Monday, June 30, 2008

The Room Project

N. will be leaving on Thursday for his long trip. He will be spending two weeks in Illinois with family, and then two weeks at COTE camp in New Jersey. While he is gone, we intend to put the wooden floor into his room. But first, I must get N. to do a major cleaning and re-organization, so that while he is gone it will be easy for us to remove the furniture and the carpet.

Frankly, the Engineering Geek and I have been absolutely stymied about what to do about N.'s pig-pen. We have tried reason, humiliation--the "chazer* lives here" sign was greeted with humor--tears (mine, when I emptied potting soil from his clothes basket), and remonstration. Finally, I resorted to the threat that we would not put him on the plane if he did not get cracking. That seemed to work.

*pig, in Yiddish

But I also realized that I need to help N. with the discarding and organizational part. Aspies are, after all, organizationally challenged, to say the least.

So N. is cleaning his room with our assistance. Among the members of our family, both the Engineering Geek and N. are, packrats. Neither of the XY members of the family are capable of throwing things away. Add to the mix that I have not entered his room since December, and I have not gone through his clothes with him since last summer, and then add to that the fact that one boy, one dog, a couple of fire-bellied toads and numerous trees all live in N.'s room, and you can picture...CHAOS!

So today and tomorrow are slated for room dismantlement and re-organization. Fortunately--because I have many things to do to wrap up the first term of IRD teaching and get N. on the plane with everything he needs Thursday--N. is good at the dismantlement part. Last night he began. Today, he took his bed apart so that he could get at the certified disaster area underneath. As I write, he is vacuuming under the bed and the parts of the bed. Then he is going to tackle the closet. There he will need my help with sorting and discarding many clothes that no longer fit him. He has grown two inches in the past 6 months and we really need to cull the clothing glut in the closet and drawers so he has room for the clothes that fit him.

Later this evening, I have a trip to the local Big Box planned. We need to get a closet organizer and some interlocking crates so that N. can organize the few--note the emphasis, here--things he keeps. Here, I am taking a page from the boy-room-organizing-book of Thinking Mother, who, like me, has been stumped about what to do about her son's disaster area a.k.a. bedroom. She finally made a decision to go in and do what we are now doing, wholesale dismantling, discarding and then reorganizing.

When N. returns from camp to a clean room with a new floor, new rules will be in force as well. No food or drink, no shoes, no sand or dirt brought in, and daily inspections to enforce the use of shelves, dresser drawers, and closet hangers intead of the floor for storage purposes. So every day the Executive Officer (me) of the Good Ship Los Pecos will perform the inspection. If the bed is not made and the room not picked up, then computer and other priveleges will be rescinded. If we do not get compliance, then a weekly Captain's Mast will take place with other consequences.

N.'s room was not only messy, it was unsanitary and unsafe. This weekend, I got tired of lamenting, critiquing and cajoling. The time for action was more than nigh!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Free to be Jews: Judaism Needs No Hyphen

I do a lot of reading on the web. I read blogs and web articles, Wiki, and other sources mainly because I enjoy thinking about the development of ideas and I like to see how people express those ideas in their own lives. Thus I am attracted especially to blogs and other sources in which people discuss their philosophies and their religious beliefs, their politics and their educational ideas.

Over the course of the past year and a half, I have noticed that there is a great deal of ignorance about the differences between Judaism and Christianity. Whether the writer in question is attacking Christianity or supporting it, more often than not Judaism is conflated with Christianity in that dreadfully inaccurate term "Judeo-Christian" and Judaism is not recognized as a separate world view, complete with a unique system of law, ideas, and thought. I have usually addressed the issue in comments to the writers, however that format does not allow the careful discussion of ideas necessary to outline the uniqueness of Judaism among the world religions.

In this "sometimes" series of blog entries, I intend to discuss and clear up the misconceptions surrounding the misbegotten term, 'Judeo-Christian', and establish the idea in reader's minds that Judaism comprises a complete and whole religious philosophy. Judaism does not require nor does it benefit from a hyphenated identity.

Today, I will briefly take on the term Judeo-Christian itself.


Prior to WW II, the term 'Judeo-Christian' was not commonly used, and when it was it implied a continuity from Judaism to Christianity in the development of the latter as a separate religion. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was originated by scholars in the discussion of the emergence of Christianity as a religion.
Since WWII, the term has been extensively used, especially in American politics, to describe a common framework of Western religious values. It has also been used in an effort among Christians to appear to be tolerant and inclusive.

The problem as I see it is that the term tends to conflate the minority religion of Judaism with the majority-held religion of Christianity, thus implying that Judaism is some form of Christianity-lite, a kind of Christianity without Jesus.

An Aside: I cannot tell you how often well-meaning and ignorant Christians have tried to explain to me that Judaism's major tenet is that Jesus is not the Messiah. In actuality, Judaism does not define itself by any particular definition of who Jesus was or even if he existed at all.

Although the term is intended to indicate openness and acceptance, it actually erases the identity of Judaism as a world religion in its own right. In thinking about it, it is easy to see why it is the identity of Judaism that gets erased by assumption; Christianity as the majority religion in the West, is well understood by adherents and non-adherents alike, whereas Judaism is not well understood. So when the term 'Judeo-Christian' gets bandied about, it is understood primarily in light of the hearer's understanding of Christianity. Thus the term implies commonalities between Judaism and Christianity that do not, in fact, exist.

Thus, I am often dismayed (and somewhat bemused) to read bloggers that attack Judaism for the "pernicious doctrine of original sin" or laud Judaism for the " 'commandment' to 'judge not.'" Neither of these ideas are Jewish. Christianity's mind-body problem comes to it via the classical Greek philosopher Plato via gnosticism; it was not brought down from Sinai by Moses. Judaism does not have a philosophical 'mind-body' problem. The concept of eternal damnation to the fires of Hell comes to Christianity from Persian (Zoroastrian) dualism, not from Torah. Judaism has no concept of eternal damnation, and Jewish philosophy is agnostic about an afterlife. And I could go on...

Thus, although there is definitely a relationship between Judaism and the development of Christianity, and I am aware that modern Judaism and Christianity share certain classical Western values, I cringe when I hear the term "Judeo-Christian" used without qualification.
It is a term I never, ever use.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday Afternoon Drive

When I finish my day's teaching on Wednesday in Santa Fe, I then take the drive home, south along the Turquoise Trail. It is amazing how the differences in the light and perspective make the entire drive different in the afternoon.

Leaving Santa Fe Community College,
I wind northwest on Rancho Viejo road before coming to the intersection with NM 14.

Here, I see Jemez Mountains in the far distance, with the smaller hills that the Rio Grande cuts through nearer.

The Jemez is the rim of giant caldera, the crater of a collapsed volcano that blew about 2 million years ago. The explosive eruption created cliffs of welded tuff near Los Alamos that are hundreds of feet thick, and the pyroclastics are found in outwash as far away as Kansas.

Just before I turn onto NM 14, I see my destination. The Ortiz near Madrid are the smaller hills in the forground, with the Sandia Mountain Front towering to 11,000 feet above
in the distance. On NM 14, I will cross the Ortiz, and then head towards the Sandias.
The Sandias are fault-block mountains, brought up like a hinged basement door by the faulting and widening of the Rio Grande Rift.

Still on the Santa Fe side of the Ortiz, I drive through the town of Madrid, and then past the old mining slag heaps from the anthracite coal mines that used to operate in the area. Just past this old mine tailings dump, the road begins to climb towards the Ortiz Mountains.

Here I am looking back at the heart of the Ortiz from the downhill run to Golden.

It looks so completely different in the afternoon than the morning view. Here, purple shales are accented by cloud shadows and outlined with the green of Pinyon-Juniper woodland.

Near San Pedro Overlook, the road swings southeast towards the Sandias, here outlined in shades of blue against the lighter western horizon.
The humidity in the air is a portent of the Monsoons to come.
Close to home, I must still swing west on Frost Road and then South of Vallecitos towards Sedillo hill.

Here I am looking at the hills amongst which our home is nestled on the far horizon,
as seen from the top of Sedillo Hill.
Almost home.
Supper and a shower and a
good dark beer await!

What a blessing it is to live in such a beautiful place and have such an unhurried, restful drive home from work.

I am hard-pressed to call it a commute. It feels like a leisurely afternoon drive.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

IRD Third (and a half!) Week: Correcting the Overcorrection

The end of last week was very busy, even though N. was away at camp, and I did not post a reflection at all.

And perhaps that's to the good, because today I was confronted with the balancing act of learning to teach differently than I have in the past.
So this is a good day to write a reflection.

I had a parent complaint about the atmosphere in one of my classes. This is a class with middle school children, one or two of whom I am concerned about in terms of progress and home practice, but all of whom are likeable kids. It is a quiet class, too, although last week with the excitement of an electrical outage, they loosened up quite a bit. As did I, and this last may be the clue to the problem.

I think what the parent observed is based on overcorrections on my part. I have been struggling with two issues, and achieving balance in both of them will make me a better teacher. The first is timing--in my case complicated by my perfectionistic desire to add detail upon detail. I discussed that here. The second is the need to be direct with students. My tendency is to soften commands by saying things like: "You might want to do...." and "Open the book to page such-and-such, please" and "Suzie, please put the pencil down." My trainers made me practice saying: "Put the pencil down" and "I need you to do..." and "Now open your books to..." This directness goes against my early training designed to corral a rather "spirited" child!

And the new directness has been working. With my younger kids, especially, where I am also playing games with them as part of the process, and where directness interacts well with my natural warmth for the little guys. But in this particular class, I am dealing with mid-school kids and I have been very matter-of-fact with them, especially when teaching the study skills part of the class. My supervisor asked me if I was remembering to praise their efforts frequently enough. And I realized that although when I go around to check homework, I do try to find a good thing to say to each one, I have not been praising the group effort as enthusiastically as I do with my younger kiddos. And yet these are not yet the high school kids who would be insulted by that. These are middle schoolers who still have a little kid in them, and not buried too deeply, either. They need to know that their hard work is noticed. And they need to know it with the same level of directness that I am using to give directions.

So there you have it, like a nervous new driver overcorrects by jerking the wheel a little too hard, I was overcorrecting for my tendency to qualify directions and sounded quite strict. It is not bad to be strict, but at the same time, I forgot to praise real effort when they are working on something difficult. And for middle school kids, the art of finding main ideas and supporting details in a textbook or other work of non-fiction is difficult. So this parent was observing the fallout of my overcorrection.

In addition to this, there were some other incidents that had happened that day that left me a little rattled and I was having a real Jonah Day--as Anne of the Island called a bad teaching day. (Although my day did not include fireworks in the heating system as Anne's did).

Factor in that this day (my second with the class) was this parent's child's first week in the class. So this was the parent's first impression of me.
And I had not gotten to the bathroom between classes, to touch up and get a breath of outside air. Imagine this: hair wild, lip gloss not touched up, nerves tingling.Well.

It is never pleasant to recognize that someone's first impression of you is not your best foot forward. And it always hurts a bit when you first hear the truth of the matter via a complaint.
My first reaction is to want to explain myself--in detail, of course!

If the complaint was not made, I would not have the opportunity to correct the overcorrection problem. It might never have been called to my attention.

Just like that test answer that you got wrong and so you remember that information twenty years later even after forgetting most of the rest of the test, (a diatreme is the frozen neck of a volcano exposed by weathering way of the original mountain--I got it wrong in 1981), so having attention called to the issue so forcefully means I am more likely to achieve the balance sooner.

This is the never-ending process of getting the rough edges rubbed off.
Painful, but necessary to the process of arriving at a smooth and balanced state.

Carnival of Homeschooling 130: Homesick Campers Edition

It's the Homesick Campers edition for the COH over at Dewey's Treehouse!

I don't know about you, but I had a great time going to summer camp when I was a kid. We did girl scout camp at Hidden Hills and also at Lake Bloomington, and other camps but I don't remember all the names. We'd sit around the campfire smelling of DEET (this was long before PC) and smoke, singing songs into the evening. We'd huddle in tents during thunderstorms at 2 O'Clock in the morning. We'd put on our "creek sneakers" to wade in and get muddy catching crayfish and frogs. We'd be gone a week or two and come home having grown an inch, and tanned and dirty.

Ah, I am getting happy just thinking about it.

"Girl Scouts together, that is our song.

Winding the old trails, rocky and long.

Learning our motto, living our creed,

Girl Scouts together in every good deed."

See what can get dredged out of memory of nearly 40 years ago with a little whiff if the scent of DEET?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Solstice: All Hail the Monsoon!

The Summer Solstice occurred in the northern hemisphere this year at 23:59 (UT) on Friday, 20 June, which translates to 17:59 MDT. The Summer Solstice is Midsummer's Day, or the day of longest daylight; from this time forth days will be getting shorter in the northern hemisphere.

I caught the Solstice Sunrise very early in the morning from the front of the house.
Clouds were moving in rapidly, from the southwest.

The North American Monsoon appears to be setting up early this year, and afternoon thunderstorms were expected.

Since last August, I have been taking pictures of the sunrise on Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross-quarter days from the meadow behind our house, as well, in order to get a document of the yearly circle of the seasons.

On the Summer Solstice morning, I had to wait an hour from sunrise for the clouds to clear--somewhat. On the winter solstice the sunrise was over the roof of our house on the far-right foreground of this picture.

As the moisture in the morning air and the barometer predicted, the first afternoon thundershower of Monsoon 2008 occured shortly after 4 PM. At 3:50, I felt a shift in the pressure, and then a cold wind came up out of the north-west.

At 4:15, we had light sprinkles followed by marble-sized hail streaking down from the north and bouncing across the driveway. It makes quite a percussion solo on the metal roof of the house, too!

Then came the rain--a steady thunder-shower that fell for about half an hour, bringing water to the thirsty trees and grasses, and washing the dust and gravel off the roads and patios.

The Engineering Geek arrived home in the middle of it, and of course I had to go out and greet him. We stood, lifting our faces to the blessed rain.

The Monsoon has arrived early and this is a promising beginning to the summer season in the mountains of New Mexico.

True to Monsoonal form, the rain stopped at about 5 PM, and the clouds completely cleared away two hours later.

After we took our pre-Shabbat luxury bath, I was able to photograph the sunset just about two hours past the actual moment of the Summer Solstice.

Here, the sun is setting as far north on the western horizon as possible, 23' 27" north of where it set on the Vernal Equinox. The setting place for the Vernal Equinox is on the far left of the picture. The distance in degrees from the sunset on the Vernal Equinox to sunset on the Summer Solstice is equal to the tilt of the earth. It is the tilt of the earth that gives our planet seasons and gives us the ability to count time by where the sun appears to rise and set on the horizon.

The Wheel of the Year keeps on turning with the spin of the earth, and the seasons alternate, making ours a very fertile planet, burgeoning with life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

'Hate Speech', Individual Liberties and the Rule of Law

Today I opened my paper with my morning coffee and read an opinion piece on the editorial page that is quite worrisome.

I was concerned in part because I had not seen any news stories about the event that the opinion piece covered. I was even more concerned about the implications of the event to our cherished western ideals of liberty and law.

The column was called "Free Speech Ends at Canada Line" by Jonah Goldberg. I cannot link the column from my paper, but it can also be found here. Goldberg's discussion is focussed on the issue of free speech and the concept of hate speech, but I believe that it has wider implications about individual liberties and the rule of law.

What happened is this. Mark Steyn, a Canadian conservative polemicist and dark humorist, wrote a book called America Alone. (I have not read it nor had I heard of it, but apparently it is a best-seller that addresses the issue of a rising radical Islamist presence in Europe and the predicted alteration of western culture that could result. Of course I'll now look into it--what is that old crack about publicity? No publicity is bad publicity). Anyway, the Canadian Magazine MacLean's published an excerpt of the book, and according to Goldberg, "now the magazine and its editors are in the dock before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on charges of violating a hate-speech law." Similar charges are pending before Canadian Human Rights Commission. Goldberg goes on to discuss the implications for Steyn, Maclean's and free speech in the West if this case is substantiated. (This is not a trial and the rule of evidence does not matter--it is a tribunal capable of making judgements without evidence and can impose fines and can force the magazine to cease publishing about certain topics. Read Goldberg for more on this).

When I read the column today, it brought to my mind a concern that I have had for a long time about the concept of 'hate speech'and its effect on free speech, individual liberty and the rule of law. Although this supression of free speech is happening in Canada, the concept of 'hate speech' (and for that matter, 'hate-crime') is alive and well in the United States and has serious implications for government suppression of our freedom of speech.

Official supression of 'hate speech' is different than social approbation in that it has a chilling effect on public speech and and written expression at the level of law. This leads to the violation of constitutionally guaranteed individual liberties as ennumerated in the United States Constitution, Ammendment I:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (From Cornell Law).

On these grounds alone, consideration of laws against 'hate speech' or governmental interference with or suppression of publication and the imposition of fines ought to be looked upon with grave concern.

However, there are also serious philosophical implications involved with the establishment of such a concept for the rule of law that we ought to understand more thoroughly. The concept of 'hate speech' implies disparaging speech intended to insult, demean, or degrade another person based on status or membership in a targeted group. (A more thorough discussion can be found here). In the United States, hate speech as such cannot be regulated by the government, although there are those that would say that this is an outdated feature of the American political system. (Private organizations certainly have the right to regulate such speech on their property or in their publications, and I do not argue with that right).

My concern with the concept and its implications for the rule of law stem from the establishment of privileged groups of individuals who can receive special treatment (a chilling term to students of the Shoah) legally by virtue of membership in such a group. The Rule of Law is based on the concept of fair and impartial judgements rendered according to rules that have been established beforehand in cases argued according to fixed rules of evidence.

"The Rule of Law thus implies limits to the scope of legislation: it restricts it to...formal law and excludes legislation either directly aimed at particular people or at enabling anybody to use the coercive power of the state for the purpose of such discrimination."

-F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents (the Definitive Edition). p. 120.

The establishment of protected groups, group rights, or any other means by which some individuals or groups receive special protections not accorded to others will result in the destruction of individual liberties and ultimately, in the abrogation of the Rule of Law altogether.

Our civilization, and the American experiment for freedom in particular, are based on the Rule of Law. The loss of the Rule of Law would result in rule by fiat, by influence-peddling, and by the whim of the legislators and those who can bribe them most effectively.

Thus we ought to be concerned when we see the rule of law abrogated in the West, even if the case is being decided in another Western country. Laws regulating speech in favor of privileged groups may sound tolerant and enlightened; they are almost certainly being established with the best intentions in the world. But you know what they say about good intentions...

Disclaimer: This post is about the concepts of 'hate speech', individual liberties, and the Rule of Law. My use of the current Mark Steyn case does not imply and should not imply my agreement with his arguments in part or in full. Rather my argument is based on his fundamental right to freedom of expression in speech or in writing in accordance with Western values.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Driving North on the Turquois Trail


This morning, I took a charged camera with the data chip for CCD images on my drive up to Santa Fe. As promised, here are pictures!

Weather Note: Mornings are becoming humid and there is much moisture in the air. The North American Monsoon is beginning to set up, and though it is too early to expect afternoon thunderstorms, the air is moist enough so that we have not had a red-flag fire warning this week. In the pictures, you see the haze of moisture, not dust.

This was taken driving parallel to the Ortiz Mountains near Cedar Crest NM, where I turn from Frost Road onto the Turquoise Trail a.k.a. New Mexico North 14.

The morning sun draws moisture from the trees to join the relatively (for NM) humid air, turning the sunrise into a golden mist that joins the clouds above.

Every rural community in the west has a "Merc," the General Store that sells feed, food and dry goods for the ranchers. This one, in Golden, NM, is attached to the fire station.

It is still early, and the Merc is closed.

North of Golden, the Turquoise Trail swings east and climbs through the heart of the Ortiz Mountains.

This picture was taken near El Corazon del Ortiz Ranch. The summer morning is still very new, and the shadows are long, as clouds spill over the mountain top to the east.

After descending from the heart of the Ortiz, the road enters the Canyon of the Galisteo "river" south of the coal town of Madrid,NM.

The Sange de Cristo Mountains can be faintly seen, on the cloudy horizon.

Madrid has switched from coal mining to the tourism business. Here is the Madrid "Merc," located in the old boading house, and considerable gussied up compared to the Tijeras Mercantile or the Golden "Merc."

Northeast of Madrid is the Cerillos Land Grant.
There are many land grants in New Mexico, all deeded to the original settler families by the King of Spain. Many Land Grants were recognized by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ceded New Mexico Territory to The US.
Here, the mountains pushed straight up, tilting the adjacent rock on end, making the "knife-edged" rock for which the grant is named.

Just outside the Santa Fe city limits, where NM 14 becomes Cerillos Road, I turn into the Rancho Viejo subdivision and drive across to Santa Fe Community College. It stands on the bajadas (coalesced alluvial fans) of outwash from the Sange de Cristos. This beautiful territorial church stands just across Richards Road from SFCC, and when I see it, I know I have arrived at my teaching assignment for Wednesday.

They pay me to make this drive.

Look on and weep, o ye city drivers!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling 129: Let's Go to the Movies

Actually, we went last week. It was our first theater experience in a long while.
We saw Ironman, and we really enjoyed it.
Even if the Engineering Geek has a certain propensity to talk in sci-fi/fantasy.
He says things like: "That can't happen!" and "Holly-weird!"
We respond (sotto-voce) with: "Shhhh!" and "Remember: Willing suspension of disbelief!"

This week, the COH, up over at Apollos Academy, is going to the movies!

So, take a virtual trip to your local homeschooling theater.

See what Homeschoolers are saying about...well, nearly everything.

Silence your cell phones.

Shhhh! Remember not to talk!

Oh, and pass the popcorn please.

Father's Day: Off to BSA Camp Dobbins

Ah, Father's Day. That really nice summer Sunday when Dads everywhere can hardly wait to get up at the crack of dawn to bring their boys to camp.

Not exactly Hallmark is it? But it is what many dads do.

Here is N. posing with the Engineering Geek in his new Father's Day issue T-shirt.

N. picked out the T-shirt.
He is looking disgruntled because I approached with a camera in hand, and proposed a pose.
N.'s comment: "Mothers! They're positively annoying with cameras." (I think he meant embarrassing).

The T-Shirt lists the 10 most common phrases out of the mouths of dads everywhere when something breaks.

(Note the form of the word--breaks. As if it did so spontaneously).

Men Loading the Vehicle: It is never called a "truck" or "car" or, G-d-forbid, "SUV" in the context of loading for an expidition. It is always and forever in these cases a "vehicle.'

N. cheered up somewhat. Guys like loading vehicles. (And he didn't notice me and the camera). They get to show off some physical muscle by heaving heavy articles of camping gear in an improbable pile in the back of a pick-up. They also get to display their ingenuity by walking around importantly with a clip-board, checking off the essential items, and by arguing over the best way to distribute the load for logistical purposes. (As in, "Hey, put that in last, Will, we'll need it right away when we get there!").

The dads got in some action with vehicle loading, too.
After all, it was Father's Day.
They got to deploy the tarp over the random-looking-but-carefully arranged pile of stuff in the pick-up bed.

Here the Engineering Geek performs the ancient Boy Scout art of knot tying.

At this point, the actual Scouts were engaging in the requisite high-jinks, the rolling bear-cub behavior that always spontaneously happens five minutes before they have to climb into cars and, excuse me, I mean 'vehicles' for the seven hour drive to camp. (BSA camps seem to always be located at least seven hours away from wherever the troop assembles. This allows for at least two mandatory sugar and junk-food stops to increase adult driving pleasure).

About two minutes before the boys needed to squeeze themselves into the, vehicles, the troop camp coordinator, Duke Buster (isn't that the perfect name for a BSA troop camp coordinator?)--anyway, Duke lined the scouts up for a list of last minute instructions.

There were instructions about getting to merit badge classes, dressing for dinner--they wear their uniforms in the mess hall--flag ceremonies, and helping old scout masters across the camp grounds (just kidding). The last few instructions were the most important:
  • Remember, Scouts who spend all of their pocket cash on the first day are very hungry on the drive home
  • Wear sun-screen
  • Have FUN!

And they were off!

Packed into SAV's (Scout Assault Vehicles) around the most important stuff--the gear. Settling in for the long drive. Chattering excitedly about the relative merits of the various badges each boy had chosen...

Suddenly the parking lot was very quiet.
The Engineering Geek said, somewhat forlornly, "Sure is quiet around here."

"Yeah, too quiet." I answered.

We stopped at the store.
We met the Chem Geek Princess and her boyfriend for Father's Day Breakfast at Wecks. I went on to teach three reading classes.

The Engineering Geek went home to practice the fatherly art of sipping coffee on the porch with his newspaper.

It sure is quiet around here this week.

Too quiet.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

IRD Second Week: Immediacy and the Ghost of Failure

Yesterday, my teaching day in Santa Fe, marked the end of my second week teaching reading.
This week, I have been thinking about my older students, particularly those who have difficulties with reading.

In my dealings with students, I have noticed a marked contrast between the enthusiastic, look-what-I-can-do attitudes of the younger students (even the shy ones) and an attitude of discomfort and resistance in the middle and high school students.

Part of that difference is, I am sure, the sense of terminal coolness that American teens feel obligated to project. That accounts for the quieter room, and the uneasy glances these students direct to the opposite sex, and to me, the "old lady" invading what would otherwise be TeenSpace. But what I am observing in some of my slower readers is deeper than that. It is a sense of failure that dogs their efforts and fuels their resistance to working towards improvement.

As I was talking with my supervisor the other day, I realized that they have been taught to see themselves as failures in school. Now, before the AFT and NEA come after me, I want to clarify! I am not saying that teachers have actually called these kids failures to their faces, though I would not be suprised if some have. What I am saying is that the way we teach in the public k-12 schools today teaching many students to see themselves as failures.

I believe this sense of inadequacy has roots in two ideas; one of which we teach inadvertently and one that underlies our entire culture of learning in the United States.
I will address the last part first.

American public schooling is modeled on Prussian schooling (I refuse to call it education!) that was developed in the 19th century. The purpose of the Prussian model was to inculcate a student's sense of place in the social heirarchy by training in a rather deterministic way. The vast majority of school-children in Prussia were to be trained to work and obey their betters, who received a real education in separate schools. In the United States, we followed this model in the name of education, ostensibly to teach the unwashed, immigrant masses to be a good and obedient workforce. However, this model never had quite the same results as in Prussia, because Americans also carried the Jeffersonian ideal of an educated, civic-minded populace responsible for reigning in government and enjoying rights protected by the Constitution.

Nevertheless, in American education, as in the American populace in general, the idea that educational success is due more to native ability than to hard work has become entrenched.
(This is, oddly enough, not the case in modern, western Germany, where hard work and discipline receive more credit for educational success). What this means where the rubber meets the road is that students who are not immediately successful in school begin to see themselves as unable to succeed, and give up, resisting attempts by teachers and parents to help them through other instructional methods.

In the culture of American education, we inadvertently reinforce this notion of some "congenital" propensity to failure among otherwise normally intelligent children by nurturing and rewarding immediate success above long-term growth in knowledge. We do this by how grades are calculated and by how we view struggle in learning. We tend to equate lack of struggle and immediate good test results with success, at the expense of rewarding success that come with struggle and hard work. In so doing, we teach students that education means the ability to put the one right answer in blank rather than the ability to ask good questions and solve problems.

NOTE to Classical Education Yeckies: I am not disparaging the learning of facts. They are an important and indispensible part of the background required for reasoning. I am suggesting that the mere ability to spout facts does not an educated person make. Children must be taught background (facts, known information, developed concepts) and reasoning (the ability to manipulate previously aquired knowledge in order to understand patterns of thought within a discipline).

In so doing, we have taught the students that there is an immediate right answer that can be bubbled in on a test form, and that it is more valuable to be able to immediately put the right answer in the blank than it is to work doggedly on a problem, making and correcting numerous mistakes, in order to arrive at a successful solution.

By these criteria, Thomas Edison was a failure.
Remember him? The inventor of the lightbulb who said that it's discovery was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?

We need to think about how we view struggle and hard work when we are teaching our children. Yes, there is much in the early stages of learning to read that is fun and, for many kids, painless. But there does come a point where the child must practice decoding even though it is slow, in order to gain facility with reading that will become automatic.

For our older kids, those who are already convinced that they are failures, it is much harder but definitely worthwhile for use to talk to them about their struggles and express confidence in their ability to be finally successful. But since it did not come easily to them at the beginning, we now must expend more efforts overcoming their resistance.

Just remember, though, that this is resistance we have taught them.

I often hear smug adults critizing young people about their propensity towards immediate results and immediate rewards.

I want to respond by saying: "What do you expect? We taught them to measure success this way."

And more, this reflection becomes reason number 257 for why I am glad that I have homeschooled my kid.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Driving the Turquoise Trail: The Ortiz


I took my camera on the drive to Santa Fe intending to take some pictures and I even started out early to have plenty of time! I thought to put those pictures of this beautiful drive up as part of Nearly Wordless Wednesday. Alas! I had left the digital disc in the USB port of my computer!

Next week I'll get pictures. Today, you get a Geological Map from the US Geological Survey with San Pedro Watershed overlay by Kathy Lathrop of New Mexico Tech.

I drive across the San Pedro Watershed and the Ortiz mountains on the Turquois Trail (NM Highway 14) every Wednesday. On this map, NM 344 is clearly visible in the Estancia Basin, near the eastern margin. The little pink road to the west that run northward just east of the the Sandia Mountain Granite (Yg) across the faulted Permian limestone is Highway 14.

The Ortiz mountains are a source for gold, and the Ortiz Mine was one of the first western US gold mines. The San Pedro Watershed has much placer gold brought down from the Ortiz by streams. Look for the pale yellow rock labeled QTs (for Quaternary-Tertiary sediments). Indeed, NM 344 and 14 (the Turquoise Trail) meet up just south of the town of Golden, NM just north of this map's top margin.

You can guess from the faulting and the many colors indicating many contacts between different rock, that my drive is quite beautiful.

Next Week: Pictures! (I Promise!).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stressed Out Nation: Hold My Calls, I'm on the Porch

I am writing my four hundredth (400th!) post from the front porch.

Yesterday, I read a post by Ernie at Deliberate Wanderer while I was rocking away in my big green Adirondack rocker here on the porch. It was about the Slow Movement that has started in this country in response to the incredible levels of activity and stress. You can read Ernie's post for more details, but from my porch, I was amused at the idea that CNN is calling for government intervention for our stressed out nation.

From where I, rather from where I sit (rocking), this doesn't seem to be a big deal. Everybody can just spend more time on the porch this summer! It's slow...and economical.

One of the attractive things about this house was that it has a nice, territorial style front porch. It is perfectly situated to catch the morning sun and the afternoon shade.

I can sit out here and listen to the wind blow through the pines, smell the pitch and the hot sun on sweet clover and purple sage. The birds wake me in the morning, cheering up the beginning of the day, and in the afternoon the insects humming provide a soothing background just right to a short nap in the afternoon heat....

...Oops, I nodded off there for a second.

In the summer, I sit out here and surf the blogosphere, checking in on friends old and new.

Beside Ernie's blog, here are some interesting ones I saw yesterday from my perch on the porch.

Doc is wondering about homeschooling regrets as her kids move into adult life.

The Common Room has a happy announcement. Sigh. I just love romance and love in bloom in the early summer... Mom in Madison shared their contrasting day of morning walk and stormy afternoon.Rational Jenn is expecting a new baby--can you guess his birthweight?-- in a few weeks, and Amie's baby girl (Boy Story...And Beyond) is now over a year old and wearing pigtails! Over at News from Hawkhill Acres, Lill has had some really funny situations involving Mercury (the planet and the element). Magpie Ima is preparing for her son's Bar Mitzvah by hiring some cleaning help--the big day is this Saturday, and Kaber is sharing her move from Ohio to California over at All About My Boys.

From the world of politics, homeschool and general, Susan has some Tidbits to share over at Corn and Oil, and Judy Aaron discusses election welfare over at Consent of the Governed.

Yesterday I read some entries in the Objectivist Round-Up, including Dan Edge's post --see my post The Value of Liberty for a link to Dan. (And no, I can't post at Objectivist Roundup, but I like to read it). Today I read posts at the Carnival of Homeschooling. I was planning to have an entry, but I forgot to actually send it in!

Also, if you like to listen to the radio while rocking away on the front porch, there is a new homeschooling talk show coming out. You can catch the details over at Principled Discovery.

So I have been having fun here on my porch.

It was so good of Sandy over at Junkfood Science to reassure me that the myth of the sloth has been slayed again...

Now I can rock in my chair in peace, relaxing with no help from the government at all.

(In fact, I think it would be kind of hard to relax with government help...)

I wonder if lowering my property taxes since I have a front porch to relax on could somehow qualify as government intervention for the stressed-out nation?

Naw! It's too cheap and effective to qualify as a legitimate government program.

More's the pity!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Tree of Life...

Where has the time gone?
Yesterday it was Pesach,
and yet we have come through
the time of the counting of the Omer,
and here it is Shavuot--the Feast of Weeks.
Shavuot--Z'man matan torataynu--the season of the giving of our Torah.
Last year, I posted thoughts on the 'tachlis' of this Holy Day--the customs
and folkways, the meaning of Shavuot.
This year I am thinking about Torah as a Tree of Life.

"Etz chayim hi..."
"She* is a tree of life to those
who hold her fast,
and all who cling to her
find happiness.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace."

*Torah is feminine in Hebrew.
In Jewish thought there are
feminine and masculine aspectsof G-d.

Here we see that the Sefer Torah is rolled on two wooden dowels, called the "etz chayim" which means the "tree of life." The Torah tree of life has roots in heaven, implanting eternal life within the Jewish people.

The idea of the tree of life is common to many cultures, and many religions, and even transcends them, for in evolutionary biology we talk about the tree of life on earth.

This is a cladogram, which shows the evolutionary history of the kingdoms and smaller taxa of life on earth; the genetic history that all earthly life carries in the nucleus of our cells.
On this tree of life, the three kingdoms of life--Archaea, Prokaria, and Eukaria--are shown in a circle because of the amazing number of species represented.

The biological tree of life has "roots on earth" for it demonstrates the unity of all life on earth by virtue of common descent and a common genetic code.

The Kabbalistic (mystical) tradition in Judaism has developed another tree of life, composed of the seven earthly and three heavenly "sephirot" (spheres) mapped out on the human body--or the Adam Kadmon--the primordial human.

There are three pairs of divine emanations that inhabit the human world, and each pair represents opposite qualities that, when brought together within the human soul, bring about balance.

Sephira Gevurah (strength, judgement) alone creates rigidity and lack of compassion. Gevurah is paired with Sephira Chesed (loving kindness), which alone creates weakness and lack of boundaries. Together, the Kabbalist say, Sephirot Gevurah and Chesed creat balance; the stream of loving kindness flows within the banks of strength and judgement. Without Gevurah, the waters of Chesed flood the land and create ruin. Without Chesed, life on the land thirsts and withers and dies.
Without Gevurah, the human soul does not recognize the difference between good and evil, and cannot choose life and goodness. If humans do not distinguish between good and evil, chaos reigns in our relationships and our societies. Without Chesed, the human soul becomes rigid and self-righteous, and tends to choose evil means to attain perfectionistic ends. If humans do not choose good with compassion, life will disappear from our relationships and societies.

The Kabbalistic tree of life has roots deep in the earth and deep in heaven.
It represents the union of Adonai and Shechinah, the eminent and immanent aspects of G-d, which creates balance represented in the marriage of the Eternal Creator of the Universe and Israel under Mount Sinai when the Torah was given.

Torah is the tree of life, and Torah is the water of life that nourishes the tree.
Words of black fire on white fire, words of ash and gall on the skins of dead animals.
Torah is rooted in this world and the world to come.
Torah is "not in heaven" but written on our hearts and carried in our minds.
Torah is the living covenant between G-d and Israel.

From Haftarah Re'eh (the CGP's Bat Mitzvah Portion):

"Ki ka'asher yared ha-geshem...
As the rain descends, and the snow from the heavens,
and there does not return, except to water the earth,
and cause bringing forth and flourishing,
and give seed to the sower and bread to those that eat;
So shall be my word that comes out of my mouth: It will not return to me void,
except to make what I desire, and form that which I sent it to form.
So, go forth in joy, be sent forth in everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
(Isaiah 55: 10-11,13).

Somehow those verses, which will be read in late summer,
come to mind for me now at the first harvest of summer.
They give me hope for the continued goodness of life and the
abundance of the earth, satisfying the needs of every living thing.

"She is a tree of life to those who hold her fast..."

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Value of Liberty: Goddess Democracy 1989

Today, N. reminded me that this week is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre that occured before he was born.

This is our rememberance of the Lone Rebel and our reminder of the cost of liberty...

Students in Beijing erected this statue of the "Goddess Democracy" in 1989 during a peaceful protest.
The students desired freedom of speech and press,
and they also expressed the need to "live a free life."

The communist tyrants that ruled China responded with a show of force, bringing troops and tanks into Tiananmen Square.
In a show of true courage, we see here the Lone Rebel facing down a line of tanks
sent to defeat the protest.

We do not know for sure what the fate of this courageous student was. I remember seeing a picture in Time Magazine of a young man lying on the pavement his head crushed by the tanks. But I cannot find that image and I don't know if it was this young man, who was so willing to give his life for liberty.

The protest was violently put down on June 5th.
Students were beaten and killed by the frightened old men that ruled China.

Their actions clearly showed that their desire for power was greater than their concern for the future.

This is why we are 'boycotting' the Olympic Games this year. We will not watch them, nor will we participate in the hoop-la associated with them. We will not purchase anything from the sponsors of the broadcasts during the Games.

Perhaps our action is meaningless in a larger sense.

But we cannot look at that picture of the Lone Rebel and not be ashamed if we do nothing.

As for our nation's participation in the games, I fear we have sold our birthright of liberty for a mess of pottage in the form of credit for consumer goods.

Is the liberty this Lone Hero offered his life for really worth so little to those of us born in a land "conceived in Liberty?"

Addendum 9 June: Dan over at the Edge of Reason has written a post about the courage of the Unknown Rebel in which he says: "Heroism is not restricted to characters in stories..." I enjoyed his very thoughtful post.

IRD First Week: Curbing Loquaciousness

On Wednesday evening, I completed my first week of teaching reading for IRD.

Wednesday is the last day of my teaching week, though I have a break early in the week and then I have a few days off before the new teaching week starts up over the coming weekend. Basically I have two days on, time off, and then Wednesday, when I drive up to Santa Fe to teach there.

Each teaching day is very full, as I have three classes, each of which last anywhere from one hour fifteen minutes to two hours and thirty minutes. There is a 45 minute break between each class, but last week I barely had time to get a bite to eat before I needed to prep for the next class. Part of the reason for that is that there is more to do on "opening day" and also anxious parents show up very early with their children because they have scheduled extra time to find the place and the classroom. In this respect, teaching is no different than teaching in the schools. There I usually ate and prepped at the same time in the first few weeks.

And like the opening week of school, I was also very tired after the first two days of teaching the reading classes. A lot of it stems from getting accustomed to being on my feet for 6 hours at a time again, as well as the incredible energy and focus required to teach a class at any time, but especially when learning new methods and pacing.

One thing that I am learning from the streamlined lesson plans required by IRD is that we teachers, left to our own devices, tend to talk too much. This is partly due to the natural loquacious personalities that teaching attracts, but for me, I suspect it also has to do with a desire to render complete and detailed explanations. This is appropriate to the scientific laboratory, where one is interacting with other Geek Queens and Kings who demand such detail, but it is fatal when one is trying to teach novices in an area. The novice needs to get the basics down and then maybe--maybe--s/he would be interested in the details. And maybe not. A person may just be interested in the skill learned and not the theory behind it!

I do know this about myself, but since my previous teaching evaluations were done by equally talkative teachers (mmmm, nice allititeration), the subject has never come up in a way that was useful to me. I would get comments like "too fast" or "too long" but never "too many words" or "too much detail. "

Well, actually, the above is not quite true. I did get more pointed critiques for PowerPoint presentations in my Neurobiology and Neuroanatomy/Neurophysiology classes. And such critique helped me make a leaner meaner presentation. I have really cut down on the detail put on a PowerPoint slide. However, given the nature of the material, although I needed uncluttered slides, I had to give extremely detailed explanations of those slides.

The point is that I believe this training and using this very scripted curriculum is already making me more conscious of my penchant for supplying too much detail, and that I will come out of this ten-week teaching experience with a classroom style more suited to every kid, not just the gifted ones. (GK's will press for more details and can handle them most of the time, but they can also eat up time better used for practice this way).

By Wednesday in Santa Fe, the scripting seemed more natural and my timing was also more natural. I got everything done that I needed to do without feeling rushed or worried.
Wednesday was really nice.

First, the hour's drive up was beautiful, because it makes more sense for me to cut up the "back way" on NM 14--The Turquoise Trail. A National Scenic Byway, it took me north along the back of the Sandia Mountain Front. It then cuts northwest through the Ortiz Mountains, through Golden, Madrid (pronounced with the short a, accent on the first syllable), and Cerillos. Golden and Madrid are both old mining towns, and Madrid has become quite the arts community. Next week, I will leave early and take my camera!

Santa Fe is also nice, because it has a different cultural feel than Albuquerque.
People tend to be more laid back. It is partially the old Spanish culture. And it is also due to the influx of New-Agers; former hippies, now with money, but who are still under the influence of Crystal Blue Persuasion. (This is the piece of Santa Fe that we, the unenlightened, have taken to calling "Fanta Se." Fanta Se is where you see Shirley McClaine using a crystal plumb bob to choose bread at Wild Oats on Rodeo Road). But if you can accept lateness* with aplomb and grace, the lower intensity of Santa Fe is a welcome change.

*In Albuquerque I had one or two late people out of six classes. Those who were late came in and joined the class quietly, and I sorted out the check-in with very little fuss. In Santa Fe, one-third to one-half of every class was late. Being aware of the Fanta Se element there, though, I expected to state class late and make-up time at the end. That worked very well there--Santa Feans are not in a hurry but neither do they expect you to be.

Personally, I am going to enjoy ending each teaching week experiencing the culture of the Holy "City." (Santa Fe means "Holy Faith." And like Jerusalem, you go up to get there).

All in all, then, it was a successful first week.
And now, I must prepare for Shabbat, and prepare for next week's teaching.

"On to Khartoum!"

Which proves that N. is not the only Aspie in the house with a penchant for quoting movies out of context.