coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, just for fun

In which I don’t contemplate the Rule of St. Benedict.

This post isn’t going to be nearly as deep as it starts. I figured I might divulge that lest anyone expects profound wisdom. However, you just might find it if you click on the references linked.

If you’ve read here any length of time, You know that I am quite a fan of Joshua Gibbs. Gibbs, a teacher who leads students through a tour of the great books at a Christian classical school, authors a blog called The Cedar Room at Circe Institute. He recently authored a book which I’ve yet to read although I plan to. When I do, I’ll review it here. Almost everything he offers regarding the intersection of education, faith, and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning resonates with me, and I always look forward to reading what he has to say because it inspires me both as a teacher and as an aspiring writer.

Tonight is a rare date night, so as I was soaking my feet in preparation for the  softest possible result, I decided to catch up on his most recent posts. I often read educational inspiration on Fridays, as this is when I self-flagellate while re-examining the week behind me; from my time with my students at home (my children), to the students I teach at school. I was working backwards from today’s post to the first of the week, as I often do. Between a welcome opportunity to contemplate the rule of St. Benedict  (seriously, go read that!) and the role of the “sage on the stage”,  Gibbs drops in this ditty which sends me off on a mental rabbit trail, which may or may not be of worth at some point. I’ll have to ponder. Note the bolded part, which is where I’m about to park:

Students made eyes at one another, mouthed little conversations to one another, flirted with each other, and studied the six dozen pencil pouches and other gear (why everyone must have a water bottle these days is beyond my reckoning— were children of my generation dying of dehydration in math class and I simply never heard about it?) which filled the table. I found myself constantly working around the additional distractions the table created, and neither did I find conversation richer around the table than inside a classroom wherein all were oriented to the front.

And with that simple, unimportant, yet astute and accurate observation, my contemplation of the deep things concerning education and life was derailed as I wondered: Why DO we all send our kids off to school and every where else, with a big, reusable, and often expensive water bottle in tow? I carry one as well but I know why, and the answer startlingly simple and vain: If I drink more water, I eat less food, and my fabulously caramel skin stays hydrated, staving off the wrinkles a wee bit longer. Surely, your average six-year-old spending his days shuffling between an air conditioned classroom and a covered playground harbors no such concerns.

Our 10-year-old has already lost one $19 water bottle this school year, and she almost lost a second except this time we had the presence of mind to write her name on it. When she left it on the playground a while back, I got a call from another mother to inform me that she had taken possession of the water bottle and would reunite it with us on Monday.

Mr. Gibbs asked the question concerning those of us who were students in years gone by: were we all suffering from the dehydration we all seem so intent on sparing our children? I doubt it highly, but it still leaves me wondering. Usually with a little thought, a book and a few clicks, I can connect the dots and ascertain some idea of how particular cultural and parenting tics gained a foothold in our daily lives. The water bottle obsession, however, eludes me.

Just maybe, when I figure that one out, I can revisit the sage on the stage and the rule of St. Benedict.

Y’all have a great weekend, now!

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coming from where I'm from, Els' Rabbit Trails, just for fun, Uncategorized

Tiny Task Tuesday

I borrowed this idea from Bayboxwood, and you can click over to her blog to see from whence she acquired it.

Reading is always happening, but the life that it fits in between often slows me down. Factor in homschooling, homekeeping, and taking the opportunity to write when I can and most days there is more life than reading. One of the things I picked up a while back from Bayboxwood is the idea of Tiny Task Tuesday. Today’s task isn’t exactly tiny, but it’s Tuesday and I getting ti done today, and I like the alliterative ring of “Tiny Task Tuesday”.

Today I am tackling the task of deep cleaning the master bathroom.  There are some things we all do in our bathrooms on a regular basis. We clean the sinks and countertops. We clean the toilets. we spray down the tubs. We sweep the floors.

What I haven’t done in a good long while is go behind the toilets, under the vanity, or into the vanity drawers. Lastly, the tile needs a scrub with a brush rather than just a light mopping. So Like I said, it’s not a tiny task. It is however, a task being done on a Tuesday.

So I’ll go finish it now.

Latest book review forthcoming.

Happy Tuesday all!

Els' Rabbit Trails

A great mind has transitioned…

Given that I used space to pray that a departed rhythm and blues singer rests in peace, it would be robbery to do anything less for a blogger whom I only knew only through the anonymity of the Internet, but whose writing induced me to think more deeply about many things. It saddened me to hear that Zippy Catholic has died.

I did not know Zippy personally.  Our interactions began and ended in comment boxes, and that only occasionally in recent years. I knew him only as a passionate Catholic blogger with a zeal for tradition and Truth. I didn’t even agree with him half the time, but unlike so many of our day he seemed to actually think about things, deeply so, and induced me to do the same. He even changed my stubborn mind about a few things.

I pray that he rests in the arms of Christ, and that God would provide his widow and children with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

Is reading necessarily the highest use of leisure time?

“I don’t own a television.”

It’s the mantra of many who want to signal their elevation above the unwashed masses who go bananas with excitement at the prospect of a new season of Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan. I had to Google “most popular current television shows” to come up with those two titles. Does that earn me a bit of intellectual gravitas?

The sign of an educated mind today is often marked by testimonies of reading, and reading so many books per month, quarter or year, determined by what the reader thinks is the best period to use as a gauge. Reading it is supposed, is infinitely better than watching television. Anything, it is supposed, is better than watching television. Given that this is a blog dedicated chiefly to the discussion of books, reading, and the vast amount of knowledge to be found as a result, you might assume I am of the mind that reading is ever and always better than watching television.

Disclosure: As I begin this post, America’s Test Kitchen is fading to black on PBS and I am looking forward to next program, Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire. I am a sucker for a good cooking show and PBS spares me offensive commercials. No. I have not killed my TV. It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, at least not for scripted broadcast television shows, but we do have one.

Over dinner tonight we discussed this idea that reading in itself is a higher brow leisure activity.  The general consensus was that yes, it is certainly better than watching television. There was also a general agreement that a lot of people who brag about their lack of television watching spend copious amounts of time watching YouTube videos or arguing on Twitter and Facebook, which is hardly any better. What I really wanted to know however, is if there is more reading taking place, and if so, is it the kind of reading which adds to the metal acuity what television is presumed to take away from it. The answer we came away with was: It depends.

One of our daughters, a history buff if ever there was one, has been watching the documentary series World War II in color. She questioned whether reading one of the latest YA novels would be more advantageous than watching her documentary based solely on the fact that she would be turning pages whether than watching a screen. It’s on this point that I find myself parked.

There is a school of thought among people in general and even some educators that children and teens reading anything is better than if they were reading nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a point when I harbored such foolish thoughts as well. Reading is fundamental, after all! Reading is always the best and most effective use of one’s leisure if television is the alternative. Hikes, jogs, nature exploration and the likes are even better, but suburbanites are not always in the position to exercise those options.

However, a cursory glance at the books which are most popular today leaves me with the impression that most are literature’s version of junk food. Books so devoid of depth (of characters as well as language) that many people can read two or three of them a week without missing a beat! Given the relatively common damage to the attention spans of the public at large, it doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out that 300 page books which can be zipped through in one’s spare time after just three days and over 4 hours are probably hamburger to Thackeray’s t-bone steak.

The devolution of reading, which we’ve discussed before, necessitates that certain books demand different levels of engagement than others. In other words, digesting words on a page is technically to read. However when we digest and process ideas, language, and stories that challenge us to think deeply and seek more earnestly the good, the true, and beautiful, then we know that we are really reading.

In short, not all reading is created equal.

Elaboration: Yes, in most cases, reading beats watching television. I know full well most Americans aren’t into PBS cooking shows or WWII documentaries. Including our young adult kids, who are kind of hooked on The Office.

Wait. Is Netflix TV?

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, marriage and relationships, videos

Deep woods rabbit trail: Why online dating is ruining Western Civilization.

For reasons I cannot begin to imagine (or maybe I can), the largest percentages of clicks this blog receives in any given week are directed towards the posts reviewing the chapters of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Most of the readers are from the U.S., however as many as a third are from around the globe. Something about that book clearly strikes a nerve with people and as they look for analysis, Google sends some here. This factoid is my excuse for a deep woods* rabbit trail post.

A friend recently shared with me a video titled, Why Online Dating is Ruining Western Civilization by Mayim Bialik. Now normally, the combination of a famous Hollywood actress and the words patriarchy spilling from her lips causes me to roll my eyes in a combination of disdain and disgust, but the overwhelming majority of what Ms. Bialik shares here is so funny and tinged with truth that I will forgive her that folly.

It’s worth the 7 minutes, perhaps even if you disagree. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

 

*Deep woods rabbit trail posts are posts that generally veer far away from the subjects of reading, books, writing and education. They are few and far between, as they should be.

Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails

The devolution of reading.

A few days ago I read this piece by Cal Newport concerning the social media reform movement. In it, while exploring some of the damage we do to ourselves through pervasive social media use, he notes:

This argument focuses on the ways that heavy social media use can make users less happy, less healthy, and/or less successful. Most of my writing and speaking on this topic falls into this category. (My main point is that the benefits of these services are exaggerated, while we tend to underestimate their damage to our ability to do valuable things with our brains.)

This seed planted, about the diminished ability to employ concentrated thinking, was the beginning of my musing on how our current technologies affect not only the deep work which Cal Newport dissects in his area of expertise, but also things as simple and basic as our ability to read, comprehend, and apply the knowledge accessible to us through books.

As I pondered these things, I came across this article which more specifically targeted the direction in which my thoughts were flowing. What do current technological, reading, and information gathering trends mean for our ability to read classic literature, sacred Scripture, and other works that require the ability to meditate deeply on the words and internalize higher truths and complexities of life and being?

We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.

The early returns on the results of screen reading as the dominant mode of reading are beginning to come in:

Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts.

Makes sense to me. It is easy to think that because young adult literature (YA) is a booming industry selling a huge number of books that real reading is on the rise. Indeed, there are many people, parents and educators alike who believe that youngsters reading anything is better than youngsters reading nothing at all. As the mother of two children (out of five  total) who struggled to read, there were periods when I succumbed to that level of thinking myself.

I don’t believe that anymore. I understand that what we read, and how we read it, is more important than reading for the sake of reading itself. Even armed with this knowledge, I have children whose habits and concentration show evidence of having been re-wired by overuse of screens for reading as well as amusement.

Now, I have the unfortunate and hard job of trying to re-orient them to a better brain and better habits from a strategically disadvantaged starting point. My children read classic books and quite frankly, are receiving a far better literary and  theological education than the average American public schooled student. Yes, of this I am absolutely certain.

If they have to be *fixed*, what does that then mean for the entire generation of kids in their cohort (ages 10-12)?

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, real music

Real Music: RIP, Queen of Soul.

It’s been a while since I offered a real music post, but when I woke up this morning to the news that Aretha Franklin had passed from this realm into the next, I figured this is as good a day as any.

Before we knew her as Queen of Soul, I and my siblings knew her as the daughter of the late Rev. C.L. Franklin. My daddy used to play the music she recorded in her father’s church and as a gospel artist on an eight track player when I was a very little girl in the late 1970’s.

My favorite song of hers however, and the one I have always been able to relate to most since I was old enough to understand it and fortunate enough to live it, is You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman. So here’s a live performance of Queen Aretha singing that song way back in the day.

Edited to add: I Say a Little Prayer for You audio, with various photos of Aretha Franklin through the years.

RIP, Queen of Soul.

Y’all have a restful, blessed, worship filled weekend.