Sunday, April 13, 2014

Drawing for all Ages!

My daughter's dragon
As I've shared in previous posts, my family joined Classical Conversations this year and I have been dying to share some ideas with you all for applying Fine Arts in your home no matter what your schooling choice is. My 4 1/2 year old and I have had a blast with all these simple (emphasis on simple) art projects. That means I am not going to go full-on "Pinterest mom" in this post. Most of these projects require little more than basic art supplies (paper, pencil, markers, crayons, or paint), an ability to draw basic shapes, and follow basic visual-cue instructions.  

The Fine Arts curriculum for Classical Conversations comes mainly from a book called Drawing with Children. We start out with learning the 5 basic elements of shape using an acronym -- OiLs
  1. O - Circles
  2. . - Dots
  3. i - Straight Lines
  4. L - Angled Lines
  5. S - Curved Lines
Once your kids get those categories figured out, it can open up a whole realm of possibilities for them (and for you, too!). For instance, have you ever seen those "How to Draw a __________" books? They use the 5 basic elements of shape. You just add one element after another until you've created what you're after. Once you can effectively understand the vocabulary (circle, dot, various lines, etc.) you can teach your child to create all kinds of pictures. I can attest to this because I have done it with my own 4 year old and also with my 6 and 7 year old students and they have all done a fine job. In other words, this is for any age! You can sit right at your kitchen table and make some wonderful creations right before dinner or after school.   

So how do you get started with the basic elements? Here are a few ideas:

Don't Teach Your Child to Always "Color" the Pictures In
Sorry it's sideways. Blogger is turning my landscapes portrait style without a way to fix it! 
Did you know you can teach your children to color in a completely different way than just "in the lines"? I first saw this on a homeschool blog and it blew my mind. Look at the picture above. I used circles, dots, straight lines, curved lines, and angled lines to complete my picture from a simple coloring book page. Not a single thing was "colored in". We all have coloring books hanging around our house, so put them to a new use and help improve your child's way of thinking about art!

Get Some "How-To" Draw Books
Here are a some Ed Emberley books that I either just got in the mail or have checked similar ones out from our local library to incorporate the elements of shape. I tend to like Emberley for beginners because he does a lot of "stick art" that lends itself to not being complicated in its use of the elements, but still lots of fun.  

Making my own little world using elements of shape!

The fingerprint books are great for toddlers and preschool especially. You can make cards to give to family members.

Have Fun With Review
And if you want to make reviewing and incorporating the 5 elements of shape, go here for creating fun wildflowers by using the 5 basic elements and rolling some dice.

Go here for a look at this picture from an art teacher's blog. She has a No-No Board! This made me laugh because she is challenging her students to think outside the box with art. I wonder if her students and parents responded positively to it? I'm sure some of you think this a little harsh.

Mostly, I hope this post helps gives an alternative to TV for your young ones. I so easily default to it with my own kids and I need constructive, creative, and simple things to remind me that there is more to life than PBS kids some days when I need to get things done :)  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Explaining American Culture Through Literature and Film

My heart just about bursts when this scene comes on in It's a Wonderful Life
I have often said that my favorite movie is It's a Wonderful Life. It is one I watch every year and grow to love it more every time Jimmy Stewart yells at Sam Wainwright on the phone and kisses Mary so tenderly. The heart-melting (though surprisingly realistic) romance between George and Mary is of course not the only reason I like it. I could definitely fill up another blog post about how multi-faceted this movie is in all areas of the American life. My husband knows how much I adore this film and sent me an excerpt from Ross Douthat's column (a conservative NY Times columnist) where readers asked him what his favorite movie and book are. Before you read Douthat's response, please know that he's Harvard educated, so he's well-read (i.e. he could have picked from a WIDE range of literature and film) and yet this is what he chose:      
"For movies, the one I always pick is It’s a Wonderful Life, not because I’m sure it’s my absolute favorite, but because I’m sure I love it, and because its status as a holiday chestnut has denied it the full appreciation it deserves. It contains so many multitudes – it’s political and religious and psychological; it’s a celebration of the American dream and an incredibly dark examination of its underside; it’s appreciation of small town life and a Sherwood-Anderson-esque critique; it’s Death of a Salesman with a eucatastrophic ending... 
...If I were giving a foreigner a crash-course in American culture, I’d make them watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and assign them The Great Gatsby. That’s really all you need — one’s a tragicomedy and the other’s a tragedy, but they both have so much of the American light and dark, together, intermingled."
I tend to agree with his assessment because I'm obsessed with Gatsby, too, but would love to hear what ONE movie and ONE book YOU would give a foreigner to understand American culture.  

Comment below. I'd love to hear some good discussion on this topic!

Monday, March 10, 2014

"I'm Not Dead Yet!"

So it's been awhile... Between tutoring at Classical Conversations, Bible Study Fellowship, occasionally selling insurancea whole lot of pregnancy sleeping (baby #3 will be here in September!), and a road trip to Michigan (more on that in a later post), the education blog has been on the backburner. I've had a post about the 2008 Caldecott winner drafted for about a month now!

However, I did want to post something briefly about a community that holds you accountable and how that's so crucial to family life.

Classical Conversations and BSF have been a recent communities for me while another community that we've been a part of together for 9 years is our church family. Just as way of background, our church is 30 minutes one way from our house and up a mountain. So while I have always immensely enjoyed the teaching and fellowship, it's often hard for me to ask a church friend to "pop over" (because it's 30 minutes or more to my house) or to ask them to watch my kids to make an appointment. However, when I shared with my small group 2 years ago about my teeth woes, one woman (who normally never gets to interact with kids in the nursery) told me her days off where she could come and watch the girls if I needed to get dental work done. I was hesitant to ask her because for convenience I usually try to ask my neighbors down the street, but they were going out of town and I was going to have to wait another 2 weeks if I canceled the appointment. I really felt the Lord prompting me to ask for her help even if it was just for an hour and a half.

When I returned from my appointment she said the girls behaved wonderfully (I about fell over because my unofficial label these days is "referee" with those two!) and she said that spending time with them was a blessing to her because it helped her fulfill her role within the body of Christ and to honor the commitment she made at our girls' baby dedications (not an infant baptism ceremony) to help raise our children in a Christ-filled community.

I was blown away by how she saw both her role in accountability within the church community when all I was worried about was burdening her with two girls who can seem like a handful to me as a stay at home mom. It occurred to me that while I was allowing someone to serve in a way that helped us both as adults, it also helped my girls get that much needed intergenerational time within the Body. Servant leadership is what this woman displayed to me and to my children and I was very convicted about my own attitude sometimes toward wanting to serve others (including my own family) only when it's "convenient".

So... I'm still here living out my imperfect existence while learning many important life lessons about serving others while my blog stays a bit quieter for now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Art Books for Children and Adults

I've been on a bit of an art kick lately. I started a series on Caldecott Winners (see here, here, and here) which award books with the best illustrations annually. My daughter and I already did 6 weeks of drawing at Classical Conversations (which I've drafted a blog post on and will publish at some point) and we're about to do 6 weeks of studying influential artists. Because I am tutoring at Classical Conversations, I decided to find some age appropriate materials from the library to show my 7 and 8 year old class on the artists as well as some brief artist introductions for me to store in my brain. Here are some gems if you're looking to find some books for young ones or a primer for yourself. 

Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)

This is a short, but punchy little book. Each artist gets about 4 or 5 pages of usually large font commentary with a big caricature of the artist in each section. It mentions the artist's famous works at the end of the section with a bit of commentary, but does not show any pictures of their art. It's a distilled version, but you'll be surprised at how much you don't know about these famous men and women. The only caveat I have is to not let your little ones who can read enjoy this alone. It might seem like a perfect research tool because of the large print and fun pictures of the artists, but it makes reference to the assumed sexual preferences of the artists. It's not crude about adultery, people living together, being gay, etc. (and is actually quite brief and matter-of-fact about it), but unless you are willing to explain things to your young ones when they use the word homosexual, I'd say you need to read the entire book yourself first. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed learning much more about the artists because without being salacious these short stories don't sugarcoat their sometimes tortured souls --  the good, the bad, and the ugly that makes up the "artist's temperament". Uncovering the depths of sin and depression and how art is often borne from suffering is a part of learning how to live in our fallen, tension-filled world.  

As I was looking up the picture for this book, it appears that they makes these Lives of... books for writers, musicians, etc. I may have to look into those as well. 

Getting To Know the World's Greatest Artists

The other series I like is Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the Great Artists books. These, like the Lives of... books, also have music, presidents, etc. in the series. We are learning about Rembrandt for our first week back at Classical Conversations, so I started with it. It had funny little cartoons (that will go over some kid's heads depending on their age) about the artists interspersed with the story of the artist. It is written very simply for children and it seems very purposeful about leaving out sexual commentary. I read Rembrandt with my 4 year old and we really enjoyed it . I suppose if there was a caveat it's that unlike the Lives of... this book does show a lot of the famous art and that sometimes involve nudes. You might end up answering questions about anatomy (and you may be completely comfortable with that) with your young ones, you might be prudent to read the book first.          

Same as with the Lives of... series, apparently Mike Venezia's books venture into musicians, presidents, etc. Also might be worth checking out.

Great Paintings

I love DK books! They look so deeply into the categories of our world. You really get the "eyewitness" part of their books because they have great photos and often at very close range. What makes Great Paintings so wonderful is that it's a very tall book so the artists' painting are exceptionally large on the first page. On the second and third pages they split up the painting and zoom in on particular sections. You're in so close that you can see the timeworn, cracked surface of the painting! They have little commentaries on the artwork by each section, so if you're like me and not an art critic, they give you a leg up and some great insight. Same anatomical warning as for the Getting to Know... series as this focuses more on the art than the artist.       

And then if you just want to have some EASY non-messy art fun with your little ones, I found some great Pinterest ideas on watercolor paper towels (very impressionist style!) and cosmic sun catchers with glue and food coloring. I say it's not messy -- My husband didn't know that we were trying out the suncatchers and accidentally plopped his bag down in the food coloring glue. Thankfully it came out of his clothes, but not completely from his bag :)    

Have you read any good artist books for children? Comment here!           

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Coolidge

I've enjoyed watching Justin reading Amity Shlaes' Coolidge over the past few months. He would chuckle and say of Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, "Those two remind me of us. The classic introvert and the classic extrovert." Given today's political climate it seems that this book is a timely one for us Americans and I look forward to reading this after I clear some other books of my GoodReads shelf.    

Enjoy Justin's review: 

Such a great enough to give you a good picture, but pretty tightly paced so it never drags.

Calvin Coolidge was a fascinating yet unassuming fellow who was loath to promote himself, preferring to work hard and be "in the stream" so that his excellence would be noticed by others at the right time. Shlaes speaks up where Coolidge himself may never have, poring through papers and letters to allow his choices and perseverance shine forth as the example for others he always hoped they would be. He comes across not as the cranky, taciturn caricature most Americans hold, but as a shrewd and calculating political operator with steely-eyed convictions and a keen eye for public perception. Moreover, he was quite family-focused, cherishing and protecting his wife through a life lived in public, holding onto his family land in Vermont throughout his presidency (even micromanaging his tenants at times), and suffering incredibly through the sudden loss of his 17 year-old son during the 2nd year of his presidency. Shlaes gives ample treatment to both his home life and his official capacities, offering a window into the sacrifices the whole family made for the sake of the country.

If there is a weakness here, it is that Shlaes focuses heavily on the nuts and bolts of Coolidge's policies, though I actually appreciated that. Economics and tax policy seems to be the stuff that rings her chimes, from other pieces I've read by her (and interviews, etc.), and the tone throughout the book suggests that she would clearly like to see those in the political realm revisit the inner workings of the Coolidge administration and apply some of his solutions to today's issues.

In all, a great read. I foresee that Shlaes book will have the same recussitatory effect on Coolidge's historical standing that McCullough's work had on Truman's.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks (and a plug for Marry Poppins)

Our oldest (at age 2) dressed like Bert, the chimney sweep

Before I married Justin, he told me that one of his all time favorite movies as an adult was Mary Poppins. Though I loved the film too, my first reaction was, "But it's a kids movie?". In other words, I was saying, "I can't wait to show it to our children someday because I have that childhood nostalgia, too" but I soon learned that is not what he meant. I was like Walt Disney telling P.L. Travers in the Saving Mr. Banks trailer that he thought Mary came to save the children.

Justin knew Mr. Banks was the one who had to learn the lesson, not the kids. I think he was always in awe of how Disney was able to make Mary Poppins accessible to children, yet pack such a punch for adults. For instance, do you remember Bert saying this to the children?

Bert: You know, begging your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is in that cold, heartless bank day after day, hemmed in by mounds of cold, heartless money. I don't like to see any living thing caged up.

Jane: Father? In a cage?

Bert: They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of 'em, carpets and all.

or perhaps this interaction at the fireplace between Bert and Mr. Banks

Bert: You're a man of high position, esteemed by your peers. And when your little tykes are crying, you haven't time to dry their tears... And see their thankful little faces smiling up at you... 'Cause their dad, he always knows just what to do...

George Banks: Well, look - I...

Bert: Say no more, Gov'ner. You've got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone... Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve... And all too soon they've up and grown, and then they've flown... And it's too late for you to give - just that spoonful of sugar to 'elp the medicine go down - medicine go dow-wown, medicine go down. Well, goodbye, Gov'ner. Sorry to trouble you. [Bert exits, whistling "A Spoonful of Sugar"]

Mr. Banks may not have been P.L. Travers' impression of her father, but Mr. Banks is certainly many people's father. Justin says that the full circle Mr. Banks achieves (where he becomes who he always needed to be) is because his identity changes. He is no longer George Banks the Banker, but George Banks the Father. He claims that Mary Poppins has the best 3rd act of any movie he's ever seen, the final beautiful, resolving chord at the end of a symphony. 

Here's where things get interesting though. You might think that after you've watched the Saving Mr. Banks trailer you're going to side with Walt Disney more than P.L. Travers. Well, you just might surprise yourself. I think this will particularly ring true with those of you who are avid readers. I'm talking about those of you who usually always read the book before watching (and screaming at) the movie adaptation. It hurts to see those characters (who you feel are like family) being turned into a "ghastly mess" :) The tone is wrong, the person's build is wrong, the clothes are wrong, the motivation is wrong. You get what I'm saying? Sometimes the movie version feels like a cast of strangers. I felt very much on Travers' side for most of the movie, all the way up to the scene with the movie's Hollywood premiere. I mean, I've read a Mary Poppins book and she is no Julie Andrews. However, as soon as they started showing clips from the movie, I started to cry. I just could not imagine my life (both as a child and now a mother) without having Disney's Mary Poppins for my family to cherish. I felt this uncontrollable emotional pull of, "Sheesh! Disney really did know what he was doing!" The movie somehow balances the highs and lows, the funny and the melancholy, the strict with the whimsical so well. After seeing Saving Mr. Banks, I felt like Mary Poppins the movie is actually the perfect marriage of Disney personality (carefree) and Travers personality (gravitas).  

As far as performances go, Emma Thompson is exquisite. I had high hopes for her and she did not disappoint. Tom Hanks is good at being Tom Hanks, the warm, lovable guy we all feel like we know. He doesn't convince me he's Walt Disney, especially with that accent. He tries so hard to be folksy he somehow ends up being Southern. It struck both of us that there was a grand irony in this -- Dick Van Dyke, the American, was roundly panned for his portrayal of a Cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. Colin Farrell was an excellent choice for Travers' father. Every woman knows that Farrell is a handsome guy by his own right, but having him be that handsome, sanguine man in the movie added to the idealized version Travers clearly had of her father. As far as the Disney staff, the Ralph character was an unnecessary plot device, but the other important people on the Mary Poppins production team were endearing as they struggled to meet Travers' high (if not unreasonable) standards.        

So I can say that I heartily recommend this movie even if it was loosely based on real life events**


I came into this movie knowing that this "Disney version" of Disney events wasn't actually real. P. L. Travers went to her grave regretting ever signing the deal with Disney. She was initially on board with the movie after her consultation, but later in life she began to get aggravated with the film more and more. She never let the Disney corporation touch anything else ever having to do with Mary Poppins because she felt she they twisted her beloved creation.

It was very clear from reading up on P.L. Travers when I got home that her life was an outpouring of many unresolved emotional issues (see here for more on that) most of which seem to be daddy related. There was not any evidence that she had the emotional catharsis as shown in the movie. It's tragic to see someone succumb to such childhood trauma, to the point where it colors everything she is and does. However, wouldn't you say that personal suffering is how many of our most adored classics come to existence?   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Guest Post: 6 Ways To Change Your Learning Culture

We'll excuse the Pinterest typo just this once, Dos Equis man. 
"When you were growing up, you probably spent hours sitting in a classroom listening to teachers deliver lecture after lecture in school. Now, as an adult employee, the thought of sitting through company training seems boring, unproductive, pointless and wasteful compared to actual work you could be doing. And if that’s what you think, your colleagues are likely thinking the same thing." - Nate Magnuson 

I'm excited about a first on this blog -- linking up an article that deals with education in the workplace. This post specifically focuses on the idea of what company training could be with a new corporate culture, not just a "hot new strategy".

This post was written by a Bryan College friend (like most of my guest posts!), Nate Magnuson, who is a leadership development professional. He and my husband lived on the same dorm hall for 3 years and he is one funny and focused guy! I highly recommend you check out his personal website

The post of Nate's I wanted to highlight is called 6 Ways to Change Your Learning Culture. In it, he details how companies who don't embrace the fact that education is happening beyond training days are missing out on a lot of potential from their employees and volunteers.   

Here are some of the "old" ideas he seeks to move beyond in the workplace: 
    1. You can only learn when you go to training events
    2. The person leading training is the "expert"
    3. The company is in charge of the personal development of the employee
    4. Sweep mistakes under the rug  
    5. You can assess learning by tests
    6. If you pass the test, you're done with training
If you have ever been to a training seminar, you will probably know instantly why many of these methods of training can be outdated and unhelpful at times. They don't promote an attitude of lifelong learning. In fact, I recently published a blog post that featured a video of a teacher who says that $600,000 was used to train teachers for 2 weeks on technology. She details what the training consisted of (e.g. one WHOLE day was finding out what kind of "penguin" she was) and it sure didn't sound like money or time well spent. Stories like these aren't just cropping up in our schools though. They are happening at large businesses, small businesses, and non-profits. So why do we persist in doing the latest training trend devoid of a context of "culture" for the organization? A good leader will set the tone for its employees. 
I'm not saying that these 6 things never have a place in training, but considering the shifts that Nate suggests wouldn't be a bad idea if you're looking for a new workplace culture. Generally, I'm a late adopter for most any kind of technology, but I know the way people communicate with each other has rapidly changed over the last decade. I have more people ask me insurance questions through my personal Facebook than on my professional e-mail. You roll with the technology changes while creating an environment that promotes healthy, productive interactions (whatever that may look like for your organization).    

Feel free to share a time when your professional training has been unproductive or productive because of the learning culture.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

OCC: An Attitude of Gratitude -- Part 2

As you saw in Part 1, Operation Christmas Child is one of many ways families use to foster gratitude during the holiday season.

After volunteering there for 2 years now, I thought I might share some tips from the OCC warehouse for those of you who enjoy packing shoeboxes every year. Obviously, these are not official rules. I just wouldn't have known about some of these things if I hadn't volunteered there and seen it with my own eyes, so I'm trying to be helpful by showing you how to mostly ensure your items can stay in the box you sent.   

Tip #1 - Consider buying for the forgotten age groups. The age group that gets the largest amount of shoeboxes is the 5-9 range and girls get way more boxes sent than boys. For every 1 or 2 crates we filled for the 2-4 age range or 10-14 age range, we filled about 3 boxes of 5-9. Keep these age groups in mind when you're shopping. It's especially fun if your child or grandchild is in one of those forgotten age groups and they can pick out something they might like.

Tip #2 - Use the OCC boxes instead of odd shaped boxes. Samaritan's Purse tries to be a good steward of the money you send in which means trying to get as many shoeboxes in one large box to send to another country. When the box sizes are funky it's like playing Tetris to get them to fit. At the very least it means more shipping costs because not as many can go in one box. However, I understand why some people send the plastic ones so the child can have some extra storage for personal items.

Tip #3 - Try not to overstuff the boxes. Things frequently fall out of overstuffed boxes. Overstuffed boxes are extremely difficult to tape and difficult to fit into the larger boxes that get sent overseas. Consider maybe doing an extra box or giving someone else some items for their box instead of overfilling the ones you have :)

Tip #4 - Please read the what not to include list carefully. If you've been doing the boxes for a while you may think you know what not to include, but they change it up every year based on things they see happen during shipping. There were rumors they are going to ban candy next year because it causes so much trouble. When we inspect the boxes, people still send liquids like shampoo and lotions as well as foods which won't make it past customs. Those items get taken out of the box and donated to local charities.   

Tip #5 - Try to be sensitive about the commercialized American toys you buy. A lot of well-meaning shoppers don't think outside the American context. When we inspected one box, we found some "Bubba" teeth in one of the boxes. That may be funny to us who have great access to dental care, but at best it would be a joke that is lost on someone from another country, at worst a cruel joke to someone whose family can't receive or afford dental care. You may not bat an eye at Ariel or Jasmine, but someone in another country might. In other countries, especially Islamic dominated countries where the burqua or head scarves are standard dress, families would be offended by a gift like that.      

Tip #6- Track your box for no extra charge. One of the best things OCC has been able to implement is box tracking. Initially, it cost extra to track your box, but now if you charge the $7 per box to a credit card online at the Samaritan's Purse website, you get a pdf with a tracking barcode to print off and attach to your box. I think the ability to track is another great reason to send a picture of your family, a note, and an address where you have the possibility to hear back from the child who receives it. What a host of opportunities this could open up for you and your children to recognize God's larger story!

Tip #7 - Use this as a Gospel opportunity for your children. Obviously, a large part of OCC is that we get an opportunity to give out of our abundance and use God's resources to spread His Word to others in another country. However, it's just as easy to focus on what is going on over there and not explain to our own children about how salvation in Christ is so central and what motivates us to send the present in the first place. Role play with your children and transport them to a place where their box could be shipped. Walk them through how the Gospel gives hope and strength during a child's emotional and physical struggles and how it works the same way here at home even if some of our struggles are different. Find the testimonies from box recipients on the OCC website that can help bring the Gospel right where your children or teenagers are at.            

Do you have any more tips or stories from your family's experience with Operation Christmas Child?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

OCC: An Attitude of Gratitude -- Part 1

Since it's Thanksgiving, I wanted to share some thoughts about promoting an attitude of gratitude as a much needed part of our life's education. I want to share about a particular ministry that we (and many of you) choose to support to help get a vision for gratitude in our families and communities.

Are you familiar with the image featured above? Most people are this time of year. It's an Operation Christmas Child box! The idea is that you pack a box filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to be sent to another country where a child will receive your package along with a chance to hear the Gospel and go through a discipleship program afterwards. 

Depending on which way you look at it, the name can be somewhat of a misnomer. Here in the States and in other countries, we push to get these boxes in to the distribution centers around Christmastime, but the reality is that the children may not get them until spring or summer. 

So why do we choose this ministry of Samaritan's Purse? There are a few reasons: 

  • Samaritan's Purse's headquarters are where my in-laws live.
  • My in-laws have church friends who work there and Justin and I have friends from college also employed at "The Purse". I love to hear all their encouraging stories about what God is doing around the world. My in-laws usually volunteer every year at the OCC warehouse and since we usually come up here for Thanksgiving, we try to serve as a family even if it's just for a few hours. From what I have seen over the years, Samaritan's Purse desires to do things efficiently and with a humble spirit believing the Lord is in control of their efforts to provide disaster relief and spreading the Gospel.

  • Many of the children that receive these boxes have never received a gift to call their own. Please don't translate this into, "Oh, those poor kids ought to get all the commercialized, material stuff we have access to here!!!" The leaders that hand them out (usually national workers, not Americans) have no idea what is in the box when they hand it out, but God provides exactly what the child needs. Even though the box is a small gesture, it can be the very thing that brings spiritual comfort to a child and shows them God has not forgotten them. The whole OCC concept is built on the Gospel premise -- being offered a free gift from God that we do not deserve, but that will change our lives permanently if we accept it. The physical shoebox gift, is a way to open hearts to the spiritual gift.   
  • It's a family-oriented way to teach multiple lessons about gratitude and the sovereignty of God. Many families take their children to a store and let them pick out gifts for a child in one of the age ranges provided. They get an opportunity to pray for the box, the Gospel being shared, and the child who receives it; they get excited thinking about where their box might go. It teaches stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us for His purposes. I'll explore this topic more in depth, in Part 2.

  • In general, they don't tinker with the Operation Christmas Child boxes. The first time I volunteered we were told explicitly not to take anything out the boxes unless it was something that wouldn't pass customs (like food) or had liquids that could leak out and destroy other boxes. I'll be the first to admit, it's hard to abide by that rule when you see one child's box full of fun toys and candy and another child's box full of flashlights, batteries, and a hairbrush. However, along with that rule, they told us a story of one child who received a box full of socks. Now, we might look at that box and want to take some of them out and replace them with a soccer ball or some lollipops, but that child had fervently prayed for socks for his brothers and sisters. He cried tears of joy when he received that box stuffed full of socks. I heard a similar story yesterday about a boy in Africa who got snow gloves. He was so happy because his job in the family was to work with hot coals. People pray over these boxes and the volunteers must trust God with the outcome.             
  • You are more connected to a ministry when you invest not just your treasures, but your time. Even as I have said OCC is worthwhile, it can very easily turn into pat-on-the-back, do-goodism. It's way too easy for people in America to feel good about giving our money and our stuff and miss the whole point of the ministry. It's about recognizing God's bigger plan as you serve alongside others. Anyone can volunteer -- yesterday I worked with people from ages 18 to 80! Many of those people come at considerable expense year after year. This year, Samaritan's Purse launched a way for individuals and groups to schedule volunteering online. The lady working next to me at the processing center said that she and her husband were on two computers and two phones the minute it launched this year to get slots to volunteer. The way she described it, you would have thought she was trying to get rock concert tickets! 
Hope this was an encouragement to you today as you think about all things you are thankful for. Come back for Part 2 where I talk a little bit more about the shoebox process and offer some helpful tips on how to pack a shoebox based on what I've seen from the warehouse.    

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

Thanks to Nick at Nite I used to always love Tony Danza on Taxi, so when I saw teachers recommending this book I had to get it from the library. Danza always wanted to be a teacher, but life sent him some other directions before he rediscovered that passion right before turning 60. He had a degree in History, so he had to go through Teach for America to find a placement. Most schools didn't want him near a classroom because they thought he wanted to exploit the children for his reality show or he wouldn't deliver on the content because he was an actor (both of which were very unfounded fears). Turns out his teaching career for a year was exactly what I did -- 10th grade literature. What's not to like, right? Well, unfortunately, sometimes warts and all memoirs do not a good story make. Here is my take on the strengths and weaknesses of this book.        

The good:

- He has a teacher's heart. It's in the right place because he really does care about the kids and wants them to learn from his mistakes.  

- He displays the altruistic character that a teacher has to have -- it's not about the money or the prestige; it's truly about helping these kids see a better way out. I enjoyed reading his candid talks with the students trying to address their larger problems, not just about them "not caring about school".   

- He rallies people together and brings a fresh energy to the school. Teachers especially need a pick me up from someone with his enthusiasm and optimism. 

- I probably would have really liked him if I was teaching in a school with him.

- He works hard to come up with solid lessons; he makes the children enjoy learning some great aspects of grammar and literature despite all the junk going on at home in their home lives. Those kids will never forget him and vice versa because he made an indelible mark in their lives.  

- His crying all the time is authentic joy and frustration. Good for him for being transparent instead of feeling like he has to be macho. 

- If he wanted, he could be a regular teacher as long as he lowered his expectations for what he could accomplish with 5 times the load. At the end of the book, I wanted him to be a full time teacher! There's no way he would ever be a paycheck-casher; his conscience would not allow for that. He would quit before he would be a slacker and a sell out to kids and parents.   

- His story brings out all the things that many of remember about having that "special teacher" and it can lift your spirits knowing that there are other Tony Danzas out there in the classrooms every day. 

The bad: 

- Temperamentally, he's a sanguine like me, so I know all his pitfalls. He's a people pleaser and has a hard time not internalizing all the students' problems as something he alone has to fix. Knowing when to let something in a child's life go is difficult and heart-wrenching. He lets the kids affect him too much in that way. I used to unload on my husband all the time and there were times when he encouraged me to quit because of the relational anxiety I was bringing home with me every day.

- The too-oft phrase "my students made ME look good" is another instance of his sanguinity. Tony Danza admits he gets his identity from what he DOES. He never seems to understand what a dangerous idol "identity-from-job" is to have in your life. It's so egocentric -- all about keeping your reputation up with people so they will like you and approve of your actions (in this case to prove he could love and teach the kids). Though his motives are good, he can't shake being a "showman" by trade.    

- It was a bit creepy the many times he commented on the attractiveness of students, teachers, and other women. I'm sure his wife did not appreciate that even if they were separated.

- All of his get-togethers with teachers after hours involved drinks. I'm not saying that having drinks are evil. I'm just saying that because I don't drink that it would have alienated me (and other teachers who don't drink) right off the bat. Some of my best "after hours", philosophical conversations happened with other teachers by wandering into their classrooms after the bell rang.      

- His family totally got the shaft. He regrets that his own family (thousands of miles away in L.A.) was something he chose to sacrifice for this project. His family was one of many instances in his life where he sees he needs to do better and be a physical presence in their lives, but ultimately chooses the thing he is giving his all to right now -- teaching and his "other" children in the classroom. This "in the moment" attitude is a pattern in his life and those issues lead to his divorce after 25 years of marriage. I think this undermines the advice that he gives his students about persevering. Sanguines really struggle with dichotomies because we're not disciplined or balanced. At times, we can be 100% for one thing and 0% to something else. I had to make that same family decision once I had a baby. I could give my all to my classroom kids or my own kids.  

- On the surface, it looks like he's taking a knock at a hotheaded teacher who has no discretion about when to spout his views about "the system". But once he mentions that the teacher's kids are homeschooled, it seems obvious that Mr. Danza doesn't believe that homeschooling is a viable solution for those who have personal convictions about it. We're not all like that teacher. Unfortunately, Mr. Danza (whether he meant to or not) helps fuel the stereotype that all homeschool parents are "angry people" who hate (and think they are better than) public schooled folks.  

- He looks to the good in humanity to make things better. His humanistic worldview that man is innately good and can overcome anything if he just works hard enough is bad advice because it's not true. Yes, we need to have discipline and wisdom in our lives, but that comes from grieving over and repenting about our OWN sinful hearts and selfish behaviors. However, I know Danza's not a Christian, so I don't hold him that standard in this book. Just pointing out that of Danza's advice mostly comes across as unhelpful in the long run because it promotes "do-goodism" as a way of making yourself feel better about not being perfect. That's just medicating your issues until the next blow up comes along, leaving a string of emotional carnage in its wake.          

You won't miss anything earth-shattering by not reading this book because none of his solutions or even opinions were fully fleshed out (but maybe that shouldn't be as much of a criticism because it's a memoir?). Topics like standardized testing, parental failure, lack of student motivation, burned out teachers get woven in the story. You got a sense of how he felt about it, but no conviction about how to really change things other than supporting the overworked teachers in your school (which we should do, each in our own way). I am scared to think how the department of education could misuse someone with his kind of optimism and salesmenship to push an agenda for more money to blindly be pumped into the system. However, it was nice to read a book written by someone whose own experience was very similar to my own first year of teaching. It's nice to know I wasn't alone.