Posted in musings

freedom in learning

What is the goal of education? Or, for that matter, what is the goal of parenthood? Is our aim to shape the children in our care into a certain type of person, to give them specific skills, to qualify them for certain careers, to prepare them for expected circumstances? Do we envision their future selves as the complete products toward which we are currently laboring, and the ends which justify all the unpleasant activities we must force upon them in their childhoods?

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Or do we see our role as parents and educators to be one of providing opportunities to explore and grow, while allowing our children to choose the direction, rate, and nature of that growth? Are they like plants which we tend with loving care – providing soil, water, and space to flourish – but over which, ultimately, we have no true control? I remember one year planting peas, all in a row in a single garden bed; I watered them and fertilized them synchronously, and yet some sprouted days before their neighbors, and some grew to twice the height of others, lanky stems reaching up to the sky much farther in between each set of leaves and tiny tendrils. Nothing I did caused or could have eliminated the differences between those plants (though I certainly could have affected their development negatively by forgetting to water them, in which case the height difference may not have been so noticeable…).

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Perhaps it is the same way with children. Some will shoot out intellectually, reaching with insatiable desire towards the skies of knowledge and academic learning, constant thirst for the sunlight of information driving them onward. We could stunt that growth by neglect or empower it by attention, but we cannot create (and can only with great difficulty destroy) the passion that motivates it. Others may grow in more embodied ways, developing craftsmanship and skill in professions such as music, art, or manual trades, and pursuing the creation of tangible beauty rather than the acquisition of knowledge. While we can offer the opportunity to learn those skills to all children, not all will desire to hone them to mastery, and it is most likely counterproductive to attempt to force it.

The knowledge and skills that align with a child’s natural talents and inclinations will be the easiest for them to develop, as well as the ones most likely to bring them joy and success throughout their lives – regardless of how “one-sided” it may make them appear now.

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We may fear that, if children are allowed to choose the direction of their learning, they may choose incorrectly.

Does a tree choose the wrong place to grow a branch?

Does the blackberry bush extend its vines the wrong way?

Hardly.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis (I believe from Mere Christianity), the tree and the bush are following the rules of their nature and are not wrong or incorrect in doing so, although they may be quite inconvenient indeed for us!

And while it is quite fine to trim back a plant for the sake of our comfort and convenience, it is not at all fine to trim back the growth of another person for the sake of our own convenience. Providing a trellis to support their growth is one thing; stunting or restricting that growth simply because it doesn’t fit our idea of what their growth should look like is quite another.

Children are human too, after all. And humans, we believe, in fundamental democratic terms, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (always being aware of how our actions infringe upon the rights of others, of course).

Coercive education – forcing a child to learn something in which he has no interest, for no purpose at all except the nebulous expectations of adult society, at the expense of time and energy that could have been devoted to the unique and explorative learning that his heart desires – seems to me to be quite far from those exalted human rights.

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We can attempt to control, and set ourselves and our children up for disappointment, failure, and bitterness – or we can let our children provide the directing and motivating force while we provide the rich and nourishing environment in which they can flourish in beauty and individuality. We can give them the gifts of freedom, acceptance, and support, and marvel at the different ways they blossom before our wondering eyes.

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“In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance. This affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of reality by retelling it in his own way, thus creating a new world. Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life.”

– Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

insubordination

Posted in book lists

my year in books, 2017

There isn’t much better than sitting down, uninterrupted, with a good book and a cup of hot tea 🙂

While most of the books I read this year were read on my phone while nursing Aubade, pumping at work, or staying up way too late at night (not counting pages snatched while cooking, eating, or using the bathroom), just the fact that I was reading was good enough for me, even with the interruptions and without the hot tea!

Not counting rereads, I completed 83 books in 2017. I was trying to read books from different genres, time periods, and authors, but there were some definite slants. First, in genres, I read non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and general fiction books somewhat evenly (more fantasy than the others by a bit) – but I read no mysteries or romances, and only one thriller and one book of poetry. For next year, I’d like to read more non-fiction and more poetry! I don’t really mind missing out on the other genres and I don’t have to make sci-fi/fantasy a goal for it to be read…

For time periods, I read exclusively modern books this year and almost half of them were written in just the last decade:chart

This is definitely something I want to change, even if it means I’ll be reading fewer books overall. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from the experience of past generations, and a lot of classic books I haven’t yet read!

The oldest book I read this year was almost going to be Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (a book alternately beautiful, silly, and innocent, by the way), but at the tail end of the year I discovered The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, which happened to be published just a year earlier in 1907. It couldn’t be more different, as a sort of Catholic version of the end-times novel popularized in the Protestant world by the Left Behind series. I did find it thought-provoking and even inspiring, as the story of a church disintegrating yet not destroyed in the face of the great tribulation (the nature of that tribulation itself is probably the most brilliant aspect of the book, as evil truly comes wearing the guise of an angel of light and seems to fulfill all the hopes and promises that humanity longs for). Next year, though, I hope to have both of these books beat by at least a few centuries!

As far as trying to read diverse authors went, about two-thirds of the books I read were written by women, and one-third by men. Again, about two-thirds were written by White American authors, while the other one-third were written by people of various ethnicities from various countries, including France, Italy, the UK, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, China, and Japan. So a lot of the authors reflected me, demographically, as white women from the US, but I did branch out at least a little bit, and I hope to continue doing so next year.

While obviously not all 83 of these books were exceptional, there was only one that I truly disliked: Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. The premise was intriguing, but the ending (in addition to being horribly depressing) wasn’t what I felt the whole book was leading towards, and the characters and writing weren’t in themselves compelling enough to make up for that.

On the other hand, there were many that I deeply loved! Ten of them I actually read more than once (typically just by starting again at the beginning as soon as I finished it for the first time), and from those I would most highly recommend The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and My Antonia by Willa Cather. I feel that these books have in them the seeds of enduring literature as well as just being books I enjoyed reading. But it is always hard to narrow things down! And one of my favorites of the year – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr. – wasn’t reread because I could only find the audiobook. So, for the full list of what I read, you can click this link – the books in bold are ones that I believe are or will be classics, and the books in italics are the ones I read multiple times. If there are any that pique your interest, let me know and I’d be more than happy to share my thoughts about it with you!

Happy reading in the new year!

Posted in family life

happy birthday Aubade!

In the in-between week from Christmas to New Year’s, a baby girl was born, and now we have one more reason to celebrate every holiday season!

And while the flu may have meant that we didn’t get any first Christmas pictures for Aubade, I did make sure to have the camera on hand on her first birthday.

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I know I’m biased, but I think she’s pretty much a perfect baby ❤

Aubade, I love your zest for life, your self-assurance, and your sweet affectionate gestures. I love the exuberance with which you dance when I sing, and the excitement with which you run to the shower when you hear the water turn on. I love when you sit next to me on the floor, each of us doing our own things but happy to be together, and I love when you sit on top of me, knock me over, and bounce on my belly while laughing uproariously! I love when you bring me books to read, and I love how you get so enthusiastic about turning the pages that you won’t even give me time to say the words first. I love how even though you don’t say any words yet, you still communicate exactly what you’re feeling, thinking, and wanting.

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You crawled over rocks to get to this wheelbarrow, because you saw Rondel playing by it and wanted to know for yourself what was inside. You were uncomfortable, but you didn’t cry. You were too short to reach in easily, but you didn’t ask for help. And so you found the satisfaction both of accomplishing your goal and answering your curiosity!

I am so excited to get to watch you continue to grow and blossom, my daughter. Whatever life holds for you, your strength, tenacity and joy will serve you well.

Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in family life

fine motor delays and pre-reading skills

At Rondel’s evaluation for services with the school district, he scored low enough on his fine motor skills to be classified as having a moderate delay (which is significant enough to qualify for special services). When he draws or paints, he can’t seem to figure out how to hold his writing tool, switching up his grasp every few minutes, and even changing hands periodically. To put in simply, he looks like a much younger child – and his drawings reflect that: although he attempts to add depth and detail to his drawings (at a level up to or above the standard for his age), what he puts down on the paper is not recognizable as the object he is trying to create.

However, when he sits down with Duplos or Brain Flakes, he can build creations that are complex and true to form. His Duplo animals really look like the different animals he’s trying to make – he’s constructed dinosaurs, lions, spiders, owls, bats, and more, and a lot of them are very realistic and innovatively detailed (Duplos are a challenging medium for fine detail, after all). With the flakes, he’s currently working on making all the letters of the alphabet; in the process, of course, he is intimately familiarizing himself with the shape and orientation of each letter just as another child might through writing the letters over and over again on paper. Additionally, he is beginning to wonder about letters in general, and asked me tonight what letters were for. So he is still gaining valuable pre-reading skills, despite the fine-motor struggles – and he is doing so through a self-motivated, self-developed method, without any external pressure or stigma.

My desire as Rondel’s parent isn’t to mold him into some predetermined form but to help him find his own voice and his own path. If his life so far is any indication, it seems that all he needs to do that is access to means of expression that work with his strengths instead of taxing his weaknesses, and room to grow in a space of acceptance and accommodation.

Posted in fiction

Rondel’s imagination

Here in Arizona, an intrepid zoologist has discovered a new species of bear: the Gong bear.

The Gong bear lives in rocky places, preferably on granite, and is purely vegetarian – in fact, this bear will stand up on two feet to eat the leaves off of trees! Its digestive system isn’t equipped to handle meat, so it is limited to plants.

In contrast to the Wood bear, which prefers to live in cold wooded places (and thus is only found in small numbers in Arizona, mostly in the northern parts of the state), the Gong bear can only be found in Arizona as it is a dedicated desert dweller. Interestingly, while one might expect this bear to be light brown to blend in with its environment, it is white. One can only surmise that this coloring is the most heat-resistant – and that the Gong bear, as a large animal with no natural predators and as an herbivore with no need to stalk prey, is not evolutionarily pressured towards camouflage.

The Gong bear is an elusive creature, which is probably why no one had previously discovered it, but it is a noble and friendly animal and I hope we continue to learn more about it!