I Can’t Tell You

I’m eating dinner with my six year old, and she announces that she has the world’s best math teacher.  For a little girl who has struggled in school, her report amazes me. 

“She doesn’t tell us the answer, Mom.  She lets us learn.  Do you know the difference between telling and learning?”

I feel the flair coming on, and I put down my fork and look her right in the eyes.

“Telling means you just get the answer from the teacher.  Learning means you have to figure it out.  And then you know it.  And then you can solve any problem because you know it.”

She tilts her little chin up in the air, proud and confident.  “I can probably solve any math problem now,” she reasons.

This, of course, explains why God doesn’t always tell me the answer.  He’s letting me figure something out so I know it. Oh, the problems I will be able to solve one day!

What is learning?  How do we know we’re learning? 


First Grade, iPads, and the New Language of Six-Year-Olds

We’re driving across town, and my six-year-old and I have the following conversation:

“Mom, I uploaded two new apps to the iPad they gave me in computer time today.”

 (Note: I don’t have an iPad.  I don’t even have a phone that connects to the internet.)

“Really?  What apps?” 

“Well, one is for learning words, and the other is a game you play with another person. And the other person is really a computer program!”

“That sounds fun,” I say, but I’m still wondering why my daughter uses an iPad and I don’t.  She’s uploading apps, and I’m not sure I would know how. 

I remember my first grade year.  This language of apps and uploading didn’t exist in my vocabulary.  Many words my six-year-old knows didn’t exist when I was a first grader:  Google, Facebook, MP3’s, DVR’s, DVD’s, Internet, and even words like microwave and cell phones never came out of my mouth.  In fact, we didn’t have a home computer until after I was in college.  Even more shocking is that I dated my husband without the use of cell phones or texting.  We didn’t own mobile phones back then.

My college students always ask me how that worked.  “How did you find each other during the day?  How did anybody know where you were?”  They stare at me, mouths agape, breathing rapidly in terror as they imagine a world without texting.  

“Well, a person might leave a message on an answering machine on a ground line phone or write a note with an actual pencil and post it to the dorm room door.”

It’s inconceivable to them.

I wonder–in forty years–what someone might ask my daughter about life in 2011.  You used iPads?  How old-fashioned!  How did you ever manage?

What words will a future generation speak that have not yet come into existence? 

Journal:  Does it shock you that first-graders use iPads and upload apps as part of a school day?


Beyond Math and Music: Encouraging Excellence in Friendship

Last night, a friend arrives for a sleepover.  She has a green envelope that she presents to my daughter.  It’s a homemade “friendship award.”   She awards it to my daughter for “always understanding her.”  

I nearly burst into tears.  I run and get the tape and slap that thing to the wall where we will all look at it for as long as the tape holds.  Just last week, several girls at school received a friendship award as a trait of good citizenship.  My daughter wasn’t called up to receive that award, and she cried outside of the school.

The sleepover friend wanted to set the record straight. 

As I watch the two little girls celebrate their true friendship, I realize what I so strongly react to in all the articles circulating about parenting and the need to force math drills, excellence in piano, and various other versions of academic success.  The philosophy of parenting that prizes academic success above all else misses the one component of life that makes all that success worth it:  friendship

So I’ll continue to host slumber parties, play dates, dance parties, and spontaneous trips to the movie theater.  I’ll continue to put the homework aside for an afternoon so my daughter and her friends can go sledding, play dolls, and paint their fingernails.  I’ll display cupcakes instead of math flashcards.  I’ll let her blast music in the bedroom instead of shaming her into another piano drill.

If I raise a daughter who wins every prize in school, it won’t mean a thing without friends. 

I’m so thankful for my friends.  Happiness comes from sharing our lives with one another.   The day I defended my dissertation to earn my Ph.D., I felt profoundly empty.  I’ll never forget leaving that exam room, after 5 years of work, and wondering what it was all for. What mattered so much more were the friends waiting with flowers down the hall.

I had a friend who received the highest promotion in her job track at an Ivy League school.  She called me in tears because at the moment she received the news, she realized she had no one to tell. 

I don’t want my children to excel and have no one to tell.  It won’t be worth it.  They might become math geniuses, but if they don’t know the value of friendship and living in community, their intelligence might be directed towards selfish or even harmful ends.  Without friends, we lose our way.  Living with flair means I fill my wall with as many friendship awards as math scores.

Journal:   How will I know I’m excelling in the art of friendship?  What are the marks of friendship excellence?


After All These Years

Every so often, I have a student who fits the category of “non-traditional.”  These students always inspire me.  Some include single parents returning to school, full time workers who attend school part-time, soldiers returning from military service, or senior citizens who wish to learn a different subject. 

It takes courage to sit in a classroom of typical undergrads when you are in a different stage of life; you sit there and wonder if you can keep up or enter into the same conversations.  It takes courage to get out your notebook and pencil from a backpack that’s been buried in your closet for 20 years.

They have flair.

Could I do it? 

Non-traditional students don’t go home to dorm rooms.  They raise families, recover from battle, manage full-time jobs, and then–then–they can sit down to write their first essay that’s due for my class.  They won’t be at that fraternity party or that pep rally or that ice-cream study break. 

I’m rethinking education:  I want to make every lesson plan an act of service to advance these students efficiently in the direction of their dreams.  I don’t want to waste time, assign texts with exorbitant prices, or set unreasonable expectations.   I’m suddenly aware of the lives students live when they exit the door: their night shifts at Wal-Mart, their babies at home, their aging bodies. 

Not everyone follows the same life narrative.  Especially in this economy. 

I’m also rethinking how I interact with everyone–not just my non-traditional students.  Pursuing education in nontraditional ways represents an act of courage.  For some of us, waking up and putting on our clothes for the day is an act of courage. We make coffee, greet the day, and no matter what backstory has derailed our plans, we press on in our nontraditional paths to our dreams. 

Living with flair means recognizing courage when I see it.

(photo: Rennett Stowe /flickr)


You, the Expert

I know many experts.  I have friends with cooking expertise, exercise expertise, teaching expertise, spiritual expertise, and parenting expertise.

They read, they study, they take classes, they interview others. These folks are wise

I call them all the time.  Just this morning, my sister, an education expert, talked me through my stress about my daughter’s kindergarten assessment.  Yesterday, I called my friend, a cooking expert, to ask the proper technique for storing or freezing my scads of garden basil.   Then I talked to another friend who knows how to counsel me through spiritual questions. 

I even have bug experts in my life.  I place emergency calls when weird looking insects attack my tomatoes.
A vibrant mind continues to learn.  Interesting folks, I read, have at least 5 topics they study.  As they age, they continue to grow in these areas, accumulating wisdom.  And then they teach others.  Normally, I think of expertise more narrowly.  But why not journey towards more topics? 

If I had to choose five, I’d pick subject areas like prayer, writing, teaching, parenting, and marriage.  Maybe I could make these more specific and pare down each category into 5 subcategories.  At that rate, I will have things to learn and do even in my 90’s.  Maybe I could assign a decade to each topic so, for the next 50 years, I’d have ways to grow.

My husband does this with his passion for history.  The 30’s? Revolutionary War.  The 40’s?  Civil War.  He spends 10 years reading everything he can on a certain historical topic.

This is why we have so much to talk about on date night. He doesn’t experience that strange land called Boredom. 

Living with flair means I study to become an expert.  Maybe for this year of flair, I could expand my topics beyond semicolons and dashes.  Maybe I could become an expert in Italian cooking or dressmaking.  I’m on my way.

I want to have passion and growth until the day I die.