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.
This post was suggested by Logan. I'm always talking about Friends Group, but have yet to write about this amazing group of people so here it goes.
Our church, Five Points Community Church in Auburn Hills, hosts a Wednesday night special needs ministry called Friends Group. The group has been around for decades, but I have only been attending Friends for the past two years. From what I understand many of the friends started attending as children and continue to come as adults.
I asked to be a part of the group to push myself outside my current comfort zone and to connect with others at church. Before joining I would walk by and hear them singing, "This Little Light of Mine," "Jesus Loves Me," and "The B-I-B-L-E." I love singing those songs with the children's church! They were also always clapping and cheering too. It seemed the group was always having so much fun and I wanted in.
As soon as I got there I noticed a few things. These friends LOVE Jesus. If we don't talk about Him right away they might get upset. These friends say, "I love you," freely and with absolute honesty to each other unless someone is upsetting them. Then they will say, "STOP! I don't like that." They are all a bit different, but aren't we all? They don't care how different you are you will be embraced. Never met you? That's okay. They will still greet you and maybe even invite you to their birthday party. I can't help but wish more people were so inclusive. They can sing "Amazing Grace" like nobody's business. Seriously, they belt it out and while they are singing, I can't help but tear up at their sincerity. They ask questions when they don't know the answer to something and don't feel embarrassed. A favorite memory was seeing a man with special needs standing outside the bathrooms looking a bit frantic. When he saw me he asked, "What do I do? I know I'm not a woman, but I'm not sure if I'm a man. I'm a boy. Where do I go?" I assured him him was safe to use the men's restroom and he went in.
Since first joining the group, I've had the privilege of leading singing and teaching the lesson a few times. The lessons are simple, but it reminds me that we have a simple faith. Yes, one can spend their entire life studying scripture and learning about God, but it comes down to believing, trusting, and following God. I'm constantly challenged by their pure love for Christ and the excitement they bring to learning. And their prayer requests! Each night we ask the friends what they want to pray about and many list not only family and friends, but first responders, soldiers, government officials, and others. Because they have to depend upon others to care for them, they don't struggle with the concept that they must depend upon God. They need help and know it.
So often our culture celebrates those with differences but sometimes this group of the most amazing people ever gets looked over because they are different in a different way. Disabled. Sometimes those differences are scary or leave us feeling uncomfortable. Individuals with special needs are unique and wonderfully made. I believe that God is good and that He is in control. How I treat those with special needs around me is a reflection of that. Do your actions toward those around you reflect your beliefs about God?
If your church has a special needs ministry I would encourage you to get involved however you can. Start by praying for the group and greeting them with a friendly greeting. Listen to them and minister in any way that you can to their care givers. If your church doesn't have a special needs group, maybe you should ask why and look for needs around you. If you live in Southeast Michigan you can help by supporting Dutton Farms where my friend, Kevin (pictured below) works. Tonight he was sporting two medals he earned at the Special Olympics. Dutton Farms is an organization committed to helping adults with disabilities by advocating on their behalf, educating individuals and helping them find their strengths, and helping them find meaningful employment. They are hosting an open house June 20, 2019. Come out and show your support! They sell handmade soaps, candles, bug spray, and much more.
So these are my friends. If you don't have friends who love you and love Jesus like this you should definitely get some!
The video below tells a little more about Dutton Farm and at the end features an interview with one of my favorite friends, Jimmy. He loves his job, but more importantly he loves the opportunity to contribute to society and earn wages in return.
Last week in my post about summer break, I emphasized that school does not have a monopoly on learning. Summer can be all about the best kind of learning. The kind of learning that expands the mind. The kind of learning that leads to interesting places and people. The kind of learning I hope Logan will continue with for the rest of his life.
There are two parts of our summer bucket list this year. I want to visit some interesting places and try some fun things with Logan, but I also want to work organizing some areas in the house, improving math skills, and strengthening language skills. When considering academic work over summer break, I like to think of it as bonus time. We had too much homework for me to add on more during the school year so summer is the perfect time to learn a few things that will help with next year. I also want to play some fun games that teach as we play such as the periodic table battleship and the Pringles ring.
The second part of the list is all about the go. I'm currently obsessed with my National Park Passport book and I want to collect several stamps available in our area. Detroit is part of the Motor Cities National Historic Area so several museums offer the National Park Passport stamp. On the list below, the areas with the available stamp have the green letters next to them identifying what they are. (Key below). Will we make it to all these places? Absolutely not, but we will have fun trying and often we get to them during days off school and weekends.
Without further ado, here is the Gies 2019 Summer Bucket List.
Visit Niagara Falls
Visit Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS
Take piano lessons
Visit Whiting Forest
Clean out guest room closet
Visit River Raisin NBP
Study Men and Women in the Word with She/He Reads Truth
Learn about the law of diminishing returns with ice cream
Visit Cranbrook Gardens
Go to a baseball game
Host a class party
Day camp at the Henry Ford
Visit Stahls Automotive Foundation NHA
Ride bikes to downtown Rochester
Family game night
Visit the Edsel Ford House and Gardens NHA
Play the license plate game
Visit Cambridge Junction Historic State Park NHA
Build an egg drop
Visit the Detroit Zoo
Read and complete Big Life Journal
Visit the Toledo Zoo with Fougeres
Family movie night
Memorize the definitions for the parts of speech
Visit Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes NL
Jackson Pollock Painting
Visit Yankee Air Museum NHA
Play periodic table battleship
Visit the GM Renaissance Center NHA
Build a LEGO fortress
Visit Meadowbrook Hall NHA
Visit Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society NHA
Make a Pringles Ring
Plant giant sunflowers
Read a biography of Bob Ross
Finish London puzzle
Visit the Detroit Historical Museum NHA
Finish toy puzzle
Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts NHA
Memorize times tables
Read Treasure Island
We're ready to grow and go!
NHA - National Historic Area, NBP - National Battlefield Park, NHS - National Historic Site, NL - National Lakeshore
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.
If you have spent any time with me in the past six months, you will have heard me utter these words (teacher appreciation) at least 410,713 times. #sorrynotsorry I may have already told you this about me, but for the sake of clarification, I should explain that I am the head of my son's school's PTO. It's also the school I graduated from as well as the school I taught at. So I particularly enjoy serving in this capacity because it's exciting to serve the staff, some of whom were my teachers, those whom I attended to school with, and even those whom I taught.
This coming week (May 6-10) is national Teacher Appreciation Week and I want to explain what this week is all about. I served as a teacher of various subjects and ages for twelve years. Those years were some of the most rewarding yet exhausting of my entire life. Teaching isn't something I went into for the money or career potential. Teaching is a calling that I, along with many men and women find rewarding. Watching students experience that "ah ha" moment was the most exciting part of my job. I would spend countless nights creating lesson plans, buying supplies, and crafting a classroom dynamic which would all seem worth it when a student went, "Oh! I get it! That's so cool!"
Many teachers love their jobs and the "ah ha" moments are special, but all that work can lead to burn out. We are seeing significant burnout, particularly among new teachers. According to a 2014 study, 41% of teachers leave the profession after the first five years. Corporations run on billion dollar budgets while schools bicker over petty cash. In one preschool I worked in I had to defend my crayon usage to the director because of cost savings. Read that again. I had to defend my crayon usage. For three-year-olds. Who liked to color. Many teachers get tired of this nonsense and leave. Others can't provide for themselves on the salary offered due to student loans (all those increased needs for certification cost tens of thousands of dollars) and cost of living increases.
Also, teachers purchase many of their classroom supplies. Look around your child's classroom. Chances are that the posters hanging all over the walls, the fun, and fancy post-it-notes the students receive notes on, the colored dry-erase markers to help explain concepts, and the books in their classroom library have all been purchased by their teacher. The average spends $500 per year on school supplies.
Okay, those last couple of paragraphs were bleak. I apologize, but you must know the group you are talking about when I am making a case for really demonstrating appreciation. So how can you help? You can't fix the educational system by yourself, but you can help by celebrating the teachers around you. Search for "teacher appreciation ideas" on Pinterest and you will be overwhelmed with suggestions. Each teacher is different, but I would like to offer a few suggestions from a teacher's perspective on how to demonstrate thankfulness for your child's teachers. The following are some suggestions for things to do or gifts to give to teachers:
Lately, I’ve been trying to define some goals and gain some focus. I'm living digital, but there must be more. As I’ve said before defining my interests has always been a struggle, but nevertheless, I’m trying. I still want to explore other topics, but why? Why is bouncing all around and being random so prevalent in my life? The more I think about it the more one word comes to mind. Experience.
I love to experience things AND I savor opportunities to engage others in new experiences.
Experience is crucial to understanding. This is true of everything. How can someone understand the need for kindness? By experiencing kindness. How can someone understand the delicious flavors and sensations of a home cooked meal? By eating a home cooked meal. How can someone appreciate the joy of receiving a letter in the mail? By receiving a letter in the mail.
Imagine this: You want a friend to visit your favorite restaurant with you. Which of the following activities would most likely get them to understand and appreciate your love for the restaurant?
Understandably, it would be difficult for our kids to experience everything they learn about in the classroom during school hours. Complications would be numerous and be challenging to overcome. My experience in the classroom tells me that this isn’t a practical expectation for teachers or administrators to organize.
Proving children with experience cannot be one more thing thrust upon the classroom teacher to complete. Students need to spend time outside with their friends, with their families, and with their community. Visit an area museum, walk through a forest, tour a city. Many of these activities are free and require only small amounts of preparation but pay off in the opening of the child’s world with experiences that add value and depth of understanding.
As I walk through schools, stores, and restaurants, I cringe to see the large numbers of children hovering over their cell phones or iPad with their heads down looking into a screen. I worry that their worlds are shrinking. Experts tell us that being able to look up anything on the internet makes us less likely to do so. What’s that capital of Turkey? Who cares? I can look it up when I need to. (Read: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains) That intellectual procrastination inhibits the curiosity that would stimulate the brain with the knowledge that Istanbul is a fascinating city with a intriguing history that would totally be worth looking up and remembering.
Why are we so willing to allow our children to become absorbed in screens? They are safe. They are quiet. They are under control. I hear you. When we are out to dinner it is very easy to hand over a screen to quiet the child with me. They become absorbed in a game or video and I can enjoy my meal and time with friends. I get it. Sometimes it can be necessary, but we take advantage of it.
Walks through the forest are messy. A virtual exploration of a Minecraft world is clean and tidy and leaves me with zero extra laundry. Trips to museums take time away from my time to work, clean, and relax. A day spent watching TV leaves me plenty of time to get my stuff done.
So what am I saying? Live in some screen free world and exhaust yourself entertaining your kids? NO!!! We need to live a life of intention that allows time for enriching activities.
Find a forest and explore. You don’t need to know what to look for. Just play. Dig. Look for bugs. Listen for birds. Then go home. Later, when their teacher is trying to teach them about a forest ecosystem they will hook the information onto their previous experiences and grasp the material that much easier. Go to a museum. Find a free one so you don’t feel compelled to get your money’s worth. Ask questions. Use your imagination. Laugh at something if it looks silly. Later, those experiences will provide a framework for your child's teachers to build upon and develop.
This link will connect you with places I’ve visited and recommend. If you have any questions or would like more information on something please comment below. Let’s enrich our lives and the lives of those around us with experiences that provide depth and meaning.
If you enjoyed this post, please "like" it and consider subscribing to my blog. You can read my post about collecting experiences here.
Yes, okay. It is very unprofessional and definitely not grammatically correct to use all those exclamation points but this is a whole month dedicated to reading. A whole month! Dedicated to reading and books!!!! That deserves the use of gratuitous exclamation points if ever anything did. Every March, reading month is celebrated in schools across the country. Why March? Well, it's because Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904, and he made significant strides in encouraging children to read. If you want to know more about his contributions I would recommend Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan.
Anyway, schools across America will be doing all kinds of different reading programs to encourage reading among the students. Being a dedicated reader, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. When I was a first year English teacher I required the reading of the text book and possibly one outside book, but other nothing in addition. I was often asked by parents, "How can I get my child to read?" As my teaching progressed and I grew as a teacher, reader, and learner, I discovered that motivating others to read was more about leading by example than finding clever external motivations. Here are some things I learned along the way and have helped me grow reading programs and encourage life long learners.
Never stop learning, Friends!
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."