My Standards for My Childrens’ Education

My daughters are 8 months old, and I am expecting another baby in August. And yet, so many days, I spend worrying about how I will send them to school. They attend nursery school now (at Smart Start Academy in Grove Hall, Dorchester), and I love it. Their teachers know me, my family; they know my daughters’ interests, personalities; nothing is high stakes – YET.

High stakes education, the kind found in today’s public schools and charter schools, means testing, stress, and conformity are too often prioritized. This means that what most parents hold dear about their families – identity and values – may not be.

Today as I cleaned the house, I began to photograph objects (mostly books) that symbolize my hopes for my daughters’ education. I also thought deeply about my daughters’ emerging identities.

Why are parents often the missing voice in deciding WHAT we teach? Shouldn’t schooling reflect the values of families and communities or at least connections to the important learning that families and communities provide? I think so. I would really like to hear from parents (either as a comment, post on another blog, or via email: jenniferdines@gmail.com) about their hopes and dreams for the children’s educations. The education articles I read frequently discuss what parents are protesting or (in a majority of cases) do not discuss parents at all.  I am interested in what parents have to say. I would really like to write an article that features PARENTS’ VOICES.

My Children and Their Identities So Far

Francine

Francine is my “older” daughter; she is fourteen minutes older than her sister. She cannot stop moving. I think she would do well in a school that incorporates a lot of movement into the classroom or where the activities change frequently. I know she doesn’t have ADHD, but I worry that her future teachers might think so. She is very social, so, in that sense, I do not worry at all about her fitting into any social situation as she has a big personality. She does not sit with a book, but she likes to look at books, flip the pages, and climb up to stacks of books.

Mover FrancineFrancine climbs up to books

Sofia

Sofia is very quiet and observant. She will play with one toy or book for five to ten minutes and then she will move on to something else. She loves textures; for example, she loves to touch all different types of fabric, touch people’s hair, and pull on tags. I worry that she will be pushed to socialize, but I know she is content to play by herself for long stretches of time. I can see her excelling in art or science.

Sofia and BookSofia and Rattle

What I Want Francine and Sofia to Learn at School

1. Character: I want my children’s school to teach them right and wrong. I would like my children to attend a school that discusses social justice as well as good values. I also want the school to tell me straightforward when my children misbehave, so I can help them to correct their misdeeds.

whatdoyoustandfor

2. Love of Picture Books and Understanding of Life Around the World: I picked up this book right before the girls were born. I want my daughters to experience the beauty of having an adult present story time on the rug. I like this book Nasreen’s Secret School because it teaches children about the privilege of getting an education and how people have taken risks to gain that knowledge. Other good books on this topic are Running the Road to ABC and Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges. My daughters are young for all these books, but they will know them in time.

picturebooks

3. Traditional Literature: There is a reason why people have told particular stories over hundreds and thousands of years. Universal messages and values are embedded in traditional literature. I don’t want my daughters to live in a here-and-now world. I want them to have an understanding of the societies who shaped the world as we know it. We have many books of traditional stories in the house, but these are a few of my favorites. It scares me that history is now minimized in school to make room for the tested subjects of Language Arts and Mathematics. Of course, all subjects are very important, but not just to take tests.

Traditional Literature

4. Arts History and Artistic Expression: I want my daughters to understand that reading and writing aren’t the only ways that humans capture history, ideas, and emotions. The arts allow us to tell our hidden stories – the ones that may be unsuited to words or the ones that need for us to transform into someone else in order to endure their telling.

art

instrument

5. How to Build and Repair Things: I so wish that I knew how to build and repair things. I am terrible at it, but yet it is such a practical skill – to change a tire on a car, to fix something that is broken instead of throwing it away. I have many former students who struggled with learning disabilities go on to be super successful in our school system’s vocational program in areas such as cosmetology, auto repair, and woodworking. But shouldn’t everyone know some of these skills? Imagine the stress it would save if we could all fix basic problems with our cars!

thewaythingswork

9. Español: Los latinos han llegado. Para preparar por el futuro en los EEUU, es esencial que todos conocen inglés y español.

Spanish

10. The Stories of MY Heroes: I don’t prioritize being rich and famous. I wouldn’t want my children looking up to Hollywood or the NFL. I want my children to learn about MY heroes: Mother Theresa, The Mirabal Sisters, Malala Yousafzai, and the many unsung heroes who are just normal people who stand for justice everyday.

womenaroundtheworld

I want YOU to travel to Greece this April!

In the Spring of 2012, I participated in an amazing program called The Examined Life: Greek Studies in Schools. There were two parts to the program.

First, I participated in an online course which required me to read the literature of Ancient Greece, including The IliadThe Odyssey, and several plays and short works. The course also included discussions of the literature in an online forum.

The second part of the program was actually traveling to Greece, something I had never imagined was possible for me in my wildest dreams. I spent ten days traveling with a group of educators and children’s authors to various cities and historic sites. My unforgettable memories of this trip include:

  • the scent of orange blossoms that waft through the air throughout the entire country
  • sitting on a hotel deck roof at dawn and watching the sun rise over the Parthenon
  • singing Madonna’s “Express Yourself” at the Theater of Epidaurus
  • seeing the road where Oedipus traveled and met his father
  • learning that Greek statues were not white, but painted in garish colors (the paint faded with age)

Additionally, this trip had a significant impact on my teaching practice. In grappling with challenging texts, I was able to not only empathize with my students who struggle with grade-level reading materials, but I was able to share my “Reader’s Notebook” from the course with my students and have them try out some of my reading strategies. I remember my students being very impressed by all the notes I had taken, and I shared with them that reading is a lifelong process. Furthermore, I grew in my level of comfort in presenting students with Greek traditional literature because I am able to understand the cultural and historical context of these stories better and provide more adequate and accurate background knowledge.

The good news is that now YOU can participate in this incredible journey!

From Associate Program Director Extraordinaire Connie Carven:

GREECE ONLINE GRADUATE COURSE (JAN. to MAY, 2014)

INCLUDES STUDY TOUR TO GREECE (APRIL 17 to 27, 2014)

Great opportunity — and the experience of a lifetime!

See teachgreece.org for details or contact Connie Carven

connie_carven@teachgreece.org    

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

A few videos from my trip:

Change Agency: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

On a snowy New England Sunday, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a 40,000 square foot monument to children’s literature, rests atop frosted grounds nestled inside the Pioneer Valley. The decade-old museum offers several galleries full of picture book art, a children’s library, a café, a bookstore, and a performing arts space. Additionally, the building hosts a packed schedule of arts and literature-based activities for children as well as professional development workshops for educators.

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Car is parked at the entrance.

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Car is parked at the entrance.


Galleries

As in a traditional art museum, curators have neatly mounted the featured pieces at eye level. However, the plaques displayed to the left of each illustration do not necessarily contain information about the artist. Rather, the plaques present a quotation from the text that the illustration elucidates. Benches in each gallery contain boxes of picture books connected to the displayed works, and many visitors go back and forth between looking at the walls of the gallery and browsing the picture books to locate the images in context.

A display of illustrations from a Caribbean retelling of Cinderella

A display of illustrations from a Caribbean retelling of Cinderella with text to the left and illustrations to the right.

Short blocks of text encourage close reading.

Short blocks of text encourage close reading.

Illustrations illuminate the language of the story.

Illustrations illuminate the language of the story.

Unfortunately, visitors are unable to take photos in the main galleries due to issues with the preservation of the artwork; the images above were displayed in the children’s library in a smaller exhibit that featured digital prints from variations of “Cinderella” and “The Three Little Pigs”.

Reading Library

An incredible library of picture books sits at the back of the museum. Tables feature selected display books and accompanying activities.

Library Book on Display: Pezzentino (Italian for "little piece") is a small orange cube that searches for his place in the world.

Library Book on Display: Pezzenttino (Italian for “little piece”) is a small orange cube that searches for his place in the world.

IMG_0378

Library Book on Display: Ganesha the Elephant breaks his tusk while chomping on candy, and he needs help from Vyasa the poet. An accompanying worksheet encourages the writing of an “epic” poem.

Printables from publisher’s websites accompanied both Pezzettino and Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth on the display table.

The Bookstore

Book lovers, leave your wallets at home! It’s a bibliophile’s heaven (or hell, if the bibliophile in question is low on funds).

A modern retelling of Strewwelpeter

A modern retelling of Strewwelpeter, a German cautionary tale

Illustration School series: step-by-step instructions on how to draw really cute things

A volume from the “illustration school” series: step-by-step instructional manuals on how to draw really cute things

The Hungry Caterpillar Bookshelf

This attractive display case featured seasonal books.

This attractive display case featured seasonal books.

Mission Accomplished!

The museum provides a space for "anyone interested in the art of the picture book".

The museum provides a space for anyone “interested in the art of the picture book”.

Book Review: Black Ships Before Troy

The cover displays Helen looming above the black ships.

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (ISBN:  0-553-49483-X)by Rosemary Sutcliff retells Homer’s epic poem in the form of a novel. Several themes emerge in this retelling –  betrayal, loss, revenge, and heroism.

Agamemnon Betrays Achilles

Achilles feels betrayed by Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks, when Agamemnon threatens to take Briseis – a captured maiden and spoil of war – away from Achilles, and, although he is the pride of the Greek army, Achilles refuses to fight any longer for Agamemnon.

The war wages on, however, and the Greeks become more and more disheartened. Agamemnon wants to give up on the war entirely, but Nestor, an old wise man, advises him to beg forgiveness from Achilles by offering him Briseis as well as many riches if Achilles will agree to rejoin the Greeks in battle. Two accomplished members of the Greek army, Odysseus and Ajax, are sent to make this offer to Achilles.

Achilles, still brimming with anger, refuses the offer, declaring his distrust for Agamemnon. However, upon witnessing a severely wounded friend returning from battle, Achilles sends his best friend Patroclus out to gather news from the front lines. Patroclus returns extremely distressed by the scenes of war, and he requests to borrow Achilles’ armor, as Patroclus intends to fight in disguise as Achilles.

The Death of Patroclus

Achilles allows Patroclus to borrow the armor, but he carefully instructs Patroclus to fight only until the Trojans are beaten back from the Greeks’ black ships. However, Patroclus does not heed Achilles’ instructions, and he continues to fight in battle even after the Trojans have cleared away from the ships. Patroclus perishes at the hands of Hector, the Trojan leader, who strips the famed armor of Achilles from Patroclus’s body.

The Revenge Upon Hector

Upon learning of the loss of Patroclus, Achilles becomes mad with grief, and he wishes to avenge the death of his friend. After obtaining new armor procured by his mother, Thetis, Achilles kills Hector, and then Achilles gruesomely straps his body to a chariot and drags it through the filth of the battlefield. For many days, Achilles continues to anguish in guilt at the death of his friend, and he reacts to these emotions by further abusing the body of Hector. However, upon advice of Thetis, Achilles finally returns the body of Hector to Hector’s father, Priam, the King of Troy, and Achilles and Priam weep together in their grief for those that they have lost in the war.

The Heroism of Odysseus

While Homer’s Iliad concludes with the funeral of Hector, Sutcliff continues the narrative with several more tales of the Trojan War, including two stories that illustrate the heroism of Odysseus, the central character in The Iliad‘s sequel: The Odyssey. The first story, “The Luck of Troy”, displays how Odysseus’s chicanery enables him to steal The Palladium, a black stone that symbolizes protection of Troy and the Trojans. The second, the famed story of “The Wooden Horse” and “The Fall of Troy”, shows Odysseus’s cunning and patience as the Greeks emerge as the victors of the Trojan War and as Odysseus saves the life of his long-time friend, the famed beauty Helen.

Conclusion

Suttcliff’s short and easy-to-read version of The Iliad serves as a supplement to or preview for translated versions of the original text. Although it omits much of the detailed descriptions, historical backdrops, and deep emotions of a translation such as that of Robert Fitzgerald (ISBN: 0-385-05941-8), Suttcliff’s retelling keeps the narrative flowing with action and purposefulness that makes the epic tale accessible to young adult readers.

Note: I found this article useful in the preparation of this book review.