The Mother Land ?–The United States Of America. By David Reid Otey

First of all, I am a teacher. I am very good at what I do because, so far, I have the freedom to teach according to my gifts of understanding, connecting, guiding, helping kids to see their gifts and enlightening, encouraging and empowering them to become the “real” them instead of a merely cloned worker of whatever anyone else may want them to become. But I wonder how long even I can be myself, using my  gifts the way I know they must be used, teaching with MY talents to see what must happen next according to the scope and sequence combined with the emotional and psychological make up of my students.

This push for a national standard system so that every single kid in the good ole’ U.S.A. will be “learning” exactly the same things at the same time all over this grand country of “individual freedom” strikes me as a paradox. Is the idea supposed to be that if every kid has the exact same standards and every teacher has to teach “according to the tests” which is what really happens here, then the whole nation will be saved from the fears of poverty and idiocy ?  Hmmmmm.

What does individual freedom mean in this case ?  Are we going to blame all the teachers of this country for the increasing poverty and idiocy reported by media ?  What about families who choose drug addiction and all types of abuse within their families to frustrate their own children with a life of fear and anger ? Does this count anywhere in the equation or are teachers to blame for that, too ?

Is college education –“college readiness” the only important target for defining the purpose and direction of education ?  Is this whole ploy a market saving scheme, to save colleges from losing their usefulness in a world that increasingly depends upon entrepreneurship, active, experimental, useful, consistently creative imagination gained more from apprenticeship within such companies who themselves teach what they want their employees to do ?  “College Readiness” is no longer the best  direction to aim for.  How about Life Readiness ? Where are the standards that stress money management, first aid, family planning, job skills (of which homework and class room ass-sitting have nothing in common with), talents development, community service, personal psychological and emotional development, making sure every kid can swim and more ?

This push of Common Core States Standards is taking out a middle ground , an island of safety for children, forcing more pain and confusion, increasing lack of hope for dreams of talented people who could really turn this country around if given the reigns to aim their own talents in the directions they have the gift to see for themselves. If we keep allowing this to grow and take over our states, will we be courting the same disastrous results as some other nations where some higher grade students commit suicide over the pressure of trying to prove themselves “worthy” of the mother land ?

The “real” progress we seek for our children and for the future of our country’s positive growth will come ONLY FROM enhanced OPPORTUNITIES for personal growth in the talents through the public education system. The truth of educational growth NEVER HAS BEEN the state standards. It’s been the Parents Standards and the Student’s Personal Standards. What a shame this country is now embracing the “one size fits all” mentality–and to the tune of the billions of dollars it costs for the production of the NEW standards supplemented by the NEW tests and NEW curriculums that all of the state enforced cooperating school districts must pay for  out of their own pockets when their own states hold back the financial support already owed to their school districts.   Yes, what a trick of the old con game genre to make someone believe that if they eat this one pill they will become ten times smarter. On and on and on it goes. How far will the people of the U.S.A. let this one go ? No one knows. BUT I can tell you WHO will make the final decision. It will be THE KIDS. I am a teacher, and the greatest barrier that I can NEVER beat is when a totally frustrated child stops working, stops trying, pushes the paper and pencil to the floor and lays his head on the desk or simply walks out. he might just look up at me and say, “Make ME Do It.” It is a challenging thing for me at 60 years of age to see the lunacy of our country’s leaders allowing this sort of con game to be played on their people, their populace who voted for them.  Time will tell how far this “Mother Land” concept will go. I hope the parents and the children rise up and show the spirit this country stands for, that “independent” right of each state to run its own show in education.   The End.

“REAL” SCHOOL By David Reid Otey 11-09-2014

The basis of this piece is founded upon the fact of how knowledge is naturally acquired and naturally applied. All knowledge ever gleaned by humankind has come from the process of “living”. Living means experiencing the elements and connections of knowledge through personal relationships with observation and motion with all working senses collecting information into the brain. Living is made up of collecting and experimenting. Living is a scientific process in natural form. Science is the result of living. You learn something (gain knowledge)  from all your senses. Then you get curious about some of it (an idea comes from your brain’s connection of facts). Then you experiment in some fashion ( try out the idea based on the question “what will happen if and when I do…”). The results are more knowledge gained. The point to understand here is that before any experimentation was done knowledge was first collected through natural experiences. That knowledge was eventually written down to guide the next generation so they could “keep on experimenting” to review, maybe double check and then to further the knowledge and understanding,  to add content of “what we learned by this point in time”.

In most schools all knowledge is taught separate from experiencing it. Lists of facts and photos and sentences “telling” you what things are and how they connect are presented like a ready made meal on a ready made plate with ready made tools to eat with. The only act required is to take it in, ingest it (memorize it) and say it back, write it back, pick out the right answer from the wrong ones and say it back. Occasionally you are asked to create a copy of what you memorized (like the models of Indian villages displayed in a library). That is a very unfortunate, extremely limited  process of  education. It is only the first step of learning and it is not connected to “really using” that information at all. It is NOT the way people have successfully learned how to create and connect all that we have in this amazing world we live in. I have another teaching idea that involves the “living” process over the spoon fed process.

Here is my dream school for all students starting with at least 6th grade. All Special Ed and Regular Ed kids would be in the same class room because they would be peer guiding each other as a supplement to the teacher guided lessons.  This school would combine academics with apprenticeship to create “real” knowledge, meaning lessons that form understanding in a context allowing immediate application to real life situations.  Gone is the concept of teaching pieces of knowledge separated from their original source of real life connections.  Gone is the mystery of how all the knowledge connects. Gone is useless repetition of facts and figures that keep younger generations  in stupefied mystery. Here is how it works.

I start this enlightenment with the first day of registration. You and your child  walk in the front door and are directed by guides to the main hall where a series of professionally designed posters show a list of ‘occupation’ classes.  The ‘occupations’ cover plumbing, carpentry-house framing and finishing work, wood working crafts, building furniture, electrician, cooking-choice of two areas/types of meals, musician-choice of two instruments at the same time, medicine (beginning with first aid)–aide, nurse, doctor, medical science, veterinarian, space science for astronauts or space exploration, writing to be a writer, mathematician-to teach or to work in a field of math, clothing design and creation/sewing, business development-choose a business you would want to create, money management for banking and investing, sports-choice of 2 at the same time, the arts-dancing, theater, painting, drawing, clay, statues, etc., exploration-historical studies of great explorers and real-life explorations as a class in field trips, journalism, broadcasting, and more.  I think making everyone learn first aid and how to swim would be powerful personal growth confidence features.

The students show up for their classes where 2 or more teachers will instruct their sections of  the class. In PHOTOGRAPHY, for example, the class sections will be already arranged by the teachers. Some would say it is necessary for professional photographers to teach the class. That will be true at a later stage of the lessons where the services of the local professionals, already connected to the teachers during the planning stage, can be paid to add practical authenticity for instructions, as well as ”field trip” locations to practice.  Sections can be divided into the history of camera development, of techniques developed by historical photographers, comparing the old cameras to the new cameras, of making a home made box camera, using ‘film’ strips, developing images from negatives, practicing with natural and artificial lights and angles, taking care of cameras, switching lenses, all sorts of detailed lessons connected through the art of creating images and catching historical moments for family and community. Taking photos can start right away, giving real time photos as examples of how certain images are created and to show how and why we get weak or strong results. Learning a bit about each historical photographer and life in their times, and what it took for them to be able to make just one photograph compared to today, can count for history and social studies. Studying the photographs of historical moments through world history will enlighten the students and spark questions for discussion and for ideas to flow. Photography will teach students to look inward as well as take a closer look at the outer details of their world and their lives. This creates an inner awakening for some. Every occupation comes with a list of terms, a vocabulary. These terms contain the ideas, the processes and the connections of the occupation. Students will be writing about their projects, planning projects, actively creating projects alone and with others, accomplishing reading and language skills related to not only this occupation but also to other concepts in life: such as, how your own life “develops” from who and what you “expose” yourself to for a specific amount of time. Can you see how the development of confidence through personal growth of a “real” work can happen here ? Math is used in the angles, in the amount of light needed, in the distance for clarity, in the varying degrees of focus for effect and much more. Teachers are trained first and foremost to be excellent at research. That means finding, understanding, arranging in sections for lessons, any content that needs to be taught. Connecting with professionals who do that work for a living adds the life element to create the perfect class. My vision is for consistent activity in the class, always creating something while learning the foundations, even if they are not immediately connected.

A University teacher of mine told us the order of understanding. It is something I never forgot. It is MPCB-First comes Motor skills which lead to Perceptions which lead to Concepts which lead to Behaviors. He stated, in my paraphrasing, ‘ If there are any holes in the first two, there will be serious deficits in the last two.’  I feel, as a professional teacher, that our public school system seriously shuts down the Motor skill area to the point that student boredom and carelessness result and then lead to the eventual negative behavior problems so prevalent in every school.  That’s always the challenge, isn’t it? What is commonly said that teachers talk about in teacher lounges ? Problem students.  And what happens to most of the graduates from high schools ? They just ship off to another school (college) for more of the same unsure about a degree direction while they pay good money for useless training of the first two years, or go into the military, or begin working for someone else who wonders why they cannot add or write well or even remember a list of things. Now, some graduates end up growing in the business they started in as a clean up person or server of some sort, to eventually become their own boss opening their own business of the same type. And why did that happen ? Real life learning, knowledge connected with a real job in real time learning and actively doing real things that mattered. And what was their test ? Improving in the job in skill and in attitude and their grade was the praise and raise they got from their boss.

A story to share that has influenced this way of thinking for me. I had a student in Junior High School whom I felt–by my professional experience and perspective–was heading to a life of working for the local developmentally disabled business agency. The only jobs there are sorting recycled trash and cleaning at local businesses. I had not been at the same school to see that student graduate. I discovered later from talking to his parents that he ended up working on cruise ships and then connecting to a photographer and traveling with that person. His life had turned out far richer than I anticipated. His mom was super happy for her son, even though it meant he had to be away from home to have this life. I learned a lesson: maybe the doors are not already set as ‘closed’ for those who “seem” to be unable to succeed. There was something there regarding connections to “real” life to understand.  That something is this: LIFE is the real school. So why not turn school into a reflection of real life.

If we run schools the way I see them as being successful, then we have a guarantee that our children will graduate ready to work in a chosen field, ready to be deeply involved in the process of maintaining and improving the communities they live in, ready to handle their choice of college starting at a higher level instead of repeating the last four years of high school all over again at a faster pace during the first two years of college , and ready to make a life instead of crawling through life as a cleverly ‘educated, conditioned and enslaved’  worker bee for mass production. Some will choose that mass production life/work style happily for themselves and that is fine. But it is very wrong to maintain an educational system geared to ‘force’ a mindset and extremely limited opportunity lifestyle upon our children from k-12. The basics can be covered easily between grades k-5. The REAL SCHOOL can start at grade 6 and we can watch our children grow into the strong and talented people they were meant to be.

The end.

Common Pits of education. By David Reid Otey 9-2014

Common Core education is the current life saver attempt for our country’s kids. Apples have cores. Then I thought–cherries have pits. There are a lot of pitfalls in education. Pitfalls that still didn’t stop our nation from producing the geniuses who developed the auto industry, the clothing mills, the medical, the legal and the psychological fields. Great laws have been written and passed by men and women educated by past curriculums full of pitfalls. Technology comes from great minds. For generations great minds sat in public education class rooms being taught by lesser minds using average curriculum. This not to say mediocrity is ok and should be accepted. I am pointing to the fact that the true energy, mindset, attitude, determination, creativity and desire to learn anything comes from within the student with the influence–positively or negatively driven–of family and friends and the overall environment of the community.

Now on my 21st year, I have been and still am a teacher of special education students. The pitfalls of public education that I see are the following.  Number one: Kids are made to learn sitting down most of the time.  Personally, I believe most people’s butts are made thicker to protect us when we fall down from wandering over rough terrain, as we investigate our world to discover and experiment with what we see. A professor of mine, Dr. Jani, told us that the process of learning comes in this formula to remember. MPCB: motor skills first, followed by perceptions followed by concepts leading finally to behaviors. He stated that poor exposure in either of the first two creates weakness and disabilities in the last two. The first creates the strength of the second and so on. I add to this the wonderful concept of multiple intelligences first sparked by Howard Gardner. Both ideas lead to how the best education process should be designed which is much more active than what we have been using for generations.

The second pitfall is creating confusion. I’ve told my students the following statement. ” You are very smart just as you are. You already know as much as what is written in five hundred books. You have been learning since the day you were born. Everything you’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched and sensed inside of you has been stored into room type spaces in your brain. You never stop learning if you always stay aware.”  Then I tell them about what happens when they get to school. In school the knowledge they possess is broken down into little pieces they do not recognize. That confuses them and makes them feel ignorant and stupid. Then, if they cannot ”relearn” it to demonstrate it back to the teacher of confusion in the language and form they expect, the students feel like failures and begin to shut  down their natural inclination to be curious and wondering about anything. It becomes safer to simply accept the mind controlling toys to rest their brains upon.

The third pitfall is starving the brain. I have been fortunate in providing consistent food for my students throughout the day. They are allowed to eat during lessons in big group and during independent work times. They are allowed to eat mostly when they want to. I have fruits and vegetables and sometimes energy bars. They are better behaved and more focused because of that. I know and you know that every kid in every nation will eat all day during summer vacation to renew the energy of their wandering explorations. Their bodies burn food like crazy. Then during the school years they are fed only twice during a day instead of the four or more times they are used to. Food and education go together. I also believe that the more I tie food and learning together it is possible their brains stay engaged on thinking every time they sit down to eat.

I wrote this piece to say out loud: COMMON CORE NOR ANY OTHER SYSTEM WILL EVER BECOME THE MAIN  UTOPIAN BRAIN BUILDING TECHNIQUE AS LONG AS ANY SYSTEM MAINTAINS THE THREE PITFALLS ABOVE.      The end.

My Disappearing Mom: Alzheimers joins the family.

Distance made it easier to see, but distance also made it more difficult to provide protection against the brain virus: Alzheimers.  When we talked on the phone between California and Illinois, mom’s conditioned mode of talking and subject content masked the silent steps of the mental intruder . Phone conversations had been a half-century practiced habit of my mom, because many of her friendships were maintained by phone as she constantly moved across the country.

I would ask mom something specific whenever my mind gave me tiny cues of something amiss, but she always successfully redefined and redirected me away from the suspicion.  Until one day, when there was no chance of redefining what she asked me directly. Her parents, my grandparents, had passed on over twenty years previously, yet she asked me two main things: “Have you heard from the Reids lately ?” and ” Isn’t that weird that I’m thinking of them ?”  And that’s the moment I dropped the ball big time because of fear. I was afraid to tell my mom she was “losing it” over the phone. So I lied to her by saying the Reids were on their annual vacation in the northeast part of the country and they’d  probably be back soon. I could not pull back from the lie once I spoke it. To me, I was buying time for help from her friend of thirty years who lived within fifteen minutes from her.

There is a strange defense of the human mind when this disease strikes. It is a connection between the mind and the spirit, almost as if the mind is the spirit–or the main housing of the spirit–contrary to how we usually express spirit by pointing to our hearts. I say this because of my mom’s severe negative reactions and harsh cursing language to her dear friend’s attempts to help her reorganize her life with a calendar and helpful tips. The denial that anything is wrong with one’s mind is ultra protective. The fight is stronger than giving up the car keys because the time has come. Freedom and self-respect are at risk now. If I cannot be me as I recognize myself then I cannot know anything for certain. That is the fear, the conditioned truth–maybe the real truth. Order is shaped by structure which gives us holding points like handle bars, to get around easier by the connections made in our minds.

Everything MUST connect somehow–as a like or dislike–with a connecting history we can explain in time and space sequence. Alzheimers totally shuffles the sequences of time and space or place, even sounds and sights. It is an amazing  disease in how it takes over and remakes a person on the inside. BUT it’s NOT like a personality-changing effect which I’ve heard happens often to people who suffer from severe head concussions or super hard hits to the brain. My mom’s hand gestures–all of her body language–and all of her usual vocal expressions never changed. That’s one of the things that make this disease so damned frustrating to the families. They see the usual actions and reactions and hear the same voice tones but cannot understand why mom or dad are not making any sense. This element took me almost half a year to pick up on. One afternoon, in the middle of talking, mom quickly leaned forward, frowned, put her finger to her lips and loudly said ”shhhh”, like telling a child to stop talking. She leaned her head to one side and said in a whisper, “Someone’s in the garage. Hear that ?”  I reacted in sync, frowning, titling my head, squinting my eyes, and looking the same direction as her for ten seconds. Then I nodded, sighed, straightened up and said, “It’s ok now, they’re gone, mom.” How do you know?”, she said. ” I just heard them leave and close the door.” She relaxed and became ok again.

As part of releiving stress for families, I tell them to make a little test.  The next time they visit mom or dad, to figure how advanced the disease is, call your mom and dad by their first names instead of saying ”hi, mom”.  Most people still say hi, mom, etc. I believe that your mom or dad will say something to you about it if they are ok, and that they won’t even flinch if the disease has become deeper entrenched. The value of this is two-fold. One, accept them in their state, because they remain the same people with the same memories although shuffled or lost in the back room so to speak. Two, the most valuable of all, you now have a chance to listen to some of their history and dreams and hopes never before heard which they tell only to strangers. This was true in my mom’s case. The hospice lady would call me to verify some of the stories my mom told but also to tell me things I never knew. My mom wanted to be a dancer. She told this to the lady with emotion. I wish I had done this little test myself.

Besides shuffling all of the life experience pages in our minds, mixing the dates and times and places like cut-outs and re-glues to other pages, this disease creates conscious illusions like living your sleep dreams in real time. This disease also takes memories from past dates and places and holograms them into the current time and place which makes for some strange scenarios. I finally got to the point of never asking mom how she was nor what she thought and never did I ask what she did for the day. I simply commented on the weather and started telling her what I did for the day. She would always have something to say or add, whether or not it made sense to me. Conversations became speaking drills of verbal collage or something that would resemble a Picasso painting.

In our case, flying to California to bring mom back to Illinois, we were fortunate for a simple accident that made her stay out of our way for the packing of her things for the trip. We transferred her from the hospital to our hotel room where she stayed the three days we had for our mission.  She had fallen the night before and could not stand up. We reached a neighbor of hers and he discovered her condition which prompted us to ask him to call for an ambulance. We had only three days to work everything around. This required a lot of giving away of furniture and some clothes to neighbors in the gated community. I told them mom always preached giving to the poor, which everyone was in the apartment community. Yet, one day, my son said he felt it was wrong doing what we did. “I don’t feel right about this, dad”, he said. I explained that while the disease tore everything up within her mind, it also required us, in our circumstances and situation–time constraint, long distance travel and limited finances–to tear apart much of the physical belongings she accumulated over the past forty years. When we settled into the van of her friend, who was able to get mom’s ok to drive us to the airport, mom looked out the front window and said, ” This is a lovely place, Don. What’s the name of it ?” He had to compose himself a few seconds before answering, ” Sacramento.” It was only at THAT point I realized mom thought she was in a completely different city upon entering our hotel from the hospital. She never knew she was only three blocks away from her apartment.

My mom’s mind had such a strong dedication to surviving that I believe her mind/spirit was able to create deceptions to those outside of her or far away from her for more than a year.  Some of this deception was consciously created but half of it was the mind taking over, as crazy as that may sound. I think this because of the third night she was in the health care center. I came to visit. She was asleep. I sat by her bed watching her sleep and I suddenly realized she looked very different: pale, suddenly older by a decade, totally worn out. I thought she was going to die that night or that week. I was stunned and saddened. I returned two days later and her disposition was a bit more calmed, and her face and color had changed again to more normal appearance. So I wondered if I had witnessed the brain finally letting go of its protection mode because of the fact she was now in a very protective and happy environment with other people and care takers. I am always going to believe that is what I saw.

Perceptions make happiness and sadness, success and failure, love and hate, marriage and divorce. Perceptions are mentally created yet emotionally supported. Your MIND is the BIG deal of your conscious existence. Alzheimers attacks the perceptions department. Memories are the structure and scaffolding of beliefs and thoughts and life experience interpretations. Altered reality from this disease is much like the M. C. Escher lithograph ‘Relativity’–all those impossible staircases. The experience seems like being possessed by another’s interpretation of your life experiences. Someone shook up the slide show and placed every period of life in random order and some of those went in upside down or sideways.

So, what to do about all this ? Nothing. Keep up to date with new possible meds yet with close scrutiny of the side effects–which can be worse than the disease. Make no expectations or demands of your loved one who is affected. You never know when the reality shifts will take place. There is no schedule. Realize that some of the victims feel great frustration. Help make life easier, happier in every way possible. the greatest expectation should be from yourself to give the gift of  keeping life simple and as joyous as possible. You can handle every bit of it if you’re committed.

My mom lived almost one year more when we brought her to our town. She was happy to have others to relate to. I was overjoyed at the care she received from the healthcare staff and the hospice lady. I can say I did bring her to the best life she could have had for her last year. When she passed on I imagined her traveling back to the time of a photograph I have where she and my dad and two friends are toasting each other in bathing suit clothing on board a cabin cruiser on some lake. They were college grads and just starting their new graduate lives.           The End, as far as I know.