Monthly Archives: January 2015

College planning continued, and I’m hoping it will be applicable for the next three kids to come

Ha! I feel like I’m making a kind of progress, since for the last two weeks the number of my post drafts has ceased to mount and commenced declining. More like a steady state, as hindsight has culled a few. Interesting that in the case of one or two on which I’ve labored I feel have something to them, some real ideas pretty clearly articulated, but I’m not sure they represent what I really think right now, and when I try to bring them around they won’t cooperate. Maybe I got to writing along an old track, and someone laid a penny on the rail and so one wheel is off a bit. Maybe I’ll just put disclaimers at the beginning and post them anyway.

College research for my son continues, and the results are mixed. He’s basically looking for a combination of computer science and Arabic, though he has a range of other interests too-pretty broad, actually. Computer science for a marketable skill mostly–doesn’t seem to be smitten by that prospect, but wants to make a good salary and not be a burden. Also has help making inroads there and getting additional training through his dad by joining the family business. He also wants to study languages. Arabic will build on his fluency in Hebrew, which is closely related, and make him eligible to apply for the The State Department’s Critical Languages Scholarship program, which pays for summer classes beyond beginning Arabic. So that seems wise in any case. Somewhere in his heart still, I’m pretty sure, is the desire to teach, or work with kids in some capacity. But since that can wait until the time he’s need to branch off into education coursework, he can brood over that and see if the heart will still have its reasons for going into a lower paying field. Interesting that my eleven year old is now saying that he definitely wants to be a teacher, no doubt at all, he says. It’s cool that though this sixth grade year is tough for him in some ways, he’s seen something that inspires him in some of his teachers. Part of it is some kind of funkiness, an ability to be quirky and silly with kids, and have fun so they stay interested, laugh and learn better. He knows and sometimes struggles with knowing that he dances to a different drummer, and it seems that could work as a teacher. Not that he’s had the chance to observe many other professions.

Plus, I guess, the kids have heard me talk so much about my subbing experiences, and my wonder that despite being a somewhat lazy and introverted person, or at least not very content to be on a schedule and needing regular time alone, I really do enjoy doing what I’m doing. They see how much value the profession of teacher itself, as so important in this world. Is there anything as important? Given that parenting is also teaching to a big degree, of course. Of course I’m biased; there are surely many equally important jobs. But they don’t include doctors, lawyers, or police, or computer programmers, or HR managers, or senators. Farmers might be up there with teachers, and craftspeople, and but I’m not sure what else. All professions, of course, maybe even the oldest, are sanctified by the real desire to do right financially by one’s loved ones, and an attitude of sweet service.

So, college planning: It’s come to light that it doesn’t seem to be worth it for my son to apply to a big-name school that has both computer science and Arabic—U of WA, for example, or a unique private school that has both—Macalester College, for example. The first option means life on a really big campus, and I have serious reservations about that because of the challenge of feeling connected, part of a caring community, soon enough into the first semester for good mental health, on which everything else depends. The second option is just too darn expensive. If we could do income averaging we might qualify for student aid, but it’s been a financial catch-up year, so on paper our income is above average. We didn’t have the foresight to buy lots of stuff like cars and major house remodels as some people apparently do to be able to report fewer assets on the FAFSA. Which to my mind is a perversion of the way FAFSA is supposed to work. Or there’s a perversion somewhere, if rich, educated people can “structure” their assets (see this Forbes article) to seem like any other struggling middle class family whose kids need federal assistance with higher education. I suppose with a son and a daughter due to start higher ed within the next few years and not much savings, our assets will get restructured soon enough. And we won’t be the first loving parents who have refinanced assets to help kids through college. I am checking my privilege, yes.

The most cost effective option (keeping out of serious debt being another way to support mental health) seemed to be continuing at the local community college, which has an excellent cyber security training program at the cost of $2000 per quarter, the intro courses for which have already been paid for by Running Start. Today I really probed my son as to how he felt about studying in town and continuing to live at home. He’s been so flexible, so mindful of the need to make sound decisions affecting family finances, that he hasn’t really expressed, maybe even allowed himself to establish, his real preferences and dreams. When pressed, he said he really didn’t want to continue at the local college and living at home, though he’d be willing if we couldn’t afford otherwise. I told him I felt it was important to try to honor the desires he had, that this was a time of opportunity, and there were ways of making it work to pursue his dreams, to travel, to be part of a learning community rather than just taking classes and coming home to do assignments. One affordable option is to go to a Canadian university. I’m taking a closer look at the in my Nova Scotia alma maters, because my son would be able to be near my extended family for the first extended time–grandparents, two uncles and an aunt, and even an adorable three year old niece. Another two aunts and two uncles not so far away either. My parents are approaching their eighties, still pretty healthy, and they would be thrilled. My son has a special connection with my dad, who has a similar personality, interests and communication style.

My alma mater is a cozy little college (U of King’s) adjacent to a large research university (Dalhousie U), so one can take specialized liberal arts programs such as Foundation Year (classics of Western lit), History of Science and Technology, Early Modern Studies, or Contemporary Studies, study at the respected journalism school, or take selection of the big box classes next door. Or a combination. At the very least one gets to belong to a close knit community (sometimes too close, which has its valuable lessons) and enjoy lots of Oxfordish traditions as well as live in classic, roomy old high ceilinged dorms with clanking water radiators. And one can also go be anonymous, strolling through the crowds of Dalhousie or dozing in a corner of the giant library, or get involved in a club on a larger scale. Great athletic center, easy access to Celtic music, lots of weather… What are my feelings in this? I feel my son will do more justice to the opportunities at King’s that I did, for one thing.  It’s exciting to think of all the cool things that the place offers, and be so familiar with many of them. On the other hand, I had a pang of motherly angst when I thought of my firstborn living so far away for four years–a preview of how much I will miss him. As will we all, and why not, like my husband suggests, have him study closer to home?

Fortunately application deadlines for Canadian universities are still months away, so it’s a matter of finishing up the U.S. paperwork, fitting in as many brief conversations with my son as possible in the midst of his finals and papers so I can ferret out what he really wants to do, and feels is the best way to do it.


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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Education, Parenting & Family


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An experiment in writing with the earbuds in, listening to my “Soul Music” playlist

“Stuck.” One of the first words my first little one used, not including “Mama,” “Dada,” and maybe “Up.” A crucial word to know, really. An acknowledgement, a confession, a plea. A physical reality, an emotional or spiritual one–it works for all of these.

Ever tried to find out more about an issue, and found out so much, uncovered the entrails of a nasty network of self interest, corruption, entrenched power, and the presence of a fog of denial penetrating the minds of just about everyone you know about said topic? Like the problem was huger, huger than you ever thought, and where do you start? You admire the ones who hack away at the edifice of injustice, try their crow bars on those concrete tracks taking us all down that self-destructive slope (watching the opportunists at the exits so they can jump off with all the loot they can grab). See some of them make a difference, others be vilified and discredited, or ignored. You sense it might all be futile after all, despite the one starfish at a time philosophy that you heard from the pulpit, from the valedictorian, and read on the Do good, Feel Good button pins given away by your local credit union.

I care about something. I see there are problems. I say to myself, I’ll just get to the bottom of this, become an expert, and use my voice; I read, read, listen, read, take notes, tie it all together in one hour a day,in my spare time. Meanwhile I go live in that world, get my kicks from the machine, give my hours, my resources to feed the status quo, feeling all the time the possible threat that would arise if I were to take a stand. Not ready to take a well-informed, articulate stand, realizing with every step ahead into the maze of information, implication, accusation that the ones that really understand this stuff are so much smarter and articulate; they speak almost another language, which you’ve only just begun to be able to understand. And they are cynical, and write and speak a kind of lingo that seems intended for the camp, so everyone can shake their heads and live the perpetual alarm and teeth-gritted martyrdom.

Do you go back and at least do something small, in the moment, at the level of the here and now, and let your interest in and vigilance about the underbelly of the beast, the inner workings of the machine, slide, go dormant? After all, there’s the job to do, the mortgage to pay, the kids to shop for, and tax season is coming up.

Do you start engaging more broadly with the community, with the power structure by personal activism, start writing letters, requesting meetings, recruiting assistance, hoping that your work, your personal life, and your health will hold up, knowing you don’t know it all, can’t understand everything, see all the angles, but you have to start somewhere…

Or do you say, I quit! and start something fresh and new, something separate and unencumbered by tradition, protocol, due process, in the power of the Spirit, or at least the power of novelty and adrenaline?

Thinking of those who cut their ties, go to live off the land on some berry-rich island surrounded by enough fish from the wild sea, pasture their chickens and plant kiwi vines and mint for tea. I dream of doing that kind of thing, though my dream is slightly different and involves the nearness of a few neighbors and a high, cozy writing room with a view.


Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Culture & Society, Ideas


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Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. week, and may you honestly and courageously address your local racial troubles

Since being humbled last week by that high school student, I’ve tried not to “go on” so much, as in try to bend the discussion toward my pet subjects and let on about my personal philosophy under the heading “some people believe” or “What do you think of the view that…” Today I felt more professional in my demeanor, just trying to make sure these sixth graders understood the concepts–what the different types of industrial power generating facilities were, how they worked, and the pros and cons. Yeah, they noticed that the online video selected to explain natural gas plants did not mention any cons, so I helped them figure those out. That’s objective enough. But I didn’t voice the question, Do you ever wonder who makes these videos, especially if they seem so one-sided, or why the cons are left out?  And when I showed the Disney video on energy, I only said to one out of three classes (there was noise, so probably it was missed by most), Try not to view this as a promotion for Disneyland. I made a mental note to try to be more pure when I get my own students, and teach about mechanical and potential energy without all the shots of fave rides in the park and how cool and popular they were. I couldn’t help but put in a search later on the natural gas plant video, and all I came up with is energynownews, the YouTube channel. Seems neutral enough, except for the failure to see or mention that even “clean” power has problems, and they don’t just come out of the stacks.

This week I also had the chance to check in with a teacher I subbed for last week, meeting her for the first time. Was gratified to hear that she’d received positive reports on my day with her students. I asked her about one, whom I remembered with concern. Yes, he’d taken a definite turn since Thanksgiving, she said, as if something had happened at home; no one knew what. He’d gone from challenging himself to read to the max and get all his work done, to sullen, silent (except when pressed about refusal to do any work, when he’d push back, especially with subs), and sad. Which is what I’d noticed. She thought he probably wanted to get suspended, but that fortunately he wasn’t taking the proper routes to that yet. She was hoping he’d at least absorb something and eventually come around. I thought later, why would he come around? Time alone doesn’t heal some things, and there must have been some wounds. I daydreamed about being the one, baggage free with this boy, and not quite bought-in to schooling either, to start a conversation… Everyone else is so busy, and I suppose have tried what they could. Maybe all I would think of to say would be that we’d support him as he let himself be fallow for a while, that we would all be patient and there for him meanwhile, not rush him or get in his face or anything or demand he use words if he didn’t want to. The idea of the fallow state applied to human beings from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, and somewhat from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Very applicable here, it seems to me.

The day of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly last week at the high school was interesting. I got to show “A Raisin in the Sun” three times, becoming more and more impressed not only by the story, but by the acting of Claudia McNeil and Sidney Poitier in their roles of mother and son. This experience in parallel with listening to Roots on audio as I drive around town on errands made for interesting meditations. What a work Alex Haley made, such obvious research, the story tells so authentically, and the characters win such sympathy from the reader. Should be required reading for any young people preparing for short-term so-called mission trips to West Africa, among others.

The teacher lunch room was alive with talk spurred by the MLK assembly, which the Korean American teacher beside me felt was boring, the usual stuff centering all on Black-White conflicts, and another felt was too focused on rioting by hoodlums, which didn’t strike the right tone for the day. Several shared anecdotes–the Korean man on an encounter with police when he was stopped on an army mission–carrying machine guns–for speeding, and after being asked to step out of the vehicle, got into a tense interaction in which he reminded the officer that his authority superseded that of the officer, and unhooked his holstered weapon to make it ready. I felt the tops of my ears heating up as they do when I feel the urge to speak up combined with the awareness that I’m the outsider. I asked why he’d unhooked the gun, because, though I didn’t say this, it seemed like just a dangerous sort of macho pissing war. Then I learned, from him and others in the room, of the frequency of incidents where police intimidate motorists and even steal from them. Later I found out that at least in Canada it’s been legal for decades to confiscate motorists’ belongings on the claim that they are goods gained by the profits from drug deals or human trafficking. To avoid charges the driver signs a waiver that releases interest in the goods. That law is being scrapped soon, though it seems to be at least intact informally on lonely highways in the American southwest. Where are those Dukes of Hazard when you need them?

I wanted to ask what anyone’s take on Latino-Caucasion relations was in the area, and how the local Indian nation was viewed by local whites, and vice versa. Not many African Americans in our county, so it really does make sense that these other race relations be looked at and talked about, as Dr. King would surely have thought made more sense in context. Which ties into what I observed in the so called Holy Land, racist barriers being reinforced every day there, and walls built higher and higher even while some hard-working Jewish and Palestinian radicals march together, write to change things, bring people together and endure hate, intimidation and danger. What do you think of that use of the term “Palestinian radical?”

Anyway, I feel tender toward those for whom the system is a trap or a torture or a painful reminder of how much of success in life is predetermined. Can’t forget a Lummi Nation boy and the bitterness he brought into the classroom, and how he reveled in the portrayal in the film of that day about the accomplishments of various tribes to American culture. And I feel tender toward the kids for whom school is just a mind-numbing break from hell at home. Yes, even in this nice little neighborhood in this nice little town, where the hottest controversies are about getting the coal trains to stop waking us up at night with their horns, and who has the connections in City Hall to get that Quiet Zone set up? As well s the possibility of having to pay for more house cleaner hours to dust the coal soot of the stainless steel barbecue.

Maybe because I have more time on my hands, and fewer responsibilities than full time teachers, I have these thoughts. There were thirty-four students on the rosters of the three classes I taught today, and they all handed in assignments I didn’t have to look over. They have a reasonable expectation of a good lesson plan and meaningful work on the morrow. After the morning staff meeting and with the flu going around, and before the standardized testing season comes.





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I can’t learn it any younger

Last week I cycled a lot of dishes: from the counter, various side tables, and the dining table to the dishwasher, from the dishwasher to the cabinets, and back into the cycle again. I was counting this time, since I finally got down on paper the division of labor I expected the kids to adhere to now that I’m working–one on dishwasher, one on sweep & general tidy, one on laundry and the youngest on taking out various forms of refuse. I counted each session accomplished in each category by them or by me, and, well, we might be at 10%/90%, and at least that’s a place to start. The excuses were, I’m doing something. I need to have supper. I want to take a shower. I’m so tired! I’m getting ready for school. So my goal is to—lovingly—teach them to use the nooks and crannies of time within their schedule which would otherwise be wasted—to put away a load of dishes while the breakfast eggs are cooking, sort laundry while the microwave heats the milk, sweep the floor while waiting for the bathroom to be available. Yes, it doesn’t seem almost impossible to get any chores done between school and athletics and homework and sleep and fun, but now that’s me too, so we’ve got to figure this out, or we’ll run out of dishes or clean underwear.

My other goal is to keep my temper. Even on a regular day I get really miffed when people walk away from messes, and when I have to interview everyone three times before someone finally remembers it was them who dropped that wet towel on the wood floor or left the cheese on the counter. When I get up at 5:30, sub all day, drive my daughter to the barn and tutor in the late afternoon, with only a few hours at home and not much time alone, I definitely have a harder time not giving in to anger.  Raising my voice doesn’t cow anyone in this house anyway, and often leads to their saying words which in themselves should bring down some sort of consequence. I realize too that I’m supposed to be an example here–even if my mom gave up on training and did all the work herself, making it impossible for her to take on a career or other responsibilities if she’d wanted to, I’d better figure out how to do this, for their sake as well as my own.

Looking back on that paragraph, I see how readily I excuse myself. Maybe that’s a way I can win them over, with understanding, like I want when I get behind.

Next week I’m keeping out of the schools for the most part, so I can work on my son’s FAFSA application, which depends on getting our personal tax return done, which depends on getting the business tax return done, which depends on getting the accounting files up to date. Today I spent several hours trying to figure out why the program wouldn’t even open, and ended up upgrading the seven-year-old software. Once all the money stuff is done, I have to check on the progress of my son’s college applications and help him figure out how to get involved in that Palestinian volunteer opportunity he wants to do. He’s so swamped with school work and the final weeks of the swim season that the earlier application due dates are looming and he just isn’t making much progress. No time to visit campuses either.

As I said I tutor a few home bound students for my district; I fired off an email to my tutoring supervisor listing all the “challenges” of the job—things that impeded student from progressing on schedule, or made transition back to class less than smooth, and so on. With possible solutions for each. Thought it might impress her as well as getting the ball rolling toward some improvements to the program. Then I thought it might be more irritating than otherwise, me wanting to change things a few weeks in when they’ve always done things a certain way, and maybe even that was a huge accomplishment under budgetary and other constraints. I don’t even know how many students are in the program at any one time. Still, seems it might be worth drawing up something on ways schools could work better with tutored students. One who went to school a few times this week said she was pretty much ignored, as if the teacher didn’t realize she’d been away for over a month. A good teacher from what I hear, but apparently ot noticing individuals overly.

I came back today energetic as usual after teaching, which they say is a clue that you’re working in your gifts. Not that it was like that my first year full time. I had lower expectations then, just to see if I wanted to continue at all despite all the difficulties, many of which I’d bring on myself as a novice.

One of my days this week was in 11th grade and AP (12 grade) English, which went pretty well, except in my second section of discussing some poems in the large group I got too effusive and got called on it by a student. He made some comments, such as “what does this have to do with…” and also got miffed when I didn’t notice his hand raised to respond and kept calling on others, for which I apologized. When he later questioned the value of the train of thought I was on, I admitted that it was perhaps off track, though other students were engaged and seemed to be enjoying the discussion. The bell rang, and students began packing up. I overheard him say in in a scornful tone so I could just overhear, ” Well, that teacher was awesome. I learned so much this class!”

I was already feeling like I’d been too loose in the discussion, too willing to share my own views and lead things in the direction I wanted at the moment, in my overconfidence from how well the previous section had gone. But I was stung, and I walked over and said, N—-, I appreciate feedback, but your comments had a sarcastic tone that was hurtful.”

Surprised, he said that he had not meant to come across that way, but he felt that I had gone on too much at times instead of sticking to the poem. I said, yes, I heard that. He repeated that he had not meant to be hurtful, just to give feedback. So I said, “Then I’ll take it in that spirit,” nodded, and walked back to my podium.

I did not get moist eyes, did not have a noticeably quavery voice, and I’m pretty sure my lip did not quiver. But I felt utterly humbled. And as I thought about the fact that he had indeed meant to be hurtful, as he knew very well, I had to wrench my thoughts back to the value of that experience for my own growth, rather than feel angry at the student for his unkindness. If I can’t embrace a teachable moment, than what’s the good of trying to create them for students?


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This page intentionally not left blank

Just missed an interview on CBC which I could possibly have tied into this post, which was meant to be about refusing to focus on success according to standards that one deems unworthy. Probably not, though–the interviewee had written a book about how great it was to quit, which is not exactly what I mean, though it seems to be a similar sort of IN YOUR FACE attitude. I’m seeing so many folks in education, for example, trying to measure up to those hyped up, advertised, promoted, propagandized, peer pressured, internationally benchmarked, mandated, brainstormed standards of success, designed to get our young to the top of the heap, every last worthy one. One would hope not to be striving like the caterpillars in Hope for the Flowers, which climbed blindly over the backs of others, crushing all others in their paths, to get up to, well, I recommend you read the story. This is just a bit of (federally and regionally mandated) friendly competition (CASH PRIZES) among ourselves in which all of us (must) win (RACE TO THE TOP), and the ones who don’t, well, who they are depends on your inherited style of blindness; they would have brought it upon themselves to be crushed anyway. Practically begging to be crushed, right down into those cracks between the floorboards, and we can always vacuum, sand and refinish when the grit starts to squeeze out like little ant hills between the slats. But I didn’t mean to mention them–don’t even look there between those boards under your feet. Anyone can succeed in America, you just have to follow your dreams and believe in yourself, and don’t stay on welfare longer than you really need to, even if it means a cut in pay and deteriorating health.

My observations as a parent, substitute teacher, and district home tutor (who gets around, keeps her finger to the wind, keeps her eyes and ears peeled), as well as my research into these things, makes me think we need more everyday folks (defined as too busy or focused on other things, but still in agreement) to get with the radicals (haven’t we seen that opportunity before in history regrettably lost?) and resist reliance on common academic standards imposed from above (with assistance from corporate America). Not just for the reason that so far they seem to be pretty low standards, slapped together and expedited and skillfully networked down almost to the grass roots by savvy business people who have their own public relations departments, but faulty, and skewed toward digitally accessible and numerically testable knowledge and skills–surely a small subset of the world of worthwhile knowledge. Not just because they’re generating a wave of curriculum materials that aim to meet the standards without meaningful participation from teacher’s hearts and minds. Not just because they minimize important aspects of education such as mathematical accuracy, reading for enjoyment, discovery of personal writing voice, clarity, and the kind of critical thinking that leads to conclusions that might impede the workings of this great new, progressive, twenty-first century, economy-building machine. But I object to them because I’m considering the source: powerful people whose education and training (for the twenty-first century) occurred primarily on Wall Street or at the helm of an ice-breaking, groundbreaking private enterprise that now dominates that street.

But I still can still hold my tongue in the teacher lunchroom (barely–easier when the talk is all football or lunch recipes), and in job interviews (should I have one soon), about how the education of children is fundamentally the right and responsibility of parents, not the state. That local schools and their teachers have a delegated task, delegated by parents and community elders, not by the state. And personal choices in education, such as home schooling, unschooling, and of course non-state schools and community cooperatives, don’t even have to involve the state much at all. The best school districts understand that chain of command, and the most responsible parents don’t delegate that responsibility (if they do) lightly. But things get muddied by the way the money moves around. For this explanation I consulted my state’s summary of that, found here. A very interesting document, whose tab someone misspelled for a little humor. There’s a helpful “page intentionally left blank” right after the cover page so one can mentally prepare after reading the imposing title. Another one after the first subtitle page. Oh, and another, and…in total, there are–I counted them–sixteen, not including the ten additional pages whose content–titles and tables and contact information–could have been formatted into the previous or following pages. Perhaps for a little low impact “test” for the auditors of state school funds, to see if they notice that every “intentionally left blank” page printed costs $0.06, and is that being well spent? It might be worth paying the auditor at least that much to tell us the wasted total. Not to mention that of the additional typist time to vary the wording on some of the blank pages to “This page left blank intentionally.” “Blank” being inaccurate, and perhaps a staff writer could be called in to fix that–I suggest “This page contains only this statement,” to instill confidence in the accuracy and importance of the other information presented in the document.

Just as an aside: I have to say the document “Organization and Financing of WA State Schools “referred to above is a fine work. I myself would have enjoyed writing it, as I take pleasure in creating detailed, complete, organized accounts of how things are and have been done, with charts and graphs and beautifully written and edited sections and subsections. Although when I do, part of my conscience tweets that most of the time such documents are completely unnecessary where the doers themselves are wise and trustworthy. That would be the ideal scenario, since the creating of finance and budget documents is rather expensive, though great for job creation if the additional funding can be attracted from sources other than that earmarked for items that directly improve classroom practice. Perhaps that’s a grant proposal that could be submitted to the Gates Foundation as well as the Waltons, rather than allowing them to mess with actual instructional content like we do. Maybe Microsoft can even glean some helpful data points from the online habits of the “This page is intentionally left blank” writers while they work, leaving school children to key in their responses unobserved.

I am starting to sound a bit frothy, if not exactly flaky, no? Shall I give you my homemade granola recipe (yogurt recipe here) and call it a night? Then at least I can be useful to those of you of a practical and earthy disposition. I feel I’m that, too, though it might not show. Today I didn’t even curl my hair, and I only do so on week days because it helps me fit in so I can infiltrate the system. Besides, I like the smell of scorched keratin–brings me back to my teen days when I’d stand in front of the utility sink getting ready to board the bus for that forty-five minute trip, then fearfully walk the school halls as my blonde curls relaxed to their incorrigible straightness, which at that time was not fashionable. I wanted wavy hair, whiter teeth, and a curvaceous bust. My hair started to wave of its own accord in my thirties, and I can use bleach on my teeth these days, but apart from my eight years of breast feeding, I have had to accept that I will never have trouble with excessive bouncing when I run, or be able to float on my back and read, except in the Dead Sea.

I just said good day to a fascinating person, K, whom I recognized on entering as a woman I met on a local pebble beach a few months ago. With mixed feelings I recalled our meeting, and now that I’ve talked with her again they are still mixed. Remember the retired Vietnam pilot in “Independence Day” who claimed to have been kidnapped by aliens, then when they show up to conquer earth, he volunteers to be in the defense squadron and saves the day? Like that, except not an alcoholic, and those who are after her are her relations and the Mexican mafia. She plans to run for President as soon as she can, or get Canadian citizenship, since the Canadian government is the only one who is willing to look into the shadowy efforts of her relations and the Mexican drug mafia to disinherit her of her legacy of a twelve piece matched set of Tibetan prayer bowls and her writings. When I told her it sounded a little flaky, she assured me that it did unless one had the education to understand these things, and that ionized (or was it deionized?) water was the thing to make a person less susceptible to innuendo. Innuendo, as in do re mi; other word plays with musical and conspiracy allusions were listed. And that Hillary Clinton had already been in the White House as First Lady, and so it wouldn’t be right for her to have another term, nor Bill to get the First Gentleman (First Mate?) position so soon. And anyway, he can’t be trusted if he’d lie about sex. She was articulate, and sensible (except for the flaky stuff, but I acknowledge that could be my ignorance or blindness), and had pretty healthy social boundaries (on the extroverted side, of course). But we were talking loud, and when she went out to get another log for the fire, I apologized to the other occupant of the room for dominating the audio space, and told K I needed to do my quiet work now, so we signed off.

The fire is burning properly in the grate, dusk is falling, and all the interesting people who are coming in out of the misty street, who all seem to be acquainted with one another, are deciding whether to go watch the Sea Hawks game. I believe I’ve got more than the value of the price I paid for my blue bowl-shaped mug of latte and oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (same recipe I use–I’ll share that one soon, too). So, though the phrase may be under copyright, I have to murmur with a contented sigh as I turn for home, life is good.


Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Economics, Education


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In some countries my birth date ends with 666

My unfinished drafts have now reached the number of the last two digits of the year of my birth. And I am reminded by a writing friend not to be too perfectionist in this medium, and so I’ll try to get the posts flowing down the pipeline again.

I subbed in my two youngest children’s school yesterday. My eleven year old stopped in to say a cheerful hello, but I was careful to avoid crossing paths with my teen daughter, as she was very clear that I was not to make any maternal moves. I understand, and wouldn’t have anyway, but it bothers me that she feels tense about me being around. I don’t take it personally, but I’d hoped we could find a way around the awkwardness of teen individuation from mother. There was no awkwardness, or not much, with the older two, a boy and a girl, as they went through this stage, but I can’t help think that a homeschooling lifestyle had a lot to do with that. When a young person is not peer dependent, then peer loyalty competes much less with honor and affection toward one’s family, I’ve noticed. Still, my daughter told me she is proud that I am no longer just a stay at home mother, but a professional, which is why she does not object to my subbing in her school.

In reading, I’m listening to Alex Haley’s Roots on audiobook. So well told, pacing just right, and it describes scenes familiar to me from my stay in a Togolese village almost thirty years ago–the kinds of huts, clothing, farms and foods were the same, as were the seasons and even the name of the dry wind before the rainy season. I was also struck by Haley’s descriptions of the stages of a young man’s training, each five year cohort being a special stage, planned and led by the fathers and elders, teachers and history keepers and holy men, including literacy education, skills training, learning proper relationship patterns,  daily routines and duties and privileges appropriate to each stage. So so well adapted for survival and success in traditional West Africa, designed to foster responsibility, respect for elders, a knowledge of history and religious teachings, leadership, and the fruitfulness of the clan. Can’t help but contrast this with my own culture’s groping for meaningful traditions in the absence of real faith, of connections with revered elders and ancestors, and dependence the fruits of the local landscape earned by one’s own labor. By what authority do our political and economic leaders construct such an artificial sense of progress as we have today in these overdeveloped nations of ours? Can we educators and parents and community members come up with a vision that isn’t rootlessly striving to catch up to what has already happened seemingly without anyone’s intention or consent? I get so tired of the rhetoric in my field about an “education for the twenty-first century”. How about an education for all the centuries, world without self-destructive end?

Painfully riveting to listen to the part about Kounta’s capture as a seventeen year old man, the pain and suffering immense from the very beginning, but his manhood training allowing him to fist fight fiercely, then focus and endure, as he is packed into a ship’s hold. One thing to be horrified by the treatment and conditions in the ship of the Toubab (whites), but after getting to know the main character’s story, his family, village, hopes and plans, it’s unthinkable. I’m so ashamed by that part of humanity, that can be so depraved and yet project that less-than-humanness on others.

There’s a waning gibbous moon tonight, lightly blanketed by a thin corduroy layer of gray cloud, I expect. I think I’ll go out and say goodnight.



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Home tutoring notes

This semester I’m tutoring a high school student in English language arts and geometry while she’s on temporary sick leave. After finishing up with geometry today, which we do using an online curriculum, I took out and leafed through the English text I’d been given by the high school. Saw the unit goals, literary terms to know, ways in which the student was expected to closely read the short stories conveniently printed therein and analyze for tone, characterization, dramatic elements, allusion, point of view, and so on. Bad memories. I confessed to her my view that the least important part of growing in literacy is the formal, analytical, gradable stuff that was therein. Told her that if for some reason her school shut down for a year, she would still grow as a writer by reading, reading, reading good literature, and writing what she wanted to write, just keeping on, practicing what she felt were the best styles and gleaning vocabulary and knowledge along the way. Told her though I loved to read and write myself, that was due to my upbringing, not my formal education, because for the most part I’d hated English class, except for the parts where we memorized Shakespeare or I was told I had written something unique and would I share it. So as a teacher, I wanted to make sure I didn’t create or reinforce a distaste for reading good literature, or even studying it, by over analysis.

I told her about the time I’d been about her age and was hanging out with my dad at Uncle Calvin’s fishing camp, and that big, burly backwoods river guide’s eyes became moist as he and my father recited the poetry they’d memorized in their youth. I told her how I wanted to pass that on, and how my kids would have that look of quiet delight when they recited a Kipling or Frost poem.

And so, I assigned her some small formal analysis activities, and gave her a book of poems so she could choose one to memorize. I promised to bring some books from my library for her to try (and ask her school teacher if there was a course reading list), and encouraged her to get some audiobooks to do her crafts by. I said some things, we’ll analyze, and you’ll work at learning the terminology for intelligent conversation about literature. But other times, I’ll just ask you what you thought of a book, and you can practice talk from your heart about books, making personal connections. I told her I wasn’t sure why the teacher had said the class was skipping the short story writing assignment, but that we might do some such writing anyway.

The assignment she was working on when I met with her first was an argumentative essay about the value of a college education. She was to read three articles provided by her textbook, which had been published, I pointed out, by the College Board, which makes bucks every time it sells a test, grades a test, and submits a student’s test results to a college. Important to get a feel for likely biases in the material, I said. I asked her to interview a few people informally who might have different views on the question, and develop some nuances to her argument, rather than oversimplifying the issue. It was a tall order, as she’s not an avid reader or writer, and hasn’t thought about these things much at her age. But I think she’s up to it.


Posted by on January 7, 2015 in Education


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