Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In order to take care of the one tree you need to see the forest

Most of us heard that saying about how you can't see the forest focusing on the one tree and lately as I watch the news I think boy that tree must also have a mirror in it.

Is it the media, so easy to blame because they so often are guilty, that we as a world seem so focused on what we want, what we want to say, what our opinion is and passing it off as fact and let's face it a bit to some degree even blogging falls into that sphere.  As an only child tasked with the burden of having to defend being an only child constantly, no sorry my parents as most parents of only children that I know forced us to be cognizant of sharing and not being just all about us because that is what good parents, I am dismayed at the culture of "me" only that we have devolved to.

I watch the devastation that ISIS like a tornado is bringing - devastation with an empty core, sucking up years of history, people's lives and for what ??? Their focus on that one tree because the forest that is known as human fabric is not even in their potential sights.  That focus on what they want because nothing else matters.  This is a group focused on apocalypse and their gain after it, by the way I did not surmise that it actually is part of their belief system that they widely tout.

I listen to people who deny climate change because doing so makes sense- why?  It makes sense because they are only focused on you being wrong so they could be right.  It is because the more ignorant the statement the more press you get.  Yet whether it is a natural cycle that we have sped up with pollution or a global cycle that we have created, it exists and denying it does not make it go away.  That is what children do, close my eyes I can't see you ergo you can't see me.

There are the people who feel their god trumps your god after all their god somehow spoke to them. All higher, evolved deities are all about getting top billing - oh yeah that makes no sense.  However, if my view is to only see one tree in a vast forest well that is the most important tree and maybe I have to cut down the other trees that are blurring my vision just a bit on the sides.

There is the sect of science deniers - you know the "anti" people.  They are anti things because after all the internet and sites that have no backing or studies and that can be disproven by a 10 year old are of course more full of truth then the vast conspiracy of people who went to school to get advanced degrees,  do studies that can be replicated and understand that the word "theory" in science does not mean it's a thought that randomly came to mind with no backing.  Well these people I am not sure want to even call it a tree but will wait for the next actor, who may or may not have played one of these science professions on TV to tell them what it is called, they know there might be no forest just because you showed them there was one.

There are of course the "look at my big stump" tree people who feel that they should legislate on behalf of the trees that are female - after all the branches of a tree by far, in their mind, are more prominent and important the cavities in some trees that house life often.

Me....me....me... mine.  That is the prevalent thought and it may be what is most scary for me as a parent.  I try to teach my children not to be so focused on their own needs, be open to questions about their beliefs and most of all love the tree as much as the forest that surrounds it.  If we cannot take care of the forest we will eventually lose the tree.  I see it in people who want a say in education, in healthcare, in every thing and not just an opinion or a clarification but an actual lawmaking say just because they believe they are entitled to it.  We have one bitty little planet and while even that seems like it is "superior" to some people it is but a pale blue dot as Carl Sagan so eloquently reminds us in the scheme of the multiverses out there.

Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived thereon the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.  Carl Sagan 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Please and thank yous and the basics

I am often complimented by fellow parents and even strangers on how polite my boys are.  Now I am not writing this blog from the "oh look at me and the compliments I get" point of view.  Sure I am proud of them for this but I also think they have what I count as fairly basic manners, there are many things they do (fork holding, lack of knife cutting skills, some burping) that make me cringe.  Luckily I usually have to at most deal with elbows on table type stuff in public, bodily functions are contained to the joys of our home.  The cutlery skills will keep being worked on. 

I am writing this blog because people should not be that impressed by these basic skills.  Manners and being considerate are not special skills they are necessities.  I grew up in a house where my father in particular was an extreme stickler for them, how to hold a knife, how to not switch hands when cutting as he did not get this habit being European, no elbows on table, both hands visible because after all I had not lost one in a war.  All of this was frustrating many times, led to some doozy meals and at my worst led me to shout "I am not eating with the Queen of England" to which he replied "But if you ever got invited to you wouldn't know how to unless you eat like that every day".  I get the point now I got an ulcer then.  Now his methods were not correct, they lacked etiquette ironically since yelling at your dinner partner is never on the "acceptable" list, but his message was.  

As a parent I am charged with helping to shape future behaviors.  My boys should know to say please and thank you because it means someone is showing a kindness or giving them something.  They should know to walk into a house or a room and speak with an adult present and introduce themselves.  They should not expect things because they proclaim "I am hungry", always followed by "nice to meet you" if they or their friends say it to me.  I would expect them to treat people they know this way and it is not acceptable to treat people who are in a service industry this way.  

My kids should know how to make a phone call and politely ask to speak to someone even if it's most likely they will communicate via text more.  I do not know when it became acceptable to not teach these things to children, when we stopped expecting people to let others go on public transportation as we walk out, to not hold a door for a woman if you are a man, to hold a door for a pregnant woman regardless of who you are, to offer a seat to someone elderly or pregnant or holding a child.  I do not know when people think the green light was given to walk into a room and not say hello, or get up when guests come or go to your home, or just brush past each other without an excuse me.  This does not make you hip or cool it just makes you lacking in manners and rude. 

Manners are not bourgeois or hoity toity they set markers that help us acknowledge one another in a positive way.  The art of knowing how to eat with utensils elevates your meal and you can actually not chow through it but enjoy it - this is not a bad thing it makes us appreciative of having a meal.  If we cannot show basic manners to our fellow humans how are we to show compassion, caring, understanding and acknowledgement of their presence for bigger things.     

So thank you for telling me how well my kids act but I believe that most of their friends have the same manners.  I believe that many parents still care enough to raise children who show consideration and that the outliers stand out because of this reason.  I try and model this behavior for my children as often as possible because if they cannot see the person as worthy of the respect manners conveys, including eating well instead of stuffing your face as if the cook shoveled it on your plate, then how can they respect people?  Let us continue to raise children who are better than us because the world will benefit from it. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dear Gov Cuomo - just dropping you a note about our schools

Dear Governor Cuomo;

I wanted to write to you to add to the many voices you are hearing from regarding the direction that the education agenda is going in New York State.

I will begin by saying that I am all for standards and holding people accountable.  I believe that the majority of teachers dedicate themselves and always have because they too have these principles.  I see the usefulness in having schools follow a national curriculum and in the never ending evolution of how and what students are taught.

However, the discussion is no longer focused on these things and therefore, no longer about the children.  It is no longer about reinforcing and rewarding great performance but rather about negative and punitive methods that neither reflects a progressive approach nor has it ever been proven to be effective in any setting.

I have no objection to students taking tests and I actually will not opt out my children even if I feel that the testing is neither developmentally appropriate or indicative of their ability.  In taking the tests they will also learn that at times they will have to do things that are difficult, not useful but mandated and that life is not always about what is actually logical or fair.  In writing this letter I will teach them that we are privileged to live in a country where it can be written and sent.

If one were to review the countries who do well on standardized tests,  like many of the Asian countries, you would see that rely on a workforce that does and can manufacture rather than on a workforce that develops through it's ingenuity.  We do not need to be European or South American or any other place we need to educate our children to compete in those job markets and have an advantage not just be next in line.  We came here from all of those places for opportunities and to make a positive difference to this country that opened it's doors to us. Our grandparents, parents, we all worked and continue to work hard to ensure our children all have more opportunities and continue to add to the fabric of the US and the greatest asset we can give them is an education. We can learn from all of those places but not need to replicate any one of them.

My family and I currently live in town that thrives in it's diversity.  We are a town of various levels of education, income, ethnicities, religions, lack of religions, mixture of all of these, homogenous, same sex, traditional, bohemian families and single people.  We pay taxes that are high to have schools that educate our children but also are open to educate the children of those who can only rent and work hard to do even that.  We chose to live here because the children are taught more than how to pass a test and instead are taught how to live well with one another, how to do community service, how to hear a multitude of languages and then speak respectfully to each other.   We are Americans by choice or by birth and we are Ossining proud of the many science competition awards our high school gets, of the sports achievements, the National music recognition and for the adults our children will become because this is all part of their education along with math, reading and other standardized lessons.  Our test scores do not reflect these accomplishments because they are too limited for the limitless possibilities we expose all the children of this town to.  Our scores are good but our teachers are great.

We make it work and we work together to help each other out when emergencies strike, like raising funds for a family that lost all in a home fire, offers on our Ossining Moms page to take children when one of schools experienced a power outage and a strong PTA that demands the best from our education system and gets in partnership not through coercion.

Imagine if this town decided to randomly pick only one policy you passed this year, without your input, and because we are intelligent, dedicated people designed our own scoring system of this policy.  Imagine if then we judged you just on this one policy without taking into consideration external factors or your fellow law makers.  Then we said we could ask you to step down if we found you lacking.  That would be ridiculous !!!!  Even though we are a government of the people by the people we chose you in a majority vote to make good decisions for the people because we know you can. We are not qualified to do something like this just like one test is not a qualifier of a teacher's performance. You like our teachers are the sum of your parts.

Even with all it's imperfections our school system in this state and nationwide celebrates achievement and has achieved much.   We need to help those schools that our failing not fail those children in them with funding cuts.  We deserve to have great teachers who deserve our respect and our understanding that they can create a measurement system and will commit to fairly releasing from their ranks those who do not meet the high standards they measure themselves by.  We need to hold ourselves as parents, caregivers accountable to help our children appreciate getting an education.  We need to hold you and the office we elected you accountable to represent our needs and value our opinions not just those of some statistics.

In closing if you have taken the time to read this I thank you for your time and consideration because I can only imagine how difficult your job must be and public service is to be applauded.  The idea that we want to discount a system that has produced people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and many others to meet some "score" is simply just not who we are.  We are free thinkers and the world is better for it.

Please reconsider the hefty weighting you are thinking of giving to one test and instead let our children continue to thrive.  Demonstrate the qualities you want our children to have by working with our teachers and I ask the same of them.  A society whose most needy have the same access to good education as it's most prosperous is bound to become successful and a legacy you will be proud of.

Thank you,

A parent who is raising the future

“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Social media survival guide for mothers

Back in the last century when I was growing up social had no media -- you passed notes  and things written on walls, as a child of NYC, meant either explicit things one had done, one was being told to do or your "tag" as in graffiti (art or not remains a debate, some I would say yes others just angst with a spray can).  

Back in the last century phones were not so smart, actually were so dumb they had to be leashed via a cord otherwise I don't know they may have simply fallen off the wall.   Conversations were interrupted by mothers using the operator, emergency call meant you were about to need the ER if you did not get off and accepted it and ended that conversation that I am sure every mother started with "what on earth could you be talking about for so long?".  It also could be yanked out of your hand or they hung up on the call.  You came in red eared, it did get kind of hot, and you showed your displeasure not through postings on public domain but in your head and through very demonstrative sighs, eye rolls and the ever ubiquitous "whatever" response.  If you grew up in Queens you did not discuss or negotiate .. they were the boss you were reminded and you could make up rules when and if you moved out of the parental home. 

Our parents had it easy from that perspective - they kind of, sort of knew what you were up to, especially growing up in Astoria where FB postings are a close second in speed of appearance to the women who saw you from their window or porch network.  They reported and berated you as needed. They also often were lethally accurate with a slipper, yeah there was no "making setting private". You still did things they did not know but it was always in the back of your mind to not get "busted".

That was last century - kids of this century now we have multiple ways to communicate, that we use to communicate, this blog is a perfect example of public posting.  It is scary to be a parent in this age, hell it's scary sometimes to be adult.  Social media and screen time discussions have replaced TV watching and phone discussions but that much more because it is done ironically through those very mediums being questioned.  

There is no longer bullying or the nasty note in some obscure bathroom about you in a school or playground setting - this can come to your home with you.  People are less likely to filter and not join in sheep style when they can do it from behind the electronic screen.  

It is in this world that our children are growing up - not last century. For me the idea of not letting them being on some sort of social media or no screen time is totally against everything I love about innovation and my fervent belief that we also need to teach them how to use it appropriately and actually take responsibility for their actions.  This does not give them carte blanche to sign up for an Instagram account (not yet, too young and if you cannot make a cognizant argument why you want it instead of "because my friend has it" then you are not mature enough to know the dangers of it), of FaceBook or any thing else.  I do check texts and monitor what they watch but that is part of being a parent - because whether I admitted then I admit it now I did not always make good choices then though I thought I was so clever.  

Technology is a part of their lives and will always be - it is wonderful, it is eye opening, it is a huge resource.  It is also full of things that I notice a lot of my adult friends also still do not get - if it's on the internet it does not make it true (it might be but it may not be), adding the word "study" to anything does not make it a legitimate - i.e if it starts observing unreported number of people(or like 10), with undisclosed reviewers and just being "anti" everything known is not science or truth  - it is a blog by a different name.  

So I do my research, I actually try out different types - still never warmed up to Twitter  - just so I know how to talk to my kids.  To show them how someone could use it against them or to harm them not through voodoo stories (kind of like the ones my father was fond of telling me about the perils of marijuana which led straight to heroin and my downfall into homeless prostitution  - I still laugh as in my head I think I always wanted to say "man that's some serious stuff you were smokin'") but through examples on the actual media.  To allow them to talk to me and understand that if you are too ashamed or afraid of my reaction to a post or send a text you may not want to do it as others who have influence on their future may react like me.  

I also feel you have to lead by example - if I write nasty, demeaning things on my FB and they saw it what would that say to them ??? Healthy debate is not surrounded by the words You are an Idiot. Instead I tell them as you get older FB and other social media becomes a great equalizer and connection to people that maybe you were not so close with younger but now realize you have a shared past and connection with. 

Each parent must parent in a way that is comfortable and for me parenting in a bubble is too risky - cause you never know who may be holding the pin.