Archives for the month of: July, 2008

My girl is ten…

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Molly at horse camp…

Friday night, we went to the Center for Visual Arts gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art for Edith Franklin’s retrospective show. The place was mobbed with people, and Edith gave one of her marvelous, signature “speeches”, telling the story of where she started and the life she has built around clay.

You go, girl

Sky Cheif is the black and white one… Captain is the big red one with the white forehead… others are Whirlwind, Espresso and Charcoal.

We are halfway finished building the big octagonal dovecote for them. It will sit on the platform next to the swingset, where the little playhouse used to be.

The carrot-and-stick, measure-and-grade, results-oriented way we teach
children in all other subjects doesn’t mesh well with the teaching of
art. If anything like a creative voice can survive and be nurtured in a
traditional school environment, that’s a testimony to the hard work and
innovation of a good art teacher. Art instruction often amounts to
“deprogramming”, and it’s a tall order for large batches of kids dumped
in a teacher’s lap for measured periods of time (and on a pathetic
budget).

Education researchers have claimed a child’s attitudes toward learning
are pretty much set by the age of seven. So what do we teach little
kids? The kindergarden trace-your-hand-and-make-a-turkey projects are
all about following instructions and making it “right”. How else can it
be graded? I put the beak on the BACK of the thumb, so my turkey could
admire his lovely finger-tail… I was told it was wrong, and eyed
suspiciously. Slow student, or troublemaking anarchist? Granted, it was
1966, and some things have changed.. but a teacher who is required to
process 30 students and produce grades can hardly be expected to nurture
the little Jackson Pollock who would rather throw paint than trace
turkeys and color pilgrims.

In the culture of school in general, kids are taught to value the “A”,
and that to get an “A” the work needs to be perfect. Bayles and Orland
consider, in Art and Fear, Ansel Adams’ contention that “the perfect
is the enemy of the good”.

“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is
predictable; as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work
toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more
tightly to what you already know you can do – away from the risk of
exploration, and possibly further from the heart of your work.”

(Grad school, anyone?)

We forget, when we applaud and fuss over a child’s first scribbles, that
we are applying pressure… that when we hang the green-cloud-on-a-stick
tree and the wobbly but recognizable house on the refrigerator, ooohing
and ahhing, we are assuring that our child will repeat that image
again and again… and still be confused when the 400th bit of art
offered for the fridge doesn’t get the excited parental reviews as last
year’s. (What parent can sustain that level of excitement year after
year?)

So the kid decides that he/she used to be good at art but isn’t anymore.
Couple that with graded art projects at school, and it’s no wonder most
adults draw like third graders. That’s when we quit trying.

Two radical ideas I’d like to throw out, though I could likely be talked
out of either of them:

First: Maybe art education should be about technique, mastery of tools,
practice in using a brush, a pen, a wheel, wood carving tools, print
making, etc — with the end product be dismissed as less important than
some kind of improvement or evolution with the hands-on, technical part.
That would avoid situations where a child’s creative vision, however
valid, is invisible to the teacher… or worse, where a well intentioned
teacher goes all self-esteem-camp, gushing over a piece that the student
barely applied himself to, and knows is no good. It tarnishes the coin
of the realm (praise, and approval) when it is given out to all.

Meanwhile kids could be exposed to the widest possible variety of art
and artists, images and demos, and visits to museums and guilds, without
expectation that they should choose one or follow a path.

Those who have the hunger to create or the confidence to express
themselves can then do so safely outside the realm of teachers, peers,
grades and expectations, having been handed the tools to do so. We can
teach a child handwriting and grammar but can not teach her how to write
her own poem; the soul of artistic pursuit cannot be taught, and takes
place internally anyway, outside of the academy. We see more inspired
individuals without the material skills to make their work than the
other way around.

Second radical notion: maybe not every kid was meant to make art, any
more than they were all meant to be mathematicians or mechanics. The
“every child was born an artist” idea is a good one, but in a more
organic culture, some might best express their muse in architecture, or
gardening, singing, cooking, or civil engineering. What we are born with
(and what can be squashed) is an imagination unique to our souls, and a
potential to find a channel for it.

But before industrialized civilization (and education) it was a given
that not every citizen was fit to be a “scribe”. Some personalities,
intellects and body types were better suited to herding sheep, building
cathedrals, shoeing horses, making cheese. Now, they would all be lined
up in rows at desks (and medicated if they were unable to sit still),
and taught the same stuff. Those who can’t read or write well learn that
they are stupid, not that they are possibly ill suited to bookishness.

The sad part is that those who might have been happy to put
transmissions in jeeps, or tend and nurture the elderly, or fly off in
ambulances to help the wounded — are made to feel “less” than the
academics with extra degrees and bigger paychecks.

By the same token, kids give themselves up as “bad at art” (how many
parents tell their kids, “I can’t draw… I’m no good at that…” as a
model?) The truth might be, “That’s not my medium”… or “I have not
practiced enough with these tools and skills to be able to make anything
satisfying”. Pile on an expectation of instant mastery — by Friday, for
a grade — and no chance to learn from mistakes — and it’s not
surprising that so many budding artists die on the vine.

If we teach skills, tools and technical abilities, with no regard for
the product, we remove the pressure and provide every opportunity for a
kid to find the one medium that sings, that matters, that inspires. And
if they don’t… OK. It’s not their road.

In the end, I am less concerned about students who come out of school
unable to make art, than I am about what I see as the cause: too many
students come out of school (and home, and life) unable to trust their
own ideas in ANY realm. They are taught to emulate teachers, peers and
TV stars. They are obsessed with doing it “right”, as if there is only
one way. And when you have lost touch with your own soul, what source is
left for creativity? If you don’t know yourself anymore, what is there
to make art about?

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“We teach boys to be such men as we are. We do not teach them to aspire
to be all they can.. We do not give them a training as if we believed in
their noble nature. We scarce educate their bodies. We do not train the
eye and the hand. We exercise their understandings to the apprehension
and: comparison of some facts, to a skill in numbers, in words; we aim
to make accountants, attorneys, engineers; but not to make able,
earnest, great-hearted men.”

and

“The popular education has been taxed with a want of truth and nature.
It was complained that an education to things was not given. We are
students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and
recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a
bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use
our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an
edible root in the woods, we cannot tell our course by the stars, nor
the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We
are afrai
d of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The
Roman rule was, to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing.

Albert Einstein:

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

and

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of
instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of
inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands
mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin
without fail. It is a grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of
seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of
duty.”

OK… that’s all I’ve got. Anybody who read this far… why? It’s a nice
day, go play outside (lol)

Yours
Kelly in Ohio

The ten homeschool moms on my deck had all claimed a pizza crust and topped it with pesto and goat cheese, or olives and veggies, or tomato sauce and motz… I was scooping ember sout of the oven to get ready to bake. I had asked them earlier to keep an eye out for a black and white bird, explaining the saga of the pigeon and my disappointed boy.

It was still bright but the sun had just angled off to give us some shade when my friend Valerie shouted, “There he is!” She had seen a flash of black and white going down into the neighbor’s yard.

Sure enough, the next thing we knew, Sky Cheif was perched in the mulberry tree above the pigeon coop — but so was Molly’s cat, Peekaboo! She was in stalking mode, climing toward the bird. We waved our arms and hollered, but it looked pretty grim until bird took wing.

After a while he found his way under the coop, then climbed against the wire front rtying to get in. When he entered the cage on top, Molly shut the door and trapped him in. We waited around a bit to see whether he would figure out my ingenious pigeon-trap hole, until finally I just reached in and caught him and stuffed him in with the others.

When Connor got home from the library, he was a happy guy. It’s so cool to think this bird just spent the day off who-knows-where, having adventures, and then came home to bed. I wish we could mount a little camera on him.

Anyway, it’s late, and I’m off to bed. Happily ever after.

OK, so…

Last weekend on an impulse (ok, and impulse inspired by being unable to zip my last-resort shorts) I attended my first ever weight watchers meeting. I took Jeff with me, and we joined.

Since then I have been getting some kind of weird enjoyment out of using the etools to coordinate my lunch points with what is at the farmer’s market, how many miles I rode on my bike, and how many servings of vegetables I was able to cram into the menu.

After 16 years of living on this street — years in which the road crew came every year to dribble little globs of tar in the cracks of our battered old shoulder-less, sidewalkless,streetlightless road — today they are actually tearing up the old asphalt! One truck drives ahead of a machine that looks like a combine, but instead of spitting soybeans into the truck with its dinosaur-necked conveyor, it spits chewed up street. It took the top several inches off, neatly chewed off the ends of all the driveways on the far side of the road, and then a giant sweeper-truck thing followed behind cleaning up crumbs. I suspect our side is next. A new road would be great! Especially considering that we pay Sylvania Township’s pricey taxes and get little in return.

Sky Chief has flown the coop. Connor has been going out every day to feed and observe his pigeons, looking for signs of pairing up and trying to figure out which ones are male by their behavior. The handsome black and white saddleback with the groovy marvel-comics name “Sky Cheif” had clearly been a male, and campaigning heartily for a mate: cooing, dancing, the whole nine yards. But the latch was left open, and now he’s gone.

Tyler spotted him soaring out over the neighbor’s house this morning, west and then south. We are heartened by the fact that Hillsdale — the place where we bought him — is North, but he may have been circling to get his bearings. We had been told that we should keep them shut in for “a couple of weeks” so they would settle to a new home, and it’s been a week and a half.

I took a saws-all and drill out there and cut a narrow hole in the roof — in theory, small enough for a pigeon to squeeze down with his wings folded — but impossible for a pigeon inside to use as an exit, with wings spread. I put a bottomless cage over the hole, in case the pigeons inside weren’t up on my theory, but so far nobody has tried to make a break for it.

Around dusk we will watch for Sky Cheif’s return in earnest, imagining in our optimism that he will evade hawks and cats, ignore the homing call North, and come back to his potential girlfriend and a handful of peas and millet. Updates as events warrant.

The stupid woodchuck has eaten my replanted broccoli, cabbage, brussels and kohlrabi for the last time. It’s almost too late to replant, even with my hoop house. The neighbor (who has dogs) has cabbages the size of my laundry basket. I have chewed stems.

The trap we set was ignored, at first, then distainfully buried with sand as he redesigned his massive burrow under my back fence behind the currant bushes. This is war. I intend to make a hat out of him if he won’t go peacefully — the kind with a face in the front and a tail hanging down the back.

The boys got their proficiency test scores back today, and everybody did great. Tyler in particular will be happy to know that he is working at 8th grade level in math, since he starts at a bricks-and-mortar school next year for the first time ever, and imagines that every kid will be on the same page and he will be floundering. They haven’t seen them yet, because they are at Aunt Jenny’s house (my sister in law from Bogota) having the first of an ongoing series of Spanish lessons. We’ve been using the Rosetta Stone program for two years now, but having the courage to speak, and being able to carry on a conversation, are a different set of skills.

I have signed Connor up for swimming lessons at a scuba shop within bike riding distance, so he can finish his lifesaving merit badge. Tyler had baseball camp this summer, and Molly had a week of horse camp, so this is just for Connor. Jeff and I are going there once a week as well, for a deep water aqua jogging class that is supposed to be really challenging. We’re approaching 50 and our kids are young, so I feel like if we don’t get into shape now, it will get harder as time goes by.

I also found a yoga class within biking distance!

Now I have to get moving. I started a fire in the woodburning cob oven at 3, and have made 3 batches of pizza dough. 10 homeschool moms are coming for “mom’s night out” at my house tonight, BYO pizza toppings.

Cross your fingers that skychief returns…

So we went to the lake with my folks for the weekend, and I talked my dad, Jeff, and son Connor into going to the Hillsdale farmer’s market on Saturday morning.

I was just going to get beets to pickle, but we ended up in this barn we like because one end is full of bunnies and the other full of ducks, with lots of cages of chickens in the middle. It’s an auction.

I saw a little banty hen who seemed very sweet. She was broody, fluffing out her feathers and acting like she was protecting her chicks — they had either taken her off a clutch of eggs or taken her babies away (several boxes of chicks were there, for sale.)

So I registered and got a bidding card. I’ve done this before, at this place — bidding is fun.

I bought the frustrated mama hen, and one other. Then my dad took the card and bid on a dozen feathered-out bob white quail chicks to release in his woods.

Meanwhile Connor is standing around talking to the pigeon guys. There are guys who breed them, race them, etc. and there were some beauties in one cage called “saddlebacks” — red, black and “blue”(grey). Five birds in cage 217.

My dad had paid him some money for taking dead trees out of a swampy spot at the cottage, so he came and got the card and prepared to bid on lot 217. He was kind of nervous and wanted to do it right (he’s that kid) — but the place was crowded elbow-to-elbow with mostly men, mostly farmers, veteran auctiongoers with cigarettes in their mouths and bid cards in their shirt pockets. Connor’s grandpa stood behind him, leaning on a cane, but let him do it himself.

So the auctioneer starts the bidding at 3 dollars a bird. My kid does some quick math and holds his card up, nodding at the auctioneer in a perfect imitation of the old timers he’d been watching.

“threeandaquarterthreeandaquarterthreeandaquarterthreeandaquarter…who’s gotthreeandaquarteronlot217?…threeandaquarteronce.. threeandaquartertwice…”

I’m across from my kid and can see him standing there all excited and nervous… and all around him these old boys in John Deere caps, arms folded, half grinning at how cute he is. Not a single one of them would bid against the kid.

SOLD, to the happiest boy on the planet, off to the library tomorrow to figure out how to build a dovecote.

What a good day. I got rolling this morning and worked on bread. I made a nice loaf of multi-grain, but I also ground a gallon jar full of whole wheat flour. I used mason jars to pre-measure the dry ingredients for a dozen future pizza crusts, not lined up under the bread machine awaiting a kid with a chore-chart tag that says, “pizza night”.

Then I filled the tupperware boxes I have had for years, with the recipes for my favorite whole grain bread machine recipes markered on the tops. The wet ingredients are written as well, so the kid who makes a bread machine loaf can do it with no problem.

When it looked like I had more cherries than we could use, I put out the word on my furgal-homeschoolers yahoo group that I was looking for “sharecroppers” — folks who would like to come and pick berries and give me a token share. I have had a lot of company! Two stoppepd by last night to taste, and three came this morning to pick. They took Connor with them afterward to go pick black raspberries at another friend’s farm. Tyler and Molly and I went to the nearby fruit market, and to a greenhouse that is closing for the summer and selling “as many plants as you can fit between the stripes of tape on the counter” for ten bucks.

I am plotting against the groundhog in my yard who –amazingly, considering his size — was seen perched on the TOP RAIL of a four foot chicken wire fence. What now? Razor wire?

I made my first batch of tabbouli, with bulgur wheat, lots of fresh parsley and mint form my garden, and chives since I didn’t have scallions.

More homeschoolers came this evening to pick cherries — a quaker friend and her son, and two other little boys whose mommy was teaching yoga at the botanical gardens. It’s funny — I woke up this morning and tried to stretch in a productive way, sighing that I remember NOTHING of the yoga sun salutation I used to do. My excuse for not doing oga has been that when I got on the ground, my little kids would climb on me… but they’re grown now. So I need to start again, for the sake of my back, my shoulders, my potter joints.

So when the yoga teacher came to get her boys, we talked kefir and yogurt, kombucha and kraut. She is opening a new yoga studio and hinted that she will have space for artwork. Funny how things line up just the way they should! And a yoga class I can bike to!

I pitted more cherries while Molly made hot dogs for supper. Jeff taught his class at Lourdes College tonight, and came home to flip through library books looking for good hiking trails for the boy scouts.

Tomorrow is a local farmer’s market. I am thinking about pickling beets.