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Archive for March, 2012

The story is told that John Dewey, while visiting a classroom one day, asked the students what they might find if they dug a hole in the earth. Nobody answered. He asked a second time and again was met with silence. Finally, the teacher suggested that Professor Dewey had asked the wrong question. ‘What is the sate of the center of the earth?’ she asked her class, and all the students chorused, ‘Igneous fusion.'”

from The Schools Our Children Deserve, by Alfie Kohn (an endnote notes that “The Dewey story appears in Paul et al., 1989, p. 41.”)

I remember well the paralyzing fear I felt when asked a question like this as a kid. I would have been right there with the rest of the class sitting silently puzzled. Dirt, worms, plant roots, rocks, maybe some water, these would all go through my head, but I would be scared out of my mind that this was not what he was looking for and that I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the context of the question and my place in the world as a(n) _th grader. I remember thinking it was unfair to be asked a question that had several right answers, because in school there was only one that the evaluators were ever looking for. “Igneous fusion,” I would have chanted along with my classmates, thinking how stupid it was to have thought of those other things.

Every question felt like a quiz or a test. The only acceptable answer was the right answer. There was nothing to learn from a wrong answer except that I was as stupid as I believed myself to be.

I remember feeling silly paying attention to what I ate the day of a test. I remember thinking that if I just ate what I normally ate that I would have my normal energy. I remember being the most bored and tired and weepy during testing weeks.

I remember feeling a tremendous amount of guilt if I had to guess. First, I would feel guilty that I had to guess…that I didn’t already know the answer or at the very least have a good idea of what the answer might be. Secondly, I felt like guessing was dishonest. I felt that if I guessed right, that it would be a lie because I didn’t actually know the answer. But the teacher evaluating the test would assume that I knew the answer. There were times when I left questions blank in order to not feel like I was making a bad situation worse.

Tests made me feel like a senseless fool. Tests made me feel lethargic and unhealthy. Tests made me feel ashamed and they made me a liar. Even when I got enough answers “right” for it to be deemed ‘A’ work, I knew in my heart that I could have done better and that I didn’t really know all that much about the subject on which we’d just been tested. I was relieved that it was over and that after a few minutes I could forget and put it all behind me.

I only ever remember being proud about one test. It was a test on which I got 100% an A+. Only one other person got a perfect score on that test. But I knew that even though he was the smartest kid in the class, I knew more about the subject than he did. It was a test on fire safety and as the daughter of a firefighter, I knew that I knew this subject better than my teacher. Lord help me if I had even answered one of those questions incorrectly though, I would have been devastated.

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For Christmas, our 5yo received an ant farm. Its one of those classic kelly green rectangular framed pieces with the flat farm scene smashed in between the plastic windows. It took us a little while, but we finally ordered those ants. Its pretty awesome to wake up hearing our daughter exclaim from her room that she’s going to get up and see what her ants have been doing. She counts them in her collection of pets. “5 caterpillars, 23 ladybugs, and a lot of ants.”

The day they arrived, I had just pulled the car up to our driveway when the mailman zoomed to a halt right in front of us. He jumped out and ran up to my driver-side window and motioned for me to stay put. Out of breath, he explained that he had a package for us. It was much earlier than our mail is normally delivered so I thought it must be one of those special a.m. deliveries. It wasn’t. With wide eyes he gave the reason for not waiting to deliver it until later, “it says ‘live creatures’ on it.”

We spent the afternoon reading and re-reading the directions, letting the ants calm down in the fridge, filling the farm with white sand and a bit of water and adding a couple crumbs of bread. After a while we were ready to put the ants in their new home. Since then, they have been steadily digging their tunnels.

That night, while we had guests over, someone pulled off one of the little caps on the side tunnels. A single ant escaped and you would have thought a venomous alien tarantula was loose. “Watch out! Everyone back! Get away from the table! Aaaaahhh!!” Okay, I admit, it was mostly me freaking out. And, I’m pretty sure it is my fault that the kids were at all concerned. But, you should have seen all the warnings on the packages that: “THESE ANTS WILL BITE!!” (for yet another explanation for why we have a “respect” for biting ants see this post from our other blog).

As if I wasn’t already at my max ant-absorption point, the other night we watched a documentary about ants. It was one of those documentaries where you knew that most of it was staged and that the story was mostly, if not entirely, fiction. What I liked about this documentary is that it presented ants in a different light than every other way I’ve ever heard anyone talk about ants before in my entire life.

In the past it was, “go to the ant you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise” or something super positive about their cooperation (always in opposition to our human ability to do the same) “compared with ants we are hellacious at cooperating” (see this post for that full quote).

In addition to being fascinating, I’ve also found watching ants to be a little depressing. To be honest, especially now that I am a mom, I feel like I am moving around about as much as they are. Maybe I am not lifting 100 times my own body weight, but I’m pretty sure my physical exhaustion at the end of many days rivals those tiny creatures. So, its not that I am feeling inadequate or a sluggardly.  I think that what depresses me is the level of self-sacrifice, the martyrdom and the individual meaninglessness. The message of no individual ant matters…not their desires, not their needs, not their lives in comparison to the future of the colony and the queen is drilled home every time I watch ants (and this happens to be what the documentary focused on as well). It also confuses me when people hold ants up as creatures to be emulated. When I look past the cooperation that’s going on, I think their lives look like rather miserable lives for a human being to strive toward.

The documentary magnified ants and used enough human terms to make me feel like I was in their world. When the workers slowly killed off rival queens by starving and then dismembering them one by one, I cringed and looked away. When they fed them to their own larvae I gagged. Thank goodness all our girls had fallen asleep by this point.

As we put the kids in their beds I kept imagining myself as a giant-headed nurse-ant caring for the eggs, larvae and pupae. When I crunched my baby carrots and hummus, somehow still immersed in an imaginary ant world, I felt like a psychopath. It took me a while to get to sleep and of course I had weird insect ridden dreams.

This morning I overheard this conversation from the playroom,

5yo: “You can’t be a princess! You have to be a worker.”

3yo: “I’m not going to be a worker ant.”

5yo: “Then we can’t play ants!”

And that is fine with me.

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“Compared with fish we are bad at swimming, compared with birds we are stiff at flying, compared with cheetahs we are ludicrous at running, compared with ants we are hellacious at cooperating. Yet we are the most successful species of our time. We have overrun and overturned the territories of all these other animals because taken as a whole, by learning from the generation before us, we can do a fair job at all of their skills at once. As the evolutionist Ernst Mayr has written, we have ‘specialized in despecialization.’

…We fill more ecological niches than any other animal.

This is what allows us to carry on the epic learning game we call science. Science formalizes our special kind of collective memory, or species memory, in which each generation builds on what has been learned by those that came before, following in each other’s footsteps, standing on each other’s shoulders. Each generation values what it can learn from the one before, and prizes the discoveries it will pass on to the next, so that we see farther and farther, climbing an infinite mountain.”

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch; A Story of Evolution in Our Time

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All I had to do was get the supplies out and take the stroller seat apart. After that, these little gals took over. I sat back, took a few photos and watched them wash this stroller frame with much more gusto and endurance than I could have mustered.

They approached it from every angle and were much more detailed than I would have been.

In case you didn’t see it in the photo above…

I had coffee.

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Our kids like to help out. Especially when it involves painting!

When we transitioned the youngest from a crib to her own bed, we were able to make more play space in their room by putting two crib mattresses under the loft bed that we already had. We decided to put a little cabinet in between the two beds under the loft bed for storage and a shared nightstand.

Our oldest painted some designs on the front before we painted the whole things blue. I need to get a piece of furniture that she can go to town on!

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MOME

“Mommy,” I heard my just-turned-5-year-old come up behind me, “I made a picture for you.”

“You made a picture for me! And it says Mom!”

She paused and took it back for a second and handed it back after adding the ‘E.’

“Now it says, Mome!” I said and when she gave me a puzzled look I realized my mistake, “Oh wait, no, I continued, “It says ‘Mommy!'”

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We followed this recipe. I didn’t have the cream of tartar on hand, so we used baking soda and a tablespoon of oil (instead of a teaspoon). It worked great! If I had more salt in the house, we would have made yellow and purple and orange too. 

Dad is gone for the weekend and I am dieting. My brain is slow and I am tired, but we are still managing to have some fun, even though my $6 smoothie spilled all over the driveway and I managed to make everyone angry at once a few hours ago. We’ve since made up and have had a nice, quieter afternoon. 

The theme was nests. These are starfish and a starfish nest.

“Nest, nest, nest!” Pat, pat, pat.

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