Monthly Archives: September 2013

Technologies our children need to learn to succeed in the next generation

Technologies our children need to learn to succeed in the next generation
  • Inclined planes – ramps
  • Levers – shovel/arm, pitchfork/arm, hoe/arm, rake/arm, crowbar, arm with hammer/axe, scissors, tweezers, nutcrackers, wheelbarrows, brakes, writing instuments, pedals, paintbrush/arm
  • Wheels & axles – bicycles, carts, wheelbarrows
  • Pulleys – clotheslines, block and tackle, winches, hoists
  • Wedges – knives, chisels, axes, wood planes
  • Screws – screws, bolts, propellers

Learning opportunities:

Gardening, construction, moving heavy objects, driving and pushing wheeled vessels, cooking, carving, writing, drawing, housecleaning, loading/unloading, sculpture, equipment assembly, installation, repair and maintenance

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Culture & Society, Education, Technology


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I hope this will deepen your experience of the next runoff after heavy rains.

I’ve eaten too many peaches, but am comforted by the shoosh of the dishwasher, except suddenly it sounds like it’s trying to grind up broken glass, or at least eggshells. An old notebook lies open on my lap, and I have been immersed in memories. Times when we all went to the top of the hill on Resurrection Dayand sang “Morning has Broken” at the first ray of sunrise. Songs made up with friends and sung from a doorstep in Halifax on Mardi Gras. A list of eighteen books recommended by friends, one magazine described as “the Mad Magazine of Christianity,” another my friend Andrew called “a truth book.” Each says something about the friend who added it, and some not clearly until now. Here is a poem from the book a spiritual mentor Mark Harris recommended. I hope I have retyped it correctly from my notebook, in which I copied it that day:

The Masks of Drought
by William Everson
from his book The Veritable Years

Four wet winters and now the dry.
All the long season a sterile frost
Grips the mountain, the coast like flanged metal
Bent thwart the sea. Above:
Stripped trees, taut-twisted branches
Catch stark white light. Below:
Shriveled creekbeds, raw to the air, run naked roots,
Obscenely groined through flaking rock,
The scat of torrents.

                                              Then early last evening
A thin drizzle, gaining toward dusk. Before dark dropped
The low-hanging cloud slit its belly and the rain plunged.
All night long the thirsty slopes drank straight-falling water,
Soaking it up, filling those tilted, deep-shelving seams,
Blue veins of the mountain, zig-zag crevices of the fractured shale.
When dawn flared and the rain held
the runoff began.

                                              We rise with the light,
Sally down to the stream to touch fresh water
For a kind of blessing. We find instead a river of ink.
All the hoard of tributary creeks, those catchers of leaf-drift–
The strip of alder and the slough of fir,
Acrid shaft of the leathery tan-oak; and laurel,
The redolent, littering leaves of the laurel–
All that autumn opulence
Frost drove down and ruthlessly squandered
Four moons back, to rot where it fell,
Now crawls to the sea, a liquid bile.

You look up at last in a wondering way
And exclaim softly, “Why, the mountain is menstruating!”
Something in your voice, a tremor there,
Tells of the mutual womanly-pulse, the deep sensation,
Its sympathetic pang, its soft vibration

Looking, I see indeed it is true:
Leaves like dead cells
Long held back in the frigid womb
Now begin to flow–under the rain
A deep cleansing, this rite of renewal.

For me it is runoff but my heart purges.

Touching you and creek-throb in the same impulse
I am healed of frost:
Woman and water in the blood-flow.


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Learning in progress. Teachers, use extreme caution! and other t-shirt slogan ideas

And God created a fish with limbs, and it was good.
In the same vein, a Darwin fish facing a Christian fish, and they are having a conversation. No one is devouring anyone.

End road work.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be fundamentalists.

I hate geraniums.

Canners do it under pressure.

Real men repent.

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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Ideas


Week One at the public school

First day at the public school for my son, who is taking only fifth grade P.E. this year. We arrive early to get situated and possibly do paperwork. I make an effort to get acquainted with protocol—where should Joshua go when the bell rings, and could I work on my laptop in the library or somewhere else during class? Secretary goes back into an adjoining room and checks with the principal, the one who, when I was here to see her before for a tour, shuffled by without a word and communicated only with said secretary until she was good and ready to make an Appearance.

Principal gives permission, unseen and through the secretary, for me to stay around and work on my laptop—not in the library, but in the hallway by the front door, where there’s a bench conveniently located.  Joshua is to line up with Ms. K—-‘s class outside, where they are now on recess, and walk into the gym with the P.E. teacher.

There are still fifteen minutes, so we walk up to the library so Joshua can check out the limit of two books. But the librarian isn’t there, expecting no classes at the time, so I tell Joshua he could choose one and leave it with a note requesting checkout, and come back after class. It’s lovely having the whole place to ourselves. Joshua checks for an item on the computer, but has no account set up yet. Here comes the secretary, huffing in after apparently running (no doubt at the principal’s command) to fetch us. “The librarian isn’t here,” she explains. “Yes, I suppose she’s not expecting anyone,” I reply, mindful of class scheduling. I explain about choosing a book, leaving a note. “I need to get back to my desk, and the library is unsupervised,” Okay, so no one knows me here yet, and the Visitor Pass apparently means only past the front door. Secretary seems apologetic, but trying to obey a set of rules imposed on her, and I don’t want to get her in trouble. “Can I sign up as a volunteer so I can be trusted?” I’m unable to keep a slight note of sarcasm out of my voice. She smiles slightly, and escorts us downstairs. On the way I summarize for my son the explanation. We wait dutifully outside to await the bell.

Have you ever met someone who, before they ever mention it, you know must work with young children every day? It’s the pronunciation–slow, deliberate, emphasis on consonants, and the use of simple words, with an attempt at that combination of kindness and authority that comes across instead as artificial. As if children can’t handle the individual and personality and style of the teacher. It’s always refreshing to meet one who has not imposed such restraints on his or her true self.

Ms. K— has heard we are here, and has come to introduce herself and welcome my boy to come any time to her class. She is warm, welcoming, herself. I explain that Joshua is homeschooling and only taking P.E., but by that time Joshua is expressing second thoughts and says he might want to join her class full-time. I tell him we’ll talk, feeling both pleased that there’s such a teacher, and regretful that he might want to be at school all day instead of homeschooling with me.

We go outside so my son can check out the play structures. By the fence is a woman with a school vest and loudspeaker. Is she the P.E. teacher, I ask? No, that would be the woman across the lot (not to say “field”, as it’s covered in asphalt). The bell rings (an alarming sound for those not accustomed), and I see she’s part of the control structure; the children are starting to move to the field from the play structures, but she directs them to FREEZE, and then WALK (someone might get hurt) down and line up with their classes.

Up I go to my bench with my laptop. I write impressions, commentary about the school experience, the staff, what I see and hear so far. Right under the nose of the administrative office. Feels empowering. Shall I have to make my blog private after this, to preserve my future job prospects in the system? But no one has the right to look over my shoulder, with a “Hmm—Gillian, would is there anything you would like to share with the class?” Indeed, I have the right to look over theirs.

Near the end of the P.E. period, I ask where would be the best rendezvous with my son, and whether I may to go down and meet him by the stairs. She is so appreciative that I have asked, and graciously permits me to go down, this time without asking the principal.

I am the only parent watching the class. The P.E. teacher manner is different from that of the homeroom teacher—a commanding voice that carries, assertive carriage, she moves masses and groups from one activity to another, watching for safety issues and off-task behavior. Yet this manner is also optional–the P.E. teacher my children had two years ago managed to be engaging, organized, quietspoken and kind, even when balls had to fly, races be run, skills be practiced.

On the way home my son says he has decided not to go to school full time after all. And although I turned the idea over in my mind as possibly a good thing for me—time to complete money-saving home projects, update my teacher training and credentials, work as a substitute teacher, by the time Joshua has come to the homeschooling conclusion, so have I. One wonderful teacher does not a great school experience make.

Coming next: Week Two

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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Education, Places & Experiences


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All the wrong reasons to push our kids into institutionalized, standardized, centralized, professionalized, multiculturalized, secularized, age-grouped schools

  • So all of them will turn out above average.
  • To keep up in knowledge and skills with evil people who might steal our resources or beat us in war.
  • To free up parents be able to go to work at something more meaningful and productive.
  • To allow busy parents to escape the demands of children for a good chunk of each day.
  • Mass production is more efficient.
  • To get them socialized properly.
  • To acquaint them with the “real world” with its bad leaders, bullies, social pressures, deadlines, sacrificing personal for group goals, and system of extrinsic rewards.
  • Everyone else for the last two or three generations has done the same thing, so it must be a good idea.
  • To keep children from having too much time to themselves.
  • To standardize shopping seasons for convenient stocking, advertising, staffing, and inventory cycles.
  • To expand markets for goods promoted through peer socialization.
  • To keep children from spending most of their time with relations and people not not their own age.
  • So little boys will learn to sit still and do things they don’t feel like doing.
  • To keep public library books from getting overused.
  • To keep teens from having too much free time in which to get into trouble.
  • To create more jobs for lunch room staff, registrars, counselors, playground attendants, record keepers, bus drivers, curriculum advisers, administrators, text book publishers, portrait photographers, and others necessary to an institutional setting.
  • To provide easily accessible research material for scholars and market researchers.
  • To water down religious ideas and practices.
  • Because there is a specific body of knowledge that all children should learn at each age, and/or a constantly changing body of essential knowledge best determined by industry, government, and special interest groups.
  • Without school there would be no recess.
  • Schools are where all the teachers are.
  • We’ve already got the public school system going, so why not keep it going so as not to waste all that momentum?
  • To keep children’s immunization status current.
  • Classrooms are the best places to learn most everything.

Can you think of any more?


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“What curriculum do you use?” she asked.
“I make a very thick tomato sauce, which takes thyme
and oregano.” I said. That’s how I start September,
and we put the garden to bed.

“In October, at ten o’clock in the morning,
we watch the starlings graze on the lawn
through the glass doors at the back of the house.
If we can, we draw a picture of a thrush
or just some flowers on the table.

In November, we sit and read various things,
Preferring Frost and Kipling to Stevenson.
On gusty days the children ask for plastic bags and string for kites
Which only fly on the level, but so do the children when they run with them.

In December, we gather boughs and make wreaths
with grapevines and a good bit of wire,
fill the advent tree my brother made in his shop with chocolate kisses
and try to catch up on the days already passed.

In January, I knit while we watch swim races
inhaling chlorine aroma from the steamy stands
to the sound of cheering.

In February we gather for tea (two kinds) at Lynnette’s,
and a sharing of books, but the boys prefer to play outside with light sabers
while we visit in the upper room, where the sun comes in even in winter.

And so on, with an abundance of books, and trying to behave ourselves,
using up last summer’s jam, petting cozy cats,
and unloading armfuls of food and socks from the store.
Mail comes, email goes, and we take more pictures

And finally, we mow our lawn to give an orderly appearance.


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Just a few ordinary thoughts, to keep my hand in.

Just a few ordinary thoughts, to keep my hand in.

Up late trying to get a bit organized for tomorrow, started the bread my son has been requesting for several days, faithfully cleared the table of homeschool supplies and stuff I might get to–part of my new resolution to keep up with messes. Dishes cleaned and put away, during which I discovered that “quick wash” works just fine for most things using less power. My mom used to use a manual version of quick wash that was much louder than the electric one, and less effective if it was clean dishes she was after. She used it especially when riled and/or when she was tired of the old dishes and didn’t mind if a few more broke.

Plum Cocaigne cake, a recipe chosen to help with a seasonal abundance of that fine fruit, is baking in the oven. It’s supposed to be finger food for the discussion leader training I’ve been invited to attend tomorrow, but it’s looking tremendously juicy–better bring paper bowls and spoons. The first time the timer beeped I thought the screen said “ERROR” but it was only “END.” Will such a high-maintenance dish be frowned upon by the twenty-three fine women (not to say ladies, which has too many implications) who will be in attendance? And by the way, why was I invited? I was told ’cause I think and bring up good questions in our women’s Bible study. Backup discussion leader, to be sure–I probably wouldn’t have said yes otherwise, and it’s not just because of my busy schedule. I love facilitating discussions, asking questions, hearing what folks think, trying to bring some light, some syntheses, and some applicability. Yet I feel I’m a bit of an imposter, ’cause I feel my thoughts and feelings tend to stray a bit out of line. I can’t get much past the Apostles’ Creed any more. I credit the Presbyterians (and some others) for being open minded, able to discuss just about anything–well, you can find someone to discuss just about anything. And after all, I did bring up questions that seemed relevant, and there it is. If they only knew what I am capable of bringing up, but I no longer court controversy and try to provoke debate–it makes me tired and nowadays my relationships are more long term. Mustn’t burn one’s bridges. What I’m looking for now is truth and what to do about that, in the context of my life and personality.

Out comes the plum cake, in goes the flat bread. The other plums are drying in the heated, fanned machine on the opposite counter. They look remarkably like dried slug when ready, but taste much better. This is my first effort with dried plums, but I must lay in supplies for granola and energy bars as I move away from ready made bars and expensive dried fruit from the store. Apples will be next. Years ago I tried drying zucchini, and the result was in many ways like dried shitakes, but for now the zucchinis go into salads, under the grill, or into sauces and soups.

In other news, the garden spiders have covered our front bushes with beautiful webs of the asterisk joined by polygon type, some a foot in diameter. This morning my son and I hung out the windows to watch and photograph them, and film one that was in the process of building. Each day they grow fatter, and then they go to their secret places to build their egg sacks and wither away. Inside are the house spiders–really, these are the real names–up where the walls meet the ceiling. A few days ago my daughter and I watched while a crane fly tripped into a thread, and the owner snapped into action, lunging again and again to trap it, finally succeeding in winding up a few flailing legs. But the crane fly flew away without them. We don’t have much of a fly problem in our house.

The final loaf of bread is baked golden brown, and since I have an early start tomorrow, that’s all, except to say that I wish you the most beautiful quotidian mysteries. The Shaker hymn goes:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.


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