Sunday, September 21, 2014

Where I Am Right Now, Thoughts on Moving and Where We Are Planted This Year

Moving to a new community is always interesting, and each move brings with it challenges, joys, sorrows, and struggles. The community where we are planted for this year is no exception. It is interesting, challenging, but also has some good. One thing that’s added to the mix this year is that the city we live in, in the greater Cleveland area, is, on some measures, one of the most liberal cities in Ohio, maybe even the country. We in our family have been known to call it the USSR of (our city name). It’s definitely the most liberal school system we’ve ever encountered. It is also a totally IB-infused curriculum from elementary to high school throughout the entire school district. Those of you who love that curriculum, please don’t be offended or feel the need to convince me otherwise, I’m glad for those who like it, but that wasn’t actually a draw for us. I wouldn’t choose it for my kids if I’d had a choice. At least we really, really, really love our church, even though it’s kind of a drive to get to it several little cities over.

That said, there are some great things about this community and school system, IB and all. I’ll start with that before I get to my rather short point. First of all, this is probably the most diverse community we’ve ever lived in, and that is a really good thing. I love that my daughter is completely race-blind. She truly wants to befriend anyone that will be her friend, whether black, white, brown, or whatever, we are all descendants of Adam, created in God’s image. I love this for my kids. May their tribe increase. I also think it’s great that they get to meet people who aren't necessarily just like them and don’t think like them. I am very encouraged by the discussions we have at home as they work through what they believe and why they believe it and learn to embrace the faith as their own and also learn to respectfully discuss issues with people who hold very different beliefs. Our Sunday School class is studying the book of Daniel, and last week we discussed the balance between being resolute in our convictions and what we hold to be true, and know to be true, and respectful in how we seek to follow them and talk about them. I found it quite helpful in light of some things we face daily. 

Another thing I like about the schools here is that academically they are quite rigorous, and when I went to the elementary school open house, I liked some of the strategies they shared for how they are teaching math and reading and other things. Musically we could not ask for better education. Both of my boys have top-notch private lesson teachers. And the band totally rocks. 

That said, there is a feel here, for lack of a better word, a kind of smug sense of self-righteous superiority that pervades the atmosphere here that I find a little creepy, and it’s mostly from the IB stuff. First of all, people are NUTS about scores and tests and stuff. One of the first things high school parents ask when they meet me is, “What classes is your son taking?” And there is an underlying arrogance about whose kid is taking the hardest classes. It’s creepy.

Then, another thing that defines our experience here is that there is a group-think mentality I find off-putting, even as they stress characteristics like independence and learning to think critically. However, listening to my older boys talk when they come home from school, there’s a subtle subversiveness to the learning to think thing. It’s great when they learn to think ‘critically’ as long as it matches the teacher’s liberal bent, and as long as their reasoning sounds like good little communists socialists liberals globally aware IB students in the mold approved by the curriculum, but my very conservative, very Christian sons are finding that their contributions aren’t always what the teacher is looking for, and sometimes aren’t very welcome. They haven’t had any outright negativity, but they have been told, “Yes, well, we won’t be going there,” with certain discussion topics. 

Case in point, my high schooler’s text book for Honors English is The Bible As/In Literature. I wasn’t thrilled with that choice, but what I have been thrilled with is listening to the things my son has been telling me as he’s asked me questions and we’ve discussed things and as he’s been sharing in class. He said there is one boy who now asks him, “What do you think about that?” after certain discussions, and he’s able to open up the Bible and show him there is so much more to what they read than the curriculum line they are given in class, which definitely is subversive to our high view of the Bible. That’s been pretty neat to watch. I kind of feel like, if they choose a book like that for a high school class, then they invite the discussion. You use our holy book for your text, don’t get mad if a Christian kid goes deeper with it than you maybe intended. While the Bible is literature, and great literature at that, it is so much more than just literature, too, and if we’re really going to be tolerant, he has just as much right to share his insight as the atheist kids who are so antagonistic to his view. TRUE tolerance implies disagreement. So, all that said, I’m pretty excited to see God working in this situation and how my sons are learning to make a reasoned defense for what they believe. Even when they may not speak up in front of the class or directly to the teacher, other kids notice and they listen to them and even ask them. I’m also planning on giving him the book I’m reading just as soon as I finish it, which is Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel. After being exposed to the discussions in his English class and the discussions we’ve had at home about those discussions, I’m very excited for him to read Todd Friel’s most excellent look at how all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, finding Jesus in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The timing of that book coming out is spectacular for our family. My son will get to see how truly awesome the Bible is, how inspired and how much more its message is than what was discussed in class. I pray daily for my children in the midst of all this.

Which leads me on a little rabbit trail. What I see very much here in this community is the classic liberal redefining of tolerance. Tolerance today is not actually tolerance. To be ‘tolerant’ according to the common wisdom of our whacked out culture today means to be totally accepting of everything, and especially of everything that we might be prone to voice any disagreement about, if that makes sense. It means calling evil good and good evil. It means nothing is EVER wrong, unless it’s something that doesn’t mesh in lock-step with the prevailing secularist view. THAT is wrong and intolerant.  These days, calling something wrong is just about the biggest cultural sin you can commit. Problem is, it just doesn’t work. I’m supposed to be totally accepting of homosexuality or evolution, for example, but my view is taboo and ignorant. Tolerance only goes one way in the tolerance-not tolerance camp. TRUE tolerance, however, is acknowledging disagreement, but believing you don’t have to be disrespectful or go to war over the disagreement. TRUE tolerance allows for people to strongly hold their beliefs and convictions, strongly defend them, on all sides, and learn to coexist peacefully in spite of disagreement. That’s when true dialogue can happen, too. A truly tolerant person will not insist on everyone else changing everything they believe or going against their strongly held convictions just to suit them. However, that’s not the culture in which we find ourselves.

So, anyway, back to the point all this was leading up to, last week I went to the elementary school open house, and during the principal’s remarks at the end of the evening, she was discussing the new program they’ve implemented for recess. It used to be, she said, that you would have a group playing football, very competitive, which led to arguing, a group playing kick ball, also very competitive, and then everyone else. Well, now they’ve done away with the football and kickball, because the competitive nature of them was not good, in their opinion, and implemented these non-competitive games that can include everyone. No more bad competitiveness. And it really was presented as if the problem was that being competitive is a bad thing. So, we spend all day teaching these kids group-think, then we don’t ever let them think it’s ever okay to compete at all. We all have to get along, and we can’t ever compete. Being competitive on the recess field is BAD. I think that’s unwise. It’s not bad to be competitive, per se. What about teaching them to be competitive in a sportsmanlike way? Rather than making competitiveness an evil, why not teach how to do it well, and offer the non-competitive games, too, as an alternative for kids who don’t want the more competitive option?

I get that they are trying to crack down on bullying and trying to build team work and cooperation and diversity. Those are admirable goals. I just disagree about how to get there. Teaching the wrong view of tolerance isn’t it - that just breeds a whole new kind of bully, and neither is obliterating any semblance of competitiveness. There needs to be balance. Teach kids to compete as sportsmen, teach real tolerance - the balance between being resolute and respectful, and teach proper competition, and I think we’d have a better mix. Just going around chanting the IB characteristics all day doesn’t make them true, it just makes for a creepy kind of group-think, parrot environment. (Just ask my daughter who came home in tears on Friday because of the ‘mean girls’ (my term) at lunch. Those ‘IB learners’ weren’t acting very ‘open-minded’ or ‘caring’ toward the new girl. My mama bear instinct grizzled up a little as she told me about it and I had to swallow it and talk her through it wisely.)

When I got home from that open house and was telling my husband about all this, it suddenly occurred to me: “Maybe that’s why the high school football team is 1-3 so far this year.” Growing up in the SEC south, this whole being on the always losing team is a new experience for me, I must say. ;-) When you spend their whole elementary school years telling them competitiveness is a bad thing, don’t expect a winning high school team later. Just saying. 

At least the band rocks half-time. :-)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ramblings of a Klutzy Cook

I just made a rather extraordinary mess in my kitchen, and that is saying something considering I am kind of a master at extraordinary kitchen messes and disasters. In my sad history of kitchen messes, this one probably tops it. First, this kitchen in the house we are renting at the moment was truly not designed for someone who cooks much or for a big family. It’s a small kitchen, too small, with almost no counter space whatsoever and really awkward positioning is what I am saying. We live in a house that was built in 1931, and, like all the houses in this neighborhood, it was designed to be a two-family house - with one family living on the entire bottom floor, and the other family on the top two floors, while sharing the basement. Our family currently lives on the top two floors of this wonderfully creaky, nooks-and-crannies house. You can see why I’ve mentioned before how thankful I am for a good downstairs neighbor, yes?

Anyway, I was attempting to salvage the pitiful bananas that were not going to survive one more day on the counter, so I started up a batch of two loaves of banana bread. I won’t attempt to describe what happened when the too-full bowl of batter tipped over, dumping melted butter all over the counter and dripping to the floor. I managed to rescue enough of it to continue baking, but, well, I’m glad my dog likes butter and I hope I got enough of it mopped up before he came running in to lick up the rest or his evening walk may be kind of…..interesting……tonight. I’m thinking I don’t really want to be the dog-walker tonight. :-) 

So, there are two loaves of banana bread just freshly out of the oven, and I am once again reminded that I truly need to start wearing an apron, especially when I spur-of-the-moment decide to bake banana bread while wearing my favorite Cedar Point Snoopy sweatshirt. Did I mention it’s nice and cool out today, finally? Another quirky thing about this house is….no central AC. This Florida girl is NOT used to that. So, I’m enjoying the natural AC today. NICE. Speaking of which, yesterday while driving to pick up my son from high school, I saw a guy waiting to cross the road wearing a heavy winter coat, knit cap, hood, scarf up over his nose and mouth, hunched over with hands in his pockets like it was the blizzard of 2014 or something. It was 62 degrees out. I was just finally feeling cooled off from the stifling, sweltering heat of no AC in my house for the past several hot days. Dude, if you’re that cold now, winter is going to be rough. Or so, I’m constantly being told. I met a new friend the other day, and as we were chatting she asked where I was from originally. I told her I grew up in Florida. She grinned ruefully and said, “You’re really not going to like winter here….” Yes, I hear that a lot. I can only imagine the tundra-like conditions awaiting us here this winter. And my brother-in-law told me once that we won’t see the sun after Labor Day. Turns out he wasn’t actually kidding. Gray and drizzly again today….

But, I digress. Back to my kitchen adventures, while I was cleaning up my colossal, greasy, buttery mess, I was reflecting on how I really wasn’t in the mood for baking today, and maybe I should have just stayed with that thought and let the bananas go rather than get into this this afternoon. So, word to the wise Sweet Tea people in my home, the proper response to this freshly baked banana bread this afternoon will be, “Why, Mother! You made our favorite! This is the most wonderful banana bread in all the world!” Even if it isn’t. :-)

Then I got to wondering if I really and truly had the energy to go on to the next cooking project on my agenda for today……homemade salsa. I really didn’t. But, my 10th-grade son made the comment the other day that for some reason he always craves salsa and chips when he comes home. “Spanish is last period, isn’t it?” I said. Little grin and, “Yes. Yes it is,” he answered. Then he made the comment that he hoped I would make more of my salsa soon because we were almost out and mine is just the best, so much better than the store-bought kind. How can I refuse that? So, salsa is simmering on the stove now, too. And I managed not to make a mess with it. Yet. The day is still young.

Now that I’m done cooking for a bit, I think I’m going to take a break and read a book. I’ve got some good ones going. I just finished True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith by Paul Copan. Now I’m reading something purely for fun because my 8th-grader and I were super happy that the seventh book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series, The Revealed, came out this month. It arrived at our house on Wednesday in a little box of happiness from Amazon, and I am reading it and loving it as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series. And, yes, I’m reading it first. Kiddo has to read a lot for school. I do not. I get to read it first. And I can hardly put it down. Next I’m planning to read Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. This one my high school boy had to read for school and he wants me to read it so he can discuss it with me. I love that. I’ve also got Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel and The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung waiting in the wings. And all of them are real books, not on my Kindle, so I could actually call this a what’s on my nightstand paragraph. The books really are stacked around the house. It’s been a while since I’ve read non-Kindle books. 

So, that’s a glimpse at my Friday. Hope you’re having a good Friday, too. :-)