Craftwork vs Artwork

My daughter loves to create things. She has a bead set to make necklaces, she staples papers together to make books, and when she was 4 she tried to staple together a pair of pants for her little sister. When she’s at home, she has her art supplies and carte blanche to create whatever she wants to. Some of it’s good, some is interesting, but it all is from her creative self.

School, however, is a different story. Once every six days, she has art class. It’s really more craft class. In her take-home folder are projects where her hands have been traced, cut out, and glued to make a reindeer, or her hand-print is now a ghost. It turns out her hand-prints can be turned into a holiday appropriate craft project no matter what we’re celebrating. When she does get to draw freehand, it’s with a step by step instruction at the top of the page on ‘how to properly draw a car in 4 steps.’ She doesn’t do artwork at school – her project looks the same as every other kid in her class. She, instead, does craftwork.

School, in a perfect world, would teach creativity. It would teach her that not everyone will draw the same car and that’s OK. Instead, she got a smiley face because the car (which was a VW Bug) looked just like the instructions. She makes cookie cutter crafts at the expense of seeing what awesome thing she could do. When she gets the chance, amazing things can happen. But she and all the other kindergartners need, heck they crave, that chance.

I remember being that age and just being handed some clay with the instructions, “Create.” Not make a pot. Not make a snake. Not even don’t make a mess. When kids are being creative, it’s going to be messy. In that mess, though, they can find wonder and imagination and beauty. When they become adults, they’re also going to need to find wonder and imagination and beauty in the face of mess – why not teach them how now when the aftermath can be easily cleaned?

Tonight, as I kissed her head and told her to sleep well, she said, “Mom, tomorrow when I get home from school, can we do art together. But not crafts, only art. I want to try to make pants and a shirt, so can you find me fabric. But don’t cut it, I need to figure out how to make pants bigger than last time. That’ll be something fun to do together. I can’t learn to make pants if I don’t try.”

I love that she differentiates between crafts and art. Tomorrow afternoon, let the creativity commence.

F@*# Testing

Dear: Whoever thought all this testing was a good idea
From: A highly concerned parent
25 January 2016

Dear Standardized Testing Advocate,

Did you really think this was a good idea? In what world is it smart to have kids, not teenagers but small children, so stressed about standardized testing that they stop loving to learn? Kids’ minds are still developing – they aren’t standardized. One child is amazing at math and struggles into fifth grade with reading. Another can read at a college level in second grade but math is gibberish as far as he’s concerned.  That’s the wonderful thing about children. Their minds haven’t been beaten into submission; they still love to learn.

Children aren’t supposed to think that something is too hard. They should just think that they can’t do something yet because they haven’t mastered it.  To paraphrase the document that caused most of this, “no child” should believe they aren’t smart enough. Natural learners, children are more amazing in that way than adults.  Their minds are designed to make everything new and incredible, another chance to add to their knowledge bank.  Children should create, problem-solve, and play – not toil toward a defined, standardized, and sterilized finish line.

You seem to think, dear testing advocate, that instead of the awesomeness of childhood that just lasts for a short time kids should do grill and drill. Their efforts should be designed to prove the school is ‘teaching’ something.  This myriad process proves schools teach facts at the cost of learning and problem solving. Kids, their malleable minds hardened to the shape of their experiences, are carefully and mechanically formed under your tutelage into machines of regurgitation and memorization. Unfortunately, when they get jobs they’ll need critical thinking not the ingredients in the three sisters from a lesson on the Iroquois.

Eight, nine and ten year old children will trade in a need to recite the gross national product of Canada for the too-little taught requirement of how to handle stress.  The importance of testing is stressed to the kids, children who understand the process but cannot separate that from the prefabricated message.  Holographic learners, they understand so clearly without knowing that they take that stress on as their own.

My daughter’s school does a party for the third graders after testing because the kids are so wound-up that they need to decompress after six days of standardized testing. At least the kids’ stress is standardized, right?

I wasn’t tested like this in school – the ERB’s, SAT’s, and ACT’s were the extent of what I had to do. Guess what? I still received a good education. Heaven only knows how – there wasn’t an SOL every few years to make sure I wasn’t ‘falling behind.’

I was, however, taught critical thinking and problem solving both of which are vital as an adult. How, exactly, do those get tested on a scantron?

So, dear proponent of these endless tests, my child won’t take them. She will be opted out of every single one you try to give her. If the school won’t sign off on the waiver our family vacations of staying at home and doing absolutely nothing will be meticulously planned around your meticulous planning.

Whoops.

Her love of learning will not be crushed by a dread of bubble sheets. She won’t have nightmares of failing.  She will never believe a test dictates that she let someone down. She will be what she is – a curious, critical thinker and not your cultural cyborg of approved facts.

She doesn’t need facts she needs information. Information can’t be adequately internalized over a week of stress- the process doesn’t flow in that direction.  Information is the culmination of the accumulation of raw data, gained through her experience and assessed by how effectively it fits within her world. Facts are monotonous proof of attendance.  Information is the powerfully explosive realization of objectivity.

I am the last generation of parents raised on cat’s cradle and snow shovels.  I am the last generation of a childhood that was non-Wii, ignorant of the X-box, and perplexed by the Playstation.  I am the last edge of humanity that remembers what the responsibility to entertain ourselves truly feels like.  With this legacy in my hands I will do what I have to in order to make sure my daughter has as much power as possible.  In short –

PBTHTHTHTHTTHTH.

 

First Real Winter

Something a bit different.

Elsie was born in the desert of California. To her, winter meant 75 degrees during the day and 40 at night. She still got to go to the park during the warm parts and was never too cold, even in her sundresses. She liked it – it was a nice change from the scorching summer days when the temperature would reach 125 and she couldn’t go anywhere because mom said it was too hot. When you’re a kid, you think that what you know is all there is, so she assumed her winter was everyone’s winter.

The year she turned three, her family moved to upstate New York. Elsie didn’t really know what that meant or why it was happening, but she liked it. She got there in August and it was pretty – she could go to the park any time of day and the nights were cool enough to need a jacket. She thought it must be winter here even though it was summer in California. At least, it felt like all the winters she’d ever known in her life. Mommy told her it was summer in their new home, but that didn’t make sense, so mommy must be wrong.

Everyone talked about winter for a long time. There was a day with white stuff that fell from the sky and Elsie’s mom told her that it was snow. She hadn’t ever seen snow and Elsie thought it was pretty in the sky, cold but pretty. It got so cold after Thanksgiving that her big sister had to put on lots of layers of clothes before she went to the bus stop every morning and take off lots of layers every afternoon when she got home. Elsie didn’t like the cold. It hurt her face and made it hard to leave the house. Even the car was cold when she’d get in it to go run errands. Her mom told her it would get worse, but she didn’t see how that could be possible.

It was after her sister’s Christmas break that it happened. They got snow. Real, deep, fast, frigid, sledding snow. Her sister got a day off from school and everyone seemed excited about it. Everyone except Elsie. To her, it was cold, wet, and not something she enjoyed playing in at all. Her mom dressed her in a long sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, boots, a jacket, gloves, a scarf, and a hat – so many clothes that it was hard to walk in – and told her they were going sledding. Elsie put her sundress on over her winter clothes; she wasn’t willing to put it away. Sundresses meant warm and cozy, things she desperately wanted to be.

Elsie, her mom and dad, and her sister all walked in the cold through the snow to the sledding hill. Her sister thought it was fun to walk in the white stuff, but Elsie couldn’t figure out what was fun about walking while being cold and having a hard time moving. She didn’t like this at all. After a ten minute walk, they got to the hill that was covered in kids and their sleds. Her sister went down the hill laughing and grinning; maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Then, it was Elsie’s turn. She sat in the sled and it started gaining speed. She didn’t like this. She didn’t like this at all. She hated this. She was cold already and now she was just colder and scared. Elsie got off the sled, walked up to her mom, and said, “Take me home. NOW!”

The next day, Elsie’s sister said she wanted to go sledding again and make snow angels. Elsie had a great idea. She laid down on the kitchen floor and started moving her arms and legs – she could make kitchen angels! Then, she grabbed her little folding laundry basket, folded it flat, and rode it down the steps – warm sledding! The best part? Even though she didn’t get cold, her mom still made her post-sledding hot cocoa. Maybe from inside winter wasn’t so bad after all, and she still got to do it in a sundress.

Relationship Ed

Because of the Facebook groups that I’m in, there’s a great deal about the importance of sex education that crosses my newsfeed (and some, unfortunately, about how it’s corrupting children). I was reading it, as well as some of my other pages and thought that it isn’t sex ed that we need. That addresses part of the issue, and in many states it doesn’t do a very good job of that. People knowing what is safe sex is vital, but it needs to cover a larger range of topics. What is really needed is relationship education.

I see people say things such as ‘he throws things at me, but if he ever was violent or abusive then I’d leave,’ ‘she said that she loves me, but she always asks me to buy her things and I’m wondering if I’m being used,’ “we decided not to have any more kids, but I’m just going to sabotage my birth control – we communicate really well,’ ‘I found out that he has a wife and kid he’s been hiding from me for the last year, do you think I should leave him?’ I’m blown away that any of these are questions. They all seem like obvious red-flags to me, but if you aren’t ever taught what a healthy relationship looks like it isn’t so black and white.

There is this assumption that sexual health and nutritional health are all there is, with the occasional anti-suicide message. There are so many other ways that people need to take care of their health. People need to make sure that their relationships aren’t toxic, because that toxicity will spill over into every other aspect of your life. It can be done in an integrated way. Teach that this is what used to be acceptable in a marriage, and this is when the law changed so that marital rape is illegal. You can teach about the history surrounding birth control, and the biological advances which helped lower rates of diseases. Education in general should take a more holistic approach, this is one way in which that can happen.

It isn’t just sexual relationships that need to be addressed. Why aren’t we teaching children what healthy friendships look like? They don’t just need to learn not to bully or be bullied, but what a functioning, equal friendship looks like. If your friend does things that aren’t so friendly, kids also need to learn how to communicate that. My daughter has a ‘friend’ who tells her that she’s going to hell because we don’t go to church. I’m working to direct her towards other people, because she needs to learn that that’s not ok. Friends should be loving, understanding of differences, and able to be honest – not mean and dismissive. It seems that there is an assumption that the parents will teach this, but all too often it’s something that the parents don’t know either. Our children should be prepared to face the world with all the tools possible to succeed, academically as well as socially. Let’s make sure they have them.