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Tag Archives: parenting

Labor that may or may not deliver

Meanwhile in attempts to lift poor children from having little or no opportunity to go to that kind of place, or any college, to grow up educated and provide a decent living for their families, Bill Gates and other business entrepreneurs (a.k.a. social entrepreneurs), in partnership with the federal government, have launched their attempt to education everyone with “twentieth century skills,” ready for the work force.

Good, but why does that have to mean, among other things, less reading of fiction in favor of more extraction of meaning from informational text? Why limit the finer opportunities still available to those whose brain functions have not been culled by stress and poverty, who possess the desire and ability to long for deeper connection, more  far-reaching vision, a deeper understanding and expression through the arts and literature. Let’s not dumb down the culture in making it a more egalitarian one, elevate jobs and “productivity” over education in the best sense of the word.

And what about the obvious conflict of interest in having the owners of the tech corporations provide the software and classroom supplies and pedagogical philosophy for these children’s education experiences? We need workers, they say—this is the twentieth century as we envisioned it, so let us help you fit into the future we are creating, and all of us will be better off. If something has to go, let it be anything that makes workers question how we already know we should be doing things. You know, growing the economy, competing with other market powers, preserving the American way of life. Which is democracy in the sense that those with the power to sway the majority (those with  twenty-first century skills–not cumulative up to the twenty-first, but the latest set and open to re-training) can do so efficiently by means of a database so comprehensive and powerful that it allows media and “educational” products to be created that cater to each and every individual learning style.  And the part of democracy that allows us all to choose from fifty kinds of breakfast cereal in the aisles of the local supermarket and either traditional or “Simply” ripple chips, all produced by a few central manufacturing facilities staffed by twenty-first century workers. We can help students learn so effectively the practical skills they need to be “productinve members of a global democratic society” that the neural pathways needed to understand 1984, Brave New World, the MaddAdam trilogy, Animal Farm, The Hunger Games, and That Hideous Strength will be unnecessary and therefore atrophy.

An apology for the convoluted nature of my sentences, and how they go on and on, and have too many clauses. I’ve been told the “Ten Ways You Can …”, say, “Fight the Machine” format is so much more effective, but I haven’t mastered that twenty-first century communication style yet.

This existence of seems so contrived—since when in these thousands of years does one wake and not have to go about making a living? Making in the sense of obtaining food, shelter, and cultural context and materials from teh ecosystem. All aI have to do is create—to write, sew, paint, create and maintain human bonds, and that mainly based on the compulsion of angst about this modern life: what is it? What does it mean? Why are things not fair and I have this free time while others are laboring to the point of exhaustion for bread for their children and something to hide from the drunken consort? Why is it considered more valuable to go into database architecture, or game design, which pay a lot of trade tokens, than being a parent, home maker, friend of neighbors in the community, or teacher? In the division of labor, some make money doing work that is of dubious historic or spiritual value, so that others can do the important, though unpaid, work.

 

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The gift of trust

IF I go to the graduation open house, it will be with you, and I promise we will not stay long, I said. I know you have other things to attend to, but no need to take two cars. It is mainly symbolic for all of us, but could be a powerful symbolism of affirmation and support. Just as they have supported us. We all are wishing one another’s graduates well, and look forward, with a little wince at the anxiety for the one recovering from the head injury, to seeing you all make us proud as you go on growing and finding your calling. Actually, I expect that sometimes they will make me a little envious.Their style has always been of the more lauded kind of success, as in class president and team captain, while yours is more along the lines of being recognized for your quiet intelligence, your willingness to listen, your slow, deep responses and careful wording. Sometimes you lean away sideways when you speak–did you know that? On one foot, diagonally leaning. yesterday I wondered if I should video that, and show you what it looked like, but didn’t want to imply criticism.

We went early, so we’d make the David Suzuki talk at eight, and right away your dad found a fellow college alum he hadn’t met before, and they brought up one of his favorite subjects for light conversation–the football glory days, and deeper conversation–theology and spirituality. The other man was darkly tanned, and his blue eyes contrasted with the brown of his handsomely weathered skin. He probably sails, I thought.

I was introduced, made my taco salad, hung around a little, then moved off among the family’s friends and relatives with whom I was not acquainted, until I saw the round, smiling face of Mary, whom I hadn’t seen in years. Had she recovered from that brain surgery years ago? Seemingly. At least she still had that gently, humorous sweetness I remembered, though her brown curly hair had been lightened, easing into grey–she smiled and lifted her hat to show me. Compared to her steady gaze I felt as if I my glance shifted often, and I wondered whether I wasn’t sufficiently “comfortable in my own skin”. Had to settle down to allow her to discern me full on, as she stood closer than most people do, and said less, smiling. She was safe to be around, even comfortable, and I stayed there until someone else came along to enjoy her company. I like it when someone takes the time to try to penetrate the mask

For a while I watched the young people play badminton in the back yard. Such a mild and innocuous celebration, a real contrast to the one I was part of after my grad, where a set of well-to-do parents lent their beachfront cottage to swimsuit clad, alcohol-sodden minors and hung around the fringes to laiser them faire ce qu’ils voulaient. Those parents were from the sixties, all grown up and well heeled, but maybe nostalgic, living vicariously through their youth. What were they thinking? Thank heaven for allowing me to avoid the worst of the stupid paths I could have walked down that night, between the fine, cold, white sand and  clumps of saw grass, passing figures in pairs giggling in the dark. Some of my better instincts were working, at least.

The sun had shone all day, all week and it felt like mid July already. Tans, cool drinks, parents borrowing grad gowns, parties popping up all over town. My son came over to me by the deck rail to inform me he was getting a drive with a swim teammate to another grad celebration. I send him off with good wishes and trust.

The next day, my daughter alluded to something she had heard–and she exhibited a certain disdain for the friend who had shared this gossip–that my son did not always make wise choices. Not being specific, and I didn’t ask. She said she wished she didn’t even know, and that her friend would mind her own business. I tried to give the friend the benefit of the doubt, having known her since she was a preschooler, and heard many a news flash inaccurately told, all in an attempt to build connections between people.

But the implication hit me hard all the same. Not making wise choices? What had she heard? I felt a kind of grief, of disappointed expectation, that my son, all of my children, really, might not sail through the temptations of youth unscathed and unfallen. Not very reasonable, but there was the hope. My imagination started working into the present, the future. But not for long, as I am naturally averse to worry and anxiety. I set aside my speculations, and slept well.

A day or so later I obliquely approached the subject of wise choices with my son. He asked what it was about, and I said I was just checking in, because he was out a lot with friends, and I knew that sometimes companions didn’t always make good choices. “Like what?” he asked. I said, like underage drinking, or weed. Though I trusted that he would be a good example, I added, and a driver, if necessary (as my parents had requested of me). But not expecting perfection, I added, and I hope that he wouldn’t feel he had to keep secrets. Unbidden, he said, lightly, on the way to his room, “I solemnly swear never to do drugs.” Which I thought was kind of him. He does not utter words lightly, so I ended in believing that the rumor was another instance of my daughter’s friend getting her facts wrong.

Today my younger teen daughter paid me a great compliment, one which is not erased from my memory by her soon after calling me pathetic and ridiculous (in reaction to a disappointment, I decided). She said that she liked my parenting style, that I trusted my children, and that being trusted made her feel good. This was after being picked up from a friend’s house after a sleepover. I don’t really know the family, though I could see the girl was a solid contributor to my daughters’ school volleyball team, and that the mother had a nice countenance. I told my daughter that I did feel she would make wise choices, and was old enough to discern people to know what environments were good ones. That if I felt she was making unwise choices, I would indeed bring it up. Told her I had appreciated being trusted by my parents too.

Somehow I have accomplished communicating trust, though I do my share of warning, scolding, checking up, saying no, and imagining the worst. So that’s something. I want the to be the foundation of a self-fulfilling prophesy, that our children will surpass us, including in strength of character and wisdom. I choose to believe that, or at least project a trust toward that end.

Meanwhile, soon we’ll be having our own party, and darned if the thought didn’t cross my mind of allowing some alcohol-induced merriment among us of-agers, along with volleyball, bocce, and mingling around the neighborhood pool as the young folks splash around. When do the temptations ever really go away?

 

 

 

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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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Do we really believe Bill Gates’s main objective with this is better education? And what’s his definition of better, anyway?

I’ve been trying to make sense of the so-called Common Core State Standards Initiative, wading through the rhetoric, promotional material, vehement objections, sometimes muddled and paranoid rants (though “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”–Kurt Cobain). I want to know if it’s ethical or advisable to have my children taught and tested under this system. The school district is set to implement high school testing, for example, next year, and I got a notice from our high school that a non-scored practice test is scheduled for next week. I plan to find out how much instructional time will be lost and what other resources will be funneled away from academics into this, and make a decision whether to send my daughter those days and/or request further services to compensate for this intrusion that doesn’t serve the interests of the students being tested. To that extent I’m already not going with the flow. But it’s a pretty powerful flow, and some of headwaters seem to come from underground..

Among the first things I noticed is that the CCSSI is a misnomer, because it is not initiated by states at all. Maybe should be called the Federal-Corporate Partnership on National Educational Standardization or something (but that would make it look unconstitutional, so the word “state” was inserted. It’s driven by folks we shouldn’t trust with our children’s education and personal data, because their vested interests are not lined up with the best ideals of parents and communities for children’s education, and because voters have no say in what they are doing. Many of these CCSSI proponents are powerful and/or rich folks (not that that necessarily means unethical, but it means they don’t have to wait for the people’s consent if they don’t want to) pursuing what they see as worthy goals but who have a skewed and merely pragmatic vision, and a true-believer enthusiasm that blocks out people’s concerns and objections and even ridicules them for it. Bill Gates and other corporate sponsors who in their main line of business sell computer systems and software and educational curriculum and testing materials (think access to data on school children, marketing, monopoly…) are bankrolling much of this.

Bill Gates explains his reasoning for supporting the Common Core in the first video below. It it he says, “[the Common Core and aligned curriculum and tests]… will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.” [my emphasis]

Developing customized products state departments of education, districts, schools, and even parents will buy depends on obtaining and analyzing data on children, as Jane Robbins explains in the second video.

As I said, the Smarter Balanced practice tests were scheduled for next week according to an email from the principal’s office, but guess what: My daughter was sick this morning, and when she went in late, she found out that the first test had already been administered during English class.

 

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Present kindness, future shock

A short run in the wild wind and spitting rain, partly to prove to my daughter that she didn’t really need a drive to school less than a mile away. It was wild and beautiful, a sea of tossing branches and flying twigs. But then I could change out of wet clothes and enjoy a warm gas fire afterward, while she’d have to endure damp clothes and hair dripping down her neck in class. So I drove her, along with so many other parents. Still, seems a matter of commitment to principle, which in this case would involve purchasing some excellent rain gear for her, and maybe adding a to-go hot chocolate as extra incentive. And a cash bonus (a deposit on her dreamed-of horse, or maybe a hydrogen fuel cell car). I’d offer to walk with her–I think she likes to be asked, though has not accepted so far, even if her dog goes too. And does the school make it easy to hang dry dripping, low emissions transportation gear? Should I offer to get a tandem bike and taxi her that way? Ah–I know a sure-fire method: riding by horse! Alas, the community stables are gone and have not yet returned.

 

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Aren’t we all just basically like me?

While a student delegate to a leadership conference, I heard a talk by one of the senior staff, also senior pastor at a large church, who in the course of his talk, said something like, “We have to admit that we all want to be in control. Let’s face it–that’s why we’re here, why we are in the positions we are.” It didn’t sit right with me, and I thought, even if it’s true for some in the room (all top level national student ministry leaders, almost all men in their forties through sixties), it seemed disrespectful, invasive somehow to make such assumptions about everyone based on the speaker’s own personality or inclination. Was I supposed to recognize that at the base of my interest in being a leader was necessarily a controlling personality? So I, we, could confess it, choose to “let go and let God” and so on. But that shoe just didn’t fit. I don’t really want to be a leader. I don’t like being in charge, and the more influence I may have over people, the more trepidation and sense of burdensome responsibility I feel. Sure I want to influence, but because of principle, and in the way I would want to be influenced–through education, reason, relationship, example, for my own good and willing usefulness to others. Not through any kind of control, however subtle.

Now I have a mental antenna for such statements, in speeches, books, sermons, advertisements, and conversation. When I read on a book overleaf that “Every educated person must read this” or “no one can fail to conclude…” or some such, I shake my head. It’s just another form of “Do this, and you’ll fit in with the group.” Again, it overlooks individuality, appeals to the herd instinct, that desire to be moving along with the crowd. I suppose some people want to be influenced that way–in a sense they don’t feel comfortable believing or doing things that aren’t already accepted by a critical mass of others, or seem to be.

We have all succumbed to the temptation to make choices based on majority choices. Which MP3 player to buy? You ask the guy working on the floor. He shows you the “best seller.” As if that’s necessarily the best choice. No intelligent person would think so. See, now I’m doing it to you–did you notice? “We have all…”, “No intelligent person would think…” making assumptions about you and inviting you to believe them in order to move you on to accept my next idea. Watch out.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a lesson here. It’s true, apparently, that influencing people, whole bunches of people, is about convincing a few, a laborious and seemingly fruitless process at times, but who then make the masses believe it’s the new normal, by a kind of cultural diffusion. It’s the scientifically tested ten percent rule. Essentially, once ideas are accepted by a critical mass of ten percent of folks, the majority will accept the same ideas. Read more here: http://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902

Gives me hope that maybe soon we’ll reach the tipping point for ideas about peak oil, global climate change, the need to power down and transition to a low energy lifestyle and resilient local economies. A little late, because of the tipping point of the changes themselves, but still, maybe we can survive them better, lighten the blow on the most vulnerable, share the burdens, and eventually thrive in some new way.

That ten percent will be a hard-won accomplishment, a labor of generations, even. A constant telling and retelling. Talked to my dad on the phone the other night about that, how he had to tell us over and over to turn off the lights when we left rooms, close the door and keep the heat in, put on a sweater instead of asking to turn up the heat. We just want our kids to get it, understand the whys, and be motivated to do what’s right on their own, but instead there’s a need to remind over and over and at least help them form the necessary habits. I thanked him for not giving up, for telling and retelling us. He knew way back that our over consumption would come back to bite us, and in his writings, lifestyle and conversations chipped away at the erroneous majority opinion.

So press on, prophets, preachers, workers, writers, artists, parents, leaders, all. As the apostle Paul said, ‘let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Culture & Society, Parenting & Family

 

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Mother Tutor

Several evenings a week now I help my three teens with their homework. I get to see how smart and thoughtful and hardworking they are, and they get to have me help them focus, plan, lay out, think through and support their ideas, or recall and get their mind around science and math concepts. I’m thankful that my evening schedule is unencumbered and I can let the dirty dishes wait so I can be available. I love being involved, making myself useful, and enjoying a new sense of being respected for my experience and knowledge.

My fifteen-year-old daughter had spent a day at home sick and was stressing about a creative English assignment and an essay on Lord of the Flies that were due the next day. Instead of hitting the books and family computer, she was distracting herself by listening to music, texting, checking friends’ social media posts, and periodically panicking at how much work she had to do. I literally had to take her smart phone away (she had not yet developed cyborgian links with it, but oh, what squeals!), send the younger ones to their rooms, sit her down and have her show me the assignments. We worked out a plan for the first one that she was satisfied with, though I was inwardly shaking my head at what more could have been attempted had she started it the week before. She sprang into action and had it ready for completion in study class within an hour. She had reinserted her earbuds, but her older brother backed me up on the no music approach, which surprised me, as he’d balked on that in the past, despite my assuring him my views were research-based. He now told her in no uncertain terms that it was bad for concentration. He also went on to offer help with writing her essay, and sympathized with her plight as a mere high school student plodding through the generic and shallow world of 10th grade English. He offered her a hopeful vision of deep and meaningful English studies next year at community college (through Washington State’s Running Start program). He’d learned so much about writing, he said, and could help her. But she said Mom’s help was enough, so we went to the computer and I had her read aloud her chosen essay prompt. After getting some help sketching out ideas on paper, she got started writing. I slipped out to clean up the kitchen and do a load of laundry, but she kept calling me back,wanting me to sit by her the whole time so she wouldn’t get distracted–a mood she was in, she said. I read over what she had written, suggested some rearrangements, asked some questions, and showed her how to keep moving but make working notes about missing elements along the way. I told her more about the Cold War, discussed aspects of human nature, reminded her to keep connecting with the book’s content, even presented her with some phrases and ideas which she couldn’t articulate on her own, but understood and agreed with. Fortunately the essay prompt was interesting, well thought out, and flexible. And on she went, gaining momentum, and even coming to see the value of this analytical process–the beginning of digging deeper into literature. This is a daughter who had been reacting a bit to all the lively philosophical, theological, political and other conversations overheard at home and when we were out with friends. She decided it was pleasanter to focus on simpler things, I think, and avoid too much stating and discussing of viewpoints. Now she’s moving into that realm, and I can see the development of good values she can own. This sort of writing facilitates that process.

Too much helping? I don’t think so any more. Andrew Pudewa helped me see the light on that. He’s a writing teacher and teacher trainer, and insists that if a student needs help expressing something or with spelling or grammar, offer as much help is needed, and they will eventually say, okay, that’s enough help–I can do this. I see that’s true. The tutoring process is about helping the student get the work done, but with the proper help in the beginning, modelling the process, supplying ideas and so on, the student will be able to become independent. I’m just glad they are asking–that’s smart learning strategy.

Helping my daughter write under pressure was good for me too. I had hated language arts and English classes in school, but loved to write and read, so somehow muddled through essays and report writing without internalizing the formal process of brainstorming, outlining, paragraph layout and structure, and the series of drafts. I never had anyone review and comment on my work, either, besides the teacher-grader. I would just write, and rewrite, and eventually the finished piece would emerge, but because I had such a roundabout approach, sometimes I ran out of time and a good finished piece eluded me. I often procrastinated, waiting for the feeling, the sense of urgency. Then I’d hand it in to the system and later read the grade and comments, then it was on to the next paper. Helping my daughter and son with the process has taught me the value of these steps of the writing process in a way I did not, or would not, see though writing my school essays. Not that I’m using it, still. Here I am just writing sentence after sentence, hoping some sort of meaning will emerge. Hence the Forster quote on the sidebar. A reaction against my four years of immersion in the scientific method, where the format was prescribed?

The other aspect of the evening was hearing that my oldest son is finding his groove at community college. He’s the same busy, tired young man as he was in high school his first two years, struggling to fit everything in and do his best, but he’s got the basics down and is now excited about developing his mind in new ways, exploring interests, seeing how they connect, working out a long term plan. The informal way he was homeschooled, with plenty of reading and discussion but little formal curriculum, then his being immersed in Hebrew in middle school (and therefore going easy on the actual content) left gaps in the scope and sequence, to be sure, but it’s turning out to have been a good grounding for his future, I think. As other homeschool parents have assured us, he’ll fill in any truly essential learning on a need-to-know basis, using his independent thinking, relational and study skills, and the values we instilled in him along the way. He’s happy about what he’s doing, and that’s so much of what we as parents want for him. And being happy makes you smarter.

My youngest daughter is in middle school, and though she occasionally pushes back at me being involved in her affairs or even too physically near her when among peers, she loves to have me sit beside her as she does math in case she gets stuck, or read through her science and social studies notebooks (and sign off–part of the prescribed parent engagement initiated by the school, a nudge some young teens need to share their work with family). I’m impressed at how she’s taken to the organization schemes of several of her teachers. Also refreshing that her social studies teacher is helping them learn about Islam and universal cultural themes, instead of the usual American history overemphasis. She’s making connections with her experiences from living in Israel and putting lots of thought into her assignments, not just breezing through. Still, some of her classes, she says, would be better done independently at home, and she’s discussing the possibility of homeschooling part time next year. She loves to write, but her language arts teacher, she says, is really nice, but overteaches and moves too slow.

My older daughter is thinking homeschooling part time, too, even as early as second semester–says her high school English teacher overemphasizes dark lit, and is too lazy to do much meaningful work with the class (he actually admitted to us parents at open house night that he is lazy–been at it too long?). She’s only written one essay so far, and it’s already almost Christmas break. She actually wishes she was in the tougher but better teacher’s class. I’m proud of her for that.

When these three first started formal school (at various ages), I sort of lost touch with them for a while. From managing all their subject learning I went to lunch maker and paper signer. It’s taken a year in each case for us to get a good groove going, a balance between their being independent and getting extra help from me for greater success. It looks a bit different for each kid, not just in the type of content they’re dealing with, but also in the kind of help they need. Eventually, I suppose, once the college application and travel plans are arranged and finances figured out, I’ll mainly just be cheering them on and praying for them from afar, and taking on a more mentoring and friendship role. I look forward to that, too.

 

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