Monday, February 23, 2009

You Just...Can't....Stop....Them! (TJEd)

Kids and technology. They’re joined at the hip. Or, more appropriately, hardwired to one another. You just can’t keep kids away from technology if it’s anywhere in the house or on their radar.

This is Thomas (9) on my brand-new laptop. That would be MY laptop, less than a week old, barely birthed from its box and midwifed by the Geek Squad. The laptop I FINALLY bought after a year-plus of debate, wrangling, angst, hand-wringing and, finally, justification (God bless tax refunds). By the way, my laptop has proven to be an exceptional Scholar tool, but I won’t go into that right now. Needless to say, I just can’t seem to keep Thomas’ greedy little paws off of it, and his brothers (including the four-year old) are lined up right behind him.

As depicted above, Thomas is in the process of looking up “hedgehog” on Wikipedia. I’m at a loss. When I was nine, we didn’t have Wikipedia, and we didn’t have laptops. We didn’t even have home computers (okay, I just dated myself, and not in a good way). I didn't even have access to a computer (at work) until I was well into my 20's. Now, kids just seem to have a “natural” affinity for computers that goes way beyond anything adults are able to comprehend. They figure out stuff effortlessly that us old fogies – um, I mean adults - have to take classes to learn how to do. If you need to figure out how to do anything on the computer, just ask a child, because chances are very good that even if they haven’t done it before, they’ll be able to figure it out in a few minutes, and then very matter-of-factly teach you how. If you have ANY doubt in your mind about kids’ capacity to self-teach using computers, check out this TED Talk on The Hole in the Wall Experiment (it’s a little ramble-y and not terribly slick, but hang in there because the conclusions are AWESOME).

So, here we are, trying to create a literate-rich environment for our kids, doing the TJEd “thing”, focusing on Classics, etc., etc, etc. And there’s my 9-year old on MY laptop looking up “hedgehogs” on Wikipedia. The up-side is, this is the biggest, fattest carrot imaginable, because I’ve very conscientiously taught Thomas the Phases, and explained that a laptop is a Scholar Tool. When he reaches Scholar Phase, he will get my laptop, and I’ll upgrade to a new one . He is now, he has declared, in Scholar Phase. I didn’t laugh. Really. (Okay, maybe I had to hold my breath to keep from laughing, and now I’m paying the price in hiccups).

So, is technology undermining our childrens’ educations? I don’t think so. We are a technologically astute family with computers and TV’s and cable and even a Wii. The kids spend time on these devices and enjoy them, and we even have Family Wii Night (this is a BLAST!, you really should join us if ever you are in the neighborhood).

But, they also LOVE books. Just try putting my kids to bed without a bedtime story, and you’ll be assaulted with indignant complaints of outrage and four-point arguments that would intimidate a Supreme Court Judge, until you finally concede and read to them (preferably while doing the “finger thing” so they can follow along). Almost as devastating, try sneaking off to the library (or, God forbid, the book store) by yourself for a little grown-up browsing, and you’ll have three kids sprinting down the driveway after you, tears of outrage streaming down their little faces, demanding to go along. When I first signed up for a library card at our local library and they told me there was a limit of thirty books, I almost laughed at them. “Thirty?!? Are you joking?!? We’ll never check out that many!” Well, now I have to put a limit on each child’s take-out, just so I can check out the items I’ve placed on hold myself (don’t you just LOVE placing books on hold at the library? ).

So, I guess the point I’m trying to make (yes, I know, do get ON with it!), is this: Old School classics-based education and New School technology-based education do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. There can be a balance, and that balance will, I believe, be IMPERITIVE during our childrens’ lifetimes. They must be absolutely literate in the Classics, as well as absolutely literate in Technology. Can’t you just envision the joining of the two? It’s almost breathtaking. And, OUR children will be doing it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The Real Crisis? We've stopped being wise" (TJEd)

I just can’t say enough about this talk by Barry Schwartz on wisdom (thanks, Terry for pointing it out to me). What’s great about this talk is not just what he says (although that is pretty satisfying), but who he is saying it to. TED in an annual invitation-only conference which includes about 2,000 of the most brilliant, influential, powerful and wealthy people out there. And, Mr. Schwartz is talking to them about virtue, service, mentorship, and moral will + moral skill (aka practical wisdom). He’s talking about why reliance on rules and incentives often has an effect opposite to our expected and desired result. And he’s talking to a room full of people who can get things done. That’s cool.

If you’re not familiar with the TED Talks, it can be a great way to graze mentally. There are some talks that aren’t very significant or pertinent, but there are a lot that are. Kind of like reading great books puts you in direct contact with the great minds that wrote them, these TED Talks are a way of spending about 20 minutes in direct contact with some of the greatest minds of our time. If you go sniffing around, be sure to check out Ken Robinson’s talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? and Steven Pinker on The Stuff of Thought.

Happy grazing!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Moms Blog (TEJd)

This is not as fluffy a topic as it sounds. Perhaps it is simply my own apologia. But, if you’ll bear with me for a bit, let me know what you think.

My friend, Grace, just started a blog. Grace is one of my brilliant mommy friends, one of the core group of brilliant ladies I’ve spoken of before, so I’m looking forward to reading her posts regularly. I have mixed feelings about blogging, just as I have mixed feelings about the internet. Both have an extraordinary potential to connect thinking minds together in a profound manner, unique to human history. In many ways, the internet and blogging are the new printing press, opening up a multi-dimensional dialogue in public debate which has been missing in our culture for generations. Most of us have lived our lives seeing only “one way” communication through the media; this Important Person (or Politician or Corporation) wants you to know this is how it is, and you really need not comment, just accept. Well, with the internet that is changing. We may not necessarily be able to have our voices heard by Important People or Politicians or Corporations (yet), but we Little People certainly are talking to one another, and the volume is increasing. The tide is rising, and pity the Important Person or Politician or Corporation that doesn’t at least make a show of acknowledging that We Are Out There.

The downside of the internet is Too Much Stuff. Anyone with access to a computer can put their Stuff out there, whether it’s worth putting out there or not, and this leaves most of us with a sense that some important voices may be drowned out in the overwhelming volume. It also leaves us with the question “Do I have anything to contribute?” What I love about Grace’s first blog post is that it pretty nicely encapsulates the most apparent questions, doubts, and ultimate reasons why many moms participate in blogging. Here are Grace's words:

Is Blogging the Epitome of Narcissim?

When I first heard about blogging I thought... how self centered can you be? Who wants to hear about the minutiae of your life? How impudent must you be to write day after day about your life and your family? After years of reading blogs I realized that I enjoy reading about all the treacherous, uplifting, mundane or hilarious elements of peoples lives. I have gotten some wonderful craft ideas, good homeschool references, great book suggestions, toy ideas, recipes, found links to other blogs and websites and more. In addition, it makes it easier to keep up with friends that live far afield.

Creative writing was a favorite subject in my undergraduate studies but years of technical writing, editing, and formatting sucked the life out of my creativity. So, maybe I can get a little of that back in this process. So, here goes. I am officially a narcissist.

So, why do moms blog? There are a thousand answers to that question, but I think a big part of it for many moms may be that it is a personal yet powerful form of expression during a period of her life when intelligent expression has been largely placed on hold. “I used to read great books and have great conversations with friends before I had kids”. “I used to have great troubleshooting sessions with colleagues in my field and write papers and wrangle with ideas before I had kids”. “I used to talk about something other than poopie diapers, picky eaters, and the consistency of spit up before I had kids”. So, I think there is an element of having a blank canvas and a full pallet of paint with paintbrush poised, a unique opportunity to express whatever is most important to her at this point in her life, with no restrictions on content.

Possibly even more primary, I think, it’s often the only time she feels like she can get a complete thought expressed in the way she means it to be expressed. In direct contrast with the rest of her existence wherein she can’t finish a sentence without being interrupted, can only dedicate about 50% of her communication capacity to speaking because her brain is working on several other things at the same time, or, best of all, fumbling for the correct word, missing, and being corrected by her precocious 4-year old (yes, I’m talking about me).

If, on the other hand, she is blogging, even if she is interrupted a dozen times (which she usually is), she can still go back, review her thought, fix it, continue it (usually), and get it “out there” in a way that pleases her (most of the time). And, by the way, thank goodness for the Thesaurus; without it I would never have pulled out the term "precocious". If she’s really lucky, her blogging time is “her” time, a quiet respite during which she can collect herself and do some reflection on life…mostly hers and her family's, but sometimes about larger matters as well. It helps her remember that she is an intelligent, eloquent and powerful woman, and offers up the opportunity to prove that to herself. "Others" don't necessarily matter in terms of proving.

But beyond the element of expression, and possibly even more primary, it is a way of marking the little milestones of her family and her Self, remembering to take photos when she might otherwise not, remembering to share something the kids did or made, noticing those things which might otherwise get missed. In my family, the women are the historians, writing the genealogies, collecting and caring for the family treasures, and passing on the family stories. At a time when multi-generational families are no longer the norm, and most kids are not being raised with their elders, there may be a sense that we need to preserve our daily lives in some significant way, lest something important in the next generation’s history be lost, or worse, overlooked in the haste of the moment.

When our days are so often so full and so chaotic and so frustrating and so dedicated to caring for others that we can’t get a firm grip on our own thoughts, sitting down at the computer and writing for a bit can be a much-needed balm for the spirit. And, in the process, we may end up leaving something that may one day be cherished by at least one child-now-grown. I think that’s why many moms blog, and maybe dads, too. Maybe we haven’t reached the pinnacle of our educations, we’re not yet stateswomen or the leaders we hope to someday be, and we’re not yet changing the world. But, we each have something significant to contribute, and this is one small way of doing that, from where we are sitting right now.

Okay, that may have been a little fluffy, but please pardon me my sense of satisfaction at writing something close to my heart. And, because I told myself I could only pick one (other than Grace), here is the most brilliant mom blogger I know. Kitmamma’s Pensieve. Okay, I'm probably biased because she happens to be a friend, but check out her piece called “My Broken Window” and see if it doesn’t stir your soul.

Dun Dun Dun, etc. – Part Two (TJEd)

The boys’ Nana and cousin were over yesterday, and the kids put together a little impromptu “talent night”. While William and Michael acted out a lightsaber duel in the family room, Thomas played the Star Wars Theme as a piano accompaniment. Reminded me of the original movie houses with the black & white silent film playing while an organist played music. I just couldn’t stop giggling because they were all so serious, and worked so hard on putting together a show for the adults, and it was just so “kid” in such a charming way. I’m chuckling just remembering it. I hope to remember it for a long, long time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kangaroos for Bambi? (TJEd)

I'm not sure any explanation is possible, but I'm going to do my best.

I'm reading Bambi to the boys. It's my first time through, so I'm proceeding cautiously. We reached the part where the human hunters have invaded the forest, killing everything in sight. Poor Gobo, frail and exhausted, has collapsed in the snow, his mother forced to abandon him to his fate to protect herself and his sister, Faline. After finding him lying there helpless, Bambi pauses, but cannot help his friend, and so ultimately dashes away at Gobo's insistence.

"Why doesn't Bambi help Gobo?". That's Thomas asking.

"What do you think Bambi could do to help Gobo?" I just love putting the ball back in their court, and making them think about it.

"He could get his mom". Thomas still thinks mom can fix everything.

"If Bambi could find his mom and Gobo's mom, what do you think the moms could do for Gobo?"

"They could help him run".

This quickly moves into a conversation about how from the moment of birth, young deer must be able to stand and move on their own, or risk being killed by predators. Deer don't have hands, and can't carry their young in the way that humans, primates, and other animals may be able to do, so their young have to be mobile almost immediately. Gobo's mom can't just pick him up and carry him to safety. She is forced to leave him lying there, helpless, to be murdered by the humans. What a horrific burden faced by Gobo's mother. What a horrific dilemma faced by a child listening to this story for the first time.

After concluding the chapter, Thomas finds his own way of dealing with this emotional turmoil. He runs upstairs and dons the kangaroo costume. He then goes through considerable machinations to insert Michael (4) into his "pouch", thereby assuring that his youngest brother will never be left floundering helpless in the snow to meet an untimely and horrific end. It's a game for the boys. But, also a way to work through and resolve an emotional dilemma that is almost beyond their compreshension or ability to process and resolve.

"Acting out" would be an apt term. Working through something in a very physical manner, to come to an emotional wrap-up that they're able to "sit with". It's another one of those "boy things" that I only vaguely understand, but try to recognize and embrace as it presents itself.

It seems to have worked in this case. Everyone is smiling.

Monday, February 9, 2009

“Did You See What Michael Did?” (TJEd)

This was not a statement of one brother tattling on another. This was a statement of pride and appreciation, coming from our nine-year-old son in reference to his four-year-old brother.

We were at the park, gathering together with our usual once-a-week playgroup. This group, in some form or another, has been meeting up for about a year and a half now. We’ve got a nice core of families, and have been very happy to have a couple of additional families add into the mix in the past few months. It’s something I look forward to each week, because I get to sit down and chat with some of the smartest women I know. Moms from varying backgrounds, each with an impressive educational and/or professional background (except for me), each committed to homeschooling their children, and each feeling somewhat a “minority” in our larger community of neighborhood “church-goers” and “homeschooling for religious reasons” folks. We have tended to “band together” for support and encouragement. This is one of the most lovely and brilliant groups of ladies I have ever had the privilege of knowing and associating with.

But, I digress. Our mom with the largest brood had just arrived, and one of her younger girls had taken off toward the playground, forgetting that there were several steps down from the picnic table area. She took a dive down the steps onto the concrete sidewalk, and was crying. Mom was juggling several other children, including an infant, and was doing her best to get down to the injured child, although was somewhat waylaid. When I looked up, Mike (4) was right there next to the little girl, holding her hand, and looking concernedly into her little face, talking to her, clearly doing his best to comfort her until mom arrived. My tender mommy heart could have burst.

Crisis resolved, that’s when Tom came over to me, almost imperceptibly whispering “Did you see what Michael did?”, wanting to point out to me what a great little guy his youngest brother was. "Wasn't that great?". My tender mommy heart just about burst again…

Thursday, February 5, 2009

“I Want One!” (TJEd)

I’ve previously posted that "we" have three boys, ages 4, 7 and 9. Let me issue a modification of that statement. "I" have four boys, ages 4, 7, 9 and 42.

I’ve been knitting scarves and hats for the three younger boys, and recently finished Will’s scarf. When hubby saw it, he immediately said “I want one!”. And added “Can I have it before I leave for Denver?”. That was last Sunday. He’s leaving this Sunday. Can I knit a scarf in one week? Hmmmmm. I just might make it, only because I knit while I read, and obviously while I watch television. We started in on The Lord of the Rings trilogy last night, to be continued today. I also wanted to get in a viewing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the boys before I take them to the play tomorrow. It’s looking promising…

Luv ya, honey!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dun Dun Dun Duuuuun Duuuuun, Dun Dun Dun Duuuuun Duuuuun, … (TJEd)

Tom (9) is learning to play the Star Wars Theme on the piano. He’s in LoL Phase, so he doesn’t really “study” piano, he “plays at” piano. His dad is helping him with some basics, and he’s learning to play “by heart”. He doesn’t sit down and practice for a 20 minute session every day, he just plunks down and works on it for a few minutes at a time, several times a day, usually when someone else is trying to have a conversation in the same room. He’s comfortable with the piano, seems to enjoy the challenge of learning a piece of music, and particularly gets a kick out of showing off his progress.

I’m one of those people for whom tunes get stuck in my head easily, and seem to hold on for very long periods of time. If I happen to hear the same tune several times in a day, or for more than one day in a row, that tune pretty much is permanently embedded until another persistent tune comes along to dislodge it and take its place. It can, at times, be maddening. Not just because I’ve got a tune, not of my conscious choosing, stuck in my head, but because I tend to unconsciously hum said tune. A lot. Any time I’m not doing something that requires active, semi-directed thought, I’m humming. Washing the dishes, folding the laundry, sweeping the floor, cooking dinner. Whatever, wherever, whenever. I’m humming, and mostly not even aware of it. And, I’m humming the tune that’s stuck in my head, which means I’m hearing it again, which reinforces the tune’s strangle hold on my mind, so I hum it more, so…. You get the idea.

I remind myself of a Robert Heinlein character (I can’t remember which, it’s been so long since I’ve read his books, but I think it was Lazarus Long) who said that his subconscious humming indicated that all systems were “go”, and everything was a-okay. I’m pretty much the same way. If I’m washing the dishes and I’m NOT humming, you better bet I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about something, or I’m chewing on a concept or idea which requires my attention. My kids haven’t figured out yet that if Mommy is not humming, it’s probably not the best time to talk to her. Maybe I should clue them in…

But, regardless of the possible ramifications of humming, I would really like to wake up in the middle of the night and NOT have The Star Wars Theme playing in my head. Just once. Maybe a little Mozart instead?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Family Treasures (TJEd)

My husband came home with a stack of old books, a gift from him mom. They are all books that belonged to my husband’s family, as far back as his grandmother. I love old books, and my wonderful mother-in-law knows this. So, you can imagine how pleased and touched I was that these books are now part of our library.

There really is nothing more to say, except "Thank you".

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What did you learn at Bible Study tonight? (TJEd)

I asked this of our 9-year old son. For a couple of months, now, he’s been toddling off with our neighbors to their Wednesday night Bible Study. The main attraction for Tom, I think, is the visit to our local pizza joint, Stevie B’s, and the opportunity to play arcade games there before moving on to The Church. Although we’re not Christians, and I’ve quietly disclosed to our lovely neighbor that we’re a non-religious family, she still seems content (sometimes maybe a little determined) to invite our boys to Wednesday night Bible Study with their family. For me, it’s supporting our kids in their exploration of religion. For Tom, it’s free food, arcade games, and socializing. Sometimes they even have a bouncy-house.

So, like a good mom, each night when Tom returns from Bible Study, I ask him “So, what did you learn at Bible Study tonight?” His answer is pretty much the same each week.

“Nothing much”.

“You didn’t learn anything tonight?”

“Not really. Just some old stuff.”

“Oh. What old stuff?”

“I don’t remember.”

Whatever the lesson was, it doesn’t seem to have stuck.