April 30, 2012

The Moment It Happened...Adulthood

There comes a time when you realize there has been a slight shift in the Universe.  It is subtle, but you know it has happened.  You reach a point and it just happens...silently, without obvious intent.

Over at the Suburban Jungle, Jenny from the Blog posted a list of sorts about turning 40.  Sadly (or not, I'm not sure, yet) it is about time for me to start observing lists of these sorts...or at least obsessing about 40.  I realized after reading through her list that I was pretty good with the things I needed to do before turning 40, which kinda sucks because I'm not really ready for that milestone.  I'm good with 37...I was better with 34, but no one asked me.

It dawned on me recently I had reached a critical point in my life.  I had tape...like several rolls of tape.  I had scotch tape, duct tape, packaging tape, and magic tape.  Whatever the cause, I got ya.  I look for things to tape just because I can.

Growing up, my mom had a hall closet that was full of thread for cross-stitching and there was always scissors and rolls of tape there.  When I needed either of these, I knew exactly where to go.  It was always stocked, no matter how much I had pilfered the previous trip.  

When I moved out on my own, I was fairly proud that I had the essentials.  I owned a couple of pots and pans my parents had passed down (or I stole on a visit home.)  I got towels and silverware from Target.  My grandparents bought me a vacuum cleaner which my roommate and I ruined shortly thereafter. I was doing pretty well for a 19 year-old idiot.  But...I didn't ever have friggin' tape.

The other day, though, I needed scissors and tape for something, and I went to "my" drawer in the kitchen. I pulled out the needed items.  That's when it hit me:  I have come to the age where I have those "things" I never thought of needing before.  I have tape.  I have a drawer to keep it in.  I have dental floss.  I have travel-size shampoo bottles.  All things point to me being an adult against my better wishes.

So, when did you know?  Are you there yet?  What was it that made you realize, "Holy crap, Batman, I'm a real adult?!"

April 23, 2012

Life's Little Suitcase

I rarely bring my profession into this blog...it's supposed to be my escape from that stuff. Yet, here I am, getting ready to puke up all this...stuff.

One day, when my kids in class were begging for extra credit, I asked them why they were suddenly so worried about their grades.  Our relationship was such that I could banter back and forth with them and these questions were answered truthfully.  One child spoke up.  "I have to get an A or my parents get mad."  Wow.

I thought for a second...not because I was judging his parents, but because I was reflecting on my own parenting.  How would my own children answer that question?

I went on to ask what was more important to them, the students.  They all responded the letter grade.  When I pushed further, they all responded they would rather NOT be challenged, but would prefer easy materials that guaranteed an A for their grade.  Year after year, students have echoed that sentiment to me.  That saddens me...

This week children in our state are taking their standardized tests.  It's a high-stakes game for everyone involved.  The students have added pressures this year because the scores count as part of their final grades.  The teachers will have the students' scores counted in as part of their evaluations.  The schools are judged based upon these scores.  Scores are published in newspapers and on websites.  For better or worse, it is a judging of everyone involved.

As parents and teachers, we are quick to say how the children are more than a single test. Yet, if it is our school system that is found to have failing scores, then we decide there must be a cleaning of the house.  People are obviously not doing their jobs, our students are failing, and so on.  We do not want our school systems to have failing scores, but we also do not want the pressure placed on our students to do well.  We are contradicting ourselves and our children are smart enough to know it.

The truth is, we can't have it both ways.  We can't preach that test scores are not important and then rail on if the system performs poorly.  After all, we were the ones telling the students it didn't matter.  How confused would we be if we were told the same thing?  Imagine if your boss came in and told you not to worry about upcoming evaluations, then gave you extra work if you didn't do well?  Quite the contradiction, eh?

If we want our children to understand the true value of learning, we can't shelter them from learning things that may conflict with our own beliefs.  Teaching them the value of learning for the sake of learning means not rewarding A's with a trip to the mall.  Education means asking, "What did you learn?" instead of "What grade did you make?"  Our children's grades need to stop being our status symbols.

Before any one of us ~ parent, teacher, administrator, etc. ~ can criticize, praise, or attempt to overhaul a system that is, indeed, broken, we must look at what we are willing to sacrifice.  Are you, yes, YOU, willing to sacrifice that bumper sticker "My kid is an honor roll student" for a child with an open mind full of knowledge?  Can we, as a country, be okay with not beating other countries in some stupid (yes, yes, I called them stupid.) testing competition?  Think carefully before you answer...it's a harder question than you might think.

When I was in high school, I was blissfully ignorant of GPA's and how my class choices would influence my future.  I remember walking into my high school guidance office with brass balls and dropping my AP English class because I wanted to be with my friends.  I've never regretted that decision.  I spent time with people I loved, made some great memories, and had one of the best teachers ever to walk the planet.  I didn't know enough to worry about the grades, and it was a blessing.

I remember taking these same standardized tests as a child.  I remember my parents asking about my grades and being pleased with the good ones and not-so-pleased with the not-so-good ones.  I know that neither of these things will change.  There will always be tests and there will always be grades.  Humans are ingrained with a desire to classify and categorize things, including our children.  However, I have to think, BELIEVE, at some point we will begin to understand how important it is to be able to explore the world around us, to find out where our natural interests will lead us, and to let those curiosities help us make a life AND a living.

During a discussion in class, we were discussing what they were interested in doing as adults.  Several named professions that pay well.  Out of curiosity, I asked them if they would do something different if money wasn't an issue.  Almost all of them said yes.  Their choices went from those high paying professions, such as doctors and engineers, to the likes of artists, teachers, and chefs.  Our children are sacrificing their dreams for the sake of paychecks, and we feed into that with our ever-increasing pressures of testing and grades.

My soapbox is wobbly, and I think it's secretly telling me to shut up.  It's okay...I'm winded.  

April 18, 2012

When What You See Is Not What You See...

This is a rock.  Well, concrete with small pebbles embedded into it, actually.  It looks like nothing, but it is something.  Oh, baby, is it something.

My dear co-worker brought this to me to share with my students.  I know they don't quite get it this young, but I hope they one day look back and realize the weight this rock carries.

It is not large...it is about the size of a fist.  Ironic.  I wonder how many people wanted to punch this small rock when it was part of a larger rock...Breaking it down into bits of dust.

It is a piece of the Berlin Wall.  Yep, that wall.  A wall built overnight to separate humans from other humans.  A wall that divided.  A wall that was more than a wall.  

I'd like to think we've moved past walls in so many ways, but I'm learning we have not.  I'm learning that we still carry our histories deep in our souls despite our mouths speaking happy and politically-correct thoughts.  I'm learning I am naive.  I'm learning that are still some really big assholes out there.

When do we become aware of differences and start judging based upon those?  Why do we do it?  Is it simply human nature to have to feel superior to someone else?  

This quote popped up on my facebook today:  "You have enemies? Good.  That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life."  Compliments of Winston Churchill, thank you.  I think I may not have enough enemies.  I  haven't stood up often enough in my life. Sometimes my ears hear hateful words...my mouth is full of thoughts that won't come out...and my heart aches because of what others, thoughtless and careless with their words, have put onto my universe. Those thoughts need to find their voice.  And, if I make an enemy, so be it.  I stood up for something, sometime.