Sunday, August 31, 2008

Death of a Loved One Day 115

Lists of reasons to not write are long, most of them written by people on deadline. This past week, in order to avoid doing my work (writing) I cleaned out folders on my computer and finally (this is really digging deep) the supply closet in my office. Stuck in here and there among the dusty old floppy discs and transparencies were pictures of Stephie, pictures hastily filed in the closet when new ones arrived. There was always an endless supply. I didn't intend to invest hours grieving this week. I intended to work. Pictures are loose boards on the bridge of intentions.

Cleaning up computer files is less dusty work. Move. Delete. Make New Folder. Delete. Delete. That's the easy part. The time consuming part is looking through the pictures. It's like trying to walk holding hands with a toddler -- you want to go one way but you're getting tugged in a million directions. What I relish in these family photos are the smiles, the open eyed, pure happy, sometimes toothless, sometimes covered in frosting, smiles.

A friend wrote a bit ago to express belated condolences and I told him the problem with losing a child in the family is that we love them with such reckless abandon, holding nothing back. Kissing their toes, sniffing their necks while we hug them until they almost pop. (Exactly the same parent/grandparent behavior that drives kids crazy). An investment that is guaranteed not to bottom out.

Until one day, the missing board. The water rushing beneath. The sharp intake of breath as you catch yourself and try to not fall into that hole. And you remind yourself that others have suffered worse losses, whole families have been sucked into nothingness. You remind yourself of all that is good and hang onto the railing, stepping very carefully.

Our family photos taken this past summer still show us smiling for the camera -- at the pool, at the birthday party. But something has seriously changed about everyone's eyes. Each and every pair of them. Less giddy. More watchful.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Teacher's Life

Mrs. Henderson, my sixth grade teacher, had sensible lace up heels, salt-n-pepper hair and permanently embedded chalk in her torn and ragged cuticles. I remember studying them when I would be summoned to her confused desk for a conference. We repeatedly conferred about how messy my desk was, we didn't do any writing to confer about. It was the height of the baby boom and she had 35 of us at Berkley Elementary School; Mrs. Henderson stuck to worksheets. The school is gone now, replaced by a parking lot for the high school. Along with the building went the worksheets, the ditto machine and (in all probability) Mrs. Henderson. RIP

I wonder what she did for peer support? Surely she didn't turn to Sherk the Jerk, (the fifth grade teacher). I can't imagine Sherk being any more supportive to her peers than she was to us. Zero.

I wonder if she could have even imagined a world in which she could pop in ear buds and get professionally juiced through a podcast? How about an international Teacher Life nation? She probably only had one electrical outlet in the room so she could occasionally use the film strip machine -- how could she have even have dreamed of what Bobby Norman, (second grade teacher, AZ) is so skillfully putting together?

Follow these links to some really cool teacher connections!
The Teacher's Life Blog
The Teacher's Life Nation

Sign up for new podcasts.

Now, look at all the kids in your classroom as the school year begins and try to imagine the communities and communication systems they are likely to create after -- after -- well, you know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Educational TV

“Kids just don’t know how to work,” I hear my friends complain. They have no desire to learn nor do many of them have the desire to do much of anything beyond staring at some kind of screen, complain the teachers.

The first teacher professional book I ever read was The Disappearance of Childhood by Neal Postman where the author points out that prior to television, adults were the storehouses of knowledge and (hopefully) at least a little wisdom. Responsible adults would pass this learning along to children at the appropriate time and childhood was one long apprenticeship to adulthood. How to use a chain saw, fire a weapon, cook a goose, lessons were given on a need to know basis, complete with new words and real reasons to learn. Life and death issues taught as they came up.

Such was the way of learning throughout the ages, Postman pointed out, right up to the advent of the television. Some might argue that it really started with the Little Rascals, but I suspect those shows were not created just to entertain kids, and were certainly not developed to be a vehicle for selling products to kids. That came later.

Of course words, reading, and books factored into the learning process. But this type of learning was also scaffolded in accordance with the maturity of the kid, the difficulty of the text precluding most second graders from mastery of quantum physics at the corner library even IF (big if) the librarian let would allow the kid into the adult section.

So, along came television, effectively changing the direction of the knowledge stream. And within a couple of generations of sitcoms, Roseanne, Archie Bunker, and Maude came along to replace I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best as broadcast parents who dispensed knowledge with no deference to the viewer’s age or need to know. While parents were working somewhere out of the sights of their kids, kids took to learning on their own from fake parents first, and then simply from each other.

At some point, Madison Avenue went from being in the business of selling during breaks in the television shows to driving the programming for children. Can’t you just see the lightbulb going on over the pink power tie of some ad exec after a focus group for Sugar Pops.

PING! Kids don’t like parents around. Let’s take the parents out of these programs – kids will like the shows more and we can sell more cereal.

Bingo. The advent of the Disney channel, one of the most successful sales vehicles to traverse our screens. In shows such as The Suite Life and Hannah Montana, knowledge is imparted by peers. The vocabulary is limited, the topics narrow. Work is never modeled and viewers are never asked to stretch beyond what they already know.

Responsible parents restrict their children to this kind of programming thinking they are doing a good thing by not letting kids learn how to party hearty with a beer bong on MTV or commit a sex crime ala CSI.

But is it a good thing? Really? When the only adult role models students see in their fictional TV literature are ineffectual, plainly idiotic, or absent entirely, why are we surprised when our real life kids give us no respect? From three to six hours per day, PER DAY, kids are being schooled that adults are dumb and it is their peers who have all the smarts. The days and plots of their lives revolve around avoiding any interaction with adults.

I have this discussion with my daughters all the time. I know they think I’m annoying (and I probably am) complaining about the Disney channel, but there is something about my grandkids watching this programming that makes my teeth itch. The way they depict young women? The shallow values? The insular lives that rarely venture outdoors? This type of learning can never replace what adults can impart to kids.

It can be argued that television has replaced teachers and parents as the greatest educator, but even with the shows featuring murders and Springerized paternity tests blocked, what is most children’s programming really teaching kids except that adults are simply the straight guys and the joke is always on them?

Oh, I know the response – what the heck. That’s just the way it is. Yeah, it is. But up until about the last 30-50 years, guess what? That wasn’t the way it was. Kids actually learned from adults.

Am I getting old and cranky or what?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Obsession

I love the Olympics. Particularly the summer games. I hear that music and it is like a trumpet call to make popcorn, sit down and go "WOW." The training. The years. The hours. The sports I never heard of. A handful of contenders in their forties! One might think it would be a call to go out and get it in gear to soar to great heights at record-breaking speeds on my own.

One might.


As the athletes discipline themselves, so do I. My discipline involves not letting myself watch during the daytime hours. So far, I'm reaching for the gold in that category. I've actually been focused on a revision of a novel, maybe not with the intensity of Phelps in the butterfly, but pretty intense.

Marge Piercy says to become a writer, you have to like it more than being loved. I have never had the desire to push it that far, but I suspect the Olympic athletes face similar choices. Such is the intensity of their commitment. I don't think I made anyone not love me this week, but I might have been teetering on the edge. So, Wednesday we took off to take Scottie to the county fair where he was very impressed by the chickens and corn dogs and not so impressed by the smell of manure.

After the fair, we made a bee line to Michael's parent's pool to wash off the ambiance of pigs in pens, where Scottie and his step-cousin Edison practiced synchronized diving. Even without seeing their faces, any spectator can see they are loving it. So, how many more dives before they get this down?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Five Hours

Three days in Albany at a Writing Conference for teachers -- a wonderful opportunity to share ideas for ten whole hours with third and fourth grade teachers. A luxury of time. Enjoyed every minute. Even arriving at the airport early was a welcome event -- new book by Anna Quindlen, Rise and Shine, time for dinner. Uh oh. Delay. Oh well, what's another hour? And then that hour turns into three, four, more hours. The only travelers left at the gate are those who are headed home -- the missed connectors are all rebooked for tomorrow. The holiday travelers went back home for the night. The rest of us know the score. How long has the plane been on the tarmac? Can't go over 3 hours or they have to turn back. How long has the crew be on duty? What time will they max out? We are all weary, one deranged woman is screaming at the desk clerk while the rest of us roll our eyes. We don't care about the food vouchers or if they want to charge us for blankets, we just want to get home.

Many of us wired to outlets, eyes too tired to read, minds to spent to think. We are now a community. We collectively groan as each delay is announced and the warning is made every 10 minutes to not leave our bags unattended and then we watch each other's stuff as we take turns leaving our bags unattended.

Finally, it is announced that the plane has left Newark and will arrive in 25 minutes. The community cheers. But wait . . . could it be? Yes! Storms in Cleveland. Any minute we will board the plane not knowing if we will face the same fate as the last passengers, stranded on a tarmac until the weather clears. What we do know is that the crew will max out at 1:00AM and it is a 1.25 hour flight west.

At the conference we talked about the importance of leisure time to foster writing -- but what good is leisure time when eyes are tired and dry and brains are mush?

Image compliments of Go there and buy this guy's stuff -- he is more than a little twisted and totally amazing.

Update: Mechanical difficulties. This is a phrase you never want to hear after being seated on an airplane. And they didn't mean the overhead light above my seat that didn't work either. They meant the de-icer on the left wing. So the airline had to bring a maintenance crew in at 10PM and fix it -- we didn't take off until 12:30 AM arriving at CLE at 2:00AM. I don't know why I am even recording this story -- it is so common. A five hour delay. Ho hum.

What's five hours? We get almost 5 of those segments everyday. I can wait for a plane for five hours, but I couldn't bike for five hours. It's a short time to sleep, a long time to stand. Five hours would be a short work shift, but a very long time to not work during that shift. Five hours is a time period that has been on my mind lately.

I was seated in the same seat, 3A, that I was seated in as I flew back from Atlanta after receiving the call 3 months ago that Stephie was beyond critical and in crisis. Three months ago today. The window of the airplane was like a movie screen to me last night -- a series of tragic images reflected in the cloudy night sky.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

What happened to July?

Kelly snapped this picture of Sara Kelly this week and it perfectly captures my image of July 2008 -- peeking out. I can't believe it has been a month since I've posted a blog. The month went to biking, triathalons (Michael competes, I stand on the sidelines and say "go michael"), beach walks, Walloon teacher camp, gardening and occasional walks. A LOT of private time, occasionally peeking out.

I was all set this past week to really get down to some serious (or not so serious) writing, but on Sunday we all decided it was time for Kelly and the boys to come so we could fill up each other's tanks with love and support. It was just time. So that's what we did and I'm soooo glad that we did.

Walloon was the greatest. It is a summer camp run by Harvey (Smokey) Daniels & Co. where teachers go to recharge, review and learn anew. Serious talk, new data, new ideas all mixed together with (frankly) corny songs and a rockin' sock hop. Here I am rockin' out with Steph Harvey.

Here is Michael, still smiling, heading into the final segment of the Fairport Harbor Triathalon, the 5K run.

July 2008.