Prairie View

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teacherly Musings 4–Conclusion

One more change from the current educational approach would be in order. The limitations of group schooling ought to be faced honestly and publicly, and the advantages of family-centered education ought to be publicized. Aiming your fire extinguisher at the previous sentence is allowed, but I have not used the subjects of the previous sentence thoughtlessly. To be sure, limitations exist in homeschooling, and advantages exist in group schooling. I’ve lived through many of them. They are commonly known, and I feel no need to address them here. In fact, they are so well-known, and the homeschooling side is so little-known--or at least so little officially addressed-- that, until the situation changes, group input and consensus on educational strategy and programs as a whole will automatically be slightly off-balance. Why can’t we move beyond this?

If training a child is the goal, using a classroom school to accomplish it is only one among a variety of options. Why, in most communities, is it the only one which enjoys the benefits of group affirmation and finances? Why is it the only one with an accompanying cheerleading section (a.k.a. “Supporting the School” admonitions from a variety of quarters). Parents, after all, are the only officially designated child trainers in Scripture. Where are their cheerleaders? When others do it, it’s not because they are designated by God as being responsible to do it. It’s because they have kindly chosen to help lift a parent’s burden (at the Lord’s prompting, perhaps), or they have wrongly assumed that child training is a church or state responsibility. It is that only when parents cannot accomplish it on their own. Being united in this persuasion would spare us a multitude of educational fiascoes–some of them very expensive in monetary and personal sacrifice terms.

I love my job as a high school teacher. I’m always sorry when I don’t get to teach a student that is of high school age. But, any parent who chooses to teach their own child rather than asking me or someone else to do it has my profound respect. I consider it foundational to being faithful in my calling to do whatever I can to help parents be successful at their job. If that means I don’t get to teach their children, then so be it. I am assured that any future interaction I have with those young people as brothers and sisters in the church will be the better for their parents having taken child training responsibility upon themselves if it was in their power to do so. I can only hope that every child I teach has parents who have been so thoughtful and intentional about their educational decisions. Otherwise, no amount of effort on my part can compensate for the empty spot in that child’s mentoring team. School teachers can’t replace parents. They can only extend or hinder their work. That’s why parents must know and feel first the weight of their own responsibility in child training before they can have any hope of a satisfactory delegation arrangement. If this doesn’t happen, the child lives in two worlds: school and home, and he carries the crushing load of expectations from both institutions, or he chooses to ignore the one at the expense of the other. He needs one set of expectations only, with everyone on the mentoring team working to accomplish what is needed.

If school personnel are unaware of how the lines of responsibility are drawn, they are tempted to do “empire building” within the walls of the school, expecting families to bow to the designs of the school as an institution. This is an improper role for schools. However, if everyone understands the limitations of a classroom school setting (One of them is that it doesn’t work well if attendance of students is erratic.), some measure of bowing to the designs of the school is called for. That is the price of delegation–less freedom to determine how a child spends his or her time. If the school is properly respectful of the home, and the home is properly responsible for their child’s education things can work smoothly. If I didn’t believe that, I would have to quit teaching, right now, in despair. Instead, I expect to go back to school on Monday with a sense of anticipation. Yes, come things ought to change, but, in the meantime, God is here, and there, and the students are there, and many good things are possible.

Teacherly Musings 3–Continued

What kind of students are we trying to produce here? –students with big heads, and hands suited mainly for punching a keyboard or pushing a pencil? Students who are all assumed to be headed for college? Students who are isolated from their families and communities? Stressed-out students? Our stated goals would sound much nobler than this. I believe a disconnect exists between our stated goals and the design of our program. Therein lies the problem.

Even a well-executed program as currently designed is unlikely to lead to the goals we have identified as worthy, or goals that are necessary for maintaining the way of life idealized in our culture. A one-to-one correspondence between stated goal and program design is impossible without a whole lot of time spent examining goals and implementing them, and perhaps it’s impossible, even with gargantuan effort. But we must try. I consider the alternatives unacceptable. We can keep it simple (and mindless) by plopping other people’s agendas and methods into our setting and go with the “canned” version, even if it doesn’t reflect our values. We can adjust our values to fit those of the ones who offer a “canned” version. What we must do instead is to be very clear about our goals, and very diligent in evaluating each element of our program to assess its consonance with our goals. A balanced life for students overall while they’re in our program ought to be part of what is considered.

Another part of what ought to change is that we broaden our view considerably on what school buildings are for. They ought to be considered community learning centers–not only for children and young people between the ages of 6 and 18. While we may still need building principals, we especially need community education directors. They could organize once-a-week story time for preschoolers, classes for seniors on memoir-writing, reading circles for people in mid-life trying to keep their brains alive, methods of Bible study for all ages-- the list could go on.

Another positive change would be to offer honorable options other than the “graduate-after-completing-a-state-mandated program, i.e. Two-Year Diplomas such as Community Life (basics plus a modified speech and composition requirement, for example), a Christian Service diploma, (heavy on Social Studies, development of teaching skills, and Bible), a Domestic Arts program, and a Job Training Program. The last two could explore a broad spectrum of possibilities–a different aspect for each semester or quarter in school. Those who choose to pursue a state-approved diploma would come back for the last two years and squeeze in all the remaining requirements for graduation during that time. An extended school year for the purpose of completing additional individualized studies could be considered for students in that phase of their schooling. Currently, any two-year student has only one title to show for their two years of effort: Dropout.

Christian schools have another inherent schedule complication because, in addition to the state guidelines, they add required Bible courses. This, of course, is an effort to do what I recommend doing–which is to have the curriculum reflect our values. Bible classes should not be dropped, but those who want to look at the big picture ought to be cognizant of what it does to the overall workload for students. The bottom line is that we can’t forever add to the requirements for graduation, keep options open for taking electives, and keep the school day and year the same length without stacking the workload higher in the existing time frame.

School board members have relatively long terms in our system–five years, I believe. This is better than shorter terms, except that when a board member is inclined to inactivity, resists change, or has an agenda counter to true education purposes, it goes on for much too long. People who come to the job with previous experience in school work ,or with the time and diligence to be thorough in learning about and carrying out their job are likely to be able to accomplish something worthwhile during their board tenure, even if it lasts only five years. Without any of the above factors present, it’s not likely to extend much beyond maintaining the status quo during one term of service. Perhaps a long-term volunteer “vision” group to advise the board would be in order. (To be concluded)

Teacherly Musings 2–Continued

At this point in time, and, specifically, from this vantage point on the scene, what can be done?

I’ve concluded that until there is significant change in the attitudes and approaches that drive the way we do school, I can’t change much in the kind of work load we foist on students.

One thing I believe would have to change is basing our graduation requirements on state regulations but doing it in a much shorter school year than is usually used in public systems..

When I graduated from a public high school in 1969 I was just shy of my 17th birthday. In three years I had completed 17 credit hours of work, which, at that time, was the amount required for high school graduation. For graduating early, I forfeited the privilege of taking several classes–economics, world history, and physiology are the ones I remember regretting. I also could not be considered as the school valedictorian or salutatorian. (At that time I thought it didn’t matter because I wouldn’t get it anyway. But I was a little sorry that the proclaimed salutatorian had a lower GPA than mine after all. My sister was valedictorian.) From the vantage point of multiple decades later, I know now that 17 hours of high school credit did not hinder me from excelling in college, even with an entrance delay of almost ten years. Also, because I graduated early, I had an extra year of learning homemaking skills and being in the workplace, while still under my parents’ roof. I consider these opportunities valuable components of my educational journey.

Students who graduate from our school in three years typically have completed 22 credits. This reflects changes in Kansas state law since 1969, and the decision our school administrators made first a long time ago (and renewed their commitment to at various times) to take state laws as a guide for our program. I understand the logic and believe it has some merit, especially for people who pursue higher education, but I am less and less happy with the direction in which it drives our program. Since my high school days, graduation requirements have escalated, and our school year has shortened.

More and more students axe from their schedule any class that does not seem to them to maximize the accumulation of credits. In practical terms and among other things, it means that, in order to graduate on time without an overwhelming work load, the required extra math and science courses trump the Home Environment elective–too much time for too little credit. This year, in a class of eight, I have only two classroom-schooled students. When I taught the class previously, I had a majority of classroom-schooled students, many of whom very freely spoke of it as the favorite class of their high school career. (I can’t help relating this to an earlier observation: Not only are we isolating girls from the learning opportunities in their own home, we are isolating them from homemaking education available to them in school–in favor of another math and science class).

(to be continued)

Teacherly Musings 1–First Installment

One of my students posted this on his blog near the beginning of the school year: “Mrs. I has established a reputation for making her classes be a LOT of HARD work.”

I am not surprised. I am dismayed, but feel only a little bit guilty.

I would be devastated if someone posted this comment: Mrs. I has a reputation for teaching classes in which no one learns anything. I would also be very sorry if anyone ever felt that in my classes students are asked to do things which I am unwilling to help them with.

Despite appearances to the contrary, I feel a lot of sympathy for overworked students. I hate for school to have to occupy the mind and effort of every waking minute for students of any age. I think it’s evidence of a system gone awry when this happens. I suspect that one of the reasons adults in our time have so much trouble keeping the important things at the center of life is that we’ve trained them to put school (performance outside the home and church) at the center for so long that the habit is hard to break.

If I had my “druthers,” students would never be asked to spend more than eight hours a day on school work, and weekends would be free of school obligations. On any day of the week, that should allow for eight hours of rest, and eight hours of something else, preferably including interacting with one’s family and helping meet family needs, pursuing ministry opportunities, contributing to and socializing with others in the community, and developing non-academic skills and hobbies. In the artificially-weighted world of the high school student, school attendance and school work occupies perhaps half of each 24-hour period on weekdays, plus several hours on most weekends. Youth group activities take up some hours on weekday evenings, and always some weekend hours. Attending church on Wed. eve. and on Sunday call for other time commitments.

While I know that some students help at home, I think SCHOOL WORK has effectively staved off many parental requests for help with home keeping. The accompanying parallel to “school work as priority” then can easily become “incompetence with domestic or job-related skills.” This situation is pathetic–very far out of sync with our traditional values.

When I was first a parent with a student in high school I hated what it did to our family life. The high school student’s heart was no longer in tune with activities and plans for our home. His heart was with his peers and his time at home was devoted to school work. The all-important privilege week dominated the rhythm of life rather than the seven-day week instituted by God. Life seemed maddeningly out of balance. From the knee-hole side of the teacher’s desk it still looks out of balance. (To be continued.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quotes for the Day 5

From the person next to me at our annual ladies' prayer partner banquet, after intermission: An empty bladder works wonders for your attitude.

In composition class, on the quiz for the day:

Zachary: I counted 29 blanks.

Frieda: (After assessing the blanks and mentally filling in all the answers she could remember) I think I have more than 29 blanks left.

Ryan: I'm forming a hypothesis that she's going to post what Frieda said as the quote for the day.

Me: I hate when you read my mind like that.

Me: (Later) There are 18 points possible on this quiz.

Me: (To two chattering male students at the back table.) I'm going to have to separate you if you can't be more quiet.

One hopeful offending male student: Will you put a girl between us?

Sentence to be expanded in composition class: The moon rose.

Me: By the way, how many of you saw the moon last night? Wasn't it beautiful? It was perfectly still, the temperature was perfect, and it was a full moon on a clear night.

Jared: I didn't see it because I didn't have anyone to look at it with.

Me: I take it the moon becomes invisible when people are alone.

Tim: I thought maybe I should take my homework outside. I think it was almost bright enough to read.

My sentence: The moon rose over the silent countryside, illuminating a lone student struggling to decipher the print in his composition textbook.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quote for the Day 4

Overheard from the Library: Let's get Sargent Iwashige to add her signature to that of the Privates. (I didn't understand the reason for the comment until later when I got a birthday card to sign--for someone who assigned us our rank in the first place. Ah, good times. . . and the merriest school dismissal ever.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Qutoes for the Day 3

Jared to Ida (as she was leaving school early for a weekend trip): You have yourself a splendid little journey!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quotes for the Day 2

At the beginning of composition class:

Frieda: May I go get my book?
Tim: May I go get my eraser?
Ryan: Such irresponsibility at such a young age!
Jared: Just think how they'll be when they get older.

Unidentified Students: (Talking about me) "She's dispensing words of wisdom in the vocabulary-word sentences."

Second unidentified student: "Is Number five about a real person?"
Me: I'm not going to tell.

Mr. Schrock: (referring to the tiny snake in the terrarium on his desk--after taking nominations and votes) With 42% of the vote, we have the winner, Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quote for the Day

In Dorcas Smucker's good tradition, I've decided that a Quote for the Day section would be just right for recording pithy or funny things that are fun to post on a blog, but not significant enough to write an essay on.

Here goes with the ones that are milling about in my brain at the moment:

Quote for the Day:

Shane: Why is this cake so fat? [It was mounded very high in the middle.]

Grant: I think it must be pregnant.

Shane: (Tenderly tucking in the foil around the top of the pan.) Let's give it some privacy and see what happens.

Grant: (After a suitable interval, peering surreptitiously underneath the foil.) Cupcakes!


Ryan (student): (Sympathetically) Poor Mrs. I is going down the tubes. [I had just handed out some model paragraphs I had written in a huge hurry, and when I read them to the class, the last paragraph was horribly garbled. I'm writing this after having popped out from the bottom of the tubes.]

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Orthodoxometer

In yesterday’s sermon Julian introduced us to the orthodoxometer. The gauge on this imaginary device has a needle that flops from side to side as we mentally categorize the people we encounter. Married for some time and no children? Must not like children. Hard to the left (liberal). Wearing suspenders though. Flip to the right (conservative) side of the gauge.

The orthodoxometer was the tongue-in-cheek virtual invention of another minister whose name is Charles. While the analogy is not perfect (as our curmudgeonly friend LeRoy pointed out to me last night), I loved the way this crisp image elucidated a frustrating phenomenon that has been hard to quantify. By all appearances, the orthodoxometer is in regular use in some quarters, and it functions without reference to rhyme, reason, or Scriptural principle. Especially troublesome is the zeal with which the needle’s authoritative answers are sought and the rapidity with which corresponding labels are applied to unsuspecting saints and sinners alike. In fact, the label seems sometimes to determine the identity of the person labeled: Conservative? Saint; Liberal? Sinner. Puh-leez.

Obviously, when written in lower-case letters, the words liberal and conservative have value-neutral meanings, or at least conservative is value-neutral. Liberal can mean generous, a universally-accepted positive character quality. So why all the hoopla about good Christians, of necessity, being Conservative?

I once overheard a friend of mine from another state saying, “Kansas people are Democrats. They don’t admit it, but they are.” Frankly I was mystified. No one in my social circle had ever identified themselves as a Democrat, as far as I knew. But then, neither, had they identified themselves as Republican (and Conservative, by association). Therein lay the true shortcoming of the Kansas people in my friend’s eyes.

Maybe a properly designed orthodoxometer has a halo around the marking on the right and a pitchfork penetrating the marking on the left. If so, maybe I’ve been missing something.

One of my cousins once won a township board election by having the most write-in votes on both the Democratic and the Republican ticket. Another local person decided to run for a legislative seat, and switched his party identification several times before deciding to run on the ticket he believed he had the best chance of winning. The point here is that sometimes political labels are simply much more trouble than they are worth. What’s to love about such labels? Anyone who operates first and always by principle will regularly find himself at odds, or conversely, find himself in agreement with people from either political party who also operate by principle. The man-designed platforms of any political party have moral holes big enough to fly a Concorde through. I refuse to abandon myself to such a flawed construct, and I’m embarrassed when people I love do so. I know, I know. It’s not my problem, but the blush comes unbidden.

Let’s just all throw out our orthodoxometers. In their place, let’s open the Word of God and let it direct and judge our loyalties and alliances. To be sure, the process may still involve symbolic halos and pitchforks, but they will be scattered throughout the pages of the Inspired Gauge, wherever a circumstance or position coincides with or conflicts with a standard set forth by the King of the Kingdom we belong to. When we find these illuminated truths, not even the most vigorous stomp of an elephant or kick of a donkey will be able to dislodge them from their abiding place.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Standing Tall While Stooping Low

The company Hiromi works for had its annual picnic this past weekend. While Hiromi posed with other employees for the obligatory picture, I went inside the building to stake out a place to eat. An empty spot a third of the way down one row of tables beckoned, and, blinder-eyed as I passed them, I noticed only vaguely the man and woman who sat at the near end of that row.

While I waited, I heard the man say to the woman opposite him “Mom is coming soon.” I looked more carefully at the woman and began to get a hint of the relationship between these two people–siblings maybe, both obviously adults, the man, handsome, young, and self-assured, the woman, child-like and fearful, wanting her mother. In the short space of time before Hiromi came I heard him say several more times, “It’s OK. Mom’s coming soon.” Between times he read the magazine on the table in front of him.

A lady they both knew came along and gave the woman a hug. I heard the man explain that his companion had spotted her earlier but she “got all shy and hid her face.” The passerby’s manner was kind and interested as she talked to the childlike woman, not a whit condescending or patronizing.

After the Master of Ceremonies (The #2 man in the company’s hierarchy) made a few announcements to get the food line started, I momentarily lost track of the two people at the end of the table. And then I saw them. The woman was holding the hand of the MC as he led her to the food line. The brother was following protectively behind both of them. Ahead of them was another woman, presumably the much-longed-for mother. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of this family’s reality: success in the work world, private heartbreak, and enough acceptance of circumstances to let them be an unapologetic, compassionate, close family in a very large public gathering.

The same evening I saw another fine-looking young man saying hi to several young children he obviously knew. Then he kept repeating a single-word question that sounded like “huck?” The children’s mother urged, “Come on, give him a hug.” By turns, they both threw their arms around his knees–the only portion of his frame within their reach. He walked off smiling. I remembered him then, the now-grown-up son of one of the company’s supervisors. I had first noticed him a number of years ago when he was about twelve. His dad is fastidious about his nice truck and takes care to stay in top physical condition. I wondered how this son fit into that high-achieving family. But, for at least a few minutes that night, he was very happy.

A story my mother told me came to mind in the days since then. It happened in our church youth group when some of my younger siblings were part of it. None of them knew the story until years later.

A young man from another state came to work here in Kansas one summer. He hardly knew anyone, and for reasons not clear to me now, he felt very uncertain and inferior. He left at the end of the summer, and after more than a decade had passed, my parents visited his young family’s home on the mission field. He told them what had happened inside his heart and head that Kansas summer. “I saw that this youth group had several people who were different in unenviable ways, and I noticed that no one made fun of them or acted as though they were unwelcome. That gave me an enormous amount of hope. I knew that if those other people were accepted, I would be accepted too.” The realization was life-changing.

I am unspeakably proud of our youth group’s behavior in that long-ago time.

More recently, the adoptive mother of a child who seems to have been affected by fetal alcohol syndrome told me that when Arlyn was in our youth group, he always made a place for her daughter. Arlyn was a leader, and his kindness was contagious. The daughter felt loved and cared for. In telling me, the mother was deeply grateful, and I felt tremendous admiration for the young people involved.

Not every intimidated person will end up on a mission field if someone demonstrates enough kindness to give him hope. Not every one will be able to blend into a crowd without creating ripples. But those who show respect and love to irregular people will create the kind of gentle waves that reach across crowds of people and years of memories to stir and caress the hearts of all who take note. Stooping low and standing tall simultaneously is a hard act to follow, but I’ve seen it done, and thank God for the people who have shown us how.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Peppers and Car Parts

One day last week the battery in Hiromi's work car died unexpectedly overnight and threw his morning departure schedule into a tizzy. That evening he extracted the battery from his car and put it into a box in my van. The next day I took the uncooperative battery to the auto repair shop to have it tested to see if it needed replacement. It did, and I bought a new battery. Finally today, after satisfying himself that the alternator was charging properly, Hiromi installed the new battery, and his '84 Chevy Caprice with the crumpled rear fender is in as good shape as it was before. (Which, according to the boys in the household really means it is in as miserable shape as it was before. We all agree that this car is no beauty, but only Hiromi feels compelled to defend it anyway.)

After this early morning battery-installing exertion Hiromi decided to take a nap. Right then I knew that my hope of spending a morning working together in the garden would not materialize. So while he napped I went to water the eight beds in the cut flower garden. If Hiromi made it to the garden it would be the veggie garden and it would likely happen in the heat of the day when I planned to be napping. So much for weekend togetherness.

Sure enough. I was just finishing up lunch when Hiromi, all refreshed from his nap and earlier lunch, recruited Victor and headed for the garden. "Okra and tomatoes? That's what you said needs picking, right?" he called over his shoulder.


Scene II: Miriam emerges sleepy-eyed from having taken a nap.

I noted the tomatoes piled high in the sink and in a dishpan and the okra in a second dishpan, and . . . .What was that? Two huge buckets of peppers in the kitchen--a five-gallon one and a slightly smaller one. I blinked in disbelief.

I recognized the Holy Mole' peppers, the Anaheims, the tiny tangerine ones, the miniature yellow ones, and the sweet lavender, red, white, green, and yellow bells. (I really had fun this year selecting pepper seeds.)

"There's a tub of squash outside. Do you want me to bring that in here?" Hiromi said.

"Sure. It shouldn't stay outside in the heat," I mumbled.

He brought in the squash--the whole bushel. I recognized specimens from my collection of winter squash--the ones I had been leaving on the vines till they were fully mature. Overgrown zucchini and other summer squash rounded out the bushel. The kitchen floor was filling up.

It's late on a Saturday afternoon. What will I ever do with all this stuff? No room in the fridge for everything. Not enough time to can salsa, (which is what the pepper abundance was planned for). I can't gripe. They were trying to help. . .

One by one I sorted through the buckets and dishpans. Sweet peppers in the half bushel basket, hot peppers in the wire basket. Holy Mole's in another dishpan. "Must can" tomatoes in one dishpan, slicers in a round basket for the counter, "can wait" tomatoes in a bucket. I still didn't know what I was going to do with my neatly sorted veggies. At least it looked like I was doing something. Then it was time to cook supper. While I did this I made up a story to tell Hiromi that would convey how I was feeling about everything. I felt very clever for thinking up this analogy.

"Hiromi, the next time you need a battery taken out of the car, I'll offer to do it for you. While I'm under the hood anyway, I'll just grab anything else that seems to be loose and put it all in a bucket. Some of the parts that don't seem loose, I'll either pull on to get them loose or cut wires or hoses to disconnect them, and I'll add those to the bucket. Then I'll bring the bucket into the kitchen and you will thank me for taking out the battery."

Hiromi looked at me blankly when I told him my story. Then he looked at Victor without a trace of amusement and said, "Mommy's making up a funny story." (It's really pathetic when I'm the only one laughing at my story.)

"Did you get it?" I asked hopefully.


I hate it when I have to go into a straight-out, ungraceful, in-your-face explanation of exactly what is wrong with picking an unexpected bushel of peppers and an extra bushel of squash on a Saturday afternoon after I have gone into relaxation mode. That car parts story was such a good one, and it went entirely to waste--just like the peppers and squash will if I don't figure out in a hurry what I can do with them.