Message to My Senators

“The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good. ”
– Mary Baker Eddy

Message to the esteemed Senators from Washington State, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell:

Regarding the proposed budgets for Education and Health Care

I know you will stand, as you always have, with the poor, sick, disenfranchised, and struggling. I know you will do what you need to do to help our young people receive the education that will make their lives, and our world, better. I know you will do what you need to do to ensure that health care is affordable and accessible to all our citizens.

And I thank you for that. I am grateful to live in Washington State and to be represented by you in Washington, DC.

Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
– James 1: 27

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“Privatization”

When you hear the word “privatize” what that means is that politicians want to give their corporate buddies permission to use your tax money for stock market speculation and for their own personal profit. We are the only industrialized nation that relies on for-profit health insurance. We have privatized, for-profit, prisons – which… just think about THAT for a minute. The Pres-Elect has chosen as his nominee for Health and Human Services a man who wants to privatize social security. And the Pres-elect wants a woman as Sec of Education who has never attended public school herself, whose children never attended public school, who’s never been a teacher or principal, and whose main goal in regards to education has been to “privatize” it.

Ahem. I have some concerns.

Alrighty. Carry on then…

 

Today’s Assignment

Class,

Here’s today’s assignment: Tell me what you most respect about your choice of presidential candidate, what you think are your candidate’s greatest accomplishments (please include specific examples), what you consider your candidate’s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses, and why you think your candidate would make a good President. Avoid any reference to an opposing candidate (you will lose points if you do this) and personal attacks.

Have fun!

Mrs. Terrell

***

I will be voting for Hillary Clinton this election. Although I went to the Democratic caucus as a Bernie Sanders supporter, and would like to have seen him win the Democratic nomination, I have to admit that Hillary Clinton has won me over in the last month. The morning after the second debate I woke up realizing that I really WANTED to vote for Hillary Clinton. There was something about the way she handled herself during the debate that really impressed me. She was criticized by some for being too unemotional – but it occurred to me that if she’d shown emotion, she would have been criticized for being an “emotional female.” I liked, too, the way she talked to individuals in the audience face-to-face – I liked how she talked to the Muslim woman and addressed her concerns about discrimination.

What I most respect about Hillary Clinton is her commitment to doing what she thinks is the right thing to do – her “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” attitude about the issues that matter to her. She’s been demonized, threatened with bodily harm, lied about, and ridiculed – but none of it seems to phase her. She keeps her eye on the goal and keeps moving forward.

Her greatest accomplishments? As First Lady, her work in helping to bring health care to impoverished children through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; as a senator from New York , her work to bring aid to the first responders who got sick after 9-11, and to bring $21 billion in federal aid to New York to help it re-build after the attack; and, as Secretary of State, her work in keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran, and in creating avenues for women, globally, to become empowered. Hillary Clinton has admitted she’s better at the “servant” part than the “public” part. She’s more a Clydesdale than a prancing Lipizzaner. She’s one of those people who has worked for years behind the scenes – forging progressive policies, working for children, the poor, and the disenfranchised.

This brings me to what I feel are her greatest strengths and her biggest weaknesses: She’s great at policy-forging, and at behind-the-scenes negotiations. She’s tenacious. When she sees there’s a need, she finds a way to meet it. But this also might tend to make her focus narrowed – I don’t know that she always sees what’s going on in the periphery – I think she was blind-sided, for instance, by the strong support Bernie Sanders amassed during his campaign. I wish she were as much “public” as “servant” – I wish she held rallies in football stadiums à la Bernie, and had the ability to rouse the troops. But if I have to choose between “public” and “servant” – the “servant” part of a politician is more important to me than the “public” part.

I think Hillary Clinton will be a good President. Maybe even a great one. I believe she genuinely cares about people, and wants to help. I believe she wants to leave the world a better place than she found it. I believe she has the intelligence and savvy and heart to do this.

todays-assignment

 

An Agate Addict Speaks Out

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

When I was in fourth grade my teacher, Mr. Whittle, loaded us all up on a bus and took us to a hill near Tenino, Washington, where we took out shovels and proceeded to dig for agates. I knew a little something about agates before we went to Tenino – my dad’s a geologist and he introduced me to Rock Basics – obsidian, pumice, quartz, granite, petrified wood, and agates. But actually having the opportunity to get out a shovel and dig for my own agate-treasure kindled in me the beginnings of an agate addiction.

Later – when I was in my early twenties – I would now and then visit my beloved Aunt Junie on the Oregon coast. Junie taught me the art of beach agate-hunting. The trick, she showed me, is to scan over the beach while you’re facing towards the sun – the agates glow as the sun shines through them, and they pop out at you. When I married my husband, I showed him the art of agate-hunting, too, and on our annual pilgrimages to the Oregon coast agate-hunting became one of our favorite pastimes.

After I became a middle school teacher I used the agates we found as Christmas gifts for my students. I’d call my students up one-by-one, and tell them to pick out one agate from my agate bowl that “spoke to them” – this was their “magic agate” and they were to keep their agates forever and every time they looked at them remember how much I loved them. Then I’d take a moment while my students were holding their agates in front of their classmates to tell each of them what I loved about them. Every now and then I run into students I had years ago who make a point of letting me know they still have their “magic agates.” That means a lot to me.

This week my husband and I once again made our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon coast – and lookee what I found… 🙂

“Academics of the right sort…”

When I read last year that a group of politicians in Texas had built into their platform their opposition to the teaching of critical thinking skills in the public schools of Texas, I assumed, at first, this was something The Onion, a satirical magazine, had cooked up. But nope. These words were actually written into the 2012 platform for the Republican party of Texas: “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” http://www.texasgop.org/about-the-party

Yeah. I know. I was a little appalled, too, when I first saw that.  I mean, what the…?! I tried to imagine how I, as a teacher, could possibly AVOID teaching critical thinking skills – I think I would have to work really hard to try not to teach while I was teaching.

About the same time, another interesting tidbit of news crossed my path: “Students in New York City’s public schools cramming for tests can delete words like birthdays, junk food, Halloween, dinosaur and even dancing from study lists. References to such words have been banned from city-issued tests in an edict issued by the city’s Department of Education for fear the words could “appear biased” or “evoke unpleasant emotions” in students.” (reported by Katie Kindelan on http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/03/nyc-bans-halloween-birthdays-aliens-and-more-on-school-tests/

Okay. So. Yeah. Let’s not make reference to dinosaurs because…? Maybe children will start actually asking questions about dinosaurs? And this could lead to (gasp) the study of evolution? And maybe make students think. And ponder. And ask more questions. And stuff. Holy shamoley.  We should not be afraid of our students searching for answers. We should not be afraid of our students FINDING the answers, either. This is a good thing. A deeper understanding of the world should be something we, as a society, celebrate, not try to stunt.

To be honest, it’s hard to be surprised by much that’s going on in education anymore.

When I was told by a school administrator that I could no longer do (and I quote) “all those great, fun things you do in the classroom – inviting in Holocaust survivors to share their experiences, having the students research and dress up as famous characters in history, all those special projects and things you do” – I guess that was the moment when I realized I no longer belonged in a public school classroom.  I’ve actually written a book about my own, individual experiences in public educatonhttp://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Teaching-Rambling-Schoolmarm-ebook/dp/B006NKNEAY –  (written under a pen name). And, after sharing my book with others, I’ve discovered that the tale in my book is a common one, and the theme universal.

Public education in America is in a terrible crisis right now. Most of the people making decisions about education policy are not classroom teachers themselves, and seem to know little or nothing about how to actually teach. Many of these policy-makers seem to view education as a business – a corporation – and students as “products.” There seems to be a desire by these policy-makers to squeeze all the healthy, nutrient-rich juices out of education, and compress and quantify learning into some kind of data sheet with a check list for objectives met, and a detailed script for teachers to follow in their teaching.

But the thing is… well, the thing is that teaching is as much an “art” as a “science.”  Good teachers are not automatons. Good teachers know how to adapt and adjust quickly to the needs of their students. They recognize, intuitively, that there are times when they need to throw out the checklists, pacing guides, and scripts, and follow where their students are leading them – to a place of learning that’s meaningful for them. Good teachers know that meaningful lessons are lessons students actually remember because it touches who they are as human beings and individuals.  Meaningful learning is learning that will serve students beyond their years of school – beyond the standardized tests and checklists and bureaucratic balance sheets – and help them their entire lives.

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause. Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”

Teaching children HOW to think, not WHAT to think – giving them “food for thought” – nourishing their young minds with learning that is meaningful to them, and will serve them throughout their lives – this, I think, is what teaching should be about. Teaching students to ask “why?” and to separate fact from opinion – teaching them to be critical thinkers – this, I believe, is essential to being a valuable citizen of a democracy. And “observation, invention, study, and original thought” are necessary skills for our citizens to have if mankind is going to move forward and survive the challenges ahead.

“The normal education system takes precisely twelve years to graduate a normal student from public school. Normal education is built around a standard curriculum, one size must fit all. Get too far ahead and you stress us out – cut it out, kid. Get too far behind and we fail you, reprocess you, give you another chance to get with the program…And so the factory-for-the-production-of-normal works overtime to sanitize and corporatize and discipline our kids into normalcy.” – from We’re All Weird, by Seth Godin.

“Music is the rhythm of head and heart.”

Music.  What is it about music that touches us, reaches out and grabs us, brings tears to our eyes, makes us want to move, to dance, to smile? It’s elemental, isn’t it? There’s something about harmony, melody, and rhythm that connects us, somehow, to… well, to what I would call Soul, I guess.

***

Divine Science reveals sound as communicated through the senses of Soul – through spiritual understanding. Mozart experienced more than he expressed. The rapture of his grandest symphonies was never heard. He was a musician beyond what the world knew. This was even more strikingly true of Beethoven, who was so long hopelessly deaf. Mental melodies and strains of sweetest music supersede conscious sound. Music is the rhythm of head and heart. – Mary Baker Eddy

***

My husband and I recently experienced the great joy of hearing blues guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Bonamassa, at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. From the moment the first note emerged from Bonamassa’s fingertips on the strings, to the moment the last note faded away, a giddy grin took up residence on my face.

And there was something really amazing about sitting in a theatre full of other people caught up in the same tide of inspiration. There was power in that room.

I am one of those people who believes there’s a meaning to life – a meaning greater than merely breathing, breeding, and consuming material things. And, for me, music and art – the things of Soul – are a part of what makes life meaningful.  Ray Charles said, “I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when i arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me – like food or water.”

We’ve probably all seen babies who are bobbing up and down to music on their chubby little legs before they ever take their first steps.  And we’ve probably all heard babies singing before they speak their first words. (Mom tells me I was singing back to her when I was just weeks old.) Human beings seem to have a built-in appreciation and connection to music from their first days.  An attraction to music is not something that babies need to be taught. It comes naturally.

But giving children the skills and training they need to create their own music seems as essential to me as giving children the skills and training they need to write their own words and communicate in written language. Music is an important form of communication, too – in my mind, no less important than writing and reading in the education of a fully-formed and developed human being.

When speaking of education, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed  by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause.   Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and everything.” – Plato

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Berthold  Auerbach

Joe Bonamassa at the Paramount:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzhpcaTn-YA