Blogging Your Friends Away

I like to post about a variety of things.  My blog is kind of all over the place.  The posts that always get the most views are the ones that are controversial in some way.  Sometimes I choose controversial topics on purpose in order to get more views.

But a lot of things that seem like no-brainers are controversial now.  Things like “camel toe is inappropriate for work” and “holding Republican politicians to one standard and Democrats to another is hypocritical” have gotten me some very strong backlash, both on WordPress and on Facebook.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to say them anyway.

So far as I know, only one person on Facebook has unfriended me over the views I express in my blog.  But I have noticed something interesting about some of my Facebook friends: they only comment on my posts when they disagree with me.  Not on my posts about travel, movies, the funny things my students say, or any of my other benign topics.  Nope, only (or almost only) the political ones, and only to disagree.  It’s very disagreeable.

Granted, there aren’t very many such friends.  I don’t plan at this time to unfriend them, but it does make me wonder why I friended them in the first place.  I think the lesson from this is that quality matters over quantity, and I’ll only friend people on Facebook that I truly connect and want to keep in touch with.

Advertisements

More On Grace and Works

I often worry about whether or not I’m good enough.  I know I mess up a lot.  I’m not as patient as I should be, I act rudely to my husband, I don’t always keep the Sabbath holy, I forget it’s fast Sunday, and on and on.  It’s really easy to put myself down as I think about all the ways I fall short.

That’s why my husband suggested I listen to this particular talk from the Saturday morning session of the October 2016 General Conference.  It’s titled, “Am I Good Enough? Will I Make It?” from Elder J. Devn Cornish of the Seventy.

This talk was exactly the message I needed.  In this talk Elder Cornish showed that he cares about and understands the feelings of the members as we try to do the right things but just can’t.  If you have ever felt that discouragement, you should go read the whole talk.  Here I’m going to give some of the highlights and my thoughts as well:

“Sometimes when we attend church, we become discouraged even by sincere invitations to improve ourselves. We think silently, ‘I can’t do all these things’ or ‘I will never be as good as all these people’…Please, my beloved brothers and sisters, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing. We falsely judge our self-worth by the things we do or don’t have and by the opinions of others.

We sometimes compare ourselves to other members of our ward, believing that they are successfully doing all the things we feel we can’t.  I think it’s also important to note that we don’t necessarily know what other members are struggling with.  They may look like they are doing all the right things and that we can’t compare with them, but they make think the same about us.

Salvation isn’t a competition.

I also really struggle with the idea that I have inherent worth.  I think of my worth as being dependent on my productivity.  If I’m really smart or a great teacher or really good at keeping a family history, then I must be worthwhile.  That’s what goes on in my head.  Instead, I need to remember that my worth comes from being a daughter of God.

“If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.”

This one is so hard for me to remember.  Discouraging thoughts about how I’ll never be good enough don’t come from Heavenly Father.  Those come from Satan.  Heavenly Father encourages us, rather than discouraging us.

Elder Cornish focuses on what direction we are facing, rather than on where we are.  If we keep trying to be like Christ, then that is enough.

“Our Heavenly Father intends for us to make it!”

I really love that.  Heavenly Father didn’t send us here with the intent that we would fail.  Like every good teacher, He doesn’t set us up for failure.

“If we will sincerely repent, God really will forgive us, even when we have committed the same sin over and over again. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: ‘However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made …, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.'”

“None of us will ever be ‘good enough,’ save through the merits and mercy of Jesus Christ, but because God respects our agency, we also cannot be saved without our trying. That is how the balance between grace and works works.

I forget this sometimes.  I don’t have to do it alone.  It was never intended that I do it alone.

I’ve bookmarked this talk, because I think I’ll be going back to it again.  I don’t always feel like conference talks are especially relevant to me, but this one feels like it was given directly to me, about the things I need to hear.  I know that the church leaders are inspired by the Lord, and knowing that helps me keep going.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  –2 Timothy 1:7

Why Don’t We Just Teach Men Not to Rape?

It never fails.  On every article, video, etc., of safety tips or techniques for women on self defense, someone will say something on the variation, “Why don’t we just teach men not to rape?”

Oh my goodness, what a brilliant idea!  I can’t believe no one ever thought of this before!  Why stop at rape?  We’ll just teach everyone not to do bad things.  We’ll include character development and ethics in schools, and pretty soon we won’t have to worry about crime ever again.  We’ll be able to spend all day holding hands and singing Kumbaya and we’ll have world peace.

If only someone had pulled young Adolf Hitler aside and told him that genocide is wrong.  Then the Holocaust never would have happened, right?

Wrong.

Bad people do bad things because they are bad people.  The want money, power, or that’s how they get their jollies, or whatever.  They don’t rob, rape, and murder people just because they don’t know any better.

Not to mention that saying we should just teach men not to rape assumes that every man is a potential rapist, which is both insulting and sexist.

Let’s look at the case of Brock Turner.  Turner was a 20 year old freshman at Stanford, when he was discovered by two other Stanford students sexually assaulting a young woman who was passed out, drunk.    Turner was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to six months.  Many people were furious that he got such a light sentence.  Even worse, he only served three months of that sentence, getting out early for “good behavior.”

Turner’s father had pleaded for leniency for his son.  He claimed that prison “…Is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 year life.”  “20 minutes of action” is quite the euphemism for rape.  Unsurprisingly, many people were livid and horrified by this casual dismissal of sexual assault.

Turner tried to blame it on the alcohol.  His victim explained in her statement “That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.”

Now let’s go back to the “just teach men not to rape” claim.  If it’s true that we just need to teach men not to rape, and then everything will be hunky-dory, then we would accept Turner’s claims about alcohol at face value.  He was confused and didn’t know any better.  Therefore, we should all be satisfied with his three month sentence, secure in the knowledge that now that he knows better, everything is fine.

But people aren’t fine with it.  Why not?  Because people don’t really believe that Turner just didn’t know any better.  Because rape is a heinous crime and should be treated as such, and not excused as “20 minutes of action.”

It makes sense, in a world that contains people like Brock Turner, to teach people how to protect themselves.  There is no magic wand to rid the world of evil.  No amount of education or “raising awareness” will eliminate people who prey on other people.  The best recourse is to take measures to protect yourself.  It isn’t sexist or victim-blaming or perpetuating rape culture to teach young women (or anyone else) how to not be victims.

Whining about how we should just “teach men not to rape” is fairy-tale virtue signaling that accomplishes nothing.  Meanwhile, in the real world, there are other people who are actually trying to help.

Don’t be a victim.  Fight back.

Resources:

Cows on Parade in SLO

Oct. 2016 080

Cow Parade is an international public art event featuring cows created by local artists.  Some of the artists are famous, and some aren’t, both professionals and amateurs.

20161015_130511

The cows decorate the city streets.  The first Cow Parade was in Chicago, in 1999, and the second one in 2000 in New York City.

20161015_130455

I was fortunate enough to see both of them.  Since then, Cow Parade went international, with events in the UK, Portugal, Latvia, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, and many, many more.

20161015_122526.jpg

There has been a Cow Parade in 79 cities world wide.

20161015_125822

In 2016, I got to see Cow Parade a third time, in San Luis Obispo.  All of the cows pictured here were in SLO, photographed by yours truly (well, except for the ones I’m in, of course).

20161015_125804

At the end of the Cow Parade in a city, the cows are auctioned off and money is donated to various charities.  (All information provided came from their website.)

20161225_143237

Some of the cows are also made into figurines which people (including my mom) like to collect.

20161015_124308

I think this is a really cool project, and I hope to continue to see more cows on parade!

20161015_122558

The True Story of Donkey

Image result for donkey shrek

In the blockbuster animated movie Shrek, we are introduced to numerous fairy tale creatures.  They come from a variety of sources, including classic fairy tales (ex. Snow White) and nursery rhymes (three blind mice).  But Donkey’s origin remains a mystery.  Unlike all the other donkeys in the world, he talks, thus clearly making him a fairy tale creature.  But where did he come from?

You need wonder no more, for I have found the answer.

In the book of Numbers of the Old Testament, chapter 22 tells the story of a man named Balaam, a soothsayer.  The Moabites wanted to defeat the Israelites in battle, so they offered Balaam a reward if he would curse the Israelites, thus enabling the Moabites to win.  Instead of cursing them, Balaam blessed them.  Obviously, this did not satisfy the Moabites, so they continued to pester him.

Balaam invited the Moabite messengers who had come to see him to stay the night.  Balaam asked God if he could go with them, and God said Balaam could go with them, as long as he only said what God told him to say.

The next day, Balaam saddled his donkey to go with the Moabites.  God sent an angel with a sword to block the path.  Balaam couldn’t see the angel, but his donkey could, and she refused to go forward.  Finally, Balaam in anger started to beat his donkey.

The donkey says in verse 28: “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?”

Without skipping a beat, Balaam replies “Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill thee.”

The story continues after that, but what always struck me as odd, besides the donkey talking, is that Balaam doesn’t find it strange that his donkey is talking to him.  However, it wouldn’t be strange in this instance if the donkey were are talking donkey.  It would also explain why Balaam was so quick to beat the donkey: even though she’s perfectly capable of explaining why she’s being unruly, she doesn’t.

Balaam’s donkey is indeed a she, which must mean that Donkey from Shrek must be her son.

Now that I have solved this mystery for you, share your newfound knowledge (and this blog post) with your friends on social media!

On Parent Communication and Finding the Good

As a teacher, communication with parents hasn’t been my strong point.  I don’t like to initiate contact.  Sometimes I’ve let things wait for too long until they become bigger problems than if I’d just taken care of them early on.

Part of my difficulty is the very reason I’m an elementary teacher: I like kids better than I like adults.  Kids are easy to talk to.  Grown-ups are scary. Part of it is habit formed by my first teaching job.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that micromanagement made communicating with parents a major hassle.

Ever since then, I’ve been battling with myself to take initiative and communicate with parents regularly.

This year I tried something new.  I made a goal to email one family each week with a positive note about their child.  I only write about positive things in the email.  Mostly I’ve focused on things like good participation, critical thinking skills, and social skills.

The result of this has been two-fold.  I’ve gotten wonderful response from the parents.  Of course they like hearing positive things about their child.  It builds our relationship and helps parents feel comfortable approaching me.  I’ve also gotten some really nice email about how they appreciate my efforts with their child, which definitely feels good.

Even more importantly, it has made me look for the good in each child.  Some emails are easier to write than others.  But it’s important to find positive qualities in each of my students.  It helps me see them as a whole person, which helps me be more compassionate and patient with them.

This goal felt like a big step to me.  It turned out to not be so difficult, once I committed to it.  The results have changed my teaching for the better.

Phonics V. Whole Language Learning

If you were in elementary school in the 1980s or 90s, and you struggle with reading, it’s probably because your teachers used the whole language learning approach.  Thankfully, whole language learning since then has, in many cases, been replaced with phonics.

First, I must define my terms.  Phonics is a method for teaching reading using the sounds of letters, combinations of letters, and syllables.  You can read a more in-depth description here.  Basically, if reading instruction focuses on “sounding words out,” it’s probably phonics-based.  Not all phonics curricula are created equal, of course.  Some are more methodical and complete than others.

Whole language learning focuses on teaching reading through recognizing words as a whole, in which students learn to read words from context.  There is not breaking words into parts and decoding them.  You can read more about it here.  The emphasis is to spend a lot of time reading to and with children.  The theory behind the whole language approach is based on the work of Noam Chomsky.  He asserted that language acquisition is natural and, therefore, does not need to be explicitly taught.

The human brain is wired for language.  Oral language, that is.  Children naturally learn to speak and understand oral language simply by being exposed to enough of it.  Reading and writing are not quite as natural, as evidenced for the need for writing systems to be invented.  This is the basic reason why reading and writing have to be taught explicitly and oral language does not (at least for an individual’s native language).

You have probably figured out that I am firmly on the phonics side of this debate.

Recently I read an essay from Frank Smith called “12 Easy Ways to Make Learning to Read Difficult *and One Difficult Way to Make it Easy“(the second essay).  As an early elementary teacher, I was interested in getting more ideas about how to make my reading instruction more effective.  The beginning part of this essay was whole language nonsense, though he does make good points about child development in general.  I would like to address Smith’s ideas point by point.

  1. Aim for Early Mastery of the Rules of Reading – Smith asserts that there are not rules for reading, which is quite preposterous considering that English is an alphabetic language.  He also claims, with no evidence, that no child has ever learned to read by using phonics.  I have personal experience with students that shows the exact opposite.  I have been working this year with a first grader who could barely read at all.  After a few month of explicit phonics instruction, her reading ability has increased exponentially.  It’s true that not all children need explicit phonics instruction.  Some children seem to learn to read as naturally as they learned to speak.  This is not true for all children.  Some children, especially those learning English as a second language, need explicit phonics instruction to be successful.
  2. Ensure that Phonics Skills are Learned and Used – Smith claims English is too irregular for phonics rules to assist students.  This is blatantly untrue.  I’ve seen students decode words that you wouldn’t think a child of their age would be able to read, by using phonics rules. He points out that fluency is one of the main goals of reading instruction, and claims that phonics is too cumbersome to aid fluency.  Certainly fluency takes time, but so does any other worthy endeavor.  A student who struggles with phonics will not necessarily acheive fluency any faster with the whole language approach.
  3. Teach Letters or Words One at a Time, Making Sure Each New Letter of Word Is Learned Before Moving On – Well, it does make sense to introduce new letters or words just one or a few at a time, that way students can actually remember the new information.  As Smith says, teachers don’t need to stay on that same word until it is completely mastered; rather, students will learn better by being able to compare it to other words.  On this we are in agreement.  I also haven’t seen any phonics curricula that states you must focus on one letter or word until it is completely mastered before introducing any other letters or words, so this argument seems rather like a strawman to me.
  4. Make Word-Perfect Reading the Prime Objective – Another strawman.  This is not a phonics thing.  This would be the result of a teacher who is a perfectionist.  Naturally, demanding perfection of our students is counter-productive.
  5. Discourage Guessing; Be Sure Children Read Carefully – It’s fine for children to make an educated guess at an unfamiliar word, but surely Smith understands that we do need to teach children to think?  If a child is attempting to read the sentence “I see a truck,” I would discourage a child from guessing if they guess “boy” or “the” or something similarly unrelated in the place of “truck,” and instead use phonics and/or context clues to come up with an answer that makes sense.
  6. Insist Upon Accuracy – Smith points out that learning involves making mistakes.  Of course learning involves making mistakes.  Every good teacher knows that.  Phonics is perfectly compatible with creating a safe environment for students to fail in the process of learning.  The classroom culture has more to do with the teacher than the pedagogy.
  7. Provide Immediate Feedback – Smith says that giving immediate feedback to correct a child’s reading interferes with fluency and reading comprehension.  Again, he is associating an undesirable practice with phonics even though the two things aren’t necessarily related.  I leave it to the teacher’s discretion to know when to correct a student and when to let the error go in favor of letting the student figure it out.
  8. Detect and Correct Inappropriate Eye Movements – I’ve never heard of a teacher doing “eye drills” to make sure students are looking in the right place.  Maybe he’s referring to finger pointing?
  9. Identify and Give Attention to Problem Readers as Soon as Possible – He says that our expectations of students should be age-appropriate, and they should be given age-appropriate reading that is engaging.  Here I agree with him.
  10. Make Sure Children Understand the Importance of Reading and the Seriousness of Falling Behind – I’m really thankful I don’t know teachers like the ones Smith knew, all hellfire and damnation if you ever made a mistake in class, or *gasp* fall behind.  Certainly it is not a moral failing to develop more slowly than one’s peers.  It’s important to keep in mind that all children develop at a different pace.
  11. Take the Opportunity during Reading Instruction to Improve Spelling and Written Expression, and Also Insist on the Best Possible Spoken English – So, no discussion of spelling or written expression allowed.  So, I guess we’re not allowed to discuss alliteration, or similes, or any other kind of figurative language, either, during reading instruction, since those are part of written expression.  If we come across words or phrases that tie into what we’ve been talking about in spelling, writing, grammar, or any other subject, I very well might highlight it during our reading lesson, because making connections between subject areas helps students really learn the material and develop critical thinking.
  12. If the Method You Are Using Is Unsatisfactory, Try Another.  Always Be Alert for New Materials and Techniques – Here Smith explains that trying new techniques too often confuses children and prevents them from learning.  I do think that teachers should always be open to ways to improve their instruction, and furthermore, there is a happy medium between providing consistency in pedagogy and mixing things up when needed.  Individual teachers are in the best position to make that call.

One Difficult Rule for Making Learning to Read Easy – His one difficult rule is an interesting one: “Respond to what the child is trying to do.”  His explanation for this is that learning to read is largely intuitive, as is teaching how to read.  Children should simply spend a lot of time reading, and they will learn to read, he states.

Now, this is true for some children.  Some children will learn to read seemingly effortlessly no matter what techniques are used.  But that won’t work for all children.

Certainly, more time spent on reading, especially of quality reading material, is a good thing.  But some kids simply need phonics.  As the number of English language learners in our classrooms increase, the need for phonics will only grow.  The whole language approach does offer some good ideas and insights, but can never replace phonics in terms of effectiveness.

References: