Posts Tagged ‘education’

Looking at the moon

I can see the lunar eclipse from my balcony tonight. The bright part of the blood moon is just a fingernail sliver against a brown circle in the dark sky. It’s not all that dark even, because I live in a city now. But it’s clearly visible. Palladium windows alight in neighboring apartments echo the theme of partial circles.

Listen – is that chirping crickets or something that sounds like them? Traffic noise pulses too – or is that my own pulse in my ears?

Snips of muffled conversations drift up from the apartment above me, no real words but clearly human. Are they looking outside from time to time too? Are children being allowed to stay up later than normal on this school night so they can see the eclipse for themselves? Are parents explaining to them how it works? Perfect learning opportunities happen sometimes in pajamas. Not just something in a book, but real life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I learn voraciously from books. But I’ve been reading a lot lately about the damage to children, in their learning and physical health and emotional wellbeing, because they are so totally scheduled and supervised that they have no time to just play and learn from the real world. Ho did we come to not understand this in our guts?

Yeah, I realize that most kids today are so conditioned to fast movement and electronics that their attention spans probably don’t last through an eclipse. Heck, I’m not sitting out there watching the whole thing. But bravo to any parent who is at least letting their children stay up to have a look at it and hopefully even enjoying it with them.

Of course this requires looking away from TV and all other devices. Ah, well, one can hope.


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Last time I wrote some thoughts on education and elder care and how our current models for both seem to be industrial, and how disturbing that is given that people are not products.

Today I saw Garr Reynold’s blog, “Presentation Zen,” and on it his compilation of “Videos to help you rethink education.”  I’ve watched them all. Please take the time to watch them yourself, and together let’s rethink education, for the sake of precious individuals, for the sake of our world.

What can you do, you may ask, if you’re not in a position to effect legislation? You can teach another human being something that you know today. You can nurture delight and protect uniqueness. You can encourage perseverance through failure to finding new answers and new skills.

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The other day my friend Becky and I spent some time roaming through The Bookworm, a used book store just down the street from where her grandparents used to live. I actually purchased some books. I know, I know, I just wrote about how I read books from the library first before I buy them, but finding bargains for a little bit of nothing works for me too. And these three spoke my name:

The Short Story: 50 Masterpieces. I love used lit books. It all started when my dad, who taught among other things high school literature, was on the faculty committee to find new textbooks and ended up bringing home several samples from various publishers. You know the type: anthologies with names like Adventures in American Literature, full of short stories, poetry, plays, essays, usually even a novel at the back. I was the kid who when I first got a library card thought it would be cool to read every book in the library, and my favorite thing to do on hot summer days, unless we were going to the lake, was to lie on the floor in our living room, between the open window and the floor fan, and read. So when Dad brought those lit book samples home, I salivated. That summer I read Poe and Sandburg, Wordsworth and Eliot, Steinbeck and Dickinson to my heart’s content. (One of my best garage sale finds ever was a copy of the exact American Literature book my dad taught from when I was in his class. Yes, yes, I know, these anthologies are out of fashion, and I really agree with that, as long as students are getting introduced to good literature, which I don’t think is a sure thing. But that’s another post.) Collections like these still speak to me. I will welcome working into my life one story at a time from this “new” find, which starts with Nathaniel Hawthorne (many of his stories are old friends) and goes to Joyce Carol Oates.

What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, by Po Bronson. Why did this jump out at me? First, this is a question I still have not fully answered for myself, even yet. Second, I’ve seen Po Bronson quoted in some other books and articles I’ve read recently. Third, I always appreciate stories, and rather than approach this question purely to give advice or as psychological analysis, this is filled with real people’s journey’s. Bronson writes transparently, too, which I love. He’s honest about his own journey, in other words, and clearly it’s not finished. I’m up to chapter 13 so far and loving it.

Big Ideas for Small Spaces, by David Lansing and JoAnne Liebeler. This beautiful book is photo-rich with a little text about design principles. It’s very colorful, and most of the rooms are quite modern. Colors, individual style, strength, a little quirkiness. This is like books I’ve checked out from the library — tying back to the thrift thing — and now I’ve bought one for a song that I can mark in or even cut out images I really like. No, I’m not looking to redo my house, but playing with color and design opens something up in me.

The past year and a half since my husband’s death have included the rather emotional process of clearing out many of his books. These three volumes I’ve just found are part of the next ongoing step of making my bookshelves reflect who I am. That hour’s roam through the used book store was an hour well spent, emotionally, for me. Thanks for suggesting it, Becky.

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I have just watched two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. If you haven’t seen it, you can catch it here or on hulu.com. Jamie Oliver is well known as a British chef. He has a vision to improve, nay, revolutionize, the way people eat in England and the United States. The main problem: our addiction to processed foods. (The video of his impassioned talk about this at last month’s TED conference is worth watching, too.)

On the show, he goes into one town in West Virginia to try to change habits and attitudes, starting with one elementary school and one family. I watched transfixed.

The health implications are scary. The government bureaucracy that perpetuates the junk in lunchrooms is shocking. But what got me the most was what children are being taught, or not taught, about food and life. It makes me sad and angry.

Six-year-olds in the school Jamie Oliver went to could not recognize fruits and vegetables. Yeah, some of their wrong answers showed a thin connection to the real thing. An eggplant is shaped similarly to a pear. Tomato and potato sound alike. Cauliflower and broccoli both are bumpy. But they couldn’t even identify a potato, and they had no clue that’s what fries were made of.

Then when he prepared a from-scratch meal for the school for which the kids would need forks and spoons, the kitchen staff and the principal had to think long and hard where the cutlery even was. When Jamie asked about knives, they just about came unglued. Didn’t he know you don’t expect five- through ten-year-old children to use utensils? (And of course one of those kids could go on a killing spree in the school with a table knife!) The staff even asked for documentation to prove Jaime’s truthfulness when he said that kindergartners in Britain are using them all the time.

I suspect this is way too typical of schools all over the nation. What are we doing? What does the future hold? It is so easy to teach these things, first at home and then reinforced at school, and we’re not doing it well at all, apparently. Not only are our children becoming less literate, their social skills are becoming more medieval.

One day after Jamie’s initial veggie/fruit test, the class invited him back for a redo. The teacher had taken initiative and in that one day they’d learned their way around a produce stand. Just like that–and they were proud. It doesn’t require a curriculum, scope and sequence, and certainly not a lesson plan, with metrics, submitted for review at all levels up and down the school district. It just requires living life with children, including them in day-to-day stuff.

Here’s what that might look like, in the life of a family. Take your children with you to the grocery store. Talk to them as you shop, particularly in the produce, meat, dairy, and bread aisles. I’m not talking about formal teaching,  just conversation: “Let’s see if the apples look good.” “Oh, eggs are on sale. Let’s get some.” Help them to recognize a potato before they know what a bag of chips is.

Keep the conversations going at home. Talk to them as you put the groceries away, or even let them help when they can. If you plan some family meals, actually at the table, you combine the food thing with the utensil thing. Get the kids involved in food prep and table setting. If we don’t teach our children to be competent with forks, spoons, and knives, we are handicapping them. According to child development milestones, most children are capable of using forks and spoons like adults by the age of four. Do we expect them to somehow morph into civilized, socially adept humans at, say, high school graduation? A child wants to learn new skills. Sure, it’s messy, and it requires some attention from busy parents. But they’ll get it, and my gosh, don’t they deserve it? Or are they just a notch above the family pet? Why do we put them in soccer when they’re four and continue to push athletic skills, but somehow assume they’re incapable of learning to use tableware until they’re learning multiplication tables ?

Talk to your children, casually, about all of life, including food and meals. Also, don’t many toddler word books have pictures of foods and kitchen items? When my children were small, reading to them and even looking at pictures with them kept me sane at times. If I was bored with the board or cloth books, I bought el cheapo grocery store ones that I didn’t care if the kids tore. If I was still bored, I’d page through an old magazine with them, pointing out and naming pictures and adding any other little bits of conversation I could manufacture. Lots of those were pictures of food. Not only is this a reading readiness activity, it teaches real-life skills and it provides a snatch of mother-child quiet time.

I understand that American parents are stressed to the max these days. But something is more than horribly wrong if we don’t have time to include our children in basic daily life or enjoy simple food.

The bureaucracy that is the American school system? For now I’ll just say that I am an education counterculturalist and a friend of true teachers everywhere, and that makes perfect sense to me.

(Honesty requires me to tell you that among my healthy grocery choices today, I also bought a short tube of refrigerator biscuits. See, I’m not immune from the temptations of uber-processed foods. My body will make me pay a very uncomfortable price, though, if I indulge often, and I’m not willing to go there.)

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