Posts tagged " education "

Too Sophisticated for Scandal

May 10th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.

When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.

What does this have to do with the recent French election?

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Should we homeschool?

June 2nd, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

Question:

“How do you feel about home schooling? My wife and I are thinking of doing this to finish educating our two daughters who are now in 4th and 6th grades.”

∼ Heath N.

Answer:

Dear Heath,

This question is like telling the late Steve Jobs that you are thinking of switching from Microsoft to Apple and asking what he thinks about that. In total, we homeschooled for about sixteen years. One of our children was home for only one year, most spent some time in high school and for some, college was their first entry into the organized educational system.

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Stop Waiting for Superman

March 1st, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

What will it take to turn lower income parents into single issue voters? In his book, Leave us Alone, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, suggests that while the average voter cares about a number of topics, for many of us, one concern dominates. Politicians, both on the right and the left, may line up on many issues, but you do occasionally see an independent streak. When that happens the logical thing would be for people to say, “Well, I disagree with Candidate X in one area, but agree with him on nine others. He has my vote.” That isn’t always how it works. Frequently there is a ‘deal breaker’. There are those who will never vote for a politician who supports abortion rights, no matter if that person shares their views on gun control and taxation. Other voters will punish a legislator who opposes gay marriage, even though her thoughts on every other topic align with their own. Few of us feel that way about obscure regulation. Generally, there are limited hot button issues which decide us one way or another. These are also the matters that get us to speak to our neighbors, write letters to the editor and even show up for demonstrations.

I was thinking of this as I was brought to tears by Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman. The film draws you into the lives of a few children, showing how the teachers’ unions and educational bureaucracy cruelly condemn children to failure. We meet parents sacrificing and struggling to get their children a good education, and cringe as they are thwarted by ‘the system’. Towards the end of the film, we observe auditoriums filled with families holding their breath to see if they win a lottery – not one that will pay out with cash, but rather one that pays out hope. Will or won’t their children be picked to fill the limited number of places available in a charter school?

Watching the documentary, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if these parents and the thousands like them who want the opportunity to choose their children’s school, recognized the political clout they have.  What would happen if they and their allies told each and every politician running for office, “Before you get my vote I need a solemn, public commitment that you will support any and every bill to expand charter schools and resist any and every effort to regulate, constrict or limit them. I don’t want to hear speeches about your vote or explanations or hemming and hawing. I simply want your promise and I will hold you to that commitment.” If these same parents and those who support them were vocal about school choice being their one defining issue and voted in that manner, I think they could achieve what years of tears and prayers have not. The teachers’ unions may control politicians through monetary clout, but I do believe that passionate parents can overcome that edge if they realized, believed in, and actualized their own power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Howgwash – originally posted on Nov. 18, 2009

February 20th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

One of the guidelines at our Shabbat table is the “one conversation” rule. Unlike a dinner party where the polite thing is to converse with the person on one’s left and right ( I confess that my notion of dinner party protocol may be shaped by novels written in the 19th century), we want everyone at the table involved in one discussion. To that end, we try to gather a congenial group and to raise issues of general interest.

Well, every rule has an exception. I can think of more than one occasion when our close friends Liz and Brian were over and the conversation turned to some principle of physics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Brian is a brilliant physicist. His wife, Liz, might never have studied physics had she not married him, but in order to share more fully in his life, she has become quite a student of physics herself. My husband has a physics background and our son, Ari, majored in that subject in college.

I can think of a few times that I, along with some of the other guests, were totally befuddled by the conversation this group started. While we all have perfectly respectable I.Q.’s and can speak intelligently on many subjects, when the physics talk began it left us behind. Despite that fact that we couldn’t all participate in, let alone understand, the topic under discussion, it was fascinating to listen to the exchange of ideas.

In contrast to this, I remember one meal when we had three visitors whose words made absolutely no sense to me. Since they were all bright individuals, my first thought was that the conversation was over my head. After listening for a while longer I concluded that it wasn’t a lack of understanding on my part, but rather that our guests were spouting nonsense, influenced by a seminar they had just attended.

I felt the same way when I read a recent interview with the actor Woody Harrelson. He was asked how he felt working on a film that had army support, considering the fact that he was against the Iraq war. His response included these words,

“It was a good experience for me because it’s one thing to consider yourself pro-peace, like I consider myself…”

Excuse me. What exactly does it mean to be “pro-peace”? There are valid and cogent reasons to either support or oppose specific military actions. Good people who articulate arguments on both sides are “pro-peace;” they differ on how best to achieve it.

One of the steps on my road to homeschooling was listening to my daughter’s third grade teacher expound on how SSR would be a vital part of the classroom experience. SSR? I found out that stood for “sustained silent reading,” or in simple language – reading quietly to oneself. Considering that my daughter and her classmates would happily read from morning till night and turning reading into a time-limited, mandated school subject could only diminish the pleasure they got from books, I decided that in this case labeling reading SSR was an attempt to make an everyday activity sound complicated and in need of professional supervision.

Similarly, depending on my mood, I either laugh or cringe when I see an area labeled a “gun free zone.” It would be more honest to label the location a “law abiding citizen gun free zone”. Fantasy play may be valuable for toddlers, but it is dangerous for adults.

I love having Brian and Liz over and I am perfectly happy to be exposed to differing points of view. Unfortunately, our public discourse is filled less with people explaining cogent views to others and more with senseless babble designed to squash intelligent discourse. Words are too often used for propaganda purposes rather than enlightenment, to obfuscate rather than illuminate. In our years of homeschooling we provided our children with many hours of SSR. We also devoted many hours to twaddle detection, hopefully ensuring that they will be able to evaluate what they read and hear.

 

 

More Fireflies; Fewer Computers- Originally posted Feb. 19, 2009

January 23rd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

One Shabbat, when our five older children ranged in age from five to ten, we had the privilege of hosting a prominent business leader for Friday night dinner. As table conversation extended the meal, our children asked to be excused and promptly curled up or splayed out on living room couches with lots of reading material.

Our guest, who had long-ago emigrated from Jamaica to the States, looked wistfully at the children, each one engrossed in a book. He recalled how he grew up in intense poverty in a shack without electricity on the hills above Kingston.  Every night, his mother made the rounds of bars and lounges collecting stubs of candles. When her supply of candles was low she would take a jar and collect fireflies. All this effort, after a back breaking day of work, was that so he could study, become educated and aim for a better life than she had.

Her efforts paid off magnificently. Her faith in him and in education stayed at his side as he came to America, dedicated himself to his studies and then to diligent work. But his wistful expression while looking at our children wasn’t due to nostalgia or any tinge of resentment that our children’s path was so easy compared to his. He commented, in an incredibly sad and slightly angry tone, how heartsick it made him to see children in his community who had access to free libraries and schooling, wastefully scorn those opportunities.  I still remember his exact words—“Your people’s children read books while ours snap their fingers to obscene lyrics.”

This story came to mind as I read about the vast sums of money the “stimulus plan” will allocate to education. In the years that have passed since that night, the fascination with obscene lyrics has spread to all communities, and the feeling that education is a legal right rather than an incredible privilege has spread as well. I certainly wouldn’t suggest spending taxpayer money for firefly collection. But if we could manage to convey, to both parents and teachers, some of this gentleman’s mother’s passion for education, a reverence she shared with Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother and thousands of other poverty stricken and immigrant parents, we would be further along the path to producing successful future generations than any amount of technology or infrastructure improvement could possibly grant us.

 

 

Remember the Titanic – originally posted May 28, 2009

January 16th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Have you noticed that among the obituaries that newspapers publish of famous or influential people, ordinary folk also get mentioned if they were the last of their kind? So, we were informed when the last Civil War soldier’s widow passed away a few years ago as we will hear when the last survivor of the Titanic dies. Note is taken of regular people who through a quirk of fate become our last link with an extraordinary time or event.

Now the above mentioned widow, Maudie Celia Hopkins, had no recollections of the Civil War; she was the nineteen year old bride of an eighty-six year old veteran. The sole survivor of the Titanic doesn’t have any first hand remembrances to share; she was nine weeks old when the ship went down. Yet, for some reason, their physical presence in the world matters.

I am surely not the only parent shocked when something that I have vivid recollections about, such as the Kennedy assassination, lives in my children’s mind only as history. While the day that President Reagan was shot is etched in my memory since it coincided with going into labor with my eldest child, I can’t reasonably expect her, let alone her younger siblings, to recall that day.

Our educational system has a tendency to suck the oxygen out of vibrant, multi-faceted events that impacted millions of lives, instead, presenting them in history books as dull, insipid lists of names and dates. In a relatively recent attempt to liven the subject up, textbooks sometimes highlight one individual or group, but the bottom line is that human history is so complex and intertwined that the simple fact of putting it down on a finite amount of paper automatically limits and distorts it.

Could our fascination with those who were even somewhat tied to a historical event be an acknowledgment that history is not an academic subject but the building block of our lives today? Do we clutch at those connected to the past in a vain attempt to realize that the impact of the past flows unceasingly into the future? Does knowledge of the Civil War veteran’s widow’s death make us realize that we are not as distant or as immune as we would like to believe from the type of cataclysmic upheaval that overturned the lives of Americans in the 19th century? If our absorption with otherwise obscure individuals serves these purposes, that indeed makes it worthwhile.

 

 

How Dare You!

January 19th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

This past week my daughter brought her homeschooled six year old son in for his state-required annual evaluation. Now, Emily (name changed upon request) may have her own family and business and present herself to the outside world as the competent adult she is, but she is still one of my babies. This is to say that the possibility exists that I might not be totally objective when a bureaucrat assaults her.

But to my mind, when an arrogant, rude, officious, taxpayer funded “expert” evaluator has the gall to suggest that Emily is anything less than a supremely competent and talented mother and teacher, that official is saying more about herself than about my daughter.

I don’t expect this pen-pusher to be familiar with Emily’s high school record, or know that she attended college on a complete academic scholarship. She has no way of appreciating that while in college majoring in biology, the administration implored Emily to enroll simultaneously in the School of Education and get a teacher’s license. Obviously, she isn’t aware that after attending a few education classes Emily felt that the standards for the courses were so appallingly low and the ideology level so high that it would be a waste of her time to enroll.

It is also unrealistic to expect this administrator to know that while a full time student in college, Emily simultaneously taught geography in a private junior high school and was called in by a puzzled principal who told her that in all the years that he regularly asked students what classes they especially enjoy, he had never before had anyone, let alone a majority, answer “geography”. Nor was this taxpayer-funded woman present six years later when some of the girls from that class ended up on a bus with Emily’s younger sister and proceeded to sing the songs Emily had taught them naming all the countries of Africa and Asia.

The official had no way of knowing any of those things. But she did see a six year old reading, writing and doing math at an advanced level for his age. She ignored those things and instead berated my daughter for not having dated worksheets and reams of tests.

She observed a child excited and enthusiastic about history. That was unimportant. She scolded my daughter for having a method of instruction that didn’t correlate with the authorized forms she was meticulously filling in. She faced a youngster who reads and writes a second language in addition to English. First graders aren’t supposed to do that, so it was immaterial. Similarly, my grandson’s fascination with and knowledge about airplanes and his understanding of the processes by which plants and vegetables grow was irrelevant; all that mattered was the lack of “official” science curricula.

All of which helps explain why large swathes of public education are a mess. There is no doubt in my mind that the children in the state in which Emily lives would benefit more from having Emily coach and evaluate their teachers rather than being evaluated herself. Quite frankly, I think any unbiased outside observer would agree.

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