Monday, February 27, 2012

If There's No Time to Teach Art, Let's Not Pretend to Teach It

It's the contemporary parent's constant nightmare. You buy pricey instruments for all the kids and each kid lasts about six months before wanting to quit, claiming she hasn't learned how to play in school, and citing frustration at not being selected for orchestra.

Each time this has happened, it has saddened me. I protested every time, "You really wanted to play the flute (or violin or guitar or piano). You were desperate for that instrument!" (...one I either rented at exorbitant cost or bought outright. Anyone want one of our four guitars? One of our two violins? I think I already got rid of the flute.)

I thought my kids were going to learn how to play their instruments in school...you know, the way we all used to? Well, there are still music lessons in school, but from what I understand, the lessons are crowded, noisy, and there is no personal instruction that takes place. It's catch-as-catch-can. It's essentially learn your own dang instrument.

So, fine. I know that the school has hundreds of students. There is only one music teacher for all these kids. It's frankly amazing that they have orchestra, lessons, and twice weekly music classes.

But here's my point: if there isn't realistically time to teach all these kids how to play the instrument(s) their parents bought for them--and force them to practice at home, fomenting untold familial fights--then let's not pretend that there is.

Let's not act like we're teaching the arts in school if we really don't have the time and/or money to do so.

Let's be realistic. Say to us, the parents, "Well, yeah, it would be great if all the kids learned an instrument. Music instruction and musical practice and learning how to read music is just an all-around great idea. Understanding music helps with understanding many other academic subjects. Playing an instrument is something that every educated, well-rounded person should know how to do."

This probably is said (although I don't even need to hear it; I already know it). 

What isn't said is: "We want to get you all excited to get your kids instruments and sign them up for all our musical offerings. The truth is, however, there is no time in the school day to teach them how to play. We act like there is, but realistically, there isn't. So, go ahead send your kid to school with her violin twice a week, but honestly, don't expect her to learn how to play it here."

That's a harsh truth, but I don't mind harshness, as long as it's realistic. Just be honest with me. Be honest with us. Don't waste my (or our) time.

Say instead: "It is a good idea to push your child to learn how to play an instrument--and then stick with that instrument. Your child isn't going to learn that in school, however. We just can't carve out any time because you know, test prep (PSSA, 4Sight, Benchmarks, etc.) sucks up all the time. No, you'll really need to find a private teacher. So, um, good luck with that!"

If I had known a few years ago that my kids would not learn how to play music in school (I have hired outside teachers after wasting many months expecting them to get some instruction at the elementary level), I could have saved a lot of time, and my kids could have been saved a lot of frustration. They might have actually learned how to play all those instruments by now.

Arts in school--whether that is musical instruction or visual art (another area that I believe is getting short shrift)--is something we all want. We all should want the arts.

We should also expect classroom instruction in the arts. But if that is not realistic anymore--not in this sad time of harsh budget-cutting and too much attention on the TEST, TEST, TEST--tell us that. 

Tell us the school can't do it. Don't pretend that it can. Because pretending helps no one learn.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Very Pinteresting!

I only learned about Pinterest a few days ago.


It looks like an assortment of themed bulletin boards (get it? pins?).  Visually, I find it intriguing, and it has that homey, quilt-y feel to it, but the marketer in me says...from whence will the profit come?

No, the marketer in me did not really say that. The teacher in me did.

Ann Romney is all over Pinterest, or so I read in the news yesterday. Will I be on it? I don't know yet; it turns out that you have to be invited.

Well, I applied for an invitation. We shall see how it goes. I never could get excited about Tumblr...

I was, however, very intrigued to see that some teachers have added me to their Pinterest boards. My blog hits are already going way up. Thank you, ladies. Thank you for liking my blog and my ideas about teaching.

Thank you, especially, for being excited to read my book, TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL. You made my day, seriously.

I am hoping TOO COOL will be on sale in the next 6 weeks or so. I will keep you posted, via Pretty Freaky, my blog.

Thanks again,

Elizabeth Collins




Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vasectomies Only in Life-Threatening Cases...Too Funny

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/21/georgia-democrats-to-propose-limitations-on-vasectomies-for-men/comment-page-28/#comment-1067129

The above article is about a daring, satirical move that is meant to shed light on the absurdity of inserting government into an individual's sex life (and reproductive freedom). 

It's a satirical ploy. But of course, many people do not understand satire. What a shame.

I believe this move by Rep. Neal is meant to cause a stir and force people to seriously evaluate who has a say in how and when pregnancy begins. Here is wishing her luck and strength and resilience in the face of the crazy catcalls that are already coming her way.

But the point is: if people are causing a fuss about this (for men), then why aren't people standing up for women in the same way?

Then, too, there is the common saying that if men could get pregnant, all birth control would be simple, readily available, and free. Imagine: women telling men that they can't get a vasectomy...it's actually very funny.

And when does life truly begin? At conception? At the glint in a lover's eye? Or, as I heard on TV recently, at "last call?"

None of us know. So no one should have the right to impose a biased, personal belief on others. I don't impose my beliefs about reproduction on other people, and in the face of the Sanctimonious Santorums of the world, I would simply ask that everyone else do the same...back off.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What is Lovelier Than Snow in Philly, or a Great Comeback Story?


Story originally on Good Morning America (abcnews); photo, courtesy Jerry Tomko

I was struck by the beauty of the above wedding photo--taken of Melinda Muniz, who is recovering after lifesaving leukemia treatment at Thomas Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia, and her new husband, Christopher Jones. 

The photographer is Jerry Tomko, and the story, written by Susan Donaldson James, was found here:

There are so many feel-good facets to this story: the optimism of marrying despite illness (something similar, though not as extreme, happened to me); getting a gift from a fellow survivor (talented wedding photographer Tomko, who wanted to "give back" to Jefferson for saving his own life); and the pricelessness of capturing a sweet moment of beauty, peace, and triumph.

It reminds me of the famous Rocky on the Steps photo that I have on my blog somewhere. This is obviously intentional--but it's very effective, is it not? (The Rocky shot on Pretty Freaky gets many hits a day, usually from people in Russia). 

Anyway--best of luck to Melinda, Christopher, Jerry, and all survivors. Thanks for sharing your stories.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Books are Axes for the Frozen Sea Inside Us...

“I think we ought to read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy? ...We need books that affect us like disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.” —Franz Kafka in a letter to his friend Pollak (1904)

On that note, Kafka would love my memoir, Too Cool for School...coming soon.