Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Do We Want Our Children To Learn?

I'm contemplating a career change to teaching. In an effort to get a feel for what teachers do, how they think, how they prepare and so on, I'm reading a lot of books, blogs and articles.

Yes, I like to be prepared.

Lesson plans are particularly confusing to me. How do you make sure you're really teaching kids what they need to move on? Curriculum guidelines aren't as specific as you'd think - which makes me wonder if that's one reason why teachers end up teaching to standardized tests. I mean, love them or hate them, at least they offer a structured way of organizing all the material you could teach at a certain grade.

I started thinking about what I've needed to live and work in life. Then I realized that much of what I learned in high school I actually needed for college - and then haven't needed since, because if you're a liberal arts major, you specialize after college. If you're not a liberal arts major, you probably didn't need a whole bunch of the stuff you learned in high school.

This made me wonder if it'd be more efficient to work backwards from college. For instance, if you know a college calculus class or English class teaches at this level, what do you need to teach in high school to prepare students for doing that level of work?

I'm sure this varies by universities, but I also know universities are offering more and more remedial classes - so, clearly, students aren't showing up with the tools they need to do college level work. Remedial classes are a problem, because it extends the time you're in school and they cost way more than if you'd learned that stuff in high school - and I bet they play a role in the large student debt of which so many graduates complain these days.

This lead to me to think about raising my own daughter and I realized you could use this same approach in your day-to-day life with your child. I guess it's obvious, but it's easy to forget. We're raising children to be adults, so shouldn't we ask ourselves what kind of adults we hope they'll be? And then use that ideal as our "course outline" for what we're doing now?

I have to say, I'm not too pleased with what I'm doing as a parent when I think about what kind of adult would emerge from our day-to-day lives. It's not that she'd be a bad person, but here's a look at what we do many days, particularly in winter:
Too much technology, too little interaction. First, there's TV. True, she mostly watches educational programs - if you count Arthur as educational - but between her shows and our shows, the TV is on many, many hours. And when she's watching her shows, one or both of us are on the computer "quickly" checking email or looking something up or - ahem- blogging. Even when we put her to bed, we stay up to watch TV.

We do, at least, turn it off for a sit down dinner - but even sit down dinners are not something we do religiously. Not infrequently, we eat in shifts, with one person watching TV while another's eating. It's not deliberate - someone's not hungry or I need a nap because I was up too late. But it's not good.

Why do we do this? This is both how we were raised - the TV was on constantly at my house. If you didn't like what was on, you went in another room and did your own thing. So, safe bet that she'll have this same bad habit as an adult, since that's how I got it.

I hate this, but I'm not sure how to break out of this mold. I've played with getting rid of the TV, but what about movies? Lost? I know. Sad.

Not exercising. I hate to leave to exercise at night because that's family time and also because I seldom feel like it. But then again, wouldn't I rather teach her that nights are for exercising instead of TV? Wouldn't I rather teach her that an important part of adult life is taking care of yourself. I never saw my parents exercise. Never. Mom did a few sit ups and this weird pilates-esque circuit she'd learned somewhere once in a blue moon. When Dad was young, he did push ups and head stand push ups - which are a crazy sight to see, let me tell you. But otherwise, it wasn't an issue for them since they tended to get exercise through work. So, I never thought of it as something you made time for.

Eating bad food too quickly. On our best nights, we cook a healthy meal and sit down for a long meal and after dinner conversation. When I'm tired, someone's sick or other times when we're just not motivated, then we eat quick meals or my hubby brings in carry-out. Carry-out, I've decided, is not nutritionally better than fast food. Most of these meals look healthier, but have hidden salt and fat. We also will eat quickly and then migrate to our own corners of the world.

I did not learn this from my family. My mom cooked home meals and we seldom ate out. However, I didn't learn to cook, I don't like cooking, and so, it's a lazy habit.

No chores. This is another bad habit. We tend to clean in spurts, rather than using routines. I do teach my daughter about cleaning, but I'm not teaching her a discipline of teaching. I've tried routines. I hate them. So exactly what skills will my child have for handling things like laundry and house chores if I don't model them? None.

Overall, part of the problem is I don't have the energy I need to create the family I want. And it's not likely to improve in the next few years, since I'm thinking about returning to school for my teaching certificate. This will put us dangerously close to her pre-teen years. I'm open to ideas.

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Twitter and Mothering

This NY Times piece is too priceless. A mother who can't escape constant text messages from her children - with demands about where she's going - decides Twitter is the perfect technology answer to her problem.

And her kids hate it. They simply don't get it. These Web 2.0 spawn rebel.

In the process, though, she finally manages to break free of their technology tethers, so there's a happy ending.


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Awesome Show About African American History

My husband and I had just turned off the DVD player from our nightly viewing of The Tick and caught a few minutes of African American Lives 2 on PBS. Well, we were totally hooked and spent the next two hours watching it, despite plans for an early bedtime.

It traces the family lines of 16 people, including Maya Angelou, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Morgan Freeman and Peter Gomes (one of my favorite religious writers) plus the show's host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In addition to looking into old records, they do a DNA test and are able to tell people what their racial percentages are! That was pretty surprising, I can tell you.

Gates, who considers himself black and grew up black, ended up being 50 percent European! He was pretty shocked. Turns out, he's related to some Irish king. There's a great scene where he goes to Ireland, meets some Irish people and introduces himself as this king's relative and then - how's this for a stereotype - the next scene is him in an Irish pub, drinking ale with the locals. It was awesome.

There was also this segment on how African Americans tend to think they have Native American ancestors, but in fact, only a small percentage do. Tina Turner just knew she was Native American, but it turns out no. Not even a little bit. The same with Morgan Freeman - who noted the Choctaws in Oklahoma were going to be upset when they learned he'd misrepresented himself. As it turned out, the features they attributed to being Native American were, you guessed it, European.

Which makes me wonder about the traits white people attribute to Native American ancestry.

There was also an interesting bit about indentured white women who had children by black (and, they assume, slave) men. That's a story you never hear about - but it turns out, that was the situation in Gates' family. (I think it was Gates; they skipped around a lot.) And they'd always figured the woman was ... you guessed it ... Native American.

They were able to tell several people which one or two tribes they would've decided from, as well. Experts helped Gates actually narrow down to about seven ships his African ancestor may have been on for the middle passage.

I'd love to have some of the DNA work they discussed in the series. Apparently, there have been lots of country-specific DNA studies that make it possibly to really pinpoint people's genetic origins now. Fascinating stuff.

We were in tears during some of the stories and it was just so powerful, watching these people learn about their past through slave records and DNA.

I'd definitely recommend this series. There's also a teacher's resource on the site.

This site says it's sister company, AfricanDNA.com, was used in the show.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Housing with Other Generations Now Cool

Apparently, builders have figured out - more or less - that some people want to live near their families and in multi-generational neighborhoods.

It's a great idea, but not new. People once called it "my hometown."

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How People Treat You

I read a blog post yesterday contending we teach people how to treat us. Obviously, this is not a new idea - and the blogger was completely wrong in saying that sexual harassment victims 'teach' this behavior AND in his use of the term "probability" - but the basic concept has me thinking about managing friendships.

The truth is, I have quite a few friends who treat me in ways I'm not happy with, and I think it's because I've allowed them to. In short, I've taught them they can treat me poorly and I'll still be their friend.

Not to sound like an eighth-grader, but I'm re-evaluating these friendships, and not just for my own sake.

First, some of these people are what I would consider family friends. I don't want my daughter to think it's okay for people to do things like:
  • Snub you for a better plan
  • Never call you back or respond to your invitations
  • Constantly change the plans to something they've decided they'd rather do
  • Treat you as though they're better than you
  • Treat you as though you're not part of their elite club when they're around certain other people
Everybody does this stuff sometimes. But when there's a consistent behavior pattern - well, that's just rude. I don't know what message these people are trying to give me - are they just so busy they can't call back? Do they not like us and don't want to be around us? Are they trying to get me to conform to some standard? Personal problems: "It's me, not you"

But, it doesn't matter anymore, because my message is, "If you can't treat me respectfully and with dignity, forget it."

It's not easy to make friends as an adult, particularly not friends whose kids are the same age as you and who share your sense of humor, your interest, etc.

But it's also not impossible.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tips for Adopting Parents on Writing Profiles

I found this great post via the Carnival of Family Life (see the sidebar for recent links).

It's by Lori Dowd of Best Light Adoption Profile Reviews and is for those who want to adopt and need to write an adoption profile, which I believe are more frequently used for U.S. adoptions.

It's a top 10 tips for writing your profile. Basically, the profiles are read by those seeking to place their unborn children at birth. The mothers read the profiles and pick which families they like.

I skimmed a lot of profiles when we were considering adoption, because I wanted to scope out the 'competition,' and see what we'd have to write. I have to say, I'm a professional writer and I still find the concept intimidating. Basically, what you write will be responsible for finding the birth mother of your future child.

The article includes feedback from real mothers who used the profiles to pick their children's future home.

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Finding Family Friends

I recently read a blog where the writer was bemoaning her lack of a social life since she moved to a new town. We've thought about moving before, and I realized it would be really hard to make friends, especially with other families, if we moved.

When we moved - as a young married couple - to Oklahoma, we had a hard time making new friends that we both liked. Eventually, I made friends at work with other people our age - one of whom was a married couple - and we hung out with my co-workers and their SOs. But it was tough going for about two years there.

Sometimes, too, I think we could use more family friends in our current town.

So, I thought I'd take a stab at brainstorming how to make new friends. Obviously, there's the old standbys, such as church, but not everybody goes to church or likes the people they find there. So...

1. Meetup.com. You can meet up with people who share your interests. I know in my area, stay at home moms and others have used Meetup to form play groups.

2. Organizing a group party for your child's X group - meaning, if your child plays soccer, organize a get-to-know-each-other party for the group. You can also do this for ballet classes, preschools, school classes, and so on.

3. Figure out where people that you liked in your old community hung out and try these locations in your new community.

This was something I did wrong in Oklahoma. I liked poetry, so we went to coffee shops and hung out. The thing is, while I enjoy a poetry reading, it turns out I don't enjoy the majority who frequent poetry readings. That's not to say I couldn't find someone I like, but it's not, apparently, my target friend demographic.

I should have thought about where I'd hang out with my friends from home and then visited similar places in Oklahoma.

For instance, I still keep in touch with my college friends, many of whom are now college professors. To meet my friends now, I would need to go where they hang out. I don't teach college, but I could go to work at a university, take a few classes, join the gym where they take their kids to swim, or move near the university. Or, I might find out where college professors tend to send their children to school or which preschool is known for attracting this crowd and enroll my child there. Most likely, you could find this out by doing a few keyword searches or asking around.

I also tend to like journalist, though they're often a bit...err...self-destructive for family life.

4. Forget about it. Instead of worrying about finding new friends, hit the road on the weekends and spend as much time as you can exploring the regional sites. This is actually how we spent a lot of our time in Oklahoma, and it was actually very rewarding. As a result, I don't feel like I ever need to go back. I'm pretty sure I saw everything I wanted to see while we were there. (Though, I do want to go back and see the bombing memorial.)

The hard part, of course, isn't meeting people, but moving on to the next step where you can do things together. I have a friend who excels at this. I'm not 100 percent sure what she does, but mostly I've noticed she invites people over for dinner, invite people she's just met over for parties, even birthday parties, or on family outings.

She also never turns down an invitation - even, I've noticed, if that person had to invite them, such as when there's a professional relationship that requires it. Many of us would excuse ourselves, feeling we really don't know the person well enough or telling ourselves it's a social formality, not a real invitation. Not her.

In short, she ignores a lot of the boundaries that, for most of us, separate people we've just met from friends and family. It's not the safest advice, but it works for her. She makes all kinds of friends wherever she goes.


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When Should Schools Turn Discipline Over to the Law?

I'm thinking about becoming a teacher, so I'm reading of blogs and articles about the profession these days.

The NEA has a piece about violence in schools. It's a complicated pictures.

However, a few things stood out to me that are of interest to parents. First, there's this:
And now safety records are under scrutiny because of provisions in the No Child Left Behind law that require schools to develop their own definitions of "persistently dangerous." Avoiding that label, which, if imposed, allows parents to transfer their children out of the school, is an incentive for underreporting violent incidents.

A. Do I really want that definition to vary by school?
B. Did that program accomplish anything it was meant to do??

The article also mentions this:
Over the past decade, the district has slashed programs for physical education, music, and other arts, cutting off important outlets for students.

"Students need something more than math and social studies," says Dennis Oulahan, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. "Education becomes less and less of a positive experience and the climate of the school suffers. Students become angrier and more confrontational, and staff sometimes bear the brunt of student frustration."

And this is why we should fight against physical education and arts programs being cut. That said, I do feel like part of the reason the bullies were better after recess is because, yes, they were able to take their aggressions out during recess - by bullying the little kids.

But this raised a lot of questions for me as a parent:
When a threat is made, the team convenes to discuss the facts behind the threat and whether it is likely to be carried out. Ultimately, says Cornell, the process is concerned not with whether the student has made a threat, but with whether a student actually poses a threat.

The model divides threats into two categories: transient and substantive. Distinguishing between the two is a crucial component of any assessment program.

Transient threats typically include such comments from students as "You better watch it" or "I'm gonna get you," and are not likely to be carried out. When the threat assessment guidelines were field tested in 35 schools across the country, more than 70 percent of the reported threats were classified as transient.


Well, yes, no one in their right mind would call the police if someone said, "You better watch it." Although, I have seen police reports with "I'm gonna get you" listed as terroristic threatening.

But I wonder if the school is putting itself in legal jeopardy by taking on this role?

Maybe schools need to consult the police on this type of stuff. After all, they're the experts in criminal behavior. They should be able to provide guidance into when acting out is segueing into a crime. I propose that schools really aren't experts at criminal behavior and really don't want to gain that experience the hard way.

The bigger question to me is where you draw the line between the legal system and schools. How many times can a school act as sanctuary for criminal behavior before putting others in jeopardy and opening itself up to a legitimate lawsuit?

Is it a crime only if a teacher is involved? At one point are you actually doing my child and the teachers a disservice by not reporting another student's criminal behavior? (Because, yes, threats are a crime.)


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lost Boys of Sudan

Hubby and I watched this film tonight and it is simply wonderful. We were skeptical, because we thought it would be too horrible to watch. Maybe that sounds shallow, but I really can't see the point of watching horror after horror when you can't really change the situation.

But it's actually very uplifting. True, it covers the horrors of what happened, and it's a very sad situation with the young men. But they're so smart - much smarter than most of us in America - about family and what matters. And it's strange, because they've been through so much horror, but they're also very naive and sweet.

Anyway, it's actually a great film for learning about building family, the responsibilities and joys of family and what family ties can really mean in this world. It was interesting to learn how the older boys took on these nurturing role with the younger boys. It was also telling that one of the things they disliked most about America was how their work limited their time together.

Beautiful.


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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Are You or Your Children Privileged?

I confess: I never pass these things on, much less actually do them. Or, in this case, start them. But I found this really interesting, because it points out how easy it is to forget how privileged most of us really are. You're supposed to bold what applies to you.

It's from this blog, which found it on another blog.

It's called "From What Privileges Do You Have? and is based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you email this, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright. To participate, bold the items that apply to you.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college (she did go to a trade school and finished, but not college)
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor (not counting, since it was my younger cousins and only recently)
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs. (To be fair, a scholarship and my job paid most of my college costs, but my parents did cover my rent - and my siblings' college bills)
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp Although, my camp hardly was posh. Our water was pumped in from a pond, we had to help clean, there was no air conditioning and we spent about six hours every day in classes learning the Bible or hearing talks from missionaries or attending church. It was church camp. The most fun we had was a 3 p.m. frightening dodge ball game in the July sun. A horrible experience that's really more about indoctrination than privilege. I call foul!
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18 (Does my grandmother count?)
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels (Seldom, but a few times)
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child (my mom did paint a possum once)
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house (A new home, actually. Very fortunate here.)
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
25. You had your own room as a child
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
31. Went on a cruise with your family
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up. (My dad loved history.)
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.
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