22 December 2010

If there is anything. . .

". . . virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
Articles of Faith: 13

I saw Tangled with my family tonight. It's the second time I've seen it and I thoroughly enjoyed myself both times. It's a clever movie that I wasn't expecting to do much more with other than a mental pat on the head - a "awww. . . you're such a cute Disney movie!" sort of gesture. Instead it struck a pretty big chord with me that I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. Probably because I think it's a hugely important film for the families of students I teach.

Let me give you a bit of background. I teach in one of the most conservative communities in the country. My students almost entirely come from the same family and religious background. Nearly all of them come from families where the parents are very involved in their lives in all aspects - and very concerned about each of those aspects. To these families, the world is often seen as a dark, scary place that needs to be constantly censored and filtered before reaching their children. Above all, the family is the most important thing, and keeping kids home as often as possible is important. Many of these students don't attend school full time so that they can be at home. In some cases, students are actually pulled out of class if it is seen as an environment that might be stressful. Most of these students are wary of what is new or different because they have been taught (either directly or indirectly) their entire lives to be cautious about the unknown.

Now, to be clear, this post is not meant to totally discount that method of parenting/raising a family. The world is often scary and certainly filled with darkness. It's not a hidden fact that the pornography rate in Utah is higher than any other state in the Union, for example. And families are very important - they are central to the Lord's plan, after all, and should be valued and strong.

What I do fear is the censorship. Typically the goal of censorship is to keep a child (or a person) innocent - but what censorship typically breeds is not innocence, but ignorance - and those are not parallel virtues. Ignorance breeds naivety - and those who are naive have no means with which to change the world for the better. The answer to evil is not hiding from it and pretending that it doesn't exist.

This is why I bring up Tangled, which was brilliant and beautiful in many respects, but mostly in the message that it gave of the dangers and problems of what happens when you shelter someone from the bad things. In the movie, Rapunzel is kept away in a tower (as per tradition) by a woman claiming to be her mother. Under the guise of "protection", Rapunzel is kept in this tower for the first eighteen years of her life until an arrogant (and hilarious) thief makes his way up her tower to escape a horse that thinks it's a dog/general.

So - as with the traditional story - Rapunzel leaves. And she discovers that her mother was right - the world is full of scary, frightening creatures. Not everyone wants what is best for you. Not every creature or place is safe. But she also sees and experiences beauty and fun and joy that she never would have had if she hadn't left the tower. If you can't have the bitter, you can't have the sweet.

And that is why I ache for so many of my students. For so many people I see around me who live their lives in constant fear. I think they see their life as a boat in the middle of the ocean that keeps springing leaks. They've used all their fingers and toes and elbows and any other resources they can to try and plug the leaks, but they keep breaking through. I would be absolutely miserable if I lived my life in constant fear. Fear is a disabler - it keeps you from moving forward. And it is not the way the Lord wants us to live. We are meant to progress, not hide away. We are meant to influence the whole world - not just the walls of our homes. And if we are going to influence the world, we need to be in it - aware of it, and we need to love it as God does. And he does love it - because he gave his son for it. Mormons (particularly those in Utah Valley, where the gospel of the church and culture of the church mix so crazily at times) are fools if they think they have a corner on God's love for the world. And I think it's about time they owned up to this and started becoming a more powerful people.

15 December 2010

I Love Snow (Or, the post in which I repent for venting)

This morning was terrible.

It was obnoxious, really, because I was determined for today NOT to be terrible. I reached a milestone on a project I've been working on for work yesterday and was too grumpy and tired to celebrate it, and I was determined to be in the mood for celebratory activities today. I even went to bed nearly two hours early in the hopes of being rested enough for such things.

But then I woke up and went outside and saw a gallon of snow on the ground and I was running late and I had chosen to wear a skirt and slippery flats and had no time to change. So I took off my shoes and attempted to make it to my car in bare feet and then had to scrape off the gallons of snow off of my car and realized too late that I probably should have just grabbed my boots, and drove to work with feet that were burning from cold. Lame.

The parking lot at school was not plowed (even when I got there late at 8:15) so I found a parking spot of course and prayed I'd be able to get out, and walked (again barefoot) into school, only to realize that - my students being from the families that they are, odds were they'd all be late and we'd start a half an hour after we wanted.

And then the snowplow came. And it slid into my car. And put a dent in it. (Yes. My brand new, beautiful car.) And to tell me this, a swarm of teenage boys decided to deliver the news in varying levels of dramaticness. It wasn't until I was able to shut them up that I was able to get the real story from an adult who told me that while the plow had run into my car, it only hit with the tire (how?!) and that they were able to push the bumper back into place and that it didn't look like there was any damage to it (and there isn't. Not a scratch, not a bump, not a hair out of place.)

And I felt like Lorelai in Gilmore Girls in that episode where she declares that she and snow are THROUGH. I was frustrated and annoyed and overwhelmed and irritated because I had wanted SO BADLY for today not to suck. I was cursing the sky and thinking that God was having a little too much fun with me, only I was tired of the game and wanted to play something else.

But then my wonderful co-workers took the time to make sure that I was ok - not just that my car was ok - but that I was ok. And I watched The Wonder Years at lunch and A Christmas Story after work, and read some really awesome (and hilariously bad) student essays and suddenly. . . the world didn't seem quite so bleak.

The irritating parents and lazy students haven't gone anywhere, but this teacher has her happy hat back on and is ready to tackle the last two days of school with metaphorical bells on her heals before heading home to enjoy the holidays with her family.

12 December 2010

Benefits of Failure (Or, the post in which I vent.)

Ahh. . . the last week of school. The week in which students who never cared an ounce for my classes up until now will suddenly care very much, and I will have the pleasure of telling them, and their parents, 'tough luck, Tiger, you're too late.'

I hate this week.

For personal and slightly selfish reasons, I hate this week because it is the week in which parents will very apologetically recognize that I have better things to do with my time, but could I please just this once make an exception for their student? It's the time where I will feel pressured guilt trips about students who failed to get work in all term and now that they're going to fail it will suddenly be my fault. It's the time where I will receive emails begging me to attempt to remember daily writing prompts from over two months ago. It's the week where I will already be swamped enough with final projects and places to be and things to prepare for that involve my OWN life (because I will actually have one in the next week.)

For other reasons, I hate this week because sometimes, (in my non-parental naivety), I wish that parents would allow their student to fail. Because what does the child really learn from death bed repentance? Well - for some, it will be that if you do the work the first time then you don't have to do it all at once. And that's not a bad lesson. But I also suspect that for many others, the lesson is, "Hey - I can slack off all term, do crappy work in the last week, and still somehow manage to scrape by." The lesson is short lived.

This isn't to say that I don't support or encourage make-up work. But I do think there are definite benefits to parents allowing their kids to face up to the consequences of their actions, even if it is embarrassing or frustrating or causes set backs. Because that's how life sometimes is. School is, and should be, a safe place to fail because your life/livelihood doesn't depend on it like it would in a job, for instance - but I do think there is a balance between teaching your kid responsibility and letting your kid face the music. I think the culture in this valley leads to too many kids who are coddled and used to making excuses - "I couldn't do my homework. I had other homework." or "I couldn't do my assignment. I had young women." To which I want to reply, "I couldn't grade your assignment, I had other assignments to grade." Or "I couldn't plan a lesson for you today, I had to take my car in for an oil change and then I had to do laundry and then I had to make myself dinner."

. . . Ok. So this isn't the most eloquent writing I've ever done. Mostly I'm just venting because this week has been one thing after another piling down on me and making me feel as though I am getting absolutely nowhere as a teacher.

So for now, I'm going to allow J.K. Rowling to say eloquently what I can only vent about. It is an article that I think I've referenced before, but I'm doing it again because it is just that good. (Though, in a sudden burst of irony, this article did make one student think that I am nigh unto Satanic because apparently Ms. Rowling is a devil - but you can be the judge on that one.)

In other news: sometimes being a teacher is annoying. Also - grades are a farce. These parents (and students) can whine and complain their way into whatever letter they want, but it won't change anything about what they've really learned or the kind of student they are, and it's about time they learned to face up to that music.

07 December 2010

A Little More Conversation, a Little Less Knee-Jerk Reaction, Please.

I grew up in what I like to call a morally conservative, artistically liberal household. This means that our values were faith based, but our experiences were not often censored. This is not to say that we spent time running around like hippies - there were still boundaries - but we were given room to explore and determine for ourselves what was and was not right.

I've spent a good deal of time thinking about this lately. How grateful I am for trusting parents who didn't immediately rip books like Go Ask Alice out of my hands because the book is "dirty" (which it is), but instead trusted that I would talk with them about what I was reading and use the experiences of others as a way to find more strength in my own belief system.

I mention this because I've seen more often than I ever have before in my life recently the idea that the world is full of dark, evil things and that the best way to keep evil things from corrupting you is to hide from them completely and not explain why to those around you (particularly in the form of parents talking to their children about the world.) For example, I had a friend tell me of an experience she had at school in a class where a girl (high school junior) was convinced that babies grew in the stomach (and wondered why pregnant women didn't have a baby-sized tumor on their side.) She was corrected by another student who said that babies ACTUALLY grow in the small intestine.

But it's not so simple as basic reproductive understanding, either. There's also a great deal of fear for what is out there. I've seen parents terrified of their children finding out about certain lifestyles or reading certain books that talk about what they don't agree with. Not that there isn't a good time and place (and age) for certain bits of information, and there are certainly books that are inappropriate or full of garbage - but it seems to me that those who live in this way don't understand the basic tenants of Mormon faith.

Our church is founded on the idea of learning for yourself. The church itself would not have even been established if Joseph Smith hadn't been curious. If his parents hadn't allowed him to attend other congregations to try and find truth. It seems to me that people who live this way (or parents who force their children to live this way), are afraid that the truth of the gospel will somehow not be strong enough or true enough to stand up to the diverse ideas of the world. Or perhaps these individuals simply think that the LDS faith has a corner on truth and that there are no other means by which truth can be found or expanded on. (For example, I've known my share of people who don't seem to understand that my faith is strengthened through fiction.)

Ultimately, what this leads to is a population of people who breed fear of the unknown. People who take one look at something that is unfamiliar and immediately interpret it as wicked or somehow 'wrong'. They don't want to talk about or try something new because it might be what they fear it to be. To which I say: Yes. It might be. But it might NOT be. It might be something you could actually talk about. You might actually be strengthened by reading/writing about/listening to/watching an idea that is not like one you currently hold. It's no wonder so many people in this valley live in fear - it's easier to assume the worst and refuse to talk about the truth than it is to actually talk openly about things. Bad things happen when people are left to wonder.

As for me, I feel like my life would be not quite worth living if I spent all my time and energy trying to keep bad things out. I'd rather spend my time seeking out good things, because - as we all know - light will always overpower darkness.