Prairie View

Friday, March 31, 2006

Emptier Nest

Yesterday our fourth "son" returned to his home in Japan. This has happened twice before, each time with someone different, and each time we felt sad at the parting. This time, however, we have some hope of staying in contact since the "son" is actually the stepson of my husband's brother.
Yoshinori was here for the past two months for the purpose of learning English. He went to school each day with Grant and me, and spent his time there studying books he had brought with him, attending classes, reading articles and newspapers, and playing basketball and other games at break time. Every evening he rode home with me and we talked about many things enroute.
"So much nature," Yoshinori commented the first day when he saw the world in daylight, and marveled at the wide-open spaces of our Kansas prairie.
"Too bass" was his startled response when I showed him my very tame sheep who came up close to greet us--Mara, the great-grandmother in the flock, ba-a-a-a-ing in her deep voice.
"First time," he said when he looked up and saw a hog on the far side of an electric fence. Going closer, he saw a pen to the side with very busy and very tiny piglets nosing around in a feed pan. He hurried for his camera.
"I can never see this sight in Japan," he exulted on one of the last evenings he was here while gazing enchanted at the brilliance of the stars in the night sky.
We prayed for wisdom to share our faith with Yoshinori in ways that would not be offensive to him, and God answered. All we really had to do was answer his questions honestly, simply, and thoughtfully. He was interested, and although he never made a personal profession of faith, he took a Bible home with him, and spoke with warmth and feeling about the wonderful time he had here, and the friendliness of everyone he met.
I consider it a great treasure to be surrounded with the kind of Christian community that reaches out and draws in "strangers and foreigners," who demonstrate God's love so convincingly to people who know almost nothing of Christian faith. Our everyday lives are full of connections to our faith community. Prayer chain calls, prayer before meals, singing in all kinds of gatherings, news from missionary friends, visits to the mission field (Kenya and China in 2006), explaining voluntary service, planning for a commissioning service for young parents who are going to Bangladesh--the husband being a colleague of my computer-programmer son, driving past the cemetery where loved ones are buried, helping each other with work projects, spontaneous kindnesses "just because," the death of a soldier whose family were our friends--all these times were also occasions to speak of our faith.
The concept of faith itself became clear to Yoshinori one day when he had asked, "What does faith mean?" After I had attempted to explain, he said, "Oh. 'Believe, even when I don't understand,'" quoting from the words to a song he had heard and wanted me to write out for him.
"Yes, Yoshinori." Believe even when I don't understand--God's ways, His choosing to bless, and His purposes in bringing you here. Being part of God-designed mysteries--life doesn't get much better than this.


One of my nephews is very intelligent and thoughtful and quite absent-minded. His mother tells the story of what happened when he was about six years old. To protect him, I'll use an invented name.
"Shawn, you need to go brush your teeth." Shawn disappeared into the bathroom and reappeared again very shortly.
"Did you brush your teeth?"
"Oh no. I forgot. I just used the bathroom."
"I guess you'll have to go back and try again."
Shawn comes back very soon.
"Did you brush your teeth this time?"
"Uh, no. I forgot again--just used the bathroom."
Mom sighs, "One more try then."
After a brief interval, from the bathroom "Mom, I'm trying, but I just can't go."

That sounds like something his dad, my brother, would have done when he was young. He grew up to be a philosophy professor. Who is to say that bathroom chores deserve one's full concentration when so many more interesting things can be mentally entertained meanwhile?
My other brothers used to love to hide around the corner from where Caleb, this brother of mine, was milking the cow. Unobserved, they had a ringside seat to whatever juicy things Caleb was saying that could be repeated later for everyone's benefit at the supper table.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Student Lounge

Yesterday our accommodating postman parked a giant Dell computer box on our doorstep. Inside it was my latest ebay purchase: a sun-and-moon-on-navy beanbag.
"It's for the student lounge?" Shane huffed. "When I was in high school, we worked. We didn't lounge."
"They work now too." I answered mildly. "They just get to do it in comfortable positions now. The lounge is just a few spots next to the wall. The spaces are divided from each other by a bookcase," I continued. "They're in plain sight of a teacher all the time, and the same rules about whispering and goofing-off apply as if they were anywhere else. We've already got several big floor cushions, but I decided we needed at least one beanbag."
I didn't deem it wise at the time, given Shane's attitude, to add that we have also begun to allow anyone, even those on zero privilege in our individualized program, to get out of their offices to go work while standing at one of the two speaker's stands we have set up to face a learning center wall. At least one of them has been in use most of the time since we hit upon this idea.
The principal I teach under, and I, are blessedly likeminded. He's less given to enthusing than I am, but I have long held that making classrooms as homelike as possible is a good thing.
I base my thinking on what I observe in Scripture about the assumed environment for the instruction of children. Verses surrounding the shema in Deut. 6 tell me that an everyday environment is just right as an instructional environment. In that environment you can sit down and rise up. You can walk by the way and you can lie down. And always, teaching happens while you are also doing something else. What a concept!
And how foreign to the rigid, sterile sameness espoused by the business tycoons of the mid-1800's who saw the school environment as a golden opportunity to develop a workforce accustomed to mindless acceptance of the status quo. These students would someday make excellent assembly line factory workers, willing to do monotonous tasks day after day, because they had become accustomed to functioning like robots, and expected nothing better from life. The industrialists had a largely unknown, but clearly documentable, influence on American educational traditions. (See The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.) Knowing this background gives me a huge sense of freedom to explore other educational choices.
I feel no obligatory loyalty to educational traditions that our Christian schools have copied from the state schools around us. But I am very thoughtful about another obligation--that of turning first to the Word of God for direction. What I read there seems to leave room for speaker's stands, floor cushions, and beanbag chairs in an instructional environment. My observations so far indicate that the ancient directives are sound and serve us well in a small Christian high school setting.
So Shane will just have to sputter away, and for once, the students can chortle with pleasure as they compare their lot with those who are already out of school.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Name choice

"Prairie View" makes me feel a little like giggling. It's the name of a very reputable mental health facility in our area. I'm not laughing at the plight of the people who need their services or at the very necessary service the facility provides. I'm thinking that it's strangely appropriate to associate this identity with the unpredicatable twists and turns my life takes sometimes.
Right now one of our small basement rooms is full of a merry bunch of young people who came to see our son Shane's pictures of his recent trip to Kenya and New York City.
About an hour ago our son Joel and our nephew Yoshinori who is visiting from Japan returned from a snowboarding trip to Colorado.
Earlier, Grant came home muttering about that cow. . . "If I never see another one like that, I'll like it just fine. . ." She was a first-time mother with a very obstinate disposition and no respect for any human barrier to any place she wanted to go. After many attempts to get her into the barn for her first milking, she plopped down in a vile-smelling soup and refused to budge. A halter for her and an attached rope also attached to the tractor finally inched her toward the milking parlor and into place. The process had to be repeated when it was time for her to go back to the holding pen.
I've often thought that working with animals is a wonderful way for children to learn how things like rebellion, cooperation, and obedience affect the mentor and the apprentice. So many hardships can be avoided when the apprentice understands that following the mentor's wishes is a good thing to do.