Category Archives: Southern Illinois

Pedagogy Stew: November 2013

Gracious but I was a pill sometimes.

He's better about watching the ball year by year. But sometimes the dirt is so interesting....

He’s better about watching the ball year by year. But sometimes the dirt is so interesting….

I watch my son’s squirrely-ness in the outfield in the context of how I played right field as a child. One time I got so bored, I just walked home.

Living kitty-cornered to the school came in handy. I’ve recently verified with grade school friends that yes, at least once, when I raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom, I went home to use that bathroom. And watch a little TV.

“No one could find you,” my lifelong friend Cindy said.  “Finally someone called your house.”

“And I answered the phone?” Apparently I did, and then casually went back to school.

I don’t recall getting in trouble for that, and here’s probably why.  When I was in the sixth grade, I had spinal surgery, fusion for severe scoliosis. I wore a neck-to-hips cast for three months, then a slightly smaller cast for another three months, then what was called a Milwaukee brace for six months.

Overall, I was a very well-behaved child, and remember my glory moments of audacious youth fondly because they were few and far between. And because when I got caught, I didn’t get in trouble much.

Allowances were made.

Paul Tough’s terrific book, How Children Succeed, discusses a study and method of measuring childhood stress and trauma called ACE, for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The more adversity, the more likely a child is to struggle in school. One major factor that helps such a child thrive in spite of adversity (whether it’s violence or poverty, or, I would guess, major surgery), is good, solid, attachment parenting.  Which I got.

Thus my son’s traumatic trips to the emergency room because of severe food allergy reactions—we can buffer those experiences so he’s not doomed.

And when I’m volunteering at his school, and one of his classmates is just being a total pill, I have to acknowledge that I don’t know their home situation. I don’t know what they had to maneuver as they made it to bed the night before, or whether someone was there to feed them in the morning, or, even if they have all the material goods they could ever wish for, someone is consistently mean to them.

Viewing people with compassion—that really is what it’s all about.

I don’t do it perfectly, but it’s something I tend to do well as a professor.

I tell my students that our time together as members of the class is such a small fraction of our lives. If it’s all we know about each other, it’s really not much.

I picture them as icebergs, not because I’m a ship and they’re dangerous obstacles, but because I’m seeing just the tip of who they are and what they’re capable of.

I do try, year after year, to maintain appropriately high standards, but ultimately I’m  more interested in clarity of instruction and high levels of support.

In other words, I make allowances.

(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)

Here he's 100% in the game.

Here he’s 100% in the game.

Pedagogy Stew: October 2013

Picture an eighth-grade boy in the late 1970s. Sort of a cross between Richie Cunningham and Shaun Cassidy. Watch him as he jams a little nubbin of a pencil so far into an electric pencil sharpener that it runs continuously, leaving the not-too-bright teacher to puzzle over the mystery of it all.

Don’t worry about that boy. He’ll grow up to be an aeronautics engineer.

The teacher? He’ll get fired. He had so little control in the classroom, we looked like one of those inspiring hero-teacher movies BEFORE the hero shows up.

That’s the closest I ever came to being homeschooled, when this teacher was in the process of being fired. My Dad was on the school board, and when the teacher accused me of crying to my parents about how mean he was (I complained, but I don’t remember crying), they pulled me out of school. But it wasn’t really homeschooling. I just sat in a lawn chair in the corner of my Grandma Roane’s lawn (which was kitty-cornered to the school) and waved at everyone when they were at recess. Soon enough a hunky-hero teacher showed up and I went back to school.

I was lucky enough to spend an evening with many of my eighth grade friends in early August this past summer, and it was terrific seeing all these folks again. What we went through in grade school bonds us in deep ways.

We caught up on all kinds of things. We agreed the hunky-hero teacher still looks pretty great, thirty-plus years on.

We chose to get together this summer.

But the time we spent together back then wasn’t out of choice. Not ours, and not our parents’.

We went to school where we went to school because there wasn’t an alternative.

Since most of us were from staunch Baptist or Methodist or Pentecostal families, the Catholic school in the next town would never have seemed like an alternative, though it occurs to me now that it was.

I don’t think any of us had ever heard of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is but one of many, many alternatives now. School choice in Wisconsin means my husband and I can send our son to any local elementary school, including our choice, the Studio School, which is a public school/charter school/school within a school. Next year, there may be a STEM school (focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Arena we could send him to. School vouchers in Wisconsin mean we could send him to a private school and get some state money for it (wait—really? That can’t be right. Maybe I dreamed that).

Our two main criteria for deciding how to school our son are these: is he happy? Is he learning?

I’m glad to have alternatives. I’m glad we get to have criteria beyond “if the teacher is horrible, we’ll try to get him fired.”

But it’s not just nostalgia when I miss the simplicity of how I went to school.

(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)

Pedagogy Stew: September 2013

My brain has a timekeeping section that operates like a not-very-creative grade school teacher’s bulletin board. There’s a snowflake for January and a heart for February and a kite for March. For September, of course, there’s a little red schoolhouse. Or perhaps a pencil, since almost no school looks like a little red schoolhouse any more.

I remember the one-room schoolhouse from my hometown primarily as a huge blaze—they burned it to give the volunteer fire department practice. No one had been a student there for more than thirty years. I started school in a red brick square that’s still being used as a school, but not for long. Taxpayers in my hometown passed a referendum to build a much bigger new school.

Back to school.

It’s an evocative phrase, isn’t it? See the bleary-eyed children—some of them not transitioning well at all from the summer sleeping schedule, some of them suffering so much from ragweed allergies they’re already longing for snow.  Listen to the bells and announcements and the roar of recess. Feel the amazing fast stops and starts and really particular squeaks of new gym shoes. Smell the glue. (Don’t tell me if you can taste the paste.)

O school supplies, how I love thee!

Even when we were homeschooling my son, we went out and bought school supplies at the end of summer. We accumulated such a stash, in fact, that I now scour the writing implement drawer for brand new pencils instead of buying them.

If you haven’t seen a school supply list for a while, they’ve changed some. For one, most schools (around here, anyway) put most supplies in big containers for everyone to use. When I buy a box of crayons, it’s not my son’s box to keep in his desk. The crayons get taken out of the box completely.

Each family is asked to contribute an absurdly high number of glue sticks. The burden of “who pays for this stuff” gets shifted more and more to families. I don’t look forward to the fees I’m hearing about from middle school and high school parents (of kids in public schools, mind you). Still, teachers end up buying a lot of supplies from their own pockets.

At the college level, at least on my campus, students are reminded to budget for their “printing account,” so they can print from campus printers during the semester. A lot of what we used to Xerox “for free” for students is now available online, and they have to print it themselves. It was never free, of course. It was paid for by departments out of “supplies and expenses” budgets that have shrunk in recent years.

Regardless of who pays for what, though, it’s the end of summer, the beginning of autumn, a time of harvest and bounty. The printing accounts are full, the pencils still have their original erasers, and there are reams upon reams of paper just waiting to see what our students have to say.

(This column appeared originally in Voice of the River Valley.)

Pedagogy Stew: August 2013

I’m headed to my 30th high school reunion this month, which causes me to reflect on many things, including my overwhelming urge to find a copy of The Preppy Handbook (pretty sure there were no Southern Illinois locations mentioned in it, also pretty sure I didn’t catch that it was satire when I got it for Christmas, circa 1981, along with some knock-off Topsiders and a belt with little ducks on it).

I was ranked 5th out of a graduating class of about 400. I remember that because I’d been tied for first until my junior year, when I flaked out and could muster only a B in Advanced Algebra/Trig, the same in Chemistry. This coincided with the onset of that whole “imagine this graph/molecule in 3-D inside your head,” which I pretty much totally sucked at.

But overall, those pretty-good-but-not-excellent marks were just further manifestation of my lifelong urge to avoid certain sorts of difficulty.  I’m drawn to some challenges, primarily those of my own devising. Stepping off the valedictorian track involved a rejection of mastering the challenges of classes someone else chose for me. I refused to take calculus my senior year, and as I remember it, my Dad called the man who would’ve taught it (who had taught algebra to my Dad at a local community college) and they grieved together.

I can’t help wondering what kind of challenge students anticipate when they sign up for a MOOC.

MOOC is short for Massively Open Online Course, and they’re all the rage in higher education. They are available online, usually for free, from some terrific universities and professors.

The good part is having free access to lectures, assignments, and tests from some superstar professors.

The bad part is, typically, having zero access to that professor, or to feedback that isn’t automated.

The good part is how easy it is to sign up and participate.

The bad part is the incredibly high dropout rate.

The good part is that a highly motivated student can learn a lot, for free.

The bad part is that a student who is motivated to avoid the challenge of sitting in a traditional college classroom, or taking what now seems like a “traditional” online college course…this student may not be up for the challenge of learning in a less structured, less obligation-driven environment.

In general, as a college student, I’d have crashed and burned in a MOOC, especially if I were taking it to speed through requirements I didn’t see the point of.

But what if taking a MOOC were my own idea? And not required?

It might be like my sophomore English class, at that point. I insisted on doing my book reports on the silliest books—a biography of Colonel Sanders and one I still remember the title of, Sherlock Bones—Pet Detective.  But I was reading Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ on my own. A challenge of my own devising.

(This column appeared originally in Voice of the River Valley.)

I can’t not love the Cardinals

I will always be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I’m not as big a baseball fan as I used to be. Less time for television viewing. No cable television. No reliable free radio coverage until recently when I got a smart phone (we’ll see how next season goes).

And also, steroids.

I sometimes think the last 20 years should have a big, fat asterisk next to it. It’s hard for me to get swept away by a game when I think so many of the players are gaming the system. Thus, Albert Pujols with his bigness always made me nervous (though as far as I know, he’s not on the lists of “guys we’re pretty sure are juiced.”)

Plus I never liked Tony LaRussa’s hair. (And I never forgave him for the way George Will gave LaRussa credit for some of what Whitey Herzog did with the Cardinals.)

But I can’t not love the Cardinals, even when they’re stinking up the field the way they did Monday night against Boston. Once I start, I can’t stop watching this moment during which I am fairly certain Wainwright was jinxed.

But even if they hadn’t won last night (whoo hoo!), I’d still love them.

Basically, here’s why:

Seriously.

Seriously.

Watching the gods: these aren’t really normal people. We’re watching them do things we could not do.

Literary nature of the game: lots of people have written about this. It’s true. Bull Durham is my favorite movie, partly because of this.

Geographical identity: I don’t know when I’ll ever live in Southern Illinois again, but being a Cardinals fan is part of how I remind myself I’m from there.

Lust and objectification: Can I help it that I first REALLY noticed the Cardinals in 1982, when they won the Series, when I was 17, in the flush of my first waves of womanly hormone energy and girlfriends of mine pointed out things like “Tommy Herr has a great butt.” Objectification is bad, of course. But wow, are these guys fun to watch. Some more than others.

Family Ties: whatever else makes us different, the vast majority of my Southern Illinois family and I are Cardinals fans, and we can always share that. I love it that my Gran’daddy, who’s been gone for two years now, was a HUGE Yadier Molina fan. (I never told Gran’daddy my theories about Yadi waxing his eyebrows.)

Links to my past: I was such a huge fan in the late 80s. I remember sitting on the deck of one of many trailers I lived in while a grad student in Carbondale, listening to KMOX, drinking a Budweiser, sweating like crazy because birds had built a next in the a.c. and I didn’t want to bother them. I don’t want to ever forget that part of myself.

History and tradition: I never got to see Stan Musial or Lou Brock play, but I have a #6 cap and I would love, love, love to own a Brock-a-brella. St. Louis has been so dominant the last few years, it almost seems it’s cool now to hate them (NOTE:  they were NOT dominant in the late 80s and early 90s when I spent the most time actively following them), but it’s an awesome club with a rich tradition and I’m so, so happy to see them relying on their farm clubs again.

I tend to cheer for the underdogs, nonetheless. I would love to see the Cubs dominate, head to the World Series and win, win, win.  The last time the Brewers were threatening, I actually cheered for them against the Cards in the playoffs. I didn’t really mind when Boston won in 2004 (but I do feel like it’s our turn now, regardless of the arguments made by the Red Sox fan I’m married to).

But when it comes down to it, if the Cards are playing, I’m on their side. I can’t not love them.

If God’s going to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you….

When I was little, I wasn’t scared of tornadoes.

My Dad always said, “If God’s going to go to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you…” and I actually don’t remember the exact words of what came after that, but the idea was, just give up. If God wants you to die in a tornado and you survive that tornado, he’ll send another tornado. Or a car wreck. Or a brown recluse spider.

I found that profoundly comforting when I was a child and beyond, but I’m sure my Dad’s calm helped, too. (Note to self: try not to freak out ENTIRELY as you’re fleeing your own home, your child in tow, to your parents’ basement across town. When I said, “Get in the car right now!” I’m pretty sure I had the same intonation & volume as “You can’t handle the truth!”)

Back in the 70s, there were watches and warnings pretty much all the time, it seemed, from March through September. We ignored watches entirely, and only grew concerned about warnings if the sky turned green.

Dad and I used to stand in our garage and watch sheets of rain come across the open field northeast of our house. He was probably smoking a pipe. I was probably petting Wooly and Daisy (the best dogs ever in the history of the world).

Regardless.

I now note several problems with Dad’s tornado wisdom.

1. Even if my belief in God had not changed, OH MY GOD. Really? I’m a good Baptist girl and God might just, out of pretty much fucking nowhere, send a tornado to kill me? And I can’t get away no matter what?

2. My belief in God has changed. I have a kind of wacked-out sort of X-Files Mulder/Scully hybrid of beliefs. As in:
a. I want to believe.
b. Maybe God could steer tornadoes in a pinch, but tends not to.

3. The basically impossibly huge question of how a loving God could allow horrible things to happen. (I’m not going to solve that here. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)

When I lived in the second of a series of three trailers I called home as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, I began to have a recurring nightmare about tornadoes. In it, I would wake up in the middle of a horrible storm, feel the trailer begin to shake, watch the walls suck inward, watch the roof blow away, and then try to hold onto my bed to keep from getting sucked into the sky. Then I would wake up.

I suspect this had to do with being in miscellaneous precarious emotional situations in those years. And also living in a trailer. “God’s bowling alleys,” my brother always called trailer parks.

(So, o.k. What is it with men in my family and tornadoes?)

But during one actual tornado warning, I stayed in Trailer #1 and announced to God, “I’ll just die here with my cats, thank you.” Very green sky. Large branches flying by the window. Trailer rocking in real life, not the dream world. (Oh, that girl. I could just smack my 21-year-old self!)

I think, over the years, I’ve just grown less and less fatalistic. Certainly less suicidal! It is also possible my frontal lobe has developed some.

And then having a husband I love and I son I am OVER THE MOON ABOUT makes storms really stressful.

We’ve had a wacky weather week in Wisconsin. More storms coming.

Is it possible, in what I now called the land of “Zen Baptist” on my faith journey, to take wise precautions and yet be at peace about whatever comes?

Sure hope so.

Because what comforted me as a child, comforts me not at all right now.

_____
Here’s what fun about social media. Someone named Kevin posted this on Channel 3000’s Facebook page. The comments are hilarious. Including: “it’s sunny in beloit” and a whole thread of “don’t take pictures while you’re driving” and “it’s not a tornado.”

So. Probably not a tornado. (No one actually said it was.) And also not my picture. But gracious. I wouldn’t mind some boring weather.

Not a tornado.

Not a tornado.

I Want to Be the One: Class of ’83

I want to be the one who doesn’t spend
one minute worried about how fat I am,
how fat or bald you are, if that’s Botox
smoothing out your smile. Are those boobs real?
No—none of that. I want to hug old friends—
yes, OLD, or old enough. It’s only time
that’s passed. We’re so lucky if our clocks
are still ticking. Ten years from how we’ll feel
more grief than we’ve felt yet. The 50s are hard
to live through–heart attacks, cancer, car wrecks–
we’ve already lost a few–who’s next?
At our 40th, we’ll just be glad we’re not dead.
I want to be the one who gets that now.
I want to really get it, the blessing of right now.
_____

I’m looking forward to the 30th high school reunion this summer, partly based on how much fun I had at my 20th.

Lines that didn’t make this particular sonnet:

I want to be the one you want to see.

(cut: too needy.)

I want to be the one who asks you how
you really are, who waits to hear you say

(nice idea, just didn’t fit)

And besides, if it’s like the 20th, what I’ll be asking is, “Hey, have you seen my husband?” And I hope the answer is, again, “Yeah! He’s out in the parking lot drinking homemade wine out of Mark’s trunk.”

(IF I have enough to drink myself, I might ask the guy who keeps posting Bible verses on our reunion Facebook page, “What the fuck?” But we’ll have to wait to see about that. I feel as though I deserve some sort of massive bonus karma points for not posting that as a comment on f.b. already, although, of course, this whole paragraph pretty much zeroes out any gain in karma points.)

But in memory of those we’ve already lost, and with high hopes for good times in August, here’s to the class of ’83!

We've already lost some great folks.

We’ve already lost some great folks.

 

UPDATE: let me clarify, because I don’t want people to get offended for the wrong reasons: I think it’s perfectly fine to post a Bible verse on the reunion page. The verses posted thus far, though, seemed kind of random to me & the fellow didn’t post any context.   Verses that would seem less random might be “Wine is a mocker and beer is a brawler.” Bonus points if you can name chapter and verse WITHOUT Google or a concordance. (Honestly, I just know it’s in Proverbs somewhere, but given my Baptist heritage, I shouldn’t even get partial points for that.)