culture

Thank you, Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump (because Dear The Donald just sounds awkward),

I must thank you for being the first candidate to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time. It may, in fact, be the only one that really matters.

I feel strongly about this. I don’t usually talk politics on this blog. It is my happy place. It is my grieving place. It is about my little place in the country with all of its ups and downs. Politics hasn’t really found a home here. It’s just too . . . divisive. But sometimes you just have to stand up for what’s right and you, dear sir, are the first candidate to inspire me to take this humble little platform and do just that.

I must humbly confess that up to now, you have not been my favorite candidate. I just didn’t trust you. After all, you threw your support behind Hillary Clinton. I understand you’ve come clean on that. Something about being a man of business and knowing where your bread is buttered. And while I can see your point, I rather prefer a man of principle in office. A man who will back what’s right even to his own personal disadvantage. After all, John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies who stood the most to lose and he still staked his life on a few principles that guide our nation yet. I’m sure he could have paid off a few people and gone on in relative peace, his fortune largely untouched, but that is neither here nor there. After all, that was only the British Monarchy he was standing up against.

And you’ve always seemed to me like a caricature of conservative values. Like the face behind all those forwarded emails and facebook posts that no one ever checks out before sharing with everyone on their friends list. I just never quite trusted that you were real.

But thanks to your recent stance on the Starbucks coffee cup crisis, I now know you are the man to lead this country in the right direction.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares? If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you. That I can tell you.” ~ Donald Trump

Pure Presidential poetry.

Because no one should be forced to drink overpriced coffee in a plain red cup this time of year. It’s time to finally get rid of holiday trees and season’s greetings for good. I want Christ’s name slapped on all of my holiday excesses and co-opted pagan symbols. And anyone who believes otherwise can just turn in their citizenship and move to the Republik of Kalifornia.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. For taking a stand for all of us.

Roscommon Acres

Frozen gifts

So, on New Year’s Eve, the kids and I drove all the way out to Creston, IA to watch Frozen with my husband. It’s about the beautiful princess Elsa who has the weird (and somewhat useless) power to freeze things. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the movie. And the poor princess locked away in her room as her powers grew got me thinking about how we treat giftedness in this country.

giftedness

Sheer numbers alone force teachers to “teach to the middle.” Students who perform significantly above or below average are difficult to deal with in the classroom environment. Thanks to testing requirements, there are a number of services available to lower performing students. And while gifted and talented programs available at many schools may provide some much needed enrichment, gifted students often have a difficult time fitting in.

Some eventually drop out.

But then, you don’t even need to be gifted to feel locked away in a classroom. I have nothing against the idea of public school. I went to public school. I did well. I went on to become a public school teacher. But it seems that over the years, school has been taking over more and more of our children’s lives. There is increasing pressure to increase instructional time through lengthened school days and more of them. Recess is being taken away. More focus is being put on math and reading in the early grades to the detriment of everything else. And to prepare for the all important testing, more and more homework is being handed out.

And I wonder how much time the average student has to really notice the world around them. To explore. To think. To daydream. To get bored enough to come up with something to do . . . and to start recognizing his own interests and talents.

How many are frozen by the expectations of a single standardized test given to all students as a measure of academic achievement?

And it isn’t just our schools. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I joined a Christian homeschool support forum and made a comment about my daughter’s budding leadership abilities and not being sure how to direct that. A number of women jumped on the thread warning me to “nip that in the bud.” Strong girls, I learned, are a parenting challenge. Not because you have to guide them with any particular skill, but because you have to break that strength. Apparently, submission and strength are mutually exclusive concepts.

And with all the strong women of the Bible . . . and all the strong women leaders of the Bible . . . the discussion mostly left me wondering if we all read the same book.

And it left me concerned for these girls whose God-given gifts and talents were frozen by an ideology that allowed only for a very narrow view of what it meant to be a woman.

Conceal, don’t feel, never let them know . . .

How many of our children can relate to Elsa’s song? And how many will feel driven off into the cold before they can finally let it go?

Choosing the agrarian life

When we bought our four little chickens, I inadvertently stumbled into the curious world of the backyard chicken.  One of the most active forums I have ever participated in is about keeping chickens, especially in suburbia.  I guess farmers in rural Nebraska are probably not looking for a support system for their chicken habits, nor tips on dealing with authorities like the renegades I have met online.  One woman lives in a suburban area where the city limits her to three chickens.  She has thirty.  She keeps them in the garage, letting them out in groups of three throughout the day so no one catches on.  Another family is even more daring keeping not only chickens but a rooster in an urban area where chickens are outlawed.  A coop in the basement and strategic eggs delivered to the neighbors have kept this operation under wraps as well.

At first glance, they seem a little nutty.  Worse than the cat hoarders.  But reading the discussion and the linked articles introduced me to a small little social world not so very different from ours as homeschoolers.  Many of the arguments used at city hall sound rather familiar, and the goal of any meeting involving chickens and laws is to bring as many people as possible to speak up for the humble backyard chicken.

After owning chickens for awhile, I’m beginning to understand.  Top on my list of purchases once we move to our little slice of country life is more chickens.  But there are other things we want, too.  Some geese for weeding (and meat), guineas to help with insects (and meat), goats, sheep a large garden and an orchard.  This, too, seems a part of a larger movement, a heavily politicized back-to-the-land movement, seeking independence from Big Oil, Big Business, Big Ag.  When looking for information on a variety of topics, it is Mother Earth News that Google continually delivers me to.  We’re talking hard left there, and it seems that this general philosophy is a driving force among many making the choice to live a more agrarian lifestyle.

It seems odd to me.  In my mind, there is nothing so quintessentially conservative as growing up working the land.  But as I read blogs and websites and magazines and books about returning to the land, I am increasingly aware of my unique position within this countercultural trend as a conservative.  One with no particular disdain for industrial agriculture, even.  I have stumbled across a movement with which I share certain perspectives in common but of which I am not really a part.  That leaves me feeling a little on the outside, though I can’t say I did before reading up on the issue.

I wonder how I’d look in a granny dress?

Just what are we teaching our girls?

Wired’s recent round-up of games being marketed to “tween” girls has stirred up a few emotions recently.  With titles such as The Clique: Diss and Make-up, Top Model and My Boyfriend, the list reads like a list of the worst stereotypes of the “in” junior high cliques I was so never a part of.  They were reading YM.  I was reading The Communist Manifesto.  Somehow, we never hit it off.

The weird thing is that you can view these “wholesome” games as being just as bad for girls as Grand Theft Auto’s random bloodshed and rampant criminality is for young, impressionable boys. And while GTA’s influence on boys has been dissected to death, what about the Nintendo DS’ upcoming avalanche of games for tween girls? What kinds of values do preteens learn from these titles? Valuable life lessons, or bad habits?  Wired

Dangerous because it is worse for a teenage girl to obsess over fashion than it is for a boy to steal a car?  Salon.com’s Judy Berman extends the thought a little further.

I think these games can be even more harmful than “Grand Theft Auto,” because they have more potential to influence their players’ lives. Your average “GTA” player is highly unlikely to, for example, climb to the top of his city’s highest building and start shooting cops on the street below with a machine gun. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that a game called “Dreamer Series: Top Model” could take its toll on an awkward 12-year-old’s self esteem, or that the multitude of dating games could subtly perpetuate the idea that a girl’s life is incomplete without a boyfriend.  Salon.com

I can see the point…except that the problem with Grand Theft Auto is not that boys are really very likely to go out and really steal cars, any more than girls who play Top Model will suddenly find themselves on the catwalk.  It is the subtle messages which redefine what is cool, what is desirable, what is good that make these games dangerous.  As these games have undoubtedly become a part of the feedback loop of teen marketing, it is not merely their prescriptive qualities which should concern us, but their descriptive qualities as well.

CatieCate of Shakesville takes a swipe at the marketers:

As usual when a strongly men-dominated industry hurls itself headlong without the most basic research treads carefully into the (no doubt to them) bizarre world of girls who like games, the results are pretty spectacularly misogyriffic. It’s not Wired I’m after here, but the game companies.  Shakesville

And that’s just it.  They tread very carefully.  These games were not created by a room full of men throwing out random ideas based on this “bizarre world” they don’t really understand.  Millions of dollars are invested into the development of a new video game, and that isn’t the kind of money you throw at a project without some market research.  The deeper problem here is that they do understand their market.  They are actually quite intimate with it, coming right into the bedroom, “hanging out” and finding out what “the market” thinks it wants so that the company can package its goods accordingly.  They do their best to find out what the market thinks is cool so they can package it and sell it right back.

The video game companies had nothing to do with the wild popularity of The Clique series, for example.  They are just trying to capitalize on it.  They had nothing to do with the development of the cliques in my junior high.  They are just trying to market to them.  In so doing, they reinforce certain values and attitudes.

But then, so do parents every time they give in.

Homeschooling as a protest movement

Responding to an earlier opinion column, Should evolution be taught in school?, Kalamazoo Gazette reader Lawrence Kapture throws out some thoughts on home education.

Homeschooling is essentially a protest movement. Regardless of motivation, homeschoolers believe public schools are unable to prepare their children to live in the world.  mlive.com

Perhaps for some.  Or perhaps it was at one time.  Or perhaps we are falsely perceived by a public who only hears from us when we are protesting a proposed law.

I am full of criticisms of public education, as are many of my fellow homeschoolers.  But then that is hardly unique to homeschoolers.  We didn’t write “Nation at Risk,” or “Why Johnny Can’t Read.”  Our measly 2% of the population hardly influenced President George Bush, Sr. to bill himself as “the education president.”  And I know his son wasn’t listening to us when he drafted No Child Left Behind.  Education has been a bit of a battle ground for some time, and homeschooling is only one (very small) part of that public conversation.

Being critical is not a protest movement.

Supporting reform is not a protest movement.

Choosing an alternative is not a protest movement.

It is only a protest movement if our decision to homeschool is directed at what is going on in public schools.  Like an organized boycott, a sit-in or march of some sort.  I can only speak for myself, but I did not choose to home educate because of what is going on in the public schools.  I chose to home educate because of the virtues inherent in this form of education.

Some people garden as an act of protest.  Most of us, however, just prefer the taste of homegrown produce or enjoy the hobby for its own rewards.  It is the same with home education.

Unfortunately, what homeschooling can do is isolate children from the market of ideas, especially when it comes to biological science. There is a large amount of fringe literature published by religious groups that support the claims of creationists while providing no real information about the vast field of evolutionary biology.  Ibid.

There is a large amount of fringe literature available on any topic imaginable and you don’t need to be a homeschooler to find it.  I do find it interesting that we’re talking about the “market of ideas” in public school, although by and large there is only one idea presented, taught and tested.  And that isn’t exclusive to the whole evolution debate.  There isn’t enough time to present anything like a marketplace of ideas with testing looming overhead, and all the baggage students bring with them to school.

And again, this isn’t about homeschooling.  We only account for approximately 2% of the population.  Yet according to a recent Gallup poll, only 39% of Americans say they believe in the theory of evolution, 25% do not and 36% don’t have an opinion.  Education was a factor in the beliefs, as was church attendance. Surprisingly, a poll in Britain revealed that only 25% of Briton’s thought the theory of evolution was “definitely true.”  This isn’t even an American issue.

If I were concerned about Americans’ lack of knowledge regarding Darwin and his theory, I would look first at why people are graduating high school…public high school…without this knowledge long before I’d jump on the homeschoolers.

Homeschooling allows families to isolate their children from good information by providing them only with information that is comfortable with their own biases.  Ibid.

The potential is there.  The potential is there anywhere someone has control over the curriculum.  Should that control come from the state or the parent?  What about when parents disagree?  What about when students disagree with the content that is being taught them?  One of the more interesting questions in one of my ethics courses dealt with this very debate.

The question was whether it was ethical to pass a student who demonstrated a knowledge of evolutionary theory that surpassed the course requirements, but who didn’t believe it.

There is a fundamental question about control here, but it isn’t about homeschooling.  We are just a bit of a catalyst for the discussion.

Like homeschooling is a protest against public schools, creationism is a protest against anything that opposes a literal interpretation of the Bible. When it comes to the origins of life, creationism is not a scientifically educated movement.  Ibid.

Kapture never supported his assertion that homeschooling is a protest movement against the schools, and now he’s claiming that creationsim is a protest as well.  It isn’t.  It is simply a belief.  One that existed prior to Darwin and prior to his predecessors who had already begun to look at the world outside a religious worldview.

Back in February, academics and scientists across Europe got together in Germany to discuss difficulties regarding the acceptance of evolution.  Some fear these lingering beliefs in creation are a danger to scientific thought in this country and the Western world in general.  I don’t exactly buy that, but our schools’ ability to graduate students who can scarcely read just might.