Monday, March 31

My Mom

One of the best moments of my life was giving birth to my baby girl with my husband and mom there with me.

One week after Charis' birth, my mom headed home and I was left to mother this little baby with the help of my husband. But as he was getting back to work, there were many parts of the job that were left to me to do alone. Certainly feeding her fell squarely in my court and  I took over most of the bottle feeding as well. Diaper changes, baths, up in the middle of the night, all of this was mostly my responsibility.

But Adam was there. Even if he didn't get up each time in the middle of the night or feed her for the 1,000th time that day, he was an emotional support and often gave me a break by feeding her and getting up at 2 in the morning.  On top of it all, he did the lion's share of housework to keep the apartment in working order.

The difficulty of mothering a newborn was so clear to me, because I knew I had a husband to lean on. When my mom had me, it was just her and me. She had me on her own.

Recently she gave me a couple of letters that she had written when I was a baby to be read during those difficult teen years. While there were some difficult times for me, my teen years were really quite tame (my main emotional and relational support has always been from my family - as opposed to looking for acceptance from my friends). So at 36, I read the letters.

I wept through parts, thinking of how difficult it has been over the past few months to mother such a  little baby. How helpless I've felt, trying to ascertain what she could possibly need. Feeling like a failure when once again what I offered is not comforting her. Over and over again, I was struck with how strong my own mother is. To have done all that I have done, but to do it solo.

When talking about those first 5 years of my life, She will often say that she would consult God as she would have consulted a physical spouse. You know how we say things like, "Well, I wouldn't have chosen [that particular difficulty or suffering], but I grew in ways I could have never imagined"? I know her relationship with God was forged through those difficult years of parenting alone, and that her prayer life was planted and cultivated through those years of loneliness, feeling helpless, and possibly fear of what she might miss out on having chosen to have a little daughter.

God blessed her with many sweet and wonderful moments because she chose to give me life. But she didn't know those sweet and wonderful moments would come. All she knew was how to be faithful at the time. And even now, with some of the difficulties life has presented her in the last 10 years, she faithfully consults the Lord and is a model for me to emulate.

Not too long ago I posted this on Facebook. It makes me teary every time.

Because the part that undoes me is, "You make me want to fall at my mother's feet and tell her that I get it!"

Mom, You are an inspiration to me and to my sister as we mother your grandchildren.  I love you.

Friday, March 7

Regarding Common Core

So my facebook feed is blowing up with friends upset about Common Core standards that have been/are being implemented in the public school system. Recently the following link was posted and before I responded that it was crap (because I went to public school and went through standardized testing) I asked a trusted friend who teaches in the public school system if this situation was in fact true. Please read her answer. It addresses the fears and frustrations of standardized testing exceedingly well. (By the way, she and I attend church within the same denomination, before you presume that she is is a liberal talking head...she's not :D)

My email to her:

This smells fishy to me. 5 year olds being asked about division?

Can you tell me if this is just good old fashioned bull crap? Or are they really doing standardized tests in public school for kindergarteners?

Her Response:

I'm going to try to answer this as objectively as possible. I have mixed feelings about standardized tests, so take that into consideration.

Under the new common core, kindergarten is assessed in reading and math. However, this article seems to be a bit on the histrionic side. It starts with an awful photo, which the author admits was a snapshot of one moment in time when her otherwise happy go lucky daughter was struggling with two math problems. I ask you: what kid LIKES struggle? What child happily works through math problems they've done wrong? I don't know any, and I teach gifted kids. To quote the author "She is a fighter with a resilient spirit. It crushes me to see her cry; to see her struggle. My daughter deserves a happy childhood." The insinuation here is that her struggle with math is somehow jeopardizing her happy childhood. Like I said, histrionics.

Research shows that when kids aren't allowed to struggle, bad things happen. Kids somehow associate intelligence with things coming easily - if I'm smart, I shouldn't have to work for it. THAT kind of attitude doesn't prepare kids for the reality that waits outside the front door. If mom shields baby from the big bad math problem that threatens her happy childhood, I'm not sure how baby is going to cope with any type of setback.  This story is an interesting counter to the author's implicit message. As a matter of fact, my 7th graders read this article together and made videos about it. This one is my favorite.

Anyway, your original question was about testing kindergarteners. I'm not sure which states currently do and don't test kindergarteners, but my understanding is that under Common Core, this will be the norm. The idea of testing kindergarten kids is completely abhorrent to me, but the idea of standardized testing in general is something I generally support. Kindergarten? No way. Older grade levels? Yes.

The problem with standardized testing is illustrated in the article if you can get past the blatant emotional appeal of the darling babies with their tiny teeth and big bows who cannot operate a computer. The issue here is that the test isn't accurately assessing what the kids actually know - do they know how to determine what an equal share is? Maybe, but if they aren't familiar with the word "division" we won't be able to correctly ascertain whether or not they understand the concept of equal shares. If they can't hear what's being said in the big headphones, we can't measure what they know. What is being described here is a problem with PROCEDURE. Is it wrong to ask a kindergartener what they know, and use that as ONE piece of a puzzle that determines the effectiveness of the school? No. That's not wrong. However, the way we deliver that assessment needs to be done more authentically than what is described here. Authentic assessment for a kindergartener looks like an adult sitting down with the child and asking him or her to help divide a cookie into three equal parts. The adult can determine whether or not the kid understands division, and the kid gets a cookie. Everybody freaking wins. But then you've got to pay that adult out of a budget that's already stretched thin, and there are a zillion kindergarteners which requires a million certified, unbiased adults, and now you've got a logistical problem. So we use a crappy test on crappy computers and get crappy results and wonder why kids hate our crappy education system.

Standardized testing has to be done. It has to. Otherwise, schools get to do whatever they want, teach whatever they want, however effectively (or ineffectively, as the case may be) they want. Standardized testing is necessary for accountability. The way we do standardized testing TOTALLY SUCKS and is a total joke when it comes to measuring understanding in ALL KIDS. We need to change it, but we don't need to abandon it.

More info than you asked for? Probably. :)

Thursday, March 6

He'll Keep You, Too -- No Matter Where.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:2-3

I have been listening to Rain For Roots' songs with Charis. They are short children's songs taken from Sally Lloyd-Jones' "Hug a Bible" for babies. We put the cd in each morning and I sing it to her. At first it was so that I could introduce her to the gospel - it does my heart good to know that she will have heard the gospel no matter what happens. 

But there have been some changes on the horizon that make one song particularly meaningful to me: 

Who heard Daniel when he prayed?
Who helped him not be afraid?
Who stayed beside him in that den?
Who brought him safely out again?
It’s God who kept him in his care. He’ll keep you, too--no matter where! 

Some of you who are on Facebook probably noticed that Adam went to Jakarta, Indonesia. Strange place to visit in the middle of the semester, but you see, he has been offered a position at the International Teaching College at The Universitas Pelita Harapan (University of Light and Hope). Covenant College will be partnering with ITC @ UPH in 2015, creating a branch campus offering a western, accredited, reformed education to students in Southeast Asia. At least, that is the hope, and the paperwork is being negotiated between the two schools right now.

Adam is in the final stages of negotiating his salary for us to move to Jakarta. We'll be getting ITC off the ground starting Summer 2014 and the plan is that he will be working for Covenant College as an Associate Dean when CC takes over in 2015. We have plans to stay for 3 years and then return to the US For Adam to begin work on a doctorate.

Needless to say, I am afraid. Nearly everyone I tell this story to says, "What an Adventure!" and I think to myself, I am not adventuresome. I am a person who likes to stay at home, near family and have coffee on Saturday morning with her extended family. Chattanooga was far enough away when we first moved here! Now we're exchanging a 7 hour flight to Montana for a 22 hour flight to Montana. I am not an adventurer.

But as I sang to Charis yesterday,  "Who heard Daniel when he prayed?" I started tearing up when I got to the lyrics, "Who helped him not be afraid? Who stayed beside him in that den? He'll keep you too -- no matter where!"

Yes, he will stay with me. He will keep me, too. Even in Jakarta.

And I thought to myself: Sometimes? A children's song is more effective then the most beautifully written sermon.
With octaves of a mystic depth and height