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The Meaning of Christmas (In My Humble Opinion)

9 Dec

Beware.  I’m up on my soapbox.  Generally I reserve this soapbox for my rants about public education, but today I stand up here to stand up for myself and Comfort and Joy, Joy to the World, and A thrill of hope for the weary world.

Yesterday, I wrote a post to remember my Mom and her love of all things Christmas.  It focused mainly on decor and sharing good food with good friends.  This morning, I found two “pingbacks” (notification that another blog has linked to your post) to the post about Mom from a blog devoted to Christianity.  This blog used quite a few excerpts from my post to illustrate a perceived increase in secularism in what the author feels should be a completely Bible-based event.  I wrote a comment on his post, thanking him for at least citing his source, but that I felt that his use of my words belittled how religious and spiritual my Mom truly was, and that using them in that way completely ignored the whole purpose of my post.

Perhaps I am wrong for not going on about her deeply religious side.  She was a devout Catholic, regularly attending church, with many religious artifacts displayed in her home.  Not in a shrine-like way, just incorporated into her surroundings.  A large framed tin of The Virgin of Guadalupe, for example.   I feel more importantly, that Mom always conducted herself in a very Christian way: helping those who need help, listening to someone who just needs to talk, taking food to neighbors who were ill.  She loved her friends and family well.  Aren’t those Christian ideals?

Who decided that in order to be a proper Christian, you must adhere strictly to the Bible and its many interpretations?  When did these interpretations of the Bible start trumping the sort of life Jesus would have approved of?  When did displaying a Christmas tree result in being labeled a heathen?  Yup.  The blog’s author responded to my comment by saying that Mom may have been religious, but was probably affected by family traditions which caused her to celebrate Christmas with all the “heathen ornaments.”  What?!  Judge not…

Good gravy.  I don’t know about you, but when December shows up, and pretty lights, candles, evergreen boughs and even Jolly Old St. Nick appears, I get all warm inside with a feeling of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.  Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?   Yes, it’s the day used to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but isn’t it more than a birthday party?  Isn’t it the encouragement to be the kind of person Jesus always tried to be (according to the Bible!)?   That feeling of we can all get along and love each other.  The impetus to be kind and share joy.  Am I somehow less Christian because I have Christmas stockings out?  Am I heathen because the trolls Mom loved are sitting on my hutch?

Where is the Christian tolerance and compassion?  How does a secular decoration belittle anyone’s personal faith?  Faith is faith, right? One of the few things you can have that can’t be taken from you.  And Christmas is a season of joy and loving and caring and holding our loved ones close.  All very Christian things to do in my opinion, even if they happen within view of a Christmas tree.

big tree

A Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, and Happy Holidays to the rest.  May all of the Joy of the Season bring you warmth and comfort.

Up On My Education System Soapbox…Continued Thoughts on Chicken Little

12 Mar

Newspapers, blogs and Facebook memes are filled with stories about what’s wrong with the American Education System.  It’s those lazy teachers!  It’s the teacher unions!  The school year is too short!  The school day needs to be longer!  Summer vacation is so long, students forget what they’ve learned!  Schools in poverty areas don’t provide the same level of education as schools in affluent neighborhoods!

Lots and lots of accusations.  Committees form to assess the situation.  Committees form to come up with accountability plans.  Tests are created to hold students accountable, though they tend to be used more for teacher and school accountability.  Committees form to assess the results of the assessments.  Committees form to bring curriculum in line with the assessments. Committees form to standardize instruction of the curriculum to the point where teachers across districts all each the same thing the same way on the same day.

education reform

Tests are given in controlled environments where teachers read instructions, carefully warning students to not mark in the margins of the test booklets, often over a two-week time period where all instruction is ceased. The scores come back the following school year–5 to 6 months after the tests are completed, compiled school scores are published in local newspapers and the community runs around screaming, “The scores are falling!  The scores are falling!”

Loop back to accusations and committees.  Factor in multi-million dollar budget cuts, schools now focused entirely on readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic and we’ve stepped back to a time when few kids went to college, some went to trade schools or apprenticeships, and many worked hard labor or agricultural jobs.  The world is no longer that place.  We live in a complex world with complex problems that cannot be solved by learning there is one right answer that can be bubbled in on a test with a number two pencil.  “Make your mark heavy and dark, if you need to change your answer be sure to erase completely.”

Universities worry students aren’t prepared for college-level coursework, and they’re right.  Public schools prepare students for tests, not to be problem solvers; many students are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, let alone wrap their heads around a problem that might have more than one correct solution.  Money is being funneled to the “core” subjects of reading, writing, math and sometimes science, now taught with lock-step precision with no room for exploration of the teachable moment.  Electives are cut, library services are reduced or cut, creativity and problem solving disappears from our children’s education.

The reason I’m on my soapbox today?  My college freshman, who went through the local school system, called last night after struggling through a research assignment.  The librarians were asked to not assist the students from this class–they were on their own with whatever research skills they brought with them.  The professor expects her students come with research skills.  What are our local schools doing to prepare our students for college-level research?  Cutting library services.  Librarians are often reduced to clerks, checking books in and out, completing book orders and paperwork, and proctoring the annual standardized testing.  There is precious little time for librarians to teach research and presentation skills; not that many teachers have time in their prescribed curricula to collaborate with their librarian in the first place.

The big mystery is why studies such as The Colorado Study are being ignored.  Schools with degreed, certified, teacher-librarians presenting a full and comprehensive library program from well-stocked and up-to-date library collections have higher test scores.  Higher test scores.  What all the Chicken Littles are seeking.  Not only would students get the researching skills they need (and not only for college, but for big life decisions like buying a car, buying a home, deciding where to live….), but the communities would have their coveted scores.

Don’t even get me started on test scores vs poverty, homelessness, kids whose parents are in and out of jail….  OR that at the bottom of it all, we’re talking about KIDS here.  Little people.  Precious little people who should be coloring and pretending in pre-school, not already in classes learning to read….  OR that over-analysis of books sucks the joy out of reading…..   OR  trying to teach subjects to kids who are not developmentally ready, just because that subject is on this year’s test….  OR testing kids with learning disabilities who read below grade level with tests AT grade level….

OK.  Breathe.  Gonna step down from my soapbox–for now–and have a cuppa.

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