I remember checking out videos from the library and after finishing them removing the video from the VCR and putting them in the rewinder. To this day, I can't hear, "Be kind" without thinking rewind. Today is World Kindness Day according to the Facebook posts and my morning greeting from Alexa. I am tempted to research how long World Kindness Day has been a thing, who started it, and who is celebrating it, but instead, I’m going to refrain from that extraneous research and go with it.
On my recent trip to Seneca Falls, New York, I learned a great deal about kindness and the great impact ordinary individuals can have on the world around them. We arrived in Seneca Falls after sunset. The small downtown area was decorated for Christmas, a gentle snow was falling, and the church bells were ringing out “How Firm a Foundation.” I told my sister that I was reminded of Bedford Falls, the town from It’s a Wonderful Life and she immediately agreed. As we were checking in, the hotel clerk gave us a list of area attractions including the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. He explained that Seneca Falls is the town that Bedford Falls is based on.
Our days there included a visit to the Women’s Rights Historical Park, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton’s home, William Seward’s home, and Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. In each of these places, we noted the influence of major figures like Anthony, Stanton, Seward, and Tubman, but we also noticed the courage, conviction, and compassion of those whose names will most likely never be included in a national park or museum.
There were countless women who stood up for the rights of others. As I previously wrote, the subject of women’s rights can be controversial, but here we are talking about rights such as property ownership and the right to remove themselves and their children from a dangerous and abusive husband. Women who were not destitute or in danger took upon them the fight that the others in those situations didn’t have the ability to fight.
William Seward was a remarkable man who served with Lincoln as Secretary of State but was responsible for doing so much more. One act stood out as particularly significant during our visit. He sold land to Harriet Tubman including a home that she and her parents lived in after their escape from enslavement. This was after the Fugitive Slave Act and before the Emancipation Proclamation so his action was in direct defiance of federal law, but he believed that it was the right thing to do.
Harriet Tubman’s life was full of her kindness to others despite being enslaved and mistreated. Often the word kindness invokes a soft-spoken, gentle manner, but Harriet was kind in a powerful way. She went back into the South thirteen times to rescue her people, ignoring her own safety. She also led troops into combat and freed 750 men, women, and children during a US military action. Retirement was anything but restful. She opened a home for the elderly on her land because the other home for the elderly in Auburn was for whites only. Her home was for everyone. Harriet Tubman exemplified kindness in action.
Our last stop during the trip was at the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. There we learned the beautiful story behind the movie. Frank Capra stopped in the town after reading the short story which would become the movie. There, while receiving a hair cut from an Italian immigrant, he heard the story of Antonio Varacalli. In 1917, Antonio was a young man working to save up money to bring his family over from war-torn Italy. He watched a woman jump off the bridge in an attempt to commit suicide and jumped in to save her. He succeeded in saving her but lost his life in the process. The town rallied together and collected enough to bring his family to the area. Capra changed the ending of the movie to include the town rallying around George and set the movie in a place that looked like Antonio’s town.
Acts of kindness can be small or large. They can be quiet or they can be bold. This “World Kindness Day” rewind your thoughts to some of the people who have influenced your life. How has their influence changed you? As Clarence observed, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” Today, don’t leave a hole. Get in there and influence someone. Maybe a child, maybe the person behind you in line at Starbucks, maybe a future generation.
Capra modeled the bridge in the movie after this bridge in Seneca Falls.
I’m a huge fan of Far Side by Gary Larson. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a syndicated comic that was usually one pannel. The figures are distorted and the humor is quirky. One that has stuck with me was titled “Classic Conversation Stoppers.” The panel is divided into four squares and depicts four men talking to guests. Each of the men is saying something that is guaranteed to end a conversation. My favorite is the guy saying, “‘Contagious? Contagious?’ I asked my doctor. ‘Realy contagious,’ he tells me.” Insert awkward pause. Have you ever experienced something like this? You say something and people respond with awkward silence.
Last year I created a presentation about World War I to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. After completing that I decided to work on a presentation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which grants women the right to vote. I thought World War I had been tricky to investigate, but nothing could have prepared me for the mess that I’ve found during my study of the women’s suffrage movement.
In my research, I’ve studied Biblical anthropology - the study of humans as they relate to God, the history of women in the United States and Western Culture, and the philosophical foundations of the feminist movement. Phew! I’ve read about Upity Women of Medieval Times, Wild Women of Michigan, 12 Extraordinary Women of the Bible. I’ve read The Women’s Hour, Roses and Radicals, and (I truly loved this one) Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Relating to business I’m reading Lean In and, as a counterpoint, Lean Out. I’m intrigued and immensely enjoying this research, but all these viewpoints and counterpoints leave my brain a tangled mess. When my thoughts become tangled, I find the best method of unraveling them is talking. I’ve come up with some of my best party planning ideas when talking to the cashier while at the supermarket checkout. (Probably why I’m not interested in curbside pick up or grocery delivery.)
In the past few months, I’ve learned that the phrase, “I’m studying the history of women’s rights,” is a classic conversation stopper. People become uncomfortable and shift around looking for an out. One person abruptly stated they had to leave and ran away. I think most people are afraid of getting involved in a controversial conversation because of the tension in our current culture.
Viewpoints collide and emotions run deep, but I believe that this is a very important and vital study. I keep typing and deleting as I’m trying to explain further, but I’ll never be able to fit everything I want to say in this post. I’m going to state a few truths I’ve discovered, and leave it at that for now.
That’s all I’m going to say about this for now. I can already feel the discomfort and I can hear the, “Well, I don’t know what she means by that,” running through your mind. Feel free to comment below or message me if you want to talk more about this and look for future posts about women’s rights. Wait! Where are you going? I need someone to talk to about this!
Tomorrow my sister and I head out to visit the Women’s Rights National Monument. It is in Seneca Falls, New York and is the sight of the first Women’s Rights Convention where the suffrage issue (women voting) was first publically proposed. As I research this topic, I feel that visiting this monument will help me gain a deeper perspective on the issue and the time spent with my sister will help me unravel my thoughts. Follow along on my Instagram (@edy2207) story for an inside look at our adventure.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to present at a teacher's convention. This particular convention included Christian educators from all over the Great Lakes Region. I presented about World War I and about teaching history with a Biblical worldview. I think I'm supposed to be all calm and professional about it, but can I just say -- THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! I got to talk to teachers and talk about nerdy history stuff and it was just the best! Okay, back to sounding like a calm adult. I would relish any other opportunities to speak to groups in the future should the opportunity arise.
Although my presentations weren't specifically about reading books, I had stacks of books to recommend at each. I see immense benefits in students reading across a broad spectrum of genres and topics. Reading allows students to take their education into their own hands and study what they are interested in. Because we all differ so much in personality, it is always difficult if not impossible to find books that please everyone. When teaching 6th-grade reading, I used a method that I learned from Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisper. I assigned a total of 36 books for my students to read throughout the school year. I know this sounds daunting, but here's how it worked.
I used this method for three years and saw immense success. Pitfalls could arise so it's important for each teacher using this program to consider the definition of success that best matches their goals. My goal was to encourage literacy and get students reading. I had some students that only managed to read 5 or 10 books. I saw this as a win. As long as they noted everything and turned it in they at least got a C grade. (By the way, a C is and is acceptable. I'll write about that another day.)
I also allowed and even encouraged students to read graphic novels. Nathan Hale writes fantastic graphic novels in the historical fiction genre. Some graphic novels, such as Snow White, have little to no words but tell a compelling story. I would talk with students and make sure they understood the symbolism and picked up on the literary devices the author employed in the illustrations. Learning to "read" pictures is a very powerful tool especially in this day when images are king.
For my class, success equaled books consumed. And did my students consume books! During the 2015-16 school year, I had 52 students and we read over 1,400 books. Below, you can see a picture of our book chain. So that's how I taught reading. I got to read and learn with the students and we all grew. Maybe it isn't for every classroom, but I can't imagine my life without this experience.
What was your classroom reading experience like as a middle school and high school student? Comment below and let me know.
Earlier today, I wrote a really frustrated sad article about how much I'm struggling with Logan and his school work which I never published and have since deleted. I'll spare you that rant and just leave it at - we're struggling. Some of it has to do with executive function disorder which deals with organization, working memory, and attention. I constantly feel like I'm behind in some way. Like I'm treading water wearing a weighted vest.
Something else I'm struggling to accept is that I can't do it all. This year I had grand dreams of learning French, reading a big stack of books, learning to play the piano, getting into shape, keeping my house clean, making crafts for a PTO event, and keeping on top of writing letters to family and friends on top of writing my blog, preparing two more historical presentations, and working on a side writing project. I tell myself that because I'm not working full time all this should be possible, but I'm so wrong. Instead, I find myself shriveling in, depressed by my lack of progress. I've been successful at getting into shape and am currently training for the Detroit half-marathon in October. Yay! But the time spent training has got to come from somewhere and my other efforts suffer. I'm slowly trying to accept that I can't do it all.
So my greatest struggle right now is being content. I've been trying to find contentment, but can't when I compare myself to other moms or chase unattainable goals. So how can I find contentment? What is the secret to finding contentment in the midst of turmoil? Fortunately, Paul told it to the Philippians in his letter to them. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
This verse isn't about winning a sporting event or doing your best. It's about contentment in any and every situation. It's the secret, the key, the linchpin. So I can live contentedly in the situation God has placed me in and I can accomplish what he wants me to. Just so we're clear, this isn't easy though. I'm not quoting a quick verse then heading of to a perfect person soiree. The struggle is real, but at least I know the secret to success.
So tonight, I hope you find yourself in positive circumstances, but if not, I'll take this opportunity to share the secret with you. Christ gives strength.
As I write this I am sitting in front of what is known as the "Rosa Parks Bus." It is the bus that the famous incident involving Mrs. Parks refusing to give up her seat took place. In my research on the American Woman Parks' name has come up several times.
Let me back up. This week Logan and his buddy Derek are participating in Day Camp at the Henry Ford. The Henry Ford is like Disney World for history nerds and is a must see. The Henry Ford is made up of multiple institutions the main two being the Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. When Henry Ford created them his goal was to tell history from the perspective of the average American. History is about presidents and important figures, but it's also about the innovations that impact our every day lives. Both the Village and Museum are dedicated to celebrating those innovations and honoring our nation's history.
So, back to the bus. In just the few minutes it's taken to type this, almost 50 people have climbed on and off the bus. A docent inside tells the story of that December day in Alabama and points out the seat that Parks refused to give up. The children inside excitedly vie to sit in the exact spot then skip off happy that they've experienced a part of history. There's even a Scandinavian tour group with professional film equipment filming about it. I have no idea what they are saying but it’s interesting to watch them explore the history of our country.
In my research about American women, I've come across Rosa Parks several times. Each time I've read that she is brave because she sat. When I read this it's felt like something has been missing. There were several people before Parks who were arrested for refusing to give up their seats which made me wonder what was different about their story. They sat. Why don't their names go down in history?
Oddly enough the answer came when I was reading the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In the chapter referring to habits of societies, Duhigg explains that Parks was a unique individual because of her character and her community involvement. "Parks' many friendships and affiliations cut across the city's racial and economic lines. She was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, attended the Methodist church, and helped oversee a youth organization at the Lutheran church near her home. She spent some weekends volunteering at a shelter, others with a botanical club, and on Wednesday nights often joined a group of women who knit blankets for a local hospital. She volunteered dressmaking services to poor families and provided last-minute gown alterations for wealthy white debutantes." He goes on to connect the facts and mentions that the previous riders who refused to move were arrested, but nothing came of it because they were unknowns, yet when Rosa Parks was arrested it caused a ripple through the community. She had invested her time in the community and that community came to her support.
But all that community doesn’t explain my discomfort with celebrating Rosa Parks for "sitting." Duhigg, after detailing Parks' community involvement, explained that the former leader of the Montgomery NAACP and a white lawyer named Clifford Durr bailed her out of jail. Community leaders had been looking for a case to challenge bus segregation and with Parks' sterling reputation they believed they had found a worthy cause to take to the courts. Parks' husband was initially opposed to the idea because he knew the danger she was putting herself in. Her husband's warning, "The white folks will kill you, Rosa," was not an empty worry. Threats of violence and death were common for those who dared to alter the status quo, but despite the possible danger, Parks allowed her case to be the rally point for the protests and the boycott. Both she and her husband lost their jobs and received multiple death threats. Yet, she didn't give in and she allowed her case to move through the courts. Eventually, they moved to Detroit hoping to start over after losing so much.
There! There it is! Now, I am beginning to understand what was so remarkable about her. She shouldn't be remembered as a woman who sat. She should be remembered for 1.) Her kindness and community involvement. 2.) Refusing to move despite knowing the possibility of arrest or physical violence. (I was told by the docent that the bus drivers often carried clubs or guns to enforce the rules.) 3.) Standing and allowing her arrest to be used in the court case that changed a city and became a major event in the Civil Rights Movement despite the costs. Too often we relegate people's stories to a paragraph and forget that their lives are as complicated and as deep as our own.
Rosa Parks' story is one of compassion, community, and courage. She didn't receive the notoriety she has today until much later in her life. In our culture of instant gratification, it is important to share that standing up for something and being remembered rarely happens for those who don't have a depth of character. We need to remember that standing for what you believe in is not easy and will likely not lead to fame and success, but doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do may just change the world.
Rosa Parks visited the Greenfield Village in 1992. These photos are of her at the Mattox House.
Are you excited about summer break being right around the corner? I am. (Notice my excessive use of exclamation points.) I love summer. I'm not just talking about the season itself, although I do love that - I'm talking about the long break from school.
Summer is time to take a break from school. Summer is not the time to take a break from learning. Summer is the perfect time to learn without the pressure of tests and the responsibility of homework. It's the perfect time to visit museums and parks. These experiences are extremely important because by exploring and experiencing, children lay the groundwork for their classroom experience.
Here’s an example. At some point in their science education, your child will learn about the life cycle of a frog. I remember learning about this as a student, but I didn’t have to memorize it as a student. Why? Because there was a ditch in the front yard of the house I grew up in. Every year frogs would lay eggs. Once the tadpoles emerged we would scoop them into buckets and check their progress. It was play. Gloriously messy, sometimes muddy play. But then when I got to science class the life cycle was something I knew. I had watched. I had observed. The teacher had new information that I didn’t already know, but she had a shelf to place new information onto. My existing knowledge allowed my understanding to be deeper and more lasting than the student who had never seen a tadpole.
Often our school system becomes adversarial. Students work hard NOT to learn the information the teachers are tasked with the responsibility of forcing the materials into them. This push back doesn’t usually happen until middle and high school, but the mindset begins as early as elementary.
We make a critical mistake when we equate school with learning. Why? School does not have a monopoly on learning. It CANNOT have a monopoly on learning. This is NOT to say that students don't learn in school but when we limit learning to school we limit our children’s mindset and limit their growth. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Adults calling themselves a life long learner has become popular. Why can't we let kids embrace that too? Oddly enough when I say stuff like this is it is usually the adults who tell me that kids don't want to learn, NOT their kids. This disturbs me. Learning is awesome. It is fun. It is something that the mind embraces and takes pleasure in. The brain releases a dopamine response when a new fact snaps into place. (Imagine that feeling when a puzzle piece clicks into place.) When your brain has an “ah-ha” moment your brain releases pleasure hormones. When kids make a connection between something they learned in school and something they already know, their brain releases a “reward” for their effort.
Not interested in "teaching" your children this summer? Afraid that you will get stuck or not know what to say? Here’s an example of the type of learning and teaching I am talking about. Many kids have had the experience of trying to connect toy trains. Sometimes the trains won’t connect. They may get frustrated, but they usually figure out that the key to success is to turn the train around. It works! Cool now they can play. When they get to science class and learn that magnets have a north and south pole and connect it with their memory, their brain rewards them for that connection. Those students who have been trained to recognize the moment a connection happens can gain an even greater response. Training to recognize this is as simple as noting when it happens and cheering.
Older students who are interested in Greek Mythology will love making connections about their secular reading and the experience of Paul in the book of Acts. Read Acts 17:16-34 (Paul’s sermon from the Aeropagus.) Those Paul is speaking to believe in and worship the gods we read about in stories. In verses 24-25 Paul makes specific reference to the stories of mythology. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” The Greek gods constantly needed help from heroes who were demi-gods. Without Heracles, Jason, and Theseus the gods would be in desperate straights. Paul is remarking that the one Creator God who is over ALL, not just the wind, seas, seasons, medicine, etc., doesn’t need human heroes to save him. He is omnipotent. When students connect these two things (the Bible and Greek mythology) they get very excited and the discussion is usually a lively one.
Even students who say they “hate” learning take pleasure in learning about things that they are interested in. Summer and other breaks from school are the perfect time to leisurely explore their own pursuits. I recommend exposure to a wide range of activities that will eventually coincide with their classroom learning. Some areas are richer in learning opportunities than others. I have been working on my Southeastern Michigan page and hope to add several more places this summer. Check it out and comment with places you would add. There is no way that you will be able to experience everything that your child is going to be learning about, but you can participate in a variety of things that will set them up for future success.
Next week I will release our full summer bucket list. We are planning on visiting several places that are recognized by the National Park Service as the Motor Cities National Heritage Area as well as River Raisin, a National Historic Battlefield. (All within an hour or so of our house.) Subscribe using the form below to follow our adventures and learn more about fun activities that will help your child's summer be both fun and constructive.
A Note About Video Games: Learning isn’t the only way to receive a dopamine response from the brain. Video games flood the brain with a dopamine response, but rarely are real skills gained and often the cost/benefit ratio is out of proportion. Alarmists love to report that kids are addicted and scare parents with statistics about the dangers of gaming. This sells stories and gets people to click, but it isn’t necessarily true. Video games aren’t all bad and can be a good way for families to have fun together (Wii) or kids to learn about the challenges of running a city (Sim City). Think of it this way - taking the family out for ice cream can be a fun way to bond and have fun. It’s a good thing. Eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is excessive and detrimental to your health.
Influence is something I think about quite often. I thing about those who have influenced my life and the people I've influenced. We most often we use this word to describe the positive things that people add to our lives but really, influence is just having an effect on something.
The mind-boggling thing about influence is that you never know where it will go. If you let someone in during a traffic jam and give them a friendly wave, they just relaxed and smiled. That altered their day slightly and maybe they were a bit more forgiving when someone needed to cut in on them. Liberty Mutual Insurance made a series of commercials about kindness and showing care for others. In the commercials someone does something nice and is observed by someone else who then passes it on.
Unfortunately, this influence can also go in the opposite direction. If I start my day yelling at Logan, he goes off to school feeling defeated and frustrated. He may act unkindly towards a classmate passing on my bad mood and spreading it around his community like a virus that slowly eats away at the fabric of kindness and compassion the teachers attempt to build.
Knowing this, I try very hard to show kindness and compassion to all those I come in contact with. Believe me. I fail regularly, but I do make a concentrated effort to do so. This is part of intentional living. Knowing that I will influence the day of my cashier at the grocery store, I ask, "How are you?" and listen to the response. I might ask if the store is busy or if they've had a good day. One day the store was slow enough we had time to talk about Bible studies and I invited her to church. I may or may not ever see this person again, but I know that by showing kindness I have represented my faith, my life, and my being in a fashion that honor's God. Not everyone is receptive. Sometimes people are already having a bad day or they are distracted. That's okay. If you see this just behave politely and respectfully (both are forms of kindness) and move on.
Showing kindness in small ways usually has small results. Giving someone a smile you get a smile in return, but sometimes these kindness can compound and grow. Smiles can lead to greetings, which can lead to meetings, which can lead to friendships, which can lead anywhere. Opening your home to friends, giving to strangers, supporting the efforts of those you love, these can compound in major ways.
I'm currently reading Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington. Although I am in the very beginning of this massive work, I can already see the power of influence in Chernow's story. The first anecdote that caught my attention was one about Washington's mother, Mary Ball. She became an orphan at age twelve. A dangerous thing for a young girl in the fledgling colonies. She was taken in and gently cared for by a kind family friend, George Eskridge. She recorded that she named her first son in his honor. So George Eskridge and his life may be resigned to the oblivion of historical record, but his namesake George Washington is a testament to the power of kindness. Another example from the life of Washington is the influence of a British admiral upon his elder brother Lawrence, who owned an estate known then as Little Hunting Creek. Lawrence was so taken with affection for Admiral Vernon that he re-named his estate after him. Admiral Vernon may not be recognized in the history books, but visitors to Mount Vernon will remember his name as gracing what became the younger brother's beloved estate.
Do not be discouraged when your kindness is not returned immediately. You don't know the impact your gesture will make so just do the right thing and move on. I've sent encouraging letters and gifts to people and never heard back regarding their thoughts. (This really doesn't bother me. Once a gift is sent or given it is no longer mine to control.) Years later, when talking to the recipient of the letter, I discover that my letter is hanging in their room as an encouragement to them. That knowledge is immensely encouraging and shows me that God will use my work without me having to intervene or control the situation. When you do what you are supposed to do, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," you make room for God doing the work.
I don't know how my small kindnesses will be used in the life of a letter recipient or the cashier at the grocery store, but I do know that God is working and he's called me to show kindness, so I will. Can you think of a time when someone's kindness directly impacted your life in a compounding way? Honor them by passing it on.
I envy teachers who have been in the same classroom for decades and never quit improving their craft. That's where I saw myself when I began teaching. I was going to be an amazing history teacher and tell wonderful stories that entranced and inspired my students. When I couldn't find a job as a history teacher and ended up teaching everything from preschool to high school government. It's not that I gave up on history, but rather I threw myself into whatever classroom I was in and fell in love with it. Now, we've moved around the country and for various reasons I've come to accept that I will never be that experienced teacher. This was a difficult realization to accept, but I'm slowly seeing God's wisdom and plan for me. I'm embracing my experiences and learning through travel and substitute teaching. My experiences in a variety of classrooms, as well as my broad reading, have given me a perspective on the world of education that is half insider and half outsider. Throughout the 15+ years spent in classrooms, I've observed student behavior and noticed changes brought about by parenting trends and technology.
I'm never one to say that there is only one problem, nor am I attempting to trivialize a situation by suggesting that changing only one thing would fix everything. That said, there are major failings that complicate the work that teachers are trying to do and they hurt students. Today's word relates to something I consider a cancer in the system. Something that is eating at the heart of our schools and drastically damaging it.
Today's Word: Adversarial
Five syllables. Pronounced [ad-ver-ser-ee-ul] Adjective. Defined in the OAD as involving conflict or opposition. One day, while teaching middle school grammar, I mentioned that what we were doing was so repetitive and seemingly a waste of time. They had learned the same material each year from second grade to sixth grade, but we were still covering it because they couldn't remember the rudimentary parts of grammar. A candid student looked at me and with no disrespect intended said, "I try hard to forget everything at the end of each year. It's my goal to remember nothing." O-kay, umm . . . well, there's our problem. That night, haunted by his comment, I thought about the word adversarial. My classroom was an adversarial place. I worked hard to teach them and they worked hard to avoid my work. They were like lawyers carefully studying loopholes in tax laws. They wouldn't commit fraud, but the goal was to pay as little to the system as possible.
The adversarial system is present in three areas. I see this every day in the students when subbing. I assign something and the students get to work. Then the conflict begins. They get out their iPad for something and I catch them playing a game or searching for nonsense. They are talking to their friends and I catch them chit-chatting instead of working. After dealing with the offenders the class usually settles into a routine of them working to complete their teacher's assigned task, but it's obvious that it's only my vigilance that is keeping them going. I'm not talking about bad kids here. These are good kids with great teachers, but it seems as though this back and forth is part of what school is. The students will do something until they are told not to. The teachers and staff have to catch them and if they aren't caught the students congratulate each other on their avoidance of correction.
I fear I am painting a bleak portrait of these students. Please understand. They are not alone in this behavior. Adults trying to make conversation with kids often ask them if they like their teacher. They ask, "Does she give much homework?" Sometimes their comments about their dislike of homework have more to do with their own school experience than their knowledge of the kid they are talking to. People make comments congratulating kids when they have a day off school. I highly doubt anyone does this to intentionally make kids hate school, but they do it none the less. Parents can add to the adversarial system by getting mad at the teacher when the student is struggling with their grades and/or behavior. Parents are not always supportive of their child's teacher and by making their disagreement obvious they put a wall between the teacher and their student.
Society puts a great deal of focus on those individuals who succeed seemingly effortlessly. Spoiler alert: this is impossible. I won't take the space here today, but look up books like Outliers and Grit to see what it takes to be outstanding. How people get attention is a mind-boggling study into so many different aspects of culture, but I am confident in saying that being a hard-working student isn't in pop culture's idea of "cool."
So how do we end this adversarial system? A huge problem will take a huge solution, but here are a few things that I believe can help.
Students need to be part of their learning. I had a sign on my wall that outlined the responsibilities in my classroom which read, "Teacher's Job: 1. To provide the tools for the students to learn what they need to know. 2. To ensure a safe environment where everyone can learn. Student's Job: `1. To learn what they need to know. 2. To be safe." This is very simple, but it places the responsibility for learning onto the students, not the teachers. If a student doesn't know where the capital of the United States is that isn't the teacher's fault. It is the student's fault and they need to add that info to their bank of knowledge. Students should know that school is their opportunity to prepare for the world. The teachers are there to help them achieve their dreams not to crush them. Students should feel empowered to learn on their own and work for their own success. I am so tired of hearing people say things like, "No one ever taught me to . . ." Hello!!! We live in an age where you can learn about anything and everything from the resources of the internet. Watch a YouTube video, read a book, go to a lecture. It is not the responsibility of school or teachers to teach everything everyone needs to know. It is the teacher's job to teach you how you can learn everything you need to know. The learning is up to you.
Teachers should be careful not to send mixed messages about the benefits of learning and school. Obviously, teachers are pro learning, but sometimes we do things that are counterproductive. In college, my education professor told me something that has really stuck. She said to never reward students with no homework or leaving early because it cemented in their mind that homework and class were bad things that good kids avoided. She said that too many teachers (and parents) give worksheets and reading as punishment. This affected me deeply and to this day I am very careful about how I talk about learning.
Parents and other supportive adults can help by changing the conversations they have with kids. Ask questions like, "What are you studying in school? What have you learned this year?" I make Logan and anybody else I am driving home tell me something they learned that day. If they say they didn't learn anything I say, "Wow, well, I'm paying money for you to be at that school and your teacher didn't teach you anything. I'm going to have to call her when we get home. She should be teaching you something in the eight hours you're at school." At this point, my sarcasm has demonstrated the point and they will quickly come up with some fact or math operation to discuss with me. Discuss what is fun about school and find commonality with kids over that. And please, please, don't buy t-shirts like the ones below. Encourage your child's learning and champion their new knowledge. The benefit of homework is a complicated discussion, but if you are opposed or have issues please talk to your child's teacher rather than criticize the work itself.
Education is a complicated topic with layers and layers, but one thing is clear. No one benefits from an adversarial system of education. I think we would all benefit from working together to make learning something to celebrate and avoiding the slamming of the work that schools do to provide learning experiences.
Seeing kids wearing shirts like these always makes me sad.
Every year during the summer we go to a bunch of places and have a pretty great time together. I post about the things we do with the intention of motivating others to get out and experience life. I never intend to brag or shove our happiness down the throats of others or make others feel like we are winning some weird life competition. A comment that I've seen a few times on my posts reads, "You are such a good mom!" or some other variance of the statement. This. Makes. Me. Cringe. Please forgive my lack of grace in accepting this compliment, I just don't think its fair. No, I don't think I'm a bad mom, but I don't think of my adventures with Logan as making me any better than a mom who is unable to go to these places. I only have one child. I am a teacher which means I am free during the summer. This is not the case for the majority of the people I know. Some moms have full time jobs. Some have more than one child. Some have other things keeping them from travel and/or local adventures. I can participate in these summer adventures because of the circumstances God has placed me in.
So often we look at other people and compare their lives to our own without understanding the trade offs they make. For example, we travel a lot. When we fly, we fly Delta and stay at any variation of Hilton hotels. This is great and I'm happy to be a loyal customer of both, thanks to the loyalty points collected through business travel. As a family we've been to Paris, Disney, and other places and it's fabulous. But the cost of this is my husband's constant business travel. During a few months last year, thankfully non-consecutive, he was home less than seven days. This gets frustrating for many reasons, but we live this way because it works for us. Our travel allows us to reconnect and grow as a family and Jason's hard work pays the bills.
For some families, dealing with a parent traveling wouldn't work. They would be unwilling to deal with the stress or unable due to a variety of unique issues. That doesn't mean either family is better. Jason's failure to be home every night allows us to have the success of being a family that travels. For some people they are happy to fail to travel but enjoy the success of being home together every night. There's a trade off.
This trade off applies to everything. If I run a marathon I miss out on time I wanted to spend with family and friends. If I spend time with family and friends I give up my chance to run a marathon. If I spend a day cleaning and caring for my home, I miss a coffee date out with my friend. If I go for coffee with a friend, I miss out of time necessary to care for and clean my home. In these four examples there isn't anything better than another. I like running. I like spending time with family and friends. I like having a clean home. I like coffee dates with friends. But I can't have it all.
Marketing and our social media feeds makes us think we can have it all. We see the highlights of the lives of others but rarely see their struggles. We. Can. Not. Have. It. All. It's just not possible. Women's magazines or family themed magazines like Parents offer parenting hacks or how to balance work and life, but the cover images show families smiling and happy with clean and organized kids. We're usually pretty cleaned up for my Instagram posts too.
A little behind the scenes view of my social media:
Me: Logan, smile. Logan. LOGAN!
Logan: I am.
Me: No, not like that. You look like you're in pain. Come on. We're doing this cool thing together. Just SMILE!
Logan: (looking like he's holding in a fart).
Me: Aughhhh!!!!! (this makes him laugh).
Me: Caption photo "Just an easy going day at ______. So much fun."
Please tell me I'm not the only one. Please.
One book that has influenced me and given me courage to be bold and pursue my writing is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I do not agree with everything that Shonda says, but her writing style, personality, and personal challenges deeply connect with me. On June 8, 2014, she gave the Dartmouth commencement address in which she addressed the question, "How do you do it all?" This was her answer.
"I don't. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.
Even that seemingly unattainably perfect woman described in Proverbs 31 made trade offs. She was not always there for her family. Look at the passage. She's buying land, she's making and selling garments, she's amazing. Verse 21 says, "She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all in her household are doubly clothed. " I imagine that just as she's sitting down with her sewing a little one begins demanding her attention. "Not now, little one. Mama is working on warm clothes for us. I said, NOT NOW." Okay, maybe she wouldn't raise her voice, but I imagine she was firm and when the snow came she could say, "See, that's why I worked so hard. Now you are nice and cozy warm." Maybe they would grudgingly acknowledge her work as young children, but as they grew up they understood her incredible work ethic and appreciated her. She works hard and verse 31 says, "Give her the reward of her labor and let her words praise her at the city gates." She made choices and she is praised for her work. Part of her diligent teaching was training her children to figure things out for themselves. Success. Failure.
This is the key to intentional living. Evaluating why we do things. Recognizing the successes and the failures and accepting those choices and their consequences. I'm trying to teach Logan this. Sometimes he wants to two things that are occurring at the same time. Both are good choices, but it is only possible to do one. I think it's important for him to see those success and failures instead of me giving him the impression that either of us can do it all. It's not always easy, but that's life.
I hope I didn't discourage you today. Being a success and a failure is hard, but if you accept the choices it can be very rewarding. Stand strong! Be an example to those within your circle of influence by admitting that you can't do it all. I'll go first. I'm Edy, and I'm a success because I'm a failure.
What makes someone successful? Isn't that a loaded question!? If we had a set answer to this question we could create a formula that everyone could follow, right? Unfortunately, no. Success is difficult to define, fleeting, and changing with cultural norms.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of success from a very unpopular perspective. I say unpopular because he debunks the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps American Dream story we love. We want to believe that anyone can achieve anything because it sounds great, but success is way more than an individual outcome. Also, we often learn about historical figures as they relate to their most famous contributions to history. They often enter and exit the stage of history having only done one thing, but in reality they had exciting and fulfilling lives full of mentors and teachers. Case in point: the Wright brothers. In our history books we learn On December 17, 1903, they successfully flew their airplane for the first time. They were two self-taught engineers who became aviation pioneers and changed the world on that December day. It's almost as though they woke up picked up their plane they tinkered with for a while, flew, and that's the end. But there's so much more. That two-sentence summary leaves out the years of struggle and preparation. It leaves out their incredible family and the time they spent studying. The world may have changed on that December day, but their part of the performance was being performed long before the world ever took notice.
Not all of us are called to be major characters in the great story of history. Some of us are cast in supporting roles that make the grand successes possible. In the case of the Wright brothers, they had several amazing people in supporting roles. First, their parents were incredible. Their dad, a minister in the United Brethren Church, taught them to think, debate, and encouraged them to read on a variety of subjects. Their mother, a wagon maker's daughter taught them mechanical skills and building techniques. Their father inspired their imaginations with a toy propeller and the boys' thirst for knowledge was developed by family discussions in the parlor. Hard work and perseverance were a major component of their success as well. They suffered through brutal nights in the Outer Banks and had to puzzle through complicated calculations. After years of struggle they succeeded, but they didn't stop. After December 17, 1903, they continued to study and improve their designs and defend their patents.
Recognizing supporting roles is important because being a secondary character takes humility and a willingness to remain in the shadows. We can't all be great, but we can all help others in their drive to become great. This doesn't mean we get squashed or deserve to be treated with scorn. Mattering to someone or something is a part of a basic human desire that some of us feel so very strongly it hurts. But not all our roles will be recognized. A doctor that saves someone's life may not be known to history at large, but he mattered deeply to that person. Any maybe that person or a decedent of theirs will go on to greatness. Reaching for greatness should never require you pushing others down. Reaching for greatness should always include pulling up those under you and pushing forward those above you.
Recently, I read a book about the periodic table. (#nerdlife) The author describes Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic table, as a gifted scientist, and explains that without his mother he would be completely unknown. Mendeleev was the youngest of 17 children and at the age of 15, his mother crossed Siberia on horseback to take him to Moscow to get him into the university there. After traveling around 1,200 miles the university said, "No," to accepting young Dmitri. Undeterred., Mrs. Mendeleev told her son, "Get back on the horse!" and they traveled another 400 miles to St. Petersburg where he was finally accepted. She died shortly after he was accepted into the university. Her journey cost her her life, but without her sacrifice, Dmitri Mendeleev would have died in obscurity in eastern Russia. (This makes me feel pathetic when I think about how much I whine about driving Logan around to his activities.)
I want to pull back here and make it clear that I'm not advocating mothers or fathers kill themselves providing wonderful lives for their children. This is far from what we need. Your children need to see you having a fulfilling spiritual, social, and intellectual life. But having a supporting role means that you are willing to push those around you ahead not to leave yourself trampled, but as a way to contribute to the world at large. Teachers get this. This is what they do. They work crazy hard and maybe someday one of the students they influenced will become president, or cure cancer, or become a teacher and continue the circle.
As I close this post, I don't want anyone to feel discouraged about being in the shadows. If you feel God asking you to step toward leadership or do big things, that is wonderful. But true leaders, as exemplified by Jesus Himself, are also willing to serve and remain humble. Do what is right and don't worry about grabbing for glory. Leave that to God.
The Wright brothers are fascinating to study, but their family is equally intriguing. David McCullough's book on them is good, but if you are looking for a wonderful quick read, I would highly recommend The Wright Words by Kirk Haas. Kirk is my favorite presenter at the Henry Ford. (Yes, I am a big enough nerd to have a favorite presenter at a museum.) In his book he tells stories about the Wright family and how the boys became to be the innovators they are remembered as. I may have cried. It is only about 60 pages so it is a quick read. By purchasing and reading you are also supporting a local author. Go Michigan!
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."