Monday, April 23, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Part II

his morning, like most mornings, the small equine herd in my backyard was waiting anxiously for breakfast, which they are always sure is not coming and are consistently thrilled about when it appears in their buckets.  In part, I have a former barn slave to thank for their enthusiasm.  He was an excellent worker, but regular hours were not on his agenda.  He showed up when he showed up.  That meant the horses ate when they ate, and they quickly became attuned to the sound of a vehicle pulling up the driveway.  Any vehicle at any hour of the day could bring the whole little gang flying from wherever on the property they were stuffing themselves with grass (in case, Zip assured me, the kid just didn't show one day, not out of gluttony as it would appear to the uninitiated).  It's been five years, and the UPS guy still thinks he's got a magic touch with horses.
Good Citizen Leo

As I walk to the barn, there is a reshuffling of positions on the other side of the gate.  They're not bickering over anything, just assuming their assigned places.  For the most part, the line-up reflects the order of the stalls along the barn aisle.  My horses walk in and go to their stalls on their own, a trick my daughter suggested I teach them after I'd spent one high-heeled evening too many being dragged around the barnyard or chasing some gate-squirter who managed to squeak through behind the horse I was leading.  I don't need to look behind me to know I've got Zip six inches from my butt, Pokey behind him, Leo coming on in third place, Dakota next, and Pinky the One-eyed Wonder App bringing up the rear (assuming he noticed the herd had left wherever he was standing, which isn't always a given).  It hasn't always been the same lineup.  When my daughter's horses were here, her mare, Dolly, and her gelding, Grady, led the herd into the barn, and Rat came up third.  That still reflected the stall door lineup, but it was also a sign of obeisance on the part of their followers that Dolly and Grady--Ms and Mr Herd Leader--were held in such high esteem, not to mention a little fear of reprisal.

Zip learns Respect...for the bag of treats, mostly.
Talk about character education!  Dolly and Grady, over their 8-year reign as benevolent despots in a herd that numbered as few as five and as many as nine or ten horses, taught their followers the rules in an even-hooved, fair-minded and only slightly aggressive way.  They instilled the Six Pillars of Character in them and never thought twice about how they might be affecting their herd's self-esteem.  Among prey animals, fear and control are key components.

In case you missed part one of this post, the "Six Pillars of Character" are these:

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Respect
  3. Responsibility
  4. Fairness
  5. Caring
  6. Citizenship
That's not to say that all of their charges were good students.  That's where the "inclusion" and "special ed" part comes in.  Included in this class was one Merry Prankster, one creosote drinker, at least one with ADHD, maybe a couple of older types taking adult education courses...  It would have been a Regular Education teacher's nightmare.  But horses don't think about it that way.  They don't segregate each other based on bizarre behavior or bad hair.  It's all about who is most likely to get them killed.  That's who gets sent to wood shop.  That's the horse with the special helmet and no friends.  The horse that's going to open the gate for the wolves is the one they put in the corner, not necessarily the one that has to taste everyone's grain on the way to his own bucket.

Now, if we humans could take a page from that book, we might treat our equine (not to mention human) students differently.  Enjoying the characters for who they are and still giving them "character" to the best of our and their ability.  

Next time:  Say, what?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Part I

t’s only 8:36 AM and this has already been an eventful morning.  Not eventful in the terrible sense that I opened the pasture gate and found injury and imminent demise on the other side.  That goes way beyond eventful.  No, this was just Basic Enlightenment eventful.  It began when I cleaned under my office desk.  

For some of you (and I won't hold it against you despite my desire to defend my ego) that is a nothing kind of way to start a day.  You probably don't have much under your desk.  If you do, it's probably well-organized and up-to-date on cleaning.  Trust me, neatness and cleanliness don't always go hand-in-hand.  My underdesk is as neat as a pin, all the folders and tall things standing upright and all the loose stuff in plastic drawer bins.  I like to leave well-enough alone, so it has looked exactly that way for some time now.  How long?  At least since 2001.  That's the date on the freshly-unearthed, wonderfully well-organized plastic file folder with all the little pockets neatly labeled and my notes on the 2001 Newton High School Opening Day In-Service for Teachers still on the attached note pad.

The subject of that in-service was "Character Education".

As I read through the notes, I found this bit of historical data:   
  • In the early 1930's, Judeo-Christian values predominated.
  • In the mid-1930's a Columbia University study showed that parents and society had a greater influence on students than the schools did.
  • In the 1960's, values clarification was initiated and it was determined that teachers did not have the right to impress their values on students.  Instead, they would help students better understand their own.
  • In the 1980's there was a rebirth of traditional [Judeo-Christian values predominating] approaches.
  • In the 1990's, President Clinton called for "Values Education"
  • In 2000, Clinton ramped that up to "Character Education".
The speaker then went on to talk about what was then a very old new concept, "Inclusion".  That was the reintegration of  students identified as needing extra support (eg: Special Ed Kids) with the kids who supposedly didn't need that extra boost (eg: Regular Ed Kids).  This was a big step up/back to the days pre-special education when all kids were in classes together but some spent a lot of time in the wood shop and graduated "Summa Cum Lucky", as a favorite high school principal used to say.

Zip, wondering
You're probably wondering what all this has to do with horses and the psychology of said beasts and their riders.  The connection is in the ebb and flow and the definition of "character".  

The "Six Pillars of Character" are these:

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Respect
  3. Responsibility
  4. Fairness
  5. Caring
  6. Citizenship
Is it sounding more familiar now?  Take Carol Sprague off the dais and put Richard Shrake there, and you've got Training by the Numbers, a character education program for horses.  Take "Judeo-Christian values" out of the pattern and replace it with any favored form of horse training, and you've got the wave of transition up to and through Natural Horsemanship...Character Education at its finest.
Now get this!  Ethics is "the quality of persistence in humans and of knowing when not to continue".    And this:  "What you wear and how you are influences how and what you teach".   And finally:  "If we haven't changed their behavior, we have failed, even if they've passed the tests".  
If that doesn't sound like a horse (and rider) training program, then I probably need another cup of coffee and a medication review.  In my next post (assuming nothing under my desk becomes more distracting than this file), I'll try to explain how all of this comes together.  

Monday, April 09, 2012

Am I Jealous of My Horses? You Bet!

I hope I'm not the only one who thinks this is hilarious.  Thanks to Dawn Diovera's Horse and Man blog for putting this on my radar.  I watched it three times.  I won't hold it against you, Dear Reader, if you only watch it twice.

ow that we’re off to a good Monday start, there are a few things on my mind that need to get off before they weigh down my incredible lightness of being. That my horses are better off than I am is only one of them, but I'll start there.

At the moment, I'm into Month Three of healing nicely from my most recent rotator cuff incident, and my  lust begins there.  My tack room is filled with all sorts of goodies to help my aging horses get through their days with minimal pain and stress.  They have boots and wraps and supplements and meds, and all of it works just fine.  Even my most arthritic animal is a tap-dancing fool with his daily dose of Cosequin ASU in his system.  I've read all the specs, and I've done my best to mimic that concoction in my own medicine cabinet, but you know what?  It doesn't work for me.  I've tried the human versions of the same supplements by the same makers and had no relief at all, while my horses glide merrily through the pasture without the hitch in their giddyap that threatens my daily activity level.  

So I'm feeling morose.  Down.  Irritated that my animals have it better than I do, and not through any fault of my own. A Bute or two on those really bad injury days, and the equines trot off smiling.  I'm rocking Ultracet and Mobic and have to check my joints at the door if I expect to have a pain-free day.

Ignore the bit rings and feel the love, and...
Hey!  Didn't I just order that same bit again?  Crap.
How is this fair?

And why is it that they get to hang out, have tasty  meals laced with supplemental goodness (carrot chunks, not the least of it) brought to them and their rooms cleaned and freshened by their slave while I have to spend my day fixing the fences they broke during their over-the-fence jousting?  That's not fair either.   

But there is an up side.

So today I will accept that while my mobility and play time may be in question, I could, in fact, operate an iPad if I had one.  They can't...yet.  I will luxuriate in my ability to poke a button and watch Buck again while they stand out in the sun and wind and grass without benefit of TV (but living HD lives, which is a separate whine).  And if the forty-mile-per-hour wind gusts ever let up, I'll corner one of them, drag him from his face time with his buds, and make him carry my butt around the property while I look for more broken fences to fix.  

And there, my friends, is the trade-off.  There's that peaceful HD time in the fresh air that I get in return for all the hard work and worry and expense and more hard work and time and travel constraints.  I get that amazing moment when Zip or Leo or Dakota says "Hey!  Nice to see you!" and we head off into the woods or just into the ring to pop a few mini-jumps and pretend we're doing lateral work like the big kids.  

And I guess I'm pretty much okay with that, achy shoulder and all.