Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Search of Joy

One day, during the middle of a business math lecture, one of my female students interrupted me to ask, "Were you a cheerleader in high school?"

Oh my, did I have a hearty laugh!  Because really, I was everything a cheerleader shouldn't be: shy, quiet, completely disinterested in school sports, and generally unpopular and unnoticed by most of the boys.  I suppose I could have moved further away on the spectrum by going hardcore goth or being completely sullen and refusing to make friends with anyone, but short of that, I was the opposite of a cheerleader.

I don't know why she asked me, but at the time I guessed it was because I was being as peppy as possible about calculating interest or whatever we were doing that day.  Given that, I was actually really impressed with myself.  I came off bubbly enough to make someone think I had cheerleader on my resumé?  Score!

I'm not a bubbly gal.  Woefully, I have, on multiple occasions, been asked what was wrong based on my facial expression, when nothing was -- I was simply lost in thought.  I've made a concerted effort to adjust my default facial expression to something a wee bit closer to content, but I don't know if I've made any progress.  Sometimes I'll just be walking along and I'll think, oh crap! I should smile!  So I twist my mouth into what I think looks like a smile, and then happen by a mirror and realize I just look ridiculous.
Now this chick is bubbly.  Also mischievous.
A very lovely lady who went to my high school recently became a postulant with the Sisters of Life.  Now that she is in the convent, she does not use cell phone or email, but she has a Facebook group set up so that her close friends and family can share news about how she is doing and when people can visit her.  Recently, someone posted that she recently received a letter from her and that "her joy jumps off the page!"  I believe it, too -- this woman just radiates joy.

And that is what I want.  To radiate joy.  I know that for my personality type, it's not going to come across as bubbly, and maybe it will never "jump off the page," but it's got to be possible.  Many of the blogs I read regularly do it -- Hallie at Betty Beguiles, Holly at Perfectly Imperfect, and Dacia at Praying Twice spring to mind immediately, and there are plenty of others.  All of these ladies are richly blessed, but do they have perfect lives?  No, of course not; nobody does.  Yet they are able to capture the good and the beautiful in their lives exquisitely.  Their gratitude is constantly evident!

I'm planning to do something on the ol' blogaroo to kick off my search for joy, and what better time to do it than the season of Advent?  It starts a new liturgical year in the Church, it is a time for us to prepare for the joy of Christmas, and it gives me a little over a week to plan out just what I am going to do.

Have a wonderful weekend!  My weekend wonders thus far have been buying a lovely apron and a cool space-themed pillow at our church's bazaar, both quite reasonably priced, and enjoying an insightful book club meeting with two fantastic women.  Colin left around 4:15 this morning to go to a martial arts tournament in western PA.  Elise is napping now, which is great, but it's lonelier to be alone on Saturdays than during the week, so my day will improve a hundredfold when her daddy gets back tonight.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Uh-Oh, I'm Opinionated About Something

As someone who took zero education courses in college and has no experience parenting a child older than sixteen months, I deem myself to be pretty well qualified to write intelligently about childhood learning.

Ha ha ha!

Clearly, I'm not academically or even experientially qualified to do so.  But I think I'm common-sense and generally-educated qualified.  And hey, I spent a year and a half teaching adults, so kids can't be that different, right?


Last week, I received an email from a sweet girl in England whom I've never met in my life.  She attached an essay she'd written for a university assignment and asked me for some editing advice.  Well, really, she wasn't asking me; she was asking another lady who has the same name I do (had to be in the UK!), and she got our email addresses mixed up.  I ended up giving her some advice on the paper anyway, because I thought it would be a good thing to do, and because I miss school like crazy.  (My ultimate pipe dream would be to just be a professional student forever and get degrees in almost everything.)  Her essay was describing the influence of the Italian educational system on the newly revised education system in Northern Ireland, a topic about which I knew -- of course! -- absolutely nothing.

Through reading her paper, I learned about the Reggio Emilia approach, an educational philosophy centered around self-guided learning.  Now, I'm far from an expert on this approach after having read one college essay and a Wikipedia page, so I won't speak to it specifically.  Rather, I'd like to focus on a general trend I've noticed.

I'm not comfortable with what I've perceived to be a pretty strong push toward "child-led" education.  And it's not that I think early childhood education should be like the military or that kids shouldn't have time to just be kids -- far from it!  But whenever I read things like "children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves" or "the teacher is considered a co-learner and collaborator with the child and not just an instructor," I can't help but roll my eyes and shake my head.  I'm sorry if this is the heart and soul of what you espouse, but I ain't buyin' it.

Children absolutely need time to be children, time that is unstructured, when they aren't doing school or sports or music lessons, time when they can tap into their unlimited creativity (how I envy them that!) and explore the world on their own terms.  And I think there is even a place for that within an instructional setting, sure.  But I don't think that should be the focus in school.  It's true, we're not trying to train-up our kids to fit into a nice vocational role and contribute their fair share to some oppressive Marxist society.  But we are certainly training them to be adults.  And I don't know about you, but I can't tell you the last day I had "endless ways and opportunities to express" myself.  Or, you know, was able to indulge my outrageously expensive dream of being a professional student, which would require me to neglect my duties as a wife and mother. That's not how life is, and I think that's okay!

When I was teaching, I often had a hard time wrapping my brain around the vertical relationship I had with my students, because many of them were almost as old as or older than I.  Regardless, it was still there, and for good reason: within the realm of what we were doing, I was more knowledgeable and more experienced.  As well I should have been; what a pitiful education it would have been otherwise!  With children, I have no trouble whatsoever recognizing this vertical relationship.  And neither should they.

Children are wonderful and beautiful and innocent and smart, and when we're with them, we often see the world anew.  But we know more than they do.  We are capable of more than they are.  We have years of accumulated wisdom, and they have nearly none.  This is a good thing!  They need us to lead them.  They need to feel safe.  They need to know that their mom and their dad and their teachers are in positions of authority because they deserve to be, because they will help them and guide them so that they can one day be mature and responsible adults, too.

I can't help but feel like the child-driven model is largely a reaction to the shortcomings of traditional schooling -- the one-size-fits-all approach that relies on rules, rigid curricula, and testing testing testing.  I'm glad we're aware of the pitfalls of this system, because it's true: all children learn differently and have unique needs.  This was beyond obvious to me growing up, as my brother and I had completely different learning styles and needs.  Mine were addressed adequately enough by traditional schooling; thank God there were special education programs available to him, because a "regular" classroom would have failed him completely.

My thinking is that it doesn't make sense to try to fix the problems with a rigid traditional schooling system by jumping all the way to the other end of the spectrum and letting kids do whatever happens to strike their fancy.  I realize that most Reggio Emilia enthusiasts and the like would probably be pretty peeved by that statement and would say that it is a gross mischaracterization.  Honestly, I hope that it is.

I guess it boils down to this: I believe children need structure and rules, and I believe children need to understand that their relationship with adults is a vertical one in which the adults are in charge and deserving of their respect. 

What do you think?  Am I being an ignorant, um, witch?  Should I wait until my kid is school-aged before I go spouting off about educational philosophies?  Is this just my ultimate square personality rearing its ugly head?  Or did I possibly make a point here?

Friday, November 11, 2011

7 Things You Might Not Have Known About Me

Well, if you know me IRL, you probably know at least a few of these.  But humor me!  (For some reason, I had a nearly irrepressible urge to spell that "humour."  Curious.)

1. I have a potty mouth
It's gotten much tamer as I've ripened into my mid-twenties (and, you know, gotten married and had a kid), but my speech is still (in)decently colorful at times.  For example, this scenario unfolded at the grocery store a couple weeks ago (and just so you know, we buy store-brand of almost everything):

Me: Hey Tally*, can you get a couple cans of cannellini beans off the shelf for me?
Colin: You want the Bush's or the shitty brand?
Me: The shitty  Get me two shitties.

*Adapted from the term "shorty," often used in hip-hop (and now at our home) as a term of endearment.

2. I also have a potty mouth
Good grief, my husband and I love scatological humor. Which is why this was the best possible response to the email he sent to a comic artist years ago.  (Warning...most of the other comics on the site offend even me.)

3. I saw the Mediterranean Sea (yay!)...before I saw the Atlantic Ocean
As I've mentioned before, we hardly ever did family vacations because my brother's disability makes travel very difficult.  But the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I went on a ten-day trip to the French-speaking European nations with a group from my school.  I am abundantly thankful to my parents for giving me that opportunity!!  It was absolutely wonderful, and my favorite part was visiting the French riviera.
Holy shiznit, the Côte d'Azur is frakking gorgeous.
We flew over the Atlantic to get there, but I couldn't see it.  My first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean came a couple years later, the first time I visited South Carolina with my now-husband and his family.  I've never been west of Chicago, so I've never seen the Pacific, but I'd love to!

4. Some of my favorite names include Dmitri, Javier, Cesare, and Gustav
But I shan't be using them to name any future bambinos, because they don't go with our last name and have nothing to do with either of our heritages.

5. I've never been to an amusement park or a zoo
Again, related to the whole not going on family vacations thing.  I don't really care much about the former, although I'm sure I'll have to give in eventually -- it seems a little wrong to be an Ohioan who's never visited Cedar Point!  I'd LOVE to go to a zoo, though, and hopefully we'll take Elise to one soon!  Ooh, and an aquarium, too.  I've never been to one of those, either.

6. I'm not a big fan of breakfast food
It's okay, but not great.  I mean, I love a big stack of pancakes with syrup and sausage and bacon and hash browns as much as the next person, but you can't eat that every day.  Cereal, oatmeal, yogurt....blah.  I'm the kind of person who will joyfully eat lunch-and-dinner fare for breakfast, so I've had weeks when I've eaten chicken curry, bean burritos, and macaroni and cheese.  And sometimes cake.

7. I enjoy me some whiskey
My drink of choice is dry white wine, preferably Sauvignon Blanc.  But when we don't have that around, a little glass of Jack will do nicely.  Colin was a groomsman in a wedding last month; Elise and I were also there, but mostly on our own since he had to perform a lot of groomsman duties.  It was a beautiful wedding and a fun celebration, but babies are babies, and as soon as we got to the reception I could tell it was going to be a rather long night for a goin'-it-alone mom.  So I marched up to the bar, daughter balanced on hip, and requested a Jack and Coke.
I know you're thinkin' it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Penn State Debacle

I can't stop thinking about the hideous scandal that has erupted here at Penn State this week.  Despite having read numerous articles and commentaries on it, I made the blunder of digging up the grand jury report this afternoon and reading (most of) it -- DO NOT follow suit.  There were portions I had to skip over once I realized how detailed they were.  It is heinous.  Heinous.  HEINOUS.  I'm sorry, but I don't know how anybody can give two craps about football when abuse like that was known to have occurred and covered up for years while the predator continued to acquire more victims.  Yeah, it was a hell of a way for JoePa's career to end, and this town is shaken to its core, but anybody who thinks a football coach's career is more important and worthy of demonstration (and riots? for freaking real?) than the support of those victims has a serious problem with priorities.

That having been said, I think it's still important to pray for all involved.  Certainly for the victims; that goes without saying.  But also for the witnesses and the authority figures and, yes, even the man who has allegedly committed these crimes, who is obviously a sick, sick person and needs help.