Events and Thoughts of the Past Week
Today we attended the baptism of our youngest son at Plainview. We stayed afterward for the carry-in dinner and enjoyed interacting with others--some who attend there regularly and others who were also visitors. That was one of the good events of the weekend--a long-prayed-for occasion.
Plainview has preaching first. Because I needed to teach my Sunday School class during that time we could not be there for the preaching. The cold weather prompted a change in plans for the baptism and it took place in the fellowship hall. Their immersion mode involves quite a lot more drama than our "pouring" mode. I made a few (slightly irreverent?) observations about the water-retention qualities of denim jeans. I never knew water could come gushing out of the bottom of a pant leg like that--in the process of climbing out of the "stock tank" launching the jet far beyond the edge of the towel-on-plastic-tarp laid down to protect the carpet.
For the first time in memory I wondered whether having preaching first would be a good thing for us. I see some potential in it for accomplishing good things--wakefulness, happy babies, motivation for prompt arrival, etc.
Yesterday I attended the Pilgrim awards assembly in the forenoon and then came home for lunch with Hiromi and an afternoon of working together outside. With rain in the forecast over the next number of days, getting plants out of the greenhouse and into the garden and landscape had finally made it to the top of the priority list. We got a lot done. Not finished, but more nearly so.
The awards assembly featured a few changes in this first year after transitioning to a combined grade and high school. The grade school tradition of recognizing character qualities in each student (in even numbered grades) extended this year to the high school students. I especially enjoyed hearing this of those who have been my students. Also, this year the grade school graduation was part of the awards assembly. Doing it this way simplified a lot of things. I'm not sure that everyone likes it as well as I, but I doubt that anyone will wish to have it back to the earlier way as time goes on.
On Friday evening Hiromi and I attended the Pilgrim High School graduation and the reception following. One of my favorite parts of the celebration is seeing the table-top displays prepared by each graduate. It's a chance to glimpse who these people are outside of school. Some of each gender like hunting. Some love art and music and have acquired skills in these fields. Many love to read. Sports are important to a few. One has a love for the sea and another a love for horses. Colorful characters all.
Gideon Y., seventh and eighth grade teacher, gave the commencement address. It was clear and profound and memorable. His coming to this community three years ago from Poland where he had worked for several years was a good thing for us here. I knew from his Sunday morning devotionals at church that this was going to be good. He's thoughtful, reads widely, thinks rationally, and communicates effectively, with a deep commitment to eternal priorities.
Shortly before we left for the graduation ceremony, I opened a gift from Jim and Alex Potter. They had dropped it off with Hiromi at work, so I didn't get to see it till I unwrapped it after he brought it home. The gift is a mounted and framed print of a painting done by Alex, who is a professional artist. The "Pepper Mandala" features a glass bowl of colorful peppers on a red napkin. It's a "birds-eye" (top down) view, done in pastels. When Jim interviewed me recently as part of his Master Gardeners series, he thought of this one of his wife's paintings when I described why I can never resist planting lots of colored peppers.
I'm beginning to learn about pastels as an art medium. For the uninitiated, picture applying color with something like chalk except less powdery. Pastels cannot be blended before and during application as watercolors, chalk or paint can be. Applying a color obscures whatever color is already present in that spot. This means that colors must be individually layered onto the cloth canvas, and shading and highlights will both require the use of carefully chosen individual colors that lend just the right color variations. Pastels are almost pure pigments not blended with either oil or water. I am in awe at what precision is possible within the "limitations" of this medium. The colors are as vivid as--well, as vivid as jewel-toned peppers illuminated by sunshine, so it's proper also to note the stellar attributes of this medium. In the hands of an artist, that is.
My print is much smaller than the original "Pepper Mandala" painting which was 36" x 36." That explains partly how it was possible to create the fine details in the peppers' stem ends, in the glass bowl's scalloped rim, and in the stitching and weave of the cloth napkin. While my print is roughly half of life size, the original must have been several times life-size. The painting is so realistic that it looks like a photo, but is more sensuously appealing than a photo.
Alex's art was featured in an article in Focus/Santa Fe/April/May 1998. The "Pepper Mandala" was pictured in that article, and included details about how it was created. A reprint, along with some other printed information about Alex's work, was included in the gift box that contained the painting. This combination of words and images together is my favorite way to learn.
The peppers were from a neighbor's garden and the bowl and napkin belonged to Alex. She had plunked the bowl with peppers onto her studio floor while she prepared to "pose" them on a table top for a still life composition. Then, before she put them on the table, she noticed how luminous the bowl and its contents looked right where they were, with the sunlight streaming over it all. So she put a napkin under the bowl and took pictures looking down on the arrangement. That photo became the model for the painting. It's easy to understand that the time required for finishing the painting would be too long for the peppers to stay fresh throughout the process. Thus the need for camera-preserved peppers.
The gift of the painting prompted gratitude on many levels--for the kindness and generosity of friends, for the lavish beauty in garden produce--nutritious and delicious--but more than that, for the capacity to enjoy good gifts, for a God who made humans creators in his own image, for the skills an artist develops and uses to bless others. So many reasons for delight in the here and now, and many reasons as well to anticipate the perfection that awaits God's people in heaven.
Several conversations during the graduation reception involved education. I did not initiate either of the two conversations that I was involved in. The first included a group of young men, some former students and one person I didn't know. Apparently before Hiromi and I got there, the "stranger" had been bombarded with admonitions to stay in school past his sophomore year, contrary to the wish he had expressed. I gathered that our arrival was welcomed by the "bombarders" who saw us as potential reinforcements. We tried to oblige (without ganging up too much on the young man being bombarded), but I doubt that we were very convincing. I've already thought of many good things I couldn't think to say then. Story of my life--these tardy zingers.
The other conversation was with an administrator. Part of what we talked about was relevant to the situation with the young man from the previous conversation--the one who didn't want to finish school. I didn't make the connection till much later, and the first conversation did not come up in the second at all. Story of my life again--these belated connections.
My desire to see people stay in school through twelfth grade is strong. My desire to affirm those whose strengths lie in non-academic areas is strong also. I wish to see our offerings at school challenge the academically gifted; I want those who are differently gifted to be challenged to excellence in the areas where they're capable of excelling. It is this last group of people who I believe could be served much better than is happening now.
In some way, staying in school should be linked to excellence in non-academic life skills--at least for students who are not college-bound. That's perhaps the crux of the challenge in designing an effective education program. I believe the reluctant student in the first conversation could not see that finishing high school would benefit him in his working life, which is where he idealized being successful. He might be more right than I wish he was.
There's another side to this issue. Some adults who are successful despite not having finished high school seem unable to value learning by means other than hands-on experience, and seem not to value accomplishment that is not easily quantifiable in production terms. I believe disdain for learning by reading-studying-researching can be a serious limitation--a character flaw even, Failing to value non-material accomplishment can involve failing to value what God values. Bottom line? Acquiring more academic skills and other soft skills would have been a good thing for these people--not because they needed it to become financially successful, but because they needed a bigger frame of reference by which to order their values, priorities, and interactions with people. The reluctant student above should know that he needs a bigger frame of reference for living well than two years of high school are likely to offer him.
Striking the right balance between academic and practical offerings at school is not easy, and I certainly see no clear path forward in accomplishing it. I'm thinking that it would likely necessitate the involvement of people not now usually considered part of school staff, and locations outside the walls of a brick and mortar school building. The matter of assigning grades and credit might need reevaluation/reinvention. I believe it would mean giving careful thought to meeting legal mandates in ways that also serve our purposes more precisely than is now the case. At this point, I'd settle for agreement on the necessity of beginning the task and would welcome the application of many good minds to the matter.