Thanksgiving and Religion

I think it was fifth grade when I asked why the days we got off school for Thanksgiving were just called ‘Fall Break’. My mom asked me who people were giving thanks to. I had to think about it a minute. I knew that it must be a religious thing, since that is why it’s ‘Winter Break’ not ‘Christmas Break’ etc. It did not take me long to realize Mom was referring to God, but what took me awhile was the idea that I was supposed to be thanking a specific entity. It hadn’t ever really occurred to me. I just kind of give thanks to the world, luck, all of the people whose effort it took to bring the meal together, whatever. It never occurred to me that it was supposed to be directed any particular direction. I still don’t think that it needs to. I can be thankful without having any one thing, or person, or event to thank. 

For instance; I am thankful for my family. Who do I have to thank for that? Well let’s start with the recent past: I have to thank my husband for giving me my kids. I have to thank cancer for not taking people from me. I have to thank all of the other drivers on the road who have not killed my family members. I have to thank everyone who has made our society a more healthy place. I have to thank my parents for having me, and my husbands’ for having him. I have to thank their parents (this could keep going…). I have to thank whoever designed the school bus routes for my high school so that I could meet the boy who would become my husband. I have to thank my employers and everyone who employs my family. I could go way back in time to thank the people who moved to this country, and whoever set them up to take that path for whatever reason they did. I could talk about how thankful I am that this ‘tiny blue dot’ is able to sustain life, and how grateful I am to evolution, the stars, and the big bang.

I know that for many people “Thank God” is kind of the way to express that whole last paragraph, and that is fine. I prefer to think of it as an endless series of events that put me where I am today, this allows me to run through them and kind of say ‘thank you’ individually, or just give one big collective ‘thanks’ to the universe. 

 

I consider myself a bit of an outsider, an observer to the battle between religions that has been waging recently. When I was young, I was really very little aware of different religions, I only was really taught about Christmas, maybe a bit about Easter. I found it odd that some people did not celebrate Halloween, but hey, each to his own. I knew the concept of religion and that people believe differently, but I had no idea what they believed. It didn’t really make much of a difference, at that time it seemed like everyone was pretty okay with other people. That could be a young kid growing up with White Privilege on her side, but that is how it seemed to me. 

In middle school I started becoming more aware of politics and the state of the world. It was during this time also that 9/11 happened. The announcement that it was Muslim terrorists made very little difference to me. If I had really thought about that statement at all it would have been something like ‘Ok, so they happen to follow that religion, why mention it?’ Today I believe very much the same thing, but now I know why they mention it, because it is a scapegoat. The media tells us the answer so that we won’t go looking, and having a whole religion that reportedly wants to kill us is a great copout.

On that same note, this is not a ‘Christian Nation’. We are guaranteed freedom of religion under the constitution. This does not mean freedom of Christian religions, it means freedom of all religions. There is a lot of debate right now about the beliefs of the founding fathers, but some believe that not all of them were Christian. Throughout history, while newcomers to this country have been marginalized, they came for a new start, and many for that religious freedom. We are a nation of different people, different races, different sexualities, different ages, different beliefs, but we have all come together in a place that is better for our differences. It is this melting pot that keeps us fresh, and at the top of our game. It is the exposure to new things that allows us the ability to be the best. So why are we not the best right now? We have embarked down a dangerous road, in international policies, educational policies, climate policies, and civilian monitoring, we are limiting the very diversity that made us great. We need to stand up and make the changes that will allow us to use our greatest strength to our advantage again.

Welfare and Socialism

Today there is a great debate over how much assistance should be given to people just by right. The main arguments go something like this;

“Can I get some help here so my kids don’t starve?”

“Work for it.”

“I work as much as humanly possible, my pay is too low.”

“Go to school to get a better job.”

“I cannot afford to go to school, I can’t even put food on the table.”

“I did it, why can’t you?”

And so it goes. Families that have both parents often find that they have more take-home pay if only one works, due to the expenses of child care. I cannot even begin to imagine how a single parent family is expected to do it.

As with most problems, I think that both sides have the best of intentions, and there is something that just doesn’t convey. I will try to do my best to represent both sides, but I know that it will probably become clear where I stand on this issue if it is not obvious already, and from my other posts.

This is an issue now because the pay that many workers receive does not allow them to maintain a basic standard of living. The national minimum wage is woefully inadequate to support even one person. In fact, many states have higher minimum wages, and many cities are even higher than that. According to citylab.com there is only one state that pays more than bare minimum for one person to get by on.

Many people’s first reaction is to tell the person working at this low wage that it is all their fault. They must have made bad choices in the past, and now they have to pay for that mistake. While some people may have had the opportunity to go to college, or join the military and chose not to, not everyone has that luxury. If your family needs money now, a kid, even still in high school, may need to work to help their family get by. This means that college gets put off until later, if ever. The military is a great option, provided that you meet the physical and mental health requirements. (Not to mention that some people choose not to join for political, religious, or ideological reasons.) There are many people who are in minimum wage jobs not because of their own errors, but because of the cards that life dealt to them.

But let’s imagine that we are talking about someone who had made the grade in high school, could have gone to college, but chose to put it off for whatever reason, a common enough scenario. In the meantime, they get a job and try to get a place. Now they are not living with mom and dad anymore, and they have a whole place to themselves that needs rent to be paid. This makes it very challenging to get together the necessities for school, especially if a second job is needed to pay the bills. While their is some financial assistance available, it is more challenging than getting that assistance straight out of school. (And many of these programs fall into that category of government aid that we are debating here anyway.) The question then becomes how long should they suffer for that one bad choice?

There is also the increasingly common scenario of someone who followed all the rules, they made good grades, went to school, got a degree, worked their own way through school with as little debt as possible. Now that they are out, no-one is hiring in their field. And when they do find an opening the competition is fierce. Employers have their pick, and usually will chose someone who offers not only the educational background, but experience as well. The question then arises, “How do I get experience if I can’t get hired because I have no experience?” In some industries, the answer has been internships, but, potentials for illegality aside, this is a system that does not work in all fields.

It is frightening when even getting a minimum wage job has the same pitfalls I just discussed. Increasingly I hear about people needed to go to two or even three interviews just to ‘flip burgers’! There are so many people actively looking for work, that employers can be, and are, very picky even for supposed ‘entry level’ jobs. If people did not have to work 2 or more jobs to get by, there would be more jobs to go around.

Having established that living itself can get in the way of trying to improve oneself, lets talk about that a bit. There is enough food in the world to feed every person on the planet, and plenty of housing for all homeless, at least in many ‘developed’ nations like the US and the UK. What gets in the way is not supply, but rather, means. In some cases creating the infrastructure to distribute food might take some time, but is within the realm of possibility. In the case of housing, the largest struggle is simply the legality of it.

There are many people who have ‘made it’, and proudly proclaim that they did it all without any government aid. That may be true, they did not file for need-based assistance programs. However, they certainly have benefited from for more socialist type of structure. The type that you don’t need to apply to use, it is available to all. Some examples of this would be public roadways, utilities, and emergency services. These things are generally agreed to be for the public good and are therefore made available to all. Parks and Community Centers are other great examples.

My question is, why are these things thought of as public rights, and the things that are considered human rights and even necessary for life, are things that must be paid for? I have no problem with money. Money is a fine way to distribute wealth and luxury goods. However I do not believe that anyone, no matter how lazy, should be denied basic necessities of life, or the internationally agreed upon human rights.

Teaching Today

A few years ago I was a substitute teacher.  As any teacher will tell you, subbing is, in many ways, more difficult. The kids are the main reason. Usually subs don’t have to do all the grading and lesson planning that teachers do, but the students make up for it by being little pains in the ass.

Students often think of it as a free day. And it kind of is. Most teachers will fill in the day with boring worksheets. If the kids aren’t going to be doing something of value, why can’t I fill in the time doing fun learning with them. I love hands on things where the kids don’t really know they are learning. Living History, science experiments, crafts, there are all sorts of these things out there, and since subs are not held accountable for the student’s learning in the same way, I had hoped I would be able to do some of that, but that is not the way it worked.

Teachers (especially in a state where substitutes do not have to be licensed teachers) are used to the subs not really having a clue. They tend to ‘overplan’, that is, plan far more than could ever get done to assure that the students to not sit idle. This makes the kids feel overwhelmed, if they know they are expected to finish, or they just don’t care, especially if they know the teacher won’t grade it. Either way is not good for students. Students take the opportunity to do things they normally are not allowed to, and test the limits of the substitute. This is completely natural, but day in and out is exhausting.

The real value of my year in substitute teaching, was the opportunity to meet so many students, and see so many different teaching styles. I would sometimes see the same students in multiple classes and see how their behavior differed. Sometimes I would take assistant positions, which allowed me to observe the teacher directly. In other instances, if I was only there for part of the day, I would meet the teacher, sometimes get to observe for a bit, sometimes not. It was one of these days that I learned about Teach for America.

I have seen special education teachers struggle to teach an autistic student handwriting, because under No Child Left Behind they are held to the same standards as other students.  I have had the opportunity to see the damage of Common Core as well. I have seen kindergartners in tears because they were expected to understand something they were not ready for.

The combined effects of these failed policies are students who range from disinterested to disheartened. They learn from an early age that they cannot meet expectations. This is terrible for their self-esteem. One way to protect themselves is to give up their emotional attachment to success. On the other end of the spectrum, the students who do understand are completely ignored  because the teacher is required to bring up the kids who are behind. This gives those kids a free pass. In the midst of all of this is the testing. How are teachers expected to help students understand when all year they are either preparing for, taking, or recovering from some high stakes test or another. I have actually had a teacher get a sub for the day so she could come in and do required one-on-one testing. How is such a thing supposed to be accomplished?

All of this added stress has had a very negative effect on teachers as well. Those who are not so dedicated see no point in putting up with the stress, and those who are see that they are not able to make a difference in the current system. Between teaching to the test, being issued scripts for lessons, not being allowed to teach the way they learned (and not having been shown any other way), not having time for any activities the students might actually find engaging, and writing convoluted lesson plans to meet vague requirements, it is no wonder that even the best, and most dedicated teachers are leaving.

This leaves a huge vacancy, which substitutes fill in. I took 2 long term positions during my single year of teaching. The longer one was 30 school days. The rule they follow is that after that time, substitutes get more pay for the position. During that time I was the teacher, I wrote lesson plans, taught students, and graded work. My assignment was for a gifted English class. (Gifted is not a program in all states, but it is a way to address the special needs of advanced students.)

It did not take me long to realize that I was  right. When I first heard of No Child Left Behind, and bringing kids to ‘average’ I was keenly aware, as a gifted kid, that in order to get everyone to average, the higher scoring students would need to be brought down, or the average would just keep going up, that is, if they were successful bringing the bottom up.

These high school juniors and seniors were missing the basic parts of speech and had difficulty keeping a basic five paragraph essay format (like the 5 paragraph part). I graded in what was considered a lenient way when I was in school less than ten years before. Rather than not accepting work after the due date, I just took 10% off the score for each class day it was late. The way that the school schedule worked, because they only had my class every other day, if they came in on an off day, I still gave full credit. The students considered this terribly cruel and thought that turning papers in for anything less than full credit was pointless. I found out that many students would do the work, and not take it out of their bag to hand in. As a result I had a shockingly high number of students failing the class. They even had an entire class period twice a week dedicated to doing homework, which I try to refrain from giving anyway.

During my time in this position I attended multiple professional training days that I was not required to attend, nor was paid for. I did what I could to help the students to succeed. Even so, according to the principal at the school I had parents call to complain about me. The only complaint I heard about was about body odor. After I heard that, I went overkill. I continued to shower right before work, but I started putting on deodorant between every class. I received one call from a parent asking what my qualifications were to be teaching English. After our conversation, she was more than satisfied. But it occurred to me that if a parent called the office instead of me, the only thing they knew about me was that I was a substitute teacher, they probably did not even know whether or not I had a bachelor’s degree.

At the end of my thirty days I asked the secretary if they wanted me longer. I was told that I should come back, and I started to tell the students that I was definitely going to be there after fall break. Soon it was brought to my attention that my dress was a bit sheer, admittedly, I should have been more conscientious of that. I immediately went home to change. After classes ended for the day I was asked to the principal’s office and was written up for the dress, and more body odor complaints. That night I stayed late to leave a record of grading rubrics and lesson plans so that the next teacher would actually know what was going on, something that their actual teacher had not bothered to do.

I understand that parents would be upset to find that their students are failing a class, and that they would call into question the credentials of a substitute. But I do not respect a school that would not look into those credentials, or ask the teacher why the students were failing. This seems to be part of the current trend of parents holding teachers, rather than students, responsible for the students grades. (And why shouldn’t they, the national government does). I also find it suspect that this would all have occurred on the last day before they would have to pay me more. I should have suspected this type of thing when a student told me one of his classes had had no fewer than eight teachers in one year.

That said, my year substitute teaching was not all bad. In fact I think it may be my favorite job I have ever had. I met teachers who were trying to make a difference, I was honored to be trusted enough for students came to me with life-changing events, I met students who changed my perceptions, and I can only hope that I touched lives too.

 

Background

Like many people my age, I am deeply unsatisfied with how our society functions. This has led me to be called, like many of us, a lazy millennial. So I would like to explain a bit about my background to explain why I am so passionate.

As I have mentioned, I grew up in a small town called Madrid. Later I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Both of these gave me a look at unconventional slices of society. Madrid is a town where many people live off grid, and can get by just working odd jobs. In many ways this is the basis of the lifestyle for Dystopian Dreams (with a whole lot less tech). In the SCA, people are very passionate about sharing knowledge and work together, often without compensation. This is why I know that people will be productive and cooperative by nature. Other people I know from many other contexts have very productive hobbies. Ironically this is often the same people who tell me that if people did not earn money they would not be productive. It all depends on out definition. Sure, without pay people would probably not flip burgers or pack boxes all day, but we are at a point where humans no longer need to take on those tasks. (See Work & Money).

My mother was an elementary school teacher and librarian, her parents were both college professors. They were able to maintain my love of learning even though I went to public schools. I cannot thank them enough for that, I am very lucky. I firmly believe that while educating a person will help them, it is really educating society as a whole that will make a difference.

I graduated from college in 4.5 years with 2 degrees and full honors. I have yet to find this helpful in my life. Once I graduated I found it nearly impossible to find a job in the small city where I was living. I was overqualified for minimum wage jobs and had the wrong degree for anything else. When I moved to a larger city I have still struggled to find a job in my field, but I was able to find a minimum wage job. While I do enjoy working in hospitality it is not really what I want to do as a career. I have a lot of other thoughts, but none of them will really work.

For a time I was a substitute teacher. I graduated high school just before the effects of No Child Left Behind caught up to my grade. Teaching, even less than 10 years later showed me the EPIC failures of that policy. There is an entire generation of students who have been taught a very strict, highly irrelevant, curriculum. Not to mention the test and forget problem. Everything these kids have ever been taught was in preparation for a test. As most people know, once you pass the test the knowledge on it tends to be forgotten. Let me re-state that. AN ENTIRE GENERATION HAS ONLY BEEN TAUGHT IRRELEVANT INFORMATION IN A WAY THAT ENCOURAGES THEM TO PROMPTLY FORGET IT.

I was teaching at the beginning of the Common Core age as well. There have been many viral homework assignments with this to blame. These standards are very damaging to the students and endlessly frustrating to the teachers. It is little wonder so many teachers are not sticking with the profession.

Today I have two kids, one two years old, the other three months. Of course I want to do the best I can for them. To this end I have been considering homeschooling. But I also do not believe that my kids deserve any better than any other kids. I want the public school system to be good enough that I feel it is the best option.

Common Core

I was a substitute teacher for a time. Because retaining teachers is such a problem these days I ended up with a few long-term assignments. As such I have some experience writing lesson plans. On my single day assignments I have also had the opportunity to see many different teaching styles.

There have been many viral homework assignments renowned for how difficult they are to understand. Allow me to shed some light.

Common Core is a set of standards that must be met. For instance: students at a certain grade need to understand the concept of the place system (100s, 10s, 1s etc.). However the requirements are written so convoluted that they are nearly incomprehensible. (See whole site.)

Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1).
CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.4
For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record the answer with a drawing or equation.

Common Core also limits the teaching techniques allowed. The shortcuts that many learned are banned. Even the way that most people do math is considered a shortcut. I respect that common core wants students to understand the concepts behind the math. When I was in school, we did. Once we had the concepts down, then we learned the quick and dirty shortcuts. As far as I know that is true of most of us. I know we may not all be experts at math but if I asked where the 10s place is, most grown ups get that. I learned with blocks how borrowing for subtraction worked. The problem seems to be that common core takes away things, without giving. There are ways that teachers are not supposed to teach, but they have not been taught any alternatives, so they have to come up with their own. Common Core is not a curriculum (how to teach), but only a set of requirements (what to teach).

There is such a focus on making sure that kids understand the how, that they get over-taught it. I understand counting up and down on a number line or your fingers. I even get skipping down that number line in larger units. I understand adding 4 and 6 fist in a big line of numbers to reach ten then add the harder ones. Some teachers struggle to interpret the question and end up teaching that in order to add 4 and 8 you have to reach 10 first. (4+?=10…4+6=10…8-6=?…8-6=2…so 4+6=10+2 leftover =12.

I understand that learning the concept is more important that getting the right answer all the time, but once the concept it there, learning to write it in a simple way is hardly a shortcut. If taught correctly, it is the how.

The other BIG problem with common core is the requirement of ever younger kids learning ever more complicated topics. I had a kindergartner in tears because he was not developmentally ready to learn subtraction. When I was in kindergarten we were still being taught to count. This leads to a frustration with learning, and a lack of self esteem that most children will never recover from.

 

What Do I Want to Do?

I have never been very good at choosing only one thing to do, but I know I have to focus on one thing in order to make it successful. So I am just gonna write out my ideas here, not that it will probably interest anyone else.

I have been in hospitality for a long time now, and while I don’t really want to continue working for others, I would very much like to own my own hotel. Unfortunately, as they say it takes money to make money. Working for someone else in the type of situation I am in is no way to be able to afford that type of purchase. I have looked into it seriously. That down payment is the big challenge. They also want management experience, which, on paper, I do not have.

The most immediately possible option is starting my own costume business. The problem is that there are already a lot of people doing that, and getting into it enough to make ends meet is a long shot.

When I graduated college I was convinced that I could make a living working at a living history museum. However I have since found that most interpreters are just volunteers. Other interpreters travel doing presentations. This is an option, however I have young kids so I cannot travel to far afield. Until I have made a name for myself, (and probably even after I have) the money would be scant. Schools don’t really have that kind of budget. Right now it would have to work with my work schedule.

I would very much like to get into politics. As anyone who has read much of my writings will know, I see a lot of problems in the world, and that I have solutions, although I cannot, obviously, guarantee that they are any better than any other.

I believe that the other way to make a difference is to educate kids, so that they can make things better. I would like to be a teacher, but like most others who truly believe in learning, I feel unable to provide the type of education that students would benefit from under the current policies.

The most comprehensive, get-to-do-everything idea is starting a camp. This camp does not have any good analogy. It would be a cross between a park, a community center, a school, a summer camp for kids, an intentional community, a farm and a museum. People would be able to visit and just explore, or take classes on anything from sustainability to art, survivalism to philosophy, cooking to religion. If someone wanted to teach it we would offer it, if someone wanted to learn it, we would try to find a teacher. It would be a place to foster a love of learning and pursue a person’s own interests. The people who run it would live on site and in many ways function as one large family. We would grow our own food as much as possible. A few times a year we would have living history events from different time periods. All of the buildings on site would be examples of different types of sustainable architecture, and all power would be produced on site. This is really my dream. We just need to find a way to support us while we build it, and find like-minded people to help.

 

Ideal Education

Okay, I have been putting A LOT of thought into this concept, and it will most likely take many more posts to really flesh out. The reason I have not posted sooner is a fear of not explaining my thoughts coherently enough, so please bear with me.

Children are inherently curious and they love to learn. I see this every day in my 2 year old. Schools today do an excellent job at stamping out that curiosity, and in the U.S. at least, it is getting worse. I will address these causes and specific problems at another time. This is my thoughts on an, admittedly Utopian, educational system.

  1. Everyone chooses what, and when, they learn. If a child starts learning letters early, they can be in the letter class. If someone has a difficult time, they can re-take the class at any age, and as many times as they choose. (Preferably without stigma). This also gives people the ability to balance school with their own lives, whether that is being a kid (see Finland) or raising kids.
  2. Classes are broken down into small units. Rather than having to figure out how to teach letters, sight words, and sentence structure in one class, each student can move on to the next building block at their own pace.
  3. Each teacher creates their own curriculum. All classes on the same topic must cover the same material, resulting in the same end knowledge. However the path to that result can be wildly different. This allows for differences in development and learning styles.
  4. There is a certain level of knowledge required to vote. This would be very elementary. Reading, some basic understanding of numbers (to comprehend the facts behind the issues), basic political systems, and FINDING AND EVALUATING SOURCES for instance. Just the bare necessities to be an informed voter.
  5. Each job would have certain qualifications. Rather than having a bachelor’s degree that shows a person went to school for a certain amount of time and focused on a general field, they could say, ‘I want ___ job, I need to take these certain classes.’ This would make people far more qualified for the job they want.
  6. Education is free for all. No matter how high the level of education, if we want to move forward as a society, everyone needs to be able to better themselves without setting themselves back.
  7. No grades. You either know the information at the end of a course, or you don’t. I hate tests, so finding a way to establish this might be a challenge.

I hope that this brief outline gives an idea of how this system would function. I would love to hear input, and work with others to create a new system, and find a way to implement it.