Friday, October 29, 2010

art trading cards

Art trading cards - fun!

I was recently invited to trade cards with a group of other artist. We all made 2.5 x 3.5 inch pieces (no specific theme or medium for this round) and then we would send them out to each participant - receiving a small collection through the mail in return.

I wasn't sure what type of series I wanted to do -- maybe miniature landscapes? maybe portraits of the paper people?? Trading cards made me think of teams, so I settled on "Team Menagerie" the family animals drawn in copy pencil and white paint.

Want to swap? Contact me.

To see other work look here.

for the wild things

As I work on preparing the outbuildings for winter, the kids have taken on a project of their own. They will be in charge of turning the upstairs of a small carriage house behind the house into a club house. They've filled a note book with plans and yesterday we started the patching and painting.

This will be a place for the children to exercise freedom and responsibility...a place the kids will rule. The only requirement is that they (and their club members) discuss and come to an agreement about the rules they will live by. I've already heard some spirited round table discussions over chocolate chip cookies.

Although my kids played in the ally and small garden behind our row house in the city before we made our move, I really had to overcome my concerns to give them the space they needed (and I admit I was peeking out the kitchen window the whole time) I think any mother could imagine what my concerns might be. In contrast, I remember being told as a child to go play outside - I'd run around exploring the barns, fields and streams, with or without a neighborhood kid, until I was called for dinner. I know that time was important and I've tried to find a balance between caution and "executive function" no matter where we find ourselves.

It's interesting to watch the diplomatic skill and work ethic that emerges when they really believe they've been left to their own devises.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

thoughts on education reform (a response post)

If you've been reading, Mistaken For a Rebel you may have picked up on some of my thoughts regarding education and the challenge of finding the balance between what we believe, what we can afford and what we can change.

This morning I read a post at
Boundless Voice that echoed many of my sentiments. I realized that aside from wanting to thank her for sharing her thoughts, I wanted to give a reply that would best be shared here.

One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Bukowski, "An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." I'm going to take the artist's approach here because it seems that sometimes the most complex issues are best tackled by breaking them down to very simplest terms and then adding one truth at a time. I am no expert on the subject, but I am an advocate for my children's education and I am concerned with the effect schooling has on our communities.

I am in agreement with the post I just read - what we need is a revolution. It has been noted by many that we are in a creativity crisis, our minds are not rising up to meet the challenges of our times. In an article in
Newsweek (it's a good one) Nurture Shock authors, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman put it this way,

"The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 'leadership competency' of the future. Yet it's not just about sustaining our nation's economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others."

We are finding ourselves at a dead end creatively and at the same time young people's respect for each other as human beings seems to be deteriorating. Time and energy are wasted on arguments about religion's place in school while the idea that students explore ethics goes ignored. Something is not working and better test scores aren't going to solve the problem.

For me the goal is that my children grow up to be healthy, loving, compassionate and fearless - exactly what they do is not much of a concern. I hope that they have the freedom financial prosperity can bring, but never at the expense of a balanced and peaceful life. My hope is that their school helps us develop their love of learning and provide the tools of discovery, not define what success must be - I've seen far too many adults discover they had it wrong to believe any of them can label who the winners are.

I'm going to focus on the public school system because it's where most of the country is and where we are now. I've experienced struggling urban schools, which led me to explore a variety of private options, charters, home schooling and finally throwing in the towel and moving to one of the country's best school districts...all the time struggling with my politics, ethics, and budget. I must say I feel fortunate that my children are enjoying a school that is running (as far as the system is concerned) as it should, it's excellent resources attract some of the best teachers and the facilities provide a healthy stimulating environment. The problem is, with all that has been accomplished here, it is still part of a system that is broken and the there's a frighteningly steep drop-off from these schools at the top and the next in line.

Standardized testing

Even among the three children in our family I see extremely different strengths, talents, weaknesses, and learning styles. Please stop using the word "standardized" I am aware that the standardized test is supposed to provide accountability and that the education system has become increasingly tied to standardized testing to make decisions about public funding, but the sad truth is, the tests usually just provide the paper work for the decisions that were going to be made anyway. In the process of preparing for these tests schools institute a "teaching to the test" approach to learning, narrowing the curriculum and embracing a multiple choice format.

Do these test help the individual student achieve their goals? How could they! Their purpose is to point out vague deficits, not uncover talent and intelligence. The results of these tests can lead to children being put in remedial programs and being held back. Holding a child back a grade is an easy way to have that individual child's test results appear relatively higher contributing to higher percentages for the school (just one of the ways schools game the system) but that child will be permanently, academically and emotionally injured. What about the child who is advanced in some area and has difficulties in others? The atmosphere these tests create does not support the flexibility needed to address the individual. How often is brilliance ignored? How often is the self esteem of a child diminished as they embark on the path of learning?

Without delving into the details of testing any further, I will simply say that we need to do the work of evaluating our schools, staff and students with compassionate, open eyes. The test will not make up for our short comings. This is McEducation, and if we want our system to advance we need to look at examples in other countries where the multiple choice standardized test is not considered an effective tool - these countries look at the overall performance and behaviour of the student and include essay questions that test the next level of thought. And please don't think that if your child's specific make up allows them to be proficient at these tests that their potential is not being effected - they are missing out on a more dynamic education by learning in an environment that structures itself around them.

Charter Schools

The new movie, Waiting for Superman has received a lot of press, I've watched the trailer and listened to the review on NPR, I haven't seen the film yet, but here's what sticks out to me - the emphasis on charter schools, including the dramatic final scene where the children wait to hear if their number is called. Charter schools receive public money, but are not subject to all of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. Charter schools are often the only alternative for people who are dissatisfied with their public school. They are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition, but that doesn't mean everyone has access to them, they fill up fast (usually with the returning students) and then families that want to get in go on a list to be included in a lottery. That's how it's supposed to work, but in practice, hidden factors often get in the way of any true choice and there's no way around the fact that they take money from the neighborhood schools that in most cases are desperately in need of the funds.

The BC Teachers' Federation put it this way, "Charter schools don't encourage system reform and improved quality. The theory put forward by many charter school advocates is that the competition of charter schools will lead to reform and improvement to the mainstream of the public schools. In the U.S. and Alberta, most of the charter proposals have been for 'niche schools' that serve a particular special population. Charter schools end up serving special interests, rather than creating programs that develop alternatives that would be offered to most students. They divert money and attention from improving all schools to enhancing a few."

There's another movie that I have watched and highly recommend that touches on charter schools, Spike Lee's, If God is Willing And Da Creek Don't Rise If you believe charters are a brilliant option, watch this film to gain a new perspective. Right now 10% of the newly formed charters schools are run by what Wall Street calls,"Educational Maintenance Organizations" That kinda sends chills down my spine.

That being said, I know many families that are having great experiences at charter schools and I know that their ability to find schooling for their children allowed them to contribute to transitioning urban communities. I have even filled out the applications hoping I would have an option if all else failed - if they actually called my number I would have had to wrestle with the final ethical debate. My point here is not about what a family feels they need to do in the best interest of their children with the resources at hand, but to discuss some of the reasons our public education system is failing so many.

Housing Policy Is School Policy

Economic integration. Well, now at the end of my ramblings we're getting down to the nitty gritty. If you have the time, please read this Century Foundation's Report regarding Montgomery County Maryland's achievements within the public school system. Providing truly diverse learning environments by working on the problem of affordable housing has paid off. Aside from documented academic success, there are many other things that start to happen when a family doesn't have to struggle to keep a roof over their head - they can breath - they can take the time to observe their children and ask questions that nobody dares to ask when the goal is survival.

If housing policy is school policy, than the issues of minimum wage, distribution of wealth and health care certainly are as well. There's a whole web of factors effecting whether families can have an effect on the education system, but simply put, they need the dignity to claim their role as advocates. It's not going to happen when you're working like a slave. When your head rises above the water - that's when the evolution of the spirit takes place. This is why poverty is such a crime; it robs us of reflection and we fear to ask what could be.

"Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better."
- Albert Camus

Saturday, October 23, 2010

paper people

This piece was finished yesterday, but I missed the sun for photographing. It felt good to be reunited with the paper people; there are quite a few waiting to be made. I've written before about how I find them akin to the Mayan worry dolls; the Mayans believed that there are worry people. At bedtime you would whisper your worries to these very little dolls, and then, during the night the worry dolls would carry your worries away.

These paper people do their job through expressing the human experience, they display the simple pleasures that go unheralded and they are honest about the hardships that linger on the margins...the ones that are harder to articulate because they are so co-mingled with our love and hopes that we hesitate to name them.

I hope to get more time tonight to start a flock of birds, until then I have some real ones that need my attention in the back yard.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

getting warmed up (it's been a while)

Well, it seems I'm finally returning to my regular work habits. Not so homesick now, just other-home-fond, and I'm finally getting to enjoy my new surroundings instead of fussing with setting up house, and nail biting observation of my children's transition. They are doing just fine and the level of annoyance with my hovering seems to be in direct proportion to birth order. So far we've been working on the farmette, enjoying the countryside and exploring one of my favorite cities. I like being in this place that escapes suburbia, but lets me be in the city easily when I want. I'm still getting used to seeing my kids running off through the field or hanging out with the pony, chickens and dogs for hours. There's so much for them to learn from this quiet observation and wordless communication.

I've been able to carve out a few days in the studio; I'm warming up with some small oil paintings inspired by my hikes on the mountain and I'm near completion on the first of the new paper people sculptures. Here are some images of the work in progress; I should be finished with this piece by tomorrow.

It feels good to be back in the swing of things. Check in to see how the balancing act continues...urban homesteading turns homesteading, new animals arrive, the family explores and I'm reunited with the studio!


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