wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

A Thrill of Victory

We had a moment aglow with achievement yesterday, my son and I. Ever since the beginning of 9th grade there was a bit of a thundercloud hovering over the Algebra 1 coursework. “It’s too hard! I don’t get it and I never will. There’s no point in learning something I will never use, etc.etc.”

If you have ever tried to reason with a teen on the merits of discipline and HARD WORK when they see no immediate personal gain, you know how futile this feels. We looked at the chaos of his bombed quizzes and tests and my husband tutored him whenever he was home, but this was not reaching around to the everyday frustration. I would look at his assignments and dredge back into my school years, coming up with… nothing. I realized that I had never covered this coursework, having only done pre-algebra.

Well. Nothing for it then. We went back to the second unit and we did all those bombed out lessons again. I did every homework problem that Alex did, and we checked our work together. Guess what? I got an F on my first quiz. This was a new sensation for me and humiliated me a little. :/  I had to go back and review the first unit, memorizing formulas and forms and a ridiculous amount of basic rules for order of operations that I had forgotten.

There was a spot where it was all so muddled in my head; I would stay up studying until Gabe got off work, then whine to him about how hard this was for my brain crammed full of so many other things. He would unscramble my problems in a few concise sentences and I would go to bed with at least that day’s classwork done. “I don’t have time for this,” I would mutter. But I knew if I quit, my son would see the bad example of wimpy-ness that I was not allowing him to use as an excuse.

Slowly we scraped and scrabbled our way out of the pit of sucky-mud defeatism and climbed our way to consistent C’s and then we started getting B’s. It was shoulder to shoulder all the way, every day. And yesterday, oh yesterday! My son reached the pinnacle of a perfect score on his test! I made a dumb mistake and got 94%, but I was so happy for him that I could live with that!

algebra.jpg

I will savor the taste of the expression on his face when he saw that 100% for a long time. It will get hard again, but we can do this. It’s only Algebra, but it’s life too.

You can do this, Son.

 

Advertisements
6 Comments »

The Claustrophobic Kingdom

That phrase hit me square between the eyes when I read it in an article by Paul David Tripp. He was talking about our words, the power of them to destroy or to build, but the part I kept thinking about all week is my little kingdom of one.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, He doesn’t rule you, because that is where you live.” P.D. Tripp

In other words, few of all the people in the world ever go into the history books. In a  few generations you will only be a faint memory even to your loved ones. This is not to be depressing. It actually frees me to live TODAY, this minute, and make it above normal for the people around me, because that is where it counts. Mundane is not synonymous with unimportant. It’s just everyday, okay? We all have everyday, where the hair is messy and the toes get stubbed and the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Again. Still, if I do not clean the toothpaste out of the sink and brush the snarls out of the hair, what happens?

It is easier for me to live sweetly when the pressure is on, the people are watching, and company is here. But what about the grinding sameness of deep and dark winter with grey skies and squirrelly people underfoot? Oh, then… when the words slip out sighing or sharp or sarcastic because the people are all so familiar and the very same situation happened yesterday and the day before that and the day before that? (Will they never learn? How many times have I told you?) That is when I need Jesus to broaden my vision beyond the claustrophobia of my little kingdom.

How do I get out of the trap of living for my own comfort, arranging the people who are willing to be arranged, struggling with those who are resistant to my efforts at controlling my kingdom for my own ends? Because I cannot stand the boots all over the floor, but they know, oh they know when I am in it for just myself. This doesn’t mean that it is not okay to make the child go back and line up his/her boots in the row. It means it is not okay for me to scold and rant about such a silly thing as boots.

I dislike when small people who love to eat complain about the food. It is not wrong to teach them gratefulness, but it is not right to sigh, “You guys just eat, eat, eat. All the time. But you don’t like these sweet potatoes or the green beans that I spent the last two hours preparing for your supper! Maybe tomorrow you can just eat cereal all day, huh?” (Well, actually that last line would not work here because they would gladly take me up on it.) There is something really stinky about a passive-aggressive mom who makes herself out as a martyr in order to guilt her children into better behavior.

I find myself at times in a negative holding pattern, where nobody is writing neatly in their lessons and the math is taking too long and the missing commas are distressing me with their portent of ignorant little homeschooled children being launched into the world and showing me up as a terrible teacher. It’s my own little claustrophobic kingdom and it requires some shaking and repentance to break out of it. I doubt I am the only one who has such a kingdom… please tell me I am not.

When this happens, I need a broader vision. What is really going on here? Who is in charge of the circumstances of my life? How do I fit into the story that God is dictating? Is it really as miniscule as lost gloves and muddy carpets? Or am I perhaps missing the point here?

I can constantly bang my head against a wall of futility, because my little kingdom wobbles out of the shape I would like to keep it in; it requires no effort to think about me, my needs, my lack of white space, all the reasons I excuse my stinky attitudes and withered soul. But there is a much greater Kingdom where the merciful receive mercy, the pure hearts see God, hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, and blessing is measured by life-joy instead of stuff. I am part of that Kingdom by faith! When I embrace the love lavished on me daily, it expands me and spills out like sweet water in a thirsty land.

This is living large in my small space and has a way of curing me of the childish tempers of self-absorption. Jesus takes every space I give Him and glorifies it with His beauty. Possibly this includes the days and days of grey winter space. And the space where the boots and coats and muddy dog prints mix on my tile floor. If my husband is reading this, I am sure he is nodding in agreement.

[Redeeming love] reaches into the private recesses of your everyday life. Look for opportunities to be in someway an agent of that transforming love.” (P.D. T.)

I will end with a funny story about Addy. We were sitting in church when she suddenly noticed that Rita had a tablet and a pencil and oh dear! she had none. I told her she doesn’t need to write and kept on singing. Looking down a bit later, I noticed her little face full of reproach and she whispered in my ear, “Mama, do you even understand tragic?”

It is so easy to see the hilarity when it is a child speaking, but I am pretty sure God looks at me with exactly the same mix of exasperation and humor as I do when my daughter is overly dramatic. (I wonder where she gets it?)

Let’s live audaciously! Let’s do our small things out of the abundance of great love within! Nothing will be wasted that we give away. He promised.

egg-hen-s-egg-boiled-egg-breakfast-egg-160850(source)

 

4 Comments »

The Smartest Kids in the World

“The sign at the door says the purple tags are 90% off,” I mentioned to the clerk. “Does that include things like these roller blades?” She looked blankly at me for a bit, then said, “Yeah, 90% off all purple tags.”

“That’s great. I will take them,” I replied. It was a good deal. The blades were tagged $24.99 and looked new. I dug in my purse for $2.50. When I looked up, the clerk was gone, threading her way across the store with a calculator in hand, calling for the manager. I heard the instructions, “Just take 24.99 times point 10. That’s your price.”

I didn’t want to show my incredulity, but really??? Every 5th grader in our great nation is supposed to learn percentages and 10% is the easiest one to do in your head when you are 11 years old.

I  just finished reading The Smartest Kids in the World, where the author explores how it is that American school children are scoring so very low by international standards. Why is it that entire countries full of children (Finland, Korea, Poland) tend to score much higher than  our American students in matters that require common sense and thinking through problems?

51okpowdwbl-_sx330_bo1204203200_

I  have always thought that my goal is to teach my children to THINK. Yes, I want them to enjoy learning, but that is my secondary goal. If they cannot apply what they are storing in their heads, it doesn’t do much good.

There is a relatively new test called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) where we U Sers are getting our butts whipped, especially in math. This is the language of logic, of disciplined, organized thinking. There are rules to follow and when you follow them, you get the right answer. I quote Ms Ripley, “Mastering the language of logic helps to embed higher order habits in kids’ minds: the ability to reason, detect patterns, make informed guesses.” (pg. 70)

As a nation we do a lot better in reading comprehension, which is good news. This also means that without the background of logic, we are a nation of people who can feel for others, empathize, recognize problems, etc, yet have no foggy idea of any absolutes or certain outcomes that follow certain behaviors.  Add to this the self-esteem movement, where teachers and coaches dole out praise trophies for just showing up, no effort required. There was a huge outcry in some states when it was proposed that high school students cannot just put in the time in class, but must actually pass exams in order to receive a diploma. Again I give you a pithy quote, “Vague, insincere, or excessive praise tends to discourage hard work and attempting new things.”

The poor children raised under the “You are the specialest person in the world and can always have anything you want” quickly find out in the adult world that they are pretty small stuff unless they are actually prepared to work hard and think carefully about their choices.

PISA also has a lengthy section after the academic questions where participating students spend nearly an hour answering a questionnaire on their background, motivation, and family habits.  The interesting thing about this survey is that there are no right answers. The researchers are looking for diligence, to see if there is a link to overall success. Well. Duh. Those kids who had learned to persist, even through seemingly meaningless assignments, tended to score higher overall.

The author calls it rigor.  It is what they have in Finland, where people have been determined survivors of long, sunless winters and the neighboring Big Guys for centuries. They focus on motivation, self-control, persistence. We might call it character. They don’t skip recess either, even in bad weather. Turns out rigor is a bigger deal than interactive white boards in every classroom and multi-million dollar sports programs where the vast majority of the students sit in bleachers and cheer for the favored few.

Admittedly, there are big problems when education is so dead serious that Korean children have been known to become suicidal if they fail a test. Recognizing this, the government actually has task forces assigned to patrol at night to be sure the tutoring schools close before midnight. These children literally go to school all day. They know how to think, but they don’t really have a life.

Then there was Poland, a country that scored discouragingly low in the first PISA test they participated in, in 2000. The next year they introduced some sweeping reforms: dumbed-down textbooks got replaced with rigorous ones, many of their teachers were required to improve their own education, and fundamental goals were set countrywide with accountability in the form of standardized tests. By 2009 Poland outperformed the U.S. despite spending half as much per student. They don’t have the fancy stuff in their classrooms, but they decided to implement the grit that has kept them alive through some of the most horrendous wars in history. They quit expecting failure in school.

What really matters? How can we best help our children learn to think? Toward the end of the book, Amanda Ripley condenses a vast subject into a few fairly simple expressions:

Conscientiousness > smarts

Self-discipline > IQ scores

Rigor > Self-esteem

In my head I knitted all these concepts about educational systems with our cultural bias against sweat and rules and moral absolutes, and it all makes sense. We are in trouble here in America, but we do not need to despair. We can teach our children to think and to work past failure. Someday it will save them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about their child’s education. It will put some steel into your spine when your child/student thinks Algebra is dumb and research reports are too much work and nobody should ever have to do speed drills. Too bad, sonny. This is about your survival! This is about how much I love you. (This is so that you can instantly figure 10% at the cash register.)

 

6 Comments »