Tag: education

15 Years since BYU

It seems hard for me to believe but the next few weeks marks a milestone in my life. It will be 15 years since I graduated with my bachelors degree from Brigham Young University (BYU)! It really seems impossible that 15 years has come and gone.

One of the things I envy about those who have kids is they have more concrete evidence of their growth as people. This person didn’t exist and now they do. I have no such evidence. In many ways I feel the same as I did back in 2002 getting my degree. For all intensive purposes how different is my life? I work every day, go to church on Sunday and develop my hobbies just like I did back then.

Nevertheless, I will always look back at my time at BYU as the happiest time of my life. It was a time of great growth, soul searching and closeness to God that I will never forget. My mission was also an extreme learning experience but that was more polishing. The real grunt work happened at BYU.

After growing up with little church support it was so important to be surrounded by people with shared values. I remember when we said a prayer before my science class and I started to cry. Where else could you say a prayer before a science class? What a liberating and beautiful thing!

Most people probably have grand ideas of what they want to do coming out of college. Not me. I just wanted to finish and have a great life. I’ve never been much of a dreamer in that way. I remember my friend Raelene had this long list of the house she wanted and the other bucket list things she wanted to do in life. That was never me. I was just thrilled to have achieved my dream of going to BYU. I didn’t need anything more.

Since then I have served a mission and had a number of jobs including working as an accounting clerk for nearly 10 years. Now I work from home in marketing and I think that might surprise my former self as I was a very social person back then. Now that social life is mostly fulfilled by means like twitter and facebook. It’s hard to imagine I once didn’t have those tools and survived quite well. I believe 2002 was the first year I ever got a cell phone if that puts things in perspective.

If I could give my young self advice I’d say to be patient and that being single aint that bad. I’d say quit that horrible job in 2005 instead of hanging on until 2007 and being miserable. Don’t be afraid to take risks and make sure you are making memories instead of gliding through life. And I’d say ‘you just lost Grandpa and yep you still miss him all these years later’.

It’s funny because I really don’t use my degree much aside from basic writing, editing and reading skills. However, I am certainly grateful I had my college experience and can look back with nostalgia at such a happy time in my life. I am grateful for all I learned and the person it helped me to become.

I can’t believe it has been 15 years! How is that possible?

Well, all I have o say is GO COUGARS!!

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Why Fs are Important

f-school-letter-grade2“If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative” Woody Allen.

I don’t say this often but I completely agree with Woody Allen on this one!  The last few weeks I’ve been thinking about grades and how we assess things and people in our culture.  On my movie blog http://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com I give a grade at the end of the review.  This can be anywhere from an A+ to an F.  Up until this point I have only given 7 Fs out of close to 250 reviews I’ve done.

Since I’m sure you are curious the 7 Fs are-  Chicken Little, Brother Bear, Dinosaur, Road to El Dorado, Maleficent, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, and The Lorax.  These are movies which I think are complete failures.  Ds on the other hand I didn’t like but I found some things to enjoy so it isn’t a total failure.

Most people are with me for this part of the grading system.  It’s when we get into Cs that it is interesting.  I have noticed many people treat a C grade like it is an F.  To me a C is in the middle.  It’s half way between an A and an F.  It’s an average, ok movie.  If I hated it I would give it an F.

If people actually read my reviews instead of just looking at the grade they would see on my C grades I say lots of nice things about said movie.  Such a movie is not a failure but there are some problems that keep it from the masterpiece or good levels of A and B.  That’s ok.  Not every movie can be a masterpiece and I get a lot of enjoyment out of the C movies.

Anyway people kept treating Cs like Fs so frequently that it made me wonder if Fs weren’t a part of the cultural lexicon as much as when I was at school.  I asked a friend and she said it is nearly impossible to get an F in school.  If you do anything you will most likely get a C.  So no wonder a C is seen as a failing grade if it takes the bare minimum of effort!

I have a problem with this.  First of all, it leaves teachers with only 3 options for a student.  5 is hard enough but if every student is either Great, Good or Failure that isn’t good.  C should be a place for a person who is in the middle of the pack.  I guess those people are Bs now but what about those that are almost top of the class?  That should be a B and a C should be for those that are right in between.  That’s an important dilatation.  Not everyone is going to be great or terrible at things.  Some things we will be average at, even for the best students, and that’s ok.  School was tough for me, especially college and I was more than happy to be a C earner on multiple occasions and if I had felt like that C was a failure forget it! We need that average score!

bart gets an f

We also need the Fs for several reasons.  First if there is no fear of actual failure with real consequences what motivation is there to try your hardest?  In one of my favorite Simpsons episodes ‘Bart Gets an F’ Bart finds out if he doesn’t shape up academically he will need to repeat the 4th grade.  This fear of the consequences of failure whips him into gear and he tries as hard as he can.  And he gets a D which is a huge victory for him.  If he had just been given a C because we don’t want to hurt his feelings than he wouldn’t have tried so hard and learned something.

When I was going to school there were many times I would leave the testing center in tears, having tried my hardest but still failed.  But that was a good thing.  I was forced to push beyond what I thought my limits are and actually learn the tough stuff or at least be average competency at it. If I knew I would get a C for just showing up and doing the bare minimum forget it.

And what are we trying to do with education anyway?  What separates education from day care is the kids are supposed to be learning something in school. And with the exception of special education situations if they don’t learn the assigned topic than the education has been a failure.  They deserve an F.  It should not be this devastating humiliating thing.  It should be a normal part of life that every once in a while, and sometimes a lot, we fail at things.  What do we do with that failure and how do we make it into a success?  Now that is where the true education comes into play!

The other thing is if a C has become the new F than you lose the ability to really differentiate problems in a sea of averageness.  For example, I was bullied pretty badly from 4th and into 5th grade with it getting especially bad the latter Fall.  I downplayed this at home telling my Mom about the incidents in a laughing silly kind of way.  Like it was no big deal.  Then I got a D in Math that Christmas.  My parents knew there was a problem.  It was a touchpoint that made them aware of other issues much more important than the math.  As a result I was pulled from the school and went to private school for the rest of the year that changed my life.

I don’t think that would have happened without the D.  The teacher could have thought it was harsh to give me a D because I did try but it was the grade I deserved and I’m glad she gave it to me.  Very glad.  Ds and Fs should be signs to parents, administrators, even children that there is something wrong and we need to look for solutions.  To just whitewash everything with a vanilla C takes away that opportunity for introspection and growth.

You can say grades are stupid and we shouldn’t give them out anyway, and to a certain extent I agree with you.  If a child is progressing that is the most important thing; however, I don’t think credit should be given for learning something if it wasn’t actually done.  If we got rid of grades completely than again we lose that touchpoint to easily compare things.  Not everything in life can have a long discourse or excuse.  Sometimes you just need to be able to look at a few key figures and say ‘ok Sally is doing better at English than Math. Let’s focus on that”.

I’ve thought about not giving grades on my movie reviews because I think people sometimes don’t read the review but just go right to the grade.  This is frustrating because I may explain something that you may say ‘she didn’t like that but it would be great for me’.  Like I don’t like scary movies so I may say as a negative a movie is too scary for me but if you like scary movies than it might sound great to you!  My grade is just that-my grade.  It’s what I thought of the movie.  I don’t try to imagine what others might think.  It is just my opinion.

I also don’t use a rubric like some critics do because sometimes my feelings both good and bad can’t be quantified.  It is just an overall experience with a film that deserves a certain grade.  I feel sometimes my friends with rubrics are held back by them from giving a movie a grade they know it really deserves.   I didn’t give grades for my Scrooge month series and I think people were a little more inclined to actually read the reviews, so I’m still considering it.   What do you think? If you read reviews what do you like as far as ranking systems and scores?

Regardless, the changing in the American mind of a C from average to failure is not a good thing.  People should be allowed to fail and it not be as big of a deal.  It’s part of the learning experience.  And if they fail I’m not going to sugarcoat it with a C.  That’s doing a disservice to all the people/movies/whatever who worked so hard for that C.

Plus, how do you delineate what is truly special if there isn’t an equally strong opposite?  Has an A also lost all of its meaning and value?

What do you think?  Do you see this as a problem?  Are we too afraid to let kids fail? What about how we grade or rank other things like movies or books?  Did you ever get a D or F that whipped you into gear or helped you? What do you think the solution is?

Treehouse-of-horror-v1

War on Kids

I think everyone should watch this movie and discuss it.  I’m not saying it is right about everything but I do think it brings up some important points.  And yes, I realize this will ruffle some feathers but I think it is worth it to start a discussion.  (It is a long feature film but very compelling)

In my high school they closed down all the bathrooms during lunch hours, which with 3 lunch hours was most the day, and had 2 teachers in front of the 2 open bathrooms checking you in.  If that isn’t prisonlike I don’t know what is.

That’s not to say there weren’t great teachers.  It’s the system that is the problem.  Too quick to medicate, too afraid to listen to children’s needs, too quick to thwart individual opinions and thought.  Many of the good teachers are frustrated like this teacher in Rhode Island

Last year I sat down with my sister and helped her with her math homework and was amazed at how much of it she had to do.  Surely the concepts could be taught with a few problems thoughtfully done, not page after page of mindless reading and then sheets of figures. I was bored and I’m an adult.

My friend Megan is a wonderful teacher and I was blown away at how she integrated plays, science projects and other creative activities into her curriculum.  Sadly I fear she is the exception not the rule and many teachers want to be like Megan but are repeatedly discouraged.  I had one teacher in middle school who taught science with his guitar through songs and other creative measures and he was a constant annoyance to the administration, eventually being fired after a few years.

I was bullied as a kid and the teacher’s refused to do anything.  This was not just mental bullying but physical abuse such as being shoved into water fountains and my underwear exposed to all the students.  This was done with teachers supervising. Finally my parents had to take me to a private school to save me from the ‘little angels’ the teachers defended.  Its ridiculous.

And yes, I’m single and can have a strong opinion on this topic. So there.

Interview Part 3

1. What would you do to solve world poverty?

I would do nothing to actually solve the problem because I don’t believe it is a solvable problem.  The only way a utopian society works is if all pride, greed, selfishness, guile are taken out of man.  Unfortunately these qualities exist; therefore a true utopian system with monetary equality will never happen. People from my own faith have tried to eliminate poverty and despite the best of intentions it did not work.

2. if you can’t completely change world poverty how can you make an impact?

The first thing I would address is what is actually a ‘right’ in our nation.  In the Bill of Rights the government ensures that citizens can behave in a certain way uninhibited by government.  For instance, freedom of speech is a right to say what you want.  The Bill of Rights does not guarantee any possessions or standard of living for citizens as a right.  However, far too often the word right is used to describe health care, housing, food, clothing.  These ‘rights’ are things people worked for and sacrificed for millennia and now they are looked at as an inherent right.  I do not agree.

That said- I do think that a democratic government has an obligation to help (not a right) provide sustenance and housing for those that are the most worse  off.   History has shown that democracy does not flourish when people are starving.  Pretty much every dictator has risen because of poverty and starvation.  They promise easy answers with soaring rhetoric that can make their pitch very tempting.

The economist Friedrich Hayek describes it well “A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.”

He also said “Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.”  The less we are dependent upon the government we are, the stronger our democracy remains.

Again,  I think we should do some minor assistance to help those that are the worse off. This helps prevents an over-reliance on the government, thwarts revolutionary sentiment, and encourages more people to try and move onward from this minimal help. The rest of the citizens should be allowed to experience the true ups and downs of the free market. I believe with Hayek that if we create a false low the high will not be as high; thereby, allowing less prospering in general.  In the end, everyone is better off with a free market.

3.  What do you think is the greatest national and international crisis of our time?

People like to throw around the crisis word quite liberally. I think our largest national crisis is our insurmountable debt, $15 trillion and growing.  I worry that people are unwilling to make the tough cuts to entitlements and other programs to fix the debt.  Eventually the US will be seen as a bad investment by other countries (already happening). We’ve already lost one of our credit ratings. We are closer to becoming the new Greece or Ireland than anyone wants to admit.

My personal belief is we should stop raising the debt ceiling and cut, cut, cut.  I think a balanced budget amendment is a great idea.  Then we need to prepare the citizens for sacrifice.  If we really decide to tackle this debt everyone will pay a price.  Its just a reality.  We have NO money!  I have not seen how stimulating the economy has done any good.  Its a nice idea in theory but not in practice.  All we have done is made the dollar weaker, borrowed more and uplifted a bunch of companies like Solyndra that the free market should have handled.

Once again I agree with Hayek “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.”  The idea that we can sculpt a positive outcome and never face the pains of a negative downturn just doesn’t work.  It has harmed us immensely.

Another national crisis is manufacturing.  In WWII the US Govt was able to take a flourishing manufacturing sector and convert factories into military suppliers. We also produced our own steel, copper and other metals.   If a similar conflict happened now we do not have the infrastructure to prepare for a world war.  Assuming we could find factory space, we don’t have the skilled blue collar workforce like we did in the 40s.  Almost all of those jobs have gone to countries like China, Mexico and India.

Why have these companies left US manufacturing?  It is simple.  All of the regulations, labor disputes and taxes make it impossible to run a profit, or at least not be as profitable as nations without all of those barriers.  Companies are responsible to their shareholders for making money and if producing in China makes more profit they usually don’t care where it is made. People like to say they would spend more to shop American but it has not panned out in actual sales.  We have to find a way to be competitive.

Also, there are companies that have little choice but to go to China.  In the handwarmer business our competitors completely undercut our prices making the profit margins so low we had no choice but to have the warmers made in China over Japan.

To help solve this manufacturing crisis I would make it easier to start up a business, ease the tax load on the self-employed, have a bare minimum of practical regulations and provide incentives to keep companies here like low taxes and an occasional subsidy. Why do you think so many movies get made in Canada? Because they have subsidies and low regulations that make it attractive for Hollywood companies to make their movies there.  (If you look Toronto is the New York and LA in many a movie).  An investor in some movie doesn’t care about loyalty to America, they want to make money, and if filming in Toronto costs less they do it.  We have to make America as attractive for businesses as any other country.

As far as an international crisis, the crumbling of Europe greatly worries me.  If Italy, Greece, Germany, Ireland and Iceland were companies they would all be bankrupt.  They have received bailouts because they are governments but I don’t believe bailouts actually work.  I think they just extend the problems a little bit longer before the crisis hits.  Countries like Greece will never be able to pay back the debt they owe. In 2010 the Greek public debt was forecast  to hit 120% of GDP.  No company could get away with this kind of debt.  The Greek government even lied and falsified data to get accepted into the EU.  Makes Enron look honest.  I honestly don’ t know what to do about it but there has to be consequences.

I am also very concerned with Iran’s nuclear capability.  They hate Israel, have a brutal dictator at the helm, and are a sanctuary for Al Queda.  All very comforting information.  I worry that as we withdraw from Iraq, Iran will get stronger, spreading its influence amongst its friends.  This is not what the US wants.  I worry that with our rapid abandonment of Iraq another Khmer Rouge will happen. We need to be very careful.

To be honest I’m not sure what the solution is for Iran but sanctions aren’t working.

 4. What do you think is the problem with politics today?

The problem starts with the death of the melting pot.  America is no longer an amalgamation of differing ethnic groups and viewpoints.  It is a scattering with one group here, another over there, spotting the map.  What happens then is a representative is chosen from this cluster, sharing that cluster’s perspective.  If he wants to get reelected the politician knows he must keep the cluster happy; however, now he is in Washington and must interact with all these other clusters through their representatives.  This creates divisiveness and an unwillingness to compromise.  For instance, someone from Utah would never vote for a pro-choice bill..  It would be political suicide here.

This sorted environment creates more partisan representatives who are more extreme.  Some could argue the founders were a pretty partisan and extreme group,  and they would be right, but the spirit of compromise they brought with them tempered their extremism making popular policy a reality. They were even willing to put deeply held moral views on the table for discussion when that would never happen today.

There are things I agree with about the democratic party but the issues have become so polarizing that it feels like you give an inch they take a yard, making everyone more stubborn and uncompromising.

5. What is an issue you disagree with in the republican party?

Immigration.  I believe that it is too difficult to get citizenship or even a green card.   The amount of work takes years of paperwork by trained professionals, a basic implausibility for a hardworking migrant worker who wants citizenship.   My sister-in law got a greencard after she married my brother and the interviews and paperwork was astounding.

Immigrants have always proven the naysayers wrong and they have always benefited our country in the end.  Sometimes it takes a generation or two but they become productive, even exemplary citizens.   So, there you go.  I think we should make it easier to get a greencard and then citizenship.  This would solve many of the problems that go along with illegal immigration such as drug trafficking, sweat shop work, gangs and the sex trade.   We can do better for our immigrants.

6. What can we do to better educate our children?

Education starts at home.  Anything we can do to help a home be more stable for a child the more likely he or she will be able to learn.  For example, having more big brother big sister programs might help support parents as they raise their children.  I’d love to get involved but the closest chapter is in Salt Lake 30 minute drive.

This may be controversial but get the lemon teachers out!  They damage the progress of children instead of advancing it.  I don’t know what the best way is for finding out the lemons but everyone knows who they are.  At my high school there was a math teacher who was a notorious lemon.  He told us at the beginning of class that the only reason he taught was to coach.  Most of the time he’d put problems on the board and my fellow students would explain them.  This should not happen.  This person should certainly not get tenure for doing a lousy job.  There has to be a better way.

I find it insulting that the idiot math teacher I had will get the same tenure and benefits as my awesome history teacher who truly engaged every individual in learning.  Its wrong!  There has to be a way to differentiate the crap teachers from the awesome ones.   The problem is the teachers union doesn’t want you to touch tenures; thereby, limiting the potential bonuses that could be given good teachers, and vaulting up the lemon teachers to the same status as the good teachers.  If I was a good teacher I’d be ticked off to see lemons getting the same treatment as me.  It is disheartening and discourages quality education; thereby, creating more lemons.  How do you get motivated when you know the lemon will get every bit of benefits and pay as you?

There has to be a solution. Get the lemons out! A bad teacher can cause years, even decades of harm.  I had a lemon choir teacher in high school and didn’t believe I could sing until I took lessons again at 25.

I would also say that we need to get more field trips in the budget for schools.  I learned so much going to the museums in DC and trooping around the Chesapeake Bay.  I saw things that my parents never saw and museums I would never have been too with my family.   Surely there is something we can cut to make room for a few field trips or perhaps we could fund-raise?

The point is somewhat mute because I plan on homeschooling my children (if I ever have any) but I still would like to have as effective a public school system as possible.

7. Has the importance of education changed in the last few years?

Yes and No.  Education has become much easier over the last few years.  Not easier in sense of content (although that argument can be made- grade inflation is a serious problem) but in access and locations.  With the internet thousands graduate each year with credited bachelors and and higher level degrees (including myself, MBA 2008 UofPhx, flexnet program).  It is exciting to live in an era where education is so available.

With so many graduates; however, you have a problem of a Bachelor’s degree not having the power it once  had.  Bachelor’s degrees have become a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Even a liberal arts degree, that may be seen as impractical, still adds great value to our society.  Any education makes people better, and better people have better kids, better kids make the future better.  Plus, educated people are more thoughtful voters which is what our democracy needs to remain strong.

8. What other issues are you solid on?

Pro Life- My personal beliefs is that it should almost never be done.  If the mother is really going to die I might consider it.  I have stronger feelings on this issue than my church’s official stance.  I believe it should almost never happen.  I believe life starts at conception  and that life is innocent and pure.   A baby at any phase has value,  has life.   I think it is also a mistake to assume that a poor woman should have abortions so she can provide for her already large family.  This is making a judgement about the value of this human being.  Poor people, facing dramatic odds, have made huge differences in our world.  Who are we to say that life is not valuable?  That is God’s decision. That’s my view.

Capital Punishment- Some people have committed such terrible crimes they should pay the ultimate price.  In fact, they are usually treated with much more grace than their victims ever were.  We should be stricter with parole and inmates serving their actual sentence.  I don’t view incarceration as a form of recovery. There are those that change their lives after jail but those are the exception to the rule.  I think non-violent offenders are more likely to rehabilitate.  I also don’t agree with the 3 strikes rule.  This has led to huge overcrowding in the California penal system.  Everyone should be judged by their action not by some set policy of 3 strikes.

Pro-Gun- I debated about this for a while but my gun friends have finally convinced me.  If someone wants to own a gun I think they should have the right to do so.  I don’t have any issue with waiting periods but guns must be locked in a safe at all times so nobody can accidentally get them. I would like to learn how to properly use a gun. Anyone want to take me shooting sometime and show me the ropes?  As a single woman I can’t deny that the thought of safety and protection hasn’t entered my mind.  They still kind of freak me out but I think that is because of my ignorance in using them.  If I became more informed that would remove some of the fear.

Health Care- Again, I think the free market is the best solution for health care.  The insurance system we have is not really free market because the consumer doesn’t feel the true cost of their care.   When I was uninsured I called to make sure I got the cheapest prescription, compared doctors rates and got the best deal.  Do I do that now that I’m insured? Sometimes but not on a standard basis.   If you look at procedures in the free market (not covered by insurance) such as lasik eye surgery they have gotten better and cheaper each year.  That’s what the free market does.

I don’t have a problem with free clinics for those badly off but nothing to the extent of the socialized medicine found in Europe and in Obamacare.  Such programs create more expenses, not less, leading to huge government spending, with the standard of care going down.  Why do you think most of the wealthy come to the US for surgery or treatment?  Its because we are the best.  We would be even better if there was a true free market instead of the insurance system we currently have.

Pro- Marriage- This isn’t  a shocker.  I support marriage between a man and a woman.  This is God’s system for His children.  That is what I believe.

So, those are some dicey issues.

I think that there is another underlying issue throughout the globe that will be felt in the next 30 years.  We have entire generations who stare into computers all day, everyday (including myself).  You almost have to plan ahead to do anything creative, enlightening, joyful.  I call this generation the Dilbert Generation, and I think it is going to have an impact on our happiness, families and society at large.  I’m not sure what the solution is but companies like Google are at least trying to bring a creative atmosphere into the workforce.  This should be encouraged.

9. Who are you voting for?

Well,  I liked Michelle Bachmann but she’s gone.  So I am voting for Romney.  I like his jobs plan.  Go to his website and read it.  Its good.  He knows how to lead and get things done. Let’s hope he gets the nomination!  I am also not ashamed to say that I do feel a connection to Romney because of our shared faith.  That’s not a reason to vote for him, but I am kind of rooting for him.  Is that so terrible to admit?

There is a wider range of political thought in the Mormon church than we are given credit for (both Romney and Harry Reid are members) and on either side of the spectrum we add a focus on family, a deeply seated patriotism, a belief in helping all who suffer, and a hard work ethic.  These are values I see in Mitt Romney, and I will be curious to see how he implements them as President.

My prediction is- Romney will be the nominee and will do quite well against Obama because so much of Romney’s ‘dirt’ has already been spit out.  Bain will be old news by the time they get to the general election.  Romney could fall apart but if he doesn’t I think a very strong race could be had between Romney and Obama.

Good luck Brother Romney!

Writing and Reading for Children and Teens

This is a quick post- (Believe me I will do my 3rd interview I just want to make sure it is well thought out and that my political opinions are explained adequately).

On Saturday I went to an awesome literary symposium put on by the Provo Library.  This was with my friend Emily Whitman who has been my BFF for 11 years.  With 2 kids and my busy work-life it is harder to get together than I would like, especially a full afternoon so Saturday was such a treat.

We got to meet Haven Kimmel who wrote the wonderful memoir A Girl Named Zippy- a book which holds a special place in my heart because it is about growing up in Indiana.  I have never met an author that I admire and it was so interesting to hear her perspective.  She seemed a little melancholy over the recent changes in the publishing industry and said:

“I’m not sure how to continue in an art form that has changed so much that I no longer know how to perform it.”

But she was also very funny and there was a spirited debate over the advent of ebooks.  In her mind they lessened the archival nature of a library, created a technological ‘upgrade’ need and excluded the poor/disadvantaged from the freedom provided by free books.  It was interesting to me because I purchased a kindle in August expecting to love it but I haven’t.  I rarely use it and prefer a real book that I can write notes in and arrows (I know you can do that in a kindle but I find it very tedious).

In fact, if anyone wants to buy a traditional 3G kindle I will give you a good deal (of course, they came out with the fire literally 2 weeks after my purchase!).

Anyway, the second session of the conference was on teen literature.  While it was interesting I disagreed with the attitude of the presenter.  She was a teacher in the public school system and to me she had a very defeatist attitude (she was a perky lady but still defeatist).

One of the first things she said was ‘It would be nice for my students to be reading more challenging books but at least they are reading’.  Then as she continued one of her main qualifications for a book being a good recommendation was that it was ‘really fast’.  I felt like she said that phrase 30 times in the hour. (Tell that to all the kids pouring through Harry Potter at 0ver 700 pages).

Her attitude annoyed me because I feel it is emblematic of a culture of compliance that we have in nurturing children and teenagers.  We could encourage them to do better, be more, but instead we are happy with the least modicum of effort.

I’m not saying every child has to read Foucault and Thoreau but let’s not assume they can’t.  Let’s see the greatest potential in all the people around us whether it is reading, dieting, learning, whatever. The greatest people in my life always saw my potential, the biggest disappointments failed to help nurture me (I still feel some resentment towards my high school choir teacher who stomped on my talent so hard I didn’t sing for 7 years in public after).

Once a child/teen is presented with reading options and they chose Diary of a Wimpy Kid, no problem.  At least they are reading something over nothing. (I have never read Wimpy kid but that was just the example the speaker used about what her high school senior kids are reading). I just want the options to be presented and to not assume they will immediately go for something less challenging.  I hated that assumption growing up.

It turns out there is quite a lively debate on this topic on the web spawned by an article in the New York Daily News by Alexander Nazaryan.

http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2012/01/against-walter-dean-myers-and-the-dumbing-down-of-literature-those-kids-can-read-h

http://oinks.squeetus.com/2012/01/in-which-i-gamely-stick-out-my-tongue.html

I’m actually inclined to agree more with Nazaryan.  As mentioned above, this feeling comes from the way I felt as a child.  I hated being pandered too and treated like I was stupid because I was young.  I wanted nothing more than to be shown the respect I felt I deserved.  I wanted to be heard and taken seriously from a very young age.

One of my greatest goals if I am ever a parent is to let my children win an argument.  This might sound funny but I want them to know that they have the ability to think things through on their own and that Mother is not always right.  (Not every argument, but I want my kids to feel a freedom of expression and to learn to back up their thoughts as well as they can).

Basically my feeling on writing for children and teenagers is summed up best by Dr.  Seuss (a man who is about as creative as it gets, so proof my approach does not limit magic or youthfulness in kids):

I don’t write for children. I write for people.” Or, as he once told an interviewer, “I think I can communicate with kids because I don’t try to communicate with kids. Ninety percent of the children’s books patronize the child and say there’s a difference between you and me, so you listen to this story. I, for some reason or another, don’t do that. I treat the child as an equal.”

Finally, I think most teens are turned off of reading not because of difficult, boring books but because of the way those books are dissected in the classroom.    If kids were allowed to present their own point of view instead of over-analyzing character motivations and styles I think they wouldn’t be as turned off.  I think it is more a matter of approach than the material itself.

For Christmas I was debating about getting my 12 year old sister Pride and Prejudice, but I did and she was excited.  I could have gotten her Prom and Prejudice (as suggested by the speaker) but I had confidence to give her the real thing.  I think with a little digging we can see the literary potential of all of the people around us, especially the youth, and their life will be better for the faith we show in them.

It is also important to remember that you aren’t going to win with every suggestion.  They might even hate what you put out there for them to read but I think that is good.  Development of a critical eye and a well reasoned mind is part of the learning process.  I read Scarlet Letter as a teen and hated it, still do, but you can bet I can explain why I dislike it so much! I could then, I can now!

So, that’s my opinion on that.  What do you think?  How do you think we should approach reading for teens and children?  Are the classics still relevant and important to introduce or is just getting them reading enough?

(Nice what I think of as a quick post… 🙂 )

School Shopping

Today I was on the radio!  There is a local call- in talk show (not a hard core Republican show but more about local matters) called the Doug Wright Show on KSL.  I’ve always been impressed with Doug’s hosting abilities and combined with Doug Fabrizio on Radio West on KUER  (local NPR station) I think Utah has 2 of the best radio hosts in the country (both oddly named Doug!).

Anyway, today they were talking about ‘school/teacher shopping’. This is the phenomenon in education where parents ensure their children have the best teachers/schools and may even try different teachers out to see if they are a good fit for their child.

Here is my call in.  I am at 25:10.(A little under half way through)

Rachel\’s Call

It may seem strange for a single girl like myself to have passionate feelings about this topic but it all goes back to my upbringing.  When I was in the 4th and 5th grade I began to be bullied fairly roughly (is there a nice way to be bullied?).  During those years seemingly out of nowhere I gained a lot of weight.  This led to kids shoving me into water fountains, calling me ‘dog’ and asking me ‘what kind of dog food my mom fed me?’ etc (you get the idea).

Seeing the problem, my parents took action and met with the teachers.  Unfortunately these particular teachers were very inattentive and passed off our concerns with a ‘boys will be boys, kids will be kids’ type of attitude.  They actually told my parents ‘there is nothing we can do’.  Thankfully my parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to Reid School in Salt Lake City, UT.

I am so grateful to my parents for making this choice.  I know it was a sacrifice of time and money but it really did change my life.  At Reid School I felt loved and accepted. Plus, they taught me to master topics both in the short-term and long-term.  What matters at Reid School is mastery and improvement, not in a particular grade or score.  Each child is individually monitored and then learning is tailored to challenge and encourage their individual learning style and personality.

Even though I was only at Reid School for one semester it had a dramatic impact on me.  First of all, it taught me that my parents really were watching out for me.  This was during a time when my parents had a lot on their plate- my mom had just had a baby with bedrest, my Dad was working overseas in Japan a great deal, and they both had demanding callings in the ward.  To know that my parents were watching and cared enough to remove me from a bad situation meant a lot to me then and now.

this was me during the bullying time. Such a cute kid. My heart goes out to her when I see this photo

Secondly, it taught me to never look at a situation as a closed book.  To fight for your own happiness- a lesson I have had to continually relearn throughout my life.  My father is particularly good at this type of thought.  There are always new and interesting options with my Dad.  We do not need to accept the first helping that life puts out for us. Most of the time we can ask for more, we can fight for more.  This is especially important when it comes to our kids.

I know there are some who say ‘if you pull out your kid from a bad school/class than the school will never get better’.  Well, my response to them is- that’s just too bad.  If there ever was a time for me to be selfish it is with the raising of my children (if I ever have them).  If I have kids their happiness will be my top priority and I will not offer my children up on a sacrificial alter of a failing school/teacher.  I will do what’s best for them period.

Does this mean I will never put my children in public school?  No.  It means I will do exactly what this program talks about- teacher/school shop.  I will consider ALL of my options and find the solution that is best for my child.  If that is a great public school teacher than so be it.

I highly recommend watching the documentary Waiting for Superman.

Hurray for Dr. Holland!

I just found out today that my mentor and friend Dr. Matt Holland had exciting news- he was named as President of Utah Valley University in Orem Utah! This is a large college nearby my Alma Mater Brigham Young University. The school has 23,750 students and was recently upgraded from a college to a university.

I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more.  I met Dr. Holland as a student in political philosophy in 2001.  I had taken classical political theory previously, but I hated the teacher.  He was one of those teachers everyone said was “easy” but I found it boring.  I actually stopped attending after a while and just turned in my tests. I thought the class was so obvious and boring.  Despite being absent I still passed the class and gained an appreciation for philosophy.  For some reason I decided I wanted to be a teaching assistant for a political philosophy class (which is odd considering my experience with the class).

To improve my grade I took the class again for summer term and was lucky enough to have a brand new teacher named Matt Holland.  I loved all my philosophy classes, but Dr. Holland’s was special.  He just made me want to be a better person, to look at these theories and see how they could improve my life and the lives of those I love.  All of my philosophy classes helped me understand the world, helped me understand myself- and helped me know how to express my soul.  I remember in high school feeling like I could never convey what was inside my heart- the thoughts were there but the words would always disappoint.  It such a cliche to say but it was in college I found my voice.  Dr. Holland inspired this journey.

Just before his class was ending I approached Dr. Holland about being his TA (and when I say approached I mean I called him about 15 times in 2 weeks).  I knew that I needed to be persistent because I didn’t have the greatest GPA. Let’s put it this way- there were definitely students with higher GPA’s he could have hired. Something inside me knew I needed this experience. To my delight a week or so before class started Dr.  Holland called me and said “So, you want to be my TA hah?”.  After that, I was hired along with two of my best friends in the major Raelene Kochel (now Bradley)  and Bob Floyd.

See if you can feel my enthusiasium from a journal entry dated 09/01/01 (just after getting the job)?:

Oh, that’s right I am going to be a TA. I haven’t told you about that yet! I ended up getting an A- in my 201 class and I asked Dr. Holland if I could be a TA and he said sure! I am so excited. The best part of it is that I am going to be TA’ing with my friend Raelene who is super nice. She is honestly probably my best friend in the political science major. I really want to become more involved in the major this semester because this is my last chance. This TA will be a start….I am kind of scared to be a TA but I think it will be a super good experience and Dr. Holland is super nice. So, I am excited (If you couldn’t tell!).(09-01-01)

Now listen to a letter I wrote (don’t know if I sent) to my parents  just after my job is finished:


I think out of everything I am the most proud of my work with Dr. Holland. I have been thinking so much lately and I know that I am a better person for all that I have been experiencing. It’s intimidating to get up there and teach other students or grade papers, but he makes me want to try harder. My hope is that maybe when I see you again at Christmas, that you will be shocked at how much I have grown and changed.(12-09-01)

It’s hard to explain how a simple college job could be so important to me.  I cry whenever I think about it.  As part of this job I graded papers and tests, tutored students, created multimedia presentations, and even instructed the class on grammar once!  I’ve always respected that Dr. Holland never  questioned our grades, never second guessed us.  He had faith in us.  There were times when he gave correction but it was in a way that motivated, not discouraged.  Dr. Holland was without a doubt the best boss I have ever had. I wanted to be great because I knew he believed in me.

It was also a great experience to work and instruct students.  I remember the first time I connected with one.  It was an older Latino woman who was struggling to understand Plato’s cave. I could not figure out how to explain this concept in a way that an ESL student would understand.  After several attempts it finally occurred to me to ask if she had seen the movie the Truman Show?  She said she had.  I then showed how the set Truman is stuck in is similar to the cave.  Everything surrounding Truman is like the shadows in the cave- they aren’t real.  They have been placed there by the director, just like the shadows are placed in the cave by the philosopher kings.  She got it!  It was so exciting to see the light bulb moment in this student.  It made me feel smart, made me feel confident, in a new way.  I owe that moment to Dr. Holland and his faith in me.

Once I finished being his TA, I had Dr. Holland as my professor for my senior capstone class.  It was possibly the best class ever.  There were only 7 of us in the class- and Raelene and I were the only girls.  Last year I asked Dr. Holland if he’d seen anything like us again and he said “No, you two are legends”! He also said Raelene and I were two of his favorites! (That meant a lot to me!).

I started this class determined to get an A.  Despite learning a great deal in my classes, I often felt frustrated by my inability to get A’s.  I wanted to show Dr. Holland I could get an A in the most important class- the senior capstone.  I also wanted to prove to myself I could do it.  The class was on the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the main assignment for the class was to write a 20 page paper on his political philosophies.  I chose to focus on Jefferson’s theories of education. Here is the link to the paper if anyone is interested in taking a look:  Senior Capstone Paper.

Anyway, I worked for hours on the paper.  My friend Marcus and I met in the law library and poured over them again and again.  It only ended up being 20 pages, but I felt like I had written a book. It was one of the few moments in my life where I can genuinely say I did the best I could. I put in every ounce of effort I could.  I felt that way when leaving my mission.  I felt that way when leaving my job last year, and I felt that way then.  I always try to do my best work but this was something different.  This was my heart and soul.  Dr. Holland recognized that and was very encouraging.  In fact, when others in the class wanted to extend the date of the paper he called me to discuss it.  I felt that an extension would be one more example of how I worked the hardest but then ended up the same as everyone else.  Perhaps this comparison was beneath me but I just felt like I had earned the highest grade in the class for once in my life.  I wanted to prove to Dr. Holland and to myself that I could do it without any extension or help.

Finally I turned in the paper and low and behold an A! It still holds up as one of the best moments of my life. To end the class Dr. Holland gave me a book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  It has since become one of my favorite books (anyone who has been in a book club with me can attest to that).  The inscription on the book reads:

Rachel,

I hope you enjoy this stirring narrative of a female slave.  I believe it embodies many ideals you seem to cherish and represent yourself!  Courage, discipline, and freedom for all– especially those who lacked it in previous societies.  It’s been a great delight having you in class.  Both as a student and  teaching assistant.  Good luck, Prof.  Holland.

This meant so much to me.   It’s hard to describe.  It just did. Still to this day, I feel motivated to do my best because of Dr. Holland’s faith in me. I don’t want it to have been for naught. I want to mean something to the world.  I know I can accomplish great things.  That is the power of a great teacher.  Dr.  Holland isn’t perfect.  He was just the influence I needed at that moment, at that time, and he rose to the challenge.

Everyone has key figures in his or her life- people who if they made a biographic film  would have to be in it.   My parents, my siblings, my grandparents, Dr.  Holland and a few key friends would have to be there. I am not a believer in total fate, but I do believe that each person has key people who we are supposed to meet along the way- both people we need to help, and that improve our lives.  Dr.  Holland was such a key person for me. I am grateful that he took the time to nurture my intellect and encourage me to do my best. He saw a potential in me that I didn’t even see in myself and once again- that’s a great teacher.  I am so excited for his future as the President of UVU, and I wish him all the best.  Good luck!

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