Saturday, November 23, 2013

Other People's Projects Look So Much Better than Mine

Sometimes I think it'd be fun to be one of those blogs that feature beautiful projects moms do with their kids. Like here's "An Autumn nature exploration table" from the imagination tree:

and here's one from pre-school play: 

and here's what happened when I did one with Wally:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Phone Call Throwback

I find it so hard to answer the phone. I'm guessing a lot of people do because so few people ever answer theirs. Usually I know I won't be able to talk. Petra will be whining or Wally will be asking for his hat or water or tape. Something will be about to burn on the stove. The electrician will be ringing the door bell. I'll be late for something (many things). Alex will be showing me his soccer injury and asking where I put the Icy Hot. Or if those things aren't pulling me, if I'm actually able to work for a few minutes straight, then I have to do that. So why answer the phone only to tell the person sorry can't talk now. Or if it's someone you haven't spoken to in a long time and major life events have taken place since you last talked then you definitely can't answer with sorry I can't talk right now. But not answering sets off a whole irritating back and forth of voicemails and phone tags and losing the urgency of what you were going to say then when you do "catch up" it just feels like a rote thing.

But last night walking home in the evening with Wally near his bedtime I had had a glass of wine so things were a little blurrier and the night felt more open and when my phone rang I answered it. I just answered it. It felt almost like a rebellious act. 

I thought it was my friend Morning calling but it was her daughter conducting a survey for school. She asked in an incredibly grown up way what dish I was most looking forward to for Thanksgiving and I told her stuffing of course remembering my nieces conducting this same survey a few years back and giving the same answer. She thanked me most politely and Morning shouted from the background that we'd talk another time and that was it. We said goodbye. I was so glad I hadn't let it go to voicemail like I normally would have. So happy for the glass of wine and the anything is possible feeling you can't help but have walking home at night in New York. 

Today Morning wrote to thank me and a few others for participating. I told her how much I liked it, how something about it was so old-fashioned and part of what she wrote back was this: "I ended up loving it. At first it was a little onerous, particularly when nobody answered and I was worried about getting the assignment done, and then you answered and laughed and it was beautiful to hear this little girl calling an adult and then to hear the adult laugh. It was like a lost time. And there is something so wonderful about hearing people's voices that can't be replaced by social media..." 

I suppose years ago the slow living community might have viewed the phone call as too fast a mode of communication, preferring letters or at least a message sent along on a galloping horse. And it's true it interrupts the moment. But now the answered phone call without the default "I gotta call you back" feels like a throwback to a slower time. How charmingly vintage, for a child to call someone up and ask a question. And to have them answer. To hang up and be done. Without the voicemail or promise to call back there is no further obligation. It is not one more thing on the To Do list, weighing you down, demanding attention. It feels like living in real time.

As it turns out we did go on to discuss the phone call via email. And now I'm writing about it here, on a blog. So the experience had been mediated through various forms of social media. The charmingly simple phone call can't just be what it is. But already at the time it felt like more than it was. Because we so often don't expect a real connection now, and when it happens, it gives us pause. And LOL or a smiley face or "Ha!" are just terrible substitutes for someone laughing. Reading an email dictated by a kindergartener to a parent is just so not the same as hearing a five-year-old talk. 

How Morning described it, that's exactly how it felt, like a lost time. A Relic. (Ignore the fact that I answered a cell phone mid-walk. For the story to fully satisfy its metaphorical castings it should have been a landline.) If I had gotten the message and called Morning's daughter back in time for her assignment maybe that would have worked too but what elevated the moment was the fact that she called me and reached me, the girl in her pajamas in her living room, that her mom--my friend Morning--heard me laugh, that here in New York I heard the fleeting five-year-old voice of a little girl in Virginia.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Still puzzling over the Common Core standards, the long, academically rigorous day for kindergarteners. I've heard parents say their kids enjoy it. Wally himself does seem to enjoy long hours at the desk with a reading buddy or in writer's workshop or math centers, but kids also enjoy ice cream for dinner, that doesn't mean it's what's best for them. Adults are supposed to decide what's best, and early educators know this is not it. Came across a letter sent to Catholic Bishops from a group of Catholic college professors. The excerpt below is worth reading. It focuses on one disadvantage of the Common Core in particular - the move away from traditional narrative texts to more informational texts. I don't have time or I guess really the will to write about this now - but I wanted to make sure to pass this on.

"Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. The heart of its philosophy is, as far as we can see, that it is a waste of resources to 'over-educate' people. The basic goal of K-12 schools is to provide everyone with a modest skill set; after that, people can specialize in college – if they end up there. Truck-drivers do not need to know Huck Finn. Physicians have no use for the humanities. Only those destined to major in literature need to worry about Ulysses.

Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lost to do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it. Everyone bears the responsibility of growing in wisdom and grace and in deliberating with fellow-citizens about how we should all live together. A sound education helps each of us to do so.

The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of “informational texts.” This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform 'literacy' into a 'critical' skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.

Professor Stotsky was the chief architect of the universally-praised Massachusetts English language arts standards, which contributed greatly to that state’s educational success. She describes Common Core as an incubator of 'empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.' Rather than explore the creativity of man, the great lessons of life, tragedy, love, good and evil, the rich textures of history that underlie great works of fiction, and the tales of self-sacrifice and mercy in the works of the great writers that have shaped our cultural literacy over the centuries, Common Core reduces reading to a servile activity.

Professor Anthony Esolen, now at Providence College, has taught literature and poetry to college students for two decades. He provided testimony to a South Carolina legislative committee on the Common Core, lamenting its 'cavalier contempt for great works of human art and thought, in literary form.' He further declared: “We are not programming machines. We are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory-like. We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women.”