Saturday, October 27, 2012

Worth Repeating

Every day is filled with a million little failures and sometimes it's so easy to focus on those.  This morning, after a long and loaded day yesterday at school, I was thinking about my students, about the little successes and the things I wish I'd done better, the ways I've helped them and the ways I let them down, and I remembered this quote from Emerson.  It's been cited and spread around many, many times, but with good reason.  I still think it is the best criteria for success in life that I have ever found.  So, in the face of those many daily failures, I think through it and apply this checklist.  When I leave this life, whenever that may be, I know I will have lived it right.
To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rigor vs Freedom, Encouragement vs Discipline

What do you value most?  Love?  Truth?  Knowledge?  Freedom?  We can't value all these worthwhile things equally.  There will be serious moral dilemmas in which we most choose which is most important.  This is the fundamental flaw in the "it's all good" philosophy, the libertarian viewpoint and the all-is-valued perspective on education.  There is a school of thought that we should simply let children explore any and all interests without limits.  Freedom is wonderful and a child's ability to have a say is shut down far too often.  But children are still learning their values, and freedom without guidance can have its pitfalls.  Freedom doesn't necessarily produce rigor.  I may not want to do something that may be important or valuable to do.  Rigor has a place in the world.  If we fail to teach our children the value of rigor, we fail to give them an essential life skill.

In a similar vein, while encouragement is crucial for children, sometimes we overvalue it at the expense of discipline.  I'm not talking about discipline as in punishment. I'm talking about the idea of developing self-discipline, the notion of striving for something worthwhile, reaching for high expectations, following strict demands, delaying gratification when needed, hearing and accepting honest criticism, learning to battle back from set-backs.  I have seen the positive impact that discipline-heavy activities such as karate can have on a struggling soul, the way it builds a pride and self-confidence that the warm-and-fuzzy version of encouragement often fails to do.  And it makes me wonder.

I'm not saying send your kids to military school.  I'm not saying we throw out encouragement and freedom and self-determination.  I'm saying they need to be tempered.  They cannot be ends unto themselves, not for children, whose grasp of the world is still developing and who need our guidance to make them strong and resilient.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Education Is Worth Dying For

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai started writing a blog for the BBC when she was 11 years old.  She was awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.  Yesterday, the Pakistani Taliban shot her in the head.  Why?  She wanted to go to school.  She believes girls should have an education.  "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school," she has said.  "All I want is an education.  And I am afraid of no one."  The Taliban considered this an obscenity.  "Let this be a lesson," they said.  Malala's father ran one of the last schools to defy the Taliban's orders ending female education.

I read about this in the paper today.  I felt such a wave of emotions - rage, heartbreak, pride.  I wanted to stand on a rooftop somewhere and celebrate this girl and her father for being so brave and courageous on behalf of education.  I wanted to thank them for reminding me just exactly how important education is.  Important enough to die for.  Talk about putting everything else in perspective.  Talk about inspiring, and humbling.

I wanted to scream in fury that there are still people in the world so full of hate and fear, so twisted in their view of the female gender, that this could happen.  The next time someone calls me or any other woman a "feminazi," I may want to punch them in the face.  There is a reason we can't sit back and think the battles for women's rights are all done and the war is over.

I wanted to shove the article in front of everyone and anyone who slams the United States and the West and says we're fascists.  There's a lot that's wrong with our country, but, damn it, we have public education for all genders, all races, all income levels, all ability levels, and whatever the politicians may say about our education system, we strive for equity for all those disparate groups.  The U.S. public education system is predicated on the notion that everyone has the right to an education.  Everyone.

Two years ago, I had a girl from Pakistan in my third grade class.  I remember the gratitude her mother expressed at parent-teacher conferences.  But I don't think I truly understood until now.  I had no idea what a powerful act I was involved in by giving that girl an education.

I hope 14 year old Malala Yousafzai survives this horrible attack.  I hope she can still say she is afraid of no one.  I hope I never forget that to her, education is worth dying for.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Phone Anxiety

Okay, so this doesn't really fall under the category of "Big Stuff."  Not at first, anyway.  But sometimes the little stuff pokes at you when it's connected to bigger stuff.

So, I have this weird phobia about making phone calls.  Trivial, right?  Except I can't help asking, "Why?"  What is it about picking up the phone to call someone that kicks me into high avoidance gear?  It's not just "cold calls," those phone calls you'd think would be scary, to people I don't know, or don't know well.  I put off calling close friends, too.  I even put off returning their calls.  I know they want to hear from me.  They called me, right?  So why do I put off calling them?

Is it fear of commitment?  A phone call takes a kind of two-way participation, energy and attention that email doesn't, and so much of modern communication doesn't.

Or maybe it's a fear of rejection, that weird sense of loss and disappointment that happens when the person I'm calling isn't home and I have to leave a message.

Or maybe it's the uncertainty and unpredictability?  I don't know if I'm going to have a conversation with a real person or leave a message with a machine.

Whatever it is, it's positively pathological, and I think it's gotten worse with age.  Too many years of job hunts and phone solicitation and ambushing blind-sides from students' parents have solidified what was once just a minor discomfort into something one step away from phobia.

I'm 46 years old.  I shouldn't be bothered by such a little thing.  I should be able to move through it, right?  Or maybe, when it's something this little, I can let it go and let it be one of those idiosyncracies about me.

The thing is, sometimes this phobia gets in the way of relationships.  My friends may think I don't care about them.  They may get tired of always being the one who initiates contact.  They're wonderful, forgiving people, but still ...

It's a little thing with bigger consequences.  So I guess I'll push through it.