Prairie View

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Premise on Education--Part 2: Leroy's Opinion

Leroy is Leroy H., known to anyone who has lived in our part of Kansas in the past 30 or so years.  He is knowledgeable about many things and has a multitude of opinions, many of them interesting.  Some of them have been informed by reading and traveling, but mostly by having an out-sized curiosity and by being a keen observer.  He learns a lot too by conversing with people.  I'm sure a degree from Yale University fits in there somewhere, but it's a little tough to identify how.

A number of months ago, during one of our curriculum committee meetings, Arlyn, our school principal, said that Leroy thinks that schools should focus more heavily on the most basic subjects.  He reported further that Leroy thinks the one-room school model is admirable, since the U.S. had its highest literacy rate ever during the time when that model was the most common one.

I asked Leroy later to explain his viewpoint a little further.  He said then that he does not see consolidation generally as an improvement.  I believe he cited the advantages of younger students learning from older ones when students of mixed ages are present, and having all students left with time to learn by reading things that interest them--rather than having all their time in school crammed full of teacher-directed activities.

I think it was in this conversation that I said I think the consolidation trend is driven by teachers who believe their task is simplified by having fewer classes to prepare for and teach.  This approach is financially feasible only in schools that are large enough to have many students of the same age.

 As I think about it now, I realize that the trend toward consolidation might be as much driven by administrative considerations as by teacher considerations--especially in the public sector.  In any case, the salient point is that consolidation is probably not driven primarily by what results in better outcomes for students, or what is preferred by parents.  Realizing this stops me in my tracks.

I have other reasons for feeling frozen in place when I consider the merits or disadvantages of consolidation.  A major move in that direction has just occurred in our community.  I'm a teacher in a newly-consolidated system.  Significant growth has occurred, along with consolidation.  We now regularly have 99 students in Grades 1-12 under one roof.  Shouldn't I be concentrating on making this model work rather than questioning its merit?

I have in fact been concentrating very hard on making it work--to the tune of investing at least 55 hours a week on site, and more hours at home  (I am not a full-time teacher).  I'm trying to survive the process of making it work, and I'm trying to make students' time in class worthwhile without it being too stressful for them.  It's a challenge, but so far my sanity and health have held together--barely.

Granted, multiple factors are in play--not just consolidation certainly.  My own weaknesses are a hindrance.  I'm not being left to struggle alone either.  Others have come to my aid, and the terms of my employment have even been altered to my benefit.   My classroom is well-equipped and beautiful, and I have big windows and plant-lined window sills.  I'm very grateful for these things.

Niggling thoughts remain, however.  I see other teachers putting in as many hours as I do--or significantly more in some cases.  I know of health problems which have occurred due to stress (a doctor's analysis--not mine).    I hear those who have children voice concern about how little they are able to give to their own children because of what they are giving to the students in their classrooms.  I hear them say they feel that this must be a temporary job for that reason.  I hear former teachers say that's why they're no longer teaching--because they could not do so and parent the way they needed to.  All this makes me feel that the current system may not be working all that well for teachers, despite all involved doing the best they know to do.

My hunch is that some of what has occurred in the interest of efficiency has, in fact, added significantly to the stressfulness of a teacher's job.  I see this as an unintended consequence.  The noble search for ways to alleviate the stress is in process, but all of it carries a price tag--which may prove to be too high eventually.

I am not pessimistic by temperament, but the trajectory I see in the current educational model makes me wish for better models.  It's a motivation powerful enough to make me pick up my feet, laborious as that process proves to be, and set out on a quest for something better.

I'll keep Leroy's opinion tucked in the back of my mind as I go.    

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Testing a Premise on Education

The premise I'll put forth here is still in formation, despite appearing as an assertion upon which other conclusions can be based.  I suspect it will be addressed in multiple posts in the future, although I have no clearly formed plan for doing so.


All individuals involved when underage children are being taught thrive best in a setting with these characteristics:

1.  The group is family-sized.  Note that my parental family included twelve children, my paternal grandparents also had twelve children, and  my maternal grandparents had ten children. I consider these numbers family-sized, but toward the upper end of the category.

2.  The children are of varying ages, as would be typical in a family.


1.  The model does include homeschooling, but does not require that teaching be only by the parent in the home.

2.  The model can include group schooling efforts, but would not fit what is most typical in classroom schools.

3.   The model can include both a strong community/church component and a strong family-responsibility component.

4.  Children from several families can be taught together, as long as the total numbers remain below 12 or so.

I have never seen a model like this in operation, although I am aware of some approximations of it.  I have, for example, taught three other children along with my own in our home.  I know of homeschool groups that offer coop classes, usually involving children from several families being taught by one parent or non-parent teacher.   Our own  Pilgrim School offers homeschoolers access to some of its classes.  All these represent efforts to reap the benefits and minimize the disadvantages of both homeschooling and group schooling.

I will examine the above premise on the basis of my own varied experiences and observations and on insights I've gleaned from others.  Especially I will attempt to apply what can be learned from Scripture.

My readers are part of that "others" category from whom I have learned, and I welcome their further input.  I have no straitjackets in my wardrobe, however,  and will not accept any that are offered to me.

Dampish Delights

My head is full of mushrooms, mosses, and lichens.  Really.  Those three kinds of things grow in damp places, and I've been helping five teachers and about 70 elementary school children find and enjoy them over the past few weeks.  Not that they all needed much help from me.

The lichens focus is actually coming up next week, but we've already gathered what we've come across in the course of looking for mushrooms and mosses.

Today, with natural treasures we found on our Expotitions or brought from home,  we created moss gardens in containers indoors.  Fairy gardens is what some students called them.  The students took great delight in the project.

I've learned a great deal about mushrooms in the past few weeks, and am completely enamored with them currently.

During last week's Expotition, students in my group found Earthstars.  Look it up.  I had never seen such exquisitely-formed mushrooms.  They were in the shelterbelt across the road from Center.  In that area, in a space no bigger than several rooms of a house, we found so many different mushrooms that we left earlier than planned since I knew we already had all we would have time to observe well and possibly identify.  Among them we found a bird's nest mushroom, so small that I could hardly believe anyone spotted it.  Good eyes and short stature must be big advantages for spotting ground-level fungi.  I lack both.  The bird's nest fungus looked like a miniature funnel on a stick, with three or four little eggs (spore cases) inside.

In another group, the most dramatic find of the day was a huge Ling Chih growing on dead wood in Melvin H.'s shelterbelt.  The morning rain had polished the natural "varnish" to a high luster, and the dinner-plate-sized growth was zoned with color gradations varying from deep mahogany to creamy yellow.  That fungus is used medicinally to fight cancer.  It's usually dried and ground and a tea is made with the resulting powder.  It needs some sweetener to become palatable.

In the area surrounding the pond across the road, other Expotition groups found both an eminently edible and delicious Meadow Mushroom (closely related to the common grocery store button mushrooms), and a Destroying Angel, capable of killing anyone who ingests it (it attacks and destroys the liver).  They didn't know these identities, of course, until later, but our instructions to never taste anything unless you're absolutely certain it's edible kept us all safe.  These two mushrooms are often found in the same area, and some aspects of their appearance are similar--both white, with few distinctive markings.  In the two specimens we saw, the Meadow Mushroom was far more squat than the Destroying Angel.  Tall, with a proportionately smaller cap and whiter appearance overall described the deadly one.

The second delicious edible mushroom was found during the following week in the short length of tree row that survived the purges on the school property.  It was a beautiful but small Parosol Mushroom.

After school Yvette W., a grandmother-volunteer who had helped transport Expotition groups, returned with her Nisly grandchildren to show us what they had found on their own after-school foray into the shelterbelt at the southern edge of the children's family's property.  They found a beautiful Crown-topped Coral.  It looks exactly like a sea coral.  This is edible too, but it would have provided only several bites of goodness.   Another really distinctive fungus they found looked like a string of three little brown and gold pillowy sweet treats--not much bigger around than a Hershey's Kiss.  I don't have the list of names with me, and can't remember the name of this one at the moment, but we were able to identify it.  They also brought back a moderately-sized and easy-to-display specimen of Ling Chih, with a shiny varnished stem attached.

When I was leaving the sale of Lizzie Nisly's belongings, I spotted and harvested right around my parked vehicle--in the pasture--several beautiful specimens of what turned out to Green-spored Lepiota.  I did a spore print, which clinched its identity for me.  I felt a great deal of relief with the certainty this brought.

On the very first Friday of school, in need of a nature activity that could be done indoors, I gathered here at home some beautiful big mushrooms that I had been unable to identify.  I showed everyone how to use them to make spore prints by joining a black and a white piece of paper and positioning the mushroom cap so that half of it rested on top of each color paper.  This is advisable because some spores are white and some are black, and some have colors in between.  Once the identity of the mushroom is known, the spore color can also usually be known, and an appropriate paper color can be chosen for making spore prints.  The black-white combination paper is for use when the identity is not known.

My experimentation had shown the spores of the mystery mushrooms to be white.  After I found this, I made a series of lovely spore prints on black paper, each one showing the pattern of narrowly-spaced gills in the typical gilled-mushroom form.  The problem developed when I could not match the other characteristics of this mushroom to anything I found in either the Kansas or the Missouri Mushroom Field guides I had acquired.  The one that looked most like what I had, said that it produced a green spore print.

One tidbit of information made me realize that what I had found might indeed be a Green-spored Lepiota, even if it had produced a white spore print.  This source specified that it must be a mature mushroom specimen.  The ones I had taken to school were very fresh and the gills were almost pure white.  When we were finished making spore prints and I brought the mushrooms home, they stayed in the car overnight and part of the next day.  When I retrieved them, I noted that the gills had turned grayish green.  I assumed they were beginning to decompose, and I unceremoniously dumped them outside.  Later I wondered if those older specimens would have made a green spore print if I had tested them.  Finding mushrooms in Lizzie's pasture gave me the opportunity to try for a green spore print.  Success!  On Monday when I arrived at school, the mushrooms had made a soggy mess of the paper on which I had left them, but the spore color was clearly green.

Green-spored Lepiota is the most common source of mushroom poisoning in Kansas.  It looks really good, and its large size makes it seem like a great candidate for human consumption.  People who ingest it, however, become violently ill with digestive distress within a few hours.  Emergency room visits are not uncommon.  Only a few people have died from eating these mushrooms, but probably many others have wished to do so in the middle of the extreme discomfort that results.

On the Cedar Crest/Pilgrim High ball field, I had in previous years harvested huge immature white ball-shaped Puffball mushrooms, and sliced and fried and served them to typing students during break.    They weren't outstanding in flavor, but I had determined that they were edible, and thought we should all have the opportunity to taste them.  This year I could find none there.  On the Expotitions, we did find a fat-stemmed brown rough-surfaced kind that is in the Puffball family.

One pointed-cap orange mushroom must have been a Witches Hat.  What were those tiny little red things growing on wood?  And the really tiny ones we dubbed Pinheads?  Were the little brown curly things growing on wood baby Wood Ears?  Little white and little brown kinds abounded, many of which we could not definitively identify.  So many questions.

I was afraid that our Expotition group searches for mushrooms would be unfruitful, so Hiromi had purchased a variety of grocery store mushrooms for each teacher to show their students.  Besides the familiar button mushrooms, Hiromi bought Shiitake, Portabello, and Cremini.  I brought them home afterward, and we have been having one mushroom feast after another.

I took to school some dried Wood Ear mushrooms that came originally from an Asian grocery store, and distributed some to each classroom.  The students had a chance to see the dried form, to watch the change when water was added and they became hydrated, and then to taste them after they were cooked (in a crockpot) with some Dashi (soup base).  The most typical response was "It tastes like rubber bands." How would they know this?  Wood Ear mushrooms in fact have very little flavor, and are used in Chinese cuisine mostly to add texture.  Sweet and Sour Soup often contains finely-sliced Wood Ear mushrooms.  They are apparently abundant in Kansas, but I'm not sure that I've ever seen them.  They are brownish, with curly edges, growing on wood.  They reportedly have medicinal value, specifically for lowering cholesterol.

I eat Wood Ear mushrooms in my miso soup almost every school day morning.  I do so mainly because we have a lot of them on hand because the owner of the Asian store gifted them to us when she went out of business.  I'm gratified to know of their medicinal value--something I learned shortly after my doctor had alerted me to the fact that my cholesterol numbers were creeping up.

I told everyone in my Expotition group that they would be given a small sample of Wood Ear mushrooms, and they all should taste it.  They didn't have to eat all of the small sample--a thin sheet perhaps half an inch square.  I prefaced my distribution of the samples by telling students that most people in China really like this mushroom and eat it often.  "Do you know anyone from China?  How do you think they would feel if they heard anyone say "EEEEWWWW!" when they taste their special food?  It often makes people feel bad if others say bad things about what is special to them.  It's part of growing up to learn to be considerate of other people, and not showing dislike of their food is part of being considerate." They noted that some students at school last year had been born in China.

"I don't want to hear any negative comments about Wood Ear mushrooms," I said before serving the sample.  "It really doesn't have much flavor of any kind.  You don't have to like it, but if you don't, you have to keep your opinion to yourself."  Unknown to me, one person in my group had been promised by his teacher that he would not need to taste it.  He followed my instructions nonetheless.

I offered second helpings to whoever wanted more.  Some of them did.  One sweet little boy asked if he could take some home for his mother.  "She'd like to taste this," he told me.  I was very happy to oblige.


Mosses.  Last summer when I made regular rounds of the perimeter of our three-acre property I had noted the presence of moss on the ground in the southwest corner, under some Bur Oak trees we planted shortly after we moved here in 1984.  It seems like a strange place for it to thrive, exposed to the wind as it is.  Hiromi had noted it too.  He is very fond of mosses, remembering the pleasure people in Japan take in collecting and cultivating it.  The north side of the old sheep barn is the only other place either of us recalled ever seeing moss growing on this property.

Admittedly, I've not been particularly tuned in to identifying different kinds of mosses, but I think I've only ever seen one kind growing in Kansas.  My knowledge of other kinds of mosses comes from walking in woodlands in other states.

My search for field guides on mosses was mostly fruitless.  The only publication specifically on mosses in Kansas is in black and white--something I don't think would catch the eye of students.  I didn't see much value in getting publications that were specific to other areas with a climate very different from ours.

In preparation for the Expotition focusing on mosses, I provided the other teachers with some background information on how things that grow in moist places can be classified, and information on how to grow a moss garden, and then we all set out to bring back samples of whatever we could find.

I learned that mosses are part of the Plant Kingdom--Bryophytes.  They have stems and leaves and produce chlorophyll, but they have no roots.  Mushrooms are Fungi--not plants.  Lichens (which we will study next) are both fungi and algae, growing in a symbiotic relationship.  Algae can be part of any of four different Kingdoms, plants among them, so lichens may or may not be part plant and part fungus.

If anyone in the reading audience can point me to sources of good accessible materials on mosses, I would appreciate it.  One outstanding book on Lichens is prohibitively expensive, but I can at least find better online material on lichens than I was able to find on mosses.

Maybe it shouldn't surprise me that few people have taken up the matter of mosses in Kansas as a specialized field of study.  The pickings are thinner here than in the temperate rain forests of Oregon, for example, or the damp forests of the Southeastern U.S.   That means though that the study should not be too daunting, so there's no excuse she said in a firm teacher voice.


Friday, September 16, 2016

I Can't Believe He Did That

Within the past few days I've said this at least four times about God--sometimes only to myself, and sometimes out loud.

Discretion forces me to be more vague than I ask my students to be, but I'll tell you this much.  When there's not a thing more that you can say or do to make things better, God can put words into someone else's mouth, and they'll say exactly the right thing.  That thing that would threaten to destroy relationships if you said it.  That thing that would be guaranteed to be resisted if you said it, that you simply don't have the emotional energy to tackle again.  That could be easily twisted and easily misunderstood.  That thing is the truth and someone needs to say it, and God lets it come out of someone else's mouth, sparing you all kinds of trouble.  I can't believe He does that, but I'm saying "Thank you"  both to God and to the people who pray about what concerns me.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

A Hiatus-Ending Post

I'm back from a long blogging hiatus.  School has started and I've been riding hard in a teacher's saddle--through unfamiliar and rugged terrain (new, big classes), on a newly-broke mount (new employment parameters), and I'm hanging on for dear life to keep from being bucked off.

The transition from an individualized curriculum to a conventional one in the high school is underway this year.  I suppose it should be no surprise that solving one problem often introduces new ones.  Sigh.  

One of the best things about the new school year is that my home base is in a room with huge windows and lots of light.  I have a view of GREEN in the trees across the road.  No other classroom has the good fortune of such a view.  I have plants on the wide window sills and ferns on stands by my desk and in front of one window.  I bring fresh flowers from home for my desk.  I've even put a big bowl of Juliet ( big grape) tomatoes from the garden on my desk with a "Help Yourself" sign on it.  They disappeared fast.

My Composition class is made up almost entirely of students I've taught before.  I was amazed at how much difference it made to be teaching a group with whom I share a history.  That's not the case for the 18 students in my Language Arts class.

I get to go on an Expotition every week this school year.  That means I'm leading a group of about a dozen grade school students of varying ages on a nature walk or in a nature activity.  Pure pleasure in the doing.  A lot of work in the preparing, since I'm doing it for all the teacher leaders at the same time.  This is what the curriculum committee determined last year was in the best interest of the students, but the project had floundered somewhat because of difficulties with the logistics--none of which would be an issue if we had more natural areas on-site or within easy walking distance.  It's part of the science curriculum.  My twelve years of employment at Pilgrim have never before included involvement with the grade school students.


Rainfall has been abundant through August.  Mosquitoes are abundant as well.  Overall, however, this is a situation far preferable to some of the intense heat and prolonged drought we have experienced in recent years.  Green is easy on the eyes and brown not so much.  Brown is the color of suffering.


Our dog Barney is a preternatural wanderer. He's been gone now for a week, and we're wondering if someone decided to keep him for good.  If he's in a good place, that would actually be something of a relief at this point.  He's wearing a purple tag with our phone number on it, and we've gone after him numerous times when someone called to let us know his whereabouts, but sometimes we couldn't find him when we responded--or we weren't home when someone called.  We kept him tied part of the time, especially during the day when we were gone.  We didn't think he'd run off during the night, but he was gone last Sunday morning when we first got outside.  There went that theory.  Also the one about being neutered having a stay-at-home effect on him.

Two weeks ago he showed up at Elaine Y.'s garden party in Partridge.  She had invited "anyone,"  but not Barney specifically.  He likes her and her place and has showed up there numerous times.  We went over and hauled him home when we heard that he was there that evening.  It was a short visit to the garden party.  Later the same week he was at Mark Nisly's place, having jumped over a fence to join their dog in the back yard.  


Our traditional church picnic on Labor Day is taking on a slightly different format this year--a good prospect, in opinion.  Instead of meeting at 11:00 for a program, followed by a picnic and afternoon games, we're meeting at 4:00 for games, a picnic with roast pork at 6:30 and storytelling by Leroy at 8:00.  I welcome having more time at home on Labor Day.


Everyone in our church recently got an invitation to Kraig Beachy's wedding in Romania in April.  Kraig worshiped with us while he worked as a volunteer for Choice Books.  The invitation came in the form of a lively letter, with Kraig's colorful personality shining through.


Hiromi and I stayed with Shane and Dorcas' boys on Friday evening.  It was really good to spend time with them again.  Cedric has had his first birthday recently, and Carson had his third.  Tristan turns five in October.  Cedric is taking steps, looks more grownup all the time, and is developing some pleasing people skills.  Carson and Tristan are good conversationalists.


My brother Marcus gave me a smartphone.  Now to find time to get to town to get it activated, and then to start the long process of learning how to use it.  Here's where being around high school students regularly will really pay off.  They'll definitely be the teachers and I the student in this learning project.


My dad caused Lowell some consternation today when he walked out of church and failed to reappear.  He finally went looking for him, first in the church restrooms.  Then he discovered that his car was gone, and the tracks leading away from his parking space went east.  On a hunch, he went to Cedar Crest and saw his car in the parking lot, so he turned around and went back to Center to hear what remained of the sermon.

Linda, Marcus, and I all knew about Dad's plans ahead of time, but Lowell didn't, and he didn't want to make a big scene by calling any of us out of the service.  It was too little communication, obviously, but I'm not sure that anyone needs to feel guilty.

Dad saw his doctor again last week.  The swollen lymph nodes that had been noted at the last visit had not enlarged further, and the doctor commented on how very healthy Dad is overall.  He'll be 89 next month.


Next Sunday there is to be a bishop ordination at Cornerstone in Labette County, Kansas where my brother Ronald is a pastor, along with Stan Nisly.  This is Center's daughter congregation.


My niece Kristi Mast has gone to Faith Builders for this school year.  Another niece, Hannah Miller, returned for her second year there.


Yesterday morning we had the biggest earthquake ever here--at least in recent memory.  It occurred soon after 7:00 and the shaking went on for quite a while, but probably only a matter of a minute or two, despite how it felt.  It was centered near Pawnee, OK where it registered a 5.6 magnitude.  The increase in earthquake activity has been definitively linked to horizontal drilling  for the purpose of extracting oil and gas from underground.  Fracking is the common term for this process.  Injecting waste water underground under pressure great enough to fracture rock layers is the specific activity thought to trigger earthquakes.  Regulations curtailing this have gone into effect, with some benefit apparently, but it's becoming clear that placing further limits might be needed.


This year for the first time I have learned to recognize Tall Joe-Pye Weed in bloom.  From the road it looks like white Goldenrod, since the plants are about the same size as Canadian Goldenrod, and the texture of the flowers is similar--many small flowers growing in terminal clusters.

I've also sorted out the major differences between Canadian Goldenrod and Missouri Goldenrod.  The Missouri kind is shorter, earlier-blooming, and has a smooth stem.  The Canadian is taller, later-blooming, with a fuzzy or rough stem.

I've seen and identified Velvety Guara for the first time.  It's growing north of Ken Schrocks in the ditch on the west side of the road.  I think I finally know which of the grasses is Switchgrass.  For a long time I confused it with Purpletop.

I also identified Purple Lovegrass for the first time.  It's breathtakingly beautiful, with the sparkling, fine-textured inflorescence of Sand Lovegrass on shorter stems, and it's PURPLE instead of gold.  I've seen Goose Grass on taller stems than I knew existed.  The tall and majestic Big Bluestem and Indian Grass are putting on quite a show in areas that have escaped the ditch mowers.  Lots of rain has helped create a beautiful display of grasses this year.


In an earlier blog post, I identified a link between the rise of Fox News and the radicalization of the Republican party.  Michael Gerson did exactly the same thing in a column that appeared in yesterday's newspaper.  As I've come to expect from him, the piece is sensible and convincing.  Here's a link to the column.  He actually calls for the Fox media venue to be shut down, based on how damaging its market-driven approach has proven to be to conservative values.  Anger and discord are its hallmarks ("incitement builds an audience"), and much of what has been touted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh has, by Limbaugh's own admission, been talking points he knew from the outset to lack credibility.  In short, truth didn't matter; ratings did.

Keeping one's personal identity entirely separate from a political identity has never looked better than it has in this presidential election cycle.


My brother-in-law, Marvin M. traveled last week again to Florida to visit an eye surgeon.  It was a referral.  An earlier surgery here to correct strabismus ??? was not successful.  A surgery in Florida is scheduled for later.

A return last night around midnight let them miss most of the hurricane there and the earthquake here.


Hiromi's plans to attend a school reunion in Japan on October 2 are continuing to expand.  Some of his old school friends are planning reunions of smaller groups to include grade school friends and friends from junior high.  This is a different group from his high school graduating class, and represents friends over a longer period of time.

They're still waiting for word from one friend who retired from the Air Force about 20 years ago.  The only address anyone had was from that time, and so far he hasn't responded to any efforts to contact him.  Hiromi looked up the address on Google and saw a street view of the place.  When he zoomed in, he saw the name of his childhood friend on the door of the house.

Since he could see the address and name on the neighbor's door also, Hiromi wrote a letter to that address to inquire about his boyhood friend.  It's possible that he has died or is ill--something a neighbor would be likely to know.


I give my comp class the opportunity to earn extra credit by bringing to class words they've encountered in reading or listening and didn't know the meaning of until they looked it up.  in order to earn credit, they fill out a form in which they have to define it, identify its part of speech, and use it in a sentence.

I like that it also gives me a license to use words "over their head" in class lectures.  I know I've scored (which is really letting them score) when someone says "I want that word"  and hurries to write it down.

If they find such words on this blog, that's OK too.


It's great to be going to bed without having to set an alarm for tomorrow.