Tell Me How Much You Hated History Class…or Didn’t.

I never understood the polarizing quality of history. It’s not like you had to have the exact answers like math or science, or English, if you had a Jane Austen-obsessed teacher, who couldn’t possible understand my disinterest. (I will go to my grave arguing the pointless quality of reading Pride and Prejudice AND Sense and Sensibility back-to-back as a 15-year old.)

But history. It was about revolutions and events that created ideas. It was about great people writing heroic stories. Except when it was about June 27, 1880 or Milan, Ohio. Turns out there were right and wrong answers, which is apparently why some people just really don’t like history.

I’m doing a little research on these early notions of history. A short 8 question survey to determine whether a theory I hold about early history education is worth pursuing or simply a misguided resentment at the educational system.

I know we all love to share our opinion. Why else would be blog..or troll blogs to disagree with other people’s opinions…

Help me out by taking my survey here. And look for a future post about the results.

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That Autistic Kid: The Importance of People First Language

Occasionally I watch TV of questionable value. It happens when too much PBS or Ken Burn’s documentaries have me fearing I’ve prematurely aged by thirty years. While watching The Voice the other night, I heard a contestant make the statement, “I work with autistic kids.”

Hmmm, do you?

Then you really should know better than to refer to your students as “autistic kids.”  Respecting the different abilities of others requires the recognition that, first and foremost, they are human beings. Special needs or diagnosis are secondary to that fact. People first language is a big step towards creating a culture where everyone is accepted.

Critics claim over-sensitivity or the dangers of rigid political correctness that can cause everyone to be tentative but consider all of the personality traits or mental faculties that you have but wouldn’t want to be your defining quality.

List 10 characteristics about yourself that have a negative connotation. I’ll start:

  • Irrational
  • Indecisive
  • Argumentative
  • Critical

Well, you get the idea…

By making a list of “negative characteristics”, I’m not implying that special needs are a bad thing. I don’t think that and would like to believe that the rest of the world does not either, but the reality is much different.  The goal of this post is to work to change those pervasive ideas.

Go back to your list. Even if you weren’t able to come up with 10 things, if you listed more than one, it is a clear example of the layers that we carry. We are many things, so characterizing a person by a single element, like a special need, is narrow-minded, However, while putting these labels on people is negligent, each person should be defined. By their preferences, morals, opinions, views – defined not judged. We are who we are because of these things and should accept that reality.

A sad, secondary commentary on people first language is when it’s disregarded, because someone sees the need as a means of special treatment. A trendy diagnosis – like autism – can be used to create relevancy. Differences should be celebrated, but these people are doing themselves and their children a disservice in promoting the need. They are discriminating against their child as a multi-faceted person. By doing so, they are giving permission to other people to do the same. Very quickly “my amazing, special autistic child” becomes “the arm-flapping kid” or “that girls who counts all the time.” Children, especially, should be given the opportunity to define their own self beyond their special need.

For more information about the use of people-first language, check out the National Inclusion Project.

Forced Perspective (but not the fun photography kind)

Boardwalk in Seaside, Oregon on a typical Pacific Northwest beach day

Boardwalk in Seaside, Oregon on a typical Pacific Northwest beach day

It could be argued that as I enter my thirties the increase in my thoughts about children is a natural progression, but then your argument would be wrong. I work with children and have for most of my professional life. I’m at that very important point in my career where I recognize that I’m done working with kids, but would prefer to work in programs that benefit children. It’s time for me to transition, before I become that burned out, crotchety hag who is yelling at kids for running at recess.

All of these years working in education and my recent return to school have provided me with a clear definition of the relationship I don’t want to have with students. I often hear adults say things that are frustrating, sad, and, sometimes, plain terrifying. In the past few months, I’ve heard the “Columbus discovered America” line. Yep, in 2013, in a classroom, that lie is continuing to be perpetuated. I may start a Kickstarter campaign to purchase copies of James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “Lies Across America” for every educator in our country.

Most recently, I sat brokenhearted in the back of a classroom (unable to make a stand for fear of undermining the teacher, which we all know in a kindergarten class quickly leads to an overthrow and subsequent Lord of the Flies governing). The teacher was introducing a writing project that required the students to craft a sentence about what they wear to the beach and then illustrate their prose. She asked, “What do you wear to the beach?” A student raised her hand and said, “A sweatshirt.” The response she got was disheartening. She was told no, sweatshirts aren’t worn at the beach and then was forced to sit a listen to the items of clothing “appropriate” for the beach: swimsuits, shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, etc. You know all those things you wear to the beach…in Florida.

This isn’t Florida and neither was where I grew up, where if you wore shorts and a tank top to the beach you got hypothermia and died. “Appropriate” beach attire was knit hats, sweatshirts AND winter coats, Wellies, gloves. In a previous post I lamented about putting a limitation on individual thought and the fear that we were creating herds of like-mindedness. The observation of this interaction made me realize that it goes beyond directed thinking and becomes a projection of our own perspective.

Saying to another person, “Snakes are scary,” is a projection of fear. It’s a personal perspective. Now, let’s be clear, snakes ARE scary. They are not ok. Ever. Simply typing those 6 letters has made me put my feet up on the chair. But by stating this as fact, I’ve now projected my reality onto you. As an adult, you undoubtedly have had your own experiences with snakes and have a developed personal opinion, but consider all of the things a child has yet to experience. Our projection forces perspective on them, rather than labeling and presenting them as our own fears. By stating, “I THINK snakes are scary,” it lets someone develop their own ideas about these vile, nasty creatures.

As educators, by sharing our beliefs as the gospel, we are telling children that there are right and wrong ways to have experiences and perspective. Making statements of fact, rather than opinion gives them the idea that if they don’t carry the same views, they are different or wrong. When you individualize your statements, you individualize perspective. Children now get to experience the world as new, rather than with the preconceptions that have been forced on them.

It is our responsibility to help prepare children for life outside of childhood. There are cultural and social norms that must be imparted, but to “teach” an experience is absurd. The very definition of experience includes the element of discovery.

Even beyond education, forcing perspective is a dangerous way to traverse life. Consider the climate of our culture today in regards to bigotry over race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. There are people who are telling others how to experience and how to view and because we have grown up in an educational system that taught us in the same way, it doesn’t feel wrong. But it is.

We don’t live for the things we know, but for the things we don’t. The unknown.

It’s Unlikely You’ll Ride in a Spaceship Today.

Earlier this week, a problem in one student’s math workbook asked:

What is the possibility that you will ride in a spaceship today?

The answer choices were listed:

a) impossible

b) certain

c) unlikely

d) likely

I re-read the question and answers twice. It read to me like a question of opinion not a question of fact usually found in a math journal. Maybe it was possible that the individual answers were going to be used in a lesson on surveys or graphing. Nope. There was a “correct” answer as listed in the almighty answer key.

Impossible. The “correct” answer was impossible.

My own idea leaned heavily towards unlikely, I am not willing to rule out that I will ride in a spaceship today. And I’m not even a sci-fi nerd! I once asked a friend to pre-read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and remove any reference to personal spacecraft and replace it with ‘car’. I struggle in finding interest in fictional space travel, but I am enamored by the true feats of our space program, begged to go to space camp as a child, and can watch the NASA channel for hours.

2012 marked an incredible year in science, where feats once deemed ‘impossible’ then relegated to ‘unlikely’ were realized and accomplished. Felix Baumgartner’s skydive or the fact that we are exploring Mars again. Each year developments once considered far-fetched dreams of unrealistic idealists become reality, fact, the new truth.

We see this progressive thinking in many aspects of our culture, but in education it seems that we are stuck in the dangerous school of group thought. There are right and wrong answers. Answers that are black and white, figuratively and literally (an entirely separate, but equally important, discussion). Understanding there are certain truths that are considered infallible like 2 plus 2 equaling 4, there is little room for independent thought in the way our students arrive at these certainties. More importantly, we teach our students that there is an almighty ‘they’ that determines their rightness or wrongness and in order to progress it’s important to adhere to those predetermined paths.

The idea that there are things in our world that are considered impossible achievements severely stunts the growth of our nation. The limitations that are placed on thought starting at a young age means we raise generations taught to think inside the box. That term ‘outside the box’ was simply created to give people the perception that they are on the fringe with their independent thought, little do they know ‘the box’ is actually a box within a box within another box and so on.

The best part about education is that it seems to draw in the dreamers and the innovators. There are many ways that teachers and administration are working to fight back against creating the status quo, but they run into the inevitable challenges of money, time, and cohesive effort by boards and governments. When it comes down to it, it’s not the education system that is at fault, it’s yours. (Yours in the societal sense, of course.) It’s the distorted value system that has developed in the last 237 years.

This is not simply another of my diatribes were I scale the crumbling sides of my sarcastic soapbox to tell you about everything the world is doing wrong. Well, technically it is, but I also have a plan. It’s complicated, takes effort, and is probably more a result of my tree hugging youth than my career in education, but it is the direct result of not relying on the answer key.

Do You Know This Woman? Either do I.

A picture of possibilities. Possibly outside Luray, Kansas. Possibly Sara Marion Evert Evans. Possibly my great-grandmother

A picture of possibilities. Possibly outside Luray, Kansas. Possibly Sara Marion Evert Evans. Possibly my great-grandmother

I can only assume that the defining moment of my grandfather’s life was a moment that never came. A moment that he may have waited for or wished on, prayed for or merely held on to in slight hope. I wonder how often it crept up on him on those long nights as a young sailor and I wonder how many of his last thoughts fifty years later in that hospital bed were of the mother that he never knew. 

I did not know that my great-grandmother was not biologically his mother, although it didn’t matter much, as I met her once and despite fond memories, they are few. As happens when the morals and social norms of the past meet with the liberalized views of the present, I have difficulty in understanding why my grandfather was never told who his mother was and why she was not a part of his life. The sensitive nature of a possible affair or child-born out of wedlock is lost on one from a generation where these are, essentially, accepted practices. But I question the reasoning in the weighing on the potential harm that was done. Is being shamed for your indiscretion worse than raising a child forced into ignorance about his heritage?

As my grandmother, father and I push against time and those records and memories lost to it, our frustration grows. The information that we do have is only as useful as the audience it reaches. We have half of what we need. We knew the man, the father, the grandfather, the husband, but we’d like to know the son.

My grandfather, Victor Taylor.

My grandfather, Victor Taylor.

The information that we do have is limited, as we have been unable to find a birth certificate. We believe he, Victor Taylor, was born December 1924 in or around Luray, Kansas. His father’s name was Roy Taylor. His mother may have been named Sara Marion Evert Evans, although we have not been able to confirm that information through our research. We’ve also heard that she may have died before he was two.