there all into what they do and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students you open your heart as palmer indicates and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revalations of education as a social event and necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

In my own journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural discussing my journeys in life since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude which for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot to me is sacred and some will scuff how you can say that it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

For several years as I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. It is about building a relationship with students as a critical aspect of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand. It was nearly ten years since I wrote a trust scale for a human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept I had read about in Dr. James Fowlers book The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to a total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead and all the positive and negative that will come my way I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Education without learning is like a barn without walls

Bird Droppings June 1, 2011
Education without learning is like a barn without walls.

“A truly educational community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us until we establish a plumb line that measures teachers and students alike as great things can do.” Parker Palmer

It has been many years since we as a family lived on Fisherville Road in Caln Township, in Chester County, Pennsylvania and had as a pet Jenny the burro. Needless to say as in many relationships a wandering jack burro named Roscoe showed up one day from across the hill and much to our surprise Roscoe Jr. was born June 1, 1963 or so maybe 1964 which seems such a long time ago as I sit here today babysitting my grand daughter. Funny how I remember June the first as one of my best friends growing up through elementary school has his birthday today as well so a very happy birthday to him old man of sixty two. At least till November I can pick on him for being older than I am.
It was back in Pennsylvania where I grew up being part Pennsylvania Dutch on my maternal grand father’s side and living on the edge of Amish country I have always been fascinated by the plain people. Growing up we had eggs and milk delivered door to door if you wanted in a buggy by Amish farmers who lived in the area. However there was an Amish tradition that always caught my attention, it was that of a barn raising. If by chance a farmer’s barn was destroyed by fire or storm the entire community would gather and put up a new one almost over night. This would be a traditional post and beam construction with huge wooden beams and wooden pegs holding all in place. Barns that were built to last and provide for their owners for many years save storms and fires which really did not take that many.

“Children come into the world with a desire to learn that is natural as the desire to eat and move and be loved, their hunger for knowledge, for skills, for the feeling of mastery as strong as their appetite. They learn an amazing variety of things in the years before they enter school, including miraculously, how to talk fluently in their native language.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Learner

“But despite the wonderful efforts of individual teachers who promote and celebrate intense and exuberant learning by students of every stripe and circumstance, too many young people, when they enter formal schooling, feel the passionate learning of their early years begin to decline, often with permanent results.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Learner

So here I sit watching my grand daughter at six months daily learning new and exciting things, dropping toys just so grand dad will pick them up being a big one today. Finding what whimper to issue to get the desired result from grandma or her mom or dad. I see learning is occurring in leaps and bounds and often in ways we still do not understand. But to compare learning and education to barn building that might be a stretch. As I sat down again this evening trying to complete my writing for the day I have been pondering through the day ideas for this concept. In the Amish way of building barns an entire community would come together almost without instruction each member going to their task. As beams were hewn and sawed and in each joint dovetails cut for the next beam to interlock all were focused on doing the best possible job. Some of the folks were fixing lunch and other ferrying tools and pegs to carpenters working overhead. All had a job and all participated. The end result would be a finally finished and very high quality barn.
Education has become a parody in many ways. Emphasis has gone from learning to passing an exam at some point in time. Many times the exam is not even over what has been taught in the class but arbitrary items selected by state committees that deem this piece of information to be crucial to a child’s success. I wonder as I look at Math I curriculum in Georgia and find I am unable to do many of the problems. So here I am working on a second doctorate and unable to do Math I high school problems. Alfie Kohn goes into detail on “what does it mean to be well educated” in his book of the same title.

“However if the term refers to the quality of your schooling, then we have to conclude that a lot of “well educated” people sat through lessons that barely registered, or are at least hazy to a point of irrelevance a few years later.” Alfie Kohn, What does it mean to be Well Educated

Perhaps within the semantics of what is education versus learning is where we have a point to argue. Kohn and Fried both see education as schooling and in most references to public schooling. They see learning in a different light. Learning is an attribute you take with you from an experience.

“Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves organic assimilation starting from within. Literally, we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning.” John Dewey

Many authors will go back to progressive educator John Dewey and point to experience as the key in learning. More recently in my own involvement in the Foxfire teaching Approach Dewey’s idea’s have been borrowed from and over a period of nearly fifty years sorted and modified into Ten Core Practices. These are from the Foxfire Teaching Approach and are available on the Foxfire Fund website.

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

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

3 • 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.

4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.

5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.

6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.

7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

8 • 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.

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

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

Beyond the traditional classroom is one of teacher and students working together to both learn and interact and both be students in learning. There is a community aspect to this type of approach to teaching. There is interaction within the class and within the community. I have said over the years it is as if the teacher walks in the room and asks after telling what is to be covered now how are we going to do it, rather than we are going to do this period. It is getting students to be actively involved and showing them that we are all involved and all can make this better.
Mary Aswell Doll in the introduction to her book Like letters in running Water, includes in her thoughts her interdisciplinary studies with religion and psychology that help probe the inner workings of soul. It is only through coming to terms with inner understanding that we can address outer concerns. It takes inner looks to stir and fire up the imagination and to build and develop ideas and expand learning. So how does someone get to a point of wanting to build a barn the right way and not simply the quickest or just because we need to build a barn by these plans. It takes innovation, creativity, and taking the theory and making it into practice. William Pinar noted Curriculum Theorist states that;

“Teachers can become witness to the notion that intelligence and learning can lead to other worlds, not just successful exploitation of this one.”

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books in a book club put on by our then principal Steve Miletto. Robert Fried starts his book with a statement from a teacher he had interviewed.

“I believe I make a difference not only in helping kids connect math and science to their lives, but also in understanding how to reach their goals in life – how to be somebody.” Maria Ortiz, science teacher

This is what is about making a difference with kids showing them there is more to education than just school. Fried in his text offers an idea of what a passionate teacher is all about.
“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”.
There is no limiting to curriculum or to education unless we impose it. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students. Perhaps I am a die hard hippie of the old school, in reality I personally do not believe the corporate schooling agenda will continue and perhaps that is only wishful thinking. I wish I could predict a time, before any more children are left behind and many schools can recover. The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces being left behind. So can the knights of real education survive the onslaught of the dragons of standardized testing and taking over of our schools? Can we continue to spill so much as we try and fill the liter bottle of each child? I might add can we build a barn of learning that can withstand the onslaught of education? Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Why be a teacher?

Bird Droppings March 8, 2011
Why be a teacher

I was talking with students yesterday about going into teaching and one of the students actually wanted to be a teacher. Along that line the Georgia Legislator is considering various ways to cut funding for teachers and with many counties cutting back on budgets and jobs the teaching field is a difficult one to be going into. I tried to explain how while not bad pay for the hours and days there is more to it. I made the comment to this student that in 1996 I was making three times what I do now, out in industry. So think a bit before choosing teaching.
There are pros and cons, as I look back on it there are differing personal reasons as to what pros and cons there might be. I have been a fan of Parker Palmer since I first read one of his books suggested by an educational philosophy professor. The quotes this morning are from his book, “The Courage to Teach”.

“I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind–then teaching is the finest work I know.” Parker Palmer

There are times when an idea hits me and I wake up in the middle of the night to write it down or ponder further and develop it. Lately I have been working on a simple idea. In Special Education we work with deficits in various areas of learning. The students have disabilities that cause the deficits but we work with the deficits in most cases. As I thought about current trends in testing and evaluating students, for example using an end of course test and a graduation test for the measuring of learning. In Georgia now and in many states and across the nation in order to meet standards of (NCLB), No child left behind these type tests are common place. I wonder about the name of the law as thousands of students nation wide are being left behind by imposed standards.
I had a student tearfully tell me yesterday as soon as he says he has a special ed diploma he is turned down for work. I jokingly made a comment to a fellow teacher about what if, I lived in a land where everyone but me was seven foot tall and could dunk a basketball and that was a prerequisite for graduation from high school. I would never graduate; I have a deficit in dunking. The issue of being 5 foot eleven and a sixty one year old never came up.
A young man made a comment yesterday he knows he has an issue with reading and writing, a learning disability; he struggles daily and has been tutored many times in graduation test material. He has failed the GHSGT five times. What if there is somewhere in his neurological make up that prohibits processing of abstract terms that guide reading.
In South America the Zingu Indian tribe lives, and they can never learn to read. However they can hunt in the jungles and survive where even the best of the Survivor series would be goners in a day or two. This tribe is the Zingu Indians of the Brazilian jungles. The Zingu keep their children off the ground and in total darkness for three years. This is to keep them from evil spirits and other denizens of the jungles. However their imposed exile from light does cause their focal point to be about three feet away making reading nearly impossible. However distant vision is enhanced for shooting monkeys with blow guns and arrows from the canopy. This is a deficit in our world but essential in theirs.

“When you love your work that much–and many teachers do–the only way to get out of trouble is to go deeper in. We must enter, not evade the tangles of teaching so we can understand them better and negotiate them with more grace, not only to guard our own spirits but also to serve our students well.” Parker Palmer

So I raised the question of teaching to disabilities versus deficits. Seems we are not situated for that sort of effort. Logical as it may seem. Figuring out what is causing the deficit beyond simple academic terms can and could be difficult. It would be time consuming. In a re-evaluation meeting the other day I was made aware that a student’s father never learned to read, he tried but he could never learn. He had gone to reading tutoring and lessons and still could not learn. I look at this student who we try and teach reading and for twelve years it has been an uphill battle. Have we really looked at why at eighteen he doesn’t read? Could there be an issue physiologically and or neurologically?

“As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart–and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning and living, require.” Parker Palmer

I purchased several of the Harry Potter books on CD several years ago. I use the CD’s with students in conjunction with large print Harry Potter books and films. Interesting how a student who can not visually read can listen and answer any question you ask

“…when my teaching is authorized by the teacher within me, I need neither weapons nor armor to teach.” Parker Palmer

One of the sad issues is how Curriculum is established. Teachers have to use imposed curriculum, often established in and by administration and government officials and not by teachers or educators. So often simply to provide a frame work for passing the End of Course tests and Graduation tests. Teachers have to teach this bank of material in and on these specific days. This does not allow for really teaching or for imagination and creativity. Could this be why it is so easy to adapt to web lessons and internet learning for students. Over the weekend as I thought how silly is it we read about how students who practice standardized tests do better on those tests and I thought why not simply take the tests all school year and do great on tests and meet AYP. Learning has become a mote point it seems.
The process of eliminating the human factor is already in and on line. For years I have advocated for teacher testing, the performance evaluation testing of teachers and not using test scores of students in their classes at the end of a course. How about before and after tests to measure what was learned by students?

“A truly educational community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us until we establish a plumb line that measures teacher and students alike–as great things can do.” Parker Palmer

So many teachers are opposed to performance based evaluation. Teacher performance testing is used only in a few states. Teachers are paid on certifications, degrees, and years of experience. Recently a series of tests were given and results publicly announced. Several teachers had good ratings on the high side and a minimal percent failure rate. What was sad was that on that same test some very good teachers had a one hundred percent failure rate. That looks bad if that is the only statistic you have. However off those good teachers several were in Special Education and all the students had pre and post tests and degree of change was not equated which was significant, and or the ability levels of students to begin with was never considered. What about classes where students were constant repeaters and or honors classes?

“By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.” Parker Palmer

What about in the land of seven footers where a class of five footers all failed the dunk test

“… I remind myself that to teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced–that I need to spend less time filling the space with data and my own thoughts and more time opening a space where students can have a conversation with the subject and with each other.” Parker Palmer

Maybe we need more good teachers and less structured managed and mapped curriculum. Maybe we need to find out how to really teach and have less of the cookie cutter teacher templates and guidelines. Maybe we can influence kids?

“…we might revisit the metaphor of covering the field, which unconsciously portrays teaching as the act of drawing a tarp over a field of grass until no one can see what is under it and the grass dies and nothing new can grow.” Parker Palmer

I want to teach where I am in a green house and growing learning and students is about what we do. So many teachers fear, and in fearing keep that tarp pulled tight protecting what they have. For this type of teacher so little can grow educationally as they protect and try to attempt and only process the bits and pieces. I wonder as I sit pondering this morning. Rambling on about teaching and ideas that many will ignore; is there even a point? I was drawn to a fact yesterday at how we as a society have drawn the parameters. We find it distasteful that a teenage star in Hollywood gets hair extensions for her dog at a cost of twenty five hundred dollars a month, but we provide the means through our watching and listening to this people. We envelop the hedonism and embrace and ask how many pairs of such and such jeans do you have and what kind of cell phone and what kind of car and on and on.

“I suppose every old scholar has had the experience of reading something in a book which was significant to him, but which he could never find again. Sure he is that he read it there, but no one else ever read it, nor can he find it again, though he buy the book and ransack every page.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here I am an old scholar trying to find that spot in my book. Many times I have felt like that in frustration over how we educate students. But then each day I tread back in and try and find a way to reach and succeed. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.
namaste
bird

How do we know if we are still human?

Bird Droppings January 27, 2011
How do we know if we are still human?

Perhaps it is from growing up in a situation where we were aware of special needs children and adults directly from the birth of our younger brother till his passing almost fifteen years ago that those in my family have had connections with exceptional children directly or indirectly in our careers and life’s endeavors. A number of us went the route of teaching and even there most are in Exceptional Education. Several are in the medical field and several are going into psychology. My brother linked us as a family to the humanness of mankind.

“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Albert Einstein

Over the years in my studies and internships I have experienced situations many will never know exist. I recall walking through wards in a state institution where tiny infant looking patients lay in bassinets connected to tubes and not moving. Some were born with no brains and kept alive by feeding tubes and respirators. I asked one of the attendants during a walk through in 1968 how old was this one particular infant. I was informed this was not an infant but probably older than I was I being twenty and the baby at twenty three. The attendants turned the children to prevent bed sores and occasionally would talk to their charges. Later as I worked on finishing my psychology degree at Mercer I visited several more units very similar at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and a Regional Hospital in Atlanta. These units were filled with fifty to sixty patients each. Central State Hospital had more than one ward.

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our society exists through a historical development from a time when the first humans started living in villages and using commodities as exchange for other goods. Many historians and anthropologists will offer that society and civilization began when this early bartering started and a value was placed on a particular thing. A goat is worth a bushel of wheat or rice and banking began. Soon more precious commodities were found metal for weapons and tools, precious stones and gold for adornment. Granted this process happened fairly rapidly in the grand scheme of things and soon someone decided they could get more for an item since they had most of it and price gouging was begun. It was in these days that an imperfect infant would be tossed off a cliff or fed to the sharks.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
However what got me started on the idea that maybe we are losing or have lost our humanity. Over the years I will get in discussions and some get a bit out of proportion and over board and some I will walk away from but when we look at cutting programs that provide housing and food for people who do not have anything I take issue. I take issue with the greed that drives bonuses and profits that tax most families to a point of frustration all in the name of capitalism. I get upset when education is first on the chopping block not because it could impact my own pay but because it is through education we can possible regain our humanity. In a recent discussion on drug testing those on Medicaid, Food stamps or any Federal assistance because all on welfare are on drugs and using welfare money to buy drugs I asked what do we do and was suggested I use my own money if I think they need help. Almost immediately in curiosity I should have questioned what religion are you? A legislator from Kentucky wants to cut nearly every federal program. I find it ironic that down through history men and women who try to help others find themselves hated by those in power and usually end up dead.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Credited to Jesus Bar Joseph, known to many as Jesus the Christ, Mark 10:42-45

So how it a religion based on self sacrifice is so greedy. How can the image of a religious leader driving a Rolls Royce and living in one of their many multi million dollar homes be comforting to anyone? How can anyone say it is a federal healthcare bill that drove up there insurance when a CEO of a health insurance company is making over one hundred fifty million dollars and can deny a claim or treatment due to cost at any given moment. I recently watched the leader of the majority in the house of representatives roll his eyes at comments the President of the United States as he spoke in his State of the Union Address. Of course Utube flashes the image over and over again as well.

“We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are.”
Parker J. Palmer

Having worked in service oriented jobs, pasturing, teaching, and counseling I have seen people who do not wish to be poor. It is through no choice of theirs that they have a congenital heart defect and can not stand for longer than a few minutes let alone try and work. I have seen mothers whose husbands left when a baby was born with severe birth defects and requires constant care so the mother does not work and cares for the child. I have seen families torn apart by mental illness and former patients pushed out into a not so caring world to fend for themselves only to end up homeless and destitute. These are not unique cases but magnified many thousands of times over. Sort of like the stories of welfare mother with six kids driving to family and children’s services to pick up a check in an Escalade or Mercedes. Not all on welfare are using the system and not all on welfare are using drugs. Is our system perfect by no means but it is the lack of human civility that bothers me. It is how we can say we are of a religious persuasion and literally live an entirely different life when not in church.

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” Black Elk

In most Indian societies all were taken care of and provided for. I am not promoting a return to the primitive but to a more natural view of life. Indians held all as sacred and in doing so would not demand or extract more than was needed from the land or from another person. It was a very humanistic world view. We stripped away the sacredness of the land and used the resources till they were gone in the name of progress. We do not as a society want to help others is the sound board of many people. I was informed last evening if I want to help others use my own money to which I replied I do. I have for my entire teaching career given to a local charity a portion of my paycheck a very small portion yet it amounts each year to nearly ten percent of the giving from the teaching staff at my high school and I am less than one percent of the staff numbers.

“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.” Tecumseh, Shawnee

Our dominate society has all but eradicated the indigenous populations of the Americas from the first slaughters by Cortez’s men in Mexico to cutting of funding to the reservations. Suicides and infant mortality in Indian societies is considerably higher than dominate societies around them. It has only been a few days since I watched the movie about Wounded Knee and slaughter of unarmed Indians the last major Indian war battle even though only one sided. Around the world natives peoples are eliminated for wealth and power.

“I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.” Mahatma Gandhi

In a recent set of materials given to me by my mother on the Bushmen of South Africa who call themselves the Sans I noticed the date on the literature and it was pre-mining leases in the Kalahari. There were beautiful pictures of hunting and villages moved as the would follow the herds of animals. Today much of the Kalahari Desert has been sectioned off into diamond mine leases and the Sans moved to concrete buildings on a reservation. They are a people losing their identity and culture so greed can fill the void.
Last night I watched American Idol and I am enjoying the softer image. The last contestant of the day was a young man if you did not watch whose fiancé was severely brain injured in an accident and is in need of constant care. He dedicated his singing which was awesome to her and is involved in her daily care. I wonder how many people who want to cut funding would have given up much of his own life to care for their beloved fiancée as this young man has. Needless to say I was touched as was everyone watching with me. Still harboring within the midst of us is hatred rampant and rancid that keeps rearing up. A young man drove his mother’s car to school with an OBAMA bumper sticker which was torn off in the parking lot and replaced with a derogatory note and the extra addition of never park here again or it will be worse. We have come so far to be so lost. I wonder if it is with a deaf ear I offer each day please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 29, 2010
A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been back in teaching now ten years and have watched teachers burn out and fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting there all into what they do and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students you open your heart as palmer indicates and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revalations of education as a social event and necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

In my own journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural discussing my journeys in life since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude which for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot to me is sacred and some will scuff how you can say that it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

For several years as I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. It is about building a relationship with students as a critical aspect of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand. It was nearly ten years since I wrote a trust scale for a human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept I had read about in Dr. James Fowlers book The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to a total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead and all the positive and negative that will come my way I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird