Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

hungry children and politicians

hungry childI have never understood letting children go hungry. Children are our most precious, irreplaceable resource. NOTHING trumps feeding children, and certainly not politics.

The American government — in the guise of the Republican house — just voted to let children go hungry. You can frame it as you like, but in 2014 about 22 million children will go hungry without SNAP. And why? Why is it more important to let children go hungry than…?

I don’t get it. We can afford war, obviously. We can afford junkets for Congress, and pretty lavish Congressional salaries. We seem to be able to afford everything but what most impacts children: food & education.

As a mother, as a teacher, as someone who aspires to a moral life, this troubles me profoundly. There isn’t a religion I know of that doesn’t place a high premium on feeding the hungry, caring for our children. Across spiritual borders, hungry children are seen as particularly vulnerable. Our charge is, always, to make sure we care for them. hunger graphic

But apparently, if we give it acronyms (SNAP), or long words (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), we can pretend it’s something other than what it is: essential FOOD for children, the elderly, the poor. Many of these children — 10 million — “live in ‘deep poverty,’ with family incomes below half of the poverty line.” In case no one remembers, $23,550 is the poverty line in the US for a family of four. My nephew, raising three children by himself, makes minumum wage. In Oklahoma, that’s about $9,000 BELOW the annual poverty line: $7.25/ hour x 40 hours weekly (which he can’t always get), x 50 weeks (just in case he really ever got his two weeks of vacation) = $14,500.00. GROSS, folks — not take-home.

Without food stamps, my nephew’s family would go hungry  many nights.  His mother helps. My niece helps. We all do a little. But where is the infrastructure for the working poor? He’s a veteran, struggling to provide a very  minimal life for three young children. And the Republican Congress thinks he doesn’t deserve this?

child povertyI am so angry with people who can’t POSSIBLY know a thing about real poverty that I could, as my great-aunt Bonnie would say, spit. There is nothing shameful about poverty. There is something morally reprehensible about asking children to go hungry for your politics.

Seriously? Where is the morality in this? And please tell me: what kind of ‘family values’ are these…?

sorry doesn’t fix things …

image A former student reminded me of an exercise I used to do in class. It involved wadding up paper — a guaranteed student pleaser.

Each student would wad up a piece of paper. No other directions than that. Some would crumple it loosely; others would wad it into a tight ball.

Next, I asked them to smooth it out. Make it as much like its original smooth surface as possible. They would have spent far more time than I gave them, rather than write. :)

I asked them why they thought I had them do this. None had a clue. So I explained:

When you hurt someone, you crumple them like paper. Saying image‘I”m sorry’ is better than not, but it doesn’t fix things. You can’t return the victim of your carelessness (or worse) to before. Any more than you can completely smoothe out the wrinkles on the crumpled paper.

Sorry doesn’t bring back the dead. It doesn’t undo cruelty or abuse. Nor restore lost lands, nor change history. My former student said she still remembers the crumpled paper activity. It’s been at least two years since she was in my class. And I would rather she remembered this short class activity than anything I taught on research.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely believe in saying ‘I’m sorry.‘ Even as I know it fixes nothing. But it can help begin a process of healing. Let’s not pretend, however, that graft, murder, rape, and other heinous acts can be ‘fixed’ with even a sincere apology. Instead? Let’s work hard to help the victims. And recognise their losses.

 

Dear Education Reformers:

education reformI’ve spent much of this month  listening to teachers. Their stories break my heart. Because these are teachers who are voluntarily seeking to improve. And they are exhausted, folks. Bone-deep, brain fugue, blank-eyed exhausted. It’s all they can do to get up in the morning and go to work.

From small rural Oklahoma districts, they tell stories of tests that no one can explain. Tests that define their students’ futures as well as their own. They speak of students who throw up from stress over these tests that ostensibly measure teacher accountability.

Accountability to whom? Certainly not to their students, who stop paying attention once testing is over (because after all: school now is about testing, isn’t it? not learning, right?). And yes, that’s one of the stories they tell: students halt all work once tests are done. Because hey: it’s all about the tests, right?

Tests do NOT measure learning. I know non-educators find this hard to believe, but a far better measurement of a child’s learning is asking him or her to teach the topic to someone else. Another good assessment is a portfolio of work, so you can see the student’s progress over a span of time.

There’s no time for that these days. Portfolios are labour intensive, and watching each student teach another? What dreamland do I live in? What there is time for is testing. And worrying about testing. And preparing for testing. But not — please note — a decent discussion of what this is supposed to accomplish, or how the tests are graded. Some, in fact, are graded electronically. By computers, w/ ‘rubrics.’ circuit board

Here’s a link to an essay — written by a teacher at MIT, Les Perelman — that scored a 6 out of 6 on a prestigious e-graded test. A shorter, cogently argued (and sensible) essay only received a 5. Hmmm… You’ll note that the ‘winning’ essay is total junk.

Folks, teachers are indispensable. I don’t WANT my grandson graded by computers. There are enough computers in our lives — and I even like computers (well, most of the time). But I like teachers infinitely better.

And our teachers are not happy these days. For very good reasons. Maybe, if we want our students to perform better in school, we should listen to these teachers. You know, the people who work with our kids DAILY. For HOURS. Who say that hunger, neglect, poverty, stress, and other human errors are what cause students to perform poorly.

I guess that would be too simple, right? Just a thought…

no, love is NOT enough

 Grief_by_crystalomnia“In this world where everything will not turn out okay, where the anything that is possible is not in our hands, the real deal is to, nonetheless, look deep into who we really are, and then from that place, reach out a hand, to act, to live a life of care.” ~ James Ford

Wow. I read those words and flinched. Because I have known since I was a child that love is NOT enough. I have known love to wound grievously. To hurl words like sharp stones. And even at its better moments, love does not save from tragedy.

I’m sure that the victims of the Navy Yard mass shooting were loved. But my love does not armour my beloved, as I have found in my life. Not my sons, not my husband, not my parents (and I count my in-laws). Love will not protect against life’s darkest turns.helping hands

But as James Ford notes, what love will and can do is still amazing: it can comfort. It can help heal. It can listen and be there. In other words? We can’t trust to love. But we can offer it up, always, when things go wrong. And that’s hard enough.

Because sometimes love requires us to be there for the giver of pain. To offer that lost traveler a hand. I can’t think of anything more difficult than being open to the pain some people give me, via my loved ones. But I’m pretty sure the helping hand isn’t confined to just the people I love. Sigh…

 

 

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