Previous month:
October 2010
Next month:
December 2010

November 2010 entries

Attitude of Gratitude

The sign outside my church reads, "Let's cultivate an attitude of gratitude" this week.  With Thanksgiving a few days away, and the Christmas season starting, according to mainstream culture, on Friday, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude.  Are my children learning to be grateful for what they have?  Do they appreciate the intangible gifts of time and friendship?  Do they realize how fortunate they are?

To be honest, the best answer I can come up with is . . .maybe.  I hope so. 

There are several factors at work here.  Liam is only 10 weeks old, so he is excused from the discussion.  His "cannonball smiles" show his gratitude for his family and food.  :)  The "big kids", though, are almost 4 and almost 6.  They are old enough to understand the concepts of gratitude and appreciation.   Their rooms are filled with toys.  They expect gifts every time they see their grandparents.  They were marking up Sunday's paper with enough presents for ten children. 

It's a struggle -- we, as parents, want to give our kids presents.  We want them to have birthday parties with their friends and special trips.  We want them to have the best because that is what we think of them as -- the best.  But, aren't we inadvertently creating self-centered monsters by keeping a steady stream of "stuff" heading their way? 

A recent study revealed that college students today are 40% less empathetic than studentswere 30 years ago (  That students feel less for other people hasn't been argued; the causes for such lack of empathy remain debatable.  Some blame it on technology -- the impersonal virtual world allows us to ignore feelings; some blame it on divorce -- the ping-pong game of custody allows us to see adults at their worst and teaches us how to manipulate parents for what we want; some blame it on smaller families size -- the "only child" egotism spills over to adulthood; some blame it on our increasingly materialistic society -- in a world where value is calculated based on possession, we disregard the feelings of others to get what we want.   Whatever the reason, lack of empathy is a serious problem . . . lack of empathy and its siblings selfishness, ungratefulness, and spite. 

So, what's a parent to do? 

I haven't come up with a solid answer yet -- I'm still mulling the topic.  I did, however, instruct the kids to color pictures to thank our church's family outreach team for a recent kids party.  I want to make sure they never expect everything to be handed to them.  And, really, I suppose that is the answer in and of itself.  Parents need to model gratitude; parents need to keep the gift-giving season under control; parents need to teach their kids how to give thanks . . . and hope for the best.


Us vs. Them

I've had some . . .interesting discussions in my Honors English 11 classes lately.   We're reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and as we work our way through the book, I present various situations for reflection in in-class journals.  Yesterday, we examined our country's climate in terms of Muslim relations.  I distributed an article about the mosque controversy in NYC and asked the question, "How has crime affected the way that some people view Muslims?" 

I was suprised (though I should know better than to be surprised) by some of the assumptions that my students made about Muslims . . . and Americans, for that matter.  Many students said something along the lines of:  "I don't see why they have to come over here and build a mosque in our city" or "All they want to do is kill us, so why should we let them build a church in our country?"  There were some students who were quick to correct the sweeping generalizations made by the crowd, but for the most part, students made a lot of assumptions about "them" and "us".   When pressed, they couldn't come up with any concrete tenet of the Islamic faith. 

To be sure, it is downright tragic how uninformed our society is -- and I don't mean just our young people.  I know I don't read up on current events as much as I would like (though I try to make up the difference by listening to NPR every morning and evening) and mainstream news stations hardly provide an accurate presentation of world news and issues.  I also know that as our students grow up and leave home, they will meet new people and learn about other cultures and religions in ways which will lead to greater understanding and tolerance.

I aim to part of that process, I suppose, by introducing these kinds of situations to them, to allow them to listen to each other as they work through the complexities of living in a global community.  I suppose it's all we educators can do -- meet kids where they are and try to challenge them to broaden their horizons.

Invasion of AP English!

A student came to me this morning and announced, "Mrs. Connor, AP English is invading my life!" She received in the mail a booklet entitled, "What They Never Told You: Everything You Need to Know about Animal Rights" by her "friends at PETA". The booklet is filled with images of bloody piglets, photos of fly-infested farms, and pictures of sad-eyed lab animals. The student told me, "The moment I saw this, I immediately thought, 'Wow. That's a lot of pathos.' AP English is taking over my mind!"

Of course, I took that as a compliment. Pathos is the appeal to the emotions of the audience, and my student is absolutely right in noticing it in the PETA mailing. The organization wants to tug at the heartstrings and turn the stomach a bit in order to advance its message regarding animal rights. 

And, I love it that "AP English is invading" my students' lives.  That is one of the reasons I love the Language and Composition course.  Its focus on non-fiction affords a cultural relevancy that is sometimes lacking in a literature survey course.  It is really exciting to see my kids recognizing rhetoric in real time -- it's always good when they can answer, "Why do I have to learn this stuff?"  on their own.

Phonetic Thank You . . .

Aidan's school encouraged students to write thank you notes to their teachers.  Aidan, not surprisingly, wanted to write to Mrs. Jones.  He insisted on writing the letter himself. 

OurTown and Liam Nov 2010 091 

He diligently set out his paper and pencil, wanting his letter to be perfect. 

OurTown and Liam Nov 2010 095 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

Thank you the best teacher.  I like you because you are funny.  You crack me up.  I love you, and I like it when you let us play with the sand.  Stop the sentence. 

Aidan Connor

Thoughts from the Loft

This Sunday, Aidan, Gabrielle, and Liam sat with Mike and me in the choir loft during Mass.  After the "Our Father", Aidan asked Michael, "God protects us from evil, right?"  Mike said yes.  Aidan asked, "Does that mean He protects us from grizzly bears, too?"

Meanwhile, Gabrielle was trying to hide in the choir's storage closet, claiming, "I just want to get away from all this singing!"  (Someone has the wrong parents....)