August To June; Bringing Life to Palm Beach Schools



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copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

As any Mom or Dad might do on Parent Teacher Conference Day, Amy Valens, the Educator featured in the documentary film August To June, traveled from “classroom to classroom.”  This journey was not a conventional one. Indeed, Amy did not attend a series of Parent Teacher Conferences.  What she did was appear at Palm Beach screenings of her documentary.  The film follows twenty-six [26] third and fourth graders who studied with Amy in her last year of teaching.  The public school open classroom “Brings Life” to education.

After the movie was viewed, Ms Valens and the audiences engaged in conversations. They discussed what they saw and how it might relate to a broader dialogue.  The subjects of Education Reform, Classroom Standards, Teacher Quality, Merit Pay, Student-Rewards for Success, Parent Involvement, and Testing are but a few topics prominent in our national debate.  While the assemblies of viewers varied widely, the results were the same.  Every child, every class, all Teachers, and each parent, tells a unique tale.  Regardless of the individual or group, we see the world, or in this case the film, through our own lens.

Having traveled the country with the movie, in the last ten months, meeting with audiences from every walk of life, Amy had already come to understand that each person has their own perspective.  Each place visited offers unexpected opportunities. The size of the crowd does not give a hint of what will be within.  Nor does the theme of a Conference, such as Save Our Schools or Coalition for Essential Schools, provide insight into what will occur.  The makeup of a community affords no clues.  As any Mother, [Teacher, Filmmaker] Valens experiences as we all do.  When we enter a room, or a situation, when we encounter a child or a school full of students we cannot predict what will come.

Will the experience be pretty? Will it be rich? I share what it appeared to be, at least what appeared to be true for me.

Having attended the one abridged showing, the two full screenings, each of which was followed by a discussion, and having the heard the radio interview, I recognized the theme; behind every door adventure awaits. There are lessons to be learned.  Let us take a look.

Amy’s recent tour began, not in a school, but remotely.  From a National Public Radio studio in Miami, the Host of Topical Currents. Joseph Cooper introduced his guests, Amy and Tom Valens.  The Broadcaster, heard on WLRN, might have been as an Instructor, one who is only remotely familiar with a family.  A physical distance may have played a part in the dynamic.  Amy was a County away, in Palm Beach, Florida.  Only a telephone line connected the two.  Filmmaker Tom Valens sat in his modest bungalow workplace, in the hills of Forest Knolls, California.  Throughout this meeting Mister Cooper asked Amy and Tom Valens questions. He listened for answers.  Then, the Broadcaster extrapolated.  

He pronounced what he believed might be true for the Marin County residents. The radio Journalist mused; the population is not as others.  The theory espoused; the proximity to Silicon Valley and George Lucas Studios must explain the supposed anomaly seen in August To June.  The thought expressed, was the community is unique. Indeed, nothing could be farther from the reality that exists within Amy Valens’ valley.

As is stated in the film, in this open classroom, children come from homes of median and meager means. Many if not most have experienced divorce. Several have been separated from their parents.  The world of drugs, and other abuses, is not unknown to these young ones.  The wealth and wonder that might be seen in the more opulent sphere of the technologically elite, is not real to those who reside in Amy’s classroom.  Nonetheless, for Joseph Cooper, as is true for countless who cannot imagine the educational process that unfolds before their eyes, “Yes, but . . .” lives large.  Thankfully, “Yes; Exactly” and “Yes, well maybe” also thrive.

“Our graduates have gone on to become artists, scientists, house painters, computer programmers helicopter pilots, chefs, ceramists, carpenters, tile setters, lawyers, teachers, politicians, ecologists, gardeners, musicians, security guards, engineers, viticulturists, film makers photographers, actors, dancers, salespeople, drivers, paraprofessionals, airplane attendants, animators, body workers, park rangers, camp counselors, waiters, sculptors, writers, journalists, linguists, small business people, singers, social workers, government workers, brokers, students, furniture makers, set designers, jewelers, composers, paramedics, firefighters, jugglers, loving parents, active community members and so much more.” They are you and me.

Skepticism was voiced several more times throughout the weekend.  People wanted to believe that Amy Valens was the Miracle Worker, or that the dynamics within her small District was the reason an impossible dream came true.  Several stated, only in a rural region or in an open classroom, such as exists in San Geronimo might parents be involved. The thought was, to opt-out of high-stakes tests is a fantasy not permitted in most States.  A few mused Amy could only practice as she does with elementary school age children.  Fortunately, the same sort of contradictory reasoning was heard but once in the next get-together.

I spoke to it then and again in other meetings. Personally, I know what cynics wish to believe is not so.  As someone whose teaching style differs greatly from that of Amy Valens, and as a person who taught solely in urban and suburban standardized systems, I trust much can be done within the common constraints.  My pedagogy mirrors what is seen in August To June.  For Teacher Valens, for me, and for most in the many Palm Beach audiences, the Whole Child concept speaks to our every sensibility.  What parent, Teacher, or community does not believe schools should focus on developing students who are academically proficient, physically and emotionally healthy, respectful, responsible, and caring? Since ancient Greek and Roman times, nearly everyone, if not all do.

Surely, the people assembled at the first screening of the weekend, at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth did.  This gathering may best represent what occurred, endlessly, during Amy’s late October, early November, Palm Beach travels.   From the discussion, it quickly became apparent, attendees embraced the philosophy and principles presented in the documentary without exception.  While rationalizations were rare, the human tendency to relate through our own life experiences was wonderfully evident.

A College Professor saw many correlations to his daily reality. He discovered big public policy issues in regards to testing, privatization, Teacher merit pay, an Instructors’ qualifications, performance, and due process, are discussed in August To June.  The subject of school quality is also explored in the film, just as it is in Faculty meetings and on the floor of Congress.

Another individual, a former Nurse, related to the relevant questions the film raises. This person understood the significance of working with the Whole Child, the whole person, be he or she a pupil or a patient.  The Health Care practitioner mentioned her distress for loss of logic in today’s society. Humans, in every profession, have been reduced to numbers.

Tests in medicine, just as in our schools, are no longer diagnostic tools.  Today, examination scores define a supposed permanent condition rather than identify a situation [or a student] in transition.  Assessments are given as a matter of course. Indeed, these are mandated in traditional medical facilities and in our schools.  Privatization is prominent. Doctors do not make house calls and Teachers, too often, never meet the families . . . that is, in schools not like Amy’s.

With privatization comes reward and punishment.  The last person to speak that evening, addressed this.  A Scholar who sat among us, mentioned his love of teaching and how, as a Social Science Educator, he was told not to engage his students.  History, Administrators said, is not an essential part of the curriculum. After all, it does not appear on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  [The inference being, nothing else matters.] Nonetheless, the Teacher thought it was important to teach.

Having done his job well, Mister M’s students excelled on the high-stakes State exam.  The mentor was rewarded with praise and a pink slip.  He was told his work was excellent.  However, with the term at an end, the school no longer needed to fill a history position.  Months later, an unexpected check arrived in the mailbox at Mister M’s home.  It seems that schools are financially rewarded, as are teachers within the school if the students successfully “achieve.”

Might Mister M’s instruction spurred greater interest in other areas.  Did the methods he employed inspire students to study well.  Could his class or the energy that was born be transferred into an overall interest in academics?  The Palm Beach County Teacher did not know.

Regardless, August To June Educator Amy Valens saw and felt the palpable sense of surprise from others in the room.  She was astounded but not amazed. Amy knew.  She heard many a story this year.  All were identical, and at the same time unique.  Consistently, as Ms Valens treks around the country she discovers that people turn to her for guidance and acumen, and Amy turns to them.  “Yes, but” and “Yes! Exactly,” as well as the reflective “Yes, maybe” are instructive and illustrate what occurs in Parent Teacher Conferences.

I began and embraced a mission in October 2010. My hope was the film August To June and featured Teacher, Amy Valens might help expand the education conversation in South Florida.  This dream has borne fruit.  I have faith that soon, we will further the discussion. Forums are in our future.  We will “Bring Life to School” every August To June in Palm Beach County.

I, Author/Educator, Betsy L. Angert of Empathy And Education, am grateful.  I offer Special Thanks to others who worked to make this tour truly meaningful …With Special Thanks to others who helped make this tour truly meaningful.  Guest Speaker, Author, Educator, esteemed Marion Brady, the Founder-Director of Sunflower Creative Arts, Susan Caruso, Co-Founder of Parents Across America, Rita Solnet.

References and Resources . . .

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Primary Teachers and Their Pedagogy



DddyTchr

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

I offer homage to a Teacher whose pedagogy touched me in a manner invisible to me until this moment.  For scores, I understood what a gift he was to me.  His open and caring ways were as I craved.  However, I had never imagined that this man’s schooling style made the difference in my life.  Today, I invite each of us to look beyond the boundaries or the labels.

Often in life we are asked to reflect; who was or were your most profound Teachers.  I shared my stories in a missive or more.  Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned, Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers, and Why I Write and Write, Then Write Again.  There are myriad sorts of Teachers.  A few are true treasures.  These special souls take a personal interest in us as individuals.  Students are seen as whole beings, not solely a score, or a name to be identified as a number.  Without these rare Teachers we would not soar.

Innumerable Scholars seek to inform rather than interact in a way that inspires.  Academicians, an abundance of these, think to fill a brain full of facts, formulas, and figures, is to teach.  I wonder; do these Educators believe they learn from their students?  I cannot know with certainty. For myriad mentors, their labor is not born out of love, but out of need . . . the need to train students for a test.

Gurus, a few, will sacrifice personal standards.  The belief that it is best to do as was done to them is deep.  Countless more desire to do as expected.  To save oneself, retain face or employment becomes a personal priority.  Few dare to test the system, rock the boat, or retreat from the status quo.  Possibly, less think to do what is different, even if the untried is the truest pinnacle of pedagogy.  A Mom, Dad, Grandparent, or Guardian, can be as classroom Teachers are, entrenched in established traditions.

This has an effect on us all, for some say their Primary Teacher touched them as no other did.  This sage is frequently thought of as Mom or Dad.  A mother or father, or each, teach us how to be and who we might be.  For the fortunate, this relationship is a close one.  Physical proximity usually allows for an experience that envelops everyone involved.  However, there are those such as I who learn from a distance.  It might be, as it was for me, that a corporeal togetherness did not exist, or did so only from an emotional distance.

Absence can make the heart grow fonder.  Often, we want love from the person who is not with us, be it in our life, in our home, or in a heart, his or hers. For others, this feeling is far from reasonable.  People ponder; why would I wish to be with someone who rejects me, abandons me, or is emotionally absent.  Regardless of what might be for you, I suspect that you, as I, feel the person or persons who taught you most were your caregivers.

Some Moms and Dads are superior Teachers; several are less than lovely role models.  Still, even the worse Instructor and instruction teaches.  Each Educator has or had, their own “teaching style.”  Only today did I intellectually evaluate the pedagogies of parents.  Indeed, I wonder if I would have ever thought to do so had it not been for my very, very, very, young 93-years of age cousin and his reflective ways.  Alexander asked of my Dads.  Yes, there were two.

My Daddy, Logan, passed from his Earthly existence only weeks ago.  My natural father, not the same person, departed from the planet decades earlier.  In truth, “Michael,” the man whose genetic makeup made my life possible, fled from my sphere before I was born.  While we shared a house for more than eight years, we were not truly part of each other’s life.  Our experiences, and the individual present at my conception, were profound Professors.  Each taught me tons.  Nevertheless, I feel secure in saying, Daddy taught me more.

My Dad gave me life. He breathed oxygen into my lungs.  Daddy filled my world and taught me the ways in which I might choose to move through time and space.  Logan provided the lessons that became my being.  Forever, I acknowledged this, just not in the way I do today.

Alexander, the reflective truth-seeker that he is, has thought a lot about my Dad in recent days.  While the two knew each other, they have not seen each other in more than two score.  Alex has always felt my Dad hurt my Mom.  Divorce does damage or at least it felt that way to my relative when he first spoke to my Mom immediately after the event that ended my parents’ marriage.  While Mommy believed that the split brought her the best of what was to be her life, Alexander never did.

My cousin admits that, slowly, he has come to appreciate Daddy through our relationship, Alexander’s and mine.  Alexander is an exemplary learner.  As every Teacher has quoted at one time or another, “To teach is to learn twice,” ~ Joseph Joubert.

I speak of Daddy often.  He is a Scholar, a sage, a sensational Instructor.  I recall when he helped me with a fifth grade science project.  Together, Daddy and I built a light.  We cut the wood, stained and lacquered the lumber, created, cut, and snipped the wiring, and voilà, the lamp lit.

Logan also taught me to look, perhaps:  look deeply into the fullness of an idea, a supposed fact, or an idea.  Nothing for Daddy [and for me] is ever “just that simple.”   When I was a child, my Dad would invite me to read the newspaper.  H would peruse one section and offered me another.  I am unsure whether he had an influence on the veracity that comics were of no interest to me.  Nonetheless, I am aware that cartoons were not entertaining for me.  News was my delight.

Logan would hand the front pages to me and the two of us would read our respective sections silently.  When we were ready to switch, Daddy would ask me, “What did you read?”  I would tell him.  Topics were ticked off one-by-one.  Then, Logan would look at me with his piercing eyes and inquire further.  “What did you think?”  He might begin with one story and then probe in depth dependent on my response.  The questions were open-ended.  If I was unsure or did not know an answer, my Dad would suggest that perchance, I missed a portion of the narrative.

He offered that I re-read, or research.  Funny. Daddy never made the request in a way that demanded I do as he thought wise.  Logan’s own excitement in the possibility that the two of us might learn together was a source of excitement for me.  Indeed, I recall the occasions well. I would pose a question to Daddy.  He  would grin, from ear to ear, and then without the least bit of embarrassment say, “I do not know.  Let us look for that answer together.”

With boundless energy, I or we would walk to the books that were our family library.  Oh, think not visions of grandeur.  After my Mom’s divorce from the “sperm donor,” Michael, we were extremely poor.  Daddy was a student in Post-Graduate school at that time. He supported us with the paltry funds secured from a fellowship.  Mommy was not employed in a manner that brought in income.  As is titled today, my Mom was a “Domestic Engineer.”

I would search and search, share the words and wisdom I found.  Then, Daddy might wonder aloud again and thus, I or we were off again.  Just as frequently, Logan would smile.  Our discussion might take us to another topic, or he would tell me about the tales he read.  Once we were ready, we exchanged pages and perused quietly again and again.

There are so many stories to tell, and there always have been.  Over the years, Daddy was still my Dad to me.  We chatted consistently.  Even when we lived States away, we were in touch.  He is, at present, as well.  Even in what most call “death” Daddy lives large in my mortal fiber.  Hours ago, my mentor taught me another lesson.

Alexander asked.  Engaged in a conversation in regards to the roles of men and women, the conventions and the truth, which bears no resemblance to traditional views. Alex spoke of the woman in his life.  Maria is techno-savvy.  At 93, she cannot get enough computer-time.  Facebook is her friend.  She is abundantly connected, as am I. Maria, my cousin’s companion of six plus decades, can fix most any object.  She is skilled manually.  I too can and do much that women are not thought to do.  The men in our lives . . . well some can and many cannot.

Thus, my cousin who knew my natural father far better than he does Daddy asked. “Did I learn to be as I am from Logan?”  I have long known this was true.  However, only this morning did I realize the variance in pedagogy.  Michael, the little he taught, offered exercises in memorization.  Daddy adopted a more eclectic style.  Critical thought, creativity, curiosity were the “subjects” my Dad thought vital.  The curriculum Daddy embraced was not rote; nor was it rigid.

All lessons were unrestricted, undefined; mostly instruction and instructions were not limited by parental parameters.  Logan never told me what to think, say, do, feel, or be.  With him, I was free.  My Dad freed me to learn and develop a love of learning.   Imagine that!?

My primary Teacher, was not one I often thought of as a favorite.  My third-grade Teacher, Mrs Kleefield was great!  I trust she is even still.  Yet, Mrs Kleefield and all she taught me cannot begin to compare with the scads Logan H. Angert bestowed upon my brain and being.  Doctors Murdock, Hartung, Lathrop, and . . . while also exceedingly profound in my life, these Professors are not the Teacher Daddy was for me.

Oh, there are sooo many superior sages who have touched me.  Some with similar styles to that of my Dad.  Still . . . as cousin Alexander articulates, “More is caught than taught.

Logan Angert, Daddy, you cast pearls of wisdom to the wind.  Your manner said to me you expected nothing from me in return.  Free to chose as I might, I cheerfully gathered the clusters as they fell. Your energy empowered me to be curious, to think critically, and to form my own foundations and future. I thank you.

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Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers



ThsWhCnTch

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

In an earlier essay, Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned thoughts on the ever-present influence of George Bernard Shaw’s philosophy were evaluated.  A personal reflection, perchance, helped advance an analogy.  We each are as the Playwright was.  When young, we learn through our experiences.  Later, we are forever challenged to change our perception. Evolutions and beliefs born in emotionally trying times collide.  Intellectually, we may understand, to learn our minds must be open.  Nonetheless, endeavor as we might, most of us remain closed.  Sill, it is never too late.  Greater awareness can come at anytime, in Elementary, Middle, High School or College.  Let us assess anew as we look through the lens, life in school.  

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches

~ George Bernard Shaw [Man and Superman, 1903]

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw’s adage belies what was the Playwright’s life. The Author, contrary to his own claim, taught and he did.   Indeed, the Dramatist achieved success in each of these endeavors.  In words and through deeds the Writer acted on what he avowed were opposite ambitions. His instruction influenced generations. More than a century after his utterance children are trained to believe as he professed true.  Several ignore the veracity; Shaw’s prolific plays proved that he could successfully and professionally practice in a field as well as serve as the exemplary Educator he was, and is.  Regardless of the misguided reality today crowds continue to chant, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”

As evidence of this collective less than reflective conviction Americans might merely look at the headlines.  Are Teachers Under Attack?  G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure. Public Workers Face Outrage as Budget Crises Grow. Education under Attack: Violence against Students, Teachers and Schools in Armed Conflicts.  Teachers are forever being questioned.  Students receive much wrath.  Schools are vilified.  Yet few consider why these criticisms might be.  

Instead, we repeat the rhetoric and share our own stories.  I have my memories.  Countless tales could have led me to perceive Professors as, George Bernard Shaw did and society does.  Instead, I acknowledged that what, for me, felt good or bad was a blessing.  Persons whose pedagogical practices would never be mine, taught me how, or how not to teach. I offer tales of two Teachers.  Enter Doctor Mac and Miss Z.

I think of my first computer class.  Doctor Mac, a glorious geek who could build a central processing unit [CPU] with ease.  However, to edify the technologically illiterate such as I was . . .  Well that is another story for another day.  I am aware that many thought Doctor Mac was the preferred Professor. For someone as infinitely analytical as I, his more superficial treatment of the subject did not work well for me.  This magnificent master is one of many who were unable to reach me. Quite the contrary was true. His methods and instruction left me feeling lost.  I was more than frustrated.  I was frightened.  I so yearned to learn!

This thought brings Miss Z to mind.  I had been beyond proficient in Math all of my life until this wiz with numbers became my Teacher.  The jocks loved Miss Z and she was fond of them. In class, the Educator and the athletes discussed how their respective teams did.  Scores.  Stats.  “Sports” was a constant topic of conversation.  Proofs, sometimes.  Some Math problems were shared on the board or on displayed by the light of an overhead projector. I was an A+ Math student.  Yet, under the tutelage of Miss Z, nothing made sense to me.

Before, during, and after class, I asked for further instruction.  I sought other sources, my parents, another Professor, and even Miss Z herself.  My Mom and Dad tried to assist to no avail.  Their skills in math lacked luster.  The other Teacher said unless I was enrolled in her class . . . Oh, how my family and I tried to make that dream come true.  Miss Z? Well, she only knew how to teach in the way she always had.  Her manner was incompatible with my learning style.  I would stand at her side, look on and listen.  Ultimately, each time, I left her presence in tears.

Thankfully, Teachers such as Doctor Mac and Miss Z were the exception in my life.  Most Instructors I met once enrolled in an educational institution were glorious.  On occasion, outside of school, and not only in my childhood home, I was confronted with what also might have shaded my reality.  Perchance, you can relate.

I discovered that a stupendous Teacher can also be a disastrous one, dependent on the lesson.  A phenomenal practitioner can be less than fully effective.  Eric had been an exceptional Teacher in my life..  The man who was my beau was also an excellent driver.  I trust he still is.  Eric learned to use a manual transmission early in his own hours on the road.  By the time we were together he was a pro.  Eric could shift gears flawlessly.  He did not bump or grind, nay pop a clutch. This lovely man is in addition a patient professor.  Cheerfully, he chose to teach me. Eric Smythe would move me from automatic to stick shifts, or so he and I believed.

I imagined he would be, as in every other avenue we traveled together, a fine facilitator.   However, this turned out not to be true.  The loving man was thorough in his “lessons.” Too thorough for me!  I felt as if he believed he needed to teach me to steer, turn, and travel the roadways as though I had not done this for years.  

I, who received an A+ grade in Drivers Education, was treated as a neophyte.  While Eric was patient with me, the young Mister Smythe drove me bonkers. He, too carefully, crafted his lesson.  

Eric could do and teach.  Nonetheless, this combination was not enough.  Trained Teachers take the art and science of instruction seriously.  Professors understand the gravity of their performance.  Expert Educators never forget that what a Teacher imparts influences more than a single person.  His or her words and deeds will likely affect generations, perchance all of humanity.  Notes from former and present pupils remind a Teacher at most every turn.  Often a glance from a frustrated student, from one fond of learning, or a gaze off into space during a lecture, tells a tutor in the immediate that every moment matters.

Unlike George Bernard Shaw,  I often say, “Those who can, Teach!”  Education is an art and science. More than hand-eye coordination is required.  Task analysis too is not enough to teach.  Facts, formulas, and figures do not offer focus.  Fellowship must follow.  An instructor is not as a friend, whom students engage with for fun.  He or she, when devoted to excellence in education, is so much more.  

We learn from words.  Actions too deliver a message.  Communications and contact inform us.  When an Author writes, a Performer presents, a relative rants, rages, or roars with laughter, he/she advances awareness.  The intended quality of the instruction does not determine whether a lesson is learned.  Care and compassion count.

The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionally is no match for compassion.

~ Everett M. Dirksen [Senate Minority Leader 1959 ~ 1969]

We all have had poor Teachers.  Some are known as Parents others Peers. Even progeny and Playwrights offer instruction.  What separates Teachers from the rest of these Educators is a philosophical preference, awareness for what George Bernard Shaw and society-at large misses.

Several sage scholars have devoted a lifetime of study to pedagogy, patience, and principles that further empathy through education.  These persons practice profound theories that others do not feel they have time let alone tolerance to pursue.  

Educators have lived, learned, and to this day understand, our experience of Teachers is unique.  What is dreadful for one student is delightful for another,  Instructors dare to challenge the myth that lives large in our lexicon.  They brave a collective consciousness and verve that states Shaw’s statements are wise. The thought Teachers cannot do, while our standard, is flawed.  A deeper reflection reveals the dynamism that is on display daily.

Perhaps, as a nation we might ponder the damage done when Parents, policymakers, and pundits posit; Educators are know-nothing, do-nothing. less than motivated individuals. Might we consider how the theme discourages children, let alone Educators?  A young mind could easily question why should I go to school only to sit with a failure?  

Could it be that toddlers and tots are wounded when in a desire to criticize, Moms and Dads mention the maxim in regards to an Instructor.   Might we as a society have given birth to many a self-fulfilling prophecy and a generation of students at risk?

Might we embrace  careers in education and those who take on the identity of Teacher.  

If we had, imagine what society could have been. Instead of a culture that adopts evidentiary erroneous beliefs as our truth, or a country commonly known as a dropout nation, we might have given rise to students who soar.

Possibly, beginning today we will agree, each of us had mentors who were accomplished in their field.  We had and have excellent Educators.  Most of us also had more than our fair share of miserable mentors. “He who can, did, does; and teaches.”  Indeed, we are all great Teachers to someone.   We have no choice; we can do nothing else. For as living, breathing beings, we constantly engage and exchange.  We share ideas and inspire others.  That by definition is education.

References and Resources . . .

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Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned



ThsWhCnTch

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches

~ George Bernard Shaw [Man and Superman, 1903]

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

I heard the words for as long as I recall. The meaning was intricately  woven into my mind. I, as all little children since George Bernard Shaw scribed his belief, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches,” was taught to believe that Teachers could choose no other career.  Educators, entrusted with children’s lives were indeed, incapable beings.  These individuals had tried and failed to perform well in professions that required intellect and, or dexterity.  Because the incompetent were inept, they fled to schools and identified themselves as “Teachers.”  In classrooms, less than sage scholars could teach with little authentic expertise.  Today, as a culture, Americans choose to prove this erroneous truth.  Grading the Teachers: Value-Added Analysis.

Happily, our fellow citizens dismiss the “scientific” evidence that amasses.  In our stupor we embrace Value-Added Analysis, disregard the research revealed in a 2010 Department of Education report, Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance.  “Consideration of error rates is especially important when evaluating whether and how to use value-added estimates for making high-stakes decisions regarding teachers.”  

Americans do as they have done for well over a century; they look to those they love for guidance and validation, be it George Bernard Shaw or the Gates Foundation.   One loosely proclaims Teachers are incapable. The other spends $45-million dollars only to assert what his organization hoped to prove Study supports teacher ratings.  Yet, in truth the findings are extremely flawed.  Thus, is the logic of learning.  As a society rarely do we reflect upon the original source of the “sage” wisdom we subscribe to.

The “Decline Effect” escapes us.  Might it be that ignorance is bliss?  Perchance, in regards to lessons learned, and unlearned, it is.

How Do We Learn or Unlearn?

Let us begin with a look behind the statement that sways the public, the story of George Bernard Shaw. Historical records reveal, the Playwright loathed his primary Professor, his father.  Possibly, this detail supports my own truth, and perchance yours.  A number of those who provided lessons never knew they did.  Moms are mentors.  Dads are guides.  It is why any of us may accurately muse, “more is caught than taught.”  George Bernard Shaw learned from a master he detested.  Thus, as a child, Shaw concluded, those who counsel are not qualified to give advice.

I acknowledge, a few erudite individuals had no idea they taught or that they were my best tutors, even by being the worst.  This is true in homes and equally the case in classrooms.  Even in exchanges with random Educators we meet in life, be they the butcher, the baker, or candlestick maker, some sages teach us in sensationally pleasant ways.  Others offer lessons that are authentically painful to us.  Nonetheless, we learn.  I believe had George Bernard Shaw not been so severely scarred in his childhood home, he too would have acknowledged this wisdom.

Frequently, Mommies and Daddies seem, as Shaw might ascribe, anathema as Teachers.  My biological parents could have been characterized this way, and each was by a sibling or two.  I share.

When I was a toddler, I learned to walk, to talk, and to toilet train myself.   Granted, in the abstract, I had role models.  Concretely? Not so much.  Hence, my guru was my own grit and gumption.  Later, in my youth, I sought a scholar when I wanted to study how to ride a bicycle.  

Mommy and the man who was called father were busy.  They had but minutes a day to help me work on maintaining my balance. The automobile parked safely in the garage had hours to spend.  Therefore, I held the little Rambler’s hand or she held mine.  For days, I devoted much time to circling the car.  With one palm on the vehicle and the other on the handlebars, I went round and round until finally I trusted myself to do other than lean.  Then, I let go.  My Teacher, the red Rambler, released me from what seemed a spell only when she sensed I understood.  

The steel scholar had not pushed me; nor pulled me down.  That sweet metallic body let me be “me.”   Munificence, benevolence, largesse, and the gift of trust are qualities that few have.  I know not if these can be taught.  I do believe that if they are learned, a semester of lessons is not enough.

As a very young child, I realized that no one around me was an authentically patient prospect.  People pretended whilst they profess, they knew the way.  I can; therefore, I will teach is often the stated premise.  In actuality, in my life, the knowledgeable are frequently ill equipped to provide quality instruction.  Less inspire.  However, early on and even today, I do not endorse the conventional wisdom. “Mature” men and women posit, “My mother and father did the best they could.”  I would disagree.

My theory is less than lovely parents teach in manners, perhaps somewhat different, still, similar to those their parents favored.  Teachers do too.  If an Instructor learned to maintain an emotional distance, to lecture, rather than relate to a whole child, he or she will embrace this method.  If statistics, scores, and specific learning strategies spoke to a Teacher when they were a student, the probability is high that techniques that utilize such conventions will be their chosen standard.

I learned from my Mom who transformed before my eyes, this was her truth . . . that is until she realized how her path had hurt her children. Thus, I trust Teachers too can chose to be aware of how they ways work or are less effective for any learner.  Countless do.  Fortunately for me, innumerable gurus  have been my guides, much more so than the musings of George Bernard Shaw ever were.  

I wonder. In the world of teacher evaluation might we examine our beliefs more closely.  Could we not learn from a bit of real life reflection.   Let us not so quickly endorse the data that proves what we came to believe in childhood.   May each of us take a moment to sit with our reveries.  Reason.  Evaluate the history of “decline effects.” Might we ponder the vast body of research results that do not merely restate or support simplistic, long-sanctioned, supposed “solutions.”  Let us hold dear our personal memories and recall, not every Teacher is anathema to the notion of education. I ask you to have faith as I do; those who can do teach!

References for a repeated reality . . .

Are Stepparents Real Parents? Are Biological Parents Best?

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

More than a month ago, I began writing this treatise.  The significance of stepparents and adopted parents was on my mind.  Gerald R. Ford had passed and there was ample discussion of his heritage.  Gerald Rudolff Ford Senior did not father his son in a biological sense.  Still, the elder Ford was Daddy.  Jerry Ford spoke of his father often and how significant he was in the his life.  The elder Ford raised his son as any parent would, even though he was actually a stepparent.  Ford, the President was not adopted until he in his twenties.  At that age, an adoption was perhaps a gesture; after all Jerry Ford was legally an adult.  Gerald R. Ford Junior wanted to honor his father or the man that, young Jerry truly felt was Daddy.

I too was fathered by a man not my biological match.  For years, this gentle human choose to relate to me as if I was his own offspring.  Legally, we had no connection.  Let us call him “Adam,” was my stepparent.  Yet, this soft-spoken man was my Dad.  Long before I could, with permission from the government, call him Daddy he nurtured my heart, mind, and spirit.  I too am adopted; my adoption was long in coming.  For years my biological father, perchance, we can title him Michael, refused to give his permission.  In some states, possibly all, this is necessary.  As I listened to President Ford’s history, I thought of how it mirrored my own.

My natural father, Michael was extremely wealthy and aloof, as was President Ford’s.  My birth father could be abrasive, though fortunately not abusive as our President’s father was. Perhaps that is why my biological parents were together for more years than the President’s were.  Still, there are parallels that I think important.  

Leslie Lynch King, the biological father of our former President, beat his wife, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, two weeks after the baby’s birth.  The baby, the man we now know as Jerry, was named Leslie Lynch King Junior.  However, life changed after the assault.  Dorothy moved in with family and ultimately, years after her divorce from Mister King met a mild manner paint salesman, Gerald Rudolff Ford.  The two married.  Mister Ford and Dorothy Ford changed the name of their two-year-old toddler.  Young Leslie became Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior.  The lad was not officially adopted; still, he was Mister Ford’s son in every way that mattered.

The Ford family lived a solid and stable life.

Ford grew up in a middle class family.  He was a healthy, industrious youth who helped out with the chores.

When he was 12 or 13, Ford’s parents told him he was adopted.  He first met his biological father when he was 17 and would see him only one other time.  Young Ford was bitter about his wealthy father’s indifference toward him.  He called their first meeting the most traumatic experience of his youth.

“Indifference” was not a term the President used to define Gerald R. Ford Senior; nor is it the word I would choose to define my Dad Adam.  However when speaking of Michael, my natural fathers, the utterance, “indifference” seems most apt!

President Gerald R. Ford, often proudly mused, he was a Ford, not a Lincoln.  Just as a Ford automobile is considered a car for common people, Gerald Ford thought himself average.  The former President was as his Dad, average, a workingman.  He was everyman.  Leslie Lynch King Senior, Ford’s birth father was as a Lincoln vehicle, luxury defined him.  Lavishness did not describe young Jerry.  He was his “[step]father’s” son!

Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior felt as I do, the man I call Daddy may not have been part of the birthing process.  Nevertheless, he was there for me, he was with me always.  My Dad lives large in my heart and in my mind.  Most of my habits are his.  I am Daddy’s little girl!

Many adopted or stepchildren feel as strong bond with a parent that is not a blood relative.  People that do share Deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] are often disconnected. Yet, the courts do not necessarily honor such truths, a stepparent can be a real father or mother.  The bias towards gay couples may have helped to cloud the issue.  

Are Stepparents Real Parents?

By Po Bronson

Time Magazine

Wednesday, May. 17, 2006

This week the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that ultimately could affect as many as one-third of all Americans – anyone in a stepfamily. But you’ll probably never realize it from any news reports on the ruling.

The case comes out of Washington State. Sue Carvin and Page Britain were lesbians living together since 1989. Their baby, L., was born in 1995, using an at-home artificial insemination kit and some sperm donated from their gay friend. Page Britain carried L. and gave birth, but Sue Carvin became the stay-at-home mom while Page worked to support the family. Their child called Sue “Mama” and Page “Mommy.”

For several years, they were a model of lesbian co-parenting.

The two split; bad feelings ruled what was no longer a family roost.  You may relate as I do.  My biological parents appeared to be picture perfect.  We had a gorgeous, very large home, in an upper Middle Class suburb.  For my eldest sister’s twelfth birthday, an extension was built onto the house so that she might have a private entrance.  Life looked good; many thought our family was great.  Oh, the stories I might tell.

I recall the day that my Mom walked out.  My natural parents had been together for twenty years and ten days.  One might think that after two decades plus, after sharing a bed, babies, and billions of memories together, a couple would know for certain that they are right for each other.  Considering the two dated extensively prior to matrimony, one might believe that they thought their togetherness was a treasure, one to keep eternally.

Yet, my experience said that this was not true.  The day was April 14.  It was a Sunday.  On most every day of rest we, as a family went out to dine at a local eatery, Litton’s, in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is no longer there.  Eventually the business folded, just as the marriage did.  Perchance, my parents were modeling dissolution.

Might that be the destiny for many?  After watching a relationship sever, we have a frame of reference.  We know how do end an association.  I apologize for the digression.  I was merely thinking aloud.

I return to the telling.  That particular evening was an odd one.  The air was ominous.  Every moment was unusual.  I did not know why.  My father actually spoke to me.  That alone was somewhat strange or strained.  He said we were going to “Lin Ton’s” as though dinner would be a Chinese dining experience.  I always ordered fried shrimp, on this occasion, I asked for what I usually loathe, “Chicken in the basket.”  My elder sisters ate that meal regularly and I thought I might try it.

A conversation ensued after we requested our food.  It revolved around cleaning bedrooms, maids, money, and obliquely values.  My Mom concluded we, her husband, and by extension, her children had none.  We were spoiled, stained by materialism, and motivated by money.  My Mom got up from the table and walked out.  She returned days later, and initiated divorce proceeding.

I was eight years of age at the time and thankfully not connected to Michael, my natural father.  I was perhaps less influenced by Michael’s love of money, for my biological father never wanted my birth.  He had hired someone else to raise me.  Fortunately, a very “real” woman did look after me for many years.

When I was still quite young, the man that would eventually become my Dad entered my life.  I was five.  At the time.  My Mom returned to college, realizing that she wanted and needed to create a life for herself.  She has a brilliant mind and thought it best she use it!  “Daddy” was a classmate of hers.  They were in a study group together.  The academics often met in our home.

There was no romance between them before my natural parent’s split.  It was not even a thought, that all came much later.  Nevertheless, the man in my life, the man I bonded with was an outsider, not a member of my family.

My story may not be similar to your own; however, I trust that many, according to statistics, at least a third of you are intimately familiar with stepfamilies.

Consider that for every 1,000 couples with children in the United States, only two of those couples are same-sex-oriented.  Meanwhile, thanks to the huge number of second marriages, a third of all Americans are part of a stepfamily.  The question “Are they real parents?” applies not just to gays and lesbians – it applies to every stepfamily.  That’s what the kids are testing when they angrily scream, “You’re not my real mommy!”  And when the biological mother hears that her son has been spanked by his stepmother, she wonders, “She can’t do that, can she?”

While we closely monitor how gay rights are granted and taken away, we pay almost no attention to the fact that stepparents are in the same legal limbo.  Despite being ubiquitous, step-relationships are rarely recognized by the law.  In most states, stepparents are considered “legal strangers” even if they have cared for and supported a stepchild for years.  They have almost no official responsibility and barely any rights.

What kind of rights are they deprived of?  Some are remarkably banal.  For instance, a stepparent can’t sign a child’s school report card or field-trip permission form.  Others are significant.  A stepfather can’t include his stepdaughter on his family health insurance plan, for example.  And she can’t inherit from him when he dies.

In the last few years, state family courts have tried to accommodate the stepparents and stepchildren who appear before them, without granting so much that it subtracts rights from a biological parent.  In Colorado, a stepparent can now sign the form that allows a minor to apply for a driver’s license.  And in Oregon, a stepparent can petition the courts for visitation of former stepchildren, if that marriage has ended.  In Arkansas, it’s even theoretically possible now for a stepparent to win custody over a biological parent.  But in each state, it’s a different story, and many states are still in denial.

So, a stepmother can take a month off work to care for her sick stepson, thanks to the federal law on Family Leave.  But if she has to take her stepson to the emergency room, state law might prevent her from authorizing medical treatment.  And if her son ends up dying due to hospital negligence, she can’t sue.

Step-parenting may have been difficult for my “Dad;” it was more so for me.  Times were tough or just different, perchance, confusing.  The man that felt like Daddy, was Daddy, legally could not be called my father.  

My Mom refused child support and alimony though she was granted each.  She believed Michael’s money was tainted.  She wanted none of it.  We were extremely poor.  Welfare came to us, stating we qualified and needed to apply.  My parents refused.  We grew our own vegetables.  My Mom baked our bread.  The details are endless; however, they may distract.  Thus, I will leave those for another anecdote.

The truer challenge for me was carrying a surname that I felt no connection to.  I wanted to legally be as I was in life, Daddy’s little girl.  I called my Mom’s second husband Daddy.  He was the only actual father I ever felt I had.  He taught me everything, how to build a house, clean my room, ride a bike, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, telephone manners, and best of all how to engage with people.  Prior to Daddy entering into my life, I was the exemplary loner.  I was totally self-sufficient and felt little need for personal exchanges.  I never trusted whether closeness would end.  The woman that raised me for five and a half years was fired.  I was listening on another telephone line when my father delivered the news to my caretaker.

In Kentucky, a stepchild could use the stepfather’s surname in school.  I did.  However, this inexplicably hurt my natural father.  A man that never cared for me, felt carrying on his name was meaningful.  I visited him on my tenth birthday.  He ranted and rage.  He yelled at me.  Prior to this event, I had not witnessed screaming directly, certainly, no one had ever hollered at me.  I was frightened.  The man that was supposed to be a loving father, on one of the rare occasions I ever saw him was shrieking.  His shouts were meant for me.  

I, thought this meeting was quite traumatic!  A man that never acted as my father, wanted me to bear his name.  Why?  The man that was my Daddy had no rights in reference to me.  Again, Why, or more accurately, why not?

The legal field is sitting on a huge time bomb.  One-third of Americans are just one unfortunate circumstance away from ending up in court demanding their rights – where they will be told that those relationships aren’t real, and don’t count.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never been pressed to rule whether a stepparent is a real parent, and if so, under what conditions.  But when it declined to review Britain v. Carvin, Washington State’s test for “de facto,” parents instantly became a model for other states to replicate.  Through a case everyone thought was about gay rights, stepfamilies just opened the door to the recognition they truly deserve.

Typically, stepparents are thought to be cruel and wicked.  As children, we learn this lesson well.  Perchance we come to expect this; stepparents must be sinister.  They are often under suspicion.  You may recall Cinderella was treated with disdain by her stepmother.  Her stepsisters ridiculed her and required the fair maiden to be at their beck and call.  Newspaper articles support this postulate.  While admittedly the research did not assess the quality of relationships or the feelings found within stepfamilies, this report concludes that a biological parent will take better care of a child than a stepparent might.

Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers

By Tamar Lewin

New York Times

August 17, 2000

Children raised in families with stepmothers are likely to have less health care, less education and less money spent on their food than children raised by their biological mothers, three studies by a Princeton economist have found.

The studies examined the care and resources that parents said they gave to children and did not assess the quality of the relationships or the parents’ feelings and motives.

But experts said that while the findings did not establish the image of the wicked stepmother as true, they supported the conclusion that, for complex reasons, stepmothers do invest less in children than biological mothers do, with fathers, to a large extent, leaving to women the responsibility for the family’s welfare.

”Being raised by the biological mother gives children a lot of protection,” said the chief researcher on the studies, Anne Case, a professor of economics at Princeton. ”It’s a very big thing to ask someone to care for children instead of the birth mother, who, as the socio-biologists tell us, invests so heavily in carrying the child, nursing the child.”

I agree, a paid caregiver may not have the same bond, or at least the biological parents may not allow it.  Even if they do, I suspect my story solidifies what often happens.  The employee does not feel they have the right, legally, or emotionally, to stay connected and in touch with the young child they raised.

The studies took their data from two of the broadest, most respected surveys of Americans’ households, income, spending, and health habits.  While those surveys were not created to analyze stepfamilies, their information is detailed enough to allow comparisons between different kinds of families.

Among children over a year old, living with both biological parents, the health study found that 61 percent have had a medical checkup within the last year.  But among those living with a stepmother and birth father, that number dropped to 46 percent — and of those whose biological mother was dead, only 35 percent had seen a doctor.

Did the survey consider the legal restrictions on a stepparent authorizing health care for a minor child?  Might they have looked at the finances?  Even when a parent re-marries, it often takes time before the new union is as financially sound as the previous blending was.  

My natural parents were exceptionally wealthy.  When my Mom married my “Daddy,” Adam, he was a student.  He belatedly received his Bachelorette degree and was going on to pursue post-graduate studies.  It was years before we were stable.  My biological father had great wealth, in part, because professionally his standards were such he had no qualms; stepping on or over others was his way.  He was attentive when assessing his assets; however, children were to be seen and not heard.  At least that is the experience of his last child, me, you know the unwanted one.

Of the children living with their biological parents, 74 percent wear seat belts almost all the time, compared with 63 percent of those living with a stepfather and biological mother and 52 percent of those living with a biological father and stepmother.

Daddy, the man that truly raised me and adopted me, refused to start the engine unless and until we were all buckled into our car seats.  He maintained the car with infinite care.  His passengers were his prizes.  He had always wanted the loving family he helped to create.

Families with a stepmother reported overall household food spending that was about 5 percent lower for each stepchild than in families in which both biological parents were present, the food study found.

You may recall, my newer family did not have the money to spend on food.  Although we spent less, the quality of our fare was far superior.  My Mom is a gourmet cook.  When with the biological paternal person, going out, entertaining, was what passed for normal.  Rarely were we children part of these hedonistic pleasures.  Potpies were my friend.  Television dinners as they were once called were frequent.  Now processed food is considered healthy.

With Daddy [Adam] in our lives, we ate together.  We shared all our meals.  My mom grew the vegetables and baked the breads and desserts.  Later, Daddy took up fishing.  We watched our pennies, for we had few.  Still, each evening we dined from a different country.  Mommy put up a monthly calendar.  She filled in each date.  My mom never wrote the specifics for the meal, she only penned the country of origin for the entrée.  We ate well.  I learned to try what I would have rejected in my earlier life.

In families in which women care for both their stepchildren and biological children, the biological child, on average, went to college for a year, while the average stepchild did not go to college.

Children reared by a stepfather also have lower educational achievement than those reared by both biological parents, although, as in most other measures, the negative effect is only about half as much as with stepmothers.

Oh my gosh; the paternal pretense of a parent in my life thought that girls, only need to attend college to receive an M.R. S. degree.  Daddy is a scholar.  Daily, he and I would read the paper and review what was read.  He would ask me questions, ensuring my comprehension.  We would discuss how the news was relevant to our lives.  He, my Mom, and I looked up any issue relating to the article.  Gaining wisdom was our entertainment.  It was not costly, although it was infinitely valuable!

Prof. Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist of the family at the University of Pennsylvania, said that he did not question the findings and believed that the studies raised important questions, but he noted that stepfamilies vary widely.

Perhaps, the learned Professor might benefit from what I learned.  Mommy and Daddy encouraged me to “Question everything!”  In truth, it is still a family theme.

For example, women who take on a 2-year-old child step into a role very different from that of women who care for a 12-year-old stepchild, and for all stepmothers the relationships evolve as the family becomes better established.

”I don’t think most stepmothers are evil,” Professor Furstenberg said.  ”If they’re less involved, if they take a step back, it may be for the most noble motives, to give the parent more room, to decrease the tension.  They may be relying on the child’s father when perhaps their trust is unwarranted.”

This may be very true.  My sisters were much older than I and had a very different experience of our blood father.  They were not ready to open their arms to Daddy and rejected much of what was to come.

I often see among friends, the stepparent may want to be a part; yet, the natural parent presumes the children will not understand.  The stepfamilies do not often blend, as much as they live together, if that.

With more than half the nation’s children living apart from at least one biological parent by the time they reach 18, the functioning of stepfamilies has become increasingly important.  Most stepfamilies involve stepfathers, rather than stepmothers, and compared with families in which a single mother is rearing a child alone, the presence of the stepfather and his income help raise the family’s standard of living.

Still, previous research has shown that children who did not live with both of their parents had bleaker futures: among other things, they were more likely to drop out of school, become delinquents or engage in early sexual activity and drug abuse than children raised by both parents.

My own experience suggest two parents are the preferred; however, if one or both are not truly loving, caring, sharing, involved and connected, then what comes is chaos.  Children, no matter what the age need to know that someone, preferably a parent figure is there for them in thick and thin.  Humans are social animals.  We need each other.  We are expressive or not; whatever we are, we do not perform well or feel well if we do not feel safe, secure, and sane.  

Parents guide us.  They facilitate our growth.  They protect our hearts and nurture our minds.  We need them; actually, they need us too.  Love is a necessary.  It breeds happiness, joy, and it is the avenue for inspiration, imagination, and innovation.  If we are struggling to survive, we do not have time or the means to thrive. Fortunately, even social scientists are beginning to realize this.

But while those outcomes are well known, there has been almost no research on the care, attention and resources such children receive — and therefore, no way to know whether the damaging effects reflect poor parenting, family instability, lack of money or other factors.

Yet, as the article goes on, excuses are made, energies are diverted, and enigmas are voiced.

Many stepmothers are quick to acknowledge that being a stepparent is complicated, particularly when they take on older children and that it is unrealistic to imagine that the new bonds will be the same as those between a biological parent and child.

Unrealistic, I think not.  We create what we believe.  If we expect to be rejected, we will be.  If we believe that the children are his, or hers, we will never treat them as ours.  Sadly, I contend so much of the chaos we experience we create.  When we do not legally give stepparents the right to authentically attend to a child’s needs, why would they believe they are able.  

I think we must truly evaluate our legal system and family structures.  If people wed only to have companionship, if they do not work as a unit to create comfort for their shared children, then stepparents will always be separate from the equation.  The sum of the parts, Mom plus Dad plus Children, step or otherwise, is best when it is greater than the whole.

Step through the looking glass and find your world turned inside out.  Step Parenting references . . .