Am I home?

Bird Droppings June 3, 2013
Am I home?

It is a new morning; a cool morning for June yet the warmth of summer will soon overcome the welcome of the morning according to the weather. I walked out on a back porch with silence in the darkness save for the friendly chirp of crickets and peep of tree frogs echoing through the morning stillness. Off in the woods to the side of the house a few barks from coyotes and a howl perking our westie’s ears up. Overhead through the clouds and humidity a few stars crept through the leaves and pine needles, and few blips of fireflies produced an eerie effect as I rub the sleep from my eyes. As I stood there listening and pondering, I wondered if I am home.

“As I look over rugged mountain ranges I don’t wonder what inspired our ancestors to brave unfamiliar territory and many dangers to get here. They sought a place to live where they could do as they darn well pleased. Solitude is a small price to pay for independence and freedom.” Barbara Woodall, It’s not my Mountain Anymore

Last summer while attending a course in Mountain City Georgia on the Foxfire property on the side of Black Rock Mountain I had an idea of why not get teachers to be of Foxfire and former students together for dinner. I contacted through Facebook several folks I had been in communication with who lived near the area and we gathered for dinner. Laurie asked if she could bring a friend another Foxfire graduate. We got together eight teachers to be myself and a professor from Piedmont College and talked about the impact of this type of teaching. By chance Laurie’s friend Barbara Woodall was in the process of publishing her first book, it’s not my mountain anymore. Barbara is quite a character and her stories of trips to New York as a Foxfire student and California amazed everyone. Dr. Hilton Smith who had been with the high school program early on had not even heard before some of these stories.
As the evening developed and discussion wound down I found Barbara inviting me to a book signing up in a gap in the mountains in an old grist mill now restored as a home. I was able to go and listened as she explained at her book signing why she wrote the book. Her writing was of a place that was home for so many generations that was being changed ever so rapidly. I left that day intent on reading my new book which I did in one sitting. It is a book about what is home and how we see that entity. I do recommend if you get a chance well worth the read.
It has been a quite a few years since I felt that way having lived in a house I built, raised my children and numerous pets in for over twenty years. A place where my favorite dog passed away and I could sit with no one near if I chose to play my southern rock music loud. But I pondered deeper as I thought am I home now? Occasionally a car at 4:00 AM can still be heard out on the highway a mile or so from the house, perhaps someone going to work or coming from play. But the stillness of the back yard and silence of the trees makes me think perhaps I am home.
My children are all grown up and two sons, a daughter in law and a granddaughter live with us now and all are asleep inside and my dog is resting growing bored with me staring into the night and listening to sounds that irritate his ears especially the yips and barks of the coyotes, although a low flying firefly catches her eye. I sit down to read and write and see a small book, How can one sell the air? It is a translation of a speech given by Chief Seattle many years ago and sits by my computer.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle

Where is home I wonder as I go deeper into my questioning? For many it is only a place where we rest eat our meals and tend to the chores of daily life. As I look thorough this simple book it is where our ancestors have been buried and where the pathways are worn by our feet and air been breathed and re-breathed by our children’s children that is where home is according to Chief Seattle. I wonder am I home? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)

PS. While writing and thinking an old favorite came to mind as I was helping my son write his pedagogical paper. Robert Fried wrote a book many years back about the secret to teaching, passion. There is no secret panacea no cure all for what problems come up in teaching it is about the passion the teacher brings to the class room.

“I want students to engage the way a clutch on a car gets engaged: an engine can be running, making appropriate noises, burning fuel and creating exhaust fumes, but unless the clutch is engaged, nothing moves. It’s all sound and smoke, and nobody gets anywhere.” Robert L. Fried, The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide

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.

Passion: Can be acquired?

Bird Droppings January 25, 2011
Passion: Can be acquired?

“To speak so listeners long to hear more and to listen so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646

When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural I thought of the Einstein quote I used to use at the bottom of Bird Droppings for several years. I first used this quote in a presentation for my Capstone in my master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly five years ago. For me real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from Tirukkural always considering it to be simply Hindu literature, by chance I looked it up further and over 2000 years old its original religious significance is questioned by scholars yet both the writer and words are considered holy.

“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

As I read about the Tirrukkural, while in translation the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a very specific number of words per line and per couplet to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my own classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Candy always works, but M&M extrinsic bribery aside what do we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words.

“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried

Perhaps not all how about most lose their drive and passion for learning. I had a “student” whose discipline records went back to preschool and his referrals were numerous until he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten. I am still trying o figure out how you get in that much trouble in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious, we as teachers along the way train that out of them. We work towards nice straight lines and quiet and yes mame, and no sir and really straight lines and red flowers when drawing only. I recall that Harry Chapin song often as I work with children of any age and see creativity lost at times on uniformity.
Not that long ago we made cookie dough from scratch, even in my youth which is a life time ago you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes. You could take it out and make big cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Now days you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, we like uniformity.

”That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn

I started my Master degree capstone presentation at Piedmont College with students have to want to be in class. If a student does not want to be in school we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. I had a student when I asked what would make him want to be in school say, “pay me to come, you get paid to be here”, and it made me think. Recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub looked at the numbers and with a smile showed my student my pay check. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have electronic deposit and my pay check has zero listed on the amount line. But I really got mileage out of that.
I said I enjoy being here I explained and I actually I do, he knew that, but the zero pay check really hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?

”Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn

I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available on line at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years in numerous articles on teaching Emotionally and Behaviorally Disturbed students the sterile classroom has been the norm, no distractions. I found in a trail and error sort of way the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and look from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this inquisitiveness occurs learning can easily happen.
Of course you will still have that child who started in pre-K; I remember the day a few years back when I asked him why do you not want to learn to read. This was a tenth grade student who is a behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters and we were working on writing letters for a school project and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad”, a side note spell check works great if you can read, when you can’t it does not always help. Well he still is obnoxious but slowly the idea there are teachers who do care about him and want to help him is sinking in I think back to Robert Fried’s title for a book “The Passionate Teacher” that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why are we teaching, is it purely for M&M’s, are we simply being bribed or is there underneath the passion an intrinsic rational. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.