I Didn’t Learn That in School!

Often I read things or come across things that I did not learn in school. I think part of why I come across these things so often is because I am constantly reading as well as traveling to new places or visiting sites I have not been to before. Generally speaking, my first thought when encountering this new information or seeing a new place is “Wow! How cool is that?!?!” or “I didn’t know that!”

However, I often see people lamenting that they “didn’t learn that in school” or “How come they don’t teach ______ in school?”

There is just so much as far as information and skills that teachers have to teach that there is absolutely no possible way whatsoever that teachers/schools can teach everything. All schools have to make choices about what to include in their curriculums, standards, and/or objectives to teach and, conversely, what not to include. For example, as a history teacher, there is no way any history teacher or group of history teachers can ever hope to teach the students in their classes about all of history! I mean, seriously! Let’s think about it…First of all, history includes not just European or US history, but the history of all the other regions of the Earth (Asia, Africa, South/Central America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, etc.). Then, you have the various countries within each of those continents or regions, plus the smaller history of the various ethnic groups that live within the borders of those countries. We don’t even teach all of US history. How many of you have ever heard of the Punitive Expedition that the US took against Pancho Villa? We don’t teach that because it’s not a MAJOR event in history. How many know about the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century and all the various factions that were vying for power? How many know about the dynasties of China? Tibetan history? The history of any country or people in Africa? (Don’t get me wrong…there are definitely things I don’t know, either!) And that’s just one subject.

There are things that schools just don’t have the time to teach. Most states require that students are in school for 180 days per school year and a school day is typically 6.5 hours. So, that works out to be 1170 hours, if each of those days was a full day. We know that there are many half-days so let’s trim it down a bit to a nice round number of 1100 hours. Within those hours, schools also have things like field trips, assemblies, track and field days, and all sorts of other special things that happen which take away those hours from the classroom teachers, and that doesn’t take into account the hours involved in all of the testing that we are now requiring of the students and teachers.

So, given that, how can we possibly add anything to what we are currently teaching? (Some of this goes to the arguments of getting rid of all the testing, allowing the teachers and other education professionals make the decisions, etc.) One of the current issues in the elementary schools is the removal of cursive writing, simply because they don’t have time to teach it with all that other stuff. (I have mixed feelings about that one)

Things like balancing a checkbook, budgeting, how to fill out forms, how to address an envelope (and where to put a stamp!) and other sorts of things like that just can’t be added to all the other things schools and teachers are doing. Or table manners/etiquette, table settings, appropriate attire for various venues or types of events (i.e., what you wear to a job interview is different than what you would wear to a music concert, church, etc.), grooming? (Thanks, Mr. James, for these!) Or navigating the public transportation system in any large city (especially if you didn’t grow up in a city), camping/survival skills, gun safety/shooting, strong work ethic? (Thanks, Robin!)

Now that I am a parent and former teacher, I realize the limitations of the public education system (as if I didn’t know that before) and that there are just some things that my husband and I (and extended family) will have to teach E at home. This means we will also have to prioritize what we really think is important versus the things that could be left til later or that maybe we don’t spend as much time on as others. Hmm….that sounds like exactly the choices that the public schools have to make. Ultimately this comes down to what we think the job of the public schools is.

Painting Fun

Eli and I have tried a few different ideas for painting in recent weeks. Both of these ideas were found on pinterest (of course!!!) and I thought they seemed easy enough to do with Eli, so we tried them out.

The first idea was to put some paint into a gallon size plastic bag and then seal it so that the child can “paint” inside the bag, without getting the paint all over themselves or everything else in your house. (Sounds good to me!!!) I did this activity two different times, using the Crayola non-toxic paint. I bought two 10 packs of the Crayola paints, one was the “normal” colors and the other was neon colors. The first time we did the activity we used the normal rainbow colors and I put four different colors into the bag; red, blue, yellow, and green. Then, I sealed the bag and gave it to Eli in his highchair. I figured if he had the tray on the highchair and he was sitting, he would be more intrigued by the painting, without having to think about holding himself up or crawling around everywhere on the floor. He seemed to like the idea of painting and the colors, picking up the bag, squeezing it, looking at the colors, etc. I did have to show him how to push the paint around a couple of times before he really caught on, but once he did, he liked it a lot. The second time we did this, we used the neon colors and I put out all the colors and had Eli pick four colors. I gave him choices of two colors, and the bottle he picked up or touched was the one we put in the plastic bag. This time, we had the painting bag in the playroom area of our basement and there is a coffee table there that Eli can stand at and is tall enough to use it to paint on. Again, I had to show him about squishing the paint around, but once I showed him once, he seemed to remember the previous painting in the bag experience and went to town pushing the colors together, picking up the bag and looking at the colors, etc. Here are some pics:

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The second idea for painting fun was to make edible finger paint, since he is too young to get the idea of painting without putting it in his mouth! So the idea I found was to use plain yogurt and make the colors with Kool-Aid packets. We bought a few at the grocery store one week but they only had cherry, lemonade, grape, and fruit punch flavors. The cherry and fruit punch are both red, so we ended up with two red paints (one lighter than the other), a purple, and a yellow. You could mix different colors as well, but we didn’t do that this time. Anyway, I put one large spoonful of the yogurt into a plastic container for each packet of Kool-Aid I had and then I mixed in a bit of the packet to the desired color. The more of the mixture you put in, the darker the color will be. I had enough left over of each packet that I can do this activity again, so it is pretty cost effective too! I mixed the “paints” while E was napping one day and then put the containers in the refrigerator so I had them ready to go on the desired day. BTW, this is a good rainy day activity since you can do it indoors, etc. We had an extra shower curtain liner so we laid that down on the kitchen floor and then put a piece of white bulletin board paper (I have a roll of it) on top of the liner. This way it made for easy clean-up and if E went off the paper, that was ok, because we could just hose the liner off, instead of having to mop the floor. Anyway, after we laid all of that out, we got the containers out and put them in front of him. He did touch it but was more interested in stacking the containers (that’s one of his favorite activities right now…stacking), so we poured out a bit of the paint on the paper for him and he went for it right away, pushing the paint everywhere, mixing the colors, sliding through it. He was having so much fun. This was definitely a good sensory activity for him as it was cold, slippery, etc., but also smelled and tasted good (he didn’t eat as much of it as I thought he might). We also did this activity right before bath time, so he had eaten dinner and could have not been hungry…he may have eaten more if this had been when he woke up from his nap. Anyway, we did have some “paint” leftover, so again, we can do this activity again soon, without having to buy more materials. Check it out:

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Struggling to Understand

Two and a half days ago, one of my sweetest friends died from complications related to cancer. She was 33 years old, with a husband of just over 3 years, and a sweet little boy, not even 1 year old. It is days like this that I really struggle to understand things like this that happen.

Don’t get me wrong, dealing with the death of a loved one at any age is difficult, to say the least. My paternal grandmother died when I was 11 years old, from pancreatic cancer, followed a few short years later by my aunt from the same thing. Then my maternal grandmother died in September 2011, followed by my paternal grandfather that November, and then my maternal grandfather in February 2013. But these individuals seemed so much older and I could wrap my brain around their death by thinking through their lives and my memories of them.

My friend was originally diagnosed with tongue cancer just months after getting married, with no risk factors whatsoever. She went through treatment and received a clean bill of health. She went to all of her check-ups, following all of the instructions of the doctors, etc. She and her husband had a baby boy a few months after we brought E home and we bonded over being mommies, having boys, etc.

But then, things started going haywire when she was re-diagnosed around Christmas. She started treatment with chemo and such and things seemed to be going ok. We prayed for her every night when we put E to bed. She was on the prayer list for her church, her family, her husband’s family, friends, etc. She had lots of complications this time, but we thought and prayed that God would heal her from these things and that she would be cured or at least in remission again. We believed that this would happen.

So when we got the news that she was in the hospital and the doctors didn’t think she would make it through the weekend, I was crushed. My husband and I were on our way out of town to celebrate our anniversary and we turned around to come back and headed straight to the hospital. We were able to spend a few hours with her and her husband in the hospital, she knew who we were and that we were there and we spent some time chatting. My husband and her husband had played together in our church band, my husband playing guitar and singing and hers playing keyboard. So, on our way to the hospital, I thought it might be nice if we could get hold of a guitar so my husband could play it and we could sing a few songs to comfort her and her husband. Another friend of ours was able to find a guitar and so my husband played several of her favorite songs and we sang. We left after a few hours when she needed to get some rest, and we said we’d be back the next day to visit again.

And then, early that next morning, she passed.

We are Christians and she was, too. (That’s really hard to write…was….) So, we believe that she is no longer in pain, is completely healed, and is rejoicing in Heaven. But, that doesn’t make her passing any easier…and I’m a friend, not her husband, parents, sisters, or in-laws. I can’t imagine the struggle they are having.

God promises that “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I’m struggling to understand what good this death can have. Why would God take someone so young? Why would He take her away from her husband? Why would He take her from her little boy? What good could possibly come from a little boy that will not see his mother now except in pictures and maybe dreams?

In my head, I know that she is in Heaven and no longer in pain nor suffering the devastating effects cancer took on her body, but that doesn’t make the hurt or heartache any less. Christians mean well when they say things like “She’s in a better place now” or “She’s not in pain or suffering any more” and those sorts of comments. But it really is not helpful, at least for me, because it just reminds me that she isn’t here. I can’t speak for her husband or other family members about what they would like to hear from others, these are just my own thoughts and perceptions.

Water Play

Last week, I decided E and I were getting bored with the same play all the time, playing with the same toys downstairs in the playroom, or in his bedroom before nap time, so I wanted to try something new. He loves watching water come out of the faucet, or in the bathtub and drain out, and really loves when we take our walks in our new neighborhood and cross the bridges over a stream and he can look on both sides and see the water flowing. So, I thought a water activity would be perfect for him. BUT those water tables at Toys R Us and Target are freaking expensive! With just having moved and all the expenses that come with that, I just couldn’t justify putting out the $45 or more to buy him a water table. So, I thought about what we might already have at home that I could use. We have tons of plastic bins and the like, all of varying sizes and I thought one of the longer bins that is not very deep would be good for him, especially because he isn’t really standing unassisted.

I sat the bin outside in the front yard on a somewhat level area and filled it with water. Then, I got some of his bath toys (we had a few sets of the same toys) and brought those out and put them in the water.

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To make it a bit more interesting for him, I saw an idea on pinterest about making colored ice cubes to put in the water. He could explore the difference in temperatures, see the colors melting into the clear water, etc. So, the night before I was going to do the water activity, after putting E to bed, I made them. Our tray had space for 16 cubes and we had four colors of food coloring so I did four cubes of each color. I put about 3 drops of food coloring in each space and then filled the tray with water, being careful not to overfill so the colors wouldn’t mix.

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So, in the midst of his playing with them, I did not take a picture to show the various colors of the cubes and such. Oops! But here are a couple of pics of him playing in the colored water (all the cubes were in and melted at this point!).

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E’s First Birthday Party

A few weeks ago E turned 1!!!  We had his birthday party the Saturday following his actual birthday.  A few of his favorite toys are these firetrucks and firemen that another friend of ours gave him, a hand-me-down.  Anyway, he loves playing with the fire trucks, the fire house, and the firemen, so I thought we could do a fireman theme for his birthday party.  I found a bunch of ideas on Pinterest but decided to do only a few of them, ones I could definitely pull off.  :-)

One of the things I knew we needed to have was something for the older kids to do (there were several babies, but also several older kids that needed more than just sitting around watching babies.  We had the party at the playground in my parents’ neighborhood so they had the swings and monkey bars, etc. to play on, but figured they would want something more than that so, I found an idea for a building on fire and the kids could use water balloons to put out the fire!  So fun!  We had just purchased a new water heater for our new home, so we thought we could use the box to create the building.  There was an outer box with print all over it and then an inner box of your regular brown cardboard.  My sister helped with this project since she’s the artist in the family and she already had spray paint we could use.  She used the regular cardboard inner box because it’s apparently easier and better to spray paint than the box with all the print all over it.  After spray painting it with the red spray paint, she measured and cut out 6 windows.  She also used red, orange, and yellow construction paper to create flames.  Mom and I glued the flames together while she was spray painting and working on the windows.  Then, she used a white crayon to draw mortar lines on the building, so it now looked like a brick building or row house.  Then, we used packing tape to tape the flames into the windows.  Now, mind you, the original idea I saw had the flames on hinges so they would pop back up after someone knocked them down with the water balloon.  I figured we could go the “cheap” route and it would work just as good.  The kids seemed to enjoy it, too, both young and old.  Here’s our building on fire:

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To add to the theme of the fireman, I downloaded a printable set from Simone Made It.  It was perfect.  I didn’t use everything in the set, but I still feel like the cost was worth it.  We used the Happy Birthday Banner, the food labels, the coloring page, and the signs.  The printables are editable so you can put your own child’s name in and make your own signs for your needs (we needed to have signs indicating where the bathroom was since we were at the park in the neighborhood).

We had the party from 12 noon til 2:30 or so, which made it easy to figure out food. Since the party was right at lunch time, we had burgers and hotdogs, pasta salad (2 kinds), peppers with ranch dressing, and fruit skewers. We had water (fire extinguisher), iced tea, lemonade, and fruit punch (fireman fuel) for drinks.

For dessert, we obviously had a birthday cake and a smash cake for E. To go with the fireman theme, I had red, yellow, and orange peppers sliced into strips. I bought 2 packages of clear plastic punch cups from the dollar store and we put some ranch dressing in the bottom of each cup, with 2 strips each of red, orange, and yellow peppers.

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The fruit skewers were also a fire theme. Originally, I had intended to have a strawberry, a mango piece, and a pineapple chunk on each skewer for the flame/fire theme, but cutting a mango is time consuming and frustrating when you’ve never done it before. So, we ended up only having a few pieces of mango before deciding that we would just go with pineapple and strawberry on the skewer.

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It was so difficult to find any paper products that had firetrucks, firemen, or anything like that at any local store (Target, Party City, Dollar Store, etc.).  I eventually found some fireman party products online so we ordered them from Birthday Express. Then, I added stuff from the dollar store including plastic buckets and bins to put plasticware and napkins in, hold the water balloons, etc.

With the theme, I thought maybe our local fire department might be willing to come to the party, but wasn’t really sure that would happen.  I found the public education request page and filled that out.  I was contacted by the person in charge of those requests for more information and gave that, but then didn’t hear from anyone for awhile.  Then, a few days before the party, I received an email from the local fire station lieutenant saying they might be able to come to the party for a little bit provided they did not have emergency calls to be answering.  So, I had no real expectations that they would be coming.  I was so excited when they showed up.  A fire engine, ambulance, and about 8 fire fighters showed up.  They spent time opening up the truck, letting the kids climb on it, answering questions from the kids and adults, etc.  It was so cool!  Here are a few pics:

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Where do I stand?

I have always loved the antebellum, Civil War, and reconstruction era of United States history. When I was a kid and we would drive from our home to visit my dad’s family in south Mississippi (most of which still live there), we would make various stops along the way with my sister and I getting to pick a spot to stop at. Often, we stopped at caverns, museums, aquariums, and those sorts of places, but I almost always picked something related to the Civil War, whether it was a battlefield, a Civil War museum, or a plantation home tour. This led to my desire to teach history to others as well as obtaining my MA in historical studies.

Part of my love of history has always been the ability to connect my own family’s story to that of the broader American story (and beyond to various other countries). In order to do that, I have used the genealogy research that my paternal grandmother started and have continued her research into those lines of the family, but I have also done a lot of research into my mother’s side of the family and have learned quite a lot about that side of the family as well. By researching both sides of my family, I have found numerous ancestors that fought in various wars in US history. There have been soldiers from our family in every single war in US history, even until the present.

And now, I am the mother of a black son. So, it is with all of this that I must figure out where I stand on the issue of the Confederate battle flag.

First, we can not take the Confederate battle flag out of the history of the United States. As part of the Civil War period, it represents the Confederate soldiers that fought under it against the United States soldiers. It also represents the cause of the Confederate army and government, even though it was not the official flag of the Confederate States of America. However you frame this cause, whether economics, states’ rights, defending their home from invasion, the cause ultimately was to continue the practice of slavery. The economic system that the South depended upon was slave labor to produce the raw cash crops (especially cotton in the Deep South) that were then sent to the manufacturers in the North (or Britain) to be turned into goods to then be sold either in the US or in other countries. The issue of states’ rights was that the Southern states did not want the federal government telling them that they could or could not do something. That “something” was continuing the practice of slavery. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, the southern states, led by South Carolina, began to secede under the perception that Lincoln would lead the federal government to abolish slavery throughout the nation. Lincoln had made it quite clear that his stand during the election was to not allow slavery to spread to any new territories or states, but to allow it to exist where it already was. Clearly this was not ok with the southern states and thus they began to secede in an effort to create a new nation where they would be able to keep slavery and possibly extend it. So, states’ rights boils down to slavery. Defending one’s home from invasion is often a reason that is cited to say that not all of the soldiers in the Confederate military were fighting to continue slavery, especially since most of those fighting were not rich enough to own slaves. This is true of most of my own ancestors that fought in the Confederate military. (As a side note, I got a small scholarship from the local chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy because I proved I was a descendant of a “worthy” Confederate soldier…he was “worthy” because he paid someone else to take his place, he didn’t just go AWOL). Yet, they can’t be separated from the overarching cause of the Confederate government.

As I sit here typing this, I am watching “History Detectives” on PBS and Wes Cowan is investigating a tintype that shows two Confederate soldiers, one white and one black. The black soldier was a slave in the home of the white soldier. The investigation is to find out if the black soldier was still a slave when he enlisted and fought for the CSA or if he had already been granted his freedom and voluntarily enlisted in the CSA. It is quite an interesting investigation. There are quite a number of small militias in which blacks enlisted, but they never fought and many of these units were disbanded. According to one of the historians interviewed, under Mississippi state law, slaves were slaves for the entirety of their lives, they could not be manumitted legally. However, the slaves that did go with their masters when the master went to war, the slaves did continue to serve their masters and the army or navy. These slaves could have shot their weapons during battle. I mean, who would have just sat there while a battle was going on, and not done anything, if only for self-preservation. For more information, you should look into the “Lost Cause” and how that came about after the war. This same historian also notes that there is a myth of blacks fighting for the Confederacy that is related to the ideology of the “Lost Cause.”

Anyway, back to the issue at hand of the Confederate battle flag.

As I said above, the Confederate battle flag can not be separated from that period of US history. However, the Confederate battle flag was appropriated by various groups after the end of the war. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, is often cited as the father of the Ku Klux Klan. Though there are doubts about his being the founder, he was clearly involved with the group and became its first “Grand Wizard.” This group stood for the opposition of the Reconstruction efforts being led by the federal government after the Civil War as well as for terrorizing blacks, beating and lynching them. The Confederate battle flag was, and is, used by this hate group.

100 years after the Civil War ended, there was still enormous racism throughout the nation directed towards blacks. Thus, the Civil Rights Movement worked to obtain rights for blacks through various means, including marches, voter registration drives, peaceful protests such as the sit-ins, but also more violent means. When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we often think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but there were others involved including Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, etc. And there were not just blacks involved, but whites as well. As protest against the Civil Rights Movement and the federal legislation (which supersedes local and state law), many groups and state governments used the Confederate battle flag to signify that they were not going to follow the federal legislation, they would vote against it, etc. This is the case of South Carolina. In this usage it signifies that they stand for continuing to allow and condone segregation, abuses and lynchings of blacks, illegal imprisonment, and the list goes on.

Now, as a mother of a black son, the flying of the Confederate battle flag in any context outside of a Civil War battlefield or museum, is highly offensive both because of its history from the Civil War and the cause it stands for but also in its appropriation by hate groups and states as a protest against giving equal rights to all.

Conflicting Thoughts

It’s been quite a year regarding police behavior and brutality towards black people in this country.  Obviously this is not to say that this has not been going on for years and years and years and years, but it is definitely getting more press and coverage than it has in a long time.  Now, I do think that some of the media coverage (if not most) is biased in some way or another.  You have every side claiming this or that regarding the police involved or the victim of the brutality.  It is quite difficult to grasp what is going on and how that affects those of us that are not police, but support them in their jobs and its difficulties; those of us that are not black (or of other minorities) and have never had to deal with being viewed in a particular way by those in authority, even if everything we do is following the law; and anything in between.

I used to be one of those people that thought, “Well, the police wouldn’t need to be called if they were simply obeying the law.”  “I wonder what they did to get pulled over?” And lots of other thoughts like that.

Then, our son came home.  He is black.

It made me start re-evaluating what I was thinking, seeing in the media, etc.  What would my son experience, as a black child, that I had never experienced or even thought of?  How could I help him through those experiences and understand what had happened when I, a white person, had never had to overcome those same things?  As a white person, I had an advantage that I had never even thought about.  I didn’t get pulled over for “driving while black.”  Every time I had been pulled over by the police (only 2 or 3 times) was for something I had actually done, like speeding, driving with an expired tag (oops!), driving with a tag light out, etc.  Will my son have these same experiences as he gets to the point when he is driving alone?  Will he get pulled over simply because he is driving while black?

When I entered a store, I didn’t have store employees keeping an eye on me as I looked through the merchandise for sale.  Other customers didn’t hold tighter to their purses or wallets.  When E enters a store without us, will other customers and employees keep an eye on him?  Will they hold their purses tighter as they walk by him?  Will they walk away when he goes to look at something in the same area as they are?

When I was a kid, I assume I was always viewed as a kid.  I tended to have people tell me that I looked so much younger than I actually was, which annoyed me when I was younger (you know, you always want to be older…when you are 12 you want to be a teen, when you are 15, you want to be 16 and driving, etc.).  Will E be viewed as a kid when he is a kid or will he be viewed as older than he is simply because he is black?

Let me be clear that the police have an enormously difficult job and have to make split second decisions more often than almost any other profession.  I have the utmost respect for police officers and other law enforcement that do their jobs well.  I have no respect for those that abuse the power that comes with the position.  And this is where the conflicting thoughts come in…

How can I teach E to respect the police, that they are there to help, to go to them, not run from them but at the same time teach him that he will have to deal with being pulled over simply because he is driving while black?  That he may be questioned about something he has no knowledge of, simply because he matches a suspect description of “black male”?  That he should call the police if there is a problem between he and someone else that is not going to be resolved otherwise, but that this might result in other issues?

And the thoughts just keep coming, especially with the tragedy in Charleston this past week.  There are those in this world, more than we’d like to think, that will hate him simply because of the color of his skin.  How can we teach him about this without scaring him and making him fearful of every encounter he has in the world?