Oh the state of our back lawn!! The numerous big winds have scattered a carpet of twigs and branches everywhere. One cannot walk --- even in the snow cover --- without either catching a toe in or dragging along branches underfoot. Spring cleanup should be exercise indeed! We will be able to either build a brush-pile refuge for small creatures or have a magnificent bon fire.
One more day of January and we step into February, the month of valentines, presidential birthdays, family birthdays and it is Leap Year. Our youngest granddaughter turned thirteen a few days ago. I created a book for her about growing up --- as I did for her older sister a few years ago. I used my own memories, thoughts and the cartoons of people more talented than I in cartooning. Having been a kid, I know that it feels impossible to imagine that an adult has ever felt some of the same emotions a young person feels. It is hard to envision someone with gray hair ever being a child! I hope the little book will emphasize the common humanity of all ages and specifically some of the things to remember in the midst of teenage-dom.
Thinking of young people brings me to thinking of schools. There are always discussions, especially in small communities, about what and how our schools are doing. Partly that is because in New York State rural areas, we vote on school budgets and everyone is concerned about how their money is used, but it is also that the local schools are an integral part of a community; families know each other, keep track of each other’s kids and generally know the teachers. I occasionally got a phone call at work regarding one of our offspring;“….um – do you allow _______ to be on the roof?” A school and school activities are central to a small town. Neighborly scrutiny in small communities can be both annoying and wonderful, but mostly the latter.
Our sons experienced three different school systems; we moved three times during their El-Hi years. We tried to be aware and active parents in all of those schools; Mifflinburg, PA, Livingston Manor, NY and Spencer-VanEtten. In times of discouragement, Kerm and I briefly considered several educational alternatives, none of which were readily available or practical for us. We amused ourselves by creating our own school on paper, with the teachers we’d like to hire. It didn’t occur to us to try home-schooling. At that time it wasn’t anything we knew much about and I would have felt neither competent nor sure of my own patience and disposition. I had no trouble teaching the kids to batik or make candles, but I’m afraid I’d have been a total loss at geometry or chemistry (as my bio-chem. college roommate could attest). Now --- in my advanced age, I can see the relationship between life and some of those subjects I used to reject, and I’d make a way better teacher currently, years after the need. The boys had both good and hard times during their school years ----- some great teachers and some not so wonderful ---- as all kids do, and have gone on to manage well in careers that they, for the most part, like. I do think their younger years could have been happier and more productive if we had been able to educate them a bit more creatively.
Our granddaughters seem to be benefitting from home-schooling. Both began in the public school and did very well there; their home-schooling came rather by accident due to family circumstances. But it worked so well that first year that they have made the decision each year to continue. If a student has the self-discipline to study and do research on their own, and the parents have the patience and enthusiasm to search out opportunities (and not to shelter one’s children from the world), home-schooling is golden. I can’t help but believe that while all this emphasis on STEM subjects is fine (maybe even crucial) for our changing world, there are some other things that should not be neglected. One is history ---- a broad view of history, not the memorization of dates for the Wars of Roses or the dynasties of China, but a clear understanding of what led to what else. What honestly happened during the time of each nation’s imperialism? What combination of events and disagreements actually caused our Civil War? What global decisions brought WWII so soon after WWI? What economic woes have brought us to our current turmoil? What is the difference between communism and socialism? What does our Constitution really say?
We should honestly admit both our horrendous mistakes and rejoice in our wonderful accomplishments. Covering up anything has far worse results than coping with the truth. History should be presented as a long, long road emerging from the mists of time with stories all along the way, and the closer they get to our own times the more relevant the stories. It’s tough to feel deeply about the centuries ago invasion of Rome by the Goths, but it can be quite emotionally jarring to comprehend that only 100 years ago women were actually allowed to be citizens of this country, when given the ability to vote.
If we lose the truth about our history, we have lost who we are and continue to make the same tragic decisions that have always led to misery and corruption. We very probably should be teaching our kids to change the patterns of our culture instead of urging them to fit into it. We simply cannot protect our children from all ills if we also want them to be good and caring citizens. They can’t always “fit in” and while that may be occasionally painful, it is a good thing!
Which leads me to my main thought here; graduations, diplomas and degrees should not be considered ends to our education. Life in its entirety is a learning experience, and there are so many ways to continue learning; free seminars, free and low-cost classes via BOCES or other adult education programs, personal reading, discussion groups, videos and movies. Opportunities are available if one is not entrenched in one’s own opinions and if one really desires to learn. “Learning is a name superior to beauty; learning is better than hidden treasure. Learning is a companion on a journey to a strange country; learning is strength inexhaustible.” The Hitopadesa*
Winter is probably our hands-on learning experience in patience. As January ends, it still seems a very long way until blooming flowers and sunshine. A friend on Face Book posts beautiful pictures of flowers and they always brighten my day (and add to my gardening list!). But even in bleak mid-winter, there is a sign of encouragement; the owls are nesting! Even though I haven’t seen them, I know this to be true from my reading about owls. Just visualizing owls sitting on eggs during our snow storms, their fluffy feathers keeping the chicks warm inside the shells, is a hopeful and cheering thought. Meanwhile, for us, each day brings new opportunities in spite of slush storms (like that of last Saturday) and temperatures dropping like a stone (last night). There are always people to whom we can be kind and there are beautiful things to see outside via flora and fauna even now. Looking out from my window, I’m observing a squirrel nearly standing on his head, tail flipping around to keep him balanced, so that he can dredge out sunflower seeds from beneath a bird bath support. And over his head, paying him no mind, are blue jays, juncos and cardinals, getting breakfast from the seeds on the bird feeder. Always ---- there is something to catch the eye and to learn about the day. For example, I now know that wild creatures do not like old grapefruits or dried oranges any better than I do. So I’ll be picking those back up and sending them to the compost heap. Who knew??? ☹
And we need to keep open hearts for what speaks to us inside when we are very quiet. There is endless value to finding a peaceful time for thinking. “I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, This is what I believe. Finished!’ What I believe is alive….and open to growth.” Madeleine L’Engle** Thinking leads to learning which then leads to growth as a person.
Winter offers plenty of time for squirrel-watching, listening and thinking. So farewell to January and welcome February! And onward to interesting days ahead.
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*-The Hitopadesa is a book by Narayan Pandit; widely read and loved for over 1000 years. It is an anthology of folk wisdom offering humorous and profound reflections.
**-Madeleine L’Engle -- an American author, writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 1918-2007.