Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Adventure of Homeschooling

I homeschooled my oldest until she was 12, my second child until he was 10. My five year old I am keeping out of kindergarten this year to have at least one more year with her. I have always loved learning and the greatest joy of parenting for me is being there when my kids follow their curious natures and end up in a place of wonder. This can apply to something as seemingly insignificant as “discovering” a new bug they’ve never seen before to something as necessary as a fundamental understanding of addition. To me it is all important and wonderful. Even though two of my kids are in traditional schools this year, I am still involved as much as I can by helping them study and giving whatever support I can.

My background in education is pretty varied. I have tutored numerous times, done an internship with a middle school Spanish teacher, spent two years as a French instructor at a major university, for three years volunteered many hours every week at an alternative “unschool,” developed curriculum for language education, plus many hours dreaming of the ideal learning environment and process, which to me is an infinite task since we all approach the world differently and thus need a slightly different presentation.

My major problem with traditional education is how much it limits the students through evaluation, literary canon, impersonal standards, just a general attitude of authoritarian implementation of limited subjects. Ideally I think that learning should be fueled by the natural enthusiasm and curiosity that children are born with and will retain if this spirit is not crushed early on. However, I am old enough to realize that my ideals must be tempered with realistic expectations so that they can best serve real needs in the real world.

The major obstacle I have encountered in my experience with homeschooling is that, at a certain age, a child’s natural need and desire to separate from their parents makes every lesson a torture. The kids want to explore further, they want to interact with adults that might be more compatible with their temperaments, they want to differentiate themselves to be their own individual. Their parents still have a lot to offer them, of course, they always will, but at a certain age they need other (safe) people to interact with and learn from/with. They just get too much direction and controlling oversight from their parents all day long, and it becomes too much. (I recognize that a lot of this may just be a result of my personality!)

In addition to other topics I explore, I will be writing essays reflecting on my experience with education, exploring various philosophies and ideas about learning, and also just dreaming about the possibilities for the future. I welcome questions, comments, ideas, and feedback.

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Adolescence

How depressing is it to watch this generation have to go through the same internal tortures and external conflicts that we went through. I remember being a teenager, it sucked ass, pardon my language but such a state of being requires strong language, in my opinion. (One of the most nightmarish songs I’ve ever heard is by Nirvana and has lyrics something like, “You’re in high school again…” NOOOOO!!!)

I remember being a teenager and vowing that if I had kids, when they were teenagers I would be perfectly understanding and that would keep the strife down to an absolute minimum. Fat chance. It is not enough to be understanding when someone’s job is to get out from under your absolute control, find their own way, their own interpretation of the world, to become independent of your approval. The strife is, perhaps, unfortunately, a necessary component of this job.

I swore I would let my kids make their own decisions, let them take their own consequences, let them shape their own lives. This is a noble aspiration, totally realizable when they are 18, but how much before then? When you know that you are legally and morally responsible for someone’s well-being, for giving them the best possible start to their adult lives, which mistakes do you let them make? How serious can these mistakes be? You as the parent can claim that the consequences are theirs alone, but really, everything is your responsibility until they are truly adults. Certainly, midnight of their 18th birthday is a random and essentially meaningless moment for this advancement to magically happen, I acknowledge this, but if not then, when?

In what other job besides parenthood does the person you are “working for” despise you when you do what you truly believe in your heart is the right and good thing?

It is difficult also for me to accept that, to this young person, my more experienced perspective as an adult and a parent mean precisely shit. I have suffered and struggled, thought and reasoned, felt and hurt, and to have that all be of no use to anyone is sad and discouraging. But looking back, I didn’t give a crap what my parents had learned, what they thought, or how any of that would shape my life if I let it. Again, the necessary move to independence.

I truly believe that the village should raise the child, and the child should have a lot more exposure to (safe, known) adults who would be more compatible, both in interests and temperament, who could act as mentors. Because children are not going to listen after a certain point to their own parents, this is contrary to the primary project of their development. And so we are all stuck, Mommys and Daddys in a box, with our own naturally rebellious children, with no healthy interchanges between families and generations, because we are so afraid of our neighbors and so attached to our idea of the nuclear family, even if it blows up in our faces.

I saw an elderly lady at Walmart yesterday and she cooed at my 5 month old for a few minutes, and she said, “I wish you lived next door, then I could rock you and sing to you.” I thought of all the times during the day when the kid is fed, changed, fully attended to, but still cries for interaction while I stare at the dishes piled up, laundry reeking, books unread, older kids scrambling for attention, and I thought, if only. If only I could hand the baby off to a grandma or grandpa person for an hour or two, both of whom are dying to coo at each other while I am dying to get things done. If only teens could go over to someone’s house who could teach them some skill they wanted to know, and maybe learn how to live at the same time. If only we could all, babies, adolescents, adults at all stages, be there for each other and get what we need from each other, besides just a passing moment in a stupid store. If only.

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Honoring a great man

In June of this year Sembène Ousmane, my favorite director, who is also one of my favorite writers, passed away. He made it to age 84, so it is not too much of a surprise at that point, but I am very sad nevertheless, in a selfish way, because he was so brilliant that I was hoping he would put out more films before the world was deprived of his genius. He was making films up to the end, his last being “Moolaadé” in 2004.


I am so convinced of his importance to the world that I showed as many of his movies as I could get away with when I taught French at the UO. He wasn’t part of the official program, but since his characters often spoke French (although he also used Woolof, a language indigenous to his native Senegal) I decided to take any lull in the given curriculum to expose my students to his important works. Plus, since part of the curriculum was “French culture and history,” I felt it was essential to expose some of the effects of French colonialism in Africa.



He is generally referred to as the father of African cinema. This is vital, when you think of how much culture is transmitted through film. In fact, this is why he originally decided to focus on directing, after he had taught himself to be a novelist and had written many popular and important books — because so many Africans were illiterate, or at least could not read French, that he realized how many more people could access his ideas on the big screen. 



And his ideas are powerful. You could watch his movies purely for entertainment value, since the characters are so intriguing, his storylines so engaging, and the visual details so simple but profoundly important. But if you start to look deeper, you will find serious political critique of colonial and postcolonial power and situations that apply to much of Africa and its relations with the colonial authorities as well as progressive commentary on social conditions and cultural developments. He does it without preaching or finger-pointing, just a laying out of the situation through the medium of story, scene, symbol and character.



If I could recommend only one film (and once you see it, you will want more) I recommend “La Noire de…” (known as “Black Girl” in English), his first feature-length film which also won him awards and recognition. It is a simple and entertaining story but one which I am still reflecting on to realize all the nuances of meaning he might have included. (I have asked a lot of people what they think the mask represents, and they all answer something that is distinct from but equally insightful to all the other answers I have received or thought of myself. It is magic!) 



I think my second favorite is “Camp de Thiaroye,” which I have seen in several classes but cannot find a copy of anywhere, but hopefully someone will put it out on DVD and distribute it soon. It is based on history as well as his personal experience as a “Tirailleur Senegalais,” being the story of a group of soldiers from Senegal who fight in WW2 for France, who then proceeds to screw them over. Extremely powerful and important movie.



I could go on but I think I’ve made my point; he was a brilliant artist and a major contributor to African literature and cinema. Anyone who hopes to have any clue to African postcolonialism needs to study his work. Any small part I can play in spreading the word of his amazing legacy would make me feel like I had helped honor him for his revolutionary contribution to the world.

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A new experiment with an old profession

Not the “oldest” profession, of course. Why is prostitution considered the oldest profession? Because motherhood and homemaking are not considered a profession. They are givens, unpaid and disrespected, something one has to do because they love their family members too much to neglect them. I am currently in the middle of Life Experiment #2, attempting for the second time to walk the path of mother and homemaker without an outside “real job”, balancing the needs of six people, one of which is my own self soul, who periodically begins to whine and pine for some attention and spoiling.

It is always interesting to me the attitude of the social workers, whose assistance I have always had the misfortune to require (but the fortune of being able to attain). On the one hand they don’t want you to abandon your children under a dumpster, so they talk up the joys and wonder of motherhood, handing out an entire trees worth of pamphlets telling you how to coo at them and immunize the hell out of them. Out of the other side of their mouths they will ask you, don’t you want to be sterilized now, and demand to know what birth control you will be using, and don’t you think you’ve played at this game long enough. Far from being acknowledged as the biological objective of our entire existence, which I agree can and should be circumvented if an individual does not desire to participate, parenthood is in our modern world a hobby, and if you can’t afford it because there are no jobs with living wages available in our capitalist system, then you should just sterilize yourself and go back to flipping burgers.

Even more interesting is going out with the baby, and having people ask me if it’s my first, and then seeing their eyes go buggy when I say, “No, my fourth.” Four? Why in God’s name would anyone want four? Can’t you control yourself? But they don’t say anything out loud, maybe because we are in the polite South, they just smile, move slowly away in case it is contagious. But to answer the unspoken questions, what else is there that is even half as fulfilling as parenthood? (I fully realize and accept that some people could come up with a long list of things, and I appreciate the diversity of our individual experience.) To see them learn something new, to see them swim deep in their imaginations, to hear the wise words they use to describe the world, to see their satisfaction at a new achievement, to see their amazement to observe something I have come to take for granted. An addictive hobby, I must say, but one that requires every ounce of passion and dedication, and then we still don’t do a perfect job. I am doomed to screw it up and be despised by each of them from the onset of teenagehood until approximately age 25 when they begin to realize that they are adults and have the power and responsibility to do as they will with their own lives, despite any of my mistakes. Hopefully they will realize that their mother did the best she could, and they will do even better.

Maybe that is the point, the desire to move into the future in the only way possible, recreating your own flesh, which you infuse with your own knowledge, dreams and ideas, to which the new individual adds and subtracts with their own unique imagination and drive until the connection with their parental origin is only the tiniest umbilical thread, impossible to sever. We like to pretend in this modern world that we are alone in the universe, but behind each one of us is a huge crowd of ancestors, a legacy of individuals, now mostly faceless and nameless, who spent a good portion of their life energy ensuring the survival of the next generation. Picture your favorite deceased grandparent and imagine how much they are pulling for you in this world, then multiply that infinitely back through time. What if the momentum of these centuries of striving to succeed could be claimed and harnessed, and we could do great things with this wind at our backs?

And if I stop wanking poetic for a minute and just admit the truth, these four kids are the four coolest people I’ve ever met. Why wouldn’t I want to make hanging out with them my job?

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All is nothing but flowers in a flowering universe

One needs only study geology to realize, once and for all, that even the mountains we take as symbols of eternity are, in fact, like everything surrounding us, only manifestations in motion, the illusion of stability which is actually the true face of change, yet another being in the process of growth or decay.

Why do I insist on complicating things that are really quite straightforward? It’s just a mountain, for crying out loud, get a grip.

Years ago the symbol of my life became the spiral, (I suspect it was the symbol all along and I just eventually realized it), but in any event, the spiral is movement: here to there, in and out, forth and back. When you see it drawn in two dimensions, it appears just to move from the center to the edges, or from the outer to the inner, but in 3 dimensions, though ultimately it may be tending in one direction, if you follow it closely it moves in a lot of directions in rapid succession. Rather dizzying, really.

The way a boring, plain little seed makes its way up towards the sun, then falls back down again into the dirt, possibly providing us sustenance somewhere in the middle, delaying our own spiral downward.

Somewhere in the middle of my flowering life other flowering lives have appeared, whose stems grow strong and whose leaves drink in the light. It is dizzying the way our individual spirals reach out into the world like the tendrils of a bean plant curl around whatever stable object the wind blows them up against.

The decay will surely come, the petals falling, sagging bits, furrowed brow, death. Name forgotten. There is no monument, not even faces carved into the side of a mountain, that will survive time’s dizzying spiral forward, warping all of space in its wake.

Sometimes, riding the waves of the wake, we stop to smell a flower: a friendly face encountered, fresh bread eaten, groovin’ tunes enjoyed, cool fat raindrops in a summer thunderstorm. It will all be gone soon enough, but today, how sweet.

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