I am a
I am blessed to live in a country where I enjoy a lot of rights and privileges that many people, especially women, are denied in other parts of the world. I’m also white, educated, employed, married, and mature…factors that often entitle me to even more privileges than some of my fellow Americans. I know it wasn’t within my power to choose the color of my skin, and I have no control over how much more mature I become, but those other factors…education, employment and marital status… are part of my “privilege package” because of choices made and actions taken during my lifetime. I’ve worked hard to get where I am today- financially, socially, emotionally, and even physically. And even though I may be considered by others to be poor, dull, eccentric, and fat, I’m very satisfied with most of the choices I’ve made and I’m content with my life.
Along with my privileges I also have the responsibility to conduct myself within certain parameters of social and legal constraint so that others may enjoy their privileges. One of the first privileges I attained as a young adult was the right to drive. I was ecstatic about the power and possibilities afforded by my license, but I was quickly informed by my father that my right of passage came with a long list of federal, state, and parental rules! Nearly fifty years later, I’m still driving…because I still follow those rules.
I know the media tells most stories with a “slant” or “angle” that entices and engages more readers and viewers. The public in general seems eager for excitement and controversy and crisis. So much of the news we get is the negative stuff that gains the most attention and makes us think that the whole world has gone crazy. However, even my own observations and conversations with others, in person and through email and social media, has led me to believe that we’ve taken a turn as a society and we’ve come to the conclusion that we are entitled to live as we choose…regardless of the affect our actions have on the privileges of others. Some people seem to have forgotten that there are rules and responsibilities that can’t be ignored if we’re all going to exercise our rights.
I’m troubled this morning by some controversial issues that are certain to affect the future of education. The new sense of “entitlement” felt by some students and parents is distracting us from the primary purpose of education, and may well led to its demise.
Here we go folks! Fasten your seatbelts for the roller coaster of emotional, physical, and financial stress that we fondly call “the holidays”. I don’t think there is another month on the calendar that is more packed with expectations, obligations, traditions, activities, and dangers than December…and yet we embrace it with open arms and grin like fools doing it! From its humble beginning as the birthday celebration of a child to the extravaganza of gifts and guilt that we cherish today, Christmas Day is the end of the month-long ride for most of us, but other events throughout the month can be just as exciting…and exhausting. I’ve often wondered if the sale of vitamins and energy drinks rises as dramatically during December as the sale of toys.
My mother was always a bit depressed during December and it took me a few years to figure out why. When I was a child she suffered from the four classic holiday maladies: She missed her family, she feared the expectations of others, she had too much to do, and she didn’t have enough money. I only recall one year when we were able to travel from CA to OK for Christmas. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I’m sure Mom was happier that year.
My own feelings about Christmas were confusing for several years. I call them the “Santa years”. If you accept the whole premise of Santa rewarding “good boys and girls”, then I had to conclude from my presents that my behavior didn’t quite meet Santa’s expectations. Oh, I got some good ones over the years. My parents did their best to buy us something wonderful. But there were certainly some years when I wanted something I didn’t get, and there were lots of years when my friends and classmates got much, much more. So I just assumed that I was somehow less worthy. Think about it…it was the only thing that made sense! I offer this letter to Santa from 1928 as proof that I was not alone in my thinking:
“I thought I’d better write you before it is too late. I am a little boy five years old. I quit fighting yesterday and thought I’d be good now so you will come to see me. I want a red truck and lots of fruit. I have a baby brother you have never seen, be sure and bring him something. Hotuh Freeny”
December is packed with school and church activities. While most of them are entertaining and enjoyable, they are also emotionally and physically stressful. One of my fondest memories is reading the Christmas story, from the Bible, at a school program when I was in the fifth grade. I was a nervous wreck for a week before that program, but I was also proud and relieved when it was over. I’ve also participated in church productions that required months of preparation and weeks of rehearsals. I don’t regret one moment, but at the time there were certainly some fears and a few tears.
Of course the two most stressful traditions of the holidays are the family gathering and the exchange of gifts. Be honest…there are some family members that you “acknowledge”, and can even converse with if necessary, but the only reason you’d sit down to eat with them or give them a present is because “mom says I have to”. I recall a few holiday dinners that dissolved into heated arguments and hurt feelings that lasted for months. I remember at least three occasions when I was chastised for my “country ignorance” by relatives I barely knew. One reacted to a question I had asked with, “Girl, haven’t you ever seen a mink before?” lol No I hadn’t.
Gifts have become the major focus of Christmas. Buying the perfect one at a bargain price is so important that for many the quest begins early in the summer. For others it intrudes on Thanksgiving and as quickly as the dishes are done the family takes off for the nearest mall. Expectations for gifts have become more specific. Brands are important. Styles are important. Trends are essential.
And of course what would everyone do if they couldn’t compete with their neighbor over who has the best tree, decorations, and/or light show? Some major retailers have Christmas merchandise in stock as early as July. So the planning and preparation can begin months in advance. Decorating and decorum are obviously sometimes at odds with each other. Even cities, as we saw recently, can respond to expectations of “beauty” in surprising ways! People decorate for pleasure, for pride, and sometimes to raise money for charities. Just another treasured tradition.
Oh, and dangers in December? All the usual- fire, theft, accidents- seem to increase when we are tired and stressed. So be careful out there!
Don’t get me wrong. I love December. I love Christmas. I have many, many fond memories of school, church, and family celebrations. But I begin the month with eyes wide open and with an understanding of all that may be required to get to that blessed day when hopefully we’ll all remember what started this…
I didn’t sleep well last night. It was too warm and I was in pain. Oh, not enough to worry about, but certainly enough to wake me up from time to time because I needed to be in a different position. My feet are getting worse and my legs are reacting in unpleasant ways. My hip is complaining about a lack of support and probably about my weight as well. Arthritis and neuropathy continue to advance slowly but surely. I’m adapting to some unexpected limitations. I hesitate to even mention my health problems because they are so minor compared to the conditions and diseases of others. It sounds like I’m having a pity party and I hate that! But I felt like I had to provide a little background for why I felt so relieved when I woke up this morning.
The very first thought that came to my mind as I got out of bed was “God has plans for you.”
I seldom have such clear thoughts before I’ve had my morning coffee, so I instantly paid attention. And it was just what I needed, when I needed it. I’ve had some apprehension lately about what I’ll do when I stop teaching. I’ve felt some guilt about how my plans will affect Gary. I’ve wondered about our healthcare options. My mind has been swirling around and around. But now…I feel confident once again that God is working things out in ways that I haven’t even imagined. I just needed a little reminder!
While many of you were shopping for bargains today, I abstained from buying anything, even online. I spent the day doing my three favorite things: reading, researching, and gardening. And of course I also took a nap to compensate for getting up at 3am to make coffee for Gary before he went to work at 4am.
You know me well enough by now to assume that much of the reading I did today was about Caddo’s history, someone else’s family, and a lot of early crimes. I’m constantly working on genealogy for someone. It’s sort of like working a jig-saw puzzle. However, in the course of doing research I often come across editorials and articles of a “general interest” nature that are simply appealing or amusing because they reflect the culture of a particular time period. Such was today’s find:
The Caddo Herald
January 27, 1928
Reason for So Many Autos
Some articles, like chewing gum, make their way in the world because they furnish enjoyment. They appeal to people’s taste. Others, like the electric motor are generally adopted because of their practical economic vales. Still others, like trousers, sell on the basis of social necessity.
But it is hard these days to find any article that can match the automobile in the length, depth, and variety of its appeal. The market for trucks and tractors may be dominated chiefly by the economic appeal, but the passenger car satisfies man’s primary instincts- the thrill of controlling power as he sits at the wheel and directs what seems like a living monster.
Pride of ownership, love of rapid motion, social prestige, possibilities of wider ranges of travel, and multiplying one’s experiences and sensations- all these are gratified in the possession of a motor car.
Funny that the editor mentions “love of rapid motion” since the Model A Ford had a top speed of about 65mph and the condition of most of the local roads made anything near that speed virtually impossible. But the concept of “social prestige” was real and the newspaper often mentions local residents buying automobiles or taking trips in them. Now we take ownership of a car for granted. We expect good gas mileage and great design. We demand safety and convenience. We become frustrated if construction zones force us to drive slower than 70mph. Amazing to think how times have changed…
I had been planning to go to Hagerman on Saturday, but yesterday’s bird count and second thoughts about post-Thanksgiving traffic prompted me to go early this morning. I arrived at 8:30 and was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t greeted at the visitor’s center by the thousands of geese reported yesterday. However, they often feed on a field just down the road, so I drove on…and on…and on. Finally located them in a field on the opposite side of the refuge and far beyond the limits of my little camera. But they were still entertaining to watch.
I really didn’t go to see the geese anyway. I’ve seen them before and been very close to them in the past. I’ve taken a few good photos of them with the other camera. My purpose in going this morning was just to see if the water and the ducks have returned. The drought made the last few trips less than satisfying and I ended the summer a bit depressed about prospects for future trips. I should have had more faith! The water levels are slowly improving and the ducks have returned by the hundreds. I know that is due in large part to the excellent management of the refuge.
So…I ended up spending two hours watching the ducks and herons and hawks and a variety of small birds that I couldn’t identify. I even saw a huge buck sprint across the road! I missed my other camera, simply because it has a telephoto lens. Some of the photos I took today don’t have the clarity that I prefer. But I reminded myself that the experience of being a witness to all that beauty and activity was a wonderful blessing, even if I didn’t return with trophy photos. My eyes and heart recorded what my camera couldn’t.
There isn’t much in the yard right now to “delight the eye”. The flowers are dead and the grass is dry. Many of the trees are already bare. However, three trees in the yard have lovely leaves that catch the sunlight and make me smile each time I see them. So today I decided to snap a few pictures of them before they fall to the ground.
Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day…the perfect beginning to my mini-vacation. I didn’t have any plans, didn’t do anything special. Didn’t even write a blog post. A little flock of Mergansers swam around the pond and provided some afternoon entertainment. I drove into town to take a couple of photos. Read for a while. Napped a bit. The important thing about yesterday was that I didn’t need to do anything special or accomplish anything in particular because I’m off for the rest of the week.
The best thing about having a break from work and routines is that feeling of time stretching out and being there when and if I need it. The pace of life changes for a week and I feel like anything is possible. My daughter says that I’m “predictable” and that she could make a list of what I’ll do this week. That may be true, but I feel that I can do all of my predictable things when I want and in whatever order I choose. If I don’t feel like doing something today, I can put it off until tomorrow. I’m hoping this is a preview of my retirement!
And today…as soon as I finish another cup of coffee and take a shower, I’m going to the genealogy library. Anyone could have predicted that!!! lol
At the suggestion of a friend, I recently read an article about kindergarten and testing. It doesn’t really matter what the article was about. Anything about kindergarten…good, bad, or indifferent…testing, teaching, behavior, ability…written by teachers or administrators or legislators or parents…is usually based on the “blueberry myth”. You take a cup of identical little blueberries, mix them in a batter of precisely measured ingredients, bake them in an oven for the exact time required, and you get perfectly wonderful muffins. Works like a charm in the baking business! Not so much in education.
The flaw in the process is right there at the beginning…the blueberries. Do you know why the blueberries in muffins are all the same size? Why the olives in a jar are all the same size? Why the apples in the produce bin are all the same size? Because the largest and smallest are culled out and used for something else! I worked with my family each year to sort olives, apricots, peaches, and grapes. Some plants and trees just naturally produce fruit that is larger or smaller than average. If the result doesn’t meet the manufacturing needs for one product then it goes somewhere else. So you have blueberries that end up in muffins and some that are used for juice.
The foundation of education is still based on the business model of mass production. You take the same parts and use the same manufacturing process and you should get the same product…whether you manufacture it in Massachusetts or California. But when you try to apply that principle to education you get “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core”, both of which have failed miserably because they overlook that first flaw- the “same parts”. Can’t be done with children!! Never, ever, no matter what you call the program.
I’m just one teacher with experience limited to fifteen years in kindergarten in two states, plus some years of observation when my own children were in school in two other states. However, I feel that my own theory about our little blueberries is worth sharing. I think there are three basic kinds of kindergarten children and each group is also affected by two important factors: parental involvement and economic status. And the primary failing of education is that we design programs and curriculums and testing and expectations to meet the needs of the middle group, while failing to adequately address the needs of the other two.
Group One- Motivated, mature, highly intelligent, skilled, experienced. These children are eager to learn and already know how to cut, write, color, and perform a variety of basic tasks. They love books and stories. They can tie their own shoes. They have a few minor behavior problems. They are confident and willing to try new things. They’ve either been to preschool or have parents who have actively participated in their early education and experience. Many are bored by the second month of kindergarten. They could actually be promoted to first grade by the end of the first semester.
Group Two- Average skills, knowledge, and experience. Most can sing the alphabet, write their name, color, cut a straight line, and perform simple tasks. They know that a book has a story, but may prefer television or video games. They attempt to tie their shoes and put on their own coat. They have some behavior problems that may take anywhere from a week to a month to control. About two-thirds of them have been to preschool. Some are hesitant about learning to read. Some are reluctant to do anything that sets them apart from their peers. For most of them kindergarten is just a natural progression from their previous year and they expect to do their work and go on to the first grade. Most do.
Group Three- Frightened, immature, unskilled, sick, disabled, transient, and disobedient. This group is not ready to learn in the current kindergarten environment and may even resist being in school at all. Some have never been to preschool. Others have had a bad experience in preschool or at home or both. Some are behind in experience or skills because of a learning disability or a physical disability that takes time and effort to overcome. I once had a student who struggled with everything, until we discovered that he could only see three feet in front of him. Imagine living five years without anyone realizing that your vision wasn’t normal. I’ve had other students who missed half of the year because of health problems. One student arrived in my classroom mid-year after attending TWO other schools. Some students have so many serious behavior problems that they disrupt the whole class and disturb their own learning almost daily. Any mental, physical, environmental, or emotional problem must be considered before academics and testing can become a priority.
So…keep in mind that my kindergarten classes have usually included 3-4 of the first group, 10-12 of the second group, and 5-8 of the third group. And I’m expected to teach that group a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum, leave no child behind the group, and make sure everyone passes the SAME standardized tests so they can go on to the first grade. Someone tell me how…
Facebook is a great reminder that most of life comes down to family, friends, and health. No matter who you are or where you live or how much money you have, family and friends can still bring you great joy or break your heart. Your health still determines much of what you do and how you live. My mother always said that “money can’t buy you happiness”, but I never believed her until I watched some wealthy friends go through the same pains and problems that we all face. More cash in the bank may make some situations easier, but we are all witnesses to the fact that many of the “rich and famous” in our world are also miserable and in constant trouble. And money can’t keep you from having Parkinson’s or cancer or depression. It can’t make your spouse faithful or your children obedient. It’s only a tool to be used as wisely as possible.
Facebook is also a great reminder that we should all be thankful for what we have and be aware that others may have far less. Even if they don’t openly post their needs you can often figure out that others would appreciate your help or prayers by being aware of small details in their photos or status updates. My mother called that “reading between the lines”. She was always a good observer of human behavior.
Facebook also helps me compare and contrast my life. I often find myself thinking, “Well, at least I don’t have to deal with THAT!” or “Thank God I don’t have to raise that child!” or “I’m so glad I don’t have to do that job every day.” I find myself feeling very grateful for my own petty little problems.
This will be a somewhat difficult holiday season for us. Tomorrow is the anniversary of Mom’s death and of course we will be missing Dad this year as well. Much of our remaining family is scattered. But we can be thankful for our current good health. And we can turn to Facebook to share in the joy and laughter of our family and friends.