All American Girl

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So you love her hair, eh?
Wild and free
Curls defying gravity
You love how they bounce
When she walks
So full of cuteness
Every ounce
You love her light eyes
And how they pop
Against the backdrop
Of her caramel skin
She’s so beautiful
Your pockets would be so full
You say
If she would model
For Old Navy
Or some agency
Willing to pay
For her variety
Of beauty
You love her hair, eh?
That’s what you say
But can you see
The legacy
Of slavery
Buried in her skin
Can you feel the heat
Of prejudice overcome
To put the pink in her cheeks
Do you touch her curls
With the same fingers
You use to clutch pearls
And vote for nationalists
That see her brown skin
As a threat
As something their country
Should regret
Will you compliment her dress
Then support a leader
Who feels it is ok to undress
Females and strip them
Of their rights and dignity
Don’t you see
She is the fruit
From the trees
From which her ancestors
Were hung
You love her hair, eh?

Lessons Learned

Our children receive so much direct instruction from their parents, schools and institutions. Day in and day out, the lessons are specific with measurable outcomes that are often tracked and nearly always mitigated by systems of praise and punishment.

The lessons our children are supposed to learn are simple, well-defined and have remained nearly the same for many years.

Parents teach: Say please and thank you. Clean up after yourself. Brush your teeth. Wash your hands. Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before you cross the road. Use your words not hands to solve conflicts.

Teachers teach: Don’t forget to write your name on your paper. Memorize your multiplication facts. Answer questions in complete sentences. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Raise your hand before speaking. Try your best. Do your homework.

But, as important as these lessons are, there are other lessons that adults teach children indirectly. Powerful lessons that have lasting affects not just on the children, but on our society as a whole.

When parents choose to not be educated and informed or choose not to act in the face of injustice either locally, nationally, or internationally; they send a message.

Instead they need to talk to their children. Engage in difficult discussions about the news and the depths of sorrow, anger, hatred and greed that lie in those stories. And they also need to share stories of hope, love, and kindness that prevail in even the darkest of times. 

When teachers choose to teach the same narratives or subject matter, year  after year, ignoring pressing current events outside the confines of the textbooks, screens, standardized tests, and walls of the classrooms, they miss the opportunity to connect students to the real world that they will inherit.

The water protectors, bravely standing up for their communities and the earth, offer important lessons for our children, but only if adults allow them to be taught.

Our children should know that the civil disobedience promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a story about the past, but also one about our current reality. Children need to know that injustice still exists  and that there are people in the world willing to stand up against it at all costs. Children need to know that the very people we think will protect us; sometimes will not.

Children need to know early that they are powerful beings, capable of making a difference in the world.

After talking to my children the first time about the pipeline, my oldest son got the most visibly upset. He was indignant that President Obama would not intervene. He could not believe that the president that he looked up to and thought was “so nice” would not help the Native Americans that he learned about in second grade.

For Christmas that year, he wanted a dream catcher….a real one, just like the Native Americans had.15138354_10211344717958204_8713426760154199435_o

Well, this year he is in fourth grade, and I want to give him a different kind of dream catcher to honor the Native Americans and others fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from jeopardizing their water supply and desecrating sacred land.

His idea was to get people to write letters to President Obama and ask him to stop the pipeline. We went on Amazon and ordered 50 postcards. This week we will organize a postcard campaign to send President Obama a message.

Though our postcards may not change the president’s mind or stop the pipeline, it will serve as a dream catcher for my son.

He will learn that the only way to make the world a better place is to dream of a better world and get busy trying to catch that dream.

Actions speak louder than words.

Life has all of the lessons that our children need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice

Sometimes…

More often than I think…

There is no need to rush.

No people to see

No places to go…

I notice…

The breeze on my cheek

The sunshine in her eyes

The quiet hush of the forest.

 

Sometimes…

I walk with my daughter…

A girl that won’t remain small forever…

And I drink the moment in like water

I quench my thirst for more

With the sweet nectar of now…

 

When I notice,

What lies right here before my  eyes…

Suddenly,

Effortlessly…

I begin to live.

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Childhood Is

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Childhood is fleeting.

The days rush by like subway trains as I stand at the station feeling the rush of air as another one departs.

The hundreds of thousands of inhales and exhales propel me through this life powerless as they grow up before my eyes.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhaleexhaleinhaleexhale…

Sometimes I have the wisdom to slow my breath and take in the moment that I have right now.

Right now with them as they are.

Not the babies they were and not the grown ups I hope they grow to be.

Who they are right now. Where we are right now. Feet in the sand, head turned to the blue expanse of sky.

I inhale their laughter, their sobs, their smell, their bodies in perpetual motion.

I exhale my worry, my doubt, my rush to think about what’s next.

For childhood is precious and meant to be savored one moment at a time.

 

 

Never Grow Up

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As they  wheeled my grandmother into surgery, over 15 years ago, she held my hand and squeezed it hard. She, an impossibly strong woman seeming impossibly small, looked up at me and said quite frankly, “Don’t get old. Do you hear me? Just don’t do it.”  There was no sadness to it or rationality even. There was nothing to do but nod and watch her disappear behind the enormous, cold metal doors.

There is nothing more human than mortality. We will die. Those we love will die. It is a knowledge that resides in our bones as we move through our days. Growing up is progress, but it is also a reminder that our days here are numbered. Yet, somehow there is comfort in knowing that all us humans are in it together, riding the ups and downs of life until the ride jerks to an end and we have to get off.

I hear the words of the older and wiser in my life.

” Time flies.”

Yes I know.

“Before you know it they will be in college.”

Yes I know.

“How did I get this old?”

I don’t know.  (Will I blink and be that old too?)

But no matter how hard it is to deal with the reality of today, there is no use holding on to the past with white-knuckled passion.

Might as well open my hands to receive all that these precious moments of childhood have to give.

 

 

 

The Late Evening Sun

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She sits on the stoop, head tilted to the sky,

As the late evening sun breaks through the cloudy day,

Before turning in for the night.

The air is crisp,

She pulls her hands neatly into her lap.

Her newly planted seeds beside her,

Buried by her chubby finger carefully poked into the soil.

Left to rest there with her faith in its power to grow.

The seeds down too deep to feel the touch of the sun,

But not too deep to be forgotten by my daughter, who keeps them company.

I am struck by this vision of her and her seeds sitting on the stoop.

Her grandfather, my father, lies like those seeds under soil.

He passed before she was born.

She will never run to him down that path when he pulls up from NY.

When he comes to visit,

He will come like the late evening sun at the end of a long cloudy day.

And  I will be sitting there beside her

With his faith in our power to grow here ,

Without him.

 

 

The Value of Homework

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Talk to any parent of a school age child, especially on a weekday (or Sunday night), and the subject of homework is bound to work its way into conversation.

An article recently came out about extensive research that showed clear evidence that elementary students reap nearly no benefit from homework. But for many parents, this was just official confirmation of what they already knew.

The intention of homework is often stated as reinforcement of skills learned in class. That purpose itself is problematic.

Every child in every class does not need the same level of reinforcement assigned across the entire class  after every lesson. Some children do not need to do nightly, monotonous spelling assignments to score 100% on the spelling test, while some children can do spelling homework until they are blue in the face and never score above a 70.

Many children are avid readers and do not need the burden of a reading log or endless comprehension questions slowing them down. Many other children just need someone to read to them and talk to them more to increase their access to positive literacy experiences.

When  I snapped the photo today of my  sons helping me prepare vegetables for a stir fry dinner, the irony of the word “homework” struck me. Perhaps what children need most is less homework in the traditional worksheet or book report sense and more home work or housework. In trying to keep up with the modern obsession with perfection, many parents outsource house work rather than go the traditional route of assigning chores to their children. Too many children have become so disconnected from the concept of work in the home and that leads to the same disconnect when they get out into the world.

A landscaping company comes to upkeep the perfect lawn. A cleaning service comes to upkeep the perfect house. A company comes to open and close the perfect pool. Painters, plumbers, roofers, ….you name it.  All so that parents can free up time to upkeep the perfect body at the salon or gym or to work long enough hours to pay for all of those expenses.

It is more common to buy food or eat out than to grow food in the backyard where kids can be a part of the process that gets food on the table. Heck, so many American families rarely even make it to the table together due to endless activities and sports practices that often start at age 4.

As a result, work becomes something arbitrarily assigned by an authority figure, rather than something integral to daily life. Our children become input/output machines and then the teachers in the upper grades and later employers lament the lack of problem solving skills and work ethic in the younger generations.  Companies have made fortunes on convincing consumers that life was hard and that we needed a plethora of products and services to make it easier. But actually, the answer is easy and cheap.

Bring back home work in the traditional sense. Turn off the website that drills math skills and put down the spelling lists. Take the time to reinforce life skills and a sense of responsibility. Imagine the potential such a simple shift could have on the typical American family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PARCC Or Bust

The PARCC test simply will not die.

The state of NJ sits stubbornly on the list of the 6 states plus DC, out of the original 26, that grip the PARCC test like a dying wish.

Well, nearly 50 people stormed the State Board of Education meeting to pry that dying wish out of the State’s cold dead hands.

Blood is in the water here in NJ. The opt out movement far surpassed the Education Commissioner Hespe’s original prediction. Parents have now seen the effects of these ill-conceived tests and every single day someone new asks me about how they can opt their child out.

But the PARCC will not leave NJ quietly.

Not with Commissioner Hespe sitting on the PARCC Advisory Board. Not with Commissioner Hespe at the head of the Study Commisssion on the Use of Student Assessments in NJ. Not with that Commission recommending that the PARCC test, after only ONE year under its belt, become the sole test required for graduation.

Hespe went from confidently dismissing the opt out movement as a weak and misguided minority to treating the movement as a serious force to be reckoned with.

Hespe is sweating.

Now is not the time to back down.

The first threat Hespe doled out was that parents were not allowed to opt out. (Yet thousands of parents found a way to refuse.)

The second threat was that students whose parents refused to allow them to take the PARCC would have to sit and stare throughout the entire test. (Very few districts stuck to this policy and finally Hespe came out and discouraged sit and stare policies.)

The third threat was that opt outs would cause schools to lose funding. (Parents refused anyway and there has yet to be any evidence that ANY school district lost funding. See this video by, superintendent and opt out leader, Dr. Michael Hynes for more evidence.)

The threats weren’t working. Parents would not back down, and the numbers of parents opting out began to climb.

So Hespe and other test supporters tried a different tack. They reduced the testing time… a little.  See parents…we are listening to you. Now shut up and go away.

But the reduction in testing time only spoke to a tiny fraction of the criticisms of the PARCC. Then the test results came out and the vast majority of the state of NJ (one of the best performing states in education) FAILED.  Hmmm….looks a lot like what happened in NY and their opt out movement is at least 10 times that in NJ.

Don’t worry they said. It’s the first year of the test. The kids will get better, after all, these tests are rigorous…it will take time for little Johnny and Mary Lou to catch up. They need typing practice and time to learn how to navigate the testing tools like scroll bars and rulers on the screen. They need to learn how to engage in close reading and explain their math answers in explicit detail.

And if that isn’t enough encouragement….

Insert the fourth threat…

Your kid takes the test every year from 7th grade on or he can’t graduate.

You hear that parents! They won’t. We swear they won’t. Don’t you dare opt out. We hold your kids’ future in OUR hands not YOURS. We say PARCC or bust.

Well played Hespe, well played.

Well I say…

There is no wizard behind the curtain.

Call his bluff.

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Not One Boy

This is a photo of my little boy standing in the snow at age 4.

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Four years have already passed since this picture.

In four more he will be the same age, age 12,  as Tamir Rice was when he was shot and killed by a police officer. Tamir was only armed with a pellet gun.

Many might find it weird for me to read an Op-Ed about Tamir Rice, a black  inner city Chicago youth, and connect it to my son.

But why not?

Because my son is only a quarter black?

Because my son doesn’t live in inner city Chicago or an area with similar levels of violence?

Because my son isn’t even allowed to play with guns and won’t be allowed to have even a pellet gun even at age 12?

Because my son is not in danger?

But I still see the the connection.

Because if I can’t read the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today, and imagine my son laying there bleeding for four minutes after being shot without apparent cause, while two police officers did nothing to help him…then I am part of the problem.

Tamir was a boy.

My son is a boy.

No boy should die like Tamir did.

Forget the hashtags and the debates.

No boy should die like Tamir did.

Not mine, not yours, not Tamir’s mother’s.

Not one.

 

 

 

 

 

So Sick of “Standards”

You pretty much have to live under a rock, and a really big one at that, to not have heard the term Common Core Standards.

Ok, well I have a new one for you, have you heard of the Next Generation Science Standards?

Sounds good, right?

I mean who doesn’t want to be a part of the “Next Generation”? What are the alternatives?

Time travel or death?

To be fair, I have not taken the time to really delve into the comprehensive website that has been compiled to explain the need, rationale, and support for these standards. But if you have the time, it looks like a great, albeit expensive to produce, read.

Here’s the link: http://www.nextgenscience.org/ 

Just think of all of the money the Common Core Standards cost. All of the new textbooks, materials, training, curriculum mapping, lesson planning, and resources. Not to mention all of the people paid to develop the standards, materials, and curriculum.

But even better think of all of the money that was made. What better way to  boost to our economy than completely revamping the math and ELA standards on a national level? Sure the rhetoric was lovely. Common Core would achieve lofty goals.

  • Every student held to the same standard.
  • All students would have an equal opportunity to quality education.
  • Academic rigor would dominate.
  • The tests would determine career and college readiness from grade 3.
  • Data and resources could be shared across the country.

There is a whole Common Core website rich with resources, FAQ’s and explanations on a fabulously extensive website, one that was no doubt expensive to create.

Here is the link if you are interested in learning more: http://www.corestandards.org/

But the rhetoric failed to mention how incredibly profitable the whole endeavor was to companies like Pearson, who produced the majority of the new materials and tests. In fact, it was so profitable that they decided to tackle the science standards too!

It’s hard to compile how much the shift to Common Core cost the average school district. But as our local school district spent more money on curriculum, training, and materials and made more cuts to faculty, staff, and extra curriculars…I couldn’t help but wonder.

So many of the people in charge of making and approving school budgets have no clue what they are doing. They don’t read the new standards. They don’t think about the changes. They just act or trust that their superintendents know best. And that needs to stop.

Perhaps our school budgets wouldn’t be so strapped and so many teachers wouldn’t lose their jobs or stipends, if they would stymie the race to buy everything to keep up with the ever-changing, ever-shiny new standards.

The Next Generation Science Standards website makes me sick. I can see the waterfall of dollars beginning, even as the class time for science in elementary school is being reduced. The only good that may come of this is that the tide hemorrhaging of elementary science will take a turn for the better as science tests become more important in the upper grades.

But I can’t help but suggest that the way to improve science instruction and “rigor” is not expensive at all. And it doesn’t require new standards, curriculum, training, or a ton of new, expensive resources. Technology is not a requirement either.

I am even going to explain it without the help of a fancy,expensive website and staff of writers and researchers. Just me and my little cheap blog.

That’s right.

What if the Next Generation would be better off trying to look like the previous one?

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Examining birds while waiting for a monarch tagging workshop.

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Nature’s playground

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Playing with perspective

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At the American Museum of Natural History in New York City examining dinosaurs. How many field trips have been cut over the years?

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Learning about how soap works by experimenting with milk and food coloring.

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An oldie but goodie, making a water xylophone.

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Experimenting with different types of food and the effect on the activity of yeast. After filling we put balloons on top to capture and help us measure the gas produced.

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Observing

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What goes up….

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Play is work.

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Before we left, he built a shelter out of shells to protect his favorite crab from the scavenging seagulls overhead.

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Still wondering what animal this femur (?) came from.

A decomposing skate found in Cape May. We examined it's partially detached jaw bone.

A decomposing skate found in Cape May. We examined its partially detached jaw bone.

Learning to stop and take a deep breath to appreciate beauty.

Learning to stop and take a deep breath to appreciate beauty.