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Some changes, like everyone else

I picked up my daughter from her first high school day, and her answer to the usual query was “I’m so done with high school.” This from the one who said she definitely wanted to do all four years there rather than go to the community college through Running Start for her final two years like her two older sibs. Something about the atmosphere created by, well we all know it’s the extrovert, pop crowd. To belong to which sometimes this daughter regards as an aspiration of sorts. On the other hand she’s developing deeper connections with her 4-H horse club girls, thanks to last week lived together with them at the Fair. Friends of all ages, too, not just her age. That will remain her biggest deal, now that she’ll be full leasing the horse (was half leasing) she took to Fair. Lots of driving for me until she can get her license.

The plus side is they signed her up for two back to back art classes, the second one in ceramics, where she also has her home room. That will be  nice outlet for her, and help develop her creative confidence. At first she also had two P.E.’s and two second periods–go figure. Maybe she should switch out of one art class and take it later alongside more challenging classes, I suggested, but she is content. Apparently another art semester has been added to grad requirements, which I think is great. I told her things would probably get better as she connects in her own way, once the hyped up freshmen welcome is over, with the cheerleaders, give us a this and that and let’s all do the spirit thing. Group think. My older daughter took some time to go to the assembly and welcome the freshmen, and she said she could see her sister sitting in the bleachers, and she was not amused.

My seventh grader seems pretty positive about school, with teachers he knows by reputation and a smattering of friends in most classes. Says he wants to get to know some of the sixth graders in his home room, and plans to do track & field. Feels pretty good about field events, and with his energy level and appetite, needs to run. Now that his sister is on the early high school schedule, I get to hang with him in the mornings until he leaves at 8:30.

My oldest boy flew to Nova Scotia yesterday with three suitcases, a backpack, and an international cell phone plan. He managed to include the quilt his grandmother made him and his favorite old towels. Grandma and Grandpa (my parents) are helping him get around until move-in Saturday. No tears or clinging at the airport, but we were definitely all feeling the separation somewhere in there, all of us tender. My younger daughter had to say good bye early as she had a meeting for State Fair. She ritualized it, with the right cool words back atcha. She has been touched by my son’s interest in her and his wanting to hang out, though they are five years apart in age and have very different personalities. She’s already interested in visiting him.

Meanwhile my oldest daughter has a few weeks before her classes start, so is fixing up her brother’s old room in the garage as her own, with a coat of paint and lots of posters, some new lights. She stepped up at let her youngest brother have the real bedroom, thought it would be cool after all to have her own space a little apart, as long as she could keep the spiders from re-colonizing and disguise the garage door from the inside. Getting rid of another (borrowed) bed and two old mattresses another symbol of our transitions.

These weeks of dry summer are coming to a close, they say, with substantial rain predicted on the weekend. So I’ll be busy painting as much of the house as I can–time to think. So much to do–switching kids’ rooms, house and garden projects, job search and working in subbing jobs. I like to be busy in the fall–though winter is mild here I still feel that East Coast batten down the hatches drive. Fall cover crops, canning more batches of tomato sauce, checking on the pumpkins, freezing blackberries, storing away summer clothes, getting rid of stuff, sprucing up the house inside for when we spend more time in. Too bad none of this pays–it still could be a full time job.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Education, Parenting & Family

 

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Last summer in the nest

Last night I almost bought a one way ticket for my oldest son to fly across the continent. Only reason I didn’t was that my computer froze, and I’ll really do it tonight. I go over the steps in my mind to prepare for his launch into college studies–assembling essential belongings such as passport, clothing for east coast weather, a few special things from home to set up in his room, his laptop. I wonder what he’ll want to bring besides. Driving him to the airport, saying good bye in that low key, heartfelt way we have, and walking back to the car feeling both bereft at that gut maternal level, and happy for him. Happy he’s found a good quality small college with the program he wants and affordable costs, happy that he’s eager to continue studying after a few months of summer–he told me he really thinks he’ll enjoy it. Happy he’ll be near my family, especially now that my parents are nearing their eighties. Happy that he looks forward to immersing in a Canadian environment, but will also meet folks from all over. Happy that he seems pretty put together and should be able to make wise choices in the midst of the inevitable segment of the student population who won’t.

Then we drive home. Will I be flooded with memories, want to write to him right away? What will be the shifts that will take place in our family with my second child, a daughter, now being the eldest, holder of (by the) the other driver’s license and attending local community college for her final year? And how will it be for my youngest son, who so enjoyed spending time with his brother, roomed with him for years? Will he become better friends with his nearest sister? Will they reach out to one another more in his absence, have a new sense of the impermanence of all things?

I guess I’ll pack away the rest of his things, not having the luxury of keeping his bedroom the same for his return–it’s only part of a garage, and shared. Suddenly my youngest will have a space of his own–the one who has been shunted from one corner to another, without shelves, toy storage, a real closet, or much in the way of expecting any of those things. Now he’ll be able to set up a table for Legos, have a mattress off the floor. I’ll paint his room, fix it up sweet.

How will we be at keeping in touch? Will we video conference, email, talk on the phone? Will he find it easy to be away from home, or will he be home sick at times? Is it a good idea to make that memory book of our family life, home town, friends and homeschool days, or will that make it harder?

My sister-in-law once exclaimed that it was too bad that just when her kids were becoming such nice people, they had to leave. We’ve had our rough times, but it seems that’s true–this young man is becoming such a pleasure to talk to, and more helpful around the house, kinder to his siblings. My daughter told me that her good friend, who has also known my son since they were small–her brother is a good friend of my son’s–that she was amazed at how much nicer my son was. Said he hardly talked to her before, or showed any interest in being friendly, was now really nice. She used to be intimidated by him. Funny how that is.

And so, I process, a little at a time. It’s a time to return to a discipline of prayer as I let go, we all let go and send this young man off to new tasks, relationships, hopes, and plans.

 
 

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Wrapping up college applications and comparisons

When my oldest son joined us in the airport arrivals area, he said we had all got taller, except me–I looked a little shorter, he said. Which reminded me of times I had felt that very same thing on seeing my family after an absence–some kind of manifestation of relative expansion into the significance of a developing life. Or possibly it is more about parents being imprinted on one’s early memory as large, in relative stature as well as in influence, until, voila! there they stand, looking very small and ordinary to the adult progeny.

Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is now my son’s college of choice. If he gets accepted there, it will be tough to break it to the Grandma and Grandpa here, who have their hearts quietly set on Whitworth. My daughter saw my mother-in-law’s face when I was telling the family at dinner what my son had liked about Acadia, and she said her expression was very controlled. My father-in-law shared with us what a difference Whitworth had made in his life when he studied there, then coached and taught P.E. My mother-in-law said–jokingly—is what if he meets and marries some wonderful Nova Scotian girl, and decides to live there, so far away? Like I did, basically, depriving my parents of regular contact with their grandchildren. Another way to look at it, though, is don’t we then owe my parents some time with at least one grandchild?

The Acadia tour was led by two students, and my son was struck by how many of the others they met along the way that they knew personally. Also by the quality of the computer science program (they also have a great education program) and the scale of the campus. He told me that he loved the opportunity to be closer to my side of the family for a few years–my parents, sister and brother-in-law, niece, and brother all live within an hour of Acadia–as well as to be immersed in a Canadian way of looking at the world. Also, he wants diversity. Whitworth, he said, limited diversity, first by being expensive, and second by being Christian. My husband an I are both very aware of how narrow and sometimes even intellectually dishonest an “orthodox” world view can be. And there’s so much of value to learn from folks with other points of view and life experiences. As for the opening up of other cans of worms such as exposure to lifestyles and philosophies that he, and/or we, would find immature, unhealthy, or dysfunctional, I have confidence that not only will he maintain his integrity, but he’ll be a good influence. I hope I’ll feel the same about all my children as they get to that stage, that they are ready to go out there and be light and salt, and when they make mistakes, that they’ll be okay.

While he was away we had some really interesting conversations with two of his cousins who went to an evangelical Christian college in state. What they shared confirmed in both my husband and me that a conservative Christian college probably wasn’t the best option for our son. This wasn’t the intention of my nieces, of course. These sisters have completely different personalities–one, a self-admitted compliant child and introvert, admitted that she sought the cultural shelter of the Christian campus and needed that for a few years, and the other, a self-admitted strong-willed child, who originally wanted nothing to do with Christian schooling, went in to be challenged and to challenge, feeling–this is my between-the-lines interpretation–that she needed the loving constraints of the campus covenant and close knit Christian community as a kind of spiritual discipline.

So we’re waiting for the mail, now. Whitworth and another college (low priority) have sent acceptances. This is so exciting. Even though all of our lives will change with one leaving for college, I’m looking forward to seeing him make his way, and expect he will do well.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Education, Religion & Spirituality

 

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College and career ready, flexible time line

I heard a student debate this week on CBC The Current on whether high school should be optional. The pro side argued that teens should be free at the age of fourteen or so to consider many options besides or in addition to formal schooling, including internships, work, volunteering, travel, or personal scholarship. The con side argued that most teens are not wise enough at that age to make decisions that could “close doors on their future” and thus limit them in their further learning and career options. The pro side thought they were mature enough, and also that parents and mentors would still be able to help with these decisions anyway.

I listened for the reasoning behind the assumption that all the speakers seemed to be making, without ever stating it, that because public schooling is free only up to one’s senior year, one has to cram in all the learning one can before then or it will be too late. They treated this limitation as if it were similar to human developmental stages such as attachment, or learning to crawl and walk, the appropriate phases for which really are fleeting, making remediation, or filling in the gaps, difficult.

I agree that there are developmental stages of learning in the early years, but the teen years are something else entirely. The teen is not in general a person that benefits from being constantly under authority (and authority they may see as not merited), subjected to seven plus hours of sitting, listening, reading and writing. Neither is it developmentally appropriate to require them to yield the management of their intellectual lives to–I was going to say teachers, but it’s not teachers who are running this show. Nor school administrators, nor school boards, nor legislatures, nor governors…who is it, anyway? Who are the people or entities that hold that vision of what kids need to learn? So far, when I trace the money and influence, it seems to have a good deal to do with economic competitiveness, social stability (which feeds economic competitiveness), and military strength (derived from economic competitiveness).

I was chatting with my daughter last night about ways to teach, convictions and passion that teachers carry and whether they can live by their principles within the system. She has an English teacher she respects, but she said sometimes he’ll say, “I think this is dumb that I’m supposed to teach this, but I’m supposed to, so I’ll do it anyway.” What does that say to students? Not that I think teachers should keep their views to themselves, or ignore policies and guidelines they are expected to follow, but maybe–I’m saying this as one who doesn’t yet have a contract job yet, mind you, but I need to preach to myself and see if I can keep up my courage to stand when the time comes–maybe he should have entered into a dialogue of a sort about how to reconcile, or overcome, these conflicts between conscience and convention or policy. What’s the process, and don’t we want to model that? Like, how do we recognize what’s worth standing up for, and how do we not be a whiner but instead be a courageous and loving voice, a patient and tireless advocate, for better and better principles? How do we model the strength to go against our own preferences at times instead of treating those too as if they are principles? I suppose one just gets tired, and the only relief is a bit of camaraderie with the students because of being fellow slaves to the system.

Yesterday I taught high schoolers about the effects of algal blooms fed by nutrient runoff, and some were with me, some were just not bothering to try. I feel I’m pretty engaging, and good at making it not intimidating to participate in a question and answer session or discussion. I use my seating charts, call on random students, give them more than one chance, and let them think about what I’m asking. But there were some students who just were tuned out, and though they’d pay attention for the few seconds I called on them, they’d drift off right after and forget what we were talking about. I was going around in circles just getting them to recall that plants produce oxygen when they are growing and decomposers use oxygen. Basic sixth grade science, but it just seemed beyond them, because they didn’t want to learn it, or remember it. In this situation a teacher can choose to, A) say,  “Oh, and this will be on the test tomorrow,” and keep going; or B) say “This will be on the final exam. Those willing to actively participate, please come to this side of the room and gather around,” and continue, while the other half does quiet work of their own choice or goes to the library or home.

As I circulated later while they worked on algae bloom flow charts, I felt prompted by one table of students to explain that some teachers are extremely strict and mandate all the rules and give lots of tests and grades are everything. Others teach without requiring anyone to tow any line as long as they are no causing trouble, take it or leave it, because they believe that only the students can choose whether to work hard or not, and only the students will take the consequences of their choices in the long run. I’m somewhere in the middle, I said, because I really want you to learn this and have a clearer understanding than students why it is important, and will build in incentives as I can, but realize that there’s a time to let someone choose to fail if that’s the way they roll. I’m here to encourage, do my best to teach well, and leave the rest to students. If I am tempted to try rescue, it’s because someone is trying hard and struggling, not because they have no will to succeed.

What I’d like to extend that to, or wonder if I could, is to have a series or gradation of conversations with students about their choices in learning. First,  as some students take on the challenge of personal scholarship, basically I just say, “Go girl!” *(or guy), and just sort of facilitate and cheer them on, give them their head, so to speak, and maybe do grades either differently or not at all. In the other polar situation, with students who are choosing not to make an effort, would come a  conversation first to determine if there were hurdles they were facing with which they needed a hand, or, if they really didn’t care and didn’t want to be there, that they be allowed, even required, to leave. I would let them know that I felt it was not my role to decide for them,and it was time to talk with them and parents privately about a better plan for their time.

I think sometimes the problem isn’t really the student him- or herself, but this complex interaction in which they have been largely disempowered about making any meaningful choices about their education, an/or have no mentors helping them see the value of school learning and hard work.

Getting back to the alternative high school where I subbed a few weeks ago (and signed up again this week even though it meant working more days than I had planned): the freedom was good for those students. Okay, so some chose not to show up at all. And I say, so be it, and let’s get to a place where most of these so-called dropouts become liftoffs, not just (as it seems they are generally now regarded) pregnant teens, drug dealers, low wage workers, and welfare recipients. If they find they are floundering, they can come by for support and mentoring, to discuss their choices and make a plan. Not because their options are dwindling as they near and pass the ripe old age of eighteen, but because that’s what a public system should do for its people. Public school. Public library. Resource-rich, staffed by qualified professionals and caring volunteers, free, and optional. And when learning with older peers seems to be more appropriate, and it’s become relevant to pick up Algebra II or English 99, students can attend community colleges, and take these high school equivalent courses for free.

 

 

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Heart on edge

Drove back in my small car with the large windows that admitted in the light of the blazing stars between the dark trees. Had just dropped my son off with his luggage at the team rendezvous for the training trip to the sunny south. For less than a week this time, but what came into my mind was that soon I will be saying goodbye and good luck and I hope you have everything you need for college.

I am not a worrier, nor do I long to keep my children tethered and comfortingly local if such is not their path. Lately I have been happily dreaming about the exciting world of possibilities ahead of them, the joys of advanced study and building their own communities and life paths. I’ve been remembering my own happy college days. But as I drove back home, the stars pinpoints millions of miles away yet able to pierce the weak yellow glow of the streetlights, I remembered the mistakes I made, the painful parts of discovery, and my dark nights of the soul.

It’s not whether he eats right or remembers to separate light laundry from dark, buys in bulk or keeps his grades up that puts my heart on edge for him. It’s the narrow, rocky, dangerous path of wrestling with painful self awareness and essential solitude, the search for fellowship and true friendship, the struggle to master the self in learning personal discipline, the need to deny the self to put others first, the grounding in self acceptance, personal humility, and reasonable confidence wherein the most risk lies. Real risk, of more than life and limb. I hope that he will have guardian angels to remind him not to go it alone, that he is not alone, to whisper hope in the dark like the light of those stars.

 
 

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More about post secondary planning

Here in the silence of my parents-in-laws house, nothing but the click of keys and mouse, passing of cars, ticking of clock and muffled song of a sparrow outside. I’m unaccustomed to such quiet, not sure how to structure it, though we sought it here—a retreat on the way to pick up our youngest son from Scout Camp on the Oregon coast. There was getting up at a reasonable time, fixing breakfast for my husband and me, finishing my book while he did work remotely on his laptop in the living room. Yesterday on the way here he spoke again about the one satisfaction in his work, knowing he was providing for us. How important or our children to learn a trade so they could do the same.  I’d been expressing my deep value for the type of education that would not only prepare a person for the work force, but enable one to understand the forces at work in the world, develop vision and wisdom, exert influence in the world for good. My desire that they go to a college that would provide the support and opportunities that intelligent, young, Type B introverts need, a place where they would be known by their professors who would mentor them, help them develop a vision for meaningful work in the world based on their gifts and values, and confidence in pursuing that and other important aspects of life purpose. We told our children and they were growing up that God made us to be a blessing in the world. Even now and then I ask, why did God make you, and they answer “To be a blessing to the world.”

There’s certainly an element of wanting for my children what I felt I never received. Back then I didn’t know what I was missing. I expected university to be big and impersonal, professors to inhabit a  different world and not have much to do with undergrads. Science was about attending lectures in big halls, taking notes, getting the labs done, doing well on exams. I expected most of my meaningful growth and learning to be outside the classroom (as previously). I studied at the big research university, but lived on a small neighboring campus, a self contained Oxford-style liberal arts and journalism school with a rich student life–frosh, upper classes and grad students mixing in the student pub, lit society, theater, debates and open mic nights. But I think now, if only I’d had the kind of academic and career mentoring and encouragement from my professors that some of the colleges I’m now researching have the reputation of providing–what might I have discovered about my life purpose? What if someone had noticed and helped me develop my strengths and particular way of seeing things, my confidence, in the realm of scholarship and work? There was a bit of activity in the way of picking off the top few students from each class to invite them to apply for lab assistanceships or encouragement to do grad work, but that wasn’t me. I studied marine biology because it fascinated me, but who knew? Who knew my other interests and how they might be connected? I had no idea what the options were, or where I might best serve and develop. But maybe that’s what you get for under $16,ooo a year.

Maybe better to get that technical degree or certificate, keeping costs down by living at home and studying at the community college, then work to earn what a great liberal arts education costs. Then you always have a trade, and can afford to build your mind, deepen wisdom with a foot in the “real world.” Trading on potential straight out of high school is a pretty risky business, as well as a highly competitive market. I wonder if my oldest, who doesn’t lack intelligence or commitment to learning, but doesn’t have stellar test scores, can place in that race. And to try for a swimming scholarship and then have to balance two workouts a day with studies? Maybe not feasible either.

So I maintain a balance of hope and anxiety, continue working on the options, helping him feel out his plans and desired possible courses of study, travel, work. One thing going for him is that he has a good network of friends–sensible, caring, intelligent friends, a variety of personalities. That goes a long way in helping one work things out, doesn’t it?

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family

 

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Would you rather be as asset to the company or to future generations?

My two oldest apparently checked some box on their standardized tests, so we get junk mail from a bunch of colleges, all of which assure us that my children are “impressive” and “motivated” and of course a good fit to enter their institution. All based on the estimated GPAs my children gave. I was tempted to send notes back saying that an institution that presented itself in such a way, oozing such insincerity on such a quantity of paper, was certainly not a good fit for any children of mine. My daughter admitted it was flattering to receive such kudos and invitations. And the personality and claims of college reps made an impact on my son on college night. All so frivolous. Make way for me, the super-researcher, who sees through it all, compiles lists, cross-checks, takes notes, weighs the pros and cons, and writes a treatise, based on dreaming big and some of my own unmet academic needs. Meanwhile it’s my husband who maintains the practical view that if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it, and how likely is a good job to come out of it? The part about them meeting their future spouses at college can work in my favor, though.

I’m checking out various library books on colleges, since one of our offspring one will be ready to go in a year and another in two (not that it’s a given). A real mixed bag, those books, from intelligent and insightful and full of useful information and thoughtful perspectives, to shallow and stupid– full of quotes like “Everyone is happy here–everywhere you go you see a smile!” Seriously, the Princeton Review included that in their severely edited pages for one college. The ranking -based books are in the go back pile. On the other hand, I get positively giddy reading books like Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late-Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher, Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope, and The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost. I get the way they think–looking beyond the Ivy League, the local options, even the national system. And the descriptions of these places, how they nurture the life of the mind and the development of vision leadership! I read excerpts to my kids to get them interested–even my thirteen year old, when I find colleges with equestrian programs.

At this point I’m advising my young adults to consider going straight to another country to broaden their cultural understanding and learn another language by working and/or studying–no need to go through a U.S. university at all (much more expensive, anyway). Plus you’re less likely to get shot by a crazy person with a semi-automatic weapon (I have a niece at SPU who recently escaped that fate by being in the right place at the right time. Maybe back to the Middle East for my son; he’s already bought Rosetta Stone Arabic on his own, and has a leg up knowing Modern Hebrew–both are Semitic languages. I’ve also compiled a list of colleges with a great liberal arts education, which I happen to believe is important for a good number of humans to have in order to be leaders and not just workers, to understand what the world is like and why, and its problems and possibilities. Moving toward a career, a way to get paid and support a family, yes, but meanwhile broadening and deepening understanding and developing life purpose. I hope to see more folks young and older address that disconnect between the call to keep up with “progress,” and a true understanding of from what and to what we are progressing, besides more complexity and a higher GNP.

Then there’s the up front cost of higher education to consider, and the possible future debt load; how does one weigh those against the projected take-home value of an education at various colleges? One side of my husband’s family gave a good deal of financial assistance to their children for college, with mixed and as yet undetermined results, and the other gave none, preferring to teach theirs the lesson of personal responsibility–with mixed and as yet undetermined results. All of them stayed in state–in fact just about everyone I’ve talked to has kept their kids in state. I’d been thinking getting farther afield would be a good idea, but I was reminded today by a friend whose sons are only an hour away of the value of considering travel costs, continued connection with family, including siblings, and the opportunity for parents to connect with their kids’ new college friends.

This is not a science. Lots to consider and prioritize, balance opinions, collect data and narratives, then, I guess, go with some combination of the heart in submitting applications, and the budget (loosely defined) in making the final decision.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Culture & Society, Education

 

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